Monday, November 23, 2015

Take A....D3

This Thanksgiving week I am grateful for so many things.  Right at the top of my list of things to be thankful for are my two incredible daughters - Haley and Sheena.  In the picture above, you can see a dance that I attended last week with my oldest daughter Haley.  The dance was called a "Father-Daughter Dance".  Honestly, I was not that excited about going to the dance when I heard about it.  But then I saw how excited Haley was, as she put on her best dress, and seemed transformed in one evening from a second year old girl to a girl becoming a young woman.  And then there was the week afterward in which almost every day Haley told me, "Daddy, thank you for taking me to the Father Daughter Dance," "I so loved the Father Daughter Dance".  On the wall opposite from my desk, where I now write, is a letter that Haley wrote me, "Dear Daddy, you are a great pastor.  I LOVED THE FATHER DAUGHTER DANCE" (The second part all in CAPS).

Whenever I get a chance to have an entire day with one of my daughters, in our household we call it a


D3 stands for Daddy Daughter Day.

Actually my hope is that I might be able to start a national trend among fathers who have daughters, and encourage them to have a D3 at least once a month.

It goes without saying that girls having positive and healthy male roll models is a rare occurrence in American society today, and at the same time, so vital for the positive healthy sense of self that young girls so desperately need as they get older.  Here is a recent startling list of statistics regarding self-esteem and the adolescent development of girls (from

*  Among high school students, 44% of girls, compared to 15% of guys are attempting to lose weight.

*  70% of girls age 15-17 avoid normal daily activities, such as attending school when they feel bad about their looks (This is also why the recent spate of incidents of one girl ragging on another girl because of their "looks" on Facebook is so detrimental).

*  75% of girls with low self esteem reported engaging in negative activities like cutting, bullying, smoking, drinking, or eating disorders.

*  20% of teens (mostly girls) will experience situational depression before they reach adulthood.

*  Teen girls that have a negative view of themselves are 4 times more likely to take part in activities with boys that they've ended up regretting later.

*  The top wish among all teen age girls is for their parents to communicate better with them.  This includes frequent and more open conversations.

*  7-10 girls believe they are not good enough or do not measure up in some way, including their looks, performance in school, and relationships with friends and family

*  A girl's self esteem is more strongly related to have she views her own body shape and body weight, than how much she actually ways.

None of these statistics should be a surprise to anyone.  The signs of their veracity are sadly commonplace on every play ground and high school eating quad in America.  But here's the thing.  All of them are what are known as "Thinking Disorders".  Thinking Disorders are psychological maladies that are, hypothetically, treatable with a strong and healthy input of positive reinforcement and cognitive reprogramming.  The best treatment, however, is of course a strong foundation of confidence and a strong sense of self that is established by a child's family system.  Father's are a crucial part of a healthy family system.

So, if you have a daughter, take a...


Daddy Daughter Day

Do it sometime this week.   The rewards will be innumerable!

Happy Thanksgiving!!

All For Now,


Monday, November 16, 2015

For France The Bell Tolls

In April of 2005, as pink flower blossoms were budding on the cherry trees of the Tuileries gardens on the east side of the Seine river, Star and I were enjoying a morning croissant and a cappuccino in a road side diner in Paris.  There is no city like Paris!  We had decided to splurge and celebrate our 5 year wedding anniversary in Paris.  Because we had no kids, or dogs, we had more disposable income and freedom to travel, and so were able to make the trip.   And - there is no city like Paris!  We also splurged by getting a hotel room only a stone's throw from Notre Dame Cathedral.  While we were there, an historical occurrence took place.  Pope John Paul II died.  With the announcement of the news came the deep and sonorous peeling of the bells of Notre Dame Cathedral.    The cathedral seemed, all at once, to come alive, after centuries of dusty sleep.  A steady, and resonant "bong" rung out from the old Gothic towers of "Our Lady's" church.  With the peeling of the bells also came the streaming of people, many of whom had long abandoned the Catholic faith, to the ancient church.  There was a tragic energy in Paris that evening, which is basically impossible to comprehend unless you are witnessing it first hand .  The entire city was moved by the loss.

This past Sunday, the bells of Notre Dame Cathedral rung out once again.  This time, not for an octogenarian pope who died of natural causes - but for 129 ordinary Parisians who were gunned down in the bloom of their youth.  They were gunned down while reading papers in cafes, listening to a concert, watching a soccer game, and strolling the be-cobbled streets of Paris.  One of the most shocking news facts which have emerged this Monday morning is that many (if most) of the people killed were under the age of 30 - students, artists, young business people, techies, and hipsters.

As an American, and a pastor, I am afraid I don't have any deep truths to offer my blog readers after this tragedy, except, like you, I am alarmed by the increasing strength and resolve of ISIS to move beyond it's own borders to perpetrate such an act, and afraid of what the future may portend for all of us in terms of heightened security, and greater general paranoia.  And, like you, my heart grieves for our friends in France.

Oh, there is one other thing...

I am worried about the backlash against Muslim immigrants who are streaming into Europe and the United States.  This past Sunday, I told a true story in my morning message (which will be posted later this week on our church website and on Facebook) of a Muslim man and his family who, in 2003 fled the oppressive theocracy of Iran.  He found himself in Afghanistan not long thereafter only to be beaten down once again by an 7.45 richter earthquake.  Still in flight for his life and livelihood, he made it to the shores of Greece, where he and his family found themselves in the city of Athens.  This man (who now goes by "M" because he is still afraid for his life), encountered Christianity for the first time in his life in Athens.  The Orthodox churches with crosses on the tops of all of them were a comfort to him.  "M" learned about the Christian faith and decided to be baptized.  On the morning of his baptism, a Muslim relative found out about the plan and boiled a pot of water and poured it over "M's" head.  With scars all over his body, "M" then crawled to the Christian church, and crawled to the altar where he said, "No matter what they do to me, I will love Jesus."

So, in the end, it isn't just France for whom the bells toll...

It is all of us, who must live in a world that is much less safe, and much less sound.

But we can emulate our friend "M" who, upon his baptism, said;  - "No matter what they do to us, we will love Jesus"

All For Now


Monday, November 9, 2015

Christian World Vs. Real World

I have just returned from a week of classes in Pasadena which I am taking for completion of my Doctorate.  While there, I stayed in a retired Presbyterian minister's nursing home and visited my grandma who is 96, and a pastor's wife.  In other words, for 5 whole days and nights I became completely ensconced in Christian living, Christian discipleship, Christian teaching and Christian company.  Morning noon and night I hung out with fellow pastors, prayed, talked about ministry challenges, engaged in debate about the future of the church.  In many ways, it was like monastic living - being cloistered in a monastic cell of Christian ephemera.  And what I have come away with, once again, is that there is such a difference between the:

Christian World and the Real World

Here are four areas where I found the starkest differences:

Christians Offer The World What They Don't Want/Need
One of the purposes for the class that I took is to help to engage my congregation in some of the traditions of the ancient Christians, particularly in the area of prayer and contemplation.  The final project should involve some ministry where we invite members of our own congregations to take time away from their busy lives and do a contemplative retreat - to spend the day in a quiet place in prayer.  The problem is that most of my own congregants don't want or need a retreat on contemplation.  What are they craving for?  Fellowship with one another, friendship, companionship, getting to know one another better in a light and fun "game-like" ministry setting.

Christians Are Disconnected From What The World Is Really Up To
In one of the conversations I had with a fellow pastor, we discussed our worship services for this coming weekend in church.  My friend told me about the liturgy they were doing in an ancient tradition, how the hymns tie in with the message, how the message is Biblically based and how it ties in with the time period occurring in the liturgical calendar.  He asked me what we were doing this coming weekend.  "We are singing a song from the rock star Peter Gabriel," I said. "It's called...'The Washing of the Water' and we are speaking about Baptism".  "A secular song in church that has no connection to a liturgical tradition?" he asked.  "That's right," I said.  After the quiet rebuff from my colleague, I wondered if perhaps it was such a good idea after all.  We did the song by Peter Gabriel yesterday.  It was a smash it and really connected people with the idea that baptism is like being in a river that leads to the ocean.

Christians Are Involved In An Arm Wrestling Match With One Another That No-one Else Cares About
One of the most startling things I witnessed this past weekend was the deep animosity I experienced between various religious traditions.  The one most particularly challenging involved people in the ECO (Evangelical Covenant Order) tradition and the Presbyterian Church (USA).  There seems to be a veritable "Bloods vs. Crips" division occurring between these two denominations.  When people find out that I am no longer ECO or am now Presbyterian Church (USA), the conversation changes, the temperature in the room cools, and the etiquette gets crisper.  It's almost a discovery that the person you are with has a contagious disease and you must protect yourself from infection.  The larger truth is, of course, that the outside world really doesn't care.

Evangelical Christians Are Too Worried About Upward Mobility
I will confine my final observation in this area to Evangelical Christians (since that is the varietal that I stem from), though I am sure the same critique can be made of other forms of Christianity.  Evangelical Christians are too worried about upward mobility.  The degree of posturing, politicking, maneuvering and networking that I observed this past week was sort of startling.  What is the goal?  I guess to get a more illustrious call, a more elevated position, a more acclaimed job, a better paying salary.  And, of course, this kind of upward mobility can be found in the outside world.  But in the outside world you expect it.

Sorry for the Monday morning screed...

For me, it's great to be back, once again, in a New Church Development and in...

The Real World

All For Now,


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Give Or Treat

This week, I am in Pasadena taking a class for my Doctoral degree, so I don't have much time to write a blog, but I did want to pass along a sweet story that I heard this past week, from a guest preacher at Mission Street.

This past Sunday, David Lange, former youth and families pastor at highlands church in Paso Robles, spoke at Mission Street.  He told a story about his son, Devon, who is only 2 years old.  He did NOT want to go trick or treating on Oct. 31.  For whatever reason, this little guy did NOT want to go trick or treating.  Something about the entire thing just seemed awful to this little guy.  Finally they convinced Devon to try it.  So, he walked up to the front door, and when he rang the door-bell, the door opened, and a person stood there at the door with a bowl full of candy.  When Devon saw the bowl full of candy, he pulled out a piece of candy from his own bag and put it in the bowl.  He thought that trick or treating was about giving candy away and not getting it.

Maybe the little guy had it right.

Instead of "Trick or Treat" - Maybe it should be:

Give Or Treat!

"From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise" Matt. 21:16

All For Now,


Monday, October 26, 2015

The Cross Is....Crazy

A week or so ago, I was out in downtown Camarillo, going door to door, store to store, hanging up banners for our church's one year anniversary celebration.  It's hard work doing "cold calls" to stores in this way.  Usually a store employee is busy helping other customers, and doesn't have time to decide whether or not to hang a banner in the window or not.  Encounters usually go something like this - Graham: "Hi, we are letting our friends know about our one year anniversary" (it's best not to include too much God stuff in these exchanges, it's almost certainly too loaded, and the poor employee can't handle a polemic theological discussion while at the same time trying to sell someone a pair of shoes).  Employee: "Oh well, ok, hang it over the kitty litter."  And that's how it goes.

Occasionally, though, a person will want to engage in a deeper question about faith.  Occasionally, they will want to know answers to the deepest questions of life.  This was the setting for one such encounter this past week.  Here is how the conversation went when I tried to hang the banner in a store window of a computer/tech store:

Employee: "What is this banner for?"

Graham:  "It's for a new church.  Mission Street Church.  We meet in the movie theater on the edge of town.  We've been going about a year."

Employee:  "What kind of church?"

Graham:  "Well, it's a Christian church.  Bible based."

Employee:  "What kind of Christian church?"

Graham: "Well, our origins are Presbyterian, we come from Scotland, but really we have people from all different denominations, backgrounds.  We have Catholics...etc..."

Employee:  "What does your church believe?"

Graham:  (thinking to myself, I really don't have time for all of these questions about God...I have to hang more banners...:-))

Employee:  "Do you believe in Jesus? What do you believe about Jesus?"

Graham:  (gulp, thinking to myself that this person wants to hear the real stuff about what we believe as Christians...and I have more banners to hang....:)

Graham:  We believe that a man named Jesus lived 2,000 years ago.  That man was both fully God and fully man.  That man lived perfect life.  Was the kindest person there ever was.  He was the most loving person.  Was the best preacher ever.  The greatest healer.  The greatest teacher.  And then he was killed on a cross.  Jesus was killed and tortured.  In dying, this God/man overcame death, a couple of days later.  By dying on a cross and coming back to life again, he reversed death forever.  We believe that if you believe in this God/man (Jesus), that somehow our own eternal trajectory can be changed forever.  That' a nutshell what we believe....

And I will never forget the employee's response....after a long pause....

Employee:  "That's CRAZY....."

Graham:  "Yes, I suppose you are right.  It is a little crazy....but you know, that's what we believe."

Employee:  "Well, go ahead, put up your banner over there on the board.  I think there is room next to the Yoga sign..."

As I have thought about this exchange, I have pondered the utter "out of the boxiness" of what we Christians believe.  This employee was correct, what we believe is CRAZY.  To put it in the words of C.S. Lewis, who for most of his own life viewed Christianity in the same way as my employee friend; "A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said [that he was God], would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic [crazy], on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg, or else he would be the Devil of hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse."   In my opinion, Christians should just admit to those who are not Christian that, yes, this thing we believe in is...crazy, it's totally radical, and nonsensical...but it is what we believe.

I have also been thinking about how we live in a world today that doesn't really think about this central narrative about the cross, let alone believe in it.  Shoot, many Christians don't really believe it.  They just go along with it.  They never really wrestle with it, or contemplate it, or think deeply about it.  They just go along with it.

But they do believe in the rules of Christianity.  Rules are easy to believe.  The cross is tough to believe.  And so, many Christians today are more associated by the rules that we live by than the central belief system (doctrine) of the cross.  Entire new denominations have been formed over the rules of Christianity, but few have been formed over the central narrative and question of the cross.

Yet, you do not have to believe all the rules of Christianity to be a Christian.  The rules (do not covet, do not drink in excess, do not lust, honor your father and mother, keep the sabbath holy, etc...) are rules from God, but they do not determine whether you are a Christian or not.  In my experience, it is best to follow those rules, because following them is a way of living out belief in the cross, and in Jesus.  They are a good path of life, in general.  Jesus himself said that the law (rules) were an essential connection to himself.  But the rules do not make you Christian.  Lots of religions have rules.  Frankly some religions have better rules than Christians do.

However, you cannot truly be a Christian unless you believe in the central narrative of the cross.  Jesus, a God/man, lived and died and came back to life again, and believing in Him can change your eternal trajectory.

The Christian faith, at least in America, is at a cross-roads.  Do we want to be associated as a group who has a lot of rules, or do we want to be associated as a group who believes in and lives by an extremely radical, CRAZY, out of the box idea?  The Cross.  I prefer to go down, if we are going down, by grappling with, wrestling with, clinging to and believing in the cross.

What about you?

All For Now,


Monday, October 19, 2015

Slow Will Go, Fast Is Last

I have been thinking lately about the speed of life today, and how, perhaps, humans weren't meant to move, think, act, develop, and process life as quickly as our modern world would have it.

Just before he died, the late Swedish writer, Henning Mankell (author of the famous crime detective series - "Wallander"), reflected upon the glacial pace of life that our ancestors lived as opposed to the pace of life that we now live.  Upon doing research into the first civilizations to inhabit the earth, mostly stemming from the continent of Africa, Mankell learned that, contrary to popular opinion, civilization did not expand and flow into the rest of the world at hyperbolic speeds.  Scientists had once thought that civilization spread into the rest of the world at a "running pace" covering hundreds of miles a year, across land bridges.  However, recent evidence suggests that early civilizations only moved outwards at a rate of 5 kilometers per generation.  In other words, in each generation, there was movement of only 5 kilometers away from where the previous generation lived.  According to Mankell, this is evidence that previous generations moved much slower than they do now.

When you visit cultures that are slower paced than American culture, you sometimes get a feel for how frenetic our lives have become.  I will never forget visiting a small Scottish town in the northwest of Scotland near where my Scottish grandmother was from.  Not knowing the area very well, I asked a local farmer how far it was to the next city over.  He scratched his head and said, "I think it is about half a day's walk from here."  "How many miles is it?"  I inquired.  He scratched his head again and said, "You know, I am not rightly sure.  The trouble is that I have never been there before."  "How long have you lived in this town?" I asked.  He told me his whole life.  And then he said, "Never had any reason to go to the next city over.  Got all that I need here."

I am taking a class for my DMin, whose central premise is the speed of the world now, versus the speed of the world a few centuries ago, and how we can only recapture a sense of deeper Spirituality if we learn to slow down in our modern life.  The speed of life that we experience today has been called many different names by different scholars.  Here are a few of my favorites; "the collapse of space and time" (Shenk), "future shock" (Toffler), "the juggernaut...rushing out of control" (Giddens), "the annihilation of time" (Castells).  One scholar put it like this, "So now we live in a technological age, computers of unprecedented capacity and speed, and almost instantaneous communication with colleagues anywhere in the world.  But I have a question: "When do you have time to think?"

Many years ago, when I did competitive speech and debate in high school and college, my speech coaches used to have a little saying that helped us when we were giving our speeches.  It was particularly helpful when we were very nervous in an extremely competitive speech round and were prone to speed up our delivery.  They used to say;

Slow Will Go, Fast Is Last

I can still imagine my speech coach using his hand to push the air downward and saying from the back of the room, "Slow Down...."  As I slowed down my delivery, I found that actually the whole room became more focussed on each word that I said, and my message was more compelling in the end.

My speech coaches also used to have another pneumonic that was helpful

Check Your Tie, Check Your Fly....

But that is a topic for another blog post..:-)

So my recommendation for this week?  Slow down.  If someone criticizes you for it, just say, my ancient ancestors moved at a pace of 5 kilometers per generation.  If I am going to keep up with them today, I will have to move just five centimeters more, and then take a nap..

Slow Will Go, Fast Is Last

All For Now,


Monday, October 12, 2015

Prayer (Words are Optional)

I am taking a class for my Doctorate in Ministry on the subject of Contemplative Prayer.  You might think that being a pastor I have mastered all aspects of prayer and have a rich "interior life" (as I have learned that prayer aficionados call it).  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Like CS Lewis, I consider myself a total beginner in prayer and a completely inadequate practitioner of it.  However, one idea has helped me get past the starting blocks in my prayer life.  Maybe it will help you too.  It is the idea that:

Words are Optional

Having grown up in a fairly rigidly traditional style of Presbyterian worship, I have become used to long encomium-like prayers where the words, carefully chosen over several hours of preparation, are the coin of the realm.  Complex words, released from the prayer's basket, like flowers strewn down an isle at a wedding, are how you pray.  An example of this would be Dr. Lloyd Ogilvie's prayer at Mark Labberton's inauguration as president of Fuller, a year or so ago; "Dear Lord, whose prevenient power upholds us..."  It was a beautiful prayer, but...I can't do that!?!?

But this kind of prayer is not what Jesus had in mind, or many of the early, ardent Christians.

Words are Optional

For the Desert Father's (people who prayed constantly in the 3rd and 4th centuries) the exact words which were spoken were less important than the posture of the heart.  And so many of them began to use centering prayer techniques, repeating key phrases again and again and again; "Lord Jesus (inhale) Have Mercy (exhale)", "Lead Me (inhale) Holy Lord (exhale)", "Come Lord Jesus (inhale), Be My Guest (exhale)".

I have personally found the regular prayer of the late pope John Paul II to be helpful; "Totus (inhale), Tuus (exhale) - literally "My Lord - My God".  The double "t" sound off of the tongue helps me to push away the world as I center on God.  Plus Latin just sounds cooler than English!

Several years ago, I visited the home of a family who had just lost their 26 year old son to a sudden heart attack.  The son had collapsed on the floor of the kitchen in the very home where I was now standing.  The presence of death still hung heavily in the summer air.  I had no words to offer.  The parents had no words to speak.  And so, the father, began to pray without words.  "Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba".  With tears rolling down his cheeks, he repeated again and again, "Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba".  The father didn't need words.  God knew the pain that he was feeling.  In times of painful prayer;

Words are Optional

This morning as I was loading my 3 year old daughter into the car, to take her to gymnastics, she had a bit of a tantrum.  After the initial tears of anger, Sheena fell into a kind of rhythmic time of what I would call "tears of release".  Imagine again and again in the same tone, the same rhythm, "waaaaa, waaaaa, waaaa."  I decided to give it a try myself.  I joined her in her crying, "waaaa, waaaa, waaaa". The same rhythm, the same tone.  Sheena started to laugh.  I started to laugh.  We both felt better.

Here's my best advice for prayer

Words are Optional

All For Now,