Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Personalities, Churches, & The Litany of Humility

Some nine Christmases ago, I sat down on a couch my in-laws' living room with the whole family and watched a short video that my brother-in-law-youth-pastor had brought with him. In it, this really cool-looking guy was walking through the streets and the woods, talking about rain and his son and what it is to be wanted by God the Father. It was a great little video: well-produced, well-spoken, and well-pointed. 

And so Rob Bell was born into my life. 

(And I learned that it's okay to write a one-sentence paragraph.)

A lot has transpired since then. But (former) Pastor Rob had a long sit-down interview with Oprah last week. You know you've made it when you sit down with Oprah. So we've come "a long way" since that couch. Bell has certainly swayed me one way or another in numerous ways over these years. I've appreciated much of what he's put forth. I've left a lot of it behind, too.

Just a few months ago, someone sent me a podcast of Nadia Bolz-Weber. I appreciate her fresh take and inspirational story/style in the Church today. I could take or leave the vulgarity, but it's nice to see people pushing the envelope so we can stop thinking about the Church as only that which exists in button-up shirts and khakis. But I hope it's not just an act or a way of drawing attention. I don't know her. Would love to meet her. 

Even more so: I'd love to spend a day worshiping or serving with the church she leads.

Because in between Rob Bell and Nadia Bolz-Weber are a hundred other "personalities" that have otherwise affected, inspired, or changed me in some way, even if just a little bit. Probably the most effect has come from Stanley Hauerwas, quite the personality himself. Before Pastor Nadia burst onto the scene in great part due to her keenness on verbal vulgarity, Stanley H. was cursing like the son of a brick-layer that he actually is. But form aside, their message is notably...different.

But...I'm tired of personalities.

I'm tired of individuals who after a while just seem to be notching up their hits or views. Bloggers, super-pastors, seminary theologians...all personalities whose notoriety is built on being different, finding a cutting edge, saying something "new", or at least being the first.

I'm tired of personalities.

And not just because personalities often lead to quick and easy downfalls. Media like Facebook, Twitter, or even old-school news media can tear apart a personality at the whisper of conspiracy, downfall, or fraud, like the recent spotlight on Steven Furtick and his new house. What we find is that once the marketing, the pretty pictures, and the clean-cut logos are stripped away, personalities are simply human. 

I'm tired of hearing about super-personalities.

So...tell me about churches. 

I want to hear about groups of people working together in the personality of Christ. Tell me the stories about individuals who are working hard for and as Christ in places no one really cares about. I want to hear about what the Church is doing together in various places in various ways. I don't care about cutting edges. Let me hear how ancient stuff like Matthew 25 is playing out or how the Greatest Commandment is exemplified through normal people who would otherwise look ridiculous standing on stage at some conference. 

But tell me about these groups and people in whispers. I don't want the spotlight to screw up what they're doing for the Kingdom. I don't really believe in "special little corners of Heaven" but if I did, I would surely believe that there's one reserved for people whom no one's ever heard of. And it'll be way bigger than the corner reserved for everyone who ever has been.

Closer to home, I totally confess that I'm weary of many seeing the church that I lead as "a result" of my personality. I'm weary of it because I can't bear it. I can't bear the image in actuality of practice (because it's not true). I can't bear it emotionally. And I certainly can't bear it theologically. 

"I hear you're doing great things at North Street!", some say to me sometimes. I know they're just trying to be an encouragement or start a nice conversation, but I've started to ask them right back, "Oh yeah? What have you heard?" I try to honestly respond that it really is a great group of people and much of the credit goes to willing vessels who call the church their home. But I'm sure it more often than not comes off like a deflecting "I'm-just-trying-to-be-humble" cliche, only made to add to the image.

Quite frankly, when we actually read the narratives of scripture, we rarely see a wonderful picture of crisp-clean personalities. And most of the few exceptions demonstrate what a people are doing together.

This summer as part of my sabbatical, I visited a few church communities I'd heard about from afar or had never heard of at all before the summer. And it was awesome to see how The Lord is working through people in ways for which there is no clean website, no five-step plan, and no real super-star personality other than the collective Christ that abides within these groups.

Ever heard of Church of the Servant King? You MIGHT have, but chances are you probably haven't. People I know who live in the LA area that I asked hadn't even heard of them even though they are right in LA. What a wonderful group of people I met and spent a whole day with. They might max out at 65-75 people. But don't look for their sign. Or their "church building." They own a few houses together and share life together each and every day, in weekly and yearly rhythms of life. This is no fresh and cutting edge church: they've been doing this for 35 years together. But Christianity Today has apparently never called. (By the way, I didn't plan on visiting this church - I'd never heard of them until I was on sabbatical and some people recommended that I visit them.)

Ever heard of the Community of Adsideo? If you're in the Nazarene world, you might have. But chances are you probably haven't. This little community of 70 or so people (about half of how many they were a few years ago) is also an intentional living community striving to be the Church. While anyone can enter their community space pretty much seven days a week, to join this church, one must go through at least a year of intense discipleship. They're so focused on serving other fragments of the Body of Christ that I kinda felt like I was in the way when I was there. But they welcomed me nonetheless.

Ever heard of Mid-City San Diego Church of the Nazarene? You might have. But chances are you probably haven't. It's churches within a church within the Church. There are seven language-speaking groups who share a horribly run-down, unattractive building. The carpet was gross (I actually wonder if they refuse to replace it just so it serves as a visible - and smellable - way of reminding them that there are more important things than the carpet). And in the worship gathering of the English-speaking portion of the congregation, I worshiped with maybe about 50 people (though I do think it was a "down" week in the middle of the summer). But this church is smothering the things of evil through creative means of food distribution, immigrant-service, and addiction-squashing. 

Ever heard of Peace River Christian Fellowship? You might have, but I doubt it. Just a smallish group of Christians who gather on Sunday evenings together in another church's building. Kids running all over, just a normal potluck afterward, some songs and sharing from the Word. Sure, they hope to grow, but it doesn't appear to be priority #1 for them. They just want a peaceful fellowship together wherein prayer is shared, the Word is preached, and people know Christ.

As I turn into an old man, the only personality I'm truly interested in these days is the one that Christ exemplified and churches would replicate. Yes, I know: the church itself is made up of personalities and individual churches carry personae themselves. We can't escape personality and we shouldn't. After all: at some point, God chose to once-and-for-all show holiness in a person. But I'm tired of personalities who become so in and of themselves to the point that Christ can only be found lurking in the shadows. (It's often not that person's fault: sometimes it's us masses who shine the light.)

Sometimes I wonder why I blog when I actually sit down to write on this thing. Frankly, it could be rightly pointed out that me writing on a blog is just another cry for attention. Goodness: I used my name as the URL! And a middle initial! (To be fair, that crazy fashion designer had already taken 

But today, I think I'm writing because I'm realizing just how much I want to please people. I have this life-long penchant for trying to make everyone like me. I hate conflict and I hate people thinking any ill of me at all. It's a horrible thing, actually. And it's far from the path to and through the cross. More specifically, I again discovered today a number of people who have "unfriended" me on Facebook (at least, I'm not sure how else we're no longer "friends"). You'd think I'd know by now that you can't please everyone. You'd think I'd have learned that I should get over such things. But honestly: I am indeed sensitive. So help me, God.

When I was in college, the guy who is actually now my advisor at BU spoke in one of our chapel services. It's funny to me that I've always remembered him as being the first to share the following prayer. I have returned to this prayer numerous times. I remember praying it as I wrestled with coming to North Street or taking a position at another church. I've prayed it when I'm feeling overly-good about what I've done. 

It's thusly disturbing that I haven't prayed it in a while. 

This prayer from Rafael Merry del Val isn't for everyone. In fact, I know a lot of people who should pray very opposite words to those below. But for me, I need this prayer:

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being honored, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being praised, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being approved, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being humiliated, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being despised, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being calumniated, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being wronged, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being suspected, Deliver me, Jesus.

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I,
provided that I may become as holy as I should,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Out of the Dragon's Grave: Lessons in Faith & Forgiveness

Just wanted to post here that I have a short article posted on the Nazarenes Exploring Evolution site. The website is in prep for a conference coming up at Point Loma Nazarene University in January. There are some great writings over there by others. I was humbled to be asked to write, and I don't mean that in a "Gee, gosh, thanks..." kind of way, but that it was literally humbling. As in: having read all the other people's articles, I felt stupider. So I was literally humbled. But the conversation around evolution and faith has been formative in my life in various ways, so I was happy to share a slice of my experience. Enjoy...

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Dear Wedding Photographers

I'm finally doing it. Posting this. I wrote this a while ago (could be last year, could have been years ago). The dude in the viral video above has forced me. He handled it extremely poorly (he could have quietly asked, or, as I try to do, spoke with the couple and photo-/videographers before the action). But I totally understand his sentiment.

When I first wrote what's below, I couldn't post it for various reasons, mostly due to the timing. I've returned to it now and then since I wrote it, but also avoided posting it as to not ruffle the feathers of any of my many talented photographer friends (is it just me or do there seem to be SO MANY out there?). But...perhaps this will be useful to some of my incredible photographer friends...or perhaps they'll just get ticked at me.  I won't be surprised if there is much disagreement over this. Like most important things in life, American culture has taught the couple (particularly usually the bride) that it's all about them. It's not. And it's not about the officiant either (it's why we wear a stole...and a robe...). A wedding ceremony is about the Church's permission for two to have one another. Call me old-fashioned.

I mainly post it to get us thinking about the sacramentalness of marriage in relation to the priority of the moment over capturing it.


I've been involved in my share of weddings: from ring bearer to groomsman to best man to groom and from witness to pianist to officiant, I've watched and participated in a dozens of weddings from a variety of perspectives. I understand the beautiful privilege it is to stand with the couple. It's beautiful.

But when it comes to the shebang that goes into weddings, I pretty much despise most of the whole industry, and as much as I hate it, we must deal with it, for that is what it is: an industry. I love the ceremony...the 25 minutes to an hour that is the sanctity of marriage that is an institution of the Body of Christ.  From my perspective, in most cases, this is the focus: a ceremony of the Body of Christ.  It is nothing less and is impossibly anything more.

I pound this home in the sessions that I have with prospective couples in the months prior to a wedding ceremony. The intention is that every wedding ceremony a bride and groom participates in will be the first, last, and only one for as long as they are both alive.  Take those vows as seriously as Christ has taken you. Do all that you can to remember: remember those vows, remember the songs, remember the candles or sand jars or whatever other symbol we agree upon.  By all means, hire a photographer. But please: hire one who can agree to the following advice from wedding officiants.


Dear Wedding Photographers:

Congratulations on getting to be but one part of an engaged couple's incredible day! While we're but the officiants and for most of the day take a back seat to your role, we have some suggestions for you during the ceremony.

You have an abundance of time prior to and after the ceremony. By all means, take pictures during the ceremony, but in that hour, you are pretty far down the list of priorities.  Just because you get paid far more than anyone else there does not mean that you're on top of the list in determining what goes on, despite what the industry and trade shows may have taught you. There are a dozen or so people ahead of you during that hour.  Don't get us wrong: your job is very important. Just not so important that you are in charge during that time.

We don't wait or slow down something in the ceremony to suit your ability to take pictures.  You should neither be seen nor heard. You are there to capture and thus maintain memories...not create them. This is not a press event, so you don't have the credentials to jump in front of grandma or the mother of the bride just to get your shot. If you must have a certain perspective or you miss it, then re-create it afterward. During the ceremony, "the moment" is more important than anything. Despite your incredible ability (and opportunity!) to immortalize the moment, the moment is more important than your hope of doing so.  So please: don't jump in front of the situation.

I don't think there's anything above that's not doable.  We've seen some great wedding photographers that have the ability to do all of the above and still come out with incredible shots and glimpses of the actual ceremony.  Go for it: use multiple cameras, remotes, whatever (as long as they're mostly inconspicuous). Get an assistant or two.

But please, by all means, let the ceremony be what it is supposed to be first and foremost: the sacred and sanctified moments of the joining of two to be one before God and God's people.

Grace and Peace,

Wedding Officiants

Thursday, August 15, 2013

It Was My Fault

Well I think that I have traveled some 40,000 miles thus far while on sabbatical. I hope to figure out these numbers more exactly a bit later, as well as how many church buildings, communities, etc. And this has included driving our own car, a Hyandai Sonata (loved this car), a Kia something-or-other in Israel, riding planes through nine different airports, trains throughout Switzerland, boats up rivers and over lakes, shuttles, cable cars, a taxi, and a whole lot of walking. For just one example, the other day we took 9 trains, 7 cable cars, 4 buses, and 1 taxi in one day.

I've braved driving the streets of Jerusalem in the Muslim quarter during the highest holy days of Ramadan, the redwood "Avenue of Giants" in Northern California, the highways of Los Angeles (not that bad, really), and the Swiss rail system...a whole lot of travel. And I haven't even mentioned yet that much of this has been with four young children.

And we had no problems.

Until today.

And it was my fault.

As I've said, the Swiss Rail system is pretty awesome. But getting from and to the airport on it with eight people and all their luggage was not exactly easy. And today, we suffered a loss.

Swiss trains are known for their punctuality. To take advantage of it, you'd better pay attention by knowing your route, connections, the timing, etc. Well today we were on a train and weren't completely sure where to get off to connect to the Zurich Airport. I knew that there was some construction that was diverting some things around a stop. So we were closely watching the monitors looking for which stop to get off at. We saw it come up quickly, and with all of our luggage had to move swiftly to get off the train. 

In the rush, I left our camera bag in the over-head compartment.

This included "Meghan's" DSLR Nikon camera, two battery chargers, all of our iPad chargers (three of them!), both cell phone chargers, and three SD memory card readers. 

I realized the omission as I watched the train pull away. And there was nothing I could do. We had to catch the plane and the train wouldn't stop until it's final destination way south of Zurich (about 30 minutes before our plane was to take off).

Oh well...what're you going to do about it? It's just equipment, right? I mean, sure, some $1000 worth of equipment...but it is still just equipment.

Thankfully I had pulled the pictures onto my iPad late last night, so I have all of them (some are below).

It could have been much, much worse. We still have four children, four grandparents, all our clothes, no accidents, speeding tickets, or even scratches (though I did smash one of my girls' fingers with a bag on the bus today). Goodness...getting through Jerusalem during Ramadan might be a miracle enough!

So we are very thankful.

(I did submit a lost and found report with the Swiss Rail Office. I don't have high hopes, but I've done all I can do.


I have been inspired. Challenged. Filled with different emotions in a variety of ways. Some things I might have expected have not surfaced, while other unexpected benefits have been a pleasant surprise. 

I'm writing this in the air over the Atlantic. We will land in Toronto and then fly to Baltimore where my very gracious brother-in-law will pick us up and take us back to Salisbury. We'll spend the night and leave for the home of one of my best friends and his wife (who just "happens" to be Meghan's sister) sometime tomorrow. There we will begin the debriefing, reflecting, and have some time for the kids to play with their cousins. 

Brayden, Brenna, Brooklyn, & Brysen have been wonderful, having to sit on many a train or bus, or often putting up with the adults' slow walks along a river or in a museum. Don't get me wrong, they've had their share of fun and ice cream (thanks, Harris family!). But they've been wonderful for us in all things on this trip.

We are longing for our church family and our home. We are anxious to get back to a rhythm of home-life, but also knowing that this rhythm will likely and intentionally change. I'm not sure what that will look like yet, but greatly look forward to seeing how this experience will do so.


Here are just a few pictures from over the past several days.

I took a lot of pictures in Switzerland and Israel. Ron took about 100x more than me. 

We went a lot higher, but I liked this picture best. We went up Schilthorn. So in a two-week period, I was in the lowest place on earth (the shores of the Dead Sea) and almost 10,000 feet in the Alps.

If you look closely at the outline of the furthest mountain, you can see a base-jumper. I have always marveled at the notion of wing-suiting and I got to see some in action. Awesome. ( had a main page article on a guy who died in Switzerland just yesterday doing this. Not sure it's worth it.)

One of the many mountain lakes we saw while riding in the comfort of a train.

It's been a blast being with Ron & Patty ("Ta & Grammie").

"Daddy...take my picture."

Not a great pic, but I wanted to share this:
The town I live in (Hingham, MA) is a proud, historic town. I've marveled at the age of some of the buildings in Hingham. But they pale in comparison to thousands of houses/buildings right here in Switzerland. Right in the little village of Busingen (technically Germany) where we were staying there were dozens of places older than the oldest abode in Hingham. This place (1579) was literally at the end of the driveway of where we were staying. 

Brayden wanted me to share this one he took.

Our bus stop:

This church dates back to the 900s. A beautiful little sanctuary with great modern lighting, but wonderfully maintained with age as well.

I leave you for now with this one, perhaps my favorite of the summer. A fitting one in memory of our camera...lost on a train in Switzerland. RIP, dear Nikon. Enjoy your ride into the sunset.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


Well I've been back in Switzerland for a few days now with my family. The first day, my in-laws watched the kids for us while Meghan and I accompanied my parents to the airport to see them back to the States. Then Meghan and I saw a little bit of Zurich. I also got a badly-needed haircut, which was by far the most expensive haircut I have or will ever pay for. Always ask the price first. My hairdresser was really nice though, from Kosovo, and we laughed together at the notion of a statue of Bill Clinton in her hometown. Meghan and I found the (a?) red light district in Zurich, totally legal here. Whoops...

Switzerland is indeed a beautiful country. We are here on Swiss "saver" rail passes for the duration, passes that give us unlimited rides on the rails and buses throughout Switzerland (and a discount for a number of other things, free museums, etc.). Their system is as good as advertised. It's a thing of beauty: a railway system that most always runs on time, often, cleanly, and pretty much to everywhere. We are in rural Switzerland, can hop on the bus about 50 yards from our building, get to the station for a train, and be in a world-class city like Zurich in less than an hour.

The preponderance of bicycles here is also of great note (like it was in Portland, OR). I can't be sure, but I would guess that at least two-thirds of travelers use a bike, the public system, or some combination of both. The fact that a whole nation can get it right when it comes to public transportation and a little city like Boston can't get a few subway lines to work's mind-boggling. There seems to be no social stigma surround the notion of using public transportation here either, though culture and language may be hiding something from me.

A view from the train:

One thing that is the same as Boston though: one just doesn't talk to people on the bus or train. I don't get it. In the US or in Switzerland, the rule is always this: "Just give me my white earbuds and leave me alone."

We visited Lucerne (Luzern). It's a beautiful city, surrounded by the Alps. We went in the Catholic Church and as we were there a wedding was about to begin. It was neat to watch all the guests show up in their best clothes while a bunch of us tourists took pictures. We also got to hear the full range of bells in the towers thanks to the wedding.

We saw the Rhine Falls yesterday, the most powerful waterfall in Europe. It is indeed an awesome sight (I rode a boat with my father-in-law in rather close to them, a nice ride), but they are small compared to Niagara. The Rhine Falls are only two short bus rides from where we're staying.

We also visited the Munot, an impressive hill-top fortress in Schaffhausen.

For the first time this whole summer, I will not be worshiping with a different church this morning. Every Sunday since we left I've worshiped with a different church in very different settings, but we will be with Busingen International Church of the Nazarene for the second time today. 

Our prayerful thoughts continue to be with our own North Street Community, who we miss greatly. The kids' requests for home are a bit more frequent now. Soon...