Thursday, July 30, 2009

SOFTEN YOUR HEART

Here's where authenticity and genuine growth begin

LISTENING IN REMEMBRANCE. Remembering that July 28 was the 28th anniversary of Keith Green's death in a plane crash, I've been listening to some of his music on my iPod. The following lyrics struck me as particularly poignant last evening.

YE MUST! VS WON'T YOU? Keith was a preacher, to be sure, but he was a preacher/singer who preached and sang, for all his intensities, with a brokenness and softness. I think this song captures that juxtaposition of "ye must" respond to the truth and "won't you" see what this Jesus reality is all about. "You won't learn a thing until you soften your heart."

HEART SOFTENING. Softening one's heart seems to be a critical action in many arenas and relationships and dimensions of life, doesn't it? I'd put it on a top ten list of steps into a renewed and hopeful life. We look at people and situations with such closedness, hard-eyedness, presumption, cynicism and criticism. We block whatever we might learn and however we might grow by just not being open, not softening our heart. Why not soften my heart?

So many times I've tried to tell you
But I don't think you've been listening
There's nothing I wanna try and sell you
'Cause His love is free

You're so proud of saying you're a seeker
But why are you searching in the dark?
You won't find a thing
Until you soften your heart

The message is oh so very simple
You gotta be like a child to see
'Cause Jesus said "Let the little children
Come unto Me"

You try to make things to complicated
But you really don't have to be so smart
You don't learn a thing
Until you soften your heart

Well if this just this once
I could show you your empty life
I know you would follow him
Right now

Well I know it sounds
Just too good to be true
But if He Lives in you
You'll never die, You'll never die,
You'll live forever
You'll never die, You'll never die,
Take care of forever now

You tell everyone to keep on smiling
Your outlook on life is so positive
But deep down inside
You're searching for a reason to live

Like everyone else you're scared of dying
But the power of death has been blown apart
And you'll live forever
If you soften your heart

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

GETTING RID OF ENEMIES

E. Stanley Jones points out the most effective way to deal with one's enemies

My thanks to Linda Spaulding for reminding me of this statement by Methodist missionary to India E. Stanley Jones:

“The method of getting rid of your enemies by loving them—how unsubstantial it seems alongside the quick, solid way of getting rid of them by force! But the method of force turns out to be a great illusion, for if you conquer the body of a man you do not touch the real man. He is still an enemy and now a worse enemy than ever. You have conquered his body but not his soul. Only love and good will are strong enough to reach down to the inner life and turn one from enmity to good will.”

– E. Stanley Jones in Christ of the Mount

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

RUN TO THE END OF THE HIGHWAY

On this day 28 years ago, singer-songwriter Keith Green was killed in plane crash

UNTYPICAL CHRISTIAN. Keith Green was so untypical as a Christian and musician. He was radical. He resisted the Christian music industry. He gave his records away. He held free concert and just passed an offering plate. His music was alive with passion for Jesus and reaching others with God's love. He was only 28 when he died in a plane crash on July 28, 1982. His music lives. I sing it all the time. It has been a motivation and comfort for me at various times. Thankful for his witness and shared gifts. Here are the lyrics to "Run to the End of the Highway."

Well you can run to the end of the highway and not find what you're looking for,
Moving won't make your troubles disappear.
And you can search to the end of the highway and come back no better than before.
To find yourself you've got to start right here.

Well I came running when I got the news that you were leaving.
Oh, I've gotta talk some sense to you, cause I'm your friend.
You say you want to hit the road cause life is so deceiving.
Do you think it's different at the other end?

So you can run to the end of the highway and not find what you're looking for.
Moving won't make your troubles disappear.
And you can search to the end of the highway and come back no better than before.
To find yourself you've got to start right here.

Oh I came running when I got the news that you were crying.
Oh my friend has life been so unkind to you?
You say you want to find a place where people are not lying.
If you find a place like that I'll go there too.

Oh, you can run to the end of the highway and not find what you're looking for.
Moving won't make your troubles disappear.
And you can search to the end of the highway and come back no better than before.
To find yourself you've got to start right here.
Yes, to find yourself, you've got to start right here.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Monday, July 27, 2009

12 MEMORABLE THINGS FROM JULY IN FRANCE

All good things come to an end. Thanks for the inspiration, guys

The 2009 edition of the 3-week athletic epic known as the Tour de France concluded on Sunday on the circuits of the Champs Elysees in Paris. What an interesting race with multiple compelling story lines. Here are the 12 stories by which I will remember this race with gratitude:

1. The return of Lance Armstrong to the Tour after 3 1/2 years of retirement. At age 37, he proved he's still got it...and maybe a few more years.

2. Lance and 2007 Tour champ Alberto Contador vying for dominance at the top of the strongest team. Team Astana, sponsored by the tourism department of Kazakhstan, was stacked. Four cyclists from the team could have won the Tour and, but for the immaturity of Contador, Astana might have swept 1-2-3 in the overall category. Contador won the "top dog" bragging rights this year. Don't look for Contador on Lance's newly-announced team and sponsor, Radio Shack, next year.

3. The duel/rivalry between two American teams--Garmin-Slipstream and Columbia-HTC. Great to have two American-based teams with a smattering of American cyclists on them duking it out for sprint superiority and mountain-stage finishes. Bradley Wiggins of Garmin-Slipstream emerged as a top contender. George Hincapie shined for Columbia-HTC. And what can you say about Mark Cavendish?

4. The incredible sprinting power of Mark Cavendish--who iced the cake with a 6th stage victory on the Champs Elysees. He did not win the Green Jersey competition; Thor Hushovd bested him by just 10 points. But Cavendish emphatically ascended to the title of fastest cyclist in the world, winning seven sprint finishes and staking 1st place in six stages. Great Britain has much to cheer and look forward to.

5. The Schleck brothers, Andy and Frank of Luxembourg. Andy finished 2nd overall with the sacrificial support of Frank. These guys are mountain specialists and they put on a show for the world in the Alps. Frank sacrificing himself so Andy could move into 2nd place on the Parish podium is a great story that will be often retold.

6. Epic climbs and mountain-top finishes, particularly at Verbier and Ventoux. Pain and grit personified.

7. The stage George Hincapie should have ridden into the Yellow Jersey but was denied(by just 5 seconds) by now finger-pointing American teams and former teammates. Everyone was pulling for the big North Carolinian to get the Yellow Jersey, if but for a day. But he was denied it by a few seconds. Why did the American teams pick up the pace to try to catch his breakaway group? What did they have to gain? Was Garmin-Slipstream just playing spoiler?

8. Contador's overall dominance confirmed but significant immaturity exposed. Okay, the Spaniard was best overall. He time-trialed well, winning the last individual time trial. He climbed better than his rivals. He had a team that gave him the margin he needed in the team time trial. And the strength of Astana gave him an advantage he will never again enjoy. I give it up for Contador, though I can't quite put my finger on why I don't really like him. I can point to his attack of the Schleck brothers and his teammate Andreas Kloden in Stage 18 as one reason. The attack was unnecessary and fruitless and it ultimately knocked Kloden out of contention for a podium finish.

9. Lance finishing 3rd overall, after sacrificing his chances of contending with Contador for top spot by staying back to mark Bradley Wiggins in Stage 18. Lance showed a grace in this race not previously known. And there's more to come.

10. Fabian Cancellara's dominance in individual time trials. The Swiss is the best, hands down, at time trialing.

11. Levi Leipheimer crashing out while in 4th place overall. Tough fall for our man from Montana.

12. No doping scandals! First year in a long time that no one has been sent home for use of banned performance-enhancing substances. Lance was tested 12 times during the Tour.

Great, clean, well-ridden race. Thanks to all. A great way to spend July. I look forward to next year!

BTW: This photo, of Lance stepping off the Paris podium to the adoration and applause of his children, is my favorite of this year's Tour. What matters.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

TAKE IT TO THE LIMIT

ONE MORE TIME. What draws or drives Tour de France cyclists to ride over 100 miles at break-neck speeds and make gut-wrenching mountain climbs day after day? Take it to the limit one more time!

11 YEARS FOLLOWING THE TOUR. I've done more Twittering during this year's Tour than my usual precise recapping and commentary. Each of the eleven years I've followed the Tour, I've e-journaled or blogged it. I've enjoyed this year's race no less than usual. But I've felt less possessed to describe the essence of each stage in detail. There have been some awesome moments and I'll likely reprise them in a "Top 10" on my Tour de France for the Rest of Us blog tomorrow.

TWITTERING THE TOUR. Twittering fits my circumstances this year. And it's new media for me to match with the message. I find the invitation/challenge of saying something meaningful within the measure of 140 characters a good thinking and writing discipline. I've followed the "Versus" channel's/site's tweets during each stage, which kept me in the loop when I couldn't be watching on the Internet. Quick recaps also seem to capture the essence of a stage, a rider's feat, or the next day's challenge.

EVENING BEFORE PARIS. I'm thinking of what it must be like on the eve of the ride into Paris. It must feel happy/sad. Relief, surely, that no more Mt Ventoux's loom. No more break-neck chasing down a breakaway. But camaraderie within the peloton grows among and between the riders and teams over 2000 miles and three weeks. Competitors and contenders, to be sure. But an elite cadre of athletes who gel together over the torturous journey.

ON TO THE CHAMPS ELYSEES. The past stage is largely ceremonial...until the peloton hits the Champs Elysees circuits on Sunday afternoon. To win a stage before that throng...oh my! No doubt Mark Cavendish would like one more sprint-finish victory to add to the 5 stage wins he's collected this month. If things go as they should, Alberto Contador will claim his second (though not consecutive) Tour title. Luxenbourger Andy Schleck will be runner-up. And the cancer-surviving Texan who stood on the top of the podium seven consecutive times before retiring three and half years ago, will claim third place. I hope to be watching.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

NO GRADUAL GROWTH

Spiritual growth is more crisis and struggle than being gradually elevated.
"Spiritual growth is rarely a gentle, gradual ascent, but instead is a series of crises, conflicts, kairos moments, through which we are confronted with threats, choices, challenges, to which we respond or fail to respond. Either way these crises do not leave us unchanged."

-- Kenneth Leech in In the Eye of the Storm, Harper Collins, 1992

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

NOT MARKETING JESUS

It is not our job as Christians to market or promote Jesus, but to follow Jesus

ONE OF THEM. I am a Christian and an ordained Christian minister. I don't lead with that, usually. I don't wear a clerical collar. I don't put "The Rev." in front of my professional name associations. I am just as happy to fly under the radar screen of officialdom and social association. I don't need to be overtly recognized as a Christian or Christian minister. Certainly, I'd rather not be associated with these in any negative stereotypical sense.

NUANCE MATTERS. I am a Christian and an ordained Christian minister. And, while I don't lead with these and profoundly dislike the erroneous ways these are frequently presented or presumed, I am these unflinchingly. I have chosen to be a follower of Jesus Christ and embrace the promise of the Kingdom of God among us conveyed through the Scriptures as the best approach to life, relationships, conflict resolution, and community. I don't embrace everything that is said or done in the name of Jesus Christ or Christianity; in fact, there is much said and done in Jesus' name that is misleading or flat-out wrong.

FINDING VALID VOICES, PRACTITIONERS. Every now and then, however, I come across people who think, write, act and live in ways that I feel are quite consistent with the heart of the Scriptures and the living Word of God. Helmut Thielicke is one of those writers/preachers that I think rings true to the cause. I pulled this quote from him a few years ago and came across it a few days ago--and it refreshed me as I think about my new role as Director of Advancement with International Child Care Ministries.
"Mission' becomes necessary to carry this message into the world of gods, idols, and ideologies. It must be done as though we were spreading a little bit of propaganda for the sake of expanding Christian conviction and a particular nation's way of life. It must be done because Christ is the Lord and the very theme of the world..."

"We are not Christian activists, drumming up business by grabbing the arm of the Lord and stretching it across the world through proven advertising techniques..."

"The situation is exactly the opposite. If we have rightly understood the message of the ascension we know that His arm is indeed
already stretched above the world and all we have to do is to follow this outstretched Hand. Our task is not to figure out how to master the public; we are only to be in earnest about make the Master public."
In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Monday, July 20, 2009

BEING AND PRESENCE, NOT TECHNIQUE AND KNOW-HOW

Edwin Friedman's perspective on leadership bears repeating

“By well-differentiated leader…I mean someone who has clarity about his or her own life goals, and, therefore, someone who is less likely to become lost in the anxious emotional processes swirling about. I mean someone who can separate while still remaining connected, and therefore can maintain a modifying, non-anxious, and sometimes challenging presence. I mean someone who can manage his or her own reactivity to the automatic reactivity of others, and therefore be able to take stands at the risk of displeasing. What counts is a leader’s presence and being, not technique and know-how.” -- Edwin Friedman


In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A WELL-DIFFERENTIATED LEADER

Edwin H. Friedman’s book “A Failure of Nerve” is challenging me

BEYOND QUICK-FIX LEADING. Rod Smith put me onto A Failure of Nerve, subtitled “Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix.” I’ve read, enjoyed, been challenged by, and bought into Friedman’s book Generation to Generation. It's a family systems approach to understanding and working healingly with congregations, families, and individuals...even oneself. Friedman’s Fables is also a gem. A Failure of Nerve is published post-humously; Friedman died of a heart attach several years ago.

UNFINISHED OPUS. Though abbreviated because unfinished (his family and organization worked to make it publishable), the book builds on Friedman’s systems view, applying it to his observation of leadership pathologies. I find some similarities between this and the ideas in Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute. Here are a few things I’ve underlined in A Failure of Nerve as I make my way through it:

DEFINING FACTOR. “The single variable that most distinguished the families that survived and flourished from those that disintegrated was the presence of what I shall refer to as a well-differentiated leader.”

SEPARATE BUT CONNECTED. “By well-differentiated leader…I mean someone who has clarity about his or her own life goals, and, therefore, someone who is less likely to become lost in the anxious emotional processes swirling about. I mean someone who can separate while still remaining connected, and therefore can maintain a modifying, non-anxious, and sometimes challenging presence. I mean someone who can manage his or her own reactivity to the automatic reactivity of others, and therefore be able to take stands at the risk of displeasing.”

PRESENCE AND BEING. “What counts is a leader’s presence and being, not technique and know-how.”

IMPACTING SYSTEM INDIRECTLY. “If a leader did not have to be in direct contact with every member [of the institution] in order to influence them, then it should follow that if a leader could learn to be a well-differentiated presence, by the very nature of his or her being he or she could promote differentiation and support creative imagination throughout the system. This would be the case not by focusing on techniques for moving others, but by focusing on the nature of his or her own being and presence.”

VISION IS NOT ENOUGH. “A leader must separate his or her own emotional being from that of his or her followers while still remaining connected. Vision is basically an emotional rather than a cerebral phenomenon, depending more on a leader’s capacity to deal with anxiety than his or her professional training or degree. A leader needs the capacity to not only to accept the solitariness that comes with the territory, but also come to love it.”

WORK ON YOURSELF. “It is the integrity of the leader that promotes the integrity or prevents the ‘dis-integr-ation’ of the system he or she is leading.”


In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Friday, July 17, 2009

"REVOLUTION IS HERE SUNDAYS 11 AM"

I saw this on a banner on the front of a church in the Midtown neighborhood of Kansas City. It got me thinking...


SIGNS, SIGNS, EVERYWHERE SIGNS. Right in the heart of the old city neighborhood, just off Main Street but clearly visible from the thoroughfare, I read this printing on a stark banner: “Revolution Is Here Sundays 11am.” I turned off Main Street where I was riding my bike as a visitor in Kansas City and pedaled to the old but cared-for church building. It was a United Methodist Church. I saw some folks carrying boxes of food from an old passenger van into a side door, something I figured was part of the church food pantry. I snapped a picture of the church with the banner prominently displayed. I uploaded the photo to my laptop and posted in on bikehiker blog. And I’ve been mulling over the message.


WHAT REVOLUTION? Actually, I would like to return to that church at 11 am on a Sunday. I want to find out what they mean. I want to see if it’s just a slogan. I hope it’s not. I want to see if revolution is there. If it is there, I want to observe it, even experience it. I may even want to be a part of it. It depends on what it is. What revolution is the United Methodist Church in Midtown Kansas City, Missouri declaring? You should go there some Sunday and find out. Let me know when you do.


AS ADVERTIZED? I wondered if I would have put that banner on the churches I have pastored? Would it have been false advertizing? Or is revolution what is happening—subtly, powerfully—at a deeper level, beneath and above every effort to do the right things and to do things right? Is it possible that revolution is working beneath the surface, in spite of our efforts to look calm, cool and collected, in spite of our penchant for trying to appear middle-of-the-road, middle class American? Maybe. But it seems like we would know at least something of it if revolution was working in us and through us. Do we co-opt revolution with religiousness?


RADICAL HOSPITALITY. I once put on our church message board what I saw on the front of a Quaker meeting house: “Friends Welcome; Strangers Expected.” I certainly expected and hopefully anticipated strangers to come into our midst and find us open-hearted and open-handed, welcoming and warm. Not sure if most in the congregation felt the same way. I worried what might happen if some of the surlier-looking strangers I’d seen walk up and down the street our church building was located on actually took us seriously and came inside. To me, it would be a revolution if all of us who’ve been surly and have yet been welcomed by someone and embraced by Jesus and engrafted into a fellowship we don’t deserve would, in turn, offer a radical hospitality to strangers—not just on Sundays at 11 am, but intentionally, purposefully, in a lifestyle of grace.


DON’T SLEEP THROUGH IT! I have a book on my shelf by Paul S. Rees that’s titled “Don’t Sleep Through the Revolution.” I wonder if anyone at the church that proclaims or embodies revolution sleeps through the pastor’s sermons. I know that “Don’t Sleep Through the Revolution” is the title of a lecture Martin Luther King, Jr. gave to an academically-astute audience. In it, he challenged stoically unflappable and socially disengaged people to wake up to the reality of glaring injustices, to see the breakthroughs that were emerging, and to become part of the changed future that was on the horizon. I wonder what percentage of his listeners in that lecture took him seriously--took off their jackets, loosened their ties, rolled up their sleeves, opened up their wallets, got down on their knees, took to the streets, and marched into a new day of hope for race reconciliation and equal opportunity. What percentage walked away entertained, their imagination tickled, but essentially unchanged?


REVIVAL AND REVOLUTION. I grew up in a revivalist church environment. Our church talked revival, prayed for revival, told stories about revival, and conducted revival meetings—campaigns, they were called. God wasn’t interested in empty forms of worship and going through the motions of religion, we said. God wanted to change lives—inside and out. God could make you holy—heart and life. Even when we weren’t in revival meetings, every Sunday that we gathered I think a significant number in the congregation expected some lives to be changed. I’ve never thought anything else or expected anything less. Even as our revivalist churches have morphed away from mere revivalism, a revivalist ethos remains, I think. Whatever is planned in the worship service is interruptable if the Spirit so stirs and moves hearts in sin-convicting, love-convincing, forgiveness-bearing, relationship-reconciling, compassion-sharing, injustice-challenging ways. But revolution?


SOLIDARITY AND LIBERATION. My revivalist and Wesleyan-holiness upbringing set me up to embrace liberation theology. Liberation theology simply takes holiness of heart and life to a lived-out level in settings where people are unwittingly held captive to systemic evil--exploited by multi-national corporations, intimidated by corrupt governments, held captive to ancient tribal norms, and immobilized by crushing poverty. Instead of offering a religion of pie in the sky, liberation takes the Bible at face value and invites folks into a living Exodus—here, in this world, now. The same God who led Israel out of bondage is leading today—not just to an altar of confession and forgiveness, but into solidarity with all oppressed people and an ongoing nonviolent confrontation in social settings that exploit people, prey upon the weak, take advantage of disadvantage, enslave, shame, and kill. That’s King’s revolution, dismantling segregation and opening up equal opportunity. That’s South Africa’s revolution, dismantling apartheid and giving black majority its due. That’s urban ministry’s revolution, standing with the poor, offering hospitality to strangers, and laboring for community renewal in the face of flight, blight and fright.


CRASH HELMETS REQUIRED. “Revolution is here. Sundays 11 am.” I wonder: Is the church too tame? Do we expect revolution? If so, do we expect it just on Sundays at 11 am? Pray that a revolution of heart and mind begins there. Pray that it manifests in passionate action beyond the walls after the benediction. Pray that it pervades our lives in daily loving service, seeking justice, and bearing peace. Let revolution happen here, now, in our hearts, through our lives...even through all-too-tame churches. Perhaps Annie Dillard's suggestion that we wear crash helmets in worship will someday be necessary. And when we walk out, we engage in the spiritual struggle that everywhere presents itself—full of the revolutionary love that has power to change the world.


I snapped this photo on a very rainy summer day in Kansas City, Missouri. It's a United Methodist Church right off Main Street in Midtown.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.



Thursday, July 16, 2009

A TAPESTRY'S UNDERSIDE

Seeing the wrong of side of the tapestry, I must keep my sight on the Hands that weave it

HAND AND HEART. While reading Helmut Thielicke, I came across this striking description of God's work amid the sometimes confusing, not-understandable ways in our experiences of life. I like the robust imagery of tapestry anyway, but Thielicke applies it one further helpful way.

"God is weaving a tapestry which I now see from the wrong side. If I lose sight of the Hands that are weaving it, the meaninglessness will make my blood turn cold. But whoever has known Christ has not only seen the Hands that do the weaving, but also the Heart that devises the woven design. And my now seeing the tapestry of life only from the wrong side kindles the deepest passion to be close to that Heart, drawing comfort from it and resting in it."

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

TWO QUALITIES OF FORGIVENESS

To forgive and to be forgiven--both are necessary to community

A GREAT RESISTANCE. "Forgiveness has two qualities: one is to allow yourself to be forgiven, and the other is to forgive others. The first quality is harder than the second. To allow yourself to be forgiven puts you in a dependency situation. If someone says, 'I want to forgive you for something,' I may say back, 'But I didn't do anything. I don't need forgiveness. Get out of my life.' It's very important that we acknowledge that we are not fulfilling other people's needs and that we need to be forgiven. There is great resistance to that. We come from a culture that is terribly damaged in this area. We find it hard to forgive and to ask to be forgiven..."

WHEN COMMUNITY CAN BE CREATED. "It's not just individuals who need to forgive and to be forgiven. We all need to be forgiven. We ask each other to put ourselves in that vulnerable position--and that's when community can be created."

-- Henri Nouwen, quoted in The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life, a collection of Henri Nouwen's writings compiled and edited by Wendy Wilson Greer (Crossroad, 1999).

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

PERSON UNDER CONSTRUCTION

"Whereas the modern personality seeks fulfillment
through an uncovering process, the early Christians
sought fulfillment--or rather, completion--through
a process of formation, that is, through a kind of
shaping or molding of the self... The model governing
the shaping was Jesus Christ." -- Robin Maas


In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

BETWEEN CHURCHES

A strange place and process to be in at this point in life

I really don't like being in this place, between churches. It's a little more complicated than that, but that's what it comes down to. I'm in my second week in a new ministry assignment and two weeks out of serving as Senior Pastor to good urban congregation that was also our church home prior to my service as its pastor for the past six and half years. Last weekend, our family visited our daughter and son-in-law in Kansas City, so this is the Sunday to be a local visitor somewhere.

I've mostly avoided thinking about this challenge over the past two weeks. It's a precarious and strange place to be. I know our family is welcome at the church where I was assigned, but I think a transition to new leadership is best without a former pastor around in any capacity. My heart's prayer for the church is to know the fullness of God's intention for all in a faithfulness to its unique mission. Some of the best people I've ever known and been in relationship with are part of the congregation. For these and all I pray grace.

As we consider new fellowship, we'll make a family decision over some time, I suppose. Personally, I would love to immerse in strong Anglican liturgy on one hand and contemporary worship on the other. Not a hybrid, but both. Go figure. In any congregation, a bottom line for me will be its challenge to genuine service to the poor and a theology and practice that embraces the whole city, inside and out. Who knows where this goes? Prayers for our weeks and months ahead are appreciated. I am confident we will be guided well if we are earnest in our seeking, asking and following Jesus as our present Teacher, Guide and Lord.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Friday, July 10, 2009

CONFESSION OF A MANIA

I'm addicted to the Tour de France. There. I've said it.

EVERY JULY. I try to keep a lid on my enthusiasm. I know most folks really don't care to hear about it. But they hear about it from me anyway. I bend my schedule around it. I read everything I can and tune in to little online video windows to watch early in the morning. I buy expanded cable access for one month to watch the specter. For ten years running now, I've had a mania for the Tour de France.

BEYOND BIKE HIKING. I enjoy bicycling nearly every day, either on my road bike or mountain bike. I participate in regional group cycling events like the Hilly Hundred and NITE Ride. I guess I'm what you'd call a bicycling enthusiast or advocate. I've even ridden 2,000 miles on a bicycle through India. But none of this explains to me the mania that emerges full force when the Tour de France rolls around each July.

FIRST WATCH. I began following the Tour closely after reading an article in Bicycling magazine about Lance Armstrong's bout with cancer and his upcoming attempt to ride the Tour de France. I followed that first post-cancer campaign with real interest, unaware of the nature of the Tour de France, the terms the announcers used (peloton, escape, breakaway, wheel sucker, bonking, etc.), or the real test of stamina and power it represented. By the end of it, however, I was hooked.

TEN-YEAR ADDICTION. It's been a decade of this July enthusiasm. Who would've imagined Lance Armstrong winning seven Tours in a row? Even after the American disappeared from the scene, my intense interest held. No doubt, the presence of real American contenders in the Tour like Levi Leipheimer and Christian Vande Velde, kept me particularly interested. But now the return of Armstrong to the Tour heightens my interest significantly.

SEARCHNG FOR SOURCES. My mania must be some combination of love for cycling, recognition of the pain and struggle of being in the saddle long hours and struggling up steeps, the complexity of the Tour's diverse stages and format, the incredible beauty of the countrysides, villages, and mountains of the Tour, the team strategies, the unexpected breakthroughs and turns in the drama of the race, the presence of Americans in a European-dominated sport, and the post-cancer feat of Lance Armstrong. It all adds up.

GOTTA GO... I'd write more, but Stage 7 is underway. I don't want to miss what could be the defining stage of this year's event. It's the first day in the mountains. The long stage has a Category 1 mountain climb in the middle and a Hors Categorie--beyond categorization--mountain climb at the end. Armstrong said yesterday that this stage "separates the contenders from the pretenders." We'll see where he stands in that assessment. If he's a real contender, he could be wearing the Maillot Jaune--the yellow jersey of the overall race leader--at the of the day. We'll see!


In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

OUR PRIVILEGE


“Aren’t we privileged to live in a time when everything is at stake, and when our efforts make a difference in the eternal contest between light and shadow, between togetherness and division? Between justice and exploitation? O, be joyful that you are a warrior in this great time! Will we rise to this battle? If so, we cannot lose, for rising up to it is our victory. If we represent love in the world, you see, we have already won.”

-- from Doris “Granny D” Haddock’s 93rd birthday speech. Granny D, born in 1910, walked across the United States at age 90 to call attention to the need for campaign finance reform. In 2004, she ran unsuccessfully for the U. S. Senate in New Hampshire.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

POWER VS AUTHORITY

Sacrificial service, not power politics, produces credible authority in the marketplace of ideas

In his book Red Letter Christians, Tony Campolo draws three distinctions that so-called "evangelical" Christians, weary of right-wing power politics, can make to move toward a more responsible, biblical approach to politics. Drawing on the scenario painted in Isaiah 65 and the words and actions of Jesus (those "red-letter words"), Campolo invites folks to choose to place (1) issues over party, (2) authority over power, and (3) knowledge over ignorance.

I especially appreciate his invitation to think and act with authority, not power. Authority comes through authentic service, not arm-twisting, name-calling, division-building, self-righteous power mongering. I like the following statement Campolo makes:

"I contend that Christians will only have authority if they first serve the needs of others in sacrificial ways, especially the poor and oppressed. When those who hold power witness how Christians live out love--meeting the needs of others and binding up the wounds of those who have been left hurting on society's waysides--Christians will earn the authority to speak. When Christians sacrificially give of their time and resources to run soup kitchens for the hungry and provide shelter for the homeless, they gain the right to be heard. When they tutor poor children and care for those with AIDS, they expand their mandate to call for change...Sacrifice gives them the ability to be taken seriously by those who seem to be in control of political machines."

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Monday, July 6, 2009

LOVED ONES IN KANSAS CITY

Becky and I lived in KC years ago, now we return there to visit family

NAZARENE MECCA. Growing up in a Church of the Nazarene parsonage, I heard a lot about Kansas City. It’s the denomination’s international headquarters and home to Nazarene Publishing House. We used to call it “Nazarene Mecca.” It’s also home to Nazarene Theological Seminary, the graduate school I would eventually attend and earn both a Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degree. Becky and I enjoyed living in Kansas City during my seminary years. We lived on its southeast side, near Bannister Road. Becky worked as a nurse at a hospital in midtown. I drove school buses in Shawnee Mission, Kansas. And we worshiped/fellowshipped in Overland Park. I later served one year as a pastor in Grandview, Missouri, on KC’s southeast corner.


ANOTHER GENERATION IN KC. We had no idea we would be turning our thoughts and hearts to Kansas City again until after our daughter Abby married Alexander Butler last summer. Abby chose a masters degree program at Kansas University Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas. And Alex, a theology student, decided to take graduate courses at Nazarene Theological Seminary—my alma mater. So, on my first weekend out of the pulpit, we decided to visit Abby and Alex over the Fourth of July holiday. Becky’s sister and family also live in Overland Park, so we have many good reasons to make the eight-hour trek every now and then.


CYCLING KANSAS CITY. I took my bike, of course. I first started serious bike riding when I was in seminary in Kansas City. During my second year, I commuted to and from the seminary on a road bike. I enjoyed riding the city’s parkways. Swope Park stretches out for a nice ride. Kansas City cycling calls for attention to hills and wind. The whole metropolitan area is hilly. And it’s usually windy. I got caught by the wind this morning. Riding south on Antioch Road in Overland Park, I enjoyed unusual ease climbing the rolling hills, until I turned around and nosed into a stiff headwind. The ride back took me twice as long.


RAIN-SOAKED BIKE RIDE. On Friday morning, I struck out for long ride into the midtown and downtown areas. It was lightly sprinkling when I left Abby and Alex’ place. But within an hour, the skies darkened and I rode through a downpour, lightning and thunder. As much water was coming up from the spray of my tires as was coming down from the sky. If it had been colder, I would have been miserable. But as it was in the mid-70’s, I rode on without too much discomfort. Two hours later, I arrived back at the house looking and smelling like a river rat.


ROYALS GAMES. We took in a Kansas City Royals game on Friday evening. Becky and I enjoyed lots of Royals games in 1983, ’84, and ’85. We’d sit in the left field cheap seats, eat plumper hot dogs loaded with sauerkraut, and watch George Brett lead the Royals in solid pennant competition. Kaufman Stadium has been upgraded and is a great venue for MLB entertainment. We got to watch league-leading pitcher Zack Greinke throw against the Chicago White Sox in front of sold-out crowd. Unfortunately, it wasn’t Greinke’s night. He got rocked for 12 hits and the Royals were shut out, 5-0. We enjoyed great fireworks after the game concluded. Including $1 hot dogs, soft drinks, and peanuts for the game, it was a fun family evening.


WHERE LOVED ONES LIVE. But Kansas City is nothing to me if not for the dear ones we love who live there. I have no particular interest in Albuquerque or Portland. But if one of our children happens to move to one of these places, I’d become very interested in it. I am interested in the well being of our children and their interaction with the places and people where they reside. Bourbonnais, Illinois interests me because Jared attends university there. Bloomington, Indiana moves into my realm of interest because Molly will attend Indiana University there in a few months. I would go around the world to a remote village if one of our children found life, commitment and community there. I would find some way to support their interaction with its people and culture. The place is not inconsequential. But its immediate interest and value to me is in relationship to the children, the loved ones, who live there. So, Kansas City, you are blessed by the presence of one we hold dear. May you be positively changed by her and Alex’ life amid your life.


In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

TOUR DE FRANCE: GREAT START

This year’s TdF offers high drama with the return of 7-time champ American Lance Armstrong


AND...THEY'RE OFF! Saturday proved to be a great start to what will surely be a dramatic Tour de France. American Lance Armstrong, returning after a four-year hiatus, set the pace in an individual time trial (ITT) through beautiful Monaco. American teammate Levi Leipheimer set the early mark to beat. And only the top contenders, riding last, met the challenge. As expected, Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara bested everyone. 2007 champion Alberto Contador finished strong, as did Cadel Evans of Australia, last year's 2nd-place finisher. The ITT did its work of separating contenders from supporters.


CAVENDISH WINS STAGE 2. Stage 2 on Sunday did nothing to shake up the standings, as it was a 187-kilometer flat stage and most riders finished in a group and received the same times. Stage 2 was won by Mark Cavendish of Great Britain. Cavendish out-sprinted the best in the world. He won three stages in last year’s Tour de France and has emerged as the sprinter to beat in this year’s event. He now wears the Maillot Vert, the green jersey, that designates the rider with the most sprint points.


TOUR DE FRANCE FOR THE REST OF US. As usual, I'm blogging reflections of each of 21 stages of the Tour at my site Tour de France for the Rest of Us (http://tdf-bikehkiker.blogspot.com). Bookmark it and visit daily for easy-to-digest summaries and comments throughout the next three weeks. I try to put things in lay terms and share interesting stories along the way.



TOP TEN. Here's the top ten after Stage 2:

1 Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) Team Saxo Bank

2 Alberto Contador (Spain) Astana – 18 seconds

3 Bradley Wiggins (Great Britain) Garmin-Slipstream -19

4 Andreas Kloden (Germany) Astana -22

5 Cadel Evans (Australia) Silence-Lotto -23

6 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana -30

7 Roman Kreuziger (Czech Republic) Liquigas -32

8 Tony Martin (Germany) Team Columbia-HTC -33

9 Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) Liquigas -37

10 Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana -40


LANCE WATCH. Everyone wants to know about Lance Armstrong. What are his chances of winning his eighth Tour de France? I think Lance will finish in the top five of the Tdf when it finishes in Paris in three weeks. He rode conservatively during Saturday’s Stage 1 and still finished in the top ten. He’s a 37-year old racing a peloton (the field of cyclists) with an average age under 30. If the old dude gets angry--and it won't take too much to make him angry--he can win it. Every agitation, every put-down, every allegation in the French press, every doubt builds the chip on his shoulder. And he has shown how effectively he can transfer his anger into “road rage,” that is, explosive climbing and time trialing. I imagine Armstrong will follow his usual strategy of keeping a low profile through the flat and mild mountain stages, but will make his moves during the difficult mountain stages and remaining time trials.

HOW IT WILL DEVELOP. Don't look for much of real race significance to happen in the first week, except for sprinters to duke it out on fantastic finishes. Don't expect much separation among the contenders in the second week, which includes climbs through the Pyrenees mountains. The third week...will be wild. The French Alps will tell all. And the next to the last stage (the day before Paris) is the climb to Mount Ventoux. This is the queen stage of this year's route. Hearts will break. Legs will fail. Men will cry (one competitor has died on Mount Ventoux). Heroes will be made. This is what makes the TdF the legend that it is.

ASTANA: GREAT...OR FRAGILE? Team Astana, the Khazakstan-based team originally put together for native son and now-banned doper Alexander Vinokourov, is loaded. Four riders of Astana were placed in the top 10 after Stage 1. Leipheimer, Armstrong, Contador, and Andreas Kloden each could be leaders on any other team. Each can time trial, each can climb, each is a proven winner. But can they work together? Will they? During the Team Time Trial (TTT) on Tuesday they will work together, and they could occupy the top four places of Tour leadership. After that, who knows? A few years ago, Ullrich, Kloden and Vinokourov (each capable of winning) were stacked on the same team and they blew up in division in the mountains. There is not good chemistry between Contador and Armstrong. Armstrong's loyalties lie with Armstrong. I'll be very surprised if we see him work for Alberto in the Alps. Watch that rivalry. And stay tuned for a classic event.


In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

RAIN-DRENCHED BIKE RIDE IN KANSAS CITY

A Friday morning urban bike ride through a Midwest thunderstorm

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. It was only drizzling when I left our daughter Abby's place on State Line Road and headed north into the midtown and downtown areas of Kansas City on Friday morning. An hour later, darker clouds gathered and the skies opened up with pouring rain, lightning, and thunder. I left my rain gear back in Indianapolis, so I just soaked up both what as falling down from above and what was spraying up from my tires. If it had been cold, this would have been a miserable situation. But the temperature was in the mid-70's, so it was not bad. I rode for two and half hours before arriving back at Abby's looking and smelling like a river rat.

TO LIBERTY MEMORIAL. My ride took me past Kansas University Medical Center, where Abby is beginning her second year of a nutrition/dietetics masters degree. I rode east from there to Country Club Plaza, a charming shopping and entertainment block in midtown. I rode north along Broadway to the Hospital Hill area and from there to Liberty Memorial, which overlooks the whole Kansas City area. During my first few weeks of seminary here in 1983, I spent a lot of time sitting with Mitch Snyder and folks from the Community for Creative Nonviolence as they carried out a hunger strike at Liberty Memorial in order to get President Ronald Reagan to release excess commodities, stored in nearby salt mines, during another economic tough time.

URBAN ROUTE. From Liberty Memorial, I rode through the Crown Center complex and north into downtown, riding up and down its hilly streets through the rain. I found my way to part of the Riverfront Heritage Trail that took me to a vista that overlooked the Missouri River (photo). From there, I turned back south to the Plaza, over to Ward Parkway, and then home. I good ride for a rain-soaked holiday. When I was in seminary here back in the day, I rode around Kansas City frequently. I commuted back and forth from our apartment on 95th St to the seminary at 63rd and The Paseo. I rode through Swope Park and along several of the parkways and trafficways. Riding in Kansas City and Overland Park is a good challenge because it's hilly and windy.

A STAGE 1-LENGTH JULY 4TH RIDE. Today, I rode south from 59th Street along State Line road to 135th Street and west to Antioch Road in Overland Park. Not a long ride, but I kept a brisk pace and had a good workout--about the distance the competitors in Stage 1 of the Tour de France in Monaco covered today. The Tour de France is always inspiring to follow on the Internet and TV. I like to get out on my bike after each stage is run, in appreciation for the high effort these cyclists are putting forth. I won't be able ride their distances or paces, but I'll ride more than usual through the month of July in a salute to the TdF competitors.


In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Friday, July 3, 2009

LET AMERICA BE AMERICA AGAIN

Langston Hughes' (1902-1967) poem strikes at the heart of how people with different experiences approach today's challenge...and every day

My thanks to Andy Ford for pointing out this poem to me.


Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.

O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's,
ME--Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. Share yours by clicking on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!