Monday, August 29, 2011

Leadership 201

Last night, at the church, twelve souls gathered and we talked about leadership.

(I can send you a copy of the presentation if you would like to see it ... click  here and send me a note ..and let me know if you have PowerPoint or not.  If yes, I will send you the PowerPoint version.  Otherwise, I will send you a ubiquitous link that will allow you to see it in a continuous run mode you will have to start and stop if you want to slow it down.)  

We reviewed what we had said was important six months ago.  We went to John Kotter (Kotter Change Principles) and reviewed his Eight Principles of Change.  Finally, we came back and went over the areas of people, programs, building, and finances.

What did we "learn"?

  • Most important, we have people who desire that Stratmoor be a positive force in the Community.  Ideas of branching out into the community and sustaining programs we have were blessed by the group.  
  • We embraced Kotter and Jim Collins (Good to Great) in our quest for understanding and insight.  We went over the eight principles, and repeatedly we tried to engage their guidance on the quest we have in front of us.  For example, we are swimming in a river of information.  We must use every opportunity and medium possible to tell our story.  Clearly, communication was an area that has so many answers and so many challenges for us.  More work here.  
  • Key elements of Collins are 'getting the right people on the bus, the right people off the bus, and getting the right people in the right seat on the bus' and the idea of foxes as opposed to hedgehogs.  Collins says companies, and by implication churches, that went from Good to Great are led by hedgehogs -- rock steady and diligent in the central idea that is the key and essential core of the change paradigm.
  • We are following the Collins/Kotter model of getting the right people (i.e. coalition) together before the key issue of exactly where we are going to go is formulated.  That is not to remotely suggest that we are not moving:  we most assuredly are.  Some of our moves now are a combination of obvious and intuitive (i.e. community focus) along with pragmatic (i.e. air conditioning) that our precise end-state is secondary.  
  • A continued core value is that we are reluctant to mortgage ourselves very much, if at all.  It is not off the table as an option, but some kind of combination of grants, potential sale of land, and internal fund raising is the preferred approach.  Debt is an option, but one we have to get to after some other things are done first. 
  • We all got excited about an opportunity for ministry expansion w/in our demographic and community that warrants exploration.  Details to follow.   
The group was left with a homework assignment -- look over the landscape at Stratmoor and decide who is a hedgehog, present last night or not, whom we need to provide leadership:  talk to them and then talk to our Lay Leader -- Nell Grindstaff (Nell Email).  The role of Church Council Chair comes open in November/December time-frame and getting the right person on that seat in the bus is key and essential to us moving ahead.  But leadership opportunities exists in multiple areas

Good food complemented our conversations:  Ms Marilyn provided us a repast that was quality and quantity.


Small Groups

Yesterday was our annual United Methodist Women's Sunday.  

My reflection yesterday could be broken down into three major parts.

First I offered a history, as best one can offer five different stories that meld into one story in 1968, of what is now the United Methodist Women (or as they are commonly called -- The UMW).  The critical points here were that women at one time went to the early versions of the UMW because the church was run by men and this was a place for women to be independent of that male dominance.  Their focus then was places like India, Africa, the Philippines, etc.  Notice much of this is outside our normal national boundaries  Thinking of service only within our country is not how the UMW started, and they are not defined that way today. 

Within this framework I commented that our UMW was increasing in numbers and was younger in age, noting three young women who are now active here.  In so many ways, Stratmoor is a special place that is doing things positively different, and our UMW (growing and younger) is illustrative of that difference.   

The biblical text framing the discussion was from John 20: 19-23 (NIV).
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 
Again Jesus said, Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  And with that he breathed on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

The UMW perceived its mission as being sent.  I used this passage to reinforce the idea that what the UMW is doing is biblical and should be sustained.

The second point I made was focused on small groups.  How did the disciples know what to do as they were "deployed" out in to the world (I used deployed as a substitute for "sent" as my image, knowing that in a military based population, this would resonate)?  They had learned it in the small group that was Jesus and his Disciples.  The UMW is in effect a small group, a classically Wesleyan accountability group that helps its members grow in their discipleship through various means, not the least of which is accountability.  I lifted up the UMW as an example of what I hope to see everyone at Stratmoor become part of in some kind of way:  a small group.  I mentioned that I ask our choirs and mission ministries to be ministries that include growth in discipleship and holding people accountable (in a loving, caring way).  This is an important part of our growth as Christians.  

The last part of my reflection was drawn extensively from this 10 minute presentation by the Women's Division of the General Board of Global Ministries (UMW Mission and Vision).  This is quite good.  I encourage all to view it.  

I am proud to be the pastor of a church with a strong UMW.  Those who worship at Stratmoor should be proud of our UMW.  I pray that other groups will be as effective in small group ministry that includes growth of discipleship and accountability.  


Monday, August 22, 2011

Healing Beauty

My theme for Sunday was beauty and how beauty heals. 

The scene from the Tom Hanks/Denzel Washington movie, Philadelphia, framed the first part of the sermon.  I quickly communicated enough of the story to have this scene make sense, and then described the scene in some detail.  My concluding remark was that Denzel had been transformed by the beauty of the opera:  something that at the beginning of the scene he acknowledged did not particularly interest him.  I told the story yesterday, but you may link to the clip here: 
All beauty in the world is either a memory of Paradise or a prophecy of the transfigured world.  —Nicholas Berdyaev, Russian religious and political philosopher (1874–1948)
Beauty surely is in the eye of the beholder.  For me two of the most beautiful moments in my life were when I got to see pink and blue squirming lumps covered with blood that had just emerged into our world.  It is a feeling I have not had since but it was a moment of transcendent beauty: they were, and are, prophecies of a transfigured world.

Beauty can take many forms.  Literature, drama, art, photograph are just examples.  I confess for me, music is a special place, a special moment.  I can truly feel whatever is physiologically going on with my body enzymes when I am surrounded by music I like.  Love of the created beauty is also clearly something that engenders moments of transcendence.

I wonder if Jennie’s question to Forrest Gump, near the end of her life isn’t an inquiry into how he dealt with his own fear.  She asks were you ever afraid in Viet Nam?  And Forrest, begins to talk of the beauty of God’s creation:  night skies, sun on the bayou as it is getting ready to go to bed, the skies reflection on a lake where it looks like two lakes, and finally, in the desert mountain west, where the sky and earth seem to come together and one doesn’t know ‘where heaven ends and the earth begins.’  Jennie laments to Forrest that she wishes she ‘could have been there with you’ and Forrest says to her, ‘you were.’  In a moment of intense fear of the unknown, Jennie is showered with a narrative of beauty and a reminder, like the Philadelphia opera excerpt, that love allows us to see that beauty around us.  

Beauty is something that we can and should seek out at moments when we are feeling awful so that we can be full of awe – awe-full. 

Psalm 8 might help to frame for us how we can biblically grasp that moment of  awe-full transcendence. 
LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!   You have set your glory in the heavens. Through the praise of children and infants 
   you have established a stronghold against your enemies, 
   to silence the foe and the avenger. 
   you have established a stronghold against your enemies,     to silence the foe and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, 
   the work of your fingers, 
the moon and the stars, 
   which you have set in place, 
   the work of your fingers,  the moon and the stars,     which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them,    human beings that you care for them?
That transcendence can lead to transformation.

Francis Collins in his book The Language of God speaks to how beauty moved him to take a leap of faith. You can hear him talk to this on how beauty transformed his soul ...  He talks to it here:  Collins and his transcendent moment of beauty.

There are clearly times we all have holes in our souls.  Beauty is one of the things that can surely be used to fill those holes.  Seek beauty when we experience moments of brokenness, point to it when others are shattered.  Beauty is a 'foretaste of Paradise or an opportunity to see the world as it can be.' 

Beauty is something that we can and should seek out at moments when we are feeling awful so that we can be full of awe – awe-full. 


Sunday, August 14, 2011

The biblical Job in conversation with Charles Ives and Lieutenant Dan

If last week my theme was Forrest Gump meets Henri Nowen, this week it seems that Forrest is an observer in a chat between Job, Charles Ives and Lieutenant Dan.  I am serious.

Davis in the movie Grand Canyon sets the stage for the statement of the human condition:  “The point is there's a gulf in this country; an ever-widening abyss between the people who have stuff, and the people who don't have [anything]. It's like this big hole in the ground, as big as the … Grand Canyon, and what's come pouring out is an eruption of rage, and the rage creates violence, and the violence is real, Mack.”  We read that and we think of stuff as things but it could be health, status, or a thousand other possibilities. 

A few weeks ago I spoke with my church about how we had domesticated Jesus and forgotten Jesus Wild and Wooly.  I suggested that some appropriate anger where people just “don’t get it” might be a Christ-like thing to do.  Today, it was about the rage or anger directed at God.

The music of American contemporary composer Charles Ives in The Unanswered Question speaks to this discussion.  The strings play their music with a detachment to what is going on in the rest of the piece.  The trumpet asks the perennial question [fill in the blank for yourself what that question is].  And the woodwinds try to answer in simplistic, human, proverb-like fashion, increasing in tempo, intensity and dissonance.  The last time the trumpet asks the question, it is only the sound of the strings playing their constant, slow moving pattern.  The question is unanswered, thus the name of the piece. 

Job is a lot like the Ives piece.  Job is a drama.  We have been provided the program notes, and we understand what is going on, but Job, and his friends do not.  At its core, Job is a critique on the simplicity of proverbs.  Israel was living out Proverbs, and Job stands in stark contrast to the simplicity of that message.  Job is almost like trying to solve differential equations within calculus when all you know is two plus two equals four. 

Job has friends I hope you never have.  They are operating in a Proverbs world:  it is simple to them:  Job is suffering, therefore Job did something wrong.  Repent, and all will be restored but Job, while not arguing the framework of that world just wants a piece of the evidence that suggests what it is he needs to repent about.  Job is a good man, and a serious theologian.  ‘Show me the evidence, and I will repent.’ 

This debate between Job and his “friends” goes on for most of the book, and then finally God answers from the whirlwind.

If you can call what God speaks from that whirlwind an answer:  Job is asking questions of justice and God answers with some ‘where were you when’ kinds of questions.  God isn’t answering Job’s question.  Not even close.  It is like Job and his friends are asking questions that God has no intention of answering directly. 

But getting his confrontation, Job suggests he is satisfied.  And life is now happy ever after.  There is a restoration, and everything back like it was – sort of.

Four giants of Old Testament Scholarship, Birch, Brueggemann, Fretheim and Petersen, suggest that at the end of the play we should be more than just a little bothered about a couple of things. 

One is now that Israel has heard the blasphemy of asking is God really just, how does one go back to the simple aphorisms of proverbs.  The world is more complicated than that, we see that complication in terms of wars, genocide, and the ultimate question, the Holocaust:  having heard Job’s blasphemy debated, can proverbs still work?  The question is unanswered

More deeply, while Job gets children back, the original ten children are not who are restored, it is ten new children.  What was lost [taken?] is lost forever.  They make the point that “Rachel’s children have returned from the exile, but they are not the same children [who were exiled].”  Restored in this case isn’t the same as those who were lost, is it?  The question is unanswered.

In Forrest Gump, Lieutenant Dan’s plans to be either a hero or a martyr were thwarted by Forrest who saves him.  Lieutenant Dan sees the world in terms of Proverbs:  ones and zeros; on and off; black and white; yes and no; good and evil.  He is clearly angry at Forrest for saving him, but near the end of the movie, in the midst of a hurricane, Lieutenant Dan goes up into the crow’s nest on the shrimp boat and Job-like has it out with God [isn't a hurrican a form of a whirlwind?].  After it is all over, Gump tells us that he thinks ‘Lieutenant Dan made his peace with God.’ 

What are we to make of this on this Sunday [or whenever you might be reading this]? 

Rage against God has a fine biblical tradition.  The Psalms, Job and possibly Jesus on the cross as he gives us Psalm 22 are examples.  It might be therapeutic.  Lieutenant Dan is the better for it but how things really are with Job at the end is less than crystal clear.  But for us as wounded healers (Nowen’s term for all of us), maybe the role we are called to perform, as opposed to Job’s “friends”, is to silently be there and not try and explain the world in simplistic, linear aphorisms.  Forrest, in spite of his propensity for aphorisms, understands that aphorisms break down in the face of life. 

Our role might just be to understand that God chooses not to answer Job directly but hold and love those who are raging anyway.  Let them rage and love them.  Forrest just let’s Dan rage, and his raging is surely an element, along with Forrest’s agape love, of Dan’s ultimate restoration. 


Monday, August 08, 2011

Henri meets Forrest

My time with the church yesterday could almost be characterized as Henri Nouwen meets Forrest Gump.

My chosen scripture was Psalm 30 where my focus was on the idea of how the psalmist has gone down into the pit but has been transformed from “mourning” (King James Version) into “dancing” and “joy”.   It seemed to me that part of the message was that the psalmist had been transformed by his own acknowledgement of "mourning" that he could help others with their own transformations.  

My approach was to talk to an element of the human condition, spiritual brokenness, and see how Nouwen and Gump simultaneously speak to us.

The chosen Gump scene was Jennie and Forrest encountering her home where she was exploited and abused by a father who knew no boundaries.  As she sees the house she remembers and in anger confronts her demons and starts to throw rocks at the house, and eventually she runs out of rocks.  Forrest as narrator tells us that sometimes “there just aren’t enough rocks.” 

My big idea was that at times we are all Forrests (healers) and we are all all Jennies (the wounded).  Nouwen calls us “wounded healers” and he posits the idea that it is from our woundedness that makes us better healers.

Nouwen writes:  What we see, and like to see, is cure and change. But what we do not see and do not want to see is care: the participation in the pain, the solidarity in the suffering, the sharing in the experience of brokenness. And still, cure without care is as dehumanizing as a gift given with a cold heart.

The issue is in part the seeing.  It is in the seeing, through our own life experiences, that we become healers. 

Forrest is a simple soul.  He operates off wisdom like proverbs, i.e. “stupid is as stupid does” and “life is like a box full of chocolates.”  Our spiritual maturity often pulls us from this world of “do this and that will happen” simplicity into the more Job-like world where we don’t understand why we suffer. 

Our journeys requires both:  simplicity in conversation with complexity.  Forrest Gump meets Henri Nouwen.  Forrest throughout the movie is an unapologetic care provider:  to his mother, to Bubba, to Lieutenant Dan, to Jennie and finally to little Forrest.  He lives a complex, care-providing life framed in a vision of simplicity.  This isn’t a simple story.  But he helps people move from despair to a joy where they can metaphorically dance. 

Forrest is an instrument of God’s Grace.  He is touching people, Jesus-like.  Don Bubna writes:  Jesus didn't have to touch lepers. He could have been just as effective from a hundred yards away. But he touched them.   

We are all called to be Forrests:  touching care providers.

We are all called to be Jennies:  prepared to be touched by others when it is necessary for our healing. Letting others touch us in love requires letting our boundaries down, maybe just a little., maybe a whole lot.  

Sometimes, as healers we are asked to be a quiet presence when those who are compelled to throw stones at old memories just need someone to hold them in love, at least until they decide that there aren't enough stones in order to make them whole.  I wonder if that isn't moving from mourning to dancing?  


Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Pastor's Corner -- August 2, 2011

Good things are happening at Stratmoor Hills.

I have often said that I vision us being “light and leaven” to our community.  We are lighting spiritual candles and kneading yeast into the dough that is our community at the Community Center on B Street and the after school tutoring.  This past Sunday, we returned to God during our offertory, food that will be used both here at Stratmoor for internal needs as well as at the Community Center cooperative venture with Westside Cares, Broadmoor Community Church and Meadows Park Community Center. 

Good things are happening at Stratmoor Hills.

I expect us to continue to be in relationship with Fox Meadow Middle School continuing our fruitful relationship with them through our weekly tutoring. 

Good things are happening at Stratmoor Hills.

I pray that these initiatives can be sustained and new initiatives that are light and leaven in their own ways can be started.

Towards the idea of starting new ministries, I have invited the Reverend Paul Howard, formerly ofRedemption Fellowship and now at Montclair UMC in Denver to come and speak to the men on September 11th.  This will be a simple meal starting at 6:30 PM at the church, and Paul will speak to us from his heart about the life changing ministry that is Redemption Fellowship in Denver, a ministry of Denver Trinity UMC.  I pray every man who participates in the life of this church can be there that night to hear Paul and ask how we might create a Redemption Fellowship-like ministry here at Stratmoor.  Save the date

Good things are happening at Stratmoor Hills.

Our United Methodist Women continue to produce prayer shawls and bears that are being used in a ministry of compassion.  These are being gathered on Tuesday mornings and if that time is not convenient, speak to any member of the UMW about how you might help here.  This entire ministry is not being done only on Tuesday in the morning, it is happening throughout the week. 

Good things are happening at Stratmoor Hills.

Our annual budget assumes an income of $9,000 a month.  We averaged for the first 7 months over $10,000 a month.  Most, if not all, of the extra $1,000 a month were resources earmarked specifically for items that were not budgeted i.e. the new clavinova and mortgage assistance for a family.  That said, while we do need to celebrate the sustained accomplishment of our $9,000/month goal, and also realize and be aware that our monthly needs are closer to $13,000/month to accomplish church goals.  We are making good progress here, and our belief is that as our membership and attendance continue to increase, this will follow along. 

Good things are happening at Stratmoor Hills.

Our membership is now at 123 with the seven who joined on July 31st.  This is the highest our membership has been in more than a decade.  Our attendance is holding at 100.  We have had sixteen Sundays so far in 2011 where our attendance was at or over 100.  I expect us to exceed 2010’s achievement of 25 Sundays in this area with a solid final third of the year. 

Good things are happening at Stratmoor Hills. 

I am proud to be the Pastor of a church that sees itself in such hopeful, caring, and growing ways.  

Pastor Dennis