Sunday, March 19, 2006

Painting with a BROAD BRUSH

How many of you have heard the phrase "paint with a broad brush"? Or perhaps, you have used this phrase yourself. How do phrases like this make it into our every day speech?

I have noticed that there seems to be a "phrase of year" that is tossed around Christian circles. Most likely, we hear these phrases from a notable speaker and then we decide to incorporate them into our sermons, teaching materials, and classroom "astute" comments...

What other phrases like this one do you hear repeated...?

Here are some of the ones that my friends and I have noticed (categorized by year).

1999 "You need to find a way to get plugged in"
2000 "We are meant for me than simply eating and taking up natural resources"
2001 "You can't build a bridge from Beijing to New York overnight but..."
2002 "We need to be transparent, authentic, open, vulnerable, INTO-ME-SEE (intimacy) persons"
2003 "Let me unpack this for you"
2004 "What earth am I here for?"
2005-06 "I hate to paint with a broad brush here but all evangelicals are X"

Alright, 2001 is one that I made up and used in countless meetings during my software development days. I can list a parallel list from the information technology world but I will spare you the debates between "notes" and "minutes"....

Am I only the one who hears this highly predictable, overused statements???

The Chinese Titanic

The PC(USA) requires a psychological evaluation for the ordination process. My experience last week was a very positive one. A question arose from the session regarding my Chinese background. The counselor asked why my grandfather left China.

The story of how my grandparents met is a Chinese titanic story (except the boat didn't sink). My grandmother and grandfather met on the boat from China to New York City. My grandmother was in the lower class level of the boat while my grandfather was in the upper class. At the mealtime, the lower class section was served rice and vegetibles while the upper class section was served steak. My grandfather decided to sneak down to the lower class section and he met my grandmother during the meal.

The question still remains, "Why did my grandfather leave China if he was in the upper-class?" I asked my Dad this question tonight and he shared some more of my family story. My great-grandfather was already in the United States (his reason for coming is unknonw besides economic opportunity, the U.S. was termed the Gold Mountain by the Chinese). My great-grandfather owned chicken markets (there were obviously no Wegmans back then, the chickens were killed on the spot and served 'fresh') and made significant money. He was able to pay for his children to come over and they came over in the upper class section. My grandfather lived in the Caton region of China where, at that time, a majority of the economy was agricultural and unpredicable.

My grandmother's parents were in the United States too but they were not as well off economoically. She came over and worked in laundry facilities to make money. My grandfather and grandmother continued their relationship after coming over to the "Gold Mountain." Stories like this are part of who I am and I need to be able to pass them on to future generations.

This post is part of that sharing to whomever may happen to come across it...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Frozen in 1999 or not...

Music. I have been missing music from my life for awhile now. Music used to be as much a part of my life as food and sleep. I remember thinking that I would NEVER be the person who lost track of music trends but I have become that person. In fact, my music is forever frozen in 1999...

I have this theory that music taps into the deepest parts of our spirit and connects with our deep longing for relationships. The deepest possible relationship is with God but it is easier to focus on our relationships with others, especially romantic relationships. The zenith of my enjoyment of music was when I began dating Laurie and in our engagement time. Music connected with my longing for intimacy with another person and ignited my feelings.

Over time, especially with the arrival of two children and the subsequent destruction of free time, music disappeared from being a part of my normal day. Recently, however, it is making a comeback. Maybe it is because I am gearing up for the upcoming changes in my life as I can actually see myself serving in full-time ministry in the church. Music unleashes creativity and a hunger for life. This applies to God and others.

My late adoption of iTunes on my laptop and friends calling me an "old man" for being behind on the times has helped as well...... Either way, the music is playing again!

Why is music so powerful?

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Preaching Marathon

I didn't run a marathon today but I feel like I did.

Today, I had the opportunity to preach three times at the Presbyterian Church at New Providence( I was given the sermon title "The Great Gamble" as part of a 4 week series titled Living Beyond Myself. The experience was more than I could have imagined. I didn't anticipate learning new aspects about preaching but that is exactly what happened..

Preaching is hard! Preaching is especially hard when a person has to preach multiple sermons in one morning. A few specific lessons came to mind today. First, preaching without a manuscript truly opens up opportunities to connect with the congregation. Second, never never never underestimate the fatigue associated with preaching multiple times in one morning. Third, it is impossible to preach with conviction when thoughts are not clear in my mind (this relates to the first two lessons). The first sermon at 8:15 AM included the positives of all three - connection to the listeners, energy, and clear thoughts/conviction. The second sermon at 9:30 AM included some moments of fatigue that led to fuzzy transitions and reduced conviction. The final sermon at 11 AM was a brutal struggle in my mind to keep pushing forward due to fatigue. I could sense that my conviction disappeared at points when I couldn't think as clearly.

Overall, my personal critique is similar to singing groups who know their mistakes when the listeners barely take note of any mistakes. No matter what, today was a big step forward in living into my forming identity as a pastor. I loved every second of the experience even if I was exhausted in the end.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Imitating what?


This picture is similar to the pictures that I saw at information technology companies where I worked for 6 years before coming to seminary. Posters like this one were in the hallways and were supposed to inspire great leadership.

Leadership is a money-maker. A person cannot even begin to count the number of leadership books that are out on the market. One trip to Barnes&Noble will expose a person to the vast amount of books on how to lead. I have read many of them.

I assumed coming into seminary that leadership would be a focus in my preparation for ministry. That hasn't happened. In fact, the opposite has happened. I have been taught, both directly and indirectly, to automatically question all forms of hierarchy. I have experienced how holding to a conviction only draws defensive responses from others who do not want their personal intellectual space threatened. I have not been taught or encouraged in the area of leadership during my 1 1/2 years here... Until today.

I am in a class that is studying the theology and life of Lesslie Newbigin. We recently read a chapter on his role as a pastoral bishop both in India and in Britain. One of my goals this semester is to be discipled by Newbigin as I study his life. This is in the spirit of 1 Cor 11:1 where Paul says "be imitators of me as I imitate Christ." There is no question that Lesslie Newbigin is a life worth imitating because he imitated Christ. Newbigin says that leaders in the church are to set an example for imitation - imitating Christ. A leader in the church is to be a fisherman, a shepherd, and first of all a disciple (to the cross).

Newbigin says that leadership in the Church always means "following Jesus in the way of the Cross, so that the whole Church may be enabled to follow and so, in turn, to draw others into the company of those who belong to Christ."

Maybe that is where I should be looking for 'leadership training' while at seminary...