Well this should be interesting…


I should have known I was in trouble when my daughter won the “I’ll write a story for you” prize in my last giveaway. If you remember, she is supposed to give me a genre, a couple characters and any other quirky thing she wants. For weeks she’s been saying she couldn’t think of what she wanted me to write. And then today I get this very specific detailed directions.

4 parts, a family road trip that goes horribly awry (whatever that may mean to you).
Three siblings:
A son, a very type A engineer 26, taking his two younger sisters (21 a photography student, a little bit too unscheduled for her brother’s liking, and 17 just wants to graduate high school and move away from her brother) to visit their grandparent’s farmhouse which has been standing empty for ten years. They are going to clean it out for their mom (i don’t care if they actually get to the farmhouse in the course of the story or not).

The first three parts should each be told in close 3rd person with one part for each sibling. The final can have a 3rd person omniscient narrator or can switch from a close 3rd of one sibling to the next.

And so it begins. I have something else planned as well for Serial Saturday, so tune in Saturday to find out the plan. I haven’t decided but I may do Lo’s four parts in one week or maybe I’ll do her story in two weeks and then start on my other plan, Hmmmm, As I say, tune in Saturday.

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Filed under Creative writings (prose), Giveaways and contests, Serial Saturday

Pastormac’s Pilgrimage for “Next:” Weird relationships.


Yesterday we went to Destiny Church.  It use to be called Destiny Center,  and for reasons I’ll explain later, I wondered about the name change.  I am curious if they needed to add the word church because people were confused about whether they were, in fact, a church.  I suppose by the name people might have thought it was a meditation center or something.  I”ve no idea.  We enjoyed the service and I was inspired by the teaching.  I’ll touch very briefly on that at the end.

Anyway, I like the senior pastor there, Jerome, and we have been friends; not bosom buddies, but  a little more than friendly acquaintances.  To his credit he treated me like we were best friends, making, me, I’ll admit, look good in front of a couple of my former congregants who we just happened to meet there (who were also trying it out.)  This made me feel good of course, and then an interesting thing happened.

I almost immediately began to wonder if he were really feeling this friendly for me or if it were because I was now a potential congregant.  This was entirely unfair and uncharitable of me, as Jerome probably would have, and has, treated me the same if he ran into me on the street..  It also made me ponder something I’ve pondered many times before, one of my least favorite things about being a pastor:

Being a pastor make relationships weird.

Not all relationships, probably not even most and certainly not all the time, but often enough to make me wonder if we’re doing something wrong in this chuch thing.   It might just be that there’s something wrong with us; and since the fall, I know that to be true.

In the best cases, a pastor/congregant relationship is simply a well bonded, deep and family like intimacy .  I’m finding, as Lifesingers continue to meet at Dion’s and enjoy each other’s company that this is largely true for my Lifesong experience.

Honestly, I helped this by setting clear expectations from the beginning.  with several strongly worded sermons on what not to expect from me.  I promised to make mistakes (and then, just so no one would forget, I made sure to keep that promise.)

One of my favorite statements in the literature about our church which we got to people early and often was

If a church is a place where you get all the answers, we’re not a church.

If a church is a place where everyone’s got their act together, we are not a church.

If a church is a place where the pastor alone cares for everyone’s needs, is available at all hours, and never struggles, then we are most definitely not a church.

On the other hand we believe a church is the place where there is the most safety and encouragement to ask the most relevant, and sincere questions.  We believe answers can be found in scripture, but are best sought together in community.

We are a church which understands that only one person in history has ever had His act completely together and that His name is Jesus and His role is God.  There is room in the universe for only one Messiah, and you are not it.  I am not it and no one at our church will pretend to be it.

So my most recent experience is filled with better than normal relationships, and perhaps the price of better than normal is some weirder than normal relationships along the way.

Today, as I blog, it has occurred to me that there are some clear things that both congregants and pastor’s could do differently which might make a difference.  It also occurs to me that I am an in unusual place of being a pastor without a church but also without rancor.  I did not close my last church bitterly, I have not forsworn the idea of pastoring again as a bad deal (in fact, I’m increasingly suspecting I will again have a church), and I have no congregation to manipulate by any advice I might give.  So, with that in mind, in case it helps anyone love their pastor better, I present some suggestions.  (If I were writing a blog predominately read by pastors, I would weight this heavily in that direction, sinnce I have only  few pastoral readers to my knowledge, I have sprinkled only a few exhortations to pastors.).

Not only do I mean no offense to anyone by this list, but if you have a different take from your perspective, I’d love to hear it in the comments.

1) Pastors, stop trying to motivate by guilt or fear.  Motivating may at times be your primary objective, and guilt and fear are great short term motivators, but they make for very weird relationships down the line, which means they are ultimately a much weaker motivator than love.  In the long run it develops weaker Christians with weaker convictions.  Sadly it teaches them to be more easily manipulated by the world, the flesh and the devil.   If loving them and teaching them accurately the word of God for their life is not enough for them to be motivated to stay, to serve, or to love others, than be assured guilt and fear may look more effective but will be truly counterproductive.  Furthermore they will return the favor and when they leave (and leave they will), they will explain it in ways that attempt to make you feel guilty or fearful.

2) Congregants, don’t proclaim undying lifetime devotion to your pastor in a  way which should only be reserved for marriage.  Many  people in my churches have proclaimed that they would follow me anywhere, and I only believe one of them:  my wife.  Oddly experience tells me that the louder someone proclaims their devotion to me as a pastor, the more likely it is that the hardness of the chair, the slowness of the worship music, or the inconsistency of my personality will ultimately drive them away.  On the other hand, one of my deacons from Lifesong, Phil and his wife, have served with me for 23 years, without ever once declaring undying devotion.  Am I saying you shouldn’t speak affirmation to your pastor?  Of course you should, but no pastor is  helped  by effusive, unrealistic displays of devotion.  If they are wise they will take it with a grain of salt, and if they do happen to believe you, they will only be more discouraged when you leave, even if it’s God who calls you to leave; and who are you to say that won’t happen?

3) Pastor’s, stop leading from fear.  This is not the same as motivating by fear.  This is being motivated by fear.  Leading from fear is notoriously easy as a pastor; particularly if  you are in a downward trajectory which many pastors encounter.  Trying to lead in order to “keep people” from leaving leads to terrible decision making and alienates those who were not thinking of leaving to begin with.  It turns your focus inward, leaving hopeless people outside your church, both hopeless and outside.  It messes up your good relationships in the church by introducing an element of distrust into relationships.

4) Congregants, do not expect your pastor to be an outgoing extrovert with his radar on for ministering to congregants all the time.  Personally as a pastor, I believe our commitment to our saints does not end at the church door and I hope to love and minister to everyone whether the grocery store or anywhere, but then I also expect this of my congregants.  At the same time I give my congregants grace to be  focused on other things at a given moment or time, to be human and not lead by the Holy Spirit at a given moment.  Some pastors, myself included, are not by nature extroverts and we get tired if we don’t have time to recharge alone or with just our family.  Some of us are not always great at paying attention to our surroundings.  I remember many many years ago (more than two decades) a particular congregant who left the church because, according to them they had frequently said hi to me at the grocery store and I had ignored them every time.  Despite the fact, that I honestly had never seen or heard them, even one of these times, they were convinced I was just being mean to them.  Let  your pastors be human.

5) Congregants, Treat your pastors with at least a  minimum of respect and love when you leave.  I am amazed and baffled with the numbers of truly sincere friends who have essentially snuck out of my church.  People who would talk to me about the most intimate details would make one of the most significant decisions of their life, one in which I am already intimately involved, without saying a single word about it to me.  As in breaking up, text messages and emails do not count.   I do understand that in some cases this comes from a desire to spare the pastor’s feelings, but more often it comes from a desire to protect ourselves from discomfort or from being challenged in our leaving.  If you are leaving for good reasons, or even if you are not, your pastor, unless he truly is a controlling guilt mongering, radically insecure pastor (lots of pastors are insecure, but not radically so!)  will survive your leaving and will feel gratitude more than anything if you speak to him as a friend would to a friend.  Will he try to talk  you into staying?  Probably, because until the moment you leave he is still your pastor in his mind, and he still wants to give you the best spiritual advice he can, and he probably believes you’re leaving is a mistake.  Trust me, after a conversation like this, relationships can still continue, severing ties doesn’t have to be the norm even if you do leave.

6) Congregants, when you do see a pastor whose church you’ve left, let go of the desire to prove to him you are doing ok.  Look, we know people leave our churches and thrive all the time.  It doesn’t make us feel better or worse.  God is gracious and people thrive.  I certainly hope everyone who left my church is doing more than ok, but when meeting a congregant on the street who spends fifteen minutes telling me how they are doing better than they’ve ever done, how their new church is amazing and fantastic and of their undying devotion to their new pastor, it makes me feel that either 1) they are not doing well and just trying, out of pride, to convince me, or 2) they are angry and bitter at me and trying to hurt me by showing me how much better they were without me.  Neither of these feels very good or leads to a healing relationship between us.  If instead you were to express gratitude for the time you had, for the things he brought you, he will not try to persuade your to come back, and frankly will probably be more assured that in fact you are doing well.  After all you were seeing things clearly enough to appreciate him! 🙂

7) Congregants, don’t expect your pastor to keep pastoring you after you remove yourself from his pastorship.  Again, I do try to minister to and love everyone God puts in front of me with needs.  But I also know that I have to focus my energies on the most direct stewardships in my life.  My family and my congregation, and the unchurched.  In the limited time I have on this earth, these are the people I will pursue.  If I respect and trust you then I am content that you have moved on to another church where you are being cared for.  This means that our relationship will change when you leave.  It’s not that I am not your friend, or that I am withholding love.  It is that I am trusting that you ultimately went where God directed and now you have to let someone else pastor you.  If as a friend you want to do lunch or hang out or even get advice, give me a call.  It’s awkward for me to call you precisely because I don’t want you to feel that I am trying to woo you back or control you.  You are the one that left, and I expect you to set the tone of the relationship at this point.  I know that’s a departure from how it’s been for years, but that’s the change in our relationship.

Ok, just some thoughts from a pastor without a church.  If it’s helpful, great.  If not, then it wasn’t meant for you.

As for Jerome’s message, it was all about Big idea #1, the primacy of the church.  While it was intended as a call to commitment for Destiny people to be outward centered, focused on reaching others; it felt to me like God was affirming the passion of my heart to continue to reach out to sincere unchurched God-seekers.  It went into the simmering stew which seems to be turning into something University flavored, something Downtown Central Albuquerque flavored.  It’s not yet boiling, the stew is not yet seasoned, and I’m unsure of how palatable I will yet find it.  As my wife said of the slowly cooking ideas, “It sounds right, but it sounds like a lot of hard work.”

But I”m enjoying my rest…and I’m wondering if after 23 years, I still don’t know yet what a church actually is…

Until next week faithful readers,  pray for me.  Love each other, be ye pastor, congregant or in between, or as a friend of mine, meaning the same thing says…just be cool.

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Filed under Lifesong, Pastormac's Pilgrimage

Serial Saturday: Katherine’s story part 10 (Answers and questions.)


It was all moving in slow motion, which was particularly odd because ever since Walter had returned, walking in the door, bringing them to the mine, it had all seemed to be moving too fast, out of control, speeding away from Jonathan like a receding train. He had a plan, which had not just gone wrong, but worse, somehow gone right in a very weird way. How a could a mine he made up be real? How could a story he invented have actually happened? Try as he might he could remember no instance of having heard the story, no evidence of having borrowed from reality for his story. His mind had raced to keep up with the unfolding events before him while he tried at the same time to understand how they could have even ended up here. Clang clang, chug chug, the train raced on.

And Now,

Kati, dear loved-like-a-sister Kati had raced toward the mine shaft. Jonathan thought about calling out, maybe even did (he could never quite remember) but things were still moving very quickly…until,

Jonathan felt as if he were stuck in a dream, or mired behind oceans of water. Rocks were falling, hiding Kati from view, but so slowly, so incredibly slowly. And yet, Jonathan stood. His mind said run, indeed his heart was halfway there already, but his feet just didn’t seem to follow. For a brief moment he saw, no he felt, what Walter lived with day after day. None of this made sense but all lead to this moment, to Kati’s crushing death (or so it appeared at this moment to Jonathan). How could Jonathan’s gag, a stupid story, how could it lead to this? It couldn’t unless God were playing an even stupider gag, taking Jonathan’s made up story and using it to destroy Kati.

The feeling passed almost as quickly as it landed. God was not cruel; this was no gag or dream or game. The confusion fled as Jonathan stopped trying to figure it out. Just move, Jonathan, just move. Finally, his feet loosened and Jonathan ran towards the mine. He tried to help Walter (Jonathan felt a little surprise to find Walter already there…he hadn’t truly wasted that much time, had he?), but Walter was like a mad man, shoveling without regard. Half of the rocks he cleared landed on Jonathan and the other half fell back on Walter himself. Jonathan shouted at Walter, trying to calm him, to bring him back, but Walter ignored him and then it no longer mattered, because he was through.

Jonathan checked to make sure the entry looked at least reasonably stable this time and then followed Walter in. Jonathan looked in wonder…Katherine and Walter were kissing.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

They were all back at Walter’s place, even Oscar had been allowed in the house and he nuzzled against Kati’s hand until she scratched the top of his head. Her other hand rested comfortably in Walter’s who kept turning to look at her, even as Jonathan talked as if he wanted to be sure she was really here. As if his eyes weren’t enough proof on their own, every so often his hand would squeeze Kati’s.

“And that’s why I think I win.” Jonathan concluded

“Jonathan, now you’re really stretching it. Really this seems a bit far fetched. You’re saying that God engineered this whole thing and then gave you the story like some prophet in the Bible just so that Walter and I would meet? You can’t really believe that?”

He didn’t.

“Absolutely. I set out to experiment with which of our philosophies make the most sense and when you consider that only God could have made something completely made up turn out to be real…Well it’s the only possible answer.”

Actually Jonathan had figured out a different answer, the real one he was pretty sure, but he had to be completely sure. The problem was, Walter wasn’t paying enough attention, focused as he was on Kati. He’d have to be more direct.

“So, you see Walter, your doom and gloom stance can’t possibly be right. God made all this happen, just so you could be happy. Kati lived. You, my friend, solved a puzzle which didn’t exist, but which had to be solved in order for destiny to bring you two together. How else do you explain it? “

Walter looked up, a rueful smile.

Jonathan waited. This was it. It had to be.

“No sir, I just lied.”

So he was right then.

Kati looked up in surprise, “What?”

“I hope you won’t be too terribly mad at me, but I figured out pretty early Jonathan had made the whole thing up. You forgot my father founded this place, I grew up here. A legend like that wouldn’t have been wholly unknown to me. So he made it up first, I just made it up second. I took you to a mine I already knew about.”

Kati looked stunned, “But why? Why would you do that?”

“I’m not entirely sure. The way you goaded me. I felt like I had to do something, like being passive was no longer going to work. I felt like I had to make something happen…so I did…and it almost killed you.” Walter looked miserable and worried at Kati’s reaction.

Kati shook her head, but not apparently displeased. She looked seriously but not unhappily at Walter, “Good for you. And almost doesn’t count, you know.”

Jonathan laughed, “I thought so. It was the only thing that made sense. I understand why, but how? How did you know about the mine, and how did you get access.”

Walter looked embarrassed and mumbled something.

Kati, closer to him, heard and laughed.

Jonathan smiled, ready to laugh and asked, “What?”

Walter looked up impatient and annoyed in his embarassment, “I own it. I signed the inheriatance papers. Papers, which I might add, list every known mine in the areas, at least half of which belong to me. That was just one of them.”

Jonathan did laugh, “You, my friend, are now the richest man in California!”

Walter looked miserable, “I know. And that means I have the most to lose of anyone. But you see Jonathan. You do not win. I win, which means I lose. No matter how much I tried I could not avoid my fate. “

“But Walter, Kati lived. You acted and Kati lived. All I can see is fate gave you riches and a good woman. If that’s a curse, I’ll take it anyday.”

“Indeed, Katherine is perhaps the greatest curse of all.”

Katherine drew her hand aside and looked in shocked anger at Walter who was looking at the floor.

“It is my curse to be blessed with much only to always lose it.” He looked now at Katherine who was softening,” I know you well enough already, dear Katherine to know that you are no one’s “good woman” You belong to yourself and would not tie yourself down for the likes of me.”

Kati took Walter’ s hand in hers again, “You say you lose by winning, well I’ll admit that I won by losing. I would have been lost in that mine without your help. You were there when I needed you. I don’t belong to you, but perhaps we need each other. I feel somehow as if being with you will not tie me down, but rather free me for the first time, perhaps.”

“You’ve finally come out of the steamer trunk, have you Kati?” said Jonathan softly.

Kati looked at him in surprise, but then nodded slowly, “Sometimes, Jonny, you are a wonder. “

Walter sat silently for a moment and then turned to Katherine, “Perhaps I am falling into fate’s trap, perhaps I will regret this, but you give me hope, Katherine, dear. Would you consent to marry the world’s most wealthy cursed man.”

Katherine looked at Walter and said quite seriously, “As God is my witness, I will never leave you Walter Newhall.”

Katherine kissed Walter.

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Filed under Katherine Suzanne, Serial Saturday

Just for fun, (and bragging rights) name these romantic annibirthery movie quotes.


So today is my 24th Wedding anniversary!

It also happens to be my wife’s birthday. I was either really clever or really foolish depending on your perspective, to line both events up that way.

Anyway, I posted 24 separate romantic (well, mostly) quotes on her wall in honor of the occasion.

My goals were for them each to be relevant to me and her in some fashion and each had to be a movie we had both seen. I didn’t quite make it and a couple are movies we were familiar with but hadn’t seen, or in two cases a tv show and one was just a celebrity quote and not a movie at all.

I’ll give you the celebrity quote, but for the rest, without reading my wife’s wall, can you identify the movies (and TV show) for each of these quotes? No prizes, just vindicating your own pop culture savvy. Post your answers in the comments. Let’s see if between all of you we can get them all. (The ones in bold are the ones solved so far in the comments below.

Annibirthery Quote #24 “As you Wish”

Annibirthery Quote #23 Mawwage. Mawwage is whatt bwings us togedder today.

Annibirthery Quote #22Katherine Houghton Beckett, will you marry me?

Annibirthery Quote #21

George McFly: Lorraine. My density has popped me to you.

Lorraine Baines: What?

George McFly: Oh. What I meant to say was…

Lorraine Baines: Wait a minute. Don’t I know you from somewhere?

George McFly: Yes. Yes. I’m George. George McFly. I’m your density. I mean, your destiny.

Annibirthery Quote #20 It’s there, I know it is, because when I look at you, I can feel it. And-and I look at you, and I… and I’m home. Please… I don’t want that to go away. I don’t want to forget.”

Annibirthery Quote #19 “I would rather share one lifetime with you than face all the ages of this world alone.”

Annibirthery Quote #18 The only way you can beat my crazy was by doing something crazy yourself. Thank you. I love you. I knew it the minute I met you. I’m sorry it took so long for me to catch up. I just got stuck.

Annibirthery Quote #17

For here you are, standing there, loving me

Whether or not you should

So somewhere in my youth or childhood

I must have done something good

Annibirthery Quote #16 “True love is the greatest thing, in the world-except for a nice MLT — mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich, where the mutton is nice and lean and the tomato is ripe.”

Annibirthery Quote #15 “-Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection. The Lovers, the Dreamers, and me. “

Annibirthery Quote #14 ” I love you. You complete me.”

Annibirthery Quote #13 “Kiss me. Kiss me as if it were the last time.”

Annibirthery Quote # 12 “you have bewitched me, body and soul, and I love, I love, I love you. I never wish to be parted from you from this day on. “

Annibirthery Quote # 11 “With Pleasure”

Annibirthery Quote # 10 “Say you’ll share with me one love, one lifetime. Lead me, save me from my solitude. Say you want me with you, here beside you.”

Annibirthery quite 9. “I thought we would meet only in death”

Annibirthery quote 8. “You make me want to be a better man.”

Annibirthery quote 7. “Make of our hands one hand. Make of our hearts one heart. Make of our vows one last vow. Only death will part us now.”

Annibirthery quote # 6. “Love is absolute loyalty. People fade, looks fade, but loyalty never fades. You can depend so much on certain people; you can set your watch by them. And that’s love, even if it doesn’t seem very exciting.” – This is the celebrity quote and it’s Sylvester Stallone

Anniberrhery quote # 5. “There are a million things that I could want in this world, but there is only one thing I need. And if you ever decided to leave me, I would go and find you because you would be wrong.” This is the TV Show.

Annibirthery quite #4. “It was a million tiny little things that, when you added them all up, they meant we were supposed to be together… and I knew it”

Anibirthery quote #3. “…I might be the only one who appreciates how amazing you are in every single thing that you do, and … I watch them, wondering how they can watch you bring their food, and clear their tables and never get that they just met the greatest woman alive. And the fact that I get it makes me feel good, about me.”

Annibirthery quote number 2: “I love that you get cold when it’s 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle in your nose when you’re looking at me like I’m nuts. I love that after I spend day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it’s not because I’m lonely, and it’s not because it’s New Year’s Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

Annibirthery #1. You had me at Hello.

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Filed under Just Ponderings

Pastormac’s Pilgrimage: What do 125 million American’s have in common?


So today was actually my first day to go to a different church.  The first week I played hookie, the second week I was at a conference, last week I was working and so today was my first visit to a new church as a visitor with no responsibility.  We decided to go to Paragon Church.  I had seen signs and explored their website and some of their philosophy, vision and approach appealed to me.  We took two cars (a necessity for us as it’s  impossible to find a car we can both afford and all fit in).  I introduced myself to the greeter at the front (who was very friendly), Kelly, she said her name was.  I introduce the three kids I had with me, which happened to be my three youngest.  Jubilation (called Jay at new meetings to avoid long discussions), Lidya (one of our Ethiopian imports) and Josiah (our Ethiopian import who also happens to be autistic.)

It was fascinating that a part of my brain became very much an observer; I couldn’t help but dissect this somewhat normal interaction but one for which I had been on the other side for so long.  I  felt like I could so easily see, understand and grasp everything that this friendly greeter was thinking,doing,  wanting me to take from our interaction and wanting to learn from me;  at the same time I was watching my own actions and even decision making process with interest (choosing not to mention I was a pastor, or Josiah’s autism…) and trying to connect that to various visitors I’ve greeted over the years.  This wasn’t as presumptive as it sounds, in fact, I found myself feeling an unusual degree of compassion and desire to help.  This was a small, new church who was receiving an unexpected visit of a family of 9!  We happened to be coming on Communion Sunday, which as I’ll explain later is a very unusual week for them.  I heard three people assure me, “This is a little different Sunday” before we even sat down.  I understand that nervous, questioning of whether we would prematurely make a negative judgment on such an unusual event.  I felt a kinship with this small but growing band of followers and found myself wanting to use my unusual vantage point to their advantage.  That’s when I decided not to follow normal “visitor” rules.

I started by adopting a demeanor of one who was part of the church rather than a visitor, by this I mean instead of waiting for them to be friendly to me, to comfort me I took the role I so often took as a pastor of trying to see how I could help them.  This was not easy to do, because honestly, so many people were eager to help and love on us that it became very difficult to outdo them.  Kelly walked us to the separate building where Sunday School took place and I chatted with her on the way as if I were the member.  I even greeted a couple people who looked surprised like they should have known me (which they didn’t).

When I returned from dropping off my younger kids I discovered that the rest of my family had chosen to sit in the front row!  The attendance at a few minutes before 10 was small (but this is after all New Mexico), so it was very noticeable.  I chuckled at my family’s boldness, but this seemed to match my desire to break visitor rules, so I joined them gleefully.

When we were asked to say hello to someone new, I initiated before others had a chance, and then watched in amusement as people had to walk from the back to the front to greet us.  Some seemed amused that we were in the front row and a few very comfortable people chatted with us about it.  By the way, when I say front row I mean second row, because anyone who has been to church more than once knows that no one, absolutely no one sits in the front row.  That’s the buffer row.  Occasionally it’s used by the pastor or worship leader, but never by any congregational member.  This, in fact, was the discussion we had with a friendly young woman.  The Pastor, Matt, came and introduced himself to each of my family and admitted he would likely not remember all our names.  I never would have remembered all our names as a pastor either, so I appreciated his authenticity.

I swear we lead the clapping during worship, we sang harmonies, loudly and lustily, I smiled at the worship leader, encouraging him whenever possible, and took notes right in front of the pastor.  (I hope he didn’t think I was texting as I take notes on my iPad.

In fact, it was fun visiting a church and acting like we weren’t visiting.  And for the most part it seemed to be encouraging and comfortable for others.  Only one moment fell slightly flat and both surprised and amused me.

As the service ended people began to put up chairs and I noticed my kids immediately began to help.  It was our habit after all, and so I jumped in to help as well.  They rolled out chair carts and people would fold up the chairs and place them on the carts.  It seemed familiar and simple enough after five years of doing the same, but twice as I hung up chairs, somebody removed the chair I hung up and placed it on a different cart or in one case the other side of the cart.  I was unable to discern the system, confused and amused by this, but I didn’t want to cause any more work, so I stopped helping with tear down.

We had been told by a friend of ours that the pastor and his wife were very nice and that turned out to be our experience.  They were both very genuine and nice.  The sermon was on the gospel from Corinthians.  It was solid and appropriate with the communion.

Oh, they did communion differently then I’ve seen and I enjoyed it.  Instead of it being a separate event, it they ran a seamless service, much like Lifesong has been known to do.  Music was interspersed between sermon chunks and the communion items were at the front for people to partake of as they felt lead during the worship.  I appreciated the effort towards a holistic service (Is that word still a negative in evangelical worlds?  I just mean all one piece, rather than segmented.)

One of my children, who was pretty devastated by the loss of Lifesong, said, he liked this service.  When I pressed him he said, “well if we have to go somewhere other than Lifesong I could live with this.”  which for him was a pretty rousing endorsement to be honest.

What does all this say about my pilgrimage?  Well a couple things can be added to my list of lessons learned so far.

1) I can, in fact, worship in a different church without constantly picking at the way they do things.  I can learn from a pastor who doesn’t teach like I do and with whom I have not discussed the “themes” of the day.  I could be part of another church, in short.

2) I will be surprised if that is in fact what I end up doing.

I have only the vaguest of ideas and plans in my head, but as God seems to do in my life, threads from all sorts of different places in the last month have started to weave into the merest notion of a pattern.  I don’t want to force or hurry the pattern and I”m ok letting God unfold it.  But often as God does this, the first realization is, “I don’t know what the plan is, but I will be surprised, if x, y, or z, isn’t part of that plan.”

Believe it or not that was my first proposal to my wife,  “Wouldn’t you be surprised if ten years from now we weren’t…you know.”  She did know and she admitted she too would be surprised.  Later that night I did a much better proposal which involved a waterfall, a ring and me on bended knee.  Neither of us were surprised by her answer. 🙂

Anyway, that doesn’t mean the tapestry always looks exactly like I vaguely conceive at this point, but I will say, that I will be surprised if another year from now I am not leading some kind of new church.

In today’s message, Pastor Matt, pointed out that 125 million Americans are unchurched.  My thoughts were, among other things, that Lifesong was just radical enough to appeal to some very non churchy people, but not radical enough to be seen as anything other than church by those who are not interested in church.  I am still pretty convinced that in the 125 million there are at least a few million who are not interested in church but they are interested in love, service, God, truth, life, and community.  People who are in need of Christ to fulfill those interests but just don’t know it because they always get stuck at the church door.  It has occurred to me that Lifesong chose to be a church which serves for the sake of those it blesses, and encourages Active Learning–discussion instead of lecture, activity instead of passivity and exploration instead of safe platitudes.  (Two of the big ideas I haven’t shared yet, by the way.) As I say, it occurred to me that we chose to be that kind of church and then chose a neighborhood where people did not want or feel a need to be served, and were not all that interested in active learning.  It further has occurred to me that the University of New Mexico and surrounding area might be just such a neighborhood where service and active learning might appeal to some for whom “Church” would not appeal.  So does God want me to try again?  Do I have the spiritual, physical, time and financial resources to try again?  I don’t know.  Does it make sense to try to plant a church which is not seen by “church” people was a church at all?  Does it make sense for someone with such a deep conviction for the value of local churches to create a plant which could not even be called a church?  Can I do that without hypocrisy or insincerity?  Let’s just say…I wouldn’t be surprised.

On the other hand, is it possible that this is not the tapestry’s final look?  Definitely possible.

Pray with me, for me, and feel free to dialogue as well.  Here or on my Facebook page, I am always interested in your input, your story and your thoughts.

By the way, You’re heard me mention recently the new book I’m working on.  Well, faithful readers, let me assure you, I have a few other surprises planned for you all in the weeks to come.  I may not always know where I”m going, but I know it’s always an adventure!  Thanks for joining it with me.

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Filed under Adventures!, Pastormac's Pilgrimage

Serial Saturday: Walter (Kati’s story part 9)


So here we are up to the second to the last chapter. In truth there is one more chapter and a bit of an epilogue but we’ll do both of those next week. I’m sure there were days Kelli never thought we’d actually get here…but we did!

I hope it all turns out to be a gift she and her family can delight in. Thanks, Kelli, for giving me the chance.

Tomorrow Morning my family and I visit another church (Paragon I think tomorrow) and tomorrow night I’ll post my next installment of my pilgrimage. As many of you know I’m also working on my Seven Themes book which will be available for no money down (or due ever) and you will be among the first to know how to get it! It shouldn’t be too much longer. After all it’s been (like most of my books and best sermons) 15 years in the making.

So without further ado let’s get back to Katie, Jonathan and Walter with part 9:

 

When it finally collapsed it all came down at once with a painfully loud crash, which Walter could swear was actually audible. He had thought of his life as complete. Not over, or done, just complete; all the pieces present and accounted for: financially assured, loving wife, first of many children on the way. It was all as he’d been promised, by the fate of his birthright.

He had never understood why he was the one to receive such promise, but it truly didn’t bother him much. It was right somehow. It was not really to his credit; born into wealth, handsome, healthy, even Jainie had come to him. But surely it wasn’t his fault either: that others were poor, ugly, sick or alone. Who could explain why he should be so lucky? He had never explored the question much before it all collapsed, so perhaps thats why it never occurred to him to ask after.

Or maybe he just didn’t like the possible answers.

But happen it did, the first rock to collapse,was his wife and, with her, their child. A few months only remained for his father to live, and when the heart attack took him,, the incredible wealth left was to be split between Walter and his sister. By the end of the year she too was gone, life cut short by a freak carriage accident.

The idea that his great fortune would come at their expense was too much and Walter found himself at first postponing the idea of collecting his fortune till mourning had passed. But mourning hadn’t passed and Walter’s own health began to suffer in small but unsettling ways. A cough here, an ache there, nothing serious but all adding to the sense of his collapsing prospects. Soon he became convinced that the same fickle hand which brought him fortune now sought to bring him curse.

He vaguely conceived of an idea to never accept the financial windfall in front of him, so that he could never lose it. The entire town, property, and wealth remanded unclaimed. Walter lived in a house belonging to no one, more out of inertia than any desire. Even the railroad, key to the fortune was truly owned by no one. Profits and salaries were taken by those who were owed them, but the bulk of the profits, the infrastructure, belonged to no one, like a discarded toy, rather than the integral part of development and daily life it was for those who used it. The mighty railway empire of his father kept running under it’s own weight, many trained hands doing their part, but no one sat in the conductors seat, as it were.

Then suddenly into the rubble of his passive life stepped Kati. She had accused him…accused him of not taking responsibility, not just once, but over and over from their first meeting until now. Finally without being dissuaded from his conviction of the curse, he was at least persuaded he was a coward. So he’d found the mine and…and..

He watched in horror as the mine collapsed around Katherine, hiding her from his view.

The curse would not leave him. Anything he loved would be taken.

At least Jonathan was here. Things tended to work out for him. Walter looked over at him, expecting his friend of action to be running already towards the entrance…but he wasn’t. He was standing looking shocked.

Walter was confused. If Jonathan didn’t save her, who was going to? Still Jonathan stood, unmoving. Walter’s confusion began to turn to anger. Anger at fate, at God, at Jonathan and Katie, and at himself for being a coward, for being cursed for letting Jainie die, and his father, and Alicia, for never having lived, instead remaining submissive to the fickle hand of fate in good and bad.

Even before this anger turned to decision, before he had time to decide to do anything (or not). Walter was running towards Kati behind the wall of rock. Vaguely he realized that Jonathan was now moving behind him; vaguely he realized the rocks were still settling as he reached the entrance. But mostly there was no thought, only action. Pulling first at the big rocks, rolling, heaving, shoving, whatever was needed to move the rocks. Had Walter stopped to think he probably would have given up. Progress was painful and slow. Often when he moved a rock a new one would simply fall into its place, more than once smashing his arm or shoulder in the process. Jonathan was saying something but Walter ignored him and kept moving. Walter kept digging, scraping nails from his fingertips, loosening small grains where large clumps would not come, weeping now in pain and frustration and fear. His senses narrowed in on the one piece of ground where he dug. He saw only his hands, felt only the dirt, heard only his own digging. His thoughts ran in a jumble confusing him. He thought he could hear the cries of Lenore beneath the wall, no wait, not Lenore, it was Jainie…no Kati. His father dug beside him. No, that couldn’t be his father could it? It didn’t matter. Just keep digging, keep moving; that’s what mattered, because somehow, someway, it was actually his own life he was digging for. or was it? Could that be right?

“Walter, poor Walter.” Kati’s voice brought him back to his senses although he couldn’t imagine why Kati would be grieving him when she was the one in trouble. More importantly though it meant he was close. He was pretty sure he had actually heard her…and then there it was.

Just like that he was through. First a hand, then it all fell away, opening as easily now as it had collapsed. Kati was there, kneeling on the ground facing away.

“Katherine,” said Walter hoarsely, realizing with a shock that he was weeping like a baby. She looked up but away from him, not at him, he moved toward her and lifted her from her knees. She turned toward him, words dying on her lips when she saw him.

Holding her firmly in his arms, Walter kissed Katherine.

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Filed under Creative writings (prose), Katherine Suzanne, Serial Saturday

New Seven Themes book


I’m working on a new book about Pastormac’s Seven Inescapable Themes.  They aren’t truly my themes, just one’s I’ve identified.  Nor am I the only one to identify the prevalence of certain concepts, themes or ideas across all stories.  Anyway, this new book will be out soon, and guess what…It’s free!  Well, there is one small thing I may ask you to do, but I promise it will not cost you any money and no more than a minute of your time.  Anyway, keep an eye out I’ll let you know when it’s ready.

In the meantime, I have two teasers for you.  First, from the intro to the Seven Themes book.

The Power of Story

Once upon a time, there was a normal person who became a hero.

In the beginning there was nothing which became something.

Conflict, resolution; the hero’s journey, the happy ending, the tragic fall, the enriching love, the destroying bitterness.

Story matters to us; the dramatic unfolding and progression from one thing to another thing.

From the very first once all the way to the present, story has been with us.

How it’s communicated may change: from oral to written, from ink on a physical page, to digital text on a screen, and back to oral in the form of audio books.  We may have a preference, but it’s the story that matters most to us, not the form.

The medium of story varies in other ways too.  Music, movies, pictures, art of all kinds are used to tell stories.

Often it’s not fictional but reflected in the way we pass on and receive other information.  Histories, news reports, comedy bits,  even daily conversation are often framed as stories.

Science helps us understand the structure of the universe but we look to stories to help us understand the purpose, to explore the meaning of the universe.  Where science sometimes breaks things down to elements so small they lose meaning, story has the power to reintegrate seemingly meaningless pieces of our lives in a way which resonates beneath the intellect, though not in spite of it.

The Greeks called this Logos: a rational principle which guides the universe.  Only in story it’s not just rational but also evident to our soul and our heart.  It’s truth which speaks deeper than proposition, and more beautifully than the most elegant of formulas.

A group of poets and artists in the 19th century called this resonant universal beauty and truth, Nature.

One impulse from a vernal wood

May teach you more of man,

Of moral evil and of good,

Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;

Our meddling intellect

Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—

We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;

Close up those barren leaves;

Come forth, and bring with you a heart

That watches and receives.

The Tables Turned

William Wordsworth 

A Suggestion

From Plato’s love/hate relationship with story to Joseph Campbell’s description of the hero’s journey, the power of story has revealed itself across all cultures and times and certain themes and ideas have proven inescapable to the teller.  Even in our current climate of deconstruction, any story which truly denies all these themes at once does so only by clear intention to ignore these very themes, thus providing greater support for the inherent expectation for and love of these concepts in us.  Furthermore I would argue there is a timeless correlation between stories which skillfully handle more than one of these themes and the power of the story:  power to shape culture, and move hearts and minds.

We would really like to believe this is real; this longing for meaning, for plot and design and divine appointment, for redemption, for justice.  I have come to believe that the good news is that our desire for meaning arises from the truth that there is meaning.  There is a story behind the Universe which makes it all makes sense.

I would suggest that every story we write, draw, compose or perform is a seeking after that one true story of the universe.  It may even be that it’s appeal is correlated with the number of these themes skillfully handled.

I have identified seven of these themes; themes which I call inescapable, meaning that every story, good or bad, seems to include at least one of these themes.  Sometimes they are skillfully handled, sometimes not; sometimes they are intentional, often not; sometimes they are flipped on their head or corrupted severely from the forms discussed here, sometimes they are as clear as pure water.

While I find these themes profound, friends of mine will tell you that they can also be a lot of fun.  Identifying these themes, far from being the scholarly work it may at first sound, actually becomes an enjoyable way to process a good (or bad) movie, play, book or other story and had become a sort of game among my family and friends. So now, I invite you to join us as we explore, Pastormac’s seven inescapable themes.  Unlike Wordsworth’s concern above, this will not dissect story into nothing but enhance both your enjoyment and understanding.

I use numerous examples both contemporary and timeless throughout this book; but I’ve also chosen five stories in particular from varying genre’s all of which contain all seven themes to help provide continuity and broad interest.

Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings

Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes as a collection

Jane Austen books as a collection

EB White’s Charlotte’s Web

George Lucas’ Star Wars

 My Second Teaser is actually not for my book but for a DVD set which I watched while on my Pastor’s retreat.  It’s in many ways similar in that it depicts the Gospel (really the entire Biblical story) as an epic story as seen from a very large distance  with little detail but much attention to large important themes.   It’s put together by John Eldredge and here’s the trailer he’s released for it.  I may be hosting a screening of this at some point in the not too distant future, so keep your eyes pealed for that as well, or just buy the DVD yourself 🙂

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Filed under Just Ponderings