Your Church: A Sailboat or a Submarine?

In San Diego there’s a boat museum with three old submarines tied to the dock. I was visiting the Russian Whisky Class submarine from the 1970s, when I noticed a beautiful sailboat tacking against the wind in the harbor. What’s the difference between these two boats? The sailboat is dealing with wind and current. It is taking risks. The Russian sub is securely fastened to the shore. It is a museum piece. I find that when I talk about the church in the postmodern world, the image of the sailboat resonates with only a few church leaders. Most pastors and lay people would prefer to have their house of worship firmly entrenched in tradition.

This sub is a museum piece

Selective memory

I have a special “Macro” lens for my camera. It’s job is to selectively focus on little things. If I want to get a broad picture of the landscape, I need to switch lenses. We all suffer from selective memory. Even when we talk about our day over dinner, we selectively focus on the things most likely to make us feel that we deserve that second desert. Most of the arguments that we have with our loved ones, involve a heavy dose of selective memory. So too, the conflicts that arise in church.

 

Pentecost 20
Sunday, September 21, 2014

Lift High the Cross

Out in the dessert, Moses lifts up a cross-shaped stick. This is the moment of maximum anxiety. The people have reached the end of their own resources. They are lost. They are sick. The are, what Jesus would later call, the poor in faith. They are entering a 12 Step program for irreligious people — which begins with admitting that we are powerless to save ourselves. On the stick is a brazen snake. This drains the last bit of rationality and ‘this is how we do things’ out of the situation. Imagine going down the aisle of your church with a snake on a stick. 

 

Holy Cross Sunday
Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Thneed for Loraxes

Dr Seuss wrote a book about a voice. An evil industrialist is chopping down all the truffula trees and making them into thneeds. The Lorax comes saying, “I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees.” This line gets repeated, but no one is listening. Soon, the trees are all gone, except for one seed. The book is not simply an environmental parable. It is also an account of the occasional, Lorax-like individual, who speaks for those who cannot speak for themselves.

 

I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees

Preparing for Action

It’s ritual. I hate ritual. I’m tempted to pass over the description of the Passover ritual in Exodus twelve. Repetitious religious acts are often used to reinforce institutional authority and corral us into compliance. Yet, what God commands Moses in Passover, and what we continue with frequent communion, is meant to free us for rebellion. Passover is like the church meetings held before the Montgomery Bus Boycott. When we remember, we remember that once we were slaves and now we are free.

 

Pentecost 18
Sunday, September 7, 2014

How Many People Are Enough?

Every good, or should I say, surviving pilot watches their altimeter. The very definition of flying involves being above the ground, and the very definition of being a church involves having a number of people in the pew. In an airplane, the number of feet above sea level is a statistic, a number which we are glad someone is watching. In the church, the number of people actively in worship, is also an important statistic. Some airplanes have a smaller gauge beside the altimeter labeled “rate of climb” (it also measures how fast you are falling). Churches, especially small churches, need to be aware of how quickly they are gaining or losing worshipers.

Small Churches are like crop dusting planes

I Am Who I Am

This is a good time to explain the name of God. It’s a pun. God will be who he will be. Like particles in quantum physics, he will appear as necessary, according to his own mysterious laws, in the midst of the situation. On the flip side of the pun, he has always been the unchanging one. This is a good time to say nothing. I follow the Hebrew convention of not uttering the name.  

 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The B-17 & the 8:15 Service

In WWII, allied airplane manufacturers used to send their design engineers to the runways to examine the wounded planes which limped back after action. Often a bomber would have a gapping hole in its wing or fuselage or even an entire section of its tail missing. The engineers would carefully note where each of these damages were, and then go back and design reinforcements for future aircraft. This is similar to the process that good church leaders use when evaluating programs and designing the church for change.

 

How do you design a better bomber, or a better church?

Returning to Exodus

If your life or your congregation is in transition, you would do well to study the Exodus cycle that runs through the fall season of the Common Lectionary. As a story teller, I’m mindful of the four parts of a good plot-line: 1) Character introduction, 2) Conflict, 3) Development, and 4) Resolution. At the end of Genesis, we are introduced to Joseph and Jacob/Israel. We are also given insights into the motivations and Character of God’s people (through Joseph’s brothers) and of their Egyptian hosts. Exodus throws us into the conflict between an immigrant people and their fearful neighbors. A break occurs.

Pentecost 16
Tuesday, August 19, 2014

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