Saturday, November 24, 2012

What's Graham Reading???

This week, the Baird family are all in La Jolla (pronounced la hoya, as in oscar de la hoya, no matter what the gps system on my rental car says).  In addition to toting along an entire collection of baby parapranalia; pack and plays, bottles, strollers, baby backpacks, and formula, I have strapped in about 6 books that I am trying to be through, before we return on Wednesday.

Whenever I get a chance, I like to know what people are currently reading.  The answer to this question gives me a sense about what people are thinking, who they are currently being influenced by, or if they are thinking at all.  This is my thanksgiving reading list for 2012:

"The Generals; American Military Command from World War II to Today", by Thomas E Ricks.  Living in Colorado Springs, I thought I might learn something about leadership from the likes of Omar Bradley and Stormin Norman Schwartzkoff.

"The Book of Job; When Bad Things Happen to A Good Person" by rabbi Harold Kushner.

"Every Good Endeavor; Connecting Your Work to Gods Work", by Timothy Keller

"Life, God and Other Small Topics" by Eic Metaxas

"Midnight in Peking" Paul French.  Hey, all work and no play makes a pastor a dull boy....

"The Book of Books; The Radical Impact of The King James Bible", by Melvyn Bragg.

I think that about does it.  Oh yeah, I've been reading one more book quite extensively, "Barbar Goes On Vacation," Haley's new favorite tome....

See you when I return, unless I find another book shop in La Jolla and buy some more books....

All For Now,

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Mission Statement

At the risk of possibly offending a few more blog post readers again this week by touching on the area of politics (I can't help myself, I was a Political Science undergraduate, and this recent election is just too tantalizing not to talk about), I want to try to draw one more lesson from the recent Presidential election that we just experienced.

BTW:  For those of you trying to figure out my own political party or leanings, you won't be able to.  I have worked for Republicans on Capitol Hill and I have voted for Democrats in my life.  Most important, I gave up politics when I entered the Ministry of the Word and Sacrament, a vow of political celibacy if you will, and a personal avowal never to focus on such things as a career path again.  It has always been my firm belief that healthy churches must be "a-political", and that, as the Bible says, "The nations are as a drop in the bucket" compared to the unending power and glory of God (Isaiah).

But here's my thought for the week...

E.J. Dionne (a Progressive columnist I must add), recently wrote an op-ed piece for the Gazette in which he outlined the strategy that the Republicans must take if they are ever to win major election again.  The strategy, interestingly enough is known as the "Colorado Strategy" (E.J. is from Washington, writing about Colorado).  The "Colorado Strategy" is the the strategy that purportedly the Democrats used to help to win Colorado as a state in the electoral college.  The strategy goes like this; "It's a view that a  political party's long term future depends on moderate, younger and suburban voters, especially women, combined with a growing Latino electorate."  That's it.

Now, here's my big thought.  E.J.'s "Colorado Strategy" is not simply a wise strategy of action for a political party, it is also a wise strategy of action for a church or congregation that wants to have a lasting impact on the face of Christianity.  It is, simply put, a mission statement for a church that wants to remain viable.  A healthy evangelical church must focus on;

Moderate People:  Most of the world, statisticians will tell us, are actually moderate.  Moderate right or moderate left, but most people are in the middle.  Historically, Evangelicalism has done very well with very conservative people, but not done as well with people who are basically in the middle.  Now, I want to be clear about what I am not saying.  I am not saying that the evangelical church should give up any of it's orthodox views about any number of issues (same sex, incarnation of Christ, a culture of life, etc...).  However, what I am saying is the the church needs to make as it's mission focus people who are less politically right leaning than we have historically done.

Younger People:  This goes without saying.  The church needs to get younger.  However, a healthy church doesn't just want to attract younger people to sit in the "pews" but, rather, also to participate in active service at all levels of church leadership.  The church needs younger people preaching (as in people in their 20's and 30's), it needs younger people greeting, ushering, teaching, endearing, deaconing...etc.

Suburban People:  Suburban neighborhoods have actually become the new enclave of huge "non-denominational" churches.  Willow Creek, Saddle Back, Mariners, and many other huge churches are basically suburban neighborhoods.  What I think is often missing from evangelical pushes and reaches into suburban neighborhoods, however, is that there is often a huge lack of "earthiness" (for lack of a better term), with suburban churches.  There is often a lack of a dirty, gritty, down to earth, grimy, realistic, salty theology, and faith.  This is where downtown churches (like First Pres Colorado Springs) can, I think market and utilize it's natural downtown "earthiness" to meet the needs of those living in brand new suburban neighborhoods.

Women:  This is the aspect of Reformed Theology that I am most proud of.  Women have always been a central voice, presence, and witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Women have the ability and authority to be in leadership at all levels of the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA, and ECO) movement.  This obviously must continue to be a mainstay.

Latino People:  Again, this last election's Latino population are what most political scientists suggest was the single most important factor in swaying the election.  California, alone has a Latino population that is now over 50% of the general base.  This natural melting pot dynamic of Latino people moving to the country is something that the evangelical movement simply cannot take for granted very much longer.  All churches who want to remain viable heading into the next millennia, need to take Latino (my friend Israel Gonzales sort of bristles at this term Latino, and prefers Hispanic) people seriously!

That's all.  Now, I'm going to San Diego for Thanksgiving, where I will hopefully not have to think about politics again, at least for another four years....

All For Now,

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Money Can't Buy You Change

This week, I want to wade ever so carefully and gingerly into the world of politics.  No, I don't want to make any outright political prognostications, or statements - except to say that the city of Colorado Springs, in general (99% Republican), is in a deep state of grief and loss about the election results of this past Tuesday.  I have literally altered my sermon outline for 2013 to include an entire series entitled; "Restore - Coping With The Grief and Loss that All of us Face."  (This new series is prompted in part by the grief experienced from the election, for many people in my community).

No, in this week's blogpost, I simply want to reflect on the age old truism that money cannot create change.  To paraphrase the Beatles who sang about how, "Money Can't Buy You Love," I want to state emphatically that;

Money Can't Buy You Change!

Here's the Facts: More money was spent on this recent Presidential election than any other Presidential election in United States history.  Depending upon the source that one sites, the amount spent by both Presidential candidates hovers somewhere between $5.8 billion dollars (Politico), and $2.4 billion dollars (Time).  Each candidate individually spent cash (as opposed to money given to Superpacks) in ranges hovering just below the $1 billion mark [$934 million Obama, $881.8 million Romney].  And here's the thing I am hoping to drill home.  What did this money buy the candidates?  Effectively, the change of only two states in the entire electoral college map (Indiana and North Carolina.)  Indiana and North Carolina were Obama states in the first election in 2008, and they went to Romney in 2012.  No other states changed from the election year 2008 until 2012.  None.  Nearly $6 billion was spent to change two states...

One wonders if it might have been more worthwhile to simply pay individual residents of the states of North Carolina and Indiana to vote a certain way.  The payout for residents of both states would be something in the range of $20,000 per person.  That would have been a lot of college loans, credit card debts, mortgage payments, that could have been paid off.

Now, I am not saying that money can't buy you something.  Money can buy you a whole lot of stuff.  Money can buy great vacations, money can buy dream houses, money can buy wonderful cars, money can buy awesome clothes, money can buy a lot of food for starving people in third world countries.  Money can buy a lot, but money cannot buy change.

Jesus knew this.  Jesus knew that change (META - turning) (NOIA - thinking) only really happens from above.  A wise preacher once told me that repentance, "metanoyia", is like God pulling the strings on the puppets that we occupy as humans.  We can't move/change ourselves, only God can.  Jesus also knew that one of the seductive qualities about money is that it seems powerful enough to change almost any earthly dynamic.  When the rich young ruler comes to Jesus and finds that he is lacking in the area of revenue generosity, Jesus says, "It is harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."  Jesus knew that one of the reasons for this is that the very thing, commodity, that we humans feel is a change agent, is the same thing that is also a corrupting force.

So, how does real change occur in an individual or a system?  My experience has been that it requires time.  Change requires diligence.  Change requires a fine attention to the souls of individuals who want to change.  The leadership of an institution or an individual body must be willing to change.  Change happens from above.  Change requires full commitment or a group effort.  An organization cannot change on a level that outpaces the leader's ability to change.  Change requires two steps forward and one step backward.  Change, to quote the poet, William Butler Yates, "comes dropping from the veils of the morning, dropping to where the cricket sings."  Change happens slowly.  True change happens permanently.

Most of all, change requires the presence and the active participation of the Holy Spirit!  But, Money Can't Buy You Change...

"Everybody tells me so..." (Beatles)

All For Now,

Monday, November 5, 2012

Thin Places

Just a strong caveat before I begin this week's blogpost - my Free-Kirk (definition: very conservative Presbyterian Scottish Reformed theology), Scottish grandmother who is now in heaven would not like this one.  She would have been very suspicious of all things related to "Celtic Spirituality."  I am about to write about Celtic Spirituality.

So, Sorry grandma...

Recently, while reading Tony Campolo's book, "Letters to a Young Evangelical" (A good book, but be prepared to argue out loud with it vociferously at times), I came across the term - "Thin Places".  Thin Places, is a term derived from Celtic Spirituality which describes a place or a state of being where God is particularly connected with an individual.  So called, "Thin Places" are places where the distance between heaven and earth are relatively thin, where there seems to be a closer connection between God and God's followers.  In the words of a pastor who is more familiar with the term than I am, “A thin place,” is a place where the boundary between heaven and earth is especially thin. It’s a place where we can sense the divine more readily.” 

Certain characters from the Bible seem to have experienced thin places during certain moments of their lives.  Moses seemed to experience a thin place on the top of the mountain while speaking with God through a burning bush.  Abraham seemed to experience a thin place when three visitors encountered him in the middle of the wilderness, and told him he and Sara were about to have a child.  Mary, the mother of God, experienced a thin place when an angel of the Lord met her and told her, "not to be afraid," that she was to be with child, and that his child was going to be the savior of the world.  One might argue that everywhere Jesus walked in the first century land of Judah was, in itself, a thin place.

As I have ministered to people over these past 12 years of ordained call, I have witnessed many people who were in the midst of thin places.  Most often, people seem most connected to God when they are in the midst of, or when they have just passed through some great spiritual test.  The death of a loved one can be an example of just such a spiritual test.  The loss of a job, the transition to a new city, the beginning of a new venture, the ending of a life chapter, the birth of a new child, the movement from work to retirement can all be examples of thin places, where God seems especially close, or rather, we seem especially close to God.

At the risk of using the most cliched story ever told, the famous story of the man who walked along the beach and saw two footsteps in the sand, and then the period where he saw only only set of footsteps in the sand, and then wondered why God had abandoned him at that moment.  And then God saying, "That's when I was closest to you, I was carrying you, those footsteps were my own."  This is a perfect example of a thin place, where God is literally closer to us, when we need Him than ever before.

The reason I am writing this blogpost, I suppose, is because I feel that I am in just such a thin place in my spiritual walk right now.  I feel like my heart is a great hubble telescope, searching the heavens for images, thoughts, ideas, concepts, meaning and theological truth.  And, like the hubble telescope, my heart is picking up sooo many rich ideas and concepts and truths, I feel which are being sent to me by God.

So, I'm in a thin place.  This thin place will not last forever, but I'm going to make the most of it while I am in it.

Again, sorry grandma,

All for Now,