Sunday, June 27, 2010

I Didn’t Go to Church Today

I didn't go to church today. Mea culpa. But I was the only one without responsibilities at a church, so I got to stay home and wait for the repair person to come and re-install a kitchen light. He didn't get here until after I would have gotten back from church, but, oh well.

It is s strange thing, for me, not to go to church. For 30 years I have had vocational responsibilities that required that I be at church, so you have to understand. This is just plain weird. It's funny, though, because I don't feel guilty, so much as just awkward.

So much of the church culture I am a part of equates "being a Christian" with "going to church." We say things like, "Oh, he's a Christian but he doesn't go to church" or "She's a strong Christian; goes to church every Sunday!" For some reason, attending church services has, for some, become synonymous with faith commitment. Even though we all know that going to church doesn't make one a Christian any more than going to the movies makes you Brad Pitt.

There is an episode from The Simpsons (yes, I admit it, I like The Simpsons!) on this very subject. Homer decides to stay home from church on a wintery day. He discovers the "joys" of staying home from church and decides to start his own religion, which consists mainly of sitting around in his underwear watching football. There is a lot more to the plot, of course (you can read about it at, but suffice it to say that I felt something like Homer (without wanting to sit around in my underwear and start a new religion). Weird.

Tomorrow I am taking Nathan and his friend, Lizzy, to Disneyland. Now there's a contrast for you! I didn't go to church, but I'm going to Disneyland. But, you know, I'll bet that going to Disneyland is a lot closer to the common experience for modern Americans than going to church. In fact, I wonder if there aren't more people who go to amusement parks in a given week than go to church in the same week. What does that say about our culture? What does it say about me that I would ask that question?

Like I said, I feel weird.

I'll have to think about all of this some more, and I'll have a lot of time while the "kids" are off doing the Disney-thing and I find a nice shady spot to sit and think/read/watch people go by. Now THAT'S what I call FUN!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

God and Baseball

I love baseball. I love God. Not necessarily in that order.

As I was contemplating the inordinate amount of time I am spending watching baseball on TV and at the ball park while on sabbatical (it really isn't all that much; I'm not watching re-runs of the games, at least), I was struck by how much life is like baseball.

Bear with me.

I suppose anything can be an allegory for life if you're willing to stretch far enough. But baseball has some things about it that are remarkable in this regard. Like life, in baseball you have to navigate through various situations and scenarios in an attempt to "win" or at least not to "lose." Much of baseball, as life, is about performance. Do you make the standard plays? Do you make the really tough plays? Can you hit a home run? I feel a sermon coming on.

But seriously, consider baseball. There are the players, they represent you and me as we sojourn in life. Then there are the managers, those who teach us and coach us. Where is God? At first, we're likely to identify God with the umpires. But I don't think that is right. Or maybe, God is the scoreboard keeping track of our "performances." Nah! Maybe God is the vendors providing refreshment and nourishment? Also Nah! Is God the sportscasters, observing each play and offering expert commentary? I like Vin Scully, but he's not God!

So where is God?

I think God is the crowd of fans, cheering us on. But the allegory breaks down quickly, so don't jump too fast. Unlike the crowds, God is not partisan (Rom. 2:11). God is not cheering the Angels on over the Dodgers (no need, since the Angels pretty much beat up on the Dodgers! But I digress…). God cheers equally for both teams, for the love of the game. In fact, God cheers for each player, you and me. I know. That's sounds really trite. But think about it… Ok, it is trite, but I'm trying here.

God doesn't care who wins or loses in baseball, despite the religious genuflections and cross-kissing of many players. But God does care about these things:

  1. God cares that we play/live with integrity. Cheating is not quite one of the 10 Commandments, but it could be. And "Thou shalt not steal" does not refer to taking 2nd base while the pitcher/catcher is napping, so don't go there! I'm talking about integrity, the kind of person you are when the umpire isn't looking, or regardless of the instant replay rules. God cares that we are people of honesty and integrity.
  2. God cares that we have fun. I can remember being amazed at friends when I was a young Christian, when they would summarize their "theology" as "God wants me to be happy." Period. That's not what I'm saying here. I'm saying that God delights in, among other things, our fun, joy, gleefulness, etc. One of my favorite images comes from a vision that someone had (I can't remember who, nobody famous, though) of Jesus, splashing in the water, playing with others. The thing is, life is not just about having fun, but God created fun for us to enjoy.
  3. God cares that we treat one another with respect. I know, I know. Trite again! But no matter what "team" we play on, I don't think God is pleased when we treat members of other teams (or umpires, or fans, or anybody else) with anything less than respect and honor. That's why I am making a change in my life. I am going to TRY and stop being so belligerent about my partisan love for the Angels and the Padres (and, thus, against the Dodgers). I have ragged mercilessly on my Dodgers-fans-friends, and I'm sensing that God is not pleased with that part of me. It is not unlike partisan politics, another area in my life that I need to inject a sense of peace. So, my apologies to my Dodgeresque friends. They are really a good team (I love Joe Torre, and Vin Scully, and most of the players, just not the team… Go figure.) Pray for me.
  4. Finally, God cares that we do our best. Gosh, I sound like some Norman-Rockwell-Hallmark-schoolmarm! But seriously, folks (as I straighten my tie)! It's like Eric Liddell (Chariots of Fire) said: "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure." I agree that God takes pleasure when we excel, which is the only legitimate use of competition. Because, ultimately, we are only in competition with ourselves to improve and excel, to the glory of our Maker.

So, there you have it! My blog entry for today. How am I doing?

Don't answer that.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


I haven't blogged for a few days. I've been preoccupied with buying and setting up an above-ground swimming pool in our backyard. But it is up and ready now, and we are hoping to use it this afternoon, along with a cook out, to celebrate Fathers Day!

I want to reflect a bit on the whole issue of fathers/God/sexism/etc.

One of my foci this sabbatical is to reconnect with the Father, God. I finished reading one book on the issue and have others as well. But it is interesting how closely related are the experiences of our earthly fathers and our heavenly Father. In a very profound way, my lack of intimacy with my heavenly Father is directly related to my lack of intimacy with my earthly father. My dad is a good man. He worked hard in his life to provide for his family. He loves me; I know this, however he seldom actually says it. But he was never a very "touchy-feely" kind of person. And he is not a very emotionally approachable man. This is partly due to his generation, so I don't fault him for it. But because of the emotional distance I experience with my dad I am having a difficult time experiencing Abba intimately. I'm also finding it difficult to be emotionally approachable to my own sons.

In seminary (way back in the early 80's) it was in vogue to ameliorate the name "Father" to "Parent" or even "Mother." The theory being that to identify God as a male parent was a negative, especially for women. For some reason people got it in their heads that in order for women to feel good about themselves, they needed to have a God with Whom they could relate, genderally (I LOVE making up new words!). But this whole theory was dashed, for me, once I got away from the academy and started ministering with real, ordinary women out in the world, who, by and large, had no problem with God-as-Father. As I reflect on this, I'm wondering what kind of relationship those who put forth the theory of neutering God (or making Him "Mother") was with their earthly fathers. That would make a great study! My own theory (unsupported by data) is that those who felt/feel the strongest about this (that women will not feel good about themselves if God is referred to as "Father") had, themselves, an emotionally distant relationship with their fathers. Obviously, I'm an exception (obviously, I'm exceptional!). However, I did subscribe to this theory at first. I wonder. Something to ponder (pondering is good, especially during a sabbatical!).

One thing is clear, Jesus called God "Father" (or "Abba" which is the Aramaic equivalent to our "Daddy") and invited us to do so as well. There are qualities of God that reflect the qualities of motherhood, to be sure, just as there is the infamous "feminine side" in every man (more or less). But this is not sociology, God is not subject to our theories of gender-relationships. However, it is interesting to consider to what degree our relationships with our earthly fathers affect our relationship with our heavenly Father.

Happy Fathers Day!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hospice Pastor

I want to reflect for a bit on the insight I gained in a conversation with other pastors. I don't recall the exact context, only that the idea that I have been a Hospice Pastor for most of my pastoral career came to me in a flash.

I have known hospice chaplains and hospice nurses. They are remarkable people! They pour themselves out to people who are dying so that the dying person can pass with dignity and a sense of having been cherished. But one cannot pour oneself out to another without becoming attached to that other, so hospice workers are in a constant state of grief. The people they have poured themselves out for, the people they have cared for, sometimes for months, ultimately die. There is a loss. There is grief. But that is the nature of the calling (and it is a calling, I believe). Hospice workers will occupy a very special place in heaven, I am convinced. I have never witnessed a "bad death" in the context of hospice, although I'm sure there have been a few. But for the vast majority, death comes not as an enemy, but as a friend who relieves the suffering and sets the person free.

So if there are hospice workers who work with individuals who are dying, are there also hospice pastors, whose calling it is to care for dying churches? And if so, am I so called?

This idea goes against just about everything I was taught and believe about the profession of "pastor." Far from helping a church to die well, pastors are called to bring life (resurrection) to a dying church. Much like a physician is called to heal rather than to help die, so a pastor is called. At least, that's what I assumed. Oh, I knew of pastors who actually were called to "close" a dying church, but in almost every story it turns out to be a resurrection ("the pastor was sent to close the church, but now there are 5 million in attendance!"). All of which adds to the sense of failure to those of us who pastor churches that don't experience a resurrection. A pastor's sense of self-worth is often inextricably bound to the relative "success" of his or her church, and so as a church slips away (often anesthetized so that it doesn't fear death) the pastor grows more and more depressed with feelings of failure. And yet, churches die. Some are, in fact, in a terminal state of decline. Wouldn't it make sense that God would care enough for the people of those dying churches to send someone to care for them, like a hospice worker, as they die?

Am I a hospice pastor?

Every church I have served since graduating from seminary has been dying. And while there might have been blips of life, they continued dying no matter what I did, although none has completely died as of yet. One could make the point that in the California-Pacific Annual Conference of the UMC, the vast majority of churches are dying and the likelihood is that I would always be appointed to dying churches, but that is another topic. The hard truth is that most dying churches will die, or at least be so transformed that they no longer have the identity of the original church. So is it wise to beat myself up for "failing" to revive the churches to which I am appointed? Resurrection, after all, is not the job of the pastor but, rather, that of God. And the last time I looked, I'm not God! So should I feel badly? A hospice worker will drive themselves into an early grave if they believe that if they just "do the right things" their patients will live. And yet, I am constantly harangued by such thoughts in relation to my churches.

And yet, resurrection is the central theme of the Christian faith. Healing is possible, if we are to learn anything from the ministry of Jesus. I'm wondering if a congregation is ever objectively terminal, or if, like some of the people Jesus healed, the question must be asked, "Do you WANT to be healed?" Because in order for a congregation to be resurrected, there must be the faith (desire, belief) that resurrection is possible. And what that resurrected life looks like MUST be left up to God and not defined narrowly as a reconstruction of the "glory years" when "Saint Perfect Pastor" was in charge and there were three services every Sunday and a gazillion kids in Sunday School, etc. etc. etc. After all, the Scripture says that "He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control." (Philippians 3:21 NLT) So what the resurrected church looks like is not dependent on our expectations or dreams, but upon His power. There were some who were not healed because they couldn't get beyond their own limited vision of what healing looked like (Matt. 19:22).

So how does one "do" hospice pastoring while hanging on to one's faith in resurrection? Isn't that a prescription for frustration? Is that why so many pastors "burn out"? Isn't that why I am on sabbatical in the first place?

Friday, June 11, 2010

CST’s Kerfuffle

I am deeply concerned about the direction that the Claremont School of Theology (CST) recently announced. If you haven't heard, stop reading this blog and go to to read up on the move (but then come back!).

To be honest, I've not been a big fan of CST for some time. In fact, when I decided to enter the ordained ministry, I chose to attend Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. in large part because I did not like the vision of CST (STC, back then) of training academics instead of clerics. I was called to ecclesia, not academia. Little has happened in the intervening 32 years to change my mind. And I suppose this latest move to incorporate other religions into the seminary community was to be expected, given the seminary's liberal slant and falling enrollment.

They call it the "University Project" but it is misnamed. It should be called the "Universalist Project" because that is exactly what it is, and the seminary should at least be honest about it. Liberal United Methodists (and CST is on the vanguard of liberal Protestantism) have been drifting steadily toward Universalism (the belief that all will be saved) for many years. Even while I was in seminary, the joke was that U.M.C. stood for "Universalists Mentioning Christ." However, it isn't funny and I fear for the denomination in which I currently serve.

Don't get me wrong. I believe that we all need to "get along!" That all religions need to work toward understanding of each other and in finding ways to live peaceably within this diverse world. But I also believe that Jesus Christ is unique, that He is the incarnate, divine Son of God, and that salvation is found only in Him (Acts 4:12). When it comes to training clergy to serve the Church, there needs to be a focus on what Jesus taught and what His followers have believed for centuries. It is important to know what other religions teach, but it is most important that Christian pastors know what Christianity teaches!

I was a Religious Studies major in college (San Diego State). I studied all of the world's major faith traditions and came to a pretty good understanding of them. But when I went to seminary to be trained as a Christian pastor, the smorgasbord approach had to give way to an intensely focused curriculum. The basic graduate degree for pastors is a Masters of Divinity (M.Div.), which is a three-year degree. Three years is a very short period of time and one doesn't have a lot of extra time to be studying other religions. But beyond this practical matter, I believe what CST is doing is giving expression to its underlying Universalist theology. The danger in this is that once we deny the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and the Christian faith, the Gospel becomes a nice story among other nice stories. If one can be saved by practicing Taoism, then Jesus' death on the cross was a waste of Divine blood.

If this is the direction that the United Methodist Church as a whole begins to take, I will have no choice but to leave the denomination and serve God elsewhere. Thankfully, most of the UMC is not like CST. In fact, the UMC has withdrawn support for CST, pending review. I hope and pray that either CST changes direction back to the orthodox faith, or the UMC cuts all ties and all support to the school.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

The contrast between last week and this week is significant. Last week I was at St. Andrew's Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in the high desert. This week I've been at home. Trying to maintain a sabbatical discipline was much easier at the monastery. I suppose that should not surprise me.

This week has been more like a series of days off, which is a good thing. Usually, when I'm working, I only get one day off a week. I find that having just one day off a week really challenges me to rest, especially when there are things that need to get done around the house. But this week is going by quickly, and I have felt more fatigued this week than last.

My reading today focused on the Prodigal Son, and how he missed out on his father's love when he lived at home. The lack of that love came to fruition for him during his wild and crazy times out on his own. He was, in the words of the old country song, "Looking for love in all the wrong places!" The parable teaches us that there are really two ways that we act out when we have not experienced a father's love: in wild, usually immoral, living (the prodigal) and in extreme obedience, often religiously (the other son). Seeds for contemplation. I ordered Henri Nouwen's book on the Prodigal, because the book I'm reading quotes him a lot, and because I have a weekend seminar in August on Nouwen. It should be an interesting study, since I love Nouwen and because it deals with the main focus of my sabbatical study.

I also ordered Abraham Joshua Heschel's book, The Sabbath, as a follow-up to my study of Mark Buchanan's The Rest of God.

Yesterday I started some work in music. I'm not sure if I will take up the trumpet or not, but practicing the guitar and learning some new skills on it is definitely a "go!" Also working on Spanish, which is going ok. I'm not using Rosetta Stone as I had planned because of the extreme cost, so I'm using another program called Byki, which is ok. The main thing I need to do is start practicing with native Spanish speakers, but that will come.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sabbatical Day… - I lost Count

Ok, so I haven't really lost count (it is day eight), but I'm tired of that as a headline, so moving on…

Subjectifying God

I am reading the book by Ed Piorek (Vineyard pastor and conference speaker) entitled The Father Loves You: An invitation to perfect love. One of the main purposes of my sabbatical is to reignite a passionate connection to God the Father, Whom I like to call Abba, which is the Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke) for the familiar form of father, more akin to our Daddy. As I walk each day in the morning, I am also listening to the book Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross. A fascinating mix of Christian spirituality, to say the least. Here is Piorek, a pastor in one of the most modern expressions of the Church, along with St. John of the Cross, a 16th century Spanish Catholic monk and mystical poet, talking about some of the very same spiritual truths. Piorek in terms of connecting with the Father in intimate ways, and St. John in terms of connecting with God in perfect union.

I need that.

I really need that.

So call me a mystic; call me a hopeless charismatic. But my spirit cries out for a more intimate communion with God.

Why are most Christians afraid of intimacy with God? Oh, they won't call it fear, but that is what it is. Most will call it being uncomfortable with a spirituality that speaks in terms of intimacy with the Creator. And yet, Christian spirituality is full of such imagery. The more serious one becomes in one's spiritual journey, the more intimacy with God becomes important. But most Christians are content to talk ABOUT God and to sing ABOUT God and to pray in terms that keep God at a distance.

Bette Midler sang a song back in the 80's that echoes the spirituality of many Christians today: "God is watching us, God is watching us, God is watching us from a distance…"

It seems that many in the Church are content to objectify God, to make Him the object of worship. But you can't get very close to an object (at least, you shouldn't!). It seems to me that if Jesus taught us anything, He taught us that God desires to be in a subjective relationship with His children. He called God Abba, and invited His followers to do the same. Not that we are to abandon speaking of and worshipping God as The Almighty, but that we are to establish and nurture an intimate relationship with Daddy.

For most Christians, it is more comfortable to sing "Praise to the LORD, the Almighty, the King of Creation!" than to sing "I will be Yours, You will be mine, together in Eternity…" And yet, there must be room for both, not only in the Church, but in each Christian's spirituality. The nature of worship these days seems to be one or the other: "traditional worship" being the more objectified approach, and "contemporary worship" being the more subjectified one. The Church should be comfortable with both, but by and large, it is not. Christians should be comfortable with both.

"Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away." (Song 2:10) God beckons us into a deeper, more intimate and personal relationship.

I really need that.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Day Seven – More Sunday Reflections

I attended the worship service yesterday at a church where a friend is the pastor. I hope to visit several churches in the area where the pastors have become friends as we meet every Wednesday morning to pray together for Chino and for each of our churches. Yesterday was wonderful because it was the first Sunday in a very long time that I have awakened in Chino and had to option of going to church or not! Even more so, I felt NONE of the pressure I that I have grown to not notice on Sunday mornings. The saying, "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone" is true for pressure and anxiety as well as paradise paved.

It was so good just to worship and not to have to worry about the service (what comes next, is so-and-so prepared for the reading, is the PowerPoint working, etc.). As I sat down and waited for the service to begin, I prayed for God's presence and power and got my heart ready to worship.

The pastor shared his vision for the church, and I heard the angels of heaven rejoicing! God has poured into this pastor and this church a growing sense of faithful anticipation for what He is going to accomplish in the coming years. My heart was cheered by the renewal that I saw happening in that church. It is awesome to see God at work, renewing and in-filling a congregation with new life! They have a well thought out vision for the future, and a game plan to live into that vision; something that every church ought to have. It was thrilling to see.

We had out of town guests visit us yesterday. Andrew and Joy were interns at Tujunga UMC that I pastored for 16 years. I performed their wedding five years ago, and they have a 15 month-old daughter now. "Wallowing in relationship" is how I termed it in my tweet this morning, and it really felt like that. God is so good in allowing us to develop close friendships that last over the years! And it is always good to reconnect with friends with whom you have had significant experiences. Terisa, half of our best-friends couple of Scott and Terisa, is also in the area visiting from Pennsylvania and we got to spend some time with her and our friend Janet and her daughter Leslie. Visiting with friends is a good Sabbath activity which God blesses and encourages. We had Sabbath yesterday!

Beginning the Flow

Today is the first full week day of the sabbatical in which I get to sample the disciplines that I have planned. I spent a good hour this morning in communion with Abba, went for a walk (man! I am out of shape!), and am now writing this before I begin a time of reading. The next book I am reading is The Father Loves You: An invitation to perfect love by Ed Piorek. Also today, I want to begin working on music (guitar and trumpet) and Spanish. With a trip to the bank and some other errands, it is going to be a full day! Bring it on, Lord. I'm ready!

Thanks for joining me on this sabbatical journey!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sunday Reflections

This is the first Sunday of my sabbatical and it gives rise to some thoughts.

I've shared in many other settings that one of the things I was looking forward to in my sabbatical was NOT preaching. Now, don't get me wrong, I love preaching! I couldn't do what I do if I didn't. But you have to understand, when one is a preacher who preaches every week, one's life becomes a continuous search for sermonic material. Whenever I read something, hear something, remember something, see something, I'm always thinking how I might use that in a sermon! Every new insight, I file away for later use (as I get older, the ability to recall those things becomes more and more a challenge!). So I am looking forward to letting that go and just receiving. I get to hear other preachers preach, which doesn't happen that often in a live setting. I hope I am as receptive to other's preaching as I want others to be of mine (sort of the Preachers Golden Rule).

But old habits die hard. I am resisting the temptation to keep a list of "sermon possibilities" during my sabbatical. Although I need to have some plans in place when I return to active pastoring in September, I am going to put off thinking in those terms until the middle of August.

As I sit here in my living room at a time when I would normally already be at church preparing for the service and other events in the day, I am amazed at how much of a load has been released from me. It isn't just the preaching, while that is significant. It is also the mechanics of the service (who is doing what, whom I need to talk to in preparation, etc.)… all the "little things" as well. I suppose it is related to nervousness, although I haven't identified it as such for a long time. I am so used to it that it just felt like a subtle pressure to "perform" well for those who will be attending worship.

Since the fire we had in the Sanctuary we have added a lot of technology to the service. And since the burglary of all of that equipment a few weeks ago, I have been stressed by replacing it all before I left on sabbatical. Even now, I am wondering if the lens for the projector came in and got installed, and whether the media team will be ok after Steve leaves for his new ministry. I asked people not to contact me about this things, so I supposed I should just let it go. But it isn't easy when you are used to being engaged with all of it. Hmmmm. Maybe I need not be so engaged?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Sabbatical Day Five

First full day at home, and it felt like a normal day off. With the exception that I didn't have "Sunday" looming over me. No sermon to finish, no PowerPoint to do, nothing! It was amazing! Although, I'm sure I'm going to feel weird in the morning! Cyndy is going to church at Chino UMC because she has to lead a meeting afterward. Me? I'm going to surprise one of my pastor friends!

Except for some time in prayer and devotional reading early this morning, I spent most of the day working in the yard. Also had lunch with friends, and watched some baseball (Angels won, Dodgers lost). Bought tickets for the Angels/Dodgers game next Saturday night, so it should be fun to go to Dodger Stadium wearing Angels red!

That's it for today. Sorry, nothing profound! Have a blessed Sunday!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Sabbatical Day Four; Last at St. Andrew’s

This time has gone by quickly! But my four days and three nights at St. Andrew's Abbey (a Benedictine monastery in Valyermo, California) has been a rich time of reflection, reading, worship, listening and breathing (slowly, in… now, out…). I am looking forward to my journey here once again at the end of my sabbatical.

I finished reading The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan (for the second time), and have been doubly blessed. In fact, I want to study this topic more, so I'm going to order some other books on the subject and read them during my sabbatical. There is much for me to learn and, even more importantly, to practice! I knew this going in, but it has crystallized for me in these four days of retreat.

I have also decided that I am going to read some books on the Civil War. One thing that Buchanan taught me is that we too often choose things based on their utilitarian value. So I was thinking that I would study something that has absolutely no relevance to my "work". And the Civil War has always fascinated me (my father and mother came from Virginia and Michigan, respectively; what that has to do with it, I don't know!). So, anyway, that's what I want to do.

My "plan" (subject to change) is to arise early (that's the part I'm not sure of) and devote myself to God, then go for a brisk walk (taking my son along if I can pry him out of his room), then eat a healthy (and sparse) breakfast. After breakfast, to engage in some reading, and then the rest of the day is not so clear. I want to study Spanish, work on my music (guitar and trumpet), do more reading, watch (or go to) baseball games, etc. etc. etc! Wish me luck!

Actually, pray for me. I want to be disciplined, but not to the point of being straight-jacketed. I want to "accomplish" enough to make this time fruitful, but at the same time, I need to rest and be refreshed.

One thing I am realizing is that this sabbatical will not "fix" me. In other words, I cannot believe that I will come out of this three-month sabbatical all perfect, disciplined, tanned, slim and ready to take on the world! Right now my biggest hope is that I will develop some good habits, catch up on some rest and re-creation, enrich my life a little, and learn to practice Sabbath, so that I won't get into this condition again!

Like I said, pray for me!

Fasting and Feasting

In my reading of The Rest of God, Buchanan makes the point that we don't know how to feast anymore, because we feast all the time! That is so true for me. I indulge myself daily (speaking mostly of food, but other things, too) so that when "feast days" come (holidays, Sabbath, family gatherings, celebrations) they aren't much different from our other days. In the ancient world, that was not so. Mostly because people were poor and could not feast every day, but also because they understood that if you feast every day, the real feast days will mean nothing. That's what has happened in our culture. So I am going to make a major effort to eat (etc.) more frugally on "normal" days and reserve my feasting to Sabbath (and other feast days). That way, the feast will be more meaningful and special, and I'll lose some weight!

Sabbatical Hopes

Speaking of his need for sabbatical, Buchanan has a paragraph (on p. 154) that reads as if I wrote it (although he says it much better, of course):

Somewhere I got dull. The child got old, the warrior timid. Again, I think I know how this happened—a combination of growing responsibility and increased privilege—but so what? Somewhere, I started to play things safe. I started to fall back on tried, tired methods of doing things and stopped asking God each day whether I should fight or not fight, go up or go down. I got formulaic in my thinking. I got hidebound in my routines. In the spring, when kings go out to war, I started to stay home, wander bored and restless on the palace roof, looking for something to make me feel young again.

Then, speaking of his desired result of the sabbatical (he wrote the book while on sabbatical), he writes (again, this could be me if I were a gifted writer) on p. 153:

I want to return to my work slow to speak, quick to listen, slow to become angry. I want to hide more things in my heart and ponder them there. I want to return with a sharper instinct to pray, to want a stronger conviction that, though God welcomes my honest efforts, he manages quite fine without my Peter-like outbursts of ill-conceived enthusiasm and then sudden loss of nerve, my opinion swapping and bully tactics, my reckless volunteerism to fix things for God and then desperate evacuation when things go wrong.

Like Samuel, I can be very busy for God, doing God-things, and still not know Him. Doing God-things is good; doing them without knowing God is foolhardy. "Seek FIRST the kingdom…" I knew that! But NOW I remember.

Thanks be unto God!

Now, where are those tablets? It's time to head down the mountain…

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Sabbatical Day Three

Incognito Pastor

One of the things I enjoy about coming to St. Andrew's Abbey is that nobody knows me here. That may sound strange. But hear me out. They recognize me, to be sure. I am here a lot. But they don't know that I am a pastor. They know that I am not a Catholic (that is obvious by the way I stumble through the liturgy at Mass, and that I don't receive Communion), but they know little else. At one time, one of the monks was my spiritual director, so I suppose years ago the word got around that I was some spiritually-deprived Methodist preacher who came here to be filled up! But they don't know me now. And I like it that way.

Why? Because one of the hardest things about my "work" is that I am always "on"; I am always "The Pastor" whenever I am at church, or around church people, or even away from church people at civic functions. The mayor of Chino knows me so well he called me "Pastor Glen Hah-worth"! Being incognito allows me to be just me, and not to play any roles with people. When I am here, I seldom talk with anyone. Small talk is something I find difficult and distasteful, so when I don't HAVE to do it, I don't. Everyone here thinks I am on a "silent retreat" so they have learned not to engage me in conversation. That is a rare gift, since most people assume that if you are not talking, there is something "wrong" with you, so they will do whatever they can to get you to talk. I hate it! Just let me be! And that is why I am here, just to BE.

It refreshes me. It recharges me. I am an extreme introvert. Most people expect me to be an extravert, and so when I don't glad-hand, and chat it up, people get their feelings hurt. So I push myself. But unlike for an extravert who is charged-up by engaging other people, for the most part it drains me. Another reason for my sabbatical! If you are reading this, and you're a church member of mine, please hear me clearly: it isn't that I don't like you, or am mad at you. The reason I don't always greet you and engage you is that it is hard for me, and I need to preserve my energy. Don't take it personally!


I love the Benedictine liturgy, the daily offices, the chanting… all of it. It soothes my soul and draws me into God's heart. It is absolutely non-emotional, but the solemnity requires it. I love almost all forms of worship (I haven't gotten into the head-banging kind, yet). I love hymns and written prayers, I love praise songs and spontaneous prophesies (in tongues or in English), I love big church choirs (and small ones) and powerful worship bands. I love gentle homilies (if I can hear them), and awesome sermons preached with vim and vigor. I love the "smells and bells" as well as the "faints and yells"!

It is all liturgy.

I know. "High church" people don't like the praise choruses and informality and intimacy of the more "low church" style. Conversely, the "low church" worshippers don't like the formal liturgy of the "high church". But it is all liturgy. In one, the liturgy is written down and known by the congregation. In the other, the liturgy is memorized and known by the congregation. High church knows what's coming, and when. Low church knows what's coming, and when (after the third song (which is a really slow and worshipful song which was proceeded by a couple of up-beat praise songs), the worship leader prays for a bit as the band sneaks off the "stage" and the announcement lady comes up, ready to begin "The Welcome" right after the worship leader says, "I just pray this, Father, Lord, in Jesus' powerful name. AMEN!") It's all liturgy. And it's all good.

Christians need to get over their judgmentalism of other Christians and their forms of worship. Hear this: just because you don't "get it" or "it's not your style" doesn't mean that God is not pleased or honored. Get over yourself! Worship is not about you.

At the same time, I am aware that we need to adapt worship at times to draw new believers in. But we need to be careful not to bend so far over that we forget that worship is not about the new believers, either. It is always about God. What honors God? What pleases Him? That's what we should strive for in our worship.

So quite being so snobby, both of you!


Tomorrow is my last day here at St. Andrew's. (insert sad face) I am looking forward to what God does in me!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The path that leads to my afternoon reading place.

The other view from my afternoon reading place.

The view from my afternoon reading place.

Second Day Ruminations

Intimacy with God

There is a longing deep within that cries out of my heart. It manifests in many different ways, but at its root it is my spirit crying out to God's Spirit, yearning for intimacy with my Creator, my Father, my Abba. Sometimes I am gripped by a deep depression, but not one borne by chemistry; rather it is borne by the estrangement from God that my busy life often fosters. Funny. I'm a pastor. My "job" is to connect people with God. And yet in my own life, the busyness of pastoring often saps my own connection with God, my intimacy with Abba (my preferred Name for God-the-Father; it is akin to Daddy, but doesn't carry any negative images for me).

Right now I am re-reading and working through a book entitled Living in God's Embrace by Michael Fonseca. It is a devotional book that takes one through sixty different spiritual exercises, designed to help one live in God's embrace. It is helping me to discipline myself to sit in quietness, to "be still and know" Abba. My sense is that by practicing this stillness, I may discover anew that which cries out in me, and in discovery find a new intimacy with Abba. So be it.


We all hate our jobs at one point or another, perhaps all the time. But work is blessed by God and each of us is called to work at something. We don't always get employment that matches our calling, but, hey, we try.

This is great! From the book, The Rest of God (p. 15f), by Mark Buchanan:

When you have one of those take-this-job-and-shove-it-days, try this. On your way home, stop at your pharmacy and go to the section where they have thermometers. You will need to purchase a rectal thermometer. Made by the Q-tip Company. Be sure that you get this brand. When you get home, lock the doors, draw the drapes, and disconnect the phone so you will not be disturbed during your therapy. Change into something comfortable, such as a sweat suit, and lie down on your bed. Open the package containing the thermometer, remove it, and carefully place it on the bedside table so that it will be become chipped or broken. Take the written material that accompanies the thermometer. As you read, notice in small print this statement: "Every rectal thermometer made by Q-tip is personally tested."

Close your eyes. Say out loud five times, "Thank you, oh thank you, that I do not work in quality control at the Q-tip Company." (Source unknown)

I die laughing every time I read that! The obvious lesson is, no matter how bad your job seems, there are always worse ones! But each "job" we do is a vocation (literally, the work that the Voice told you to do) if it is done for the glory of God and in response to His call. Martin Luther put it well:

The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays—not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship." (The Rest of God, p. 23)

And this (ibid. p. 24f):

Virtually any job, no matter how grueling or tedious—any job that is not criminal or sinful—can be a gift from God, through God, and to God. The work of our hands, by the alchemy of our devotion, becomes the worship of our hearts.


My reading this morning was wonderful! I sat by the pond and read three chapters from The Rest of God and it was, well, wonderful! I even wrote a poem, at the suggestion of the author, to help me notice my surroundings. Right now here in the high desert, one species of tree is spreading its seed far and wide. These cotton-like puffs of seed are all over the place, and more is floating down all the time. So I wrote:

Seeds cloaked in cotton wings
glide gently groundward
seeking a womb of soil
to birth a mighty tree.
Life and Time proceed.

Then, talking about Sabbath Time, Buchanan writes (p. 33):

Transformation is the fruit of a changed outlook. First our minds are renewed, and then we are transformed, and then everything is different, even if it stays the same. God is more interested in changing your thinking than in changing your circumstances.

In this sacred space, I am (re)learning how to keep Sabbath. I had forgotten. I had let Chronos become my preferred time, rather than God's kairos. Instead of Sabbath, I had cultured Leisure. "Leisure is what Sabbath becomes when we no longer know how to sanctify time. Leisure is Sabbath bereft of the sacred." (Buchanan, of course, p. 35).

And, finally (for now), in speaking of wisdom and the changing of our thoughts (or thinking), Buchanan writes (p. 40) "Wise people ask, Does the path I'm walking lead to a place I want to go? If I keep heading this way, will I like where I arrive?" Proverbs 14:8 says, "The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception." Aristotle said (or was it Socrates? College was a LONG time ago!), "A life not examined is a life not worth living." The lesson (for me) is that I can go through life blithely worshipping Chronos, or I can see my life through the eyes of Sabbath and appreciate the kairos that God is giving me. "The Chinese join two characters to form a single pictograph for busyness: heart and killing." (Wayne Muller, Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest, p. 3, quoted in Buchanan p. 45) (Gosh, I sound like a research paper! But only because this is going out on a public blog, so I want to give credit where credit is due.)

This is such a rich time! I am so grateful for the gift that this sabbatical is to me, it is only the second day and already I am feeling renewed and refreshed. I'm not ready to come back, yet, so don't go there. I'm just thankful and I can't wait to see what else God has in store for me!

Over, out.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Mercy and Grace

Ok, so day one is almost over. It is after dinner and before Compline (night prayers), I want to get plenty of sleep, so I'll probably just read after Compline and go to bed. I have shut off my phone and will not be checking messages except for once in the evenings (like in a few minutes), so if you HAVE to get a hold of me, leave a message and I'll call you back.

I'm re-reading the book The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan, which is the book I read last year which really led me to seek a sabbatical. It is a terrific book, and I'm looking forward to re-reading it. I hope to finish it while I am here at St. Andrew's. In the book, he talks about the cats his parents had when he was growing up in a cold part of the world (he is Canadian), and how they would seek out those splashes of sunlight that came in late afternoon through the big front window. They would stretch out, curl up or just lie down in the sunlight and take a cat nap: fifteen or twenty minutes that refreshed and rejuvenated (although with cats, who can tell?). Sometimes, as a boy, he would join the cats on the floor. He likens Sabbath to that: finding a space to just soak up the warmth of the Father's mercy and grace (which is the name of our cat, Maggie, which Terisa, a dear friend, suggested—Mercy And Grace, thus MAGgie. We also call her MagnifiCat, but that is another story).

This sabbatical is more than a cat nap, but then I've not been practicing Sabbath very well throughout my life. My hope is that one result of the sabbatical will be more success in keeping Sabbath. Anyway, it's a GREAT book!

May the Lord fill you with Mercy and Grace!

Sabbatical: Day One

The first day of my sabbatical leave is finally here! It is rather surreal. I have longed for this and planned for this for what seems like a very long time. What appeared at first to be a mountain of things that had to happen/get done, is now just a memory. Everything is finished, I hope; all "i's" dotted, all "t's" crossed. And those that aren't dotted or crossed will just have to survive three months without me! Que sera sera.

I didn't hurry this morning getting ready for my trip to Valyermo and the Benedictine monastery, so of course I did not get here when I had hoped to. Instead, since I knew I would be missing not only the noon Mass, but also the lunch, I stopped along the way at a Mexican restaurant I had noticed several times. It was good. But I'm glad to be here at St. Andrew's now. I plan to go easy on myself, especially in the early going and not push too hard. Consequently, I am feeling rather lethargic.

My goal during this four-day retreat is to quiet my soul and listen. This afternoon when I first got here I went and sat by the pond and read some Scripture and then just listened to the sounds. The wind was blowing through the trees, the birds were singing, there was an airplane that flew over… it was blissful! Then I went and took a nap. I want to enter into the rhythm of this monastery, attending to the daily offices (services), the meals and perhaps connect with a brother or priest about being my spiritual director. I used to have one here, but moved on from that practice some years ago. I'm thinking that it might be time to return. But I will listen and discern. I also want to walk, and read devotionally. I'll get into the study books later.

One of the things that extended my preparation time this morning was shaving off my hair. Now, I don't have much hair to begin with, but I decided that I wanted to shave it all off (mustache, goatee, and scalp—I left my eye brows!) as a symbol of my letting go and starting over. I don't know if I'll grow it back right away or if I will continue to keep it shaved, but I'm open to either. Cyndy isn't crazy about me doing it, and Nathan was freaked out when he saw me this morning. I don't think I'll post any pictures; at least not yet. In the process I irritated the skin on my head, so right now I have a damp wash cloth on my head to sooth the irritation!

My intention is to blog daily, but I'm not going to be a blogger-nazi, so if I miss a day here or there, no worries! There may be days when I post more than once, it all depends on what God is doing in me and if I am paying attention. This blog is not for the sake of teaching others—that is one of the things from which I need to rest! Rather, it is a form of self-discipline so that I will take the time to reflect on what God is doing in me. I'll post a note on Twitter (and thus Facebook and LinkedIn) when I post a new blog (and people can also subscribe to the blog to get alerts when new ones are posted). I invite comments, but be nice!