PLAYING IN THE LIGHT

it is our choice what kind of world we live in. we can suffer in the darkness or play in the light. we can be angry, frightened and enslaved, or loving, joyous and free.

Of Mark Driscoll and Michael Gungor.

Olympia, Washington

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The many recent headlines made by Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll and to a much lesser degree, musician Michael Gungor, make me both sad and disappointed, and as you might expect got me thinking.

For the few of you who don’t know the Driscoll story, where have you been? He has been variously accused of abusing staff, plagiarism, lying, wasting church money, being mouthy and vulgar and who knows what else. Apparently staff is defecting and thousands are abandoning ship, taking their dollars with them. Life for the Driscoll family has to be sideways. The truth is being sorted out and who knows where or how it ends.

Michael Gungor, along with his wife Lisa, is an extraordinary (IMO) artist, musician, pastor from the Denver area, who made the “huge mistake” of stating some opinions about science, Jesus etc that run contrary to how a vocal wing of Christendom views them, and he paid a huge media price for his views. Some suggested, that God has a not so nice place reserved for Michael, because of his opinions. Concerts have been cancelled and life has been seriously disrupted for a young family.

Though the issues around these men’s lives are not the same, they are representative of some pretty crazy times in the “Christian” world.  

What the h, e, double hockey sticks, is going on (I’m kind of afraid to write out the word)? As usual I have some thoughts:

1. First and obviously, we live in a media saturated culture where anybody and everybody’s opinion can be shared wantonly and inconsequently with anyone who shares a friend or follow status with the sharer. Bloggers like me can get more hits if we tag our stuff with high profile names and stories.  Want to increase your readership? Use the word sex or Driscoll in the title and you are assured of a good day in the blogosphere. It’s the way it is. No one is accountable to anyone for what they write or say.  Me included. So we rip it up and rip each other up.

2. Passing judgement is a christian sport. For some sick reason we love to kick people when they are down or say something we think is heresy. Yes, we are called to judge things, as to their value for our life and if they are of Jesus. I judge for me, you judge for you. We may or may not come down on the same side, but that is just fine because judging for another is not our responsibility.

On the other hand, passing judgement is just plain wrong and it is not the same thing as judging for yourself about rightness or wrongness. Passing judgement is deciding that another person is a reprobate for what they do, believe, think or don’t and determining their value as a person and Christian based on what we think we know about them.

Michael Gungor gets to believe and say whatever he wants to. We get to judge if we want to buy his albums, go to his concerts, read his blog or whatever. Our choice. But I don’t think we get to rip him to shreds and condemn him to hell because we don’t agree.

If I were a member of Mars Hill Church (where Mark Driscoll is a pastor) then I could judge for me and my family whether we were going to keep attending or not, based on our personal understanding and convictions related to what is going on.  But, if we are going to call ourselves Christians, then we do not pass judgement on him, the leadership, or the situation, we get out or butt out and let them sort it out.

3. Generally today’s church is about market-share and not advancing the Kingdom. Churches do not grow (gain market-share) apart from a leader who gets his/her name out there in the same way any business does. It is how it’s done.

But it works like this, too.  As long as that pastor is growing his market share and filling the seats and offering buckets, most things are overlooked, but better keep the metrics upward or one’s flaws or failures will be put out there for all to read and see.

As soon as an artist starts to get seen or heard it’s open season.  That’s how the culture works.  Think Miley or Justin. But Christians are counter-culture and unless we do it differently we are irrelevant. 

4. Christians do not believe or agree on most things.  The church has always been that way, it’s why there are so many churches. We part or join company with people all the time based on agreement. But why do we have to be so mean about it? If you think Mark is a bad bag of wind, don’t go to church there.  If you think Michael should be stoned for believing in an old earth, ignore him or pray that he gets his crap together, but leave them alone.  It is okay to be different, I think God planned it that way.

5. When did it stop being about restoration, if it ever was? Is the Gospel anything if it is not a story of restoration? The Creator is restoring all things to Himself and the Gospel is about how that plays out in the human race.

I do not think we can call ourselves followers of Jesus if we are not unrelenting and utterly intentional about restoring people who fail, fall, forget, flip out or find themselves far away. I don’t know first hand what Mark has done but I hope whoever is in charge will stick to their guns, work the plan and restore the guy to his leadership. Anything less, if he is willing and submissive, is not the Gospel.

Is there a sin from which we cannot be restored? Confession, repentance, and submission put us back into relationship with Father God, so why doesn’t it put us back into relationship with His family? We have all kinds of reasons why we don’t do the Gospel. Too many people have been hurt, it was a really bad sin, he/she was a pain in the ass, he/she didn’t talk to me, listen to me, do what I said… Sometimes our failure and our position makes restoration harder, but so what, it’s what we do and I don’t think the culture is going to pay any attention to us until we start doing the hard stuff.

Grace without restoration isn’t grace.

6. We all have stuff we wouldn’t want flashed on the screen at church, but we escape the microscope because no one knows us. How would you feel if your closet of actions, words or thoughts got opened up for all to see, tweet, post or blog or pass judgement on? Seriously, how would you feel?

That’s how the Driscolls and Gungors feel.

 

 

 

We need to get some more old people in here!

Denver, Colorado

I recently had a phone conversation with a friend who is an elder in her church. A church she describes as, in transition.  Transition in churches is often euphemistic for “trying to find our way, before we become more irrelevant” or put more kindly, “there has been a lot of change, we need to find ourselves again”. I don’t know if either describes my friends church.

For many churches going through a transition, the rallying cry is often “we need to get some more young people in here!” Or, we need to do something to attract younger people. I get that.  If we who are older don’t replace ourselves with younger people the end result is obvious.

But it got me thinking, which led to asking questions and of course, wondering.

The Boomer generation, born between 1946-1964, numbered 76,000,000 people, at it’s generational peak.  Only recently this population record was supplanted by the Millennials, (1980-2000) whose number is 80,000,000.

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Some research says that only about 30% of Boomers are followers of Jesus, which means that around 50,000,000 Boomers are still waiting for a Gospel message they find relevant and intriguing, and time is running out to get the message right.

So I wonder, when is some church going to say “we need to get some more old people in here”?

Since I am one and I don’t think I am unusual or an isolated Boomer, I have a few thoughts about Boomers and what it might look like to target them while in transition or even to add to a growing congregation:

  • What might happen if, instead of focusing the bulk of our attractional efforts on reaching Millennials and Generation X, we ask the question “what can we do to strategically and intentionally attract Boomers?” Asking new questions just might bring direction.
  • Most of the Boomers I know, and I know quite a few, don’t have an anti church bias. What they have is a anti-poppycock bias (poppycock is the British term for bovine excrement). After years of culture wars and conservative/liberal fights they have run out of time and energy for meaningless and less than authentic “anything”. I find my generation more receptive to the spiritual and to spiritual conversation than ever. (for more read THIS)
  • Boomers were raised on rock and roll and lived through the music decade that shaped the world and as such are very tolerant of most styles of worship/music. If it is good, creative and happy they like it. Think Jimmy Buffet, Bob Seeger, Toby Keith.
  • We may be close to being senior adults but don’t hang that title on us and don’t expect us to join the senior adult ministry built for “the greatest generation”.  If we want to take a trip to a museum or baseball game we will do it on our own or with a few friends, but probably not on the church bus. Meaning and purpose become more important as life gets shorter. Find creative ways to offer the one Gospel that is about meaning and purpose.
  • While many of my peers are retiring and all that comes with that lifestyle, many Boomers are not so much retiring as shifting gears. Every where I go, I find Boomers retiring into jobs or part time positions that uses their creativity or pushes on their altruistic side. Missional communities can be attractive if we are willing to broaden significantly what serving Jesus means. Most of the current “serving the church” paradigms are not going to work. This generation has not been very interested in the “normal” church ministry options, but give them a task that uses their creativity and their entrepreneurial spirit and they will join in. (more HERE)
  • Boomers are becoming more introspective. After living in and for excess and success we wonder if it was worth it.  As we enter our last decades, the questions we avoided asking are no longer avoidable and we are looking for answers. Churches that can point us to answers with authenticity and creativity will find a niche.
  • In real estate it’s location…well you know.  In cultivating Boomers it’s relationship, relationship, relationship. Go to any warm weather, winter gathering of Boomers and you will find a party. People simply hanging out with friends, enjoying life.  The only place Boomers aren’t having a good time is at church. Change that paradigm and see what happens.  Can we have a real church gathering without someone giving a devotional talk?
  • Size doesn’t matter. “Mega Churches” are not attracting Boomers, I think because of their desire for authentic relationships. Smaller churches looking to find a place to fit in today’s church landscape, might find Boomers, who have been opting out for 40 years, will welcome something different.
  • Many Boomers were raised in some kind of church and they are not looking for a rerun of that. Create an authentic experience of the Supernatural Presence of God and not a rehash of the rule book from the anti-60’s and we might find a legitimate transition.

Every five minutes 10 Boomers die. During the time churches in transition have multiple meetings, to figure out how to “get more young people in here,” the people in those meetings could have had some friends over for a margarita, listened to a little Jimmy Buffett and built a relationship where the Gospel might just break out. They would have had a lot more fun too.

Is your church looking for a place to transition? Get a building full of Boomers having a genuinely good time and I imagine a few young people might drop by to see what the good times are all about and since grandchildren are the focus of many Boomers, who knows who might tag along.

But we better do it soon, in the time it took to read this we lost another 15.

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Neither plain nor simple. Our friendship with the Amish.

Boulder County Fairgrounds, Longmont, Colorado

In 1995, a year or so after our son Paul was killed while hiking in the Olympic Mountains of Washington, I was reading a story in a little home published pamphlet called Bereaved Parents Share. The article was written by and about a family from Pennsylvania who had lost Steven, their son and brother on Father’s Day 1994. I was very much drawn to the piece by the similarities of our situations and so was determined to meet the author, David King. I was able to locate his address in Gap, PA and knowing Linda and I would be nearby in Philadelphia later that summer of 1996, I invited them to meet us for dinner some where between their home and our location in Philadelphia.

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David’s return letter was hand printed (English is not the first language for the Amish) on several pieces of legal size paper and began with these exact words: I don’t know how much you know about the Amish… So began a nearly 20 year friendship with David and Lena King, their 9 living children; Samuel, Anna, Elias, Rachel, David Jr. Daniel, Marcus, Emmy and Mannie, their spouses and now 37 grandchildren (at our last visit two weeks ago, there were at least 2 more to be delivered).  Along the way we have met David and Lena’s parents, siblings and countless friends and neighbors.

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Our first visit was a brief over night stay in their farm home with all of the children unmarried and living at home. Our fourth visit, 2 weeks ago, was with David and Lena alone in their home with all of the children married and raising their children in their own homes.  During our third visit, Mannie, the youngest King, was just beginning to date Susanna who is now his wife and the mother of little Lilly, who stole Linda’s heart.

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When I first received David’s letter, detailing Steven’s death, their grief and loss, I knew almost nothing about the Amish. Much of the subsequent library research referred to them as plain and simple, mostly because of their dress and way of life. But our now 20 year experience with them, has found them to be anything but plain or simple but instead quietly intellectual, joyfully industrious, graciously accepting, visibly happy, deeply Spiritual and genuinely human. Their manner of dress and way of life is a small part of who they are and what their lives stand for.

The Amish and the Kings are real people with real problems, real disappointments, real loss and real imperfections like the rest of us and, while what is portrayed on TV may have some remote reality attached to it, what we know to be true about our friends, who happen to be Amish, is they are just like us and their lives are committed to the same things we are committed to.

The death of our two sons, Paul and Steven brought us together, but what has kept our relationship growing and deepening through the years, is sharing a life more similar than either of us would have expected.

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Driving the DeLorme. Trip #4

St. Vrain State Park (near Longmont, Colorado)

After a week on the east coast for work and to visit our Amish friends (more on that later this week), we decided to make another trip into the grids that make up the Colorado Delorem Map and Gazetteer. This week’s trip took us to grids #30, 29, 28, 18, 19 and 20 a distance of a little over 250 miles.

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This trip was really 4 sections.  Section #1 was from St.Vrain State Park to Estes Park, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. The route we took went over  some back roads into the Larimer County park system that includes a number of parks including 3 reservoirs with campgrounds and some great open spaces that are a short distance from Denver. You can read about their system HERE.

The highlight of this section was driving highway 34 through the Big Thompson Canyon.  The Big Thompson flows out of the Rocky Mountain National Park into Lake Estes where it is held and then released to barrel its way down the Big Thompson Canyon.DSCN1175DSCN1174

During flooding in 1976 the river claimed 143 lives and more recently in September of 2013 the river flooded again causing major damage to the highway and to the homes along the river.

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The canyon is a great drive with mountain and river views that are amazing. Since this was our first time through this area it was a highlight of the trip.

Section two took us into the tourist city of Estes Park where the east entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) is located.  This was our 4th trip into the park and it has become a favorite trip for us. The highway winds it’s way form around 6000 feet to nearly 12000 feet above sea level at the Alpine Visitor Center.

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Along the road we ran into these fellows.

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A little further up the road we found their families.  Hard to see it but there are many babies in this picture.

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RMNP is one of our great national parks and a must see if you are in Colorado.

Section 3 took us from the town of Granby, on the west side of the park into some of the more remote sections of the DeLorme we have been on.  From the little town of Rand to the even smaller town of Gould we traversed through country called the Never Summer Mountains. There are 17 named peaks in the area including the Crags.

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On this section of the trip we traversed the Continental Divide a couple of times including this one on Willow Creek Pass.DSCN1237

As we entered the Owl Mountain Wildlife area we noticed this sign:

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and then a little while later we saw a beautiful cow moose and her calf.  They moved too quickly for us to get a picture.

We were on this road in search of Colorado’s largest state park, 70,000 acre State Forest State Park near Gould, Colorado.  Several years ago we spent a night in this park, which we discovered has several sections to it, that are widely dispersed over it’s large area. Included in the park is this really nice visitor center featuring the moose in the area.

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Since we didn’t get any pictures of live moose, here is the next best thing:

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We stopped to eat our lunch and Linda took these beautiful pictures of a butterfly:

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The last section of the trip took us along the Cache La Poudre River into the town of Fort Collins, home of Colorado State University.  The 126 mile long river begins in the Front Range of Larimer County and joins the South Platte River 5 miles east of Greeley, Colorado. The name of the river means “Hide the powder” in French. It refers to an incident in the 1820s when French trappers, caught by a snowstorm, were forced to bury part of their gunpowder along the banks of the river.

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We drove a little too much of the DeLorme on this trip.  250+ miles is a little too much to really take in all there is to see. Hope you enjoy the pictures.

 

…an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.

Somewhere over Kansas

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The people that I work with are such gracious people, free with kind words about what I do and how I help the organization. Not long ago one of them paid me a very high compliment, something about me being wise and kind. It was nice to hear, who doesn’t enjoy getting a blessing, especially about who we want to be?

But even as I was enjoying the blessing of a “word fitly spoken” I was thinking “if you only knew”. I try very hard to be real, to be honest, to not depend on a made up persona to carry me along. I try to live an authentic real world faith, flaws and all. However, if I know me, what it looks like and what it is, don’t always coincide. Just ride with me on the daily commute or watch me when something doesn’t work the way I wish it would.

Don’t tell anybody, but there are times when my middle finger gets some use and my anger is not always righteous.

I find this quote from my favorite author, Brennan Manning, reality: “When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer. To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.”  Brennan Manning Ragamuffin Gospel

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et al, along with blogs, afford all of us the freedom to create our own myths. Of course, we always have been able to create a persona for others to see, now its just easier and faster. I can control how much or how little I want you to see and know about. I can post pictures of me enjoying great times with Linda, but edit out the ones where I am a self centered jerk. Write astute articles, with deep spiritual insight, promoting my higher calling, while choosing not to reveal my struggles with prayer, reading God’s Word or my fear in telling the guy I’m sitting next to on this plane, what I do for a living.

My point is that even though I pride myself (how ‘bout that) on being spiritually honest and vulnerable about what I think and feel, I still edit myself to keep up an appearance. Not a horrible thing, some things DO need to stay private. Its what most of us do. But as we view each other’s myths we need to realize we aren’t getting the full and complete story.

None of us are really what we hope people think we are. Maybe we all need, every so often, to do a FB, Twitter, blog posting that points to the “if you only knew” reality we all have. Just so we all know this “Facebooky” existence is sometimes more dark than it appears.

Reality check: like my brother Brennan, I am a bundle of contradictions. I work for a missions organization dedicated to advancing the Kingdom and I rarely share my personal faith. I have put my trust in an infinitely Tender Hand to watch over me, but find myself worrying about how I am going to financially navigate retirement. I like the idea of church more than I do the reality, regularly having to make myself go. Most theological positions frustrate me until I need to prove a point to some “ignorant soul”.

Manning said he was an angel with an incredible capacity for beer. I say, I am an angel with an incredible capacity for rationalizing my dark side and excusing my propensity to love the kingdoms of this world more than the “Kingdom of His Dear Son”.

To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, Brennan writes, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.”

True that.

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