Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Tipping Point

Some beach time allows me the opportunity to catch up on that stack of books that pile up unread. Just finished Malcolm Gladwell's classic, The Tipping Point, and I liked it very much.

Why did I wait so long to read this? The explanation comes from the book itself.

The book was recommended to me nine years ago by the son of one of our church members. We were chatting in his mother's hospital room. He suggested the title and I wrote it down. But when I saw it sitting in a stack at a local bookstore, I didn't buy it. Not right away.

A few years ago, I picked up Gladwell's book Outliers during a late night cruise through Gladwell had become known for the claim that we become good at something if we do it for 10,000 hours. He traced this through well-told stories of high-achievement people. I liked that book, saw The Tipping Point on Amazon for a couple of bucks, and added that to the shopping cart for my next purchase. It arrived and sat on the shelf of unread books.

Gladwell asks how change happens. Who or what is moved to make a difference? What are the circumstances that prepare for an epidemic? How does an idea or product become "sticky" enough to build momentum?

Hmm. A lot to think about.

Perhaps I sense the need to make some changes in my life. Or it's time to "catch up" with a generation that moves on without me. Or I can perceive my own undeveloped abilities as a "Connector", "Maven," or "Salesman." Or it is simply time to revise my environment and make it more conducive to joy.

So I chew on these things as I wipe the Jersey sand out of the page bindings, close the book in satisfaction, and return to wipe Aloe lotion on my suntanned legs.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Katie Carter, sports journalist

Here's a new talent in the sports broadcasting business. Click to watch:

Thursday, May 15, 2008

On the road again

Back in third grade, I received my first Bible as a gift from the church. It was – and is - a strange book, full of stories about long-ago people in faraway places. We heard some of those stories in worship and Sunday School, and their curious details sounded so distant. Then we discovered a few maps in the back of the Bible. They charted places on the other side of the world where God had acted or spoken. It all seemed so far-off and exotic, and heightened the distance between then and now.

A trip to the Holy Land in the year 2000 did blow away some of the ancient dust. My dad and I traveled to Nazareth, Samaria, and Jerusalem. Things haven’t changed that much in that part of the world – new buildings have gone up, the generations have come and gone – but people are still essentially the same. Our hopes and fears are identical to our ancient forebears. On that trip, what impressed me most of all is how local the Bible really is: Jesus walked from town to town on the same road that is now paved. He cast out demons in the synagogue on this spot, and ate tilapia fish from that lake over there. He did eighty percent of his adult work within a four-mile stretch on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, prayed in Gethsemane’s garden, and carried the cross through a narrow city street. We can still visit these places.

Some people take comfort in the vague promise that “God is everywhere.” As for me, I have increasingly found it comforting that the Gospel happens somewhere – in certain locations, among specific people, under particular circumstances. There is no timeless truth for the Christian faith. In Jesus, the Word became flesh – specifically – and we know where it happened. To this day, the grace of God continues to have GPS coordinates. God comes to us, where we are, right here in this lifetime, in the specifics of our need. That is the meaning of the Incarnation.

To put it another way, context matters. It matters to our congregation as we plan our work. Where do our people live? What do they do? What are the challenges and blessings in their lives? How might the good news speak to the concrete realities of our lives? And what do we have to say on behalf of Christ?

As I write this, my suitcase is packed for another holy trip. As part of this year’s study leave, I am retracing one of those maps in the back of my third grade Bible. Biblical storyteller Dennis Dewey is leading a tour that leads us through St. Paul’s itineraries. We will see spots in Greece and Turkey where the Gospel took root, and hear the Bible stories in the places where they happened. My Dad will once again be my roommate, and we’re delighted to share the trip with Donna and Andy Kepler, Pauline Heckman, and my mother-in-law Loraine Laubach. Keep us and all other pilgrims in your prayers, and expect us to return with stories of how the Word of God came alive in our travels.

With every good wish for the Story to come alive in you!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A few thoughts on living "off the page"

It was one of those late night bickering sessions on the television. You know the type: four panelists from diverse points of view are sitting on easy chairs in a semi-circle. A host with an attitude attempts to incite them into a conversation, picking whatever fights might be entertaining. This is an unfortunate form of entertainment, mostly because the panelists are treated as caricatures, and somebody wants to bulldoze over their cherished beliefs.

This particular show was a thinly-veiled attack on Christianity. Within the first few minutes, the host had ridiculed one of the guests, labeled him as an extremist, and smugly made it known that he was smarter than everybody else in that studio. At the lowest point of the exchange, he pointed a finger at the Protestant minister on his show and said, “You sound like one of those people who says, ‘unless it’s in the Bible, I don’t believe it.’” I turned off the television, but my mind kept working on that supposed insult.

I love the Bible and work with it regularly. I believe the scriptures narrate our faith, in the languages and thought forms of the times when these documents were written. They were inscribed with passion. As one early witness declares, “We declare to you what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.” (1 John 1). They were also written with great care and excellence. The letter to the Hebrews is written in the highest form of classical Greek, the stories of the Gospel of John are arranged with great care, and the sagas of 1 and 2 Samuel are narrative masterpieces. But it needs to be said that faith is always lived “off the page.”

Christian faith existed pretty well without a Bible for the first sixty or so years of its emergence. The New Testament Gospels were not written down until the church’s cemetery began to fill up, and there was the risk of losing all the stories about Jesus. Yet as important as those stories were and are, the church knew there is always Something more important than the Book - and that is the One that the Book is talking about. Christians know that Jesus is alive. The stories about Jesus teach us what to look for. They train us in how to see the invisible Christ. They prepare us to live in his presence, both today and forever.

It’s important to read the Bible every day. Otherwise we are tempted to forget who we are. At the same time, if we keep our noses in the Book all the time, we will bump into the furniture. The hard work of living as disciples of Jesus is to interpret what we read in the day-to-day realities of our lives. The parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15) becomes real when family members compete with one another. When we hear the stories of Jesus on trial during Holy Week, they challenge us to rethink what real justice would look like. And when we hear how the Lord’s tomb was found empty, that news can awaken us to live as if death has been defeated, as if brutality itself is on trial, as if Christ is reigning until his last enemy is put under his feet.

Here's the punchline: read the Book, but live off the page.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A week that I never want to miss

For eighteen years in a row, I've spent a week with a group of fifteen other preachers from around the country. We gather in a place where we can study the Bible and do some advance work on a year's worth of sermons.

We call ourselves "The Homiletical Feast," and nobody goes hungry. Here's a picture from this year's gathering, which took place this past week. We share a lot of ideas, tell a lot of stories, and swap insights on the Bible. In the process, we have become good friends.

We schedule our gathering for the third week of January, which qualifies us for great off-season rates in Florida. A lot of friends think we go down there to play all week. Well, not quite.

The fact is, good preaching takes a lot of preparation, and much of it happens when congregations aren't looking. For the fifteen or twenty minutes each week that each of us stands in a pulpit, there's a lot of spade work just out of sight from the congregation.

So this is how we do it: thinking together, praying together, all the time chewing on scripture. And I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Monday, December 10, 2007

In praise of Meg

My "baby" is twelve years old. She loves to read long novels, and keeps her mind nimble by playing challenging games on the computer.

Mostly she likes to sing - and does it well.

Last weekend, her children's choir sang with the local symphony. It was the second year that she has been asked to do this, and she is radiant when she does it.

Her current career aspiration is to become a vocal music teacher. College is only six years away, after all, so she is beginning to scout the prospects of this line of work . . .

She also knows exactly what she wants for Christmas. Is it any wonder?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Imagine There's a Heaven

Thinking about a dream-like poem from today's scripture text (Isaiah 65:17-25), I remember a monument in Manhattan. It's near the corner of 72nd Street and Central Park West. The peaceful spot is shaped as a teardrop, set among a grove of elm trees. At the intersection of three paths is a mosaic of black and white stones imported from Italy. In the center of the mosaic is a single word: “Imagine.”

Visitors come from around the world. They sit quietly, and often leave behind flowers in the shape of a peace sign. Sometimes they use strawberries rather than flowers. It is called, in fact, the Strawberry Fields memorial – and it is right across the street from the apartment building where musician John Lennon lived.

John Lennon is the one who wrote a song called “Imagine.” It was a defining song for my generation. I grew up among 1960's dreamers, among a generation that tried to imagine a world of unity and peace. We had parents and ministers who heard the first line (“Imagine there’s no heaven”) and stopped listening to the rest of the tune. What they missed is what John Lennon was trying to envision, in his irreverent way. He could imagine a time and place when religious people stopped killing one another, countries gave up on war, and rich and poor were no longer divided.

Ironically this peace song stirred up death threats against the composer. John Lennon was gunned down at forty years old, right across the street from where the Central Park memorial announces the word: “Imagine.”

As for me, I’m not ready to give up on heaven. I want to imagine as faithfully as I can that there is such a place, and I imagine you do, too. It taps into the great hopes of the human race, both of this life and the life to come. If we believe that God is perfectly good, it’s not a far reach to imagine that wherever God dwells is a place of perfect goodness.

Isaiah draws such a picture in chapter 65 of his book. No more weeping, no more crying. Children grow up in safety to a ripe old age. There is a continuity of generations. No more of the disruption of exile: if you build a house, you get to live in it. If you plant a vineyard, you will enjoy its wine. People will be rooted. They will flourish in well-being. This is one of the great pictures of peace in the Hebrew Bible, perhaps the clearest picture after the Garden of Eden.

No more hurt, no more destruction. God’s children live in complete delight, to the delight of their Maker. Can you imagine something like that?