Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Ten Things I Think I Think (President's Day +1 Edition)

1) Sorry to post this thing a day late. This weekend, Aimee and Bryan Bucher took another wary step forward as parents. Max, who turned seven (can that be right? seven? really? is that possible?) last Friday asked for an overnight birthday party, which we hosted on Sunday night (which was possible because the kids had no school on Monday). The evening consisted of a trip up to the YMCA for some swimming, the eating of copius amounts of food (first graders can eat when they put their mind to it), the watching of many movies on the "big screen" in the basement, and (the hit of the evening) the playing of multiple video games on multiple X-Boxes hooked up to multiple TV's.

In other words, we provided what is pretty much a vision of heaven for suburban, American first grade boys.

Thus I missed posting this yesterday, not because they wore us ragged (actually, all hands on deck were asleep by 10:30pm), but because one of the boys at the party was Max's best friend, Mitchell, who lives in our old stomping ground of Goshen, Indiana. So, yesterday, I drove to Goshen to drop off Mitchell, stopped to see an old friend (more on that later), and returned home just-in-time for a Staff-Parish Committee Meeting. Hope the extra day's wait didn't cause too much anxiety. It's just the price y'all had to pay because Aimee and I pro-created.

2) The old friend I visited during my brief (two hours) visit to the Maple City was Karen Lyndon. Karen's husband, Dick, was my Senior Pastor at Goshen First UMC for about 4 1/2 years until his untimely and tragic death. Dick died very unexpectedly in January of 2003 of ARDS (Accute Respiratory Distress Syndrome) which was complicated by the failure of his liver. I don't believe that I, or anyone who truly loved him, have ever gotten over his loss, as he was a wonderful, creative pastor, and an even better human being.

Anyhow, I hadn't seen Karen in quite some time, so this sojourn northwest provided me with the opportunity to catch up on what had been going on with her, her kids, and grandkids (two of which I served as a youth pastor while in that fine city). I think the fallout from Dick's passing is still affecting them all, but I was proud of how well I thought Karen was coping with her new reality. I was also very happy to hear that now you might catch her volunteering at the local Hospital or with Hospice of Goshen. I know she enjoyed catching up and seeing the boys (except for Eli, who didn't make the trip with us... we brought pictures, though), and I enjoyed just spending time with someone who loves our family, and we love back. I hope she knows how much I enjoyed, and needed, this visit. Thanks Karen!

3) It's weird, sometimes, how things kinda fall together. This morning, around 8am, Joseph called to ask if I'd host our latest edition of Koinania (a corporate Bible study). He was now expecting unexpected company this evening, and Charlotte (our other Associate Pastor) had left for Haiti with the Medical Team early this morning, so now he was calling in the "third string QB". This wasn't a surprise, actually, as this happens a lot when you are an associate pastor. No, the weird part of the request was that he asked me, as a way of starting off the evening, to do a short Bible Study and devotion on the passage in Deuteronomy 31 where Moses, facing his own death, names his successor, Joshua.

"I thought you could talk about your experience with Dick while you in Goshen", Joseph said. "About needing to lead even though the leader of the group had passed away."

When you go back to something painful in your life, as you unpack the experience again, inevitably you pick at the "scab" that's covering the wound in your soul. So, when I took this phone call, knowing what you now know about my journey yesterday, you'll understand when I say that Joseph's request literally took my breath away. To re-live what had been a very painful experience was one thing.... to share a piece of that experience with 35 people is another. And while, as a pastor, I share a considerable amount of my own personal journey with others, that doesn't mean that it's easy (or, often, wise) to do so.

But the folks tonight were gracious as I struggled recollecting certain moments in history that have help shape what I have become, much in the same way intense heat makes it possible for a metal piece to be re-shaped and molded. And I learned something as I re-lived, mentally, what it was like to try to minister to your boss and his family, while also leading a congregation...

You can reach closure in the aftermath of a crisis like this, without reaching a point where the pain goes away. For closure, I believe, only comes when we accept that God is God, and we are not, and because we aren't God, we can't fully know what in the world He's doing. We can only trust that he still loves us as we stare in the abyss of great mystery. And the pain, well, it never ever really goes away if you truly love somebody. It's just a part of the bond we developed with someone who we loved, and loved us. So, its possible, I think, to reach a point of closure, but still experience pain. Maybe this isn't an earth-shattering revelation, but it made me feel better. Thanks to tonight's presenters, Linda Lawson and Barb Brenneman, the good questions of tonight's participants, and a great conversation yesterday with Karen for helping me see this in a new light.

4) About four or five years ago, Dick and I were at a conference where the presenter, a church-consultant named Lyle Schaller, asked Dick this question:

What is the single most important question facing your congregation right now?

Dick, immediately (because he was always thinking about this stuff) said something about financial resources and staffing challenges. Schaller just shook his head no. Dick tried again by identifying some assimilation and discipleship challenges we were facing at the time because we were encountering great growth. I think Schaller, in response, told him he was "stupid", and to try again. Dick, now throughly stumped, mumbled something about some other challenge, but once again, was dressed down by this frumpy looking man in his 80's who had forgotten more about church development than most people would ever know.

"Sir", Schaller asked, "how old are you?"

"61", said Dick.

"Well then, what are you and your congregation doing now to plan for the day that you are no longer with them, for this is the single greatest challenge that they face, right now."

That was the day that we were introduced to the concept of succession. A process by which a Senior Pastor finds somebody who can come on-board as a staff person and, after a given period during a time filled with great planning and prayer, transition into the role of the new Senior Pastor. Given the complexity of our situation at Goshen (multiple sites serving multiple generations and socio-economic classes in multiple worship settings) Dick really got juiced when he heard about this, and even took the idea to the "powers that be" in the United Methodist Church.

Succession is subversive to our polity. Instead of a Bishop simply making an appointment of a pastor to a church, the Senior Pastor and the lay-leadership of a church largely get to help make the call as to whether or not a new pastor will "make it", or not. To trust in this process is to trust that someone other than the Bishop and the Cabinet (those who assist the Bishop in governing the conference) might have a sense of what the Lord might want in terms of a pastoral appointment. This is largely a foreign idea to UM's, but given the rapid decline (in terms of membership and church attendance) of our denomination over the last forty years, maybe its an idea whose time has come. At least, it could be explored (and it will be in my doctoral thesis!).

Well, anyhow, Dick never got anywhere with a plan of succession, and then he passed away unexpectedly, which caught everyone off-guard. I wonder what might have been if this process had been explored further, and a risk had been taken to do something new to bring stability to a local church? I guess we'll never know.

OK.... enough heavy stuff.

5) To all the nay-sayers who claim that Andre Igoudala was robbed in this year's NBA Dunk Contest, I respond with this: A guy (Nate Robinson) who's only 5' 8" jumped OVER a guy (Spud Webb) 5' 8" WHO WAS STANDING UP to win the contest. How does he not win?

6) Can't say I've watched even one hour of the Winter Olympics. Even skipped my old favorites, skiing and curling (an obsession that developed a year that I watched the 98 Winter Olympics on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, or CBC, where they take curling very seriously) . I just never got into it.

7) Seems like cooler heads are finally prevailing in the Arab world, as Muslem leaders throughout the Middle East are now calling for an end to the violent, and sometimes bloody, protests of the cartoons featuring Mohammed that were published in a variety of European newspapers. In light of these events, I guess my question is this: If your hope for that region of the world is the spreading of democracy, and democracy is predicated on the free-flow of ideas and communication, how in the world is this going to work in a culture that freely burns the flags of sovereign nations simultaneous to using violence to curb the freedom of self-expression? Seems like quite a challenge.

8) Our youth pastor, Brent Sloan, decided to cancel the annual youth ski trip to Boyne Highlands this past weekend. Given the abundance of snow (good for skiing, and bad for travel) and the frigid temperatures (bad for skiing, bad for travel), I think he made the right call. He had to take some heat from some unhappy kids, but that just goes with the territory. There's nothing worse than skiing in 30 mph winds when the temp outside is -3 degrees (and whatever wind chill is in effect). You don't want to be outside in those conditions under any circumstances.

9) Tonight, I heard Barb Brenneman, our Older Adult Coordinator, say that aging process is like a big vacuum that sucks all the life right out of us. This vivid (and accurate) description hits home tongiht as we found out today that Aimee's grandmother has been admitted into a nursing home after taking a nasty fall last week that ended up putting her in the hospital. Given that she can't remember falling, or why she ended up hospitalized, I think her husband (Sherman, who will be turning 95 this summer) and their kids really had no other choice. If she ever gets out of the nursing facility, we're told that Sherman has decided that they both will need to move into an Assisted Living facility, a hard decision for a man who wants desperately to stay in the home he built himself many, many years ago. As I hear that vacuum running, I feel badly for them both. Keep them, and my wife who is traveling to Toledo tomorrow to pay them a visit, in your prayers.

10) And finally, pray for our Medical Team in Haiti this week. The news out of Haiti hasn't been all that good lately, but that's generally the case for places in the world ravaged by disease and poverty. Just keep these good folks in your prayers as they attempt to do some very good things over the course of the next week.

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