Saturday, July 31, 2010

Jack of all trades, and a master of none?

I love the idea of learning new languages. When living abroad in the early 90's, I had the opportunity to get a decent grip on Russian. I also took the time at one point to learn some very basic German vocabulary, and the numbers served me well a few times in a pinch. I studied French in school, but know very little, and about six years ago I took a Spanish class. When in Israel I learned to say some please and thank you kinds of words in Arabic and Modern Hebrew, but remember very few,--shukran you very much. In college I had to learn to read New Testament Greek, and for my master's paper I toiled/toyed with Old Testament Hebrew very little.

This fall Shelly and I are going to have the opportunity to spend some time in Italy. And so now we are both studying a bit of "get you around" Italian. Molto bene!

It's funny how all of these languages kind of take up residence in different places of your brain. Sure, sometimes I'll get my languages mixed, like coming up with a Russian word in an attempted Spanish sentence. But for the most part, if you are thinking in a language--and around it for a few days--your brain engages that particular gear for the time of need.

Just in case you are wondering, if my survival depended on my ability to speak any of the above languages, I'd get skinny pretty quickly. I can still--after 16 years--speak a bit of Russian. And I can come up with the right words here and there in a few others. But really, for all the passion I've placed upon learning to communicate with the people I visit, I have little to show. I am a jack of many languages, but a master of one--and that is if you count my native English! (Some readers may wonder about that now and then.)

What is your one thing? What are you passionate about? When the last words are spoken at your memorial, what will be their theme? I want to try and keep my stubborn self focused on the ways of Jesus. I want to speak him to my world fluently. And I want that place in my brain to be engaged when someone needs him.

In Philippians Paul said: "This one thing I do..." I want that to be true of me too.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Gardening: For the Sake of Others

Question: What stings, makes people cry, messes up your hair, puts a smile on your face and will feed nearly one hundred and fifty people, and about thirty chickens fresh produce today?

Answer: A morning like I had!

Early this morning I picked-up a new friend from our Brown County Garden Community (CLICK HERE to see us on facebook!), we rode in my jeep with its top down (big smile on my face and messed-up hair) to a rendezvous point then on to a field of sweet corn. Once there we picked over twelve dozen ears of corn (being stung by a couple of nettles and a few deer flies), then rushed it back to a home for shucking. We cut out a couple of worms and ugly spots to give the chickens at the shucking house, and an hour after arriving at the field, I was on my way home for a shower before performing a baptism at the church at ten A.M. where I saw more than one set of eyes glistening with tears of joy. And tonight, 144 ears of fresh corn will be served at our local soup kitchen.

When a volunteer took me up on a sermonic dare to start a community garden on our church property, I had no idea the joys that were ahead for me and so many others. Yesterday our first harvest of green beans were delivered to the soup kitchen, and today it is corn that one of our garden and church members grew to share with others. Tomatoes are standing in line to become an offering once they blush properly, and peppers are working on their own magic.

Our church defines spiritual formation as: Being transformed into the image of Jesus, for the sake of others. I don't know how well we pull all of that off, but this gardening for the sake of others, is sure doing a lot for the sake of me!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Update on my novel and a review

Got some more good news from my agent this week. Thanks everyone for the ways you have both encouraged me regarding The Runaway Pastor and told friends about it.

Following is a review at the site.

This book addresses many pertinent issues not just for pastors, but for the whole church world. It is amazing how many men and women serving in pastoral ministry are close to burn-out, and need some relief. However, this is one of very few books that even addresses the issues that may contribute to burnout. I would recommend it for the pastors who are feeling like submitting a resignation is the only way out. I also highly recommend it for the church boards and administrators who, I think, would greatly benefit from the insight offered in this book about ministerial burn-out and some of the issues that cause pastors to go into other occupations. This book does not give answers to all the questions and stresses that pastor's face, but it provides a good place to begin the discussion about what pastors are feeling and why they are experiencing high levels of stress.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Fantasy life of the runaway

Last weekend I took some time to do a little beginning research for the sequel to The Runaway Pastor. Since Trent--the main character in my novel--seems to be dealing with an escape fantasy, I began there. What I discovered was not all that new to me, but the way it came to me was like a formula; like a two plus two equals four. All I'd seen before was a two and another two--without the four.

First, Neuro-psychology teaches us that practiced patterns become ingrained habit. If you play golf or tennis or if you type or drive, you know what it means to be able to do something without really thinking about it. "I could do that in my sleep," we often say. And it is true. Rehearsed patterns become ingrained.

They also become default behaviors. Like a water drop falling down a windshield; once a certain path is cleared, it becomes the easy way...the default pathway for other drops. We don't think about how we type our email address, it just pops out of our fingers. We don't plan to go (or remember going) to the fridge, but we find the ice cream sandwich right there in our hands. The neuron trail has been blazed, and we follow it by habit.

The second truth is that articulately and meticulously imagined actions are indistinguishable from real actions. It is true. Our mind cannot decipher the difference between a real action and a well imagined one. We've heard that before regarding violence in movies and video games. Perhaps we believe it to an extent. However, our mind has the capability of producing much more realistic "movies" than does the movie industry. Our fantasies are more real to us than video representations of reality.

So those two points are "two" and another "two." But the "four" had never accurred to me.

Well imagined actions, which are imagined over and over, become ingrained in our thinking. They form true neurological pathways in our brain, and become default reactions to certain settings. When Jesus said that lusting was indeed adultery, he wasn't kidding. When we read in scripture that "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he," it is mirroring contemporary teaching.

It seems the secular world has a hang-up on pushing fantasies. But what I am reading tells me that fantasies can lead to realities. And realities that we imagine are not nearly as exciting and joy-filled as our imaginations allow us to believe.

Jesus said "The truth will set you free..." Chasing fantasies down pathways of pleasure is not the way to freedom.

People have often asked me how Trent so easily left his wife, church and home. In my mind, he had already dreamed it into reality. I've been asked why Natalie was unfaithful to him. She had fantasized such betrayal over and over. How far do our habitual default responses carry us in our living?

My next research interest? How does one reset/retrain their imaginations and ingrained habits?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Runaway Characters are Acting Up Again

The writing of The Runaway Pastor was quite unintentional. There were agonies and feelings that needed expression. So many pastors were sharing their stories, that I decided to write a journal entry about a guy running away.

After writing a few pages, I saved the file as "Trent's Very Bad Day." (I was thinking of a popular children's book title.) And I thought I was finished. The next day I pulled out the lap top to add another bit to the story, and the characters just started appearing and doing things that people do.

I had often toyed with writing fiction. I once even had nearly one hundred pages into a pretty cool story set overseas. But a crashed hard drive, and a very full time job kept me out of the writing business. Then "Trent's Very Bad Day" became The Runaway Pastor, when I could not remove myself from the story; the story wrote itself, as the people did things people do. I too was often shocked at what happened.

This is why it has been so tough to write a sequel to the story. I've often told those who ask me about a sequel that I've "had that fit," and I don't feel the need to write any longer about those people. However this week, the TV in my brain went back to San Diego and Baylor's Bend, and I was surprised to see what was happening once again.

So a couple of days ago I started a sequel. And yesterday I tried to capture the half-hour of ideas that flowed through my brain on paper. It is in nothing like outline form. But there are scenes and glances, and conversations, and locations and all sorts of things happening. My friends in The Runaway Pastor are back at it. And so as I'm able, and with their permission, a sequel just may be on the way.

Thank you to all of you who encourage me! I still hear from a new reader of Runaway about two times per week. Pass the word along. Consider going to Amazon from my link--above and on the right--and buying a copy for a birthday, or begin your Christmas shopping now. (Later on, you'll be glad some of those gifts are already purchased!) Your pastor or church friends will like the book, but I'm finding many strong reviews from those outside of the church...and Trent seems to perk-up their interest in spiritual conversations.

Thank you again for all the ways you have encouraged me.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Some rambling theology and fearless hope...

John tells us in his first epistle "there is no fear in love". That when our love for God has been perfected, there will be no fear of punishment. I wasn't raised on that thinking. In fact, a different theme from the old testament was emphasized: "The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom." In this passage the aim is wisdom. In John's teaching, the aim is relationship. In the O.T. passage as I understand it, the word "fear" is better understood as "respect" or "reverence." (I buy that. God is awesome and to be respected and held in awe above anything or anyone. He is to be worshipped in utter broken humility.) Yet we are not to pursue fear!

And so what do we pursue? We pursue Christ. We accept his love and get on with the celebration of life eternal! We can't even take credit for this. John says that "we love God because he first loved us." Even though John spends considerable time speaking of sin, he seems to be asking people to focus on God's love, rather than focus our lives on avoiding or managing sin.

We are taught to "walk in the light," and reminded that we should not sin, or continue in the path of sinning. To stay in sin would be "walking in darkness," and it is equated not with breaking a list of rules, but with hating. That's right. For John, the dear friend of Jesus, sin equals hate. Darkness is hate. Light is love.

How did Jesus relate to sinners and sin? First, we see him being condemned by religiuos leaders as "a friend of sinners." They are not avoided, he loves them. While it is true that when he forgives the woman caught in adultery, he tells her to "go and sin no more." We mustn't forget, however, that his first words to her are "Neither do I condemn you." The assumption here is that the grace given in forgiveness is so overwhelming, that persistence in sin won't be a consideration.

What did Paul say about life after forgiveness? "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." REALLY? Is there condemnation for you if you believe you sin every day in word, thought and deed? I am beginning to live with the hunch that this good news is a lot better than I've been led to believe. That being called by John in his first letter to "live as Jesus did," and to see to it that "God's love is made complete in us," is not an invitation to some obstacle course with God sitting above waiting to see if we error. Rather it is truly a freedom to live as free people. Free not only from the guilt of past sin and the need to live in current ones, but free also of the weight of the law that constantly finds us falling short. I believe that our faith is intended to be fluid and real. Not forced and measured out in devotionals accomplished and temptations avoided. Rather, we are to flow the person and presence of Jesus from our living; naturally, and without fear.

Some of you theologians who know me, may be seeing signs of my native doctrine. The Wesleyan doctrine of holiness is full of such hope as mentioned above. Too often however, I'm afraid it is married to some post-gospel legalism that leaves us wanting.