Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Book Review: Drops Like Stars

Rob Bell has released yet another book to be accompanied by a teaching tour. This time it called Drops Like Stars.

This is not your typical book. First of all it is oversized to more of the style of nice coffee table book (ala Great Landscapes of the Southwest, or some such) and it is LOADED with pictures. Frankly formatting alone of the text, images and the printed package itself is enough to make the book worth buying.

Oh, but the content! Bell takes the reader through a multi-media odyssey through the nature, cultural aversion, and spiritual significance of suffering. Bell is on his game with typical ADD-friendly short sentences and paragraphs that help you follow the gist while inspiring you to reflect on what has been said.

The subtitle of the book is "A Few Thoughts on Creativity and Suffering" and it is through that art metaphor that Bell leads the reader to find (perhaps allow) beauty to express itself in the midst, in spite, and alongside suffering. Through suffering we learn the arts of disruption, honesty, ache, solidarity, elimination and failure by which God brings about works of art in human beings.

What is most impressive about the book is that Bell deals with the problem of evil without ever raising or answering the "why?" question. He points out that is in fact a given in life without colluding with evil and suffering as some sort of hidden goodness if only we knew what God knew, and demonstrates the need for people to allow suffering to shape them in godliness. That's what gives this book real value for mentors, pastors, and leaders. It gives dignity to suffering without clumisily driving toward some pat-answer to suffering. It can be read in an hour and a half or so and, yes, is full of pictures and short sentences making it quite friendly to those who do not consider themselves "readers." It makes a great table-top book to spark either discussion or to give a quick inspirational read to someone waiting in your living room or office.

May we all see drops like stars.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Stalker Chronicles

Ok after great demand here's the story (so far):

Last Thursday I was at home home working and watching Josiah while Crystal was picking up Isaiah from school. I looked up to see a woman walking around in the backyard carrying a box of trash that I had left by my back doorstep. At first I thought it was someone from the church looking for something and just doing me the favor of carrying my trash off as the left. However as I looked it dawned on me that I did not recognize this person.

So I went out and asked if I could help her. She laughed. I mean she laughed like I asked her if she could juggle lobsters. Suddenly I was feeling uncomfortable so I did what any pastor does when she or he is weirded out, I started talking, fast. And she laughed. I told her this was a church. She laughed. I told this was my house and I was the pastor. She laughed more. I told her my wife would be home soon with my son from kindergarten (this was to let her know she'd be reported very soon if she murdered me). She didn't laugh. She looked and said, "You and Jillian (my wife's name is Crystal) haven't been married long enough to have kids. Did you adopt?" I assured her that Crys and I have been married for nearly eight years and that both of our kids are ours naturally. Now she looked uncomfortable (which oddly did not comfort me) and said she thought she should go since my wife wasn't there. I agreed.

So she left and I called Crys and told her about what had happened. Then she came back five minutes later. She demanded to see Park, my brother who lived with me. The only problem was my brother's name is Brandon and he lives in Oklahoma. I told her so and that only my wife and I and our two sons live here. That's when she said the lies just come right out of me and I'd be sorry if I kept it up. Now I was scared. I asked her to leave and told her I would call the police if she didn't. She was starting to say something when my groundskeeper and wife showed up. She switched Schizo-Chips to friendly and checked my story with both of them. I think she concluded they both must be in on my conspiracy and left.

At this point, I'm freaked out, but figure its over. WRONG! 10:00 pm that night I'm watching a Woody Allen movie with Crys and she pulls into the drive way, makes a loop and pulls back out. I followed her and got her plate # and called the police. I requested an extra patrol and tried to get some sleep. 6:15 am next morning, Crys is getting Isaiah ready for school and she's in the driveway again! We called the police, but she backed out of the drive and left before they got here. I keep a gun at home. At this point, I loaded it. I used to think I was a pacifist, now I'm not so sure.

That night (Friday) I had to take some students to a youth event in Hot Springs. I decided that I would also take Crys and the boys with me since I didn't want them home alone. When we got back, we came home to a freshly swept and cleaned carport. While thankful that Saturday's chores were done, I was weirded out, thoroughly. That's when I noticed the horseshoe hanging over my door was gone (She had mentioned she was a Jehovah's Witness and they're not into symbols of any sort). I figured that meant it was her.

Five minutes after the kids went home she pulled up again around 11:30pm. We called the police and hid in the back room. This time she stayed long enough for the police to arrive. She tells them that she was just being a good neighbor and that she is there looking for Jake, my brother ( who appearently just changed his name form Park).

Now I found my self in a moral predicament. What was the best thing I could do for this lady to get her help? Should I just let her go home or press charges? Trespassing is a misdemeanor, for which she would spend the night in jail and pay a small fine. What I did (though I'm still not sure it was right) was press charges hoping that someone in her life would either get her evaluated or back on her meds. And we've not seen her since, though there were two police vehicles parked by the church Sunday, I guess, as a precaution if she came back to make trouble during church.

So there it is, my 36 hours of terror for your entertainment and amusement. Here though lie the moral questions, do you as a representative of a church have people thrown in jail for threatening you and poking around (and cleaning!) your place? And at what point, if ever, should consider using force against such a person to protect your family?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Book Review: Spiritual Mentoring

Sometime the best mentors are dead ones. They certainly cannot let you down. At least that is part of what is going in Spiritual Mentoring: A Guide to Seeking and Giving Direction. Many of us find ourselves in time of isolation as missional leaders (or any sort of leader, really) and Anderson and Reese are here to provide a guide finding mentors among the great spiritual directors of the past as well as using their lives as a model for contemporary mentoring.


Though quite short, the preface tells us a few things that we can expect from the remainder of the book. First of all we can see that they narrowly define Spiritual Mentoring in such a way that they are in fact giving an exposition on Clinton?s idea of the Spiritual Guide and Discipler mentoring styles. They also use five stages in mentoring to outline the rest of the book: attraction, relationship, responsiveness, accountability and empowerment.

Chapter 1 An Imitative Faith

This first chapter first of all serves as an apologetic for relational mentoring. The authors take great pains to demonstrate that relational education is the New Testament pattern and then move to criticize the typical western education model. This again reminds me of the need for personal relationships in order to be conformed to the image of Christ rather my typically bookish approach. The authors are also going to seek to demonstrate the value of this type of mentoring using historical mentors in a hybrid between biography and literary process items.

Chapter 2 Reading Between the Lines: What is Spiritual Mentoring?

I love how the authors describe spiritual mentoring as biography. One author calls our seemingly random lives a pilgrimage. The role then for a spiritual mentor is to point out God?s work in connecting the seeming randomness of our lives. This is quite a bit more challenging and requires a bit more vulnerability than just giving a student some steps to aid in prayer. I need people who I can open my life up to and to become a safe person for others to do the same.

Chapter 3 The Art of Beginning Well: Attraction

This chapter is super practical. I too have wondered and asked the question: ?Is it appropriate for me to ask to be mentored? Isn?t that the mentor?s job not mine?? This does not only help by letting us know how to go about the approaching process, but it also helps the mentor and prot?g? have some criteria to determine good mentors or mentorees. The idea of making a covenant helps to set the expectations properly and prevents the degeneration of mentoring relationships over time. This allows them to be ended intentionally and positively.

Chapter 4 Developing Trust and Intimacy: Relationship

Reese?s story at the beginning of this chapter was very encouraging for me. I too meet weekly with a group of men for some spiritual direction. We meet under the auspices of studying theology, but we move quite quickly to application and discipleship. There truly is nothing ?like an apple fritter and a cup of coffee.? As I examine that bit of mentoring, I certainly see that we developed a necessary intimacy and have gleaned the friendship concept from this book to aid in future mentoring in my new location.

Chapter 5 The Spirit of Teachability: Responsiveness

The chapter covers the obvious need for the prot?g? to be teachable so that the mentor can impart some truth or skill or information to them. However, more challengingly they also cover the need for the mentor to be responsive to the mentoree. I have not done quite as well at this habit. I have a tendency towards the ?sage on a stage? and need to allow myself to be open to what God may say to me through those under my care. The chapter is also a place I will return when I find myself in St John of the Cross? ?dark night of the soul.?

Chapter 6 Exercises of Grace: Accountability

The greatest value I found in this chapter as the advice for adaptable hospitality. Too often the temptation is to do discipleship in a one-size-fits-all kind of way. In fact this brings to mind some of the thoughts of being incarnational in the previous chapters. As leaders we are always missionaries who need to read the culture of the society and those to whom we minister to be the best at adapting our ministry to their needs.

Chapter 7 The Goal of Spiritual Mentoring: Empowerment

This chapter was a bit of a departure from the style of some of the previous ones. Perhaps the personality of one author in particular is showing here. The focus on meeting with these historical mentors to teach you soul to sing is really valuable. I think it is much easier for historical mentors than we up-close-and-personal mentors. This idea has been one of the most challenging for me personally throughout this course.


Naturally this book will work a manual on my shelf for mentoring in the future of my ministry. The fastest application I can see of this text in my own life and ministry is to use the author?s suggestions of following these historical mentors. More specifically, I may ransack a biography and major writing of each of the mentors used in this text to chase out lessons for the particular stage of mentoring the authors of this text think they exemplify. From there I can move to more in depth study of the mentors to whom I am more attracted.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Most Important Doctrine?

I won't often write about this affiliation we have at Community Park Church because I find the most important thing for the church to be engaged in is not separating herself from other Christians, but rather, to connect with the rest of humanity that God has called us to love.

That said, I was just at the national convention of the movement of which CPC is a part. I attended at town hall style meeting, that was intended to get the pulse of the grass roots of the movement. I have to say that the overall tenor of the meeting was to ask the national ministries how they are going to help local churches be unique (special/different/weird) doctrinally from the other churches that surround us.

This brought me back to an earlier conversation that I've had where I was asked what the most important teaching of the Church of God was. That person wanted me to name one of the unique (special/different/weird) teachings of the Church as the most important.

However that was not the question. The question was: What is the most important doctrine of the Church of God?

Jesus is Lord. Period.

That is the most important teaching of ours any other communion of Christians. Jesus is now the ruler of creation, surprising by way of death and resurrection and the Church is created and called to live out the new life of Jesus and declare his rule to the whole earth. Period.

What a national/state/district/local ministry needs be about more than anything is the lordship of Jesus. This means that a Church must make that call in an intelligible and relevant way in whatever culture she finds herself planted. This is the most important doctrine and task of any Church.

I love doctrine like any other preacher. I am positively nerdy about it! However, the quirky stuff is not my calling, Jesus and his Lordship is the calling. Will my movement and other movements and denominations and local churches accept this high calling, or will continue to wallow and squabble about things that are important, but are motivated by helping us to feel unique/special/different/ and dare I say it...weird?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

What am I Doing?

What am I doing? This is a question I have been asking myself a lot lately. I have moved to Bryant, Arkansas to help a church from Little Rock relocate and restart as a new congregation. New Building. New Name. New City.

Am I restarting an established church? Am I planting a new church with a core group in place? Is this merely a relocation? I dunno. But I like it.

I like it because all bets are off. There are church planting dynamics (about which I know a thing or two) and there are restart dynamics (about which I know next to nothing). I am working with and ministering to an established congregation (institutional) and I am engaging a new community (incarnational). It's hard, it's stressful, but it's fun. What do you think I'm doing?

Looking forward to sharing the journey.