Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Letter From Guido

As I get older I realize that a lot of my views on life seem to change. One of them is the subject of religion. I grew up thinking that religion was all about control of the people and if you didn’t fit the mold you were thrown to the other side of the line. Either you’re a good person or a bad person. Most of my experiences with churches have been bad ones. I believed you don’t bother me and I won’t bother you. They criticize you if you don’t follow their rules even if you didn’t know the rules. From what I know of Jesus I thought he talked to all people and did not judge them but explained what they should be doing and let them figure out what they needed to change.
My opinion has changed over time but more in the past couple years. A big influence in my thought change has come about because of a couple, who years ago I would have judged as those church people and avoided like the plague. It all started one day when my door staff guy at work called me and said some church ladies were there I thought “Oh NO here we go again”. (Several years before some church ladies had been in our parking lot picketing and handing out negative brochures.) He said they were leaving some gifts for the girls. I think he asked them if they had paint bombs in them because he was also leery. After talking to the employees and the staff I found it odd they would bring stuff to dancers and thought what’s their angle? So this happened again the ladies came to the door dropped off gifts, smiled then left. I thought that’s nice so I had my bartender put together a basket of nice things for the ladies and drop it off. I later thought to myself “wow I’m interacting with church people”.
As time went on our opinion of religious people changed. We discussed a volunteer project at Our Fathers House in Paola. When we showed up I think Donnie and Erin were shocked not only that we showed up but in good numbers also. Now I’m a big burly guy who is not intimidated easily but I will tell you this was a situation that I’m not accustomed to. I thought wonder what all these other church people think of working beside strippers and people of our sort? Well the answer to that is everything went fine. I actually talked to Donnie for a long time and it was a comfortable conversation and one of the best I’ve had in a long time I really enjoyed our discussions. And I think it opened each other’s eyes a little I know it did mine. I like that Donnie and his group do things more like how I thought JESUS did things. We have done another day at Our Fathers House and hope we can do another one soon.
I have read the church blog and find it interesting that they were as leery of us as we were of them. The staff and the dancers have responded to the ladies in a great manor and we all were happy to find someone to take our Christmas family donations because in the past we have been denied by other religious organizations’ because of what we do for a living. Also we felt the love enough the girls felt they should return the love with baby gifts for Donnie and Erin.
I think this program has even worked on me. One day Erin and the ladies came in and when they left a new girl came up and said “why were they here they’re just here to condemn us for what we do”. I told her that’s not true I told her not to be so judgmental now she’s judging them like she thinks all churches do us. That they are the nicest people you will ever meet. Since then I have had two people ask me what I know about religion and that they were never taught anything about god. So I told both they could call and these people would be glad to help with their questions without judging. Not in a million years would I have thought I would be sending friends to church people to learn about GOD.
So my opinion has changed a lot over the past couple years due to some very different people. So I guess the Love Wins works and I hope more churches learn from your great example. Thanks for giving us a chance to see another side of religion. Keep up the great work

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Toward an Emotionally Healthy Church

I just finished one of the best books I've every read, The Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter Scazzero.
Scazzero starts by addressing the problem of emotionally immaturity in the church. "The sad truth is that too little difference exists, in terms of emotional and relational maturity, between God's people inside the church and those outside who claim no relationship to Jesus Christ. Even more alarming, when you go beyond the praise and worship of our large meetings and conventions and into the homes and small-group meetings of God's people, you often find a valley littered by broken and failed relationships."

This book hit home in a way no other ministry book ever has. Most books I read are about how to "do" ministry and they're written by guys much more skilled than myself, which is discouraging. But for the past two years, I've been trying to focus on how to "be" more than how to "do" and this book is exactly about that. Scazzero's main idea is that after a decade of leading a growing and innovative church all the "doing" wasn't resulting in maturity. Yes, people were learning more about the bible but they weren't maturing emotionally. And unless a person is maturing emotionally they aren't really maturing. Spiritual disciplines and bible knowledge is important but it won't do the work necessary to bring a person toward maturity. Boy does that statement fly in the face of about everything you hear in our church culture.
Here's another quote, "The sad reality is that too many people in our churches are fixated at a stage of spiritual immaturity that current models of discipleship have not addressed.... I can no longer deny the truth that emotional and spiritual maturity are inseparable"

Scazzero uses examples that could've come straight from some of my struggles with people within TFC. Pastoring has made it painfully obvious that just because someone has been in church for years and knows a lot about the bible, that doesn't mean they've matured one bit. Emotional immaturity causes so many unnecessary conflicts.

Quoting John Calvin's thoughts on 1 Corinthians 13 and Paul's writings in 1 Corinthians 3, Scazzero warns that churches can be building great ministries and inviduals can be excercising great gifts while still being immature spiritually. "Paul makes a clear point that you can use spiritual gifts and still be very much of a spiritual baby. The sign of the Spirit at work is supernatural love, not gifts or successful results." Ouch.

I connected on a deeper level, however with Scazzero's personal examples. What he said about church members not maturing despite years as Christians, spiritual disciplines or increased bible knowledge was even more true for him, as pastor. It's impossible to count the ways in which my own emotional immaturity has hurt people or caused unnecessary conflict. Although I've grown up a lot over the past few months, particularly because of the emotionally-focused therapy I went through during my study leave, I've still got a lot of growth to do.

And my role as pastor isn't just about "doing" but it's about "being." I've been shaped in such a way that I'm at my best as a leader when I'm acting as a model of healthy Christian living for my congregation. Which is how Scazzero ends the book, "Preaching sets a context and an environment of safety and grace to enable people to go further, but it is not enough. If you can work on yourself, then as you interact with others, the church will change. In short, if you do the hard work of allowing God to change you, the whole system will change." Wow.

Although I'm not sure what it will all look like yet, here's my plan for challenging TFC to mature emotionally.
1) I'm going to model it. I've already set up meetings with a mentor, Roy Rotz, who is going to work through Emotionally Healthy Spirituality with me. Before I can lead others in this way, I must be lead myself.
2) I'm going to mentor leaders in this area. Coming this fall will be our Leadership Community; a chance for discipleship and community-building among ministry leaders. We're going to be working through The Emotionally Healthy Church.
3) Our entire church will work through Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. Although I'm not sure of the details yet, Roy and I are planning how we can preach and then lead discussion groups on this topic.

Here's a final quote to share:
I don't want to wait until heaven to see an emotionally healthy, balanced, mature church. We don't need to. God desires, I believe, to initiate a Copernican revolution in our discipleship in the 21st Century, both in the US and around the world. It is a commitment, not only to see numerical growth, but more important, a quality change in the kind of disciples we are making. It is a paradigm change from the perfect, the powerful, and the big to the weak, the imperfect and the small.
I want to challenge you to apply the six principles of emotionally healthy churches first to yourself (as chapter 1 said, 'as go the leaders, so goes the church') and then to the rest of the congregation.
1 Look beneath the iceberg
2 Break the power of the past
3 Live in brokenness and vulnerability
4 Receive the gift of limits
5 Embrace grieving and loss
6 Make incarnation your model for loving well
It is the pathway to experiencing more of heaven on earth. The journey begins right now, gradually and powerfully rippling through you and then through your church to the hurting world around us."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

We Love You Dawson

We had a lot of work to do after the show on Sunday. The crew was busy working to put away props, reorganize costumes and tear apart the set (which I heard guys were doing until 9:30 Sunday night). Those of us on the GCT board counted ticket money and then paid expenses, although I did spend a little time helping put away props.

Erin was busy working on costumes while I was fulfilling my responsibilities, so our friend, Annie, volunteered to hold Dawson. I thought, "good, I can get a little work done before I need to hold him again." And then I started working, occasionally looking back to check on Dawson. At one point I asked "it's been awhile, is Annie still holding Dawson?" I turned around to look and no, Annie was not holding Dawson. I had nothing to worry about though, because some members of Dawson's birth family were holding him. After they were done holding him, some other people volunteered. Dawson spent his summer evenings at rehearsal but Erin and I were able to work on our responsibilities because there was always such a long line of people wanting to hold Dawson, or dance with him even.

Naturally, part of that is because everyone likes holding cute babies. But another big part is that Dawson is a GCT baby. Were it not for GCT, Erin and I wouldn't be Dawson's mommy and daddy. You can read the whole story here.

Speaking of that story, we got a good picture of Alex and Dawson. Alex is the young man who was wearing the elephant ears and singing "a person's a person no matter how small for Spring Hill HS's Suessical the Musical, through which God told us to adopt Dawson.

Here are some ladies from the show singing a slight variation of a song from the show. This particular version was what Erin and I sang over and over to Dawson when we first took him home from the hospital.

Our first takes of the video were on Saturday night and Dawson was just too tired to appreciate all those cute girls singing about how much they love him. He was in a better mood on Sunday afternoon.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Ask Anything Sunday

This Sunday, we tried something completely new. We had a panel of people who had been through some level of theological education answer the congregation's theological questions. The questions were texted into the media guys, who then put the question on the screen. Mike Palmer was the moderator for the panel discussion.

"Ask Anything" was quite a hit. Now we've gotta find a way to address some of the questions we didn't get to and we've gotta schedule another "Ask Anything."

Thanks to my colleague, Shane Ash, for giving me the idea. You can listen here.

Oh Where is my Hairnet?

Yes, that's me wearing a hairnet in public. First time that's ever happened.
We just completed Gardner Community Theatre's weekend production of Bye, Bye, Birdie and it was another success.

I was an extra in a couple scenes but my mail role was the dishwasher / baritone in the bar scene quartet. With the exception of Trouble, the baritone part in this one song was harder than all my other songs combined from The Music Man. I hadn't sang in a quartet since high school, so it took Erin working with me to get my pitch back. And when I was in a quartet, I sang bass, so baritone was a bit of a change. And to top it all off, this part sings way too many sharps and flats, making it very difficult. Our music director said the baritone was the hardest part but she cast me there believing I could do it. Until the beginning of this week, I was pretty sure I was going to let her down.

But after a lot of work, I finally got it. As you can tell by the video, we're having a LOT of fun onstage. Pete, Nick and Jim were a riot to work with. We had fun singing together, moving the huge set pieces together and giving each other crap in the dressing room.

It was another great show from GCT.
I tried to upload the video to youtube, but unfortunately, it didn't work. I don't know why that happens sometimes but it's frustrating.

What I Love about Theatre

The rolling sound of the curtains opening

Being blinded by the stage lights

Seeing GCT's account in the black when ticket sales minus expenses equals money left over

The crowd's applause building in anticipation of the leads throughout the entire curtain call

The rush of trying to get the stage set before the curtains open and diving offstage just in time

Having to pause for laughter

Mingling with the crowd in costume after the show

The camaraderie that develops among cast members

The transformation that happens between readings at tryouts to the grand finale of opening night

How complete strangers become lifelong friends through the shared experience of 6 intense weeks of preparation

The cast's shout of triumph after the final curtain closes

Friday, July 3, 2009

Staying true to our roots

Every 4 years, our denomination The Church of the Nazarene has what they call their General Assembly. Pastors are automatic delegates but there was no way TFC could spend the money necessary to send me. I've been watching it online though and some of the debates have been quite fascinating. Some of the resolutions brought to the Assembly were simple administrative changes. Some resolutions however, dealt with our basic statements of faith and Christian practices. All of our beliefs, practices and by-laws can be found in our manual.

What I love about the Church of the Nazarene is that we are a middle way between many denominational movements. While the COTN views scripture as our highest authority, we also trust reason, tradition and experience (the Welseyan Quadrilateral). This distinguishes us from fundamentalism (although with all their big talk about "literal" interpretations, fundamentalists argue away passages that don't fit their paradigm - as do all of us). We're believe in God's grace bringing about salvation while rejecting the views of the reformed movement (that God predestines some to salvation and some to damnation).

Clearly, fundamentalists and Reformers play on the same team as us. They enrich the family of God in their own unique ways. The COTN however, also brings our own unique approach to living for Jesus, so it's important we stay true to our theological roots.

Our commitment to scripture without being fundamentalists was evidenced in two rejected resolutions. 1) To add a statement about the need to believe in a literal 7-day creation and 2) the rejection of our practice of infant baptism. Some of the discussion was rather heated. Two pastors used phrases from outside our tradition. One phrase was "the innerancy of scripture." The COTN does not affirm the fundamentistic idea of innerancy. Rather, we hold to a belief in the "infallibility of scripture", that scripture "tells us all we need to know about how to have eternal life and how to live with integrity." Those differences may seem minor but they are quite different.

Another phrase used by a pastor was "Sola-Scriptora." The COTN does not hold to Sola-Scriptora - "scripture alone." While we hold scripture to be the highest authority, we also look to church tradition, human reason and people's experience to discern the truth of God.

In response to some pastors wanting to lead us away from our Wesleyan heritage, one delegate stood and made this passionate speech. "There is a pervasive wind of fundamentalism and reformed theology that is creeping into our church. I believe that it is essential to retain our Wesleyan heritage."

That comment received a loud round of applause.

To watch all of General Assembly, click here. To read about the resolutions addressed by the voting body, click here.