Friday, May 6, 2016

Time Flies!

It's been a year since my last post on this site? No way! But that's the date. During the past year a lot has happened concerning my "social justice" efforts. My blog "Improving Police" has been very active with another 200 posts and a total of over 1700 followers.

After last fall's successful conference on 21st Century Policing was held at the University of Wisconsin in Platteville I was asked to teach an introductory course this spring on criminal justice. I have just given the final exam this week and my last lecture this semester. The two events, the conference and teaching, will happen again this fall.

So how's my spiritual life with all this going on? Sabine (and yes, thanks be to God, she is still with me and we are holding the line on the cancer and living a fairly "normal" life) and I are in our 12th year at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in North Lake (between Madison and Milwaukee). It has remained one of my primary callings as we celebrated my 20th year in ministry last summer.

When one does parish ministry it comes with all the challenges of dying and burials, marriages, baptisms, teaching and outreach. (And, no, Christians are not always able to get along with one another!).

On the cancer front (and 5 weekly home hemodialysis sessions) we and our trusted medical staff have been able to manage both the cancer through an oral drug regimen and our handy 70# hemodialysis machine that we have been able to drag along with us in automobile, train, and boat.

Sabine's 92 year old mother, Charlotte, is with us on our farmette and while her memory has been greatly challenged she remains healthy and active in gardening and caring for our two donkeys.

This is been a year in which death has been pushed to the back row (it wasn't too long ago he was front and center in the first row!). While being in the back row, he has not left the theater. I know this and yet still hope for some kind of miracle knowing that every day we are each dying a bit -- carpe diem.

None of us will get out of here alive. So we are living in the moment as much as we can and appreciating the gift God has given us.

We acquired an old cruiser houseboat on the Mississippi River at Dubuque last year and enjoy our floating cabin on the river. We have even dialyzed while underway (firmly anchored!).

It is our respite. Our getaway in which we enjoy the gift of each other and knowledge of the God who journeys with us!

Peace to you and yours!

p.s You can also follow me on Twitter: @bocougar

Monday, May 4, 2015

I have been remiss in posting on this site. Instead, my energy has been put into my other blog called "Improving Police" on Wordpress. My spirituality has gotten some traction here with the crisis within our nation's police. I find Jesus' gospel teachings in my work on this site on which over the past four years I have written over 500 posts.

I have also been outspoken both nationally and locally about police use of deadly force in confrontations with young black men and the mentally ill months before the Ferguson tragedy. Reform is needed.

Parallel to this quest to help improve our nation's police is an awareness of how far we have fallen as a people with regard to racial reconciliation and harmony. Jesus himself prayed that we would one day "all be one as he and the Father are one." And Paul does likewise in his letter to the Galatians -- "no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free... but all one in Christ Jesus."

So you can find my spiritual activity over on the Wordpress site and you can also follow me on Twitter: @bocougar.

In the meantime, any as the prophet Amos declared, "Let justice roll on like a river and righteousness like a never-failing stream."


Monday, February 2, 2015

GPS: God's Positioning System!

The Hope Church in Orlando, Florida

You can't always rely on GPS to get you to where you need to be.It happened to us this week in Florida. It was Sunday morning and we were headed east from Orlando and we looked for the closest Episcopal Church to attend. On the Internet -- St John's, Kissimmee at 10:30 am. 
I put the address into my GPS and off we drove. On the way, passed a large church called "The Hope Church" and Sabine agreed it was a great name. We also noticed they had an 11 am worship time. W\

But we continued on to St John's and found ourselves in an industrial park. We checked the address and entered it again. Still no church. So we decided to drive on to Hutchinson Island when Sabine reminded me about the church with the 11 am worship time. 

Okay. Let's try that one we said, it's always good to see how other folks are doing church. When we pulled into the parking lot we saw a lot of black people. And when we got inside, we found we we were the only white folks present among a congregation of more than 200. 

Now you get to know a church community pretty fast in the first seconds you enter. And this church was not only alive but welcoming as we were continually welcomed by various members of the congregation.

And the music! Wow! High-energy praise, young girls doing a liturgical dance, communion with what some Protestants often overlook that this is more than just a remembrance as the pastor prayed that this bread and wine would be unto us the body and blood of Jesus!

Oh yes, there were the hugs. I think we are a hugging congregation at our church in North Lake -- but The Hope Church had us turn around and hug our neighbor, pray for him or her, and give out encouragement at least three times during our worship together.

There was an altar call for healing prayer, recommitment, and strength to "press on." Tears came to my own eyes when I saw Sabine heading up the aisle for prayer. You know, it doesn't get much better than this.

The preaching was powerful, relevant, spoke to us and was deep into the African-American preaching tradition on Philippians 3:14 -- have real self-view, who you really are, leave self-sin-success-sex behind, press on, press on to those things which are ahead -- the mark of the prize in the high-calling of God in Jesus! Press on! You're weary -- press on! You're tired -- press on!

Maybe that's what we need in Christendom today to break down the walls which separate us -- to worship together black and white. Maybe one Sunday a month should be inter-racial worship; two congregations black and white -- 1/2 stays in place while other half joins a racially different church. We need to remember that we are one in Christ -- this is one way to do it; clasp hands and give a hug and affirm the teaching of Jesus and his Gospel!

That Sunday morning I came away feeling that God had something different, that he was going to move me from what was familiar to me to what he wanted for me. GPS will never mean the same thing to me again -- I need to keep tuning in to God's Positioning System.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Spiritual Rumblings

The Power of Forgiveness
Where have I been? Hmmm... life is what happens to you while you are living. It's been six months since my last post here. I have to confess that I have been immersed in the police side of my life since the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri. You can see all that on my police blog which has been active since 2011 and has now over 350 posts on police and their improvement.

Along with my role as police author and blogger, I remain active as an Episcopal priest and pastor of a small, faithful flock of Christians who attend St. Peter's in North Lake, Wisconsin. My third role is that of "nurse practitioner" as I partner with my beautiful and longstanding, best-fried wife-companion Sabine beginning our 8th year fighting a pernicious cancer of the blood called "multiple myeloma." The cancer came upon us in the form or Sabine's kidney failure -- in which we also try to control through home hemodialysis five days a week.

In spite of all this, we remain active (except for a couple of falls and cracked bones during the past 18 months) as hikers, boaters, travelers, and family matri and patri-arches! Life is still a hoot and we go by our family mantra -- "It doesn't have to be perfect to be wonderful."

Spiritually, I deeply feel that I have been called to plant the first seed in a potentially abundant field. It is a seed that some of my colleagues in policing have called "the bitter pill." But I believe it is a healing pill that while it may first seem bitter has within itself the ability to heal.

A few weeks ago my faith and my former professional came strongly together. Some of you may know that since my deep journey into Christianity I have tended to focus on the immense power of forgiveness. This has taken the form of writing a piece in Bob Enright's book, "Exploring Forgiveness" in which I mentioned how I had used forgiveness to heal a breach with people of color in Madison when I was the chief. Those of us who call ourselves Christian know in our heart that it is one of the foundational pieces of our faith.

Throughout my life spiritual, I have been fascinated by the power of forgiveness. I have seen its power in my family and among my friends and parishioners. I was awed by what the Amish did in Nickel Mine, Pennsylvania. And I witnessed and experienced accounts of  it during my time in South Africa hearing accounts of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission during the Parliament of  World Religions in 1999.

I was also recently reminded that the Christian movement, Promise Keepers, did facilitated an apology from it's white Christian men to those men of color. Certainly, we in the church have a lot to apologize for in the way in which we have historically supported slavery and the Jim Crow system. A recent essay on reparation by Ta-Nehesi Coates brought all this home for me once again.

What I have seen and experience about forgiveness is that it WORKS!

So, my mission, my passion, is to press the recommendation I made to Pres. Obama's task force on policing. 

I am totally convinced that the only way forward regarding police-community relations and the restoration of trust between minorities and police is for the police to begin the journey forward by first apologizing, then building on a change in their behavior, seek forgiveness from those whom the domination aspects of our system has tended to oppress. It, of course, can be a personal apology from police who know that they have acted improperly, but it is also a matter of apologizing for the past. Last month I wrote about this in the Capital Times.

As a man of faith, I am putting all this to prayer as I am reminded of an old song from my childhood days during World War II: "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition."

My "ammunition" is my experience, knowledge, and (hopefully) wisdom.

My "praise" is prayer.

Will you join me?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Pressing On!

Most of my friends are, essentially, atheists. I am surrounded by them and love them. Most likely you’re in the same situation. I know these friends try to understand me, but most of them don’t really. They wonder why I pray, go to church, strive to follow Jesus, and most curiously – why I believe in the “hocus pocus” stuff like Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, spiritual healing, and the power and strengths of God’s Holy Spirit. Stuff that they can’t see or find in a data-set. That’s okay. I accept them as friends on anonymous spiritual journeys; that is, experiencing life through its inevitable ups and downs.
They may see me as quaint, old-fashioned, or even irrational (and I thank them for loving me in spite of this). But they see that I press on. I don’t try to tell them what they should do. I only try to do what I believe I should do (and that takes up most of my energy anyway). At this point in my life, changing others is no longer on my “to do” list. And if somehow they find Jesus, well, Hallelujah!
If they are my friends, I am sure they have seen the exciting journey my life has taken the past twenty years since I was “called” to serve God. I hope they have seen how my calling and faith has enabled me to struggle through all kinds of trouble: death of a granddaughter, son’s suicide, Sabine’s cancer, and the agony, loss, and grief that emerges from these troubles.
Could I have weathered these life-events without my faith? Possibly. But I see many others emerge from these events losing their faith and blaming God. For me, the gift of faith is understanding that through tragedy can come learning; a learning that can grow one’s spiritual life and faith in God.
Maybe that’s what faith is – the strength God gives us, through our relationship with Jesus, to be able to take away from big emotional hits, overwhelming periods of grief, something that will help not only oneself, but others as well. A gift that enables us to press on.
Isn’t that the Cross?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Best Gift You May Ever Receive

Sabine has said basically the same thing to me... How can this be possible? It simply is.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Whole Enchilada

The Whole Enchilada
I have heard younger folks use the term, “the whole enchilada.” I understand that it means the “whole situation, everything.” I guess this is the same kind of descriptive term my generation used when we said “the whole ball of wax” or “the whole shebang.” When I searched the term I found many references. The earliest appeared to be a comment from the Nixon tapes wherein Herb Kalmbach told John Erlichmann about the “whole enchilada,” meaning the entire thing he was talking about.
This got me thinking, what is the “whole enchilada” of our Christian faith? For me, it is the physical and emotional condition of being open and malleable to God’s influence in my life. It is realizing God’s presence in my life through the Holy Spirit.
I fear that what has caused the diminishment of our faith in the Western world today is because we are just too comfortable, too provided for, too busy, too willing to let others do it, too self-centered to get up from our mat (remember the paraplegic outside the Temple in Acts 3; a beggar who was, perhaps, too comfortable to get up and walk until Peter healed him in the name of Jesus).
In Western culture we have replaced God with our economy, health care, social security and life insurance. Hey, with all this, who needs God?
Well, as for me, I do. And, perhaps, you do, too. Despite living in a Great Society (at the expense of just about everyone else in the world) I need God’s enchilada – the whole enchilada – and not some appetizer bits. I need the whole thing.
I need God to be a better husband, father, priest, and friend. I need constant healing, restoration, and forgiveness. I need God to be the anchor in my life; to hold me fast because I know life itself is about turbulence, loss, and grief as well as joy, happiness, and fulfillment. I need to God fully become the person God created me to be.
So how does that happen? My God-needs get fulfilled when I serve others, worship in community, and study God’s word and what others have said about God. It happens when I pray for others and myself, when I give of my bounty to the “widows and orphans” of today. It happens when I engage in the “warp and woof” of my friendships and relationships. It happens when I am quiet in retreat. It happens when I am no longer afraid of the Holy Spirit’s action in my life and those around me. And it happens when I hear Jesus knock on my door and I willingly open it, step out, and follow. It happens when I submit.
As followers of Jesus, we are the people of resurrection. Henri Nouwen reminds us that "the resurrection does not solve our problems about dying and death. It is not the happy ending to our life’s struggle, nor is it the big surprise that God has kept in store for us. No, the resurrection is the expression of God’s faithfulness…. The resurrection is God’s way of revealing to us that nothing that belongs to God will ever go to waste. What belongs to God will never get lost."
Alleluia! Christ is risen and we with him -- now! Get moving!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

What a Difference a Decade Can Make!

            “The Notebook,” starring James Garner/Ryan Gosling was released a decade ago (2004). It was based on Nicholas Sparks’ popular book of the same name. For me, it was the year after Sabine retired and we were thinking of down-sizing and finding a smaller parish to serve.

            I remember reading the book and then seeing the movie; a nice, intense, passionate love story. At the time, I am sure I identified it as a "chick flick" (you know, the movies guys go to with their women in order to demonstrate their love). Okay, a nice flick, time to move on," I thought at the time..

            Now, a decade later, and after much loss and grief in my own life (Sabine’s cancer diagnosis, our son’s suicide) it took on new meaning when I stumbled into the movie last weekend as we surfed for an afternoon movie. Although the film was halfway over we decided to sit back and watch it.

            Wham! How different I found this story and how it impacted me now a decade later. No longer a "chick flick" but a story that could be my story. The man in the story reminisced his life with his now disabled wife; their crazy, wildly-in-love early days were just like ours! Now she no longer recognizes her children -- or him. Dementia has captured her. 

            The man's adult children beg him to leave her and come home, "Dad, she doesn't know you or us anymore, so please, come home!" But he won't. He stays in the nursing home where she now resides. Each day he reads from a notebook he has kept through the years which is the story of their life together. But she only knows it as a nice story about a couple in love. She doesn't know the story is their story, who he is, or the love he still has for her.  
            Then there was the poignant candlelight dinner scene when some of her memories of him returned. It was a special evening supported by the nursing home staff; reminiscing and dancing to old tunes. No longer strangers. Now she remembers – now she doesn’t. Suddenly, "Who are you? Help!" she cries out.

            Then the ending. He wakes up during the night, steals past the nursing staff into her room, He carefully and quietly lies on the bed with her, holding her hand. In the morning, the staff finds the two of them, together in bed, joined in death.

            I sat there, frozen, with tears streaming down my face remembering our “crazy, wildly-in-love years,” raising children and spoiling grandchildren, Now growing old together. There is a deep and lasting message: none of us knows the end which awaits us -- only that one day there will be one. 

            Yes, my friends, this is the life God has given us. The only one we will ever have. And, yet, still full of blessing, cherished memories, and an ability each of us has to love in a way that “passes all understanding.”

            For many of us, our children are entering middle age -- a "half-time" for them. A time when they, too, will reflect on the first half of their life and decide if they are going to make any changes in their "game plan."
            Many of us are in our fourth quarter. It doesn't matter what the score is. There is no scoreboard. It's only about how we play the rest of the game-time we have been given. Still time for life, love, joy, and relationship. Use it. What exists for us in the last quarter is the opportunity to get it right and play it right.  It's never too late to be a person of integrity, honesty, and faith.

            Sitting there on the couch with Sabine, watching this story of passionate love and bone-numbing loss, I deeply sensed God. I know God through Christ will keep his promise in Matthew's Gospel, "I am with you always, to the end of the age." The promise is good and true. It's really all I need.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Training to Be a Disciple

Boston Marathon, 1978
Once in a while I get together with other clergy. Invariably, we talk about how our life in Christ is going which involves sharing new ideas, things that appear to be working, developing new ministries and strengthening the old ones, attracting newcomers, and trying to see where God, through Jesus, is leading his Church. Needless to say, this discussion is often marked by scriptural “gnashing of teeth and rendering of garments.” Being a disciple of Jesus is hard enough – leading others to him is, well, challenging.

From time to time, you have heard me talk about having a spiritual “checklist;” a method to remind us about the important things in life and a way not to fall too far behind. It is also a list for those folks who say they want more – they want to move from being simply an admirer of Jesus to becoming one of his disciples.

It’s not an easy journey. If it was, the world would be a lot different, a lot better. Jesus asks much of those of us who wish to step up. Remember? “Unless you take up your cross…” What would you say to a person who asked you what a disciple of Jesus is? In reality, it’s like a weekend jogger deciding to run a marathon. It can be done, but not without a schedule of discipline – a lot of effort, and, yes, some pain. When I decided to run the Boston marathon a number of years ago, I couldn’t just tell people I was a marathon runner because I was going to run one, I had to start training. And running more miles in that year of preparation than I had ever done before.

This is what I think this is what needs to happen to those who say they are Christians. Sure, it’s easy to say I am a marathon runner or a Christian. But doing it is another thing.

Here’s a program that those who are willing to move from admiration to discipleship: The program involves seven vital action areas (listed in alphabetical order, not importance):

  1. Examining. Periodically and regularly take a good, hard look at your life Asking the important people around you, “How am I doing?” (Try Galatians 5:19-23 for a template). Then deeply listening and acting on what you hear. Where you have fallen down, you confess, ask for God’s forgiveness, and act on eliminating the negatives in your life. All of us who say we follow Jesus should work to continuously improve all aspects of our lives and relationships.
  2. Giving. Most of us in North America have too much stuff. Giving is not only about ourselves, but also our stuff. The biblical standard is the tithe. Ten percent of your income should be given to others who are in need. It doesn’t have to all go to the church, but at the end of the year, you should note that ten percent of your income went to help others less fortunate than you are.
  3. Praying. If you aren’t taking time to pray each day you will fall behind your spiritual goals. John of the Cross said this about prayer: “You say you have no time to pray, then double it.” We all need time in quiet, with God, giving first thanksgiving, then supplications our families, church members and the world. Pray like your life depended on it.
  4. Serving. This is what comes “out the spout.” Christians serve others. A spiritual life without service is not a life to be lived. It’s what a Jesus-followers does. Engage in an activity that serves others. It’s a wide-open field.
  5. Studying. In order to grow in your faith you need to know about it. Study involves the Bible (what God has revealed to about himself) and books (what others have said, and are saying, about God.) When you study God you must always be open to listening what God may say in response. For example, the Benedictine practice of Lectio divina (meditative reading) is digesting a passage or two from scripture, meditating on it, praying, and then silently contemplating what you have heard.)
  6. Solitude. We live in a busy, often frenetic, world. Spiritually questing people simply cannot find what they are looking for being engaging in today’s society. Since the earliest times, men and women have gone into the quiet of the desert to find God. Scripture tells us God often speaks more clearly there. To grow, you need to find time alone – not in loneliness, but in solitude with God. No excuses.
  7. Worshipping. Much of our spiritual growth as a disciple of Jesus can be done alone except for two of them – serving and worshipping. Being with Jesus is not a solitary discipline, it is what you do with others, building relationships among other disciples, serving and worshipping with others. A Jesus man or woman does both, just as Jesus did. Growing in Christ is a life process of engagement-retreat-engagement. That is how we find strength and it is also how we grow – and, most importantly, finish the race.

What do you think?

Are there other things a disciple of Jesus should be doing?

What is your growth plan?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

If Jesus Was the Pastor At Your Church, Would You Still Attend?

I was deeply moved by Francis Chan's talk to a number of pastors in which he shared the concern many of us have who say we follow Jesus.

It is a 50 minute video and worth your time.

Take a look at it and then let's get a discussion going about what he has said.

CLICK HERE for the video.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Call to Action -- Doing Church Today

In the above 11-minute video I talk about the realities of "doing church" today and what needs to be done if the so-called "mainstream" church (in which I am a leader) is to continue with what I believe is an important stream and practice of following Jesus.

Below is a copy of the talk:

A Call to Action Doing Church Today

 I have been a priest for nearly 20 years. I went to seminary late in life after leading a number of other organizations. Since my ordination, I have served as a priest-in-charge to two parishes and had interim ministries with five others. I have some ideas about what we need to do that may or may not be yours. That's okay. But please hear what I have to say and think about and ponder it.  

But let me say this and say it clear, if we do not do something radically different than what we are presently doing we will witness the last days of our denomination. 

  1. GOOD NEWS. We Anglicans hold a holy, sacred, historic, and unique tradition. We are a thinking, accepting, loving, liturgical and sacramental practice that has within it the truth and beauty of Jesus' Gospel. It is worth preserving. 
  2. BAD NEWS. Few among us seem able to explain to others who we are, why we walk the Anglican way with Jesus and why, perhaps, they should, too. We don't focus on being a disciple and making other disciples. It's too easy to just attend one of our lovely churches, sit down, receive the sacraments, and be on our way. I think Bonhoeffer called that "cheap grace" -- or in contemporary language, having little "skin" in our game. 
  3. WHAT IS IT WE SHOULD BE DOING? How do we put more skin in the game?
    1. CATECHISM. Our stated mission is restoration; to restore relationships among each other and with God through Jesus. We are to do this work by praying, worshipping, proclaiming the Gospel and promoting justice, peace and love.
    1. MISSION. How are we praying? How are we worshipping? How are we proclaiming the Good News of God through Jesus? How are we promoting justice? Peace? Love? And (probably most important in a consumer society) how are we doing this better than, or at least as good as, anyone else in town?
    1. THEOLOGY. Many of us don’t really know who we are and what is central to being an Episcopalian. How are we the same as Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, or Evangelicals? How are we different? What are the unique essential characteristics of Christian who identifies him or herself as an Episcopalian? As a denomination we tend to confuse non-essentials and essentials. The essentials being how to be "Jesus to the world" in this day and age. Non-essentials we all know. They cause us to bicker and fight among ourselves and even go so far as to break communion with an another and walk away.
    1. EVANGELISM. How many people have we brought to church and we came alongside them, mentored them, and they stayed? Can we give a one minute, personal, passionate, and convincing answer to someone who asks us why we go to church, why we believe in Jesus? Why we follow him? Would we be willing to tell someone this even if they didn't ask? 
  4. A NEW MODEL. The old model is not working: the full-time priest who is called to a parish that meets expenses. It's time we got this old model out of our heads and engage in some new and creative models for ministry. This model is not working because of a number of stark realities.
    1. ECONOMICS. Generally speaking, in order to support a full-time priest today a congregation must have 300 or more active members to pay the bills.
    1. CONTEMPORARY CULTURE. Church membership/attendance is no longer considered a social, business, or moral necessity by the majority of people today. About 30 percent of us indicate "none" when asked about our religion. And this number grows each year. In this culture, church attendance for both young and old competes with hundreds of other busy, time-consuming activities and often falls short.
  5. CHANGING. If the church was a commercial venture (and to some extents it is), we would have to realize that if we don't gain new customers, and hold on to our present ones, we will eventually go out of business. (The bankruptcy of the Kodak corporation is a good example. There will no longer be “Kodak moments” as the new and hungry  giants of the digital age roared right past them while they rested on their past successes.) As a community, we are slow, wary, and often reluctant, to change, even when we know we should. 
  6. FUNDING THE OLD MODEL. Even when a diocese tries to support new church plants or renewals (subsidizing clergy and/or buildings}, it does not assure parish growth or stability. The dollars our church has spent in the past trying to shore up the old model are difficult to defend. Yet, over the years, we have essentially continued to do the same thing over and over again hoping and praying the results will be different. That didn't happen and it won't happen in the near future either. 
  7. OPTIONS. Let’s consider some different ways. One of more of the following may be in our future:
    1. MERGERS. Closing failing parishes and consolidating them together in a larger, more revenue-producing or cost-effective locations.
    2. BI-VOCATIONAL CLERGY. If we cannot afford full-time clergy, then we should think about what some bishops are doing. They are ordaining "Canon 9" priests who are bi-vocational (hold a paying job outside the church). Some parishes are already doing this as retired clergy serve as "permanent supply priests." Under this model, younger men and women called to ordained ministry will have to work at another paying job in addition to serving as clergy. 
    1. CHURCH BUILDINGS. Use our buildings for specific ministries – some for worship, others to house a food pantry, another for a community hot meal program, another for a homeless shelter. Rather than spending diocesan dollars on clergy salaries and building expenses doing a “Matthew 25” ministry that stresses service above church attendance -- feeding, sheltering, clothing, healing, and visiting those in bondage. 
    2. RETHINK. Engage in a complete and total re-thinking of the Christian mission, what a Christian is to do in today's secular, modernist culture; to finally realize that church is a community of believers and not a building. 
    1. RE-BOOT. Going back to home churches (the beginning model of the Church in the New Testament) and then coming together, say, once a month at a central location to worship and share our oneness in Jesus. 
    1. CHARISMATIC. Strengthen and focus our faith and worship practice to be more of a healing, spiritual-gifting, and evangelical ministry. 
    1. MISSIONARY. Minister primarily to those who have need of restoration: those with broken marriages, those who are sick with terminal diseases, those addicted, those depressed, and others who are in need of spiritual help in order lives worth living. For our parishes to serve essentially as field hospitals on the edge of a great battlefield. 
  8. A COLD, HARD FACT. Unless we change we will die. And maybe that's what we need to do. Our denomination is bleeding members. It is time for the Emergency Room. Look around the pews next Sunday, we are old, white, well-to-do and set in our ways. Our children and grandchildren have not followed us to church. One of us could be the last standing Episcopalian.
          All this reminds me of Jesus' story of the wineskins. We are to pour new wine into new wineskins, not old ones. When new wine is poured into old wineskins they burst and break because the skins are brittle and inflexible. They don’t work. What kind of containers are we? Perhaps we should think about another of his teachings: that unless we die to ourselves, we will never rise to new life and growth. Do we really believe this? Believe it enough to act on it? 

Brothers and sisters, when we do the new and not the old, when we die in order to live, we do what Jesus asks of us; that is, to work to restore our brokenness and that of those around us. When we do this, we bring the reign of God closer. We can do this.

Let us pray:  Holy God, Holy and Mighty, you have called us to be your people and to follow your Son. You have promised us your Spirit to give us knowledge, strength and power to heal and restore your people and your creation. Pour out your creative Spirit upon us to do just that. Amen.













Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Reflections On a Church Summit

Last week I attended a summit meeting of churches in the area of the church that I serve. My parish is small (20-25 is our Sunday average). But we keep a balanced budget. Help others. Do repairs. Share administrative tasks. And provide me with a weekly stipend to come and lead their worship, write a newsletter column, and do some teaching and pastoral work.

Members from seven of the nine churches showed up and shared what they were doing. It was interesting but I began to get a funny feeling. Have I not heard all this before? In spite of the candor, what we all heard were familiar themes: we need to grow, our numbers are diminishing, our children don’t attend our church, we have no youth, our buildings are old and need constant repair, and we can’t afford full-time clergy. Yes, I have been hearing this for each of the 20 years I have been serving the church. 

So what’s new? Very few of us today can afford full-time clergy and never will. So we need to get over it. We need to start thinking outside the church box and think creatively! This may mean clergy who agree to serve less than full-time, perhaps one-quarter time, even receiving a small weekly stipend and travel expenses. And, lo and behold, maybe even becoming a “tentmaker;” clergy who work outside the church for their primary support.

This will mean there will be tasks that parish members will have to assume; duties such as administration, visitation, evangelism, communications, and teaching. This will require new and bold and transformative thinking and acting on our part because I am suggesting that we consider a major re-structuring of the role of a clergy and congregation.

At the same time, this must be done with a clear understanding of the mission of the church in mind.
What is that mission? In my denomination, the mission of the Church is “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” The Church does this “as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.”

There is nothing here about numbers. Instead, it is about restoration and it does this restoration through prayer, worship, proclaiming the Gospel and promoting justice, peace and love. If this was a “check list” for the activity of the church how would we rate?

Because if we seriously get on with the task of mission, we would most likely look and act in a much different way. If we did this, what kind of a church would we be?

We need to do some creative (and, if necessary, brutal) self-examination. We need to ask who and what are we today? Where are we going? And most of all, who’s going with us?

This will not be easy. The resurrection life Jesus shows us never is. Because in order for those of us who call ourselves disciples, we and our churches will have to die in order to be born again.

I am convinced that the Christian life is a life of continuous birthing and dying until the final day. As much as you and I would like to avoid this it is simply the way it is. It’s what we signed on for when we renew our baptismal vows each year. We know deep down this will lead us to , to new better lives for ourselves and for our churches.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Emerging Church

Nadia Bolz-Weber a tattooed, Lutheran pastor (yes, I said Lutheran) of the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver. It is a church of around 250 which began a few years ago in a living room with eight people. It is a church with a ministry of hospitality -- REAL hospitality. It is also a church where a chocolate fountain, a blessing of the bicycles, and serious liturgy come together. 

Today, Nadia is a face of the Emerging Church in Christianity — redefining what church is, with deep reverence for tradition -- good, old "word and sacrament."
To see what I call a good, basic, one-hour tour of what Jesus is all about CLICK HERE.
The interviewer is Krista Tippett and is the unedited, unabridged version of their interview, recorded with a live audience at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, North Carolina.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Speaking in Tongues

The August 18, 2013 edition of prestigous The New York Times had an article on speaking in tongues, T.M. Luhrmann was the guest columnist. She is an anthropologist at Stanford specializing in esoteric faiths. This week, her topic was “Why We Talk in Tongues;" an intriguing topic for most readers. Why is this strange practice a part of the Christian faith?

Luhrmann recently was in Africa to learn more about the new charismatic Christian churches that are now proliferating sub-Saharan Africa, especially Ghana and Nigeria. When we include Asia in this charismatic mix, we will find that the practice of speaking in tongues has become (again) a major practice of those who follow Jesus.

For those of you unfamiliar with the practice outside of Paul’s epistles to the Corinthians where he both lifts up and cautions their use, "speaking in tongues" is the use of vocal, language-like sounds as a form of prayer. It is a language that users believe that God knows but they do not.

Luhrmann found the practice seemed to make people happier. For centuries, after the Apostolic period, speaking in tongues seemed to be lost until it suddenly emerged in Los Angeles in 1906 at the Azuza Street Pentecostal revival.

Most tongue speakers see their practice as a spiritual gift from God; a gift that can neither be forced or controlled. At one charismatic American evangelical church that Luhrmann studied she found that about a third of the members occasionally spoke in tongues and usually when they were alone. Similarly, the Pew Research Center, an organization that closely watches church trends in the U.S., reported that 18 percent of Americans speak in tongues at least several times a year.

“What dawned on me in Accra (Ghana), Luhrmann wrote, “is that speaking in tongues might actually be a more effective way to pray than speaking in ordinary language – if by prayer one means the mental technique of detaching from the ordinary world, and from everyday thought, to experience God.”

Those who speak in tongues report that as their prayer continues they feel increasingly more involved, lighter, freer, better, and yes, happier. Scientific research of tongue speaking using M.R.I. scans reveals that those who pray this way enter a different mental state. For example, they experience less blood flow to their frontal cerebral cortex indicating they behaved as if they were in a less-than-normal decision making state.

There are a lot of Christians out there who still remain guarded talking about speaking in tongues let alone sharing that they engage in this form of prayer. There is a sense that those who do so are somehow less than a fully-developed Christian. Or considered to be practicing something that would better be left in Appalachia or for those less educated.

For me, it was good to read this article about something I consider to be one of the spiritual gifts given to the early church and one that has helped me in my faith-walk. I first learned about the practice when I joined Anglican evangelist Michael Green at Regent College for a revival week in Mission, Canada, just  outside of  Vancouver in the early 90s. It was at the beginning of my discerning my call to ordained ministry that I noticed a number of Episcopal/Anglican seminary students that practiced the gift.

During my time with them, they prayed for me to receive this gift. I remember the evening as clear as it was yesterday. But nothing happened (or so I thought). A number of years later, I was attending an Alpha Course leader's training conference on the Alpha Course, when suddenly many in attending started singing in tongues. Later, one of the presenters told us about his experience praying in tongues when his mother was dying. A time in his life when words could no longer say what he was feeling. Years later, the same thing happened to me. 

I guess the best way to put is like this: sometimes when dealing with overwhelming grief (or even joy) words are not enough. Times when words cannot express your feelings to God. It is during times like this when the gift literally kicks in for me. I was able to “let go and let God” through “tongues” and felt the resulting flow of peace – you know, the kind that "passes all understanding." This spiritual gift has subsequently enabled my ministry and made me present for those around me who were experiencing great grief, loss, or pain in their life.

     But remember, just as Paul warns us, if speaking in tongues is not bathed in love then we are as "clanging cymbals" -- noisy and not worth much. There are also a number of spiritual gifts mentioned in the Bible far more important than speaking in tongues: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles and prophecy [1 Corinthians 12:8-10].

     Many of us out there who come from the so-called "mainstream" church don't often talk about this gift. Nevertheless, you might ask, "How do I begin?" First of all, you ask God for the gift. It may also be helpful for you to find two or more persons you know who have the gift and ask them to pray with you. God’s timetable is usually not ours. And, if at first, you do not receive the gift keep pressing on. One day when you most need it, it will be there for you.

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Two-fer!

We live in a busy world. Often we are too busy to exercise, mediate/pray, loose weight, or get other addictions we have under control.

Here's an idea. I have something for you that has worked for me -- a way to exercise and meditate/pray at the same time.

The method is simple. You walk -- alone or with someone (or run, cycle, or other form of exercise and pray/meditate at the same time.

Simple? Certainly. But taking on something new or getting rid of something old is about change. And change is difficult and that's why it needs our discipline to set a date and time and then DO it -- and continue to do it.

When we do we get no only the healthful benefits of exercise, but also the spiritual benefits of thinking of, and praying for, others.

 Just before writing this I went on a beautiful, rural morning ride on my bicycle as I listened to the prayerful music of Hillsong on my iPod. When I got home I felt refreshed by that music as I blessed my friends and family as I pedalled along the road.

So, why not start today?