Tuesday, May 29, 2007

First Week Reflection

After my first full week of work, I came up with a few reflections about my "regular" job, but I'll give one for now.

It's difficult to maintain discipline in devotions in the narrow sense (meaning Bible reading/praying). I can understand how many people struggle during the week with a devotional/prayer life with God--it can be such a chore to get through work, which eats up most of your time. You come home tired and after dinner, your night is almost over.

But then I also thought that perhaps the margins we search for that kind of relational work with God is eaten up by the easier distractions that fill our lives: "Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful" (Mark 4:18-19). I remembered two nights in row we ended up watching multiple season finales of TV shows we watch. And what about all the time I spend online and iChatting?

Is the issue really about time, or is it that we're unwilling to sacrifice little activities that in the end choke us and make us unfruitful? Our organic church group facilitator said that American Christians are most like the soil amongst the weeds. I can only speculate how much more difficult it gets when you have kids.

The devil's advocate question: am I limiting what is spiritual formation to only Bible reading and prayer? Shouldn't all of our life be part of our worship to God?

Monday, May 21, 2007

Commuter Spirituality

com·mut·er (kə-myū'tər)
  1. One that travels regularly from one place to another, as from suburb to city and back.
One of the things I haven't really had to deal with a lot in LA is a long tortuous commute. And so while I talked about how to integrate your spirituality while sitting in downtown traffic (in theory from the pulpit/class), now I get the chance to really "work out my salvation" in this regard. One possible area of theological reflection is how this liminal space/time--the "borders of life"--between home and work can also contribute to formation.

I've thought about things like driving with worship music, praying, listening to sermon/podcasts, sitting in silence (no radio/music/speaking). What works against me right now in terms of options is that I only have a radio that has one station that doesn't come in all the time. This morning I tried to let the Spirit lead me to situations and people to pray about, since this was a fuzzy station morning (difficult to say the least).

If anyone has any other insights on what they do to make commuting a part of their daily worship, hook me up!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

First Day

First days are not always the best thing to gauge a new job, methinks. Especially when it's all paperwork and gobs of information overload. Forms like I-9s, W-4s and insurance info sound boring even to type.

What was cool was that my predecessor will be training me for about a month! And over lunch, she said that I was the only candidate she pursued.

While it's too early to say, I can also see how the flexibility of this job and support role I play will be ideal for the "other job" of forming a new Christian community. Praise God for his smartness! :P

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Scared But Excited

So tomorrow I start my new job as an operations manager for a shelter. There are so many things I'm wondering about; scared and excited as this whole journey has been so far. I can't see spiritual growth without that mix of emotions now.

The best thing is that there's no turning back...right?!?!?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A Wicked Mother's Day

I had been mulling a way to make Mother's Day special for Tammy last Thursday when later that evening someone had tickets to "Wicked" that they needed to unload. So after some bargaining, I found the perfect gift, since she had been wanting to see this musical for quite some time now.

So we went with some CEFC friends this afternoon and I ended up enjoying it. I wasn't too thrilled about it going in, just going more because Tammy would enjoy it and I'd get to experience the Pantages (like the San Gabriel civic auditorium on Miracle Gro) and walk on a bit of the Walk of Fame in Hollywood...almost 10 years and I haven't even done the obvious touristy thing until now!

The hook for me was the subversive nature of the narrative which overturns the simplistic good vs. evil dynamic of the original Oz movie. I'm all about being subversive...but the bittersweet ending felt like pandering to the audience--or was it subverting the source story again? Son of a witch!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Paid to Care

I've been reflecting this week on the nature of money and getting paid to care. Being a full-time church pastor paid by the people, for the people--that's where I think trouble lurks for many churches. While I see lots of downsides to paid church ministry, one of the key issues is how inversely proportional congregational involvement is to the amount of paid staff. In some ways it seems innocent enough: we (congregation) need to pay a professional to lead/run the church, and I (recently graduated seminary student with lots of loans) needs to feed family and live under a roof.

But what happens in almost any church is that the amount of ownership and participation decreases--the congregation becomes a passive recipient rather than an active participant. For example, if you look at most worship services, how many people are leading up front? In many contexts we're only talking about 2-3 voices, and if the paid guys aren't up there, I would wonder what we're paying them for (at the same time that I hope to hear a fresh voice). You've heard the jokes: pastors really only work on Sunday, so what do they do the rest of the week? But the only expectation for me as an ordinary schmo is just to show up (and for the leadership, to tithe). And in general we expect pastors to "care" for the flock with visitation, outreach, and a laundry list of competencies and responsibilities--all while the rest of us live our own lives and "volunteer" when we can (but if we can't, O well).

For me to take the "priesthood of all believers" seriously, I can't get paid to care because inevitably you end up robbing the body of Christ from expressing a wider set of its gifts. Once money is in the picture, all sorts of unspoken expectations and motives come into play that "volunteering" is largely free from. Volunteers want to be there.

I realize that in my job search in non-profits, the jobs are also ones where I'm paid to care. Perhaps a little ironic? To connect this with my bivocational journey, "I'm getting paid to care so I can care without getting paid." Perhaps there's a sort of inherent subversiveness in the bivocational mode. I think for missional pastors and leaders, we'll need to unhook ourselves off the life support system of full-time church ministry and see the body of Christ wake up to renewed life again.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Farming in LA

"Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains" (Jas 5:7).

I don't know if James ever farmed, but I wonder if the farmer back then was more resigned (because he couldn't control the weather) than blissfully patient. Or is it a Christian farmer trusts in God's timing while the pagan one entreats and seeks to manipulate his gods of wood and stone?

Anyway, I've been volunteering at a 4-acre organic urban farm just off the 60 in S. El Monte for the last few weeks. It's connected to one of the non-profits I want to work for called LA Conservation Corps. It blends a sort of environmental/green agenda with educational/mentoring of youth through their various work and after school programs. It's been a great way for me to see if this is really something I want to do, and so far so good.

Physical labor is really different than the typical office job. I've discovered muscles I didn't know I had, mostly because they were sore the next morning. I've learned to use a rototiller, seed broadcaster, and weedwacked for 3 hours (weeds are very juicy). And I'm developing relationships with the workers and high school students who are part of the program.

Honing a passion for green stuff has helped me see how it can contribute to showing the Kingdom in the community. I described it to some as "converting abandoned space into community space." Every time I see empty lots, I see their potential as green space that can also function as 3rd space for the community (God knows we need more of that in LA.) And developing relationships outside of the church is exactly the context I know I need to grow in being part of the Missio Dei.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Tradition and Culture

We watched "The Queen" last night, which was a great movie that revolved around the events following Princess Di's sudden death (more than 10 years ago already!). I had forgotten the reverence given to her by the British collective psyche (if not the world) when they showed the archival footage of the mass of flowers in front of Buckingham Palace; something we Americans probably can't really fathom. I'm just glad we don't have one. Talk about drama (at least in this movie version)!

Anyway, it occurred to me this morning that this movie was an excellent reflection of the tensions regarding the modern church's response to "culture."
The queen and monarchy obviously represent those who want to uphold tradition and resist any sort of "giving into the masses." Some of the anti-monarchists in the movie try to ride the people's outcry at the lack of response by the vacationing royal family.
And Tony Blair, newly elected PM, is caught in the middle.

I think deep down, I am more of a Tony Blair, hoping to change the unchangeable. But the deep dissatisfaction makes me sound like an anti-monarchist (so to speak). And I'm certainly saying more "nos" to the "change from within" opportunities in traditional church ministry.