Transition

Moses and the Second Midlife

Have you ever noticed that Moses’ life was divided into equal thirds — each lasting 40 years. In the first third he was the adopted child of the Pharaoh, ruler of Egypt. We can imagine Moses growing up in the competitive world of the palace. If you asked him what he wanted, more than anything else, I bet Moses would say that he wished to be successful. Many young adults today are driven by the need to be successful. They want to succeed at work, marry the best spouse, and achieve great things before they are 40.

Pentecost 17
Labor Day Weekend
Sunday, September 3, 2017

Why do the innocents suffer?

When we do Christmas, it is very tempting to skip the story of King Herod's murdering the children of the Bethlehem region. In a year when the innocent children of Syria, and their parents, have been made to suffer, this ommission is unconsciencable. I remember one adroit fool suggesting that we could skip Matthew 2:13-23 in our Sunday lections because the event discribed doesn't appear in the secular histories of the time and could have been made up by Matthew. The only secular histories we have from this period are pro-Roman (Josephus wants to paint the Herodians in a better light for his Roman audience) the way Putin/Trump is pro-Assad and love FOX news.

Herod verses Jesus

It is the Christmas after an election year and we read Isaiah’s prophesy knowing that Isaiah’s audience heard it as a political statement. The people of the Bible actually were looking for someone to make their nation great again. They heard Isaiah and imagined a ruler with such wisdom that there would be; “endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” (9:7)

Christmas Day
Sunday, December 25, 2016

You want me to be nice?

Jeremiah hears God telling people to settle down, contribute their own sweat equity towards establishing of a healthy community, and be nice to the Babylonians. His actual words are, “Seek the welfare of the city.” God is speaking to his people. The same people who have just lost their home, seen their house of worship burned to the ground and their beautiful city invaded by the Babylonians. They have been rounded up like cattle and marched across the desert to Babylon. They are weary and resentful. They want to escape. They want to lash out and sabotage the plans of their captors.

Pentecost 23
Sunday, October 9, 2016

The 5 Stages of Psalm 137

Anger is one of Elizabeth Kugler-Ross’ 5 Stages of Grief , and as Scott Peck reminds us, grief is a part of every transition. Say, we lose our job. While adrift, we stew. “I gave the best years of my life…” In time, we move on to another career, or discover that God had a reason for it. We accept it as a blessing. Still, anger was a real stage in our transition. When someone we love dies, anger often lashes out at an innocent bystander. It is human nature to shoot the messenger. We may be excited about moving to a new neighborhood, but soon reality sets in.

World Communion Sunday
Sunday, October 2, 2016

Why Process Matters

With all of the “secret” Trump supporters lately, I have begun to fear that he might win the popular vote in November, but lose the presidency in the Electoral College. This has happened four times in the history of the United States. In Bush verses Gore in 2000, over a half million more people cast their ballots for Senator Gore, than for George W. Bush. When the loss of Florida’s electoral votes tipped the balance towards Bush, Al Gore graciously conceded. This is not something I expect Donald Trump to do.

Offering Prayers for Pets

Yesterday we laid to rest our faithful dog, Bella. She was a small shepherd mix, with a gentle disposition, who loved to travel. She suffered more than she needed to over this winter because she refused to take her medication, and I ran out of ways to sneak the pill into the food that she was losing interest in eating.  As we held the graveside service, I realized that I had crossed a line. Before Bella adopted us, I was uncomfortable offering up to the Lord requests concerning the welfare of pets. “There are no cats in heaven. And no, Lassie doesn’t have a soul,” I would say.

Fire and Rain

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. Through the flame, you will go. But it will not consume you.

The passage from Isaiah about God promising to be with us through hell and high water is almost as famous as James Taylor’s song: 

I've seen fire and I've seen rain. I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end.
I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend, but I always thought that I'd see you again.

Epiphany 1
Sunday, January 10, 2016

Holiday Pilgrimage

We only have one childhood story about Jesus, that of his amazing the elders in the temple. I’m not really sure what this story tells us about Jesus, or his Home-Alone-ish family, but its context deserves some reflection. A couple times a year, people would pilgrimage to the temple. Diaspora Jews would make these trips less frequently, perhaps, once or twice in a life-time. We have little in today’s world that is equivalent to this. As someone who cares about mental health, family systems, and healthy transitions, I think this is our loss.

Christmas 1
Sunday, December 27, 2015

On the Way

This is the season when we get in the car and journey to see family and friends. When the kids complain because it’s three hours in the car to Grandma’s, we remind them how Joseph and Mary saddled up the old Yugo and drove a hundred miles, the limit of that car’s extended warranty, in order to get tax forms from Quirinius’ office in Bethlehem, because Nazareth was too small a town to have wi-fi. The thing we mustn’t miss in our attempt to explain the oddness of Palestinian life, is that faith is a journey. Jesus invited people to follow him.

Advent 1
Communion
Sunday, November 29, 2015

Balancing Transition's Concerns

All transition has three components. It doesn’t matter if you are moving to a new location, starting a career, or exiting puberty. For general terms you could name the components: body, soul, and relationships. Attention should be paid to each one; failed transitions and broken hearts are often the product of rushing the process and failing to do one or two components well. 

 

7 Stages of Change

Summer is a good time to talk about transition, even if your church isn’t going through one. Many of your members will be mid-transition. The important thing to remember is that all forms of major change are similar. Use the table below or think through the plots of movies, books, or Bible stories. 

 

 

What Changes and What does Not

One way to say something different about the familiar Psalm 23, is to list the things that are constant about our relationship with God and give personal examples for each. Then point out that the psalm deals with the scary changeableness of life and its great transitions. This contrast, lulling people into a security with the familiar aspects of their favorite psalm, then hitting them with the harsh realities that demand faith, can be effective, if you don’t show your hand ahead of the big reveal.

Pentecost 11
Sunday, July 19, 2015

Transitional Tasks

Back in the 1970s, Loren Mead identified “Five Developmental Tasks” for transitional leaders. In the next few weeks, some of you will be moving to a new church and/or your church may be recieving new leadership. These five tasks provide a check list for healthy transition:

 

1) Help the congregation come to terms with its History.

Love on the Journey

Life is, in its simplest telling, a journey story. This is why our hearts are drawn to stories like the Hobbit, the Exodus, and Homer’s Odyssey. Psalm 139 tells us that the journey has purpose. It assures me that [God has] searched out my path and my lying down, and is acquainted with all my ways. Such knowledge is overwhelming. Whatever you say about this Psalm, don’t water down the intense and poetic way it expresses God’s love for us as individuals. 

 

Epiphany 2
Sunday, January 18, 2015

Say Yes to the Dress

TLC does a bit of fluff called “Say Yes to the Dress.” It shows brides arguing with their mothers as they choose a dress for her to wear for three hours on one day and costs — well, if you have to ask the price you’re not really putting yourself into their demographic. It’s Queen for the Day, remade for today’s cable channel surfer, minus the backstory of how miserable the woman’s life was before this moment and how much she needs to feel special for an hour. My hatred of Say Yes…  may be why Isaiah 62:10 popped out a me this week.

Advent 3
Sunday, December 14, 2014

From Mount Pisgah’s Lofty Height

The story of Moses and the great wilderness transition comes to an end on Mount Pisgah (Deuteronomy 34:1-12). Like all great stories, it is bitter-sweet. The future lays before Moses. He can look into the Promised Land, but not enter. His role has been to guide the people out of slavery and through a transitional period. I’ve always felt that those who look for some sin to be the cause of Moses not crossing the Jordan, miss the point. Most of the world’s greatest leaders were given boundaries. Winston Churchill led Britain through World War II, and then was promptly voted out of office.

Last Sunday in Pentecost
Sunday, October 26, 2014

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

A Reality Check 101 Workshop

Bill Kemp is available to do a Reality Check 101 workshop in your church.  Reality Check is designed to help churches discover their mission and thrive through transition. If your congregation is experiencing decline and desires a turnaround, try Reality Check. If you are going through transition or finding that your sense of mission is fuzzy, try Reality Check. Bill Kemp's Reality Check is a toolbox of laity oriented material. You can tailor it to your church. And yes, it is appropriate for churches that are going through a change in pastors.

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

The State of Maximum Mess

Whether you are moving, staging a revolution, having kids, or, as I am, remodeling the house, you will pass through a state of maximum mess. All transition times have stages. Home remodeling has six:

We are Kodak

Why did Kodak die? The simple answer is that people stopped buying film. Besides the world’s most famous film, Kodachrome, Kodak made darkroom chemicals and papers. Today, when photographs are printed people use inkjets. There are those who would fault Kodak’s leadership with not shifting full time into the digital camera market or becoming a leader in providing paper and ink. This is worst kind of Monday morning quarterbacking. Kodak has enjoyed great leadership. They would need a leader like Harry Potter to take on Canon, Nikon, or Epson.

Practical Packing

My mother has a suggestion from her mother concerning the comforting of cats. Many pets find moving to a new house to be traumatic. So when grandma moved, she always coated the cat’s paws with butter. The animal would spend the time in the car licking her self clean instead of fretting. It would be nice if there were similar procedures for the humans in transit during a clergy move.

 

With that in mind, here are eight thoughts on clergy family moves:

Leaving in the Wake of Change

There was a time when most pastoral moves were easier on the congregation than on the clergy family. Denominational officials used to be able to handle pastoral calls and appointments as a game of musical chairs; Alice leaves seminary and goes to church A, Henry leaves church A and goes to the slightly bigger church B, Kim leaves church B and goes to a position in the denomination’s head office. Note that in the past, change meant change in pastors. Today change means new roles and new relationships for both parties. While you, as the pastor, are praying and prodding yourself and your family through the mess of moving, your parishioners may be preparing for an even more challenging change.

Prayer and Process

I often repeat the motto, ‘In a transition, the process is always more important than any one result.” For example; If you are moving your family to another city, you may think it is important to pack your glassware so that your cups don’t chip. In reality, the process of getting everyone in the family to make the transition, have their concerns recognized, and feel positive about the move, is more important. Surrounding any result we wish to achieve in a transitional period, there is a greater process. Sometimes by sheer will power and the cunning manipulation of others, we achieve our desired result.

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