Thursday, July 19, 2007

Being Defined or Defining Your Being?

I have been called many things in my life. Some of those things are not repeatable except for maybe on Joe Noland's new blog "slightly irreverent." If you have not read it click on the link to Joe on the right and follow the link to his new blog. I am sure though that Joe would not want to be numbered with those who called me some of the worst names of my life. He is a good and godly man!

I have been called many things. The list is endless. Dad, Captain, Cappy (S-E-B-A-G-O), Major, CO, TYS, innovator, malcontent, liberal, conservative, rebel, Christian, disturbed, goofy, funny, buddy, friend, boss and son are some of the many things that I have been called. I am sure there are other names of which I am not aware. I have often let names and titles define me. I have been in my current role just over a year. It is rather administrative in nature. Many people have chided me over the past year, because they contend that I often do not act as I should in this role. I have been told by many that I have to be a rule enforcer and strictly business type guy.

For those who know me well, you will know that being an enforcer is at best difficult for me and being strictly business....oops wrong guy! I understand that we have rules and standards for a reason. I know policies often are thought out in their inception and have good reasoning behind them (at least at their beginning). Those who know me well will also know that my motto is often "Rules are meant to be bent or changed if they don't make sense." I admit that stance often gets me into trouble.

So this past year has been a year where I have struggled against being defined. Just before coming here I was told not to be a "pirate" which was a reference to the story of Peter Pan. The pirates had no fun and were stuck in their routine. The Lost Boys were filled with wonder and excitement.

It brings me to this point. I think many times we find ourselves in the mode of being defined by an organization, the expectation of others or even by what culturally we think is the norm. I have spent this year trying not to be defined, but trying to redefine the role I am in to maintain who I believe God has made me to be in personality and in ministry. It has not been easy.

I am trying to develop relationships of trust and depth with people who would be considered my subordinates (I detest that term for people). I want them to be my friends and co-laborers. I am also trying to lay down some roots with people. I have found some new, meangful relationships and re-kindled old ones (I lived in this neck of the woods almost 20 years ago). There have been a couple very close friendships develop. Some I have not seen coming. I have tried not to see myself in the traditional role of General Secretary. I have tried to see myself more as team leader or facilitator. For the most part I think I have been successful. I have also encouraged a less-formal approach to my function, which has served me well. I do have a Brief of appointment (job description for officers) to which I try to stay faithful, but with the idea of doing so with some individuality.

This is not in any way meant to denigrate any of my predecessors. I just feel the need to be true to who I am and who God is making me. I do need accountability and a couple of friends in particular are helping me with that, by defining guidelines and checking my motivation.

I often think what it would have been like if Jesus had been defined by those looking for a Messiah or the Roman culture or what his disciples wanted or the Pharisees thought He should have been. Where would we be now? What would have been the outcome of history?

Here is my point. We can assimilate to the organization or expectations of others or we can define our role with God leading us. I hope I am defining my role. I don't want to be defined by a job, but molded by the hand of God.

This is a bit of a departure from my normal posts. It is a bit more personal in nature. I do need to ask though a couple of questions for my own journey. Do you think that people are more apt to be defined by their role in an organization than by their own sense of being? What do you think would happen if we stopped assimilating to organizational demands or the expectation of others? Is trying to define your role or me trying to define my role, just being selfish?

As always I would be interested to know.....What do you think?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Hymn singing or Cheer leading?

Yesterday I attended a multi-faceted worship event. It was a Finale for our divisional music camp and the farewell of candidates for Salvation Army Officer training. The usually marathon event was tied up in a bow in one hour and fifteen minutes. Not bad at all for a hot 90 degree day in July. with high humidity and no air conditioning. I thought it was very good time of praising God with music, drama and witness.

We did some flag waving, some cheering for participants and our Divisional Commander gave a good word. He was scripturally strong and really meaty in his words. He is a godly man.

Not everything was peachy about the day. There were some gaffs (what event does not have few of them) and some miscommunication about the content of the day. Although, I am not sure how much clearer the advertising of the event could have been. Then there was that incredibly long walk up the hill to the tent where the meeting was held. We had rented some trams for the day. The company delivered them and when we went to drive them up the hill, they just did not work. Great... Three golf carts had to do the trick of transporting those who could not make the walk.

We did some singing too. We sang a good hymn and then sang a song that I question. I know that this is going to kill some people and I will take my lumps. We sang "Joy in The Salvation Army." Now I love the Army. I love its mission. I am called to it. We do very good things for the Kingdom. Warts and all, I believe the Army is ordained by God for its mission. But for years, I have thought that our "cheer leading song" as one esteemed leader called it, borders on worship of an organization, instead of God.

I know it encourages us to be joyful in our walk and witness. It has a bit of a snappy tune. You can clap your hands. A great tuba line exists for the low brass players. But I can't get over the words that really don't say much directly about God being considered a hymn.

I continue to think about the words of Paul. "We preach not ourselves but Christ." I also think about the great Lt Colonel Lyell Rader O.F. who often would say, "It doesn't matter who gets the credit, as long as Jesus gets the glory."

I know some of you are saying, "Larry can bring anything down. He is such a cynic."
Maybe I have been making too much out of this for the past 25 years or so. Am I wrong to think our hymnody ought to center on God instead of an organization? Maybe I just have too much time on my hands. We have so many beautiful, deep theologically stirring songs in our song book. Did we just miss it on this one?

I choose to be joyful about The Salvation Army, but I am not so sure that I should sing about it in worship. Isn't true worship about our intimacy with God and the community around us? Is our cheer leading song a matter of pride or just a great rallying song from by-gone days that we hold on to? Should we be blowing our own horn? Is this akin to "Doing the most good?"

You tell me. What do you think?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Next 50 years?

This past weekend, I went to my parents' 50th anniversary celebration. It was fairly low key. It was an intimate affair with about 50 people, mostly family and close friends. There was not much speech making. There was good food, laughs and some nostalgia as we viewed a video presentation put together by one of my sons, with pictures from the past 55 years. We had to throw in pictures from the courtship.

My parents are retired officers. All of the kids are officers. (We often joke it is the family business.) The talked turned to the changes in society and in the culture of The Salvation Army. As we talked, we really settled on a few changes that have happened over the past 50 years that we felt have impacted our movement either positively or negatively.

1. Except for a few pockets, the tradition of brass banding in the Army is dieing. Years ago, nearly every corps had a band of some size or another. There were many very good bands. Now, you can count on one hand the number of corps bands that one would consider good in our territory. I am not sure how I feel about this. I just know that this seems to be a generation where the appeal of banding is not great. Even what used to be known as the youth band in our division is dominated by 30 and 40 somethings. While there is a small pocket younger musicians, I am not sure where the future is. In spite of the proliferation of Divisional Music Directors, this is not a worship medium with the strength it used to have. It may be all summed up in a quote from a distinguished bandmaster a few years ago at a territorial gathering who said, "Many people don't know this, but brass banding is very popular." Huh?

I wonder why the decline? Could it be that brass banding does not reach the masses as it used to? Is it worth our investment? Or should we invest in other mediums of music for worship? The brass band is valid. I believe when done right, it is great. I am not sure we get the same bang for the buck these days, as we did 50 years ago.

2. The demise of Sunday School is evident. At least the traditional Sunday School continues to decline at alarming rates. Although there is an occasional rise in yearly attendances, the overall trend for the Christian Education hour on Sunday is sharply on the decline over 50 years. It is interesting that the mid-week Bible teaching activities, continue to expand. Does this tell us something about what Sunday has become or does it tell us something about the relevance of our Sunday Schools? Does it say something about both? Does it also say something about a shift in emphasis in ministry? I am not sure that this decline is something we will turn around.

Sunday Night meetings are virtually non-existent as well. Even though our territory has mandated it, just because you say something does not make it so. I continue to wonder if we might better spend our energies on a different type of ministry in evangelism. I am not sure Sunday at 6 in our society is going to win the day.

3. The death of open air meetings was lamented. I am not sure that I have been to many that really worked. I speak for the most part of the traditional open-air ring with a band and a preacher. My experience as a kid was that mostly people drove by and honked their horns interrupting what we were trying to do.

I believe in outdoor evangelism. I think though that it should be something dramatically different. I am not sure we should ALL be rugged up in our Sunday-go-to-meting wear when we hold it. Some of the most effective outdoor evangelism I have seen has taken place in clown costumes or in shorts and t-shirts while washing cars for free. I have also been blessed by those who would just give out bottled water on a very hot day, with a scripture verse on the bottle. I have seen people won to the Lord more readily by that than by what we call an open-air. I have also seen a mobile canteen used to serve ice cream and the Word on hot days.

I am not sure the open-air was always as dramatic as we claim it was.

4. The professionalism of social service ministry has also dramatically increased. I understand the need for this. We need well-trained individuals who can counsel and serve people. I have no doubt that we need MSW types desperately. The problem is we may be way out of balance. We have lost the day in most of our corps when service to the poor was a very important part of the life of the corps and a mandate for the soldier. We need to do a better job of balancing the witness of the local congregation and the professional service. Has this hurt us? I think so.

I think the last generation of soldiers, of which I am one, is more concerned about sitting in the pew than serving their fellow man and fulfilling an important scriptural mandate. I am afraid this is the change, that while it has increased our visibility and brought us great wealth, has cost us dearly in the need to build relationship in our community.

5. The local corps officer has been stretched too thin. My parents shared how simple their reports, bookkeeping and correspondence life was. Now the CO has unfortunately had to become a CEO. The ones who don't are often hassled by their supervisors and told to get on top of things. While there needs to be a balance, shouldn't we lean toward being people people and not just good PR and paper people?

There were more changes that came up in conversation. I am not sure that the good ole days were as good as we sometimes paint them. I am also not so sure that the changes have been for the good.

I would like to hear what you think we have lost, what we have gained and what you think we need to do in the next 50 years if we are to survive. You may want to refer to my list. You may want to suggest other changes and visit history that way. This is a tough one.

As with all my posts I am anxious to hear....

What do you think?