Tuesday, December 3, 2013
So, the word of the year, according to Oxford International Dictionary is (Can you restrain your excitement?)...."Selfie." What is a selfie, you are asking yourself? I didn't know either (which says more about my age, 41, and my lack of connectedness to all things hip or cool). A selfie is, "a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken on a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website." For example, here is a selfie that I took of myself after 23 hours of flight time to India, about to land in Bagdore, India. It's hard to know what is actually worse, the picture, or my appearance after so many hours without sleep. According to Oxford International Dictionaries, a group who actually charts such things for a living, the use of the word selfie has increased by 17,000 percent over the past 12 months. The word now has a permanent place in the hallowed halls of verbiage and definitionalism in the Oxford International Dictionary. It's hard to know if Dr. Samuel Johnson, who wrote the first Oxford Dictionary in the early 1700's would have been dismayed at the new choice or simply mortified.
The reason I have chosen this new word for my blogpost this morning, however, is because the new addition to the Oxford Dictionary may, selfie, may in fact say more about modern day culture than it does about verbosity in general. Isn't it interesting that the newest word really is focussed on "Me." Not, me as in Graham Baird, but you, and you, and you and you. Selfie may actually be the most selfish word ever to enter the Oxford Dictionary. Not only is the word inclusive of the word self, but it is a word used to describe a picture of ones' self. The word of the year is not, notice this, "youie." Wouldn't that be wonderful? Wouldn't it be wonderful if the word of the year was focussed on another person..."you." But it's about - Me. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the word of the year was chosen because so many people took pictures of other people, that they had to come up with a word for it..."youie." But here's my main question. Is the word selfie really a good description of what the thing is, actually? I mean, it's just a picture of yourself, it's not really yourself. The word of the year should perhaps be, "picie," since, as Freud would surely agree, a selfie is not really your SELF in the picture, it's just an image of you., it's not your SELF.
What would Jesus think of our word of the year? Jesus said, "And here is my command, that you should love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends," (John 15:12). Jesus' thought for us is powerful. What he is saying is that loving another person (you) is actually a more powerful love than we can have for ourselves. If selfie indicates the focus of the love we have in our modern era, what Jesus may say is that, "loving yourself is actually less of a love than loving another person." Loving ourselves is incomplete. Loving ourselves actually leaves a hallow space in our hearts. We must allow God to love us, and if we want complete love, we should love one another. Loving ourselves is not as great as loving another person. So, Jesus may say that we live in a world which is ultimately incomplete in it's expression of love.
On the other hand, perhaps the reason that the word selfie is the word of the year is not because we love ourselves so much, but perhaps it is the opposite. Perhaps we don't love ourselves these days at all, and therefore, in our vanity, and insecurity, we send pictures of ourselves to others, hoping that they will love us, as much as we really want and need to be loved. Maybe the word of the year is akin to the word mirror. We see reflections of ourselves in the pictures that we take of ourselves, but we don't find love there either.
Or maybe, to quote Freud again; "sometimes a picture is just a picture. Sometimes a selfie is just a selfie."
All For Now,
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
I literally tried to take around 20 photographs of the mountain. I attempted a photo from every angle. From the airplane that landed in Bagdora I tried to take her picture. To no avail. The mountain looked like a tiny speck of a cloud. No breathlessness. I tried to capture the mountain from the balcony of the tiny rural, rough, hotel room where I was staying. No effect. I even drove up to the foot of Kanchenjunga and tried to take a picture as close away as a 49 miles from her base. Nothing. No power, no drama, no breathless feeling. Again, the picture looked like a bad postcard at a freeway gas station. Grant you, I was taking pictures of Kanchenjunga from my 5S I phone, but still, no powerful effect whatsoever.
What's the larger point I want to make here, for this week's blog post?
Some things are simply too big to capture!
It occurred to me that our God is also way too big to capture. God, and God's glory, and God's son Jesus Christ, are WAY too big to capture in any which way. Artists have tried for centuries to capture the magnitude and the multifacetedness of God in art. Michaelangelo attempted to paint God touching the hand of Adam in his famous Sistine Chapel rendering, "The Creation of Adam." Michalangelo's painting is great, but it does not capture God. Leonardo Da Vinci's painting of, "The Last Supper," is an incredible rendering of the peace of the moment before the crucifixion of Christ, but it does not capture the scope of God. Handel's "Messiah" is an entire symphony dedicated to the nature of God, but it does not capture all of God's facets.
And now I'm going to say something a little bit controversial. Even the Bible does not capture the entire magnitude or scope or size of God. The Bible is a 2,100 year epic depiction of God (Yahweh, Adonai, Messiah, Ruach, El-Shaddai, Son of God, Son of Man, Yeshua, Jesus), and yet it does not even begin to capture the entire scope and size of God. The writers of the Bible, inspired by God Himself (Jeremiah, Isaiah, John Zebedee, John Mark, Matthew, Peter, Paul, Moses) must have stood back after writing their books and letters and said to themselves, "Gosh, that doesn't capture the entire scope or size or magnitude or beauty or power of God at all."
Some things are simply too big to capture!
All for Now,
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Two weeks ago, our church celebrated our second annual Kirkin of the Tartan. For those of you who don't know, Kirkin of the Tartan was started by Peter Marshall in Washington, DC in the 1930's as a way of bringing a new worship concept to New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. The church, as was illustrated in the book by Catherine Marshall, Peter's wife (A Man Called Peter - later made into a movie), was deeply entrenched in social networking structures of Washington, DC high society. Peter hoped that bringing the bagpipes into church, along with a strong dose of the Scottish Reformation, was a way of helping to change up the rigidity of the system, and to bring some much needed change to a church that hadn't changed in a long time. And so, on that first Kirkin of the Tartan (literally, "blessing of the families"), bagpipes were played in the sanctuary, kilts were worn, banners and flags were unfurled, and Scottish Reformed Theology (sovereignty of God, Grace, Salvation through faith in Christ alone) was preached from the front in a rich Scottish brogue. The sanctuary was packed. Change was beginning to happen in a place that nobody thought change was possible - New York Avenue Presbyterian Church!
I have organized 12 different Kirkin of the Tartan worship services in my ministry. And
literally every time I have organized such a service, the attendance and the overall church growth has nearly doubled on that given Sunday. Kirkin has served as a rich distinctive of Presbyterianism in a world and miasma of different religious traditions and the sometimes blandness of pure non-denominationalism.
* We organized a Kirkin in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a culture that was very collegiate, and academically astute and constant - steeped in Midwestern values. The sanctuary was filled.
* We organized a Kirkin in San Antonio, Texas, where a rugged individualism of cowboy-ness and a rich Hispanic cultural heritage flows through the streets like the river at the very heart of town. Kirkin in Texas very nearly helped to turn the tide of a struggling new church development.
* We organized a Kirkin service in Red Bluff, California, a semi-rural agricultural and ranching community in Northern California. People traveled from all of the neighboring cities to attend. Our weekly attendance on that Sunday literally went from 130 to 250.
* We organized a Kirkin service at the ultra edgy (at least for Presbyterians) new Church development that I founded in Paso Robles, California - Highlands Church. The bagpipe band came in the back of the room, and then the worship band joined in with, "You are the Everlasting God." Kirkin literally was the single most important catalyst early on for Highlands going from one weekend service to two.
* As I mentioned, this is the second annual Kirkin at First Pres. Colorado Springs. In the first year, Kirkin Sunday grew the church on that day from an average of 2,200 to 2,600. This year, not only did the attendance go up, but the entire congregation have been abuzz ever since about the excitement it brought to the community. One woman commented, "I never thought any worship service could be better than Christmas and Easter, but this year, Kirkin was."
Look, I can't explain it, but Kirkin is a catalyst for change in all kinds of congregations (ranching, rural, collegiate, society, urban, edgy contemporary). Is it that Kirkin helps a Presbyterian church to tap into it's core identity as a cultural heritage? Who knows. Is it that Celtic stuff is just popular right now? Maybe. Is it that Kirkin actually reaches back into something primally Spiritual in our souls? Might be. Is it that the latest trend in church development and growth is a kind of high/low, new/old, shabby/sheek? Possibly. All I know is that wherever I have served, Kirkin has been more than a "blessing of the families" - it has been a blessing to the entire church and community.
All For Now,
Monday, October 28, 2013
I often get asked what being a pastor of a large church is like. No other professional enterprise quite compares to being a pastor of a large church, but I sometimes say, "being a pastor of a large church is like being the General Manager of 'The Old Vic' in London." Then they ask me, "What's the Old Vic?" "The Old Vic," is one of Europe's most storied theaters. It was founded in 1818, and has had many of the biggest names in acting and theater and drama attached to it. Sir Lawrence Olivier often played (acted) at the Vic. Douglas Fairbanks also played there. But here's the interesting twist. Where most theater companies have a separate director and General Manager from the main lead actor, "The Old Vic" doesn't. At "The Old Vic," the same person that acts in many of the shows also directs the shows, manages the theater, produces the shows (develops the money for them), and does advertising to the public for the shows. Throw in general maintenance of the theater itself (custodial, refurbishment, expansion, safety measures), and you get an idea of how much the lead person does.
Most recently, Kevin Spacey, the actor, has been the General Manager of, "The Old Vic" (his official title was the 'new artistic director' but he basically runs the place). Kevin would act as a main actor in the lead role, Kevin would run the board of directors, Kevin would hire the other actors in the theater, Kevin would make sure the patrons were taken care of, Kevin would talk to big investors about financing shows, Kevin would keep the name and reputation up of, "The Old Vic." And theater isn't what it used to be. Back in the day, going to a show at a theater was the best form of entertainment on the weekends. Today, people are more likely to go out to a movie in a cinema, or better yet, stay at home and watch a video on Netflix. So, there is an evangelism component to being the GM of the Old Vic as well. Kevin spent most of his time actually convincing people that theater is/was a valuable medium, a worthwhile enterprise, a good use of time. Most recently, the great Shakespearean actor Kenneth Brannach has been approached about the position of "new artistic director"( General Manager) of "The Vic." If he takes the job, Kenneth will have an equally large responsibility and evangelical outreach component to his job.
Now...of course being the Head of Staff of a large church is very different than running a theater. In a theater there are no bedside calls from patrons who are dying, there are no ministry discipleship efforts, there are no programs throughout the week, there is no outreach to the poor, there is no interface with other theaters, there is no need or desire to remain Orthodox in a particular approach, there is no mixing of many multiple voices and theological perspectives, there is no real desire to change the world or have eternally consequential conversations with clients (although perhaps there should be!). There is no desire to serve God, and ultimately if God is served then none of the rest of it matters a whit. Theater is very different from church in many, many important ways.
The most important difference, to coin an idea from the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, is that worship/church should have God as the congregation as the main actors, the choir and the pastor as the conductors, and God as the audience (I think I have that right...). And church isn't a show!
But sometimes, my budding pastors in the making, church is (I am afraid to say) like theater. I know it isn't particularly "missional" or even "christianal" to say. But it just is. And to coin the thoughts of another great theater manager/director/writer, from another era - William Shakespeare:
"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances"; ("As You Like It")
All For Now,
Monday, October 21, 2013
The mistake has prompted a whole tide of slightly blasphemous, but a little bit funny, jokes about how the new name of God might be applied to our modern day church music and hymnody. Consider the following names of songs and hymns as alternatives;
"What a Friend We Have in Lesus"
"Lesus, Lesus, Lesus, There's Just Something About That Name."
"Lesus Loves Me, This I Know..."
And the list goes on and on...
But what I think was missed in the often times self-satisfied coverage by the media of this major printing debacle, was how deftly and smartly the Vatican responded to this crisis. They didn't try to cover up the mistake. They didn't attempt to shove it under the rug (though, 6,000 coins under a rug is very probably hard to hide). They didn't sound defensive or reactive. "Everybody mades mistakes," said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, "Even people who make coins." And in being utterly transparent and mia culpa-ish (dare I say - Lesa culpa-ish), the Vatican was able to turn a major mistake into a life lesson, and a chance to model humility and non-perfection.
All of us, especially church leaders, should learn from the Vatican here. For a denomination that has been steeped in alleged cover-up for so long, of childhood sex scandals involving priests, not to mention other coverups, this is a very refreshing new direction for the entire world to observe. Pope Francis could not have engineered a lesson on "admitting mistakes" from the pulpit in a more effective way than was demonstrated by the admission of the misprinting on the coins.
On a more personal level, I can say that admitting a mistake as a pastor is one of the most effective things I can do to model Christian behavior and practice. Often, in the middle of a message, if I make a verbal blunder or a mis-statement, and I say, "Gosh good one Graham," the whole room lights up with laughter and a more healthy sense of lightness. It's as if they are all collectively thinking, "Hey, he's just like me...he's not perfect." Of course, larger mistakes need to be admitted to as well, when they occur. And in a similar fashion, public contrition and better understanding almost always ensue.
Pope Francis seems to be setting a pace for leadership in which he would appear to be able to do no wrong. However, it is because he has admitted to doing something small and wrong, that he is able to be such a great leader.
We should do the same!
All For Now,
Monday, October 14, 2013
Pastor Chuck Smith, founder of the Calvary Chapel movement in Costa Mesa, California, and throughout the United States and World is dead. Chuck, as he liked to be called, was 86.
In the words of the New York Times obituary about him from this past week; "The Rev. Chuck Smith, a Southern California minister who shepherded flower children and rock 'n' roll into the conservative wing of the evangelical movement while building a religious wing of the evangelical movement that grew to encompass 700 congregations and hundreds of radio stations has died."
Chuck came up through the Four Square movement in Southern California, in the 1960's and 1970's and often had many connections the brand new Vineyard church. After becoming dis-enamoured by the politics of the Four Square church, Chuck joined a struggling congregation in Costa Mesa (basically Newport Beach), that had 60 members, called Calvary Chapel. Mixing a combination of a genuine love of many who were a part of the "Jesus movement of the 60's and 70's, and a practical, non-flashy (expository, "line by line through the Bible"), style of preaching, Chuck attracted hundreds and then thousands of followers. Chuck was never critical of the fashion styles of his counter-cultural congregants. Chuck was never condescending about their taste in rock 'n' roll music. Where many main line denominations threw the members of the "Jesus movement" out, Chuck embraced them (literally embraced them...hugged them each week). His approach seemed to be that as long as people were following Jesus with their lives, it didn't matter how they dressed, or what music they listened to. It would have been quite common in the early days to see someone at Calvary Chapel in bell bottoms and a tangerine colored orange tank top, standing right next to a senior citizen wearing a suit and tie. There was a healthy mix of all generations and styles in the early days of Calvary Chapel.
There are so many things that I agree with Chuck about. Chuck's desire to lower the inherent barriers for people who want to worship God, without throwing the proverbial, "baby out with the bathwater" was revolutionary. Chuck's embracing of rock 'n' roll music in church began an entire movement of Christianity in America that would eventually include Willow Creek, Saddleback Community and Northpoint in Atlanta. Chuck's genuine love of people from all backgrounds and walks of life was palpable. Chuck's orthodox theology in the midst of his acceptance was transformative.
There is also a great deal that I heartily and strongly disagree with Chuck Smith about. Chuck's dis-inclusion of women in ministry, his oft times ill-informed sentiments about the sin of same sex relationships (Chuck claimed that Sept. 11 was caused in large part by homosexuality in this country), and his unending but never actualized predictions about the end of time (Chuck believed that the end times would come in 1981, and then almost every year thereafter he made similar predicitons) put him squarely (perhaps FourSquarely...no pun intended) in a very different evangelical camp from my own. However, Chuck's contributions to opening up the Christian church to people who have long hair, and pony tails can never be overlooked.
After all, I'm pretty sure Jesus DID have long hair, though the pony tail might have been an invention of the 1960's and 1970's in Costa Mesa, California,
All For Now,
Monday, October 7, 2013
The Space Between
is a phrase that also carries great theological depth as an understanding of our God. This past week, I offered a message on being 1% more trusting of God in our lives. The text we looked at was of the Roman soldier (centurion) who had a servant who was dying. The Roman soldier, you will remember, asks Jesus to come and heal his servant. When Jesus is just outside the door of his house, the Roman soldier stops Jesus and tells him not to come into the house, because he is not worthy of Jesus' presence. "But say the word, and my servant will be healed." In short, this soldier believes (TRUSTS), that God can heal the servant not by laying hands on him, or by touching him, but that Jesus is powerful enough to heal the servant in;
The Space Between
the Roman soldier's house and Jesus in the street. This past week, my 1 year old daughter, Sheena, took her first steps of life. I was actually not there to witness it, (which sort of bumbed me out) but the person that did told me that Sheena was a little nervous at first. Sheena was standing, and then, somewhere within her 1 year old heart, she decided to put one leg in front of the other. She took a step. Now, most of us take for granted or we don't think about the fact that when we walk, one foot will sustain the weight of our bodies, while the other foot shifts the weight of our bodies. But Sheena trusted that in;
The Space Between
two steps, she would be ok on the other side. And, of course, she was. One of the seminal concepts of our faith is covenant. The exact Hebrew notion of covenant is that a covenant must be, "cut." The Hebrew words for covenant are, CARAT BAREAT, and it means "to cut a covenant." I will never forget this phrase since when I learned it, I thought of a carrot being cut in two (pneumonic association is the only way to memorize Hebrew). Now, when an object is cut, say a piece of meat (lamb) or a dove for an offering to God, the Jewish notion is that God will bring something new and Godly into;
The Space Between.
Remember Gideon? He made an offering to the Lord, on a rock. Then, the offering was cut in two. A flame of God appeared in the middle of,
The Space Between,
And God spoke. Here's my question for you this week. What space are your giving God, between this and that in your life? What space, between driving kids to practice and making dinner are you giving to God? What space between your last job and your new one, are your giving to God to speak to you? What space between retirement and professional life are you allowing God to speak to your heart and give you a deep peace? Like me, I hope you will find, that upon reflecting on this question that,
The Space Between
Will be more than just a good song. That it will be the main way that God speaks to you!
All For Now,