Monday, July 27, 2009

Stick Figure Theology (vol. 1)

Sunday July 26th's sermon was something a little different. I used Stick Figures to illustrate Process Theology. Which is to say, as I talked through the sermon I also drew stick figures to (quite literally) illustrate the points about God's nature, human power, and the import of forgiveness, grace, and hope.

So instead of Monday's normal Wordle document, I'm posting the actual pages that I drew to correspond with the movements of the sermon.

Here is the flip chart page that greeted church folks on Sunday morning, announcing the title of the sermon while displaying the full extent of my artistic abilities.

During the Children's Sermon I asked the kids to help me illustrate the four classical descriptions of God. That is, that God is All Loving (thus the big heart in the upper left-hand corner), All Powerful (Jacob suggested "A little mustard seed growing into a big tree...or God throwing a car", so we ended up with God throwing a care in the upper right-hand corner), All Knowing (a big brain in the lower left-hand corner), and Everywhere (my own son Henry suggested "God standing at the corner of a street"; not bad for a three year-old, right?).

After reading the sermon text (2 Samuel 11:1-15, in which King David commits adultery with Bathsheba then sends her innocent husband to the front lines of the war to die) we took up the question of Theodicy (thus why you see the word written in the middle of the page). Which is to say, we asked, "If God is all these things, then why do bad things happen to good people?" To a certain extent that becomes our guiding question for the rest of the sermon.

This is you. I know, I know, the resemblance is uncanny. The stick figure in the middle of the page is you at this very moment, not only in your life, but if you believe it, in the history of the universe. Everything on the left of the dotted line is the past. Everything on the right is future.

The red and blue arrows on the left represent everything from your past that has led you to this very moment (from the seemingly insignificant, like your alarm clock going off this morning; to the existence altering, like the Big Bang that happened when God first spoke creation into being).

All the arrows on the right represent the choices and possibilities that exist in your immediate future. The BIG RED ARROW represents where Process Theology introduces God into the equation. In the technical sense, the BIG RED ARROW is God's Initial Aim -- God's best hope for us in each and every opportunity. God lifts up that vision for us. And even if we do not go down that road, if we follow another choice or possibility (represented by the second stick figure) then God doesn't simply give up on us. There is grace. There is mercy. And there is the constant presence of God in our lives. No matter who you are or where you are. God continues to lift up the very best for us. Which is good news.

This isn't you. This is stick-figure donkey. It's another way of illustrating the way God leads and directs our lives. It is the parable of the donkey. So the story goes, there are two ways to move a donkey -- with the stick (thus the person standing behind the donkey, trying to push it forward) or with a carrot (the second stickfigure, holding the carrot in front of the donkey). "The stick" represents all the events and actualities in our past that have propelled us into this moment. "The carrot" is the vision of the future, the best possibilities, the way that God directs us forward into the very best and brightest of the future. God isn't coercive in God's use of power (pushing us around moment by moment, or whipping us forward with the stick) but rather persuassive, drawing us forward moment by moment.

In the end, this is what it is all about. In a single word: Hope. The hope that we know through a God who loves us and never ever gives up on us, but continues to open the very best possibilities to us. And the hope that God has that we will listen; that we will step boldly into God's future. So that together we are co-creating the kingdom of God along with our all-loving God. Which is reason to celebrate, to join hands, to sing and dance, and give over our very best.

I've been thinking about...

...The Disciples of Christ General Assembly.

I’ll be heading out on Wednesday to attend the every-other-year national gathering of my “other denomination” (I was raised and ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a cousin denomination to our fair UCC). This comes as a part of my Continuing Education time with the church. I’ll be reconnecting with old friends and colleagues, as well as learning the newest and most successful techniques in church leadership.

The Disciples of Christ have been investing huge amounts of time and talent into the “Revitalized Church” movement. The goal is to help rekindle the fires in local congregations in the name of becoming healthy, growing, vibrant faith communities. It sounds just like our goal for Encanto!

Along those lines I’ll be attending a handful of workshops that speak directly to revitalizing the life of the local church. Those include:
  • Transforming a Local Congregation
  • Taking the Bored out of Board Meetings
  • Healthy Congregations
  • Young Adults and the Church
  • Toward a Prophetic Church
  • Theology of Inclusion for a Welcoming Church
I’m looking forward to the five day event. I’ll fly out on Wednesday and won’t get back until Sunday evening. Next week the Rev. Liana Rowe will be leading worship. I’ll see you when I get back and I look forward to sharing everything I’ve learned and experienced!

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Monday, July 20, 2009

Wordle: Give Me A Break!

Here is the Wordle for this past Sunday's Sabbath themed sermon.

I've been thinking about...

Flagstaff, AZ.

And Indianapolis, Indiana. And St. Louis, Missouri. And Nashville, Tennessee.

Those are all the places I'll be traveling to this summer. And in the case of Flagstaff, it is a trip I’ve already made.

I'm grateful for the vacation and continuing education time granted to me by this congregation and over the next several months I'll be cashing in some of that time that I might find some rest, renewal, and new energy for the work ahead. I am writing this right before leaving for three days in Flagstaff to relax and celebrate my wife's birthday. By the time you are reading it I will have returned from that quick trip vacation.

I'll be in Indianapolis at the end of this month for the Disciples of Christ General Assembly. The Disciples of Christ are a cousin-denomination to the UCC, and my home denomination. General Assembly is their every-other-year gathering and it is a time for me to reconnect with friends and colleagues as well learn about the latest happenings in ministry. I look forward to bringing you back stories, ideas, and energy from that gathering July 29th to August 2nd.

Finally, I'll be in St. Louis and Nashville for extended time with family. We'll enjoy a family reunion with my wife's kinfolk and celebrate the wedding of my wife's cousin (at a ceremony that neither of us will be presiding, nonetheless!). That trip will have me out from August 12th to the 26th.

In the meantime, we still have much work to do. So lets keep at it!

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Wordle: Change, Transition, and Transformation

I was out of town at the beginning of last week for some much needed R-and-R time with my wife and son in Flagstaff. Which makes these two posts a week late in making their blog appearance.

So without further adieu, here is the Wordle rendering of my sermon from July 12. Click here for the full sermon manuscript, or click on the picture for the fullsized image. And as the Wordle would seem to indicate, the sermon does have a whole series of "to change a light bulb" jokes.

I've been thinking about...

Dim sum.

It is a traditional Chinese tea luncheon, where small plates of food are shared among a large group of people enjoying a meal together. Sounds great, right? Well it is!

And this past Sunday several of our families took up the invitation from our Religious Education Board and met down at the Golden Buddha in the Chinese Cultural Center for a wonderful lunch filled with all kinds of new and interesting foods, adventuresome spirits, and good conversation. You’ve got to love any restaurant that you can walk into and say, “We have 11 people for lunch,” and they don’t even bat an eye! They simply sat us at one of many enormous tables and the feast and fellowship began!

It reminded me of Jesus’ own ministry and of the experiences of the earliest Christians. It should be of no surprise that a tremendous amount of Jesus’ ministry happened around the table. Or that the earliest Christian worship services were always followed by a communal meal. After all, food fosters fellowship. Dining together is an opportunity to share our lives, share our stories, and build relationships with one another — which is exactly what Jesus calls us to do in working for the Kingdom of God.

Even though I can’t imagine first century, Mediterranean followers of Christ having any idea what sticky noodles, steamed BBQ pork buns, sesame balls, or chopsticks are, I think they would have recognized the camaraderie and faith that we shared by sharing a communal meal together.

So here is a big “Thank you” from me to the RE Board and to our families for a wonderful, faithful time together.

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

"Freedom in God's Love" Wordle

On Independence Day Weekend we focus on the freedom that God gives us, and the responsibility that comes with that blessing. Here is Wordle rendering of that sermon. For the full text, you can find the manuscript right here.

Monday, July 6, 2009

I've been thinking about...

That is our Conference Minister’s blog. And while at General Synod (our denomination’s every-other-year national meeting) the Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer updated it daily with pictures, stories, and short recaps of Synod events. I’ve compiled a couple of those posts so that you can get a feel for it.

Saturday, June 27, 2009 — Synod report
I don't want you to think Synod is nothing but boring meetings, contentious floor debates, and ad nauseam reports. Last night for my dinner break, I grabbed a Sub sandwich and sat in the shade of a cool tree while listening to a Salsa band play. It was way cool.
And this morning, I heard two young musicians sing their hearts out to us. Jason and Demarco are a partnered couple whose voices are incredible, whose faith is evident, and whose love for each other and the church are strong. Their concert was powerful, their testimony moving. Wish you can have been here.

Sunday, June 28, 2009 — All we do is eat.…
Breakfast, lunch, dinner - here we are just eating away to our hearts content. Part of the joy of Synod is sharing meal and conversation with good friends, some of whom you just don't get to see enough of. I hope you can get a sense of how we use this time to build love, friendship, and unity in the body. Even our meals are time well spent: there is laughter, there are stories, there is dialogue on the important issues of our time - both at Synod and beyond, there is challenge. It's all good.

Sunday, June 28, 2009 — More Synod Happenings...
Here is our delegation piling into the van - which we do every morning around 8:00 a.m. You may think that means they get to sleep in late each morning, but no. By this time we have spent the previous 90 minutes caucusing - going over the previous day's activities and talking about what is coming up in the coming days. Synod is very demanding on our delegates. They are often up till midnight or later, and the morning starts very early for them.

Check out the website yourself to see all the pics and details!

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian