Month: March 2015

Who’s Going To Be There? – Parents, Teenagers, and Their Social Lives.

creating sacred communities

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure I am significantly more involved in my children’s social lives than my parents were involved in mine.  Now, granted, we had one phone that stuck to a wall in the kitchen, so all of my conversations were “overheard”. Until I got my own phone, in my own room – which was both a blessing and a curse, because I was slightly addicted to calling boys, who happened to live outside of town, in another area code, that ran up phone bills, resulting in my Dad being very interested, and the monthly conversation of, “Who in the hell are you talking to!” – Anyway, I’m digressing.

57417c6408ef6d5087ac225e0c7f3359As a mother of a newly minted teenager and an almost 12 year old, I find myself walking in familiar and unfamiliar territory. – Like I’ve been in this part of the forest before, but the trees look different.  My…

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Who’s Going To Be There? – Parents, Teenagers, and Their Social Lives.

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure I am significantly more involved in my children’s social lives than my parents were involved in mine.  Now, granted, we had one phone that stuck to a wall in the kitchen, so all of my conversations were “overheard”. Until I got my own phone, in my own room – which was both a blessing and a curse, because I was slightly addicted to calling boys, who happened to live outside of town, in another area code, that ran up phone bills, resulting in my Dad being very interested, and the monthly conversation of, “Who in the hell are you talking to!” – Anyway, I’m digressing.

57417c6408ef6d5087ac225e0c7f3359As a mother of a newly minted teenager and an almost 12 year old, I find myself walking in familiar and unfamiliar territory. – Like I’ve been in this part of the forest before, but the trees look different.  My girls say things like, “Who is going to be there?”  “Can I bring a friend?”  and “Mom, why do you have to talk so loud? Ask so many questions? Go meet her parents?  Sit in the back of the movie theatre?!”  Insert eye roll.  This is all familiar territory. I’ve been here before. I have walked through the cafeteria jungle. I’ve tried to figure out what group I belong in. I know what it feels like to be uninvited to a party or feel like the world biggest dork. I assume you are with me in this.

Where the terrain has become unfamiliar, is of course these crazy phones, social media, and devices, leading some parents to check texts, monitor Instagram and put up child protection walls.  If we don’t heavily monitor, there is all this fear that our kids will get hurt, bullied, or worse.  So we become hyper vigilant in what is going on in our kid’s lives. As we try so hard to protect them from getting hurt, we become invested in making sure they are happy. We become personally responsible for insuring our kid’s happiness. So, suddenly we are taking the drama personally.  Like, if our kid isn’t invited or included, we are somehow bad parents and something is wrong with our kids or everyone elses.

All kids are going to feel self conscious, lonely, and awkward.  God help the adult who has never felt that way. We need those moments of heartache and loneliness in the safety net of junior high, so that when it happens in adulthood, we know we can survive that feeling. Because it will happen again.

ouamWhen I was in high school, I was active in summer theatre. I loved it. I gave my entire summer for four years to perform two shows.  My last summer, before going to college, was a hard summer. For a lot of reasons, that is not worth getting into, I had become isolated from the cast. I was lonely, marginalized and disliked. It wasn’t fun.  One day, my mom showed up at rehearsal and asked if everything was alright. Now, the last thing my mom was, was a stage mom. She never came to rehearsal.  Theatre was my thing and she got me there, but she didn’t get involved.  So for her to show up at rehearsal was a big deal. I told her “everything was fine,” which it wasn’t. I told her “not to worry,” which she did.  I remember her walking away from the theatre, and wishing I could run after her, escape the pain I was feeling and just quit the show. I remember wanting to tell her to talk to the director and fight my battle for me.  As much as I appreciated her checking on me, she couldn’t keep away the human experience of isolation.

She had to watch me go through it, and not try to fix it.

And there it is.  I don’t want my kids to go through what I went through, but they will. I hope as a parent, I have the wisdom to show up, and the strength to let go.

Parenting is hard, hard work. So is growing up.

Hang in there.  I will save you a seat in the cafeteria.

Religious Freedom



The other day I was teaching The Ten Commandments to a group of third graders.  We talked about the laws God made for a group of people who were in need of order.  We talked about how these commandments were relevant in our society today.  (Today we may not covet another person’s cow, but we sure do like their big house.) They were all in agreement that the Ten Commandments were good “rules” that made our society better. However, they all believed that we live in a world where The Ten Commandments are broken every day.  I asked, “Can you  imagine a world where the Ten Commandments didn’t exist? What would our society be like?”  They sat thoughtfully and said, “We do live in that world.”  We still steal, murder, covet, and worship false gods, etc. So my third graders and I agreed that we still needed the Ten Commandments to guide our social structure.

Since those first tablets came down off the mountain, we religious folks have believed that religion and social values are connected. Religious practice never ends in places of worship. It is lived out in daily life. So there is an expectation that when people claim a religion they will live with certain values.  If a religion says, “love your neighbor.”  We expect  those religious folks to do that. If they don’t practice what they preach, the religion itself loses integrity and legitimacy.

When religion does the opposite of its intent; when it is divisive, abusive, and oppressive, and when it appears to be more harmful than good, those of us who our religious find ourselves differentiating from those other religious people,- who happen to also be our neighbor. As long as we fight amongst ourselves, religion becomes a farce.

We fragment again and again. We associate with groups who are like-minded and wish the other side would see the light.

Meanwhile, there is a sea of people out there who are observing us and are asking, “Remind me again why religion matters? Tell me what good it serves? I can go to my yoga class, or my book group, or coffee-house and I can be accepted for who I am without judgment. I can volunteer anywhere and they will accept the gifts I and my friends bring. When I look at religion all I see…is unwelcome and judgment.”  The growing number of “nons” and “spiritual but not religious,” just got another reason to not be religious.

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday. It’s the day Jesus took his religious values into the public square. He told the religious leaders of the day they had it all wrong. They had focused so heavily on the law they had forgotten the people. He told the political leaders of the day, they could no longer be oppressors of certain groups of people.  He fought for justice. He  spoke the truth. For those who called him Lord, he asked to do the same.

It’s time to turn over some tables.


Church Redevelopment: The making of a Thesis

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I have been at this project for about six months now.  Writing a proposal for a doctoral project is no easy task. For one thing, I’m slightly obsessed. I wake up all hours of the night to read, write, and think and then read, write and think some more.

The project is on shepherding a church as it walks through a time of redevelopment.  I will be using this blog as a journal for what I learn along the way, as I experience this process of introducing a project to a congregation, implementing the project, and  discovering the outcomes.

“Redevelopment is what the journey is called when the congregation has fundamentally congealed. The church now has become primarily focused on preserving the status quo. The congregation’s God-given energy flows almost totally towards its own survival. When the faith community walls itself off from its community rather than living to serve, death is inevitable. . . .” (Gil Rendle, Journey in the Wilderness).

For now, if you are looking for a good list of resources on change, redevelopment and leadership. Here is my bibliography with some comments.


 Bass, Diana Butler. 1998. Christianity after Religion:  The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening.  New York: Harper Collins.

I love this book. It accessible, practical and prophetic. You should have it on your shelf.

Beuchner, Frederich. 1999. Beyond Words. Daily Readings in the ABC’s of Faith.  San Fancisco: Harper Collins.


Block, Peter.  2009. Community: The Structure of Belonging.  San Francisco:  Barrett-Koehler Publishing, Inc.

Peter Block is one of my heroes. This is a book that defines the signs of the times.

Brueggemann, Walter.  1998.  Isaiah 40-66: Westminster Bible Companion.  New York:  Westminster John Knox Press.

How can anyone be as prolific as Brueggemann? Great commentary.

Collins, Jerry C, Porras Jerry A. Harvard Business Review: On Change.  Harvard Business Press. September, 1996.


Drummond, Sarah B. 2009. Holy Clarity:  The practice of planning and evaluation.   Virginia: Alban Institute.

Really helpful.

Elton, Terri Martinson.  “The story we find ourselves In:  Nurturing Christian Identity in a Consumer Culture.” Word and World, Vol. 34. No 2 Spring, 2014.

Clapp, Rodney. 1996.  A Peculiar People:  The church in a post Christian Society.  Downers Grove, Illinois: Inner-varsity.

Cooperrider, David L. 2005. Appreciative Inquiry Handbook: For Leaders of Change. 2nd Edition. San Francisco:  Berrett:Koehler.

A little overwhelming, but worth having on your shelf.

Herrington, Jim., Mike Bonen, James H. Furr. 2000.  Leading Congregational Change: A Practical Guide for the Transformational Journey.  San Francisco:  Josey Bass.

This book is o.k., but not fabulous. I would recommend  checking it out at the library and not purchasing it.

Hudson, Jill. 2004.  When Better Isn’t Enough: Evaluations Tools for the 21st Century.   Maryland: Alban Institute.

Very thorough. It’s a humbling and helpful book.

Kotter, John P. 2012.  Leading Change. Boston: Harvard Business Review.

Really excellent. I appreciate his comments on the  difference between managers and leaders.

Lencioni, Patrick.  2006. Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable about destroying the barriers that turn colleagues into competitors.” San Francisco: Journey Bass.

I love everything Patrick Pencioni writes. EVERYTHING!

Ludema, James D. 2003.  The Appreciative Inquiry Summit: A Practioner’s Guide for Leading Large Group Change.  San Francisco: Barrett-Koehler.

A bit overwhelming to grasp, but very thorough.

Mann, Alice. 1999. Can Your Church Live? Redeveloping Congregations in Decline.  Virginia: Alban.

Worth your time.

McLaren, Brian D. 2014.  We Make the Road by Walking.  New York: Jericho Books.

Pretty good.

Mead, Loren B. 1994.  Transforming Congregations for the Future.  Virginia:  Alban Institute.


Rendle, Gil. 2010. Journey in the Wilderness: New Life for Mainline Churches.  Nashville: Abington Press.

Really, really good. Really.

Rendle, Gil, Alice Mann. 2003.  Holy Conversations:  Strategic Planning as a Spiritual Practice for Congregations.  USA:  Alban Institute.

Helpful.  I have opened the book so many times, I have broken the binding.

Rice, Jesse.  2009.  The Church of Facebook:  How the Hyperconnected are Redefining Community.  Colorado:  Cook Community Springs.

Not  amazing.

Sellon, Mary K. 2002. Redeveloping the Congregation: A How to for Lasting Change.  New York: The Alban Institute.

Really well done.

Senge, Peter M. 1990. The Fifth Discipline.  U.S.A.:  Doubleday.

Must have on your shelf.

Orchard Park Presbyterian Church Mission Study. 2012, Indianapolis, Indiana.

A work of art. 🙂FullSizeRender (2)

Should We Allow Our Kids to Play Electronics in Worship?

A Fictional Story…with some Truth

8:35, Sunday Morning.  Church starts in 90, no 85 minutes.  “Hurry Up! Get a move on!”  Cheerios crunch under my feet, while puddles of milk splatter the table.  The cat jumps up to help himself….”Oh well, one less thing to clean up.”  The daughter comes down with jeans and a crumpled shirt, and a pair of high-tops.  “Really, you are wearing that to church? My mother would never have let me wear something like that, at least please go brush your hair.”

“Geeze mom, thanks a lot,” as the high tops tromp back up stairs for another look in the mirror.

“Do we have to go to church?”  The younger son whines from the table. “I don’t want to! Its BORING.”

“Yes, we are going to church, we haven’t been in six weeks and we need to get back in the habit.”

“But, why!  I could have gone to an extra practice.”

The teenager finds her way back down stairs, “Yeah, and I’m SO tired.  It’s the one day a week I get to sleep in.”

“No. We are going to church. It will be fun.  Maybe they will have donuts at Sunday school.”

“Can I bring my iphone?!”

“Can I bring my ipad?!”


“PLEASE! I promise to be good and not fall asleep!”

“Ok fine, just get in the car and act happy when we get there.”


The battles we choose to take with our children are daily and exhausting.  From what they eat, to what they wear, to how they behave, to what activities they choose to do, we parents have a lot of minefields to navigate.   Making the choice to take our kids to church is one of those choices that takes some determination.

And once we get there, there are even more choices. What are appropriate manners for worship? Is it o.k. for people to text during worship? Is it o.k. for kids to be on Minecraft or play video games?


Let’s face it, we are addicted to our devices and our kids model our behavior.

Maybe going to church is punishment enough, taking away the device just makes them hate church more.

At least they are in church, we argue. I mean, that’s half the battle. What difference does  it make if they are on their device? Maybe they will get something out of the service by sitting there.

But here is my question:  What are we teaching our children when we don’t expect much of them?  If we don’t expect them to sit and listen, they won’t sit and listen.  If we don’t expect them to have good manners, they won’t have good manners. Sometimes congregations feel  annoyed when kids get up multiple times throughout the service, or when they talk or misbehave. But the truth is, some adults are just as bad.

We live in an ADD society. The belief is, if you can’t say it in 15 minutes, no 7 minutes, no 3 minutes or less, you will lose them. How insulting is that to the human mind?

I sometimes wonder what worship will be like in 20 years.

Certainly Sunday morning is no longer sacred. So churches are offering services on Saturday, and throughout the day on Sunday. Preachers use videos, power points and fog machines to captivate their audiences. Some churches offer worship in 20 minutes or less, even drive-by by communion

Let’s be honest, getting kids out of the house and into church on a Sunday morning is a ton of work, and at that point we haven’t even gotten them into the sanctuary.

So what’s the point? Is it worth the effort? Why should we make our kids come to church in the first place?

We want them to know that community matters. We want them to pray for and know other people whom they wouldn’t normally know. We want them to understand the value and the responsibility of being part of a community. Everyone needs a place to belong.

We want them to know that they matter. Unconditional love isn’t taught in many places.  Children, even 45-year-old children, need to remember that in life and in death they belong to God. Everyone needs to remember that they belong to God.

We want them to know that prayer matters. We want them to learn to pray and be prayed for. Learning to pray and practicing prayer is the greatest gift you can give a child, and yourself.  Everyone needs to know they are heard and that God is speaking.

We want them to know that worship matters.  We all need to remember to put our trust in a Higher Power.  The spiritual disciplines of gratitude, hospitality, confession, and service are all practices in which we put God and others before ourselves.  If we don’t practice the gifts of the spirit, we easily practice the temptations of the flesh.

The question isn’t whether or not we should allow our kids to play video games during worship. The question is, why would we ever think that was o.k.?

What does that say about how we understand what we are doing in worship and why we are there?  This is not about giving parents a guilt trip.  God knows that is the last thing we need. I think parents are exhausted.  I think we are over run by the calendar and the desire to give our children a perfect childhood.  In the midst  of remembering the homework, the shin guards, the music, the fundraiser,  we have forgotten to sit down and be quiet.

In the desire to feel good, have a good time, get entertained and get our money’s worth, we have forgotten that everything has been given.

In a society where everything is a choice, we have chosen to make reverence an option.

I do not believe that God is dead, but I wonder if God has been forgotten.

And that makes me weep.

The Identity Covenant: Sermon on Genesis 17, the Naming of Abraham and Sarah

Last week we began the first Sunday of Lent with the story of the first covenant God makes with creation and God’s reminder through the symbol of the rainbow.

This week, we move to a new covenant between two people named Abram and Sarai.  Abram and Sarai are a married couple, with no children, who are in their late 90’s.   By the time we arrive at the 17th chapter of Genesis, Abram and Sarai have been in some sticky situations.  In the 12th chapter, the Lord says to Abram, “leave your land, your family and your household for the land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation.”  Abram obeys and set out for the land of Canaan.  As they journey, a famine strikes the land, so they go to Egypt as immigrants with no resources. So Abram comes up with an idea.  He says to Sarai, “I know you are a good looking woman.  When the Egyptians see you, they will say, this is wife and they will kill me and let you live.  So tell them you are my sister so that they treat me well for your sake and I will survive because of you.”  Sure enough, Pharoah’s princes thought Saria was a catch and so Sarai becomes one of the concubines and Abram is paid handsomely for his wife.  This does not sit well with God, and the Bible says, God put plagues on Pharoah because of Abram’s wife.  Pharoah figures it out and expels Sarai and Abram from Egypt.

Later, Abram gets involved with a slave named Hagaar, who has a son named Ishmeal.  He laters banishes them both into the wilderness to their assuming death.

Saria and Abram have not had a perfect life.  They are not perfect people. They have made some pretty huge mistakes.  And it is at this point of the story that God appears to Abram and says, “I am El Shaddia.  Walk with me and be trustworthy. I will make a covenant between us and I will give you many descendants.”  Abram falls on his face, but me my covenant is with you; you will be the ancestor of many nations.  And because I have made you the ancestor of many nations, your name will no longer be Abram, but Abraham.” He goes on to say that the covenant is  kept through the act of circumcision and then he says to Abraham.  “As for your wife, Sarai, you will not longer call her Sarai, but Sarah.”    God then promises them a son, and Abraham laughs.

Imagine being 98 and 99 years old and being told that at almost a century year old, you are given a new identity and told that you will be  bringing  a new life into the world.

My grandfather died earlier this year at the age of 99.  I know 99. At 99 you sleep. You have patterns and routines.  You are pretty certain who you are and you are not about try out a new career or a new name or become a new parent.  But this is what God says – not to a 22 year old, but a 99 year old – I have a job for you – I knew identity for you – and covenant with you.


It’s this promise  and idea of being given a new identity that I want to hone in on this morning. You know, you hear people talk about going out and finding themselves. – Young adults wanting to break free from their parents and shaping their own religious or political identity.  People in their 40’s having identity crisis.  There’s a lot that has been written about identity in the age of the internet.  People put their identities all over social media in hopes that people will comment and “like” how they look or where they are.

The first covenant God makes is with creation.  The second covenant God makes is with a man and a woman in which he gives them a new identity – or perhaps more clearly, he reminds them of their identity.

I can remember, as a kid going over to a friend’s house for dinner they ate dinner with the TV on and off of TV trays.  The next night, as we sat around the table to have supper, I advocated that we do the same and I remember my Dad saying, “that’s not who we are, that’s not what we do.” Somehow our identity as a family was defined by how we gathered at the table at meal time.

When parents say to their children, “that’s not like you…”  When a friend calls and says, “You don’t sound like yourself…”  When a teacher says, “You can do better…” it strikes a cord and it causes us to pause and take a longer look at who we are.

The Disney Movie, the Lion King is a story of a lion, who runs away from home because he fears taking responsibility and facing his past.  He grows up away from home until he is found by a wise monkey named Raffiki who makes him look at himself in a pool of water.  Here is what happens next:

The Lion King

—Remember who are, his Father says…. Remember who you are.

We make two mistakes when we are trying to define who we are.  The first thing we do, is we define who we are based on what we have.   We say, “I am my education, my stuff, relationships, social status, good looks, health,” and when that stuff is taken away or ends, we can feel threatened, because we don’t know who we aren’t if we aren’t married or wealthy or beautiful. “I am what I have” is the vice of lust. It is the desire for more and more, greater and greater.

The second mistake we make, is we make our identity based on what other people say about us. Here’s the thought process,  “If others say good things about me, I feel good. If others say bad things, then I enter a dark place and my very sense of myself is threatened.”  “I am what other people say about me,” is the vice of anger. It is living with a high sensitivity of how others regard you, which leads to great anger.. We think, “I’m no good, I must be no good, I’m so angry at myself for being no good. They think Im no good. How dare they think I’m not good. I’m so angry at them for them thinking I’m not good.”

Henri Nouwen makes the argument that anger and lust are two vices have long been identified as enemies to a spiritual life. Let’s face it, if you are angry, it’s really hard to receive grace and if you lust after stuff, it’s really hard to receive gratitude. Anger and Lust are great sins that keep us from seeing God.

Nouwen says: Jesus’ whole message is saying you are not what you have, nor what people say about you even when that’s important and even though it makes you suffer and even though it makes you happy, that is not who you are. I come, Jesus says, to reveal to you who you truly are. And who are you? You are a child of God. You are the one who I call my child. (Now, child doesn’t mean little child, child means son or daughter.) You are my son, you are my daughter. – The Life of the Beloved.

The spiritual life is where you hear again and again: “I love you because I love you because I love you because I love you.

This covenant is the promise that we belong to God.   It’s that simple, and that difficult.

We have been talking a lot lately at our church officer retreat and meetings about the identity of Orchard Park.  Who are we at Orchard Park? What is our identity?   Do we know who we are and what we stand for?  Is it how many people worship, or the size of our budget, or the programs we offer, or the building we worship in?  Are we the stuff that we have?   Or are we our reputation?  Are we how people talk about us, what they say and how they respond?

This prayer was composed by Bishop Ken Utener of Saginaw in 1979 about the church.

“It helps, now and then, to stop and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are the workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”

Who are we? I know we are not perfect. But we are enough.

We are One in The Spirit, We are One in The Lord. We are One in The Spirit, We are One in The Lord. And we pray that all unity may one day be restored. And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, By our Love, Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

It’s that simple, and that difficult.

Thanks be to God. Amen.