Sunday, May 28, 2006

How Strong Leaders Can Be Bad People

I am convinced that small churches naturally lead toward developing leaders who are good people. I am also convinced that extremely large churches do not naturally develop positive character among those who lead them.

A false premise of leadership was taught, and taken for gospel truth during the height of the church growth movement. We were being told that a church could be only as big as the person who led the church. Big men and women grew big churches. Conversely (or was that perversely?) the reverse was assumed - little churches were the result of little people.

How is it that I have met petty men who lead large churches? How is it that I have discovered minimal character development among some people who had large ministries, and deep character among others who pastored tiny churches? I must assume that the old church growth dictum was actually a flawed equation.

The reason I am convinced that small churches naturally tend to develop deeper character among those in leadership is that one can not hide behind a busy schedule, or a well developed program in a small church. The fact is that small church pastors are forced to deal with people face to face, and problem by problem. It is the dirty business of relationships, and that dirty business is where redemption occurs. The redemption is in our own souls, as we small church pastors have the rough edges of our character ground down.

The large church is so busy performing its duties, and running its tight schedule, that many people in its leadership structure do have to be good people in order to perform their duties. They can treat people like Hell, and still expect to help develop Heaven. Yet I wonder if what we give people is an indicator of where we are headed. If so, giving people Hell may not be the wisest career move.

Of course, the problem with many small churches is that they model themselves after large ministries in hopes of becoming one. I am not sure that this is a healthy option toward developing ourselves as deep people.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

the difference between friends, and Friends

Over the last 7 months, I have discovered that there are friends, and there are Friends. Thank God for Friends.

Some people appear to equate friendship with acquiantance. If I know you, and spend some time with you, we must be friends - so they seem to think. Deeper qualities of faithfulness, honesty, and bravery in face of opposition don't appear to be part of the equation.

Once during the last 7 months, a friend (not a Friend) said, "We make a disctinction between friendship and ministry."

Hmmmmmmm... he's a pastor. The Hebrew word from which we get our word pastor has the connotation of "Friend." I don't know how someone separates friendship and ministry, especially considering the fact that we are leading people toward friendship with God, but unfortunately this is an all too common error in churchlife in America today.

Through our difficulties we have discovered that there are friends, and there are Friends. I can not say enough, "Thank God for Friends." As for the friends I am not sure who to thank for them, but I am not putting in a request for enemies any time soon.

Oh, by the way, Joe made the Friend list a while back. Any advocate against the wave of false information is a Friend. He helped come through in a small way again today. The whole gang at The Gathering has learned the lesson of friendship through these struggles. They are my heroes, and heroines.

Yes, there is real churchlife somewhere, and I am sure it happens among Friends - not friends.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Walking Forrest, and Kites without Tails

Billy Adams and I used to make kites from paper and balsa wood in Junior High. We lived a few doors away from each other, in the same mobile home park in Escondido. We would take our kites out into the field on the corner of East Valley Parkway and Citrus Avenue. It's not field anymore though. It's a shopping center.

We tried to make the smallest kites which could still fly. We created 5 to 7 inch kites which we sometimes could get to fly about 50 feet up in the air. We typically built traditional diamond shaped kites, and they needed tails. Without tails they would spin around, and quickly dive head first into the ground, at which point we would need to begin building another kite. But we wanted our kites to fly higher, so we had to make the tails as light as possible, while still creating enough drag to keep them upright.

Some guy named Daniel Bernoulli figured out that as the velocity of air passing around the kite increased, the air pressure decreased. When the pressure is decreased enough the kite goes up against the force of gravity. A kite is a type of airfoil, like a wing on an airplane. An airfoil is a surface which is designed to create lift when air passes over it.

Mr. Bernoulli wasn't really working with an airfoil though. He figured this out on a
  • chalkboard with math
  • back in 1738, so that makes him a pretty smart guy. Other smart people are still trying to figure out how it works today, but they are not sure how it works, they just know that it does. So I guess we trust our lives to Daniel Bernoulli when we get in an airplane, and look out at those skinny little wings as they lift the bird much bigger than a house into the air.

    Walking Forrest is like flying a kite without a tail.

    Not all kites have tails, but if Forrest was a kite, he would be a traditional diamond shaped kite which needs a tail. The purpose of the tail is to create drag below the towing point, and ensure stability. If the kite had no tail, it would spin in circles like some of the kites Billy Adams and I made in Junior High.

    When I walk Forrest he goes to the right, and the left, and he tries to run ahead, and then he stops, and goes behind me to smell something. He would run in the road in front of passing cars, if I did not keep him controlled with the leash. He is so excited to be out for a walk, that he runs every direction possible, and tries to discover every new thing in sight. He does have a long tail, but his tail doesn't help him go straight. Maybe it doesn't create enough drag below the towing point.

    I suppose people who enjoy having everything in control don't like walking dogs like Forrest. Control freaks would be quite mad at the end of the walk. Forrest would not want to go straight without constant coaxing. You most certainly have to carry bags to pick up after him, and although he moves much faster than Holly during the walk, he takes far longer to actually cover the distance.

    I am a lot like Forrest. I like adventure, and discovering new things. I don't like tours, because I always get in trouble for breaking the rules, or sneaking away from the tour group. I don't like monotony. I do like surprises, and mystery. I am not good to walk with a leash either I suppose.

    I don't even mind not understanding how that skinny little wing is able to hold the big fat airplane up in the sky. I wonder if control freaks are afraid of flying? Does it bother them that nobody really understands how the Bernoulli principle works?

    There seems to be something similar to the fear of flying, and the control freak's fear of not having a situation under his power. Being frustrated walking Forrest, and being afraid of flying are not terribly different from one another, they are both situations which lack control, and I imagine are both based in fear.

    My Christian life will be an adventure, not a list of dos and don'ts established to keep me in line. I want to examine the fringes of humanity, and get to know the people others are afraid of. The Christians I know are afraid of Witches. I live in town with quite a few Witches. So, like Forrest I will run around and meet them, and make friends with them, because I figure they are regular people with regular lives, and if they do something a bit irregular, I would like to know why.

    In my little mind I dream that if I run around long enough, the Bernoulli effect will take place, and a miracle will happen - I will fly. Maybe it's not real flying, but flying high on life, and experiencing God doing His stuff as I find ways to simply love people - even people others are afraid of. No, especially people others are afraid of.

    I did not realize it, but there was a control freak trying to walk me on a short leash, and so he yanked real hard without warning me first. I don't wear the collar they attached that leash to anymore. They can go and find someone else's collar to yank.

    Holy Sarcasm Batman!

    Yesterday morning during our service at
  • The Vault
  • , or
  • The Gathering
  • , or whatever we call ourselves lately - we ended the service with some prayer for people who are having a difficult time making it through their struggles gracefully. I was numbered among the prayees, not the prayers, but most notable was Hank.

    Hank openly admitted that he was struggling with going to church. I thought that it was wonderfully honest, and bold to go to church, and state that he didn't trust church. He still loves God, but he doesn't trust churches. I remarked rather matter of factly that he was in a room of people who understood. The place broke out in laughter, and beyond my expectation identified with Hank.

    We tittered a bit about discovering that God and church weren't the same thing. We did pray for one another, but the moment of grace came in our laughter I think.

    Could it be that there is a sanctified sarcasm which delivers us from the idolatry of thinking that man-made institutions are actually holy? Could the laughter have been more powerful than the prayer at that moment? I'm not really sure, because the prayer time was pretty cool as well, but certainly our laughter at the expense of some really messy church experiences was significantly holy.

    Monday, May 15, 2006

    Lessons from a Goofy Greyhound

    We have two Greyhounds living in our home. They are rescue Greyhounds. They are called rescue hounds, because we adopted them when they were older, and had retired from a life of racing at the dog tracks.

    Most people think Bev and I are wonderful humans for saving these dogs from a life of wretched slavery, and abuse, but I am not sure, because I have never seen any creature which loved to run as much as a Greyhound. They smile and show off for us when they run, so I think they must have loved running with the other dogs.

    Actually I think the real reason we adopted them is because we like friendly dogs, and Greyhounds are gentle and friendly, or it might have been a selfish desire to adopt a dog which was already potty trained, and nearly guaranteed to be affectionate. Of course, they are not quite cuddly, because they are either too boney, or too hard and muscly to be cuddly.

    Holly is short, thick, black, and muscly like a little rock. She is an extremely quick runner. Her turns are sharp. Her starts are explosive, and she is aggressive when pursuing. During her racing days Holly was a champion. Of course, she is retired and likes to eat a lot, so she's not as fast as she once was, and not quite as rock hard either.

    Forrest is tall, long, blonde, and lean. Forrest is fast when running straight ahead. Because he is so long, he takes one stride for every two of Holly's strides. Forrest is goofy, and likes to play, and investigate new things, so he is not aggressive like Holly. Forrest was never a winner

    When a dog is a winner they are called "in the money." If a dog can place in the top three in a race they make money for the owner, and for those who bet on them at the racetrack, and that is why they are in the money.

    I think preachers like to think of some other preachers as "in the money" preachers. In the money preachers are on TV, or they have large churches. They have important friends, who are other in the money preachers, and they speak at big conferences, and say important sounding things which apparently other preachers can't say as well. Christians run to see in the money preachers, and pay good money to hear them speak, or give them large offerings at big in the money events.

    Most of the in the money preachers are not well known outside of the their little circle of Christian fans, who help support them, except maybe Billy Graham, and he's famous because he doesn't seem to care if he's in the money, so everybody likes Billy Graham.

    There are a few more famous names. One ran for President, and another tried to start a group to help decide who should become President, but they seem to stick their foot in their mouths often, so not everybody likes them. There are a couple more famous names, but they are famous for doing something wrong, and so they might not be considered in the money any longer.

    I am like Forrest. I am not an in the money preacher, and I think that sometimes people who want to be in the money preachers don't think much of me because I am not one of them.

    We have the race records for both of our dogs. Forrest never placed in the top three any race, but his fastest time was almost identical to Holly's fastest time, but I don't think Forrest cared if he won. Forrest likes to play, and he likes to investigate things. He likes to smell stuff, and visit new places, but Forrest especially likes to meet people.

    When I take both dogs for a walk, Holly stays next to my left side, and walks with me stride for stride, and looks straight ahead, unless she sees a squirrel. Forrest runs ahead of me, and pulls at the leash to move as quickly as he can, but he does not move forward in a straight line. Forrest stops to smell a tree trunk, or a fire hydrant, and then races ahead to find something new. Then he bolts to left to try and enter a gate to someone's yard, or to the right to meet someone walking down the sidewalk.

    Forrest might make a good pastor. He could teach pastors a few lessons. He is happy when he meets people. He likes people, and playing more than he likes winning, and this is probably why he was never in the money. He might be able to teach us preachers that people are more important than being in the money, but then I am not sure too many preachers would enjoy learning that lesson.

    Wednesday, May 10, 2006

    Some Poetry of Oppression

    I just had to put this poem in here by the minor 18th century poet Thomas Hood. He's a favorite poet of mine, and this is an unbelievably poignant poem of labor oppression. A little long for the non-poetic types, but great poetry.
  • More Thomas Hood Poetry


    With fingers weary and worn,
    With eyelids heavy and red,
    A woman sat, in unwomanly rags,
    Plying her needle and thread—
    Stitch! stitch! stitch!
    In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
    And still with a voice of dolorous pitch
    She sang the "Song of the Shirt."

    "Work! work! work!
    While the cock is crowing aloof!
    And work—work—work,
    Till the stars shine through the roof!
    It's Oh! to be a slave
    Along with the barbarous Turk,
    Where woman has never a soul to save,
    If this is Christian work!

    Till the brain begins to swim;
    Till the eyes are heavy and dim!
    Seam, and gusset, and band,
    Band, and gusset, and seam,
    Till over the buttons I fall asleep,
    And sew them on in a dream!

    "Oh, Men, with Sisters dear!
    Oh, Men, with Mothers and Wives!
    It is not linen you're wearing out,
    But human creatures' lives!
    In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
    Sewing at once, with a double thread,
    A Shroud as well as a Shirt.

    "But why do I talk of Death?
    That Phantom of grisly bone,
    I hardly fear his terrible shape,
    It seems so like my own—
    It seems so like my own,
    Because of the fasts I keep;
    Oh, God! that bread should be so dear,
    And flesh and blood so cheap!"

    My labor never flags;
    And what are its wages? A bed of straw,
    A crust of bread—and rags.
    That shattered roof—and this naked floor—
    A table—a broken chair—
    And a wall so blank, my shadow I thank
    For sometimes falling there!

    From weary chime to chime,
    As prisoners work for crime!
    Band, and gusset, and seam,
    Seam, and gusset, and band,
    Till the heart is sick, and the brain benumb'd,
    As well as the weary hand.

    In the dull December light,
    And work—work—work,
    When the weather is warm and bright—
    While underneath the eaves
    The brooding swallows cling
    As if to show me their sunny backs
    And twit me with the spring.

    "Oh! but to breathe the breath
    Of the cowslip and primrose sweet—
    With the sky above my head,
    And the grass beneath my feet,
    For only one short hour
    To feel as I used to feel,
    Before I knew the woes of want
    And the walk that costs a meal!

    "Oh! but for one short hour!
    A respite however brief!
    No blessed leisure for Love or Hope,
    But only time for Grief!
    A little weeping would ease my heart,
    But in their briny bed
    My tears must stop, for every drop
    Hinders needle and thread!"

    With fingers weary and worn,
    With eyelids heavy and red,
    A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
    Plying her needle and thread—
    Stitch! stitch! stitch!
    In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
    And still with a voice of dolorous pitch—
    Would that its tone could reach the Rich!—
    She sang this "Song of the Shirt!"

    Monday, May 08, 2006

    washed away (more completely than last)

    here i am
    looking for You
    in the sand
    i leave my shoes
    by water's edge
    in the waves
    every footstep is
    washed away


    i feel just fine
    getting lost in the tide

    i walk the shore
    at spring tide
    my missing trail
    is a sign
    all is well
    my pains undone
    just for now
    under the sun


    i feel just fine
    getting lost in the tide

    i could walk
    for miles and miles
    erase trails
    of all my trials
    through these steps i've
    paid my dues
    someone else can
    have my shoes


    i feel just fine
    getting lost in the tide

    Saturday, May 06, 2006

    washed away

    here i am
    looking for You
    in the sand
    i leave my shoes
    by water's edge
    in the waves
    every footstep is
    washed away


    i feel just fine
    getting lost in the tide

    Wednesday, May 03, 2006

    Deep Lessons from an 18 Year Old

    It was dark, and I found my way around the back quietly. I did not want the neighbors to hear me. The back door was locked, but not quite latched, and it swung open with a gentle shove.

    I made my way down the dark steps to the next door, and fumbled for the latch. The old door creaked softly, and I entered looking around. There is not much to see in the dark, but I saw a shadowed movement ahead of me. I called out with a whisper, and a soft voice came from the darkness.

    Feeling my way to the hanging chain, my fingers felt the cold steel, and I tugged to reveal the bare bulb in all its brilliance.

    Turning to the room again I looked for her. She appeared around the corner, with the graceful movements with which only the most beautiful make walking an art. As the other nights, she came to hug my neck, and I wondered to myself, "What does this eighteen year old have to teach me? Is there wisdom in her days, which I have not gained, or perhaps I have forgotten? Is this really why I am here?"

    Without a word I knew. Intimacy is key to knowing, and it is the blessing of life.

    I would have to leave soon, and go back home to my wife.

    Of course, another lesson dawned on me too - A little food helps. I put her down, and scooped the cat food into the bowl. "Good Kitty, see you tomorrow."

    "This is life, that they may know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent."
    "This is my commandment, That you love one another, as I have loved you."

    This is my lesson from feeding the cat for Mike and Stef.

    Monday, May 01, 2006

    Is this What a War Veteran Feels Like?

    I wrote my e-mail response quickly, and nervously. I glanced over my left shoulder with a quick, jerky movement. Over my left shoulder is where I can see people coming in the front doors.

    Although I wrote quickly, and nervously, it took me a long time. The more hurried I became the longer it took. I always mess up my typing if I am going too fast, and words like "concern" look something like "cnecrn."

    I glanced over my left shoulder again.

    I finished the first paragraph, and stopped. I reread it quickly to look for places which could possibly be misconstrued. I decided that I did not like what I wrote. I deleted a sentence, and changed the other 3, but then I removed 1 more sentence, and quickly added a new one, which I removed as soon as I had finished it. I reread it slowly trying to concentrate on the words, but they went past my eyes like tracer rounds in the night sky.

    I rubbed my forehead and eyes with my hand. I twisted my head and neck trying to release the tension, and there were little cracking sounds, but they were not fully satisfactory.

    I glanced quickly over my left shoulder.

    After repeating the same process for four short paragraphs, I saved the e-mail as a draft.

    "Should I send it to Jeff?" I asked myself. I am getting tired of sending everything to Jeff, but who else can I ask for advice on how to say this?

    I did not send it to Jeff this time. I just saved it to think about it.

    I will come back and read it again, and send it to Jeff after I have my thoughts together more clearly.

    Is this what a war veteran feels like? I have heard tales of men coming home from war, and walking around the perimeter of a parking lot, to keep their backs against a wall. It's safer to walk around the edges, that way you only have to monitor 180 degrees of vision, and nothing can come up from behind.

    I glanced nervously over my left shoulder again.

    (In dealing with a series of false accusations, I have had many vacillating emotions. This is a part of considering how those emotions mess with the human psyche. Otherwise, I suppose I am as messed up as I sound. Well, not really, I'll survive. No, wait, I do believe in the sinfulness of humanity - though not in the strict Calvinistic sense, so I guess I am really as messed up as I sound, but don't get big headed over it. So are you.)