Friday, May 18, 2018

The Order of Time


Not long ago, our family spent about a week or so in La Jolla, near San Diego, for Spring Break.  While we sat by the beach and watched the waves lap upon the shore, it quite literally seemed, for that moment, as if - time stood still.

And as it turns out, according to a recent book by Physicist Carlo Rovelli, in actual scientific terms, that might have in fact been the case.  In his new book, "The Order of Time," Rovelli, surmises that time actually moves faster on the tops of mountains than it does near the flatlands, or ocean.  New clocks have been developed, using nuclear magnetic imaging, which make it possible to detect these finite differences in time.  The concept is an extension of Einstein's theory of the relativity of time, that time responds to the gravitational pull of large masses.  The earth is a large mass.  The closer that a clock, or a person for that matter, is to the earth, the slower time moves.  In very real terms, a person who lives near the ocean ages less than a person who lives near the mountains.  Looking back on it, the time my spent in Colorado Springs, around 6,033 feet above sea level, did seem to move faster than my time spent in Oxnard, at sea level.

Of course, the idea of the relativity of time is not a new idea.  The Bible tells us that, "A thousand years in your sight are like a day the has just gone by, or like a watch in the night," (Psalms 90:4).  By this description from the book of Psalms, apparently time moves faster for God than it does for humans.

Most people forget that the whole notion of time itself was invented by monks who were trying to figure out how to pray with more regularity, "The first mechanical time devices appeared in late medieval monasteries.  Bells driven by weights called monks to the hours of prayer" (Subversive Spirituality, L Paul Jensen, p. 37).  It was the invention of railroads, the transcontinental railroad in America, for example, that necessitated the standardization of time.  Previously, each town and city had its own clock and those clocks were very far from synchronized with one another.  But I digress....

Rovelli's book, the content of which I haven't yet read myself (though I have reviewed several articles and listened to several podcasts about Rovelli), reveals that the notion or idea of time is actually totally a construct of our imaginations.  Rovelli says, "We never see time, time is not something we can see or smell or taste or touch.  All we are able to do is to watch clocks which measure time."  Rovelli has even gone so far as to take the integer of time "T" out of all of his equations.  Rovelli says that time is  totally a mental construct.

Rovelli says that most people have this idea that the past and the present and the future are three different things, totally different from one another.  However, physics is showing us that the difference between the past and the present and the future are all relative.  Once again, this seems to reflect the thoughts of the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, "Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.  The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises" (Ec. 1:5-6).

Reflecting further upon this Rovelli says that, "The only difference between the past and the future is the amount of disorder which lies ahead."  In other words, the way to tell the difference between this present moment and the future moments are that in this moment, we know exactly what is happening.  For example, I am typing this blog at this computer right now.  What will the future hold?  Will there be future blogs?  We don't know, because the the definition of the future is that it is disordered.  Again, Jesus lifts this up in the famous Sermon on the Mount, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself (or in Rovelli's terms, "the future has enough entropy." (Matt. 6:34).

If you are like me, this momentary convergence between the thinking of one modern day physicist and the Bible are head scratching and heartening at the same time.  Perhaps the real lesson in all of it is, we should all spend a lot more TIME...

At the beach!

All For Now,

GB




Thursday, May 3, 2018

Reveal


This past weekend I led a mens retreat for Burlpres (First Pres. Burlingame) at the Valambrossa Retreat Center in Menlo Park (pictured above).  It was a great retreat entitled; "Braveheart: Every Man Dies, but Not Every Man Really Lives."  We discussed a lot of really important topics like the difference between healthy risk and unhealthy risk, the role of work in our lives, the role of accumulation, and life in Christ.  But what will remain with me is less what I taught from the front, but what I learned from the other men.

One gentleman, at the end of the retreat, when we went around the room to share what we had learned or gleaned from the retreat said; "The word that keeps coming to me is - REVEAL."  He went on to say that what he had learned was that, "Real soul health begins with the courage to be able to reveal ourselves to one another.  And then, the goal is to be able to reveal ourselves to ourselves." Wow, I had sat through many seminary lectures on soul healing and soul growth and had heard much less wisdom from the so-called "experts in the field.

Not too long ago a man in his mid-sixties came to meet with me in my office.  After about 30 minutes of discussion about small, seemingly insignificant topic matter (the weather, the Giants, the Warriors), I asked, "So, what's on your mind?"  He took the cue, and paused, and then said, "I've come to a decision in my life, that it is now time to retire.  I have never used the "r" word out-loud with anyone else, but I feel like it's time for me to start to make plans to re...re...re....retire."  After he said this, he began to cry.  I asked him what was going on with him?  He said, "It feels good to finally say it, and now that I have said it, it doesn't seem like it will be such a hard thing to do."  This man had revealed his soul to me, and then, and in the process, he had revealed his soul to himself.

Self-Revelation of our souls to others is, it must be said, not always a good thing to do.  Unless we find someone that we trust with our thoughts and processes, it can be a dangerous thing to do.  Also, very often, we do not know what we ourselves are thinking about something, and so the words that come out of our mouths when we reveal ourselves with others are actually quite inaccurate.

When I was growing up as a teenager, and I would come home at the end of a long day at school, I would almost always be upset.  "I don't like school,  I don't like the kids, I don't like where we live," I would tell my mom.  She would then ask, "Did you each lunch today?"  "No," I said angrily.  "Why don't you eat a burrito and then let's talk about it."  After eating, of course, I would feel much better about the entire world.  Sometimes the things that come out of our mouths do not REVEAL what we really think, but how we really feel in the moment.

An expert in Small Groups ministry (Dr. David Augsburger) once told me that it is actually quite unhealthy to share our most intimate thoughts with any more than two or three people in the entire world.  So, you really don't want to encourage your small groups in churches to REVEAL themselves to each other.  It's too much for most people to process.

But we can reveal our hearts to God.  That, in the end, is the best definition of prayer!

All For Now,

GB

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Edge


If you are a fan of rock and roll music, then you know that The Edge (ne David Powell) is the name of the famed lead guitar player for the rock band, U2.  However as I have thought about the secret to great teaching, whether in a classroom or a boardroom or a pulpit, over the years, The Edge is what I have determined is also the key to great teaching.  All great teachers have - The Edge.

What do I mean by The Edge?

All great teachers have a compelling force that comes from the inside that sets them a part from just someone who is giving a discussion, or sharing a thought, or communicating a principle.  The Edge can be a nondescript energy.  This energy can sometimes be mistaken for annoyance or being perturbed.  The Edge often comes from the fact that the teacher has a lot of complex information, or a difficult concept, that they want to communicate in a way that is life changing.  The Edge is conveyed to a class or a room of people in the notion that the teacher will not have accomplished his/her main purpose for the lesson, unless everyone in the room gets it.

Who are some teachers that I have known over the years that have The Edge?

Mr Erickson (sixth grade teacher, Hawthorne Elementary School, Boise, Idaho)
As we came into the room that bright day in early September, Mr. Erickson, our new teacher for the year had us line up against the wall rather than sit in our assigned desks.  Spitting words at us like a Gatling Gun, Mr. Erickson said, "This is not going to be a normal class.  This is not going to be an easy class.  You are going to be challenged this year in ways that you have never been challenged before.  But after it, if you listen and you learn, you will find that you are a different person."  One of my friends raised their hand in an attempt to clarify what Mr. Erickson meant by 'challenge', but then thought better of it and hid his hand behind his back.  I will never forget my year with Mr. Erickson.  That year we learned about Hydogren Chloride, the 'jell mass' of Shampoos, and many other things.  Mr. Erickson had - The Edge.

Professor Adrienne Christiansen, Macalester College, class on The Rhetorical Tradition
The class that boring morning was focussed on a discussion of Platonic f'orms' and their differences with Aristotelian 'forms'.  A student raised his hand, "Dr. Christiansen, it seems to me that Plato and Aristotle are very similar.  Both Greek philosophers, both concerned with classification."  Professor Christiansen answered, "Actually nothing could be further from the truth.  Plato talked about a higher form, Aristotle was just concerned with writing every single classification down."  I never received higher than a C grade on any paper or exam that I turned into Professor Christiansen.  She wasn't always nice to me.  But she had an indispensable, undeniable force that compelled her teaching from within.  She had - The Edge.

Dr. Charles Ryerson, (Princeton Seminary, class on Hinduism and the Christian Context
As we sat in our tables in Templeton Hall, Ryerson began, "I don't know what any of you learned in college.  I mean, honestly, some of you I wonder how you even got accepted to this seminary.  Christianity is not some set of rules or Bible texts or principles.  It is who you are, deep within you, a context that was deeply embedded in your whole world outlook."  I would later travel the Indian subcontinent on a research scholarship given by and mentored by Dr. Ryerson.  Before I sat under the tutelage of Ryerson, I never knew much, or to be honest, cared much about India.  Now it is one of my favorite countries in the world.  Mr. Ryerson had - The Edge.

Rev. Earl Palmer (West Coast Pastor's Conference, Mt. Hermon, California)
From the front, "I am so delighted to be looking at St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippian Church over the next few days together.  We have lots of material to cover, so it is best, perhaps, if we just dive into it.  On the Monday after Palm Sunday, Jerusalem was abuzz with an uncomfortable disease."  Rev. Palmer (pictured above) is and was one of the greatest teacher/preachers of his generation.  I did an entire paper on the writings and teachings of Palmer for my Doctorate at Fuller.  I literally picked a part, piece for piece, countless sermons that Palmer gave.  In short, he is inimicable (un-copyable).  But what I discovered is that what made Palmer's preaching/teaching great was not so much his words, but his force.  Palmer had - The Edge.

All great teachers must have The Edge

One last thing.  The Edge cannot be manufactured, or affected or pretended or replicated.  You either have a deep desire to communicate a singular truth or you do not.  Teachers who try to pretend like they have it often come across as being simply "mean" or "strident".  However, if you ever have the opportunity to be taught by someone who has this miraculous gift, you can be changed for the better for a lifetime.

All For Now,

GB








Wednesday, April 4, 2018

A Dream That Was Bigger Than He Was


What is the biggest dream that you have for your life?  Maybe your dream is to be famous (a rock star, an author, or an actor).  Perhaps your dream is to live a happy life (your kids are fulfilled and healthy).  Some others may have a dream to make enough money to retire early.

I have moved through various dreams for my life as I have gotten older.  When I was in high school, my dream was to be in politics, maybe a senator or even higher.  Then, I got to college, and my dream was that I might go to broadway and be a singer in a show, like Les Miserables, or Phantom of the Opera.  After college, my dream was to go into International Relations and work in a foreign embassy.  Then there were the dreams to build a "mega church" like Robert Schuller or Rick Warren. Now, my dream is mostly to build a healthy church that HELPS people, and to raise a family that has internal strength and fortitude.  But to be honest, most of the dreams of my life have been about ME.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the death of a man whose dream it was to live in a fully racially integrated society.  A place where, "one day there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers."  This was the dream of one African American pastor named, of course, Martin Luther King Jr., who was shot on the porch of his hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.

What is remarkable about Dr. King's dream, in hindsight, is how huge and how bold and how grandiose and how large it actually was.  We take for granted today that it is possible to have a president of the United States who is an African American, or to be able to go to any college you want to as long as your grades are good enough, and you have the financial means.  But back in Dr. King's day, that wasn't the case.  South of the Mason Dixon Line, as they say, separate bathrooms were commonplace, separate restaurants, separate stores, separate neighborhoods.  America was deeply divided.

To compare the radical audacity of racial integration in the South (and North) to Dr. King's dream in 1968 would be to compare it to some of the current massive calamities that our world faces.  A modern day version of Dr. King's dream might be one of the following:

"I have a dream...that one day every child on the face of the earth will not go to bed hungry at night."

"I have a dream...that one day malaria and other mosquito born illnesses, which kill millions of people around the world each year, will be eradicated."

"I have a dream...that depression and other psychological illnesses that people face, will be a thing of the past."

"I have a dream...that the United States will never again have a mass shooting ever again."

"I have a dream...that there will never again be a war that involves religious differences between people."

"I have a dream...that there will never again be a war!"

You fill in the blank....how big of a dream can you come up with?

What may be missing from the modern psyche is the ability to dream large...dream VERY large.  There have been dreamers in the past.  There have been the William Wilberforce's who dreamed of eradicating slavery from Great Britain.  There have been the Louis Pasteur's who dreamed of, among other things, a world without rabies and anthrax.  There were the founding fathers of America who dreamed of an experimental country where a democratically elected and Federalist system could actually replace a monarchical system.  But where are the dreamers today?

What is the seedbed of great dreams?  Courage, obviously.  Altruism.  Audacious, irrational optimism and tenacity.  A crazy idea that is so big that you are willing to lay down your life for it.

And perhaps most of all, the dream that you might have, will be larger than your own life.  That is, if you were to die, in the middle of the completion of that dream, as Dr. King did on that porch in Memphis, Tennessee, that that dream would go on, and carry forward and progress a little more day by day.  And of course there is work to do.  But the dream still exists.  As Dr. King put it, until the day when we are...

"Free at last.  Free at last.  Thank God Almighty, we are free at last."

All For Now,

GB





Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Yes!



"After the final no, there comes a yes,
And on that yes, the future of the world depends."

These words were penned by the great American modernist poet Wallace Stevens in the year 1942 as collection of poems first published under the title; "The Well Dressed Man With a Beard".  The story of how Stevens became a poet is worth a blog post unto itself, as he didn't first start to write poetry until his forties, after being educated at Harvard as a lawyer, and working as an insurance company executive for the early part of his career.  And the rest of the poem by Stevens is equally prophetic and poignant:

No was the night.  Yes is this present sun.
If the rejected things, the things denied,
Slide over the western cataract, yet one,
One only, one thing that was firm, even
No greater than a cricket's horn, no more
Than a thought to be rehearsed all day, a speech
Of the self the trust sustain itself on speech,
One thing remaining, infallible, would be
Enough...

If I could write poetry like that, I would quit my day job too!

However, since it is less than two weeks until Easter, Stevens' words have been echoing in my ear as the best definition of Easter, the resurrection of Jesus, a description of the life of Jesus that I can come up with.

I just put my 1.5 year old son Ewan down for his morning nap.  He has been struggling all morning with a bit of a cold, as his little nose drips like a faucet which runs into his mouth.  He has been tripping over things, a little cranky, a little agitated - poor little guy.  It has been a morning of "no's".  "No, don't draw on the table."  "No, don't hit the dog."  "No, don't throw the remote controls."  And so, I decided to just put him down for an early nap.  As I tucked Ewan into his crib with a warm bottle, and his snuggly blanket, you could sense excitement from him as he hunkered down for a "long winter's nap."  It was the comforting "Yes" after a morning of "No's".

"After the final no, there comes a yes,
And on that yes the future of the world depends."

Some of my best friends are not Christian.  When I speak with them, they often tell me that the whole Bible is just one long series of "Do's and Don'ts".  When they say this they point out all of the Old Testament passages that delineate rules and regulations from the ancient world (the Ten Commandments, the Levitical Codes, the ways that God cracks down on early people like Noah's friends).  With this line of thinking I can never really offer a countervailing argument.  They are right, there are a lot of "No's" in the Bible.  But then there comes a great and wonderful "Yes", in the person of Jesus Christ.

Jesus was the ultimate Yes.  His life was an affirmation of the intrinsic value of humanity, and God's love for it, God's desire to save it.  The kinds of things Jesus said were mostly Yeses.  Jesus' most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, can be thought of as one big long string of Yeses.  The "Blessed Are's" can all be turned into "Yes to's":

"Yes to the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

"Yes to those who mourn,
for they will be comforted."

"Yes to the meek,
For they will inherit the earth."

And, of course, Jesus said some "no's", but they were always said in love.  To the woman caught in adultery, Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn thee (YES), go and sin no more," (John 8:11).

And Jesus is the yes that comes after centuries of definitive "no's".  Early civilizations, from the Egyptians to the Persians to the Phoenicians to the Greeks, all offered the world a handful of lasting contributions, and yet most of their cultures were defined...

Wait, I think I hear Ewan waking up from his nap....

Will this be a moment for No or Yes?

Who knows?

All For Now,

GB

Thursday, March 8, 2018

How Miracles Happen


It was a windy, blustery morning in May, as clouds hovered low in the quaint college town of Oxford, England.  Spurts of rain would randomly slap the face of by-passers who walked the cobbled streets, and ducked below rock-built archways, late for class or a bite to eat in a cafeteria.  It was a Thursday, and the normal course of the class schedule for students was winding down, as evening galas were prepared for the weekend.  Tuxedos were being measured.  Champagne was being chilled.  A medical student by the name of Roger, not a student of the University, had just finished his shift in a local hospital.  He rode the morning train in to Oxford.  His first goal was to meet up with some old friends for lunch at a nearby pub.  And then, a miracle happened...

Roger Bannister had woken up that morning with one goal on his mind - to make history, to change the world, to test the fates of mice and men - to run a mile in less than four minutes.  It had never been done before, though some had come close.  The year before, the Swedish runner, Arne Andersson almost broke the four minute barrier by running a mile in 4:01.6.  In 1945, another Swede, Gunder Hagg, made the same attempt but failed.  Some said it couldn't be done.  And then a miracle happened...

Some of Roger's friends had thought that it was a bad idea to attempt the record breaking feat that morning because of weather conditions.  And yet, still, 1,000 or plus people were willing to take time off of their busy collegiate schedules to see if history could be made.  To see if the vaunted four minute mile could be achieved.  Most experts at the time, if there really were any by modern day comparisons, wouldn't have put their money on Roger Bannister to break the four minute record.  In the words of a great modern day runner and friend of mine, Jamey Gifford, who ran competitively for the Stanford University cross country team, and who racked up an impressive array of medals in his own racing days; "When you look back on Roger Bannister, in many ways, he doesn't seem like a terribly significant athlete.  His elite career only lasted a few short years, he never won an Olympic medal, and he held the world record in the mile for a mere 46 days."  But still, a miracle happened...

As Roger flung himself, chest full of air, arms flapping and body collapsing, he literally threw himself across the finish line.  His time was 3:59.4.  The crowd who had gathered there erupted in jubilation at the announcement of the news.  A miracle happened...

What made it a miracle?

It had never been done before.  Bannister was the least likely of people to accomplish this feat.  He only ran 28 miles of training a week.  He worked full time in the medical profession.  He had a big lunch before running.  He retired almost immediately after his running of the race and breaking of the record.  It occurred in a somewhat obscure place, on a random track in a seemingly insignificant byway and backwater of the world.  When you think about Olympic fame and track and field records, Oxford is probably not the first city that comes to your mind.

Several years ago, I was studying for my Doctorate with Fuller Seminary at a college in Oxford (St. Stephens College).  When class let out, to give students a leg stretch in the middle of the morning, I went outside and walked down the street to the corner.  There I found a street named Iffley Road.  It was a nothing to write home about.  And yet, somewhere in the recesses of my memory, I recalled the name, Ifflley Road.  There before me was a black gravel track and a small parade stand.  This was the place!  This was the place that on May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister broke the world record.  This was the place where a miracle happened...

Having been a pastor for about 20 years now, I have seen my share of miracles.  I have witnessed people getting healed who you would never expect to get well.  I have seen churches rise up in places where no-one thought churches could be built.  I have seen communities come back to life again after years of moribundity and abject poverty.  I have witnessed couples who were headed for divorce, figure out ways to keep their marriage together.  I have seen people who were addicted to drugs and alcohol find ways to lay aside their vices and take up the cross of Jesus.  I have seen miracles happen.  And when they do, they never announce themselves beforehand.  Miracles never walk up and say, "Something great is about to happen."  They just happen.  They just occur.  They occur in the lives of ordinary, common, hard working people.  Usually, it is only after they have occurred that you realize that history was made.

Last week, Roger Bannister, who broke the four minute barrier died at his home at the age of 88.  He would go on to live a distinguished life and contribute mightily to the field of mental health and medical awareness.  His life, it must be said, was complete when he died.  He seemed to do everything that a person could hope to do in the span of eight decades.  And yet it wasn't the eight decades that he will be remembered for.  It was the sub-set of four minutes.  And that's...

How Miracles Happen...

All For Now,

GB






Wednesday, February 28, 2018

N + R + HS = P


I have been thinking lately about the process that most churches use to decide whether to have a new program or not.  Having served in lots of different kinds of churches through the years, I have seen lots of ways that churches approach this subject.  Usually the process goes something like this.  Let's take an innocuous and fictional example.  Let's say the church is trying to decide whether to start a "Quilting Ministry."

1.  Someone comes forward and says, "We should start a quilting ministry."

2.  Someone else says, "Good idea, quilting, cool, let's announce it Sunday."

3.  Announcement gets made, "Come to our quilting ministry opener!"

4.  Two people show up to the quilting day opener.  Neither of them know anything about quilting.  One of them was under the impression that it was a "quitting ministry" that involved quitting smoking, and misunderstood that it was actually about "quilting".  The "Quilting Ministry" never gets off the ground.

Obviously this same scenario can be applied to lots of different kinds of ministry (youth, seniors, young adults, men's, women's, whatever).  Choose one that fits your own church.

A more helpful model that I have used in churches that I have served is a quick mathematical equation.  Keep in mind that I was always quite terrible with math in school, and...that's why I became a pastor:-)  Here is the equation:

N + R + HS = P

Needs + Resources + Holy Spirit = Program

The first letter is N for NEEDS.  What this means is that every church program must start with an actual NEED.  The more pressing the need, the more effective the ministry.  Where there is no need, there is no ministry.  What do I mean by need?  In Burlingame where I have just moved, and am pastoring, one of the most pressing needs is assistance for young adults and young families.  Living expenses are extremely high here, and people's lives are insanely busy.  What are some needs that young adults have in Burlingame?  Affordable childcare.  Many families in this area are known to spend around $3,500 a month on child care (gulp).  I bet the area that you live in has needs to.  REAL NEEDS, not small needs.

The next letter is R for RESOURCES.  Does the church have the resources to be able to carry out the ministry? Most people think that resources are just about money, but they involve many more components: facilities, staff, time, knowledge, intelligence, skill, ability, and long term sustainability. Often churches try to start important ministries that are actual needs in their community, but they don't have the resources to be able to do them.  For example, I would love to work on limiting fire arms sales for automatic weapons in our country, however, my church has no direct resources to help with this glaring national problem.  So it would be foolish to take on this issue.  So, you gotta have the resources.

The third couple of letters are HS - HOLY SPIRIT.  Is the Holy Spirit directing you to do a certain program or is this just a pet project?  Do you sense a prevailing wind from God telling you to do something or is this just a whim?  For example, I wouldn't mind if our church had a bagpipe band.  But, because I am the only bagpiper in the church (that I know of), and bagpipes are a bit of a "nitch" ministry (to say the least), it would just be more of a personal pet project than a ministry lead by the Holy Spirit.

So, that's it.  N + R + HS = P.  It seems quite simple, but this formula can save your church a lot of heartache, time, money, energy and burnout.

More often I have seen churches develop programs using a different formula:

PN + NR + MOA = Program

Perceived Need + No Resources + My Own Agenda = Program

Can anyone say, "Quilters Anonymous?"

What about "Bagpipers for Jesus!"

My apologies to all of the quilters out there who are reading this blog:-)

All For Now,

GB