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Lent 4.5 – Transportation

How did God’s people travel?  On their feet?  By boats?  On top of donkeys and camels?

How do we get around town today?  What are the costs associated with us buzzing from place to place?

Lent 4.5 – Energy

How are we using our limited energy resources?  How can we use them more efficiently?

How are we using our personal energy?  Our church energy?  For what purpose?

Are we ultimately following, Christ, the light of the world?

Ever since the first church put a coffee shop in its lobby the debate has brewed on and on (and on).  Should the church entrance, narthex, lobby (or whatever you call it) be a place that hands out bulletins or cups o’ joe?  Is the lobby for merely passing through on one’s way to the sanctuary?  Or is it a place for gathering and sitting together around a tall table and a plate of breakfast goodies?  Is the narthex for ushers ushering or congregants congregating?

I still remember the first time I saw a coffee shop in a church lobby. It’s presence seemed odd and misplaced, yet fresh and intriguing.  You mean I can worship and drink coffee at the same time?  I can sit with friends around a table, seeing their faces worship, instead of looking at the back of the head in front of me in the pew?

Coffee shops in church?  Maybe.

I recently finished Onward, a book by Starbucks ceo (Starbucks company’s spelling and capitalization, or lack thereof) Howard Shultz detailing the company’s journey through recent ups and downs.

In Onward, Schultz speaks of culture’s “places.”  Places, for him, are those locations where people connect with others in a variety of ways.  Shultz’s suggests that home is the “first place” and work is the “second place” of connection.  The coffee shop, he proposes, is a person’s “third place.”  Shultz’s describes the coffee shop (or in his case, Starbucks locations) as “a social yet personal environment between one’s house and job, where people can connect with others and reconnect with themselves.”

He writes: “The next time you walk by a coffee shop, peer inside.  Take in the variety of people in line or seated.  Men and women in business attire.  Parents with strollers.  College students studying.  High school kids joking.  Couples deep in conversation.  Retired folks reading newspaper and talking politics.  Maybe they’re falling in love with the person next to them.  Or making a friend.”

Cultural places.  Home.  Work.  Coffee shops.

What about the Church?  Or the local church?  What is it’s “place” in society?

Now, I don’t mean to say Shultz is wrong to neglect the “place” of the church.  That’s not his focus as ceo or author.  Nor do I want to suggest that the church exists, or should transform to be, like a coffee shop.  But you can’t help (as a pastor or Christian, I suppose), to read Shultz’s words of “places of connection” and not think of the church.

Shouldn’t the church be a place of connection?

A place where people come together to connect with others through worship, study, and fellowship.  A place of reconnecting with ourselves – both the selves we enjoy and the ones we’d rather not spend any quality time examining – through meditation and spiritual disciplines.  In fact, the Church is the place of ultimate connection, a connection with God.  When we come into the sacred pause that is our Sunday morning we come into the full presence of God, hoping, expecting, longing for God’s spirit to and move and inspire.  In fact, it’s God’s grace through the spirit that does the heavy lifting of connecting and reconnecting God’s people.

We might profitably ask of the church the question Shultz asks of coffee shops: What do people see when they peer inside a church?  A sanctuary?  A few coffee tables?  People connecting?

Lent 4.5 – Water

How do we use God’s gift of water more faithfully?

How do we take serious Isaiah’s words in Isaiah 41:17?

Did Jesus really mean what he said in Matthew 10:42?

“The poor and needy search for water,
but there is none;
their tongues are parched with thirst.
But I the LORD will answer them;
I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.”

– Isaiah 41:17

“And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

– Matthew 10:42

Marketers and advertisers frustrate me.    They are brilliant in their jobs.  Over and over they convince me to want (and buy) something I never knew I wanted.

We’re consumers.

Or maybe…

We’re being consumed.  We’re consumed by television commericals and newspapers ads.  We’re consumed by a culture that tells us we need and want the next, latest, greatest thing.  We’re consumed by a desire to keep pace in the house/car/toys race with neighbors.

But…

What would it be to be consumed by God?  By a love for God?  By a love for God’s people, our neighbors?

Lent 4.5 – Food

Have you thought about your food lately?  What you will eat?  When you will eat it?

Have you ever wondered where you food came from?  How it traveled to your plate?

It’s amazing how food connects us to the world.

I love what Thomas Merton wrote:  “From the moment you put a piece of bread in your mouth you are part of the world.  Who grew the wheat?  Who made the bread?  Where did it come from?  You are in a relationship with all who brought it to the table.  We are least separate and most in common when we eat and drink.”

They always have a story.  Either they need a few bucks for a bus ticket, or more cash to fill a prescription.  Sometimes they come asking, other moments they come demanding.  At times their stories result in cries of  pain; sometimes they scream in anger.  Persons that live on the streets have a way of leaving indelible impressions on our minds.

One such person wandered into my office the other day.

Everyone had left the office for the day, only I remained preparing a few notes for the evening’s meetings.

“Greg” entered.  His coat was soaked from the rain that day (and the previous night).  He asked to take off his gloves, and in doing so rang out the water that has caused them to swell.  His beard was uneven and lengthy, clearly not intended to be that way.  His boots were untied, and the remains of a sock were visible through the hole in the boot near the toe.

Greg sat down, and his story began.  He needed a bus ticket and a few dollars to  eat a meal or two along the way.  Unable to access the other offices where the church keeps grocery gift cards for such events, I had nothing to offer Greg except the change that had accumulated in one of my desk drawers.  I gave hi ma measly $1.78.

After Greg left I returned to my desk.  As I resumed my tedious tasks Greg’s eyes remained in my memory.  Did I do all I could for him?  Did he really need a bus ticket?  Would I ever see him again?

Needing to grab a bite to eat I wandered across the street to a local favorite.  When I opened the door and entered the restuarant lobby there sat Greg, bundled and tucked in the warmest place he could find.  I invited Greg to share a meal with me and he accepted.

As Greg and I entered the restaurant together it was as if a plague had come over the place.  The crowd emitted waves of uncertainty, amazement, confusion, and fear.  Their faces and eyes were most telling, as if crying out…

…Why would a young white guy in slacks and a tie dine with a rugged black man in clothes unfit for most anyone?

…Does the restaurant manager know who is eating here?

…Please don’t sit too close to my family?

As we settled in to our chairs we both ordered.  I asked for a hamburger, Greg for a bowl of chili because “it sticks with the stomach.”

During the course of our meal Greg and I talked about the weather, family, jobs, and sports.  Greg played basketball in high school, and knew a few of the local stars from over the years.  He’d worked at several factories in the area, and had the calloused hands to prove it.  He spoke also of his mother and brother, smiling with pride at how “good they done themselves.” Our conversation was easy and pleasant, a blessing to me (and I hope for him as well).

In the end, Greg did have a story, one that included a bus ticket and money.  But his story included so much more.  It involved real people, faces, and places, with an interesting mix of truths, half-truths, and excitement.  (But aren’t all of our stories that way…the way we choose to remember them?  True at times? Yes.  Embellished and romanticized at the same time?  Of course.)  Perhaps what Greg needed was someone to listen to his story.  Someone to legitimize the telling and remembering of his life’s journey.

Soon after finishing the meal, Greg thanked me and asked to be excused.  He told me he needed to be on his way.  But my hunch is that Greg sensed what I sensed – the uneasniess of the room – and he wanted out…to be on his way…to continue his story…

 

Protecting God’s Creation.

Embracing Gospel Justice.

Nurturing Spiritual Fulfillment.


During Lent, our church has been participating in a wonderfully challenging program, Lent 4.5.  The  program is aimed at cultivating hearts and lifestyles of Christian simplicity.   Over the course of the Sundays in Lent, we have (and will) explore topics such as simplicity, consumption, food, water, energy, transportation, and giving and generosity.

We’re asking questions such as: How do we faithfully live in God’s creation?  How do we view and use our limited resources?  Are we being consumed by marketers and advertisers?

The congregation’s response have been beautifully mixed.  Some folks are really digging all the ways we’ve explored caring for creation.  Others aren’t quite on board…yet.  But God is moving in powerful ways…challenging the skeptics and motivating the passionate!

Over the next few days I’ll share some of the videos I’ve made that highlight the weekly themes.

Lent 4.5 is produced by the Passionist Earth and Spirit Center in Louisville, KY.

A recent article in The New York Times tells the story of an educated, qualified, and experienced man unable to land a job as a pastor.  The problematic note in his resume: Mr. Almlie is single, never married with no children.

Mr. Almlie wrote a few months ago, “Prejudice against single pastors abounds.”  The Times article highlights all the usual arguments for Mr. Almlie’s lack of job offers.  Churches may believe that only a married man can counsel married congregants.  Others may lament the absence of free labor from the (in)voluntary pastoral sidekick (aka. a spouse).  (This is also known as the pastoral “two-for one” deal.)  Some churches may fear the eligible bachelor may run off with a church member, or worse yet, a high school youth.

Some of these fear may be worthwhile, if not a little over the top.  My own youth group experience tells me that single youth leaders may  run off to Florida with 16 year-old sophomores.  (We should have known better when he asked us one youth gathering evening to spend 2 hours in “a private place” in “quiet time with God.”  I obliged…or at least I did for a few minutes.  He, on the other hand, remained quiet by locking his lips with his soon-to-be eloping bride.)  But this is likely the one unusual situation in the midst of all the other single pastors who are faithful in their calling, covenant, and trust with their congregation.

However, might not something else be at the core of Mr. Almlie’s dilemma and church fears?  Could it be that churches know all too well their hiring practices, but are less comfortable with discussions on sexuality?

What if sexuality…or the church’s inability to talk openly about it…or the churches’ fear of talking about it….is at the heart of the matter?

Mr. Almlie admits that he’s heard all the clouded fears and apprehensions with regards to sexuality.  Churches say, sometimes indirectly, “What if he is gay?  There must be something wrong with him if he’s single, right?  He’ll spend all of his time looking for a bride, and may even steal a married one from a congregant.”

If he’s gay…so what?  I have many gay friends, some of whom are church leaders whose spirituality and faith are far deeper than mine.

Is there something sociologically, psychologically, or physiologically wrong with single men and women…of course not.

Can a single man still speak truth into marital problems or circumstances?  Well, can a married man do the same for singles?  Obviously yes.

When will the church be able to have an honest conversation about sexuality?  Heterosexuality.  Homosexuality.  Singleness.  Divorce.  Married life.  Widows.  We must find ways to speak into the “marital” statues of all people.  Does not our call to Christian love demand that we affirm and love people regardless of whether or not there is a ring of their finger or a signed slip of paper at the county clerk’s office?

Even more, what would it take for us to accept a leader who has checked a different box on the marital status application than we check?  Could we not be enriched and shepherded by those whose relationship preference is “different?”

Lauren Winner captures the church’s attitude and problem surrounding sexuality aptly when she writes in her book, Real Sex:  “[In matters of sexuality] I have learned the importance of the church as much by the church’s absence as by its presence.  Sometimes I have been bowled over by the harm the church has done – in my life and others’ – by speaking thoughtlessly, or not speaking at all, about sex.”

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