Monday, June 25, 2007

Empty Nest?

As I write this, I am sort of misty-eyed. Janet and I officially became empty-nesters this weekend. Our oldest son has been married for almost two years to a lovely lady, who we love dearly. Our youngest just graduated university a month ago.

This past weekend, we moved Chris back to Boston, where he will start his first real job. He started today actually. He is working for the Veterans' Administration for at least the next couple of years while he sorts out Grad School and the rest of his life. On the way home we visited Joel and Kathleen. It was a great time.

We did not push Chris or Joel out of the nest, they went on their own. We would have been just as happy to have them stay with us. We have been nostalgic the last couple of weeks. As I have looked at both of the boys, I have had a flood of memories. So much of their boyhood has replayed. I have remembered laughing and crying with them. Thoughts of running around camp, playing football in the snow graduations from Kindergarten, high school and college have just been running amok in my head. I have both laughed and cried at the same time.

As Chris was leaving and as we visited Joel, I talked to each about their faith and the church. We talked about the Army and its appeal to the 20 something crowd. Both agreed that the mission of the Army is very attractive to them. The formality and protocol has pushed them at arm's length. One attends a corps, mainly from a sense of duty and the fact that he has found a group of kids he can minister to. The other has not attended the Army except when visiting us for the past couple of years. Both feel that our church is great, but is in desperate need of change.

This is not a new thing for the 20 something crew to say this. I think there have been generations when this has happened. I have not seen the exodus of younger adults to this extent though as I have in the past 5 years. The nest is emptying out except for in a select few places where mission is being placed at the forefront and the formality is being dropped.

For what it is worth, my guys struggle with uniform, uniformity, rank and they perceive the autocratic nature of leadership as a real impediment to our movement going forward. (They do sound like my kids) They shared these expressions with me without my prompting or guiding. They just opened up.

I do want to be clear that the issue with the uniform is not that they are anti-uniform. They see it as often a prideful thing instead of the servant garb it was intended to be.

I also spent time last week at a discipleship camp for teens in our division. I needed my teen retreat fix. (Once a youth worker, always a youth worker.) The teens were refreshing, but in small group, many expressed the same views my kids do. Interesting, again, this happened without prompting from some of our really outstanding young teens.

I am concerned about the exodus from the nest of the Army. I am not sure that going forward into the next generation we will reverse the trend without taking a very hard look at a few things. First, we need to trust these guys. They are educated. They are wanting to serve. They will not do something because we tell them to. They will do it because it makes sense spiritually. They deserve our trust.

Secondly, not all of them are whiny, lazy and self-absorbed as they are often painted. There is a sense of wanting change and to do it for the good. They need to be allowed to speak change to us. WE NEED TO LISTEN FOR REAL.

Thirdly, they will not practice our brand of salvationism and they will want to dive headlong into what they do. Officership may not be where they will serve. It is because for many, they feel that being an officer will limit their evangelical outreach and mission. (If you don't believe this last statement, come sit with me sometime as I have coffee with these guys.) This is not an isolated feeling. Maybe this is why the average age of our candidates for officership is rising so steadily and why it is now a 2nd career option for many. Many are not enthralled with what officership looks like. In fact, they see it as being disconnected from the covenental relationship it is meant to be. I point the finger at myself in this, because I am an officer. God forgive me if I have modeled the wrong message.

Lastly, as an employee many feel abused and almost second class as compared to officers. Most will be relegated to second place in jobs where they have more capability and experience than their officer counterparts. They will not have a voice in ecclesiastical issues, because our movement is so officer-centric. They see this as being slighted and patronized.

I believe the Army is poised for great things with this emerging generation and the next. I am afraid unless we make some drastic change the nest may get empty really fast. I hope not.

What do you think?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Good Extravagance?

Yesterday, I was in a meeting of nearly 9,000 (at least that was the official count) people when an announcement was made that a collection had been taken by a couple of thousand women at a breakfast that would go toward ending sexual trafficking. The amount was over $2000. The person making the announcement said that there would be an extra offering taken to make sure that the gift would be at least $3000.

After the announcement was made, several people at the gathering who were seated around me commented on the paltry amount. Many commented that at our gathering in Hershey that the platform which was being used was probably worth more than the $3000 that the offering would tally. Many commented that if just a few modifications would have been made in the schedule of the weekend, that the impact of the offering would have been at least 100 fold the $3000.

I sat in silence and thought about these comments that came from twenty somethings and retired officers. We were in an extravagant setting. The auditorium was incredible. The technical arrangements were second to none. Money had been spent on rooms, special meals, travel and all of the creature comforts. There was also a sense of expectancy in some people. Others were concerned at the shear size and expense. I was silent. That surprised many around me and those who know me. I am usually quick with an opinion and comment.

I was silent, because I hearkened back to the story of Mary breaking her alabaster jar of costly perfume on Jesus feet. Judas complained about the expense and about the good that could have been done with the money. Jesus reminded him that Mary had done the right thing by extravagantly giving of herself to worship him. It was an example of extravagance being a good thing.

Jesus saw this extravagance as valuable when it came to worship and seeking for intimacy with the Father. I thought about that as others lamented that all we could come up with was $3000 for people being trafficked. Someone quipped that it would at least "save a couple of girls." I was saddened by the thought of a cavalier comment such as that, but understood the depth of feeling.

I then had another thought. Paul, in his writings, talks about putting off our "carnal nature." "Carnal" is a word used in the KJV It is translated in more modern versions as "sinful." It is interesting that the word "carnal," has the same root from which we get the word carnival. I think that Paul was probably saying that our lives must not be a spectacle of themselves. Our nature is almost side-show like, looking for our own cheap pleasure. He equates that with a carnival.

I then looked around at the surroundings. They were a spectacle in themselves. A custom stage and carpeting on it that would rival anything any high-priced designer would show. There were incredible graphics and live video feed. There was a large cross and there had been entertainment for all on Saturday. There was a great tent full of amazing things for kids, during the meetings.

I began to wonder, "Was this good extravagance or a carnival that made a spectacle of ourselves?" Could we be sinful in thinking that we were doing the right thing. Were we having this event for the right reason? Was this a monument to The Army or an act of worship to The Lord?

Sure there was a response on Sunday Morning at the altar. There was an appeal and people gave themselves to be officers. I thought, "Maybe that was good extravagance."

I was gladdened by some of the things General Clifton had to say. He encouraged many through his oratory. Maybe it was good extravagance.

Then I thought again of money spent and people being trafficked. Was there a carnival? We sure dressed up nicely in our uniforms for each other to see. We looked nice and had quite the holy entertainment.

The jury is still out. We may not know this side of heaven what really happened this weekend. There will be spin on both sides. There always are the company people who would make a disastrous event sound good. (By the way, this one was anything but a logistical disaster. It was well-done as far as that went. The meetings were also well-planned.) There will also be the nay sayers, who will find fault no matter what.

I guess what counts, is what the Father thought. I wonder what He thought. Since you are the ones commenting here, I wonder if you thought it was good extravagance or spectacle. Was there, is there a middle ground?

As always, I wonder....

What do you think?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

I went to church on Friday?

I guess this will be less of my asking you, but more of me telling you about my church experience this past Friday. There was no hymn singing. In fact, there was an I-pod with surround sound speakers playing U2, the Beatles, Beach Boys, Maroon 5,
Tracy Chapman and others.

There was no scripture reading. There was much in the way of open dialogue on spiritual matters.

There were young families, retirees, and people in need of healing there. There were long-time believers, an agnostic, and a couple of non-believers in attendance. There was a searching college-aged group. There were people I would consider saints in attendance. My mentor was there.

There was prayer. Although there was not audible, corporate prayer, there was intercession as people shared about families, joyful experiences, illness and relationships in crisis.

There was talk of movies, pop culture and good food. There was a sense of family there. There was a bit of dysfunction to be sure in our midst. There was also lots of laughter.

There was volleyball, lawn bowling and you would never be in the Midwest without playing Corn Hole (don't ask.) There was a ton of food and the event lasted well into the evening. No none knew how late it was or how long we had been there until it got really dark outside. We then realized we had been there for hours. It was one of the most blessed experiences I could have had.

What was it? It was the annual picnic for our staff and co-workers who work on our floor which was held at our house. I felt the presence of God there in a way I have not felt His presence in a while. I got a glimpse of what I think heaven might look like. There was no pretense. There was no keeping up appearances. There was no rank or status acknowledgement. There was no platform. There were lots of genuine deep hugs and outstanding relationship building.

All this took place in a quiet neighborhood with about 20 people in my back yard. This weekend coming up nearly 9000 people will gather in Hershey for a great gathering. We will know who holds status. We will sing songs. There will be someone who will speak, then another and another. I am praying that I will find the same sense of the Father there that I felt two nights ago.

I have been to gatherings like both of these. As I grow older, I have become less and less enamored with big events and long for intimate relationships. I hope I get that this weekend. Sorry to say, I am probably not as optimistic as I should be, even though I am praying for a visitation of the Spirit in big ways.

I may not have been in a meeting on Friday, but I think I experienced church. I wonder if I will this weekend.

I am thinking more these days that we are in need of church and not more meetings. I am not sure that church happens in meetings. I know I have been blessed occasionally in big events. I am wondering more these days if church will look less like what we know as church and more like what I experienced as church in my back yard.

Did I go church on Friday? Will I go to church this weekend? What do you think about this topic? I do not mean to belittle the hard work that has gone into the events of this weekend. I am not bashing the sincerity of the people who had the vision and put it together. I am just thinking that in the emerging age in which we live, we need more. We seem to measure success in the fact that numbers and big ones tell the success story. I will be with a great many people this weekend. I am hoping the experience with 9000 might somehow come close to being like the one I had with 20.

What is church to you? How will we need to have church in the emerging age?

What do you think?