Saturday, May 31, 2008

Pathway or Process?

My last post was about my friend Bernie and the idea of "in or out" theology. I went to his funeral on Wednesday. The assembled crowd was well over 500 people of every type of background and faith walk. It was obvious he had a grand and profoundly positive impact on those who knew him. For the short time I knew him, that was the case. His brothers gave funny, loving and emotional tributes to him. The priest gave a wonderful message on the use of the gifts of The Holy Spirit (interesting for Roman Catholicism) to build the Kingdom and bring Jesus to the world.

Today, I attended the funeral of another well-loved man. A couple of hundred of us gathered in a beautiful chapel to honor Willis. Unlike Bernie, he lived a long life. He was an icon to many young pastors and officers twenty years ago as he moved toward his retirement. His family was and is a group of people who stand strong in their faith. His impact on my life was meaningful in the early days of ministry. He was a people person. He was not known as a process person. He was well-loved and got things done. The mark he made on a wide range of people was unmistakable.

As I heard the tributes to Willis today, I looked at Janet and said, "They don't make 'em like that anymore." He was a man with few peers in his day.

The tributes were stirring and fell in line with the message of the day. Things are black and white in faith. You are in or out. There was also a strong message of service given. Serving people, God and country were stressed. I was touched today on several levels.

Both of the funerals were dripping in symbolism. There were incredible symbols of faith and Church tradition. Interestingly, both funerals featured the singing of the old hymn "How Great Thou Art." The presence of God was evident at both funerals. There were tears and laughter. Both funerals mentioned these men in legendary ways. Both officiants indicated that people were probably going to tell a few stories and make a few up. That is the way it goes.

Here is what I was left with after the two events; legacy is important. Both were caring men. Both were men who loved. Both were men who gave much for others.

Neither intended to build legacy. They did by living what they believed and by influencing so many people in different ways for good and for the Kingdom.

I believe I will see both in heaven. They may take different routes there. They both went by way of grace and faith. One claimed to have a crisis of faith that brought him to his belief. Another, quietly, but intentionally walked his faith and seemed to grow into it; much as a child grows into a new pair of pants that are too big when mom buys them.

I know our theology. I know our practice and honor it. I believe my experience was one of crisis. Yet, I have known others who have grown into their faith and are more Christian than those of us who think we might have a theological lock on faith.

One man took a path, another a process. I believe both will receive their eternal reward.

Do we necessarily need the crisis and sinner's prayer? Can we grow into faith and experience redemption without some of the parameters we put on it theologically?

I am processing this today.

What do you think?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

In or Out??

I lost a friend on Thursday. At 53, Bernie died tragically, suddenly and way to soon for those of us with whom he associated. He was a giving and creative. Everything was "no problem."

Bernie and I met at a tense business meeting. I was impressed by his cool demeanor and unflappable nature. The pressure was on him, by a vocal, but hostile minority. He was unfazed, strong, but kind in this public setting. Later he admitted that he was really angered by the treatment, but "What does striking back do?" was his response to the matter.

He was a fitness freak as well. He played racquetball regularly. He watched what he ate. He took care of himself. Maybe that it was why it was so shocking to have him pass so quickly.

Bernie was not a "religious" man. He was more giving and caring than many of the people who I know who fancy themselves Christian.

He met my son and daughter-in-law once and took us to dinner. He always asked about them and commented how much he liked them. He never failed to do so when we saw each other.

On one of the last days when he was strong enough to speak, I had a an opportunity to pray with him. We had shared that privilege a few times in our brief friendship. At the end of our prayer, Bernie, in his own way expressed a hope in faith and our Lord.

To my knowledge, he never prayed a "Sinner's Prayer." (don't all of us who pray...pray a sinner's prayer every time we pray?) Bernie, to my knowledge, never expressed to me an "experience of salvation."

Some of those with whom I have shared our friendship and discussions, have expressed their disappointment that we will not see Bernie in heaven. One of those with whom I discussed Bernie intimated that one is either "in or out" when it comes to these things. It was almost as if the family of faith is an exclusive club with no wiggle room within the laws of the club. It also seems you need to know the language and speak it often. You know, "washed in the blood, saved," and other terms for which I have high respect and I believe I have experienced.

I have been reflecting on this over the last 24 hours since I heard of Bernie's passing. He was basic in his faith. He probably did not know the language or had he said the proper prayer. Yet, he was so much more like Christ than many of the people who I know who get paid for being Christian and who "profess a saving knowledge of Jesus."

So I wonder, is Bernie in or out? I know we serve a God of justice, but also of mercy. Is it as simple as being in or out? Is it that black and white? Is our interpretation of scripture accurate?

I hope I will see Bernie again. He was a good man.

So on this subject, I wonder, what do you think?

Monday, May 19, 2008


I have long been fascinated with words. The latest fascination is the word "installation." We install air conditioning units. We install software on our computers. We install cruise control on our cars.

Today, I was busy preparing the schedule of installation of people. In our movement, we have long used this term to describe the a ceremony or meeting which begins the ministry of an officer at a particular location.

I have been wondering what this all means. In essence, what we are saying is that by installation we are conferring, the mantle of leadership on an individual for a congregation. In other words, once installed, you are in charge.

I am not sure that installation necessarily makes one a leader. There is usually a honeymoon period for a person once they are installed. There is usually a bit of a "wait and see" attitude among the chosen followers. They assess and then come to conclusion about whether or not they will follow. Leaders are inspirational and get people to follow.

Installation does carry with it some ecclesiastical standing. It also comes with a bit of pomp and circumstance. Yet, it does not make one a leader in my opinion.

Leadership comes from relationship. Leadership comes when people want to follow. Real leaders don't really need an installation (even though I think the ceremony is meaningful and can be significant.) Real leaders have people wanting to follow after them. They cast a vision. They care. They motivate. They engender a spirit of expectation.

So is an installation necessary? Is it a formality? Is it just another way of flexing ecclesiastical muscle? Does being installed make one a leader?

I wonder, what do you think?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Fare Well?

Last year about this time, I wrote about the yearly transition time in our movement. This year it has hit close to home. My mentor and friend received word that he is on the move. He is doing what our movement calls participating in the "farewell process." This one is hard. It has nothing to do with who is coming to take their place. The successors are smart, gifted and godly. We are glad they are coming!

There has been a relationship, a deep-rooted relationship with he and his wife and our faith community. It has been their vulnerability, and pastoral nature that has encouraged, healed and inspired so many of us. We always are encouraged to finish well. He and his wife never give up on us. In many ways, it seems as if a part of us has been ripped away.

I have lived through this process all of my life. I am not so sure that we fare well all the time in the process. I will love and support the people who come after my mentor. I will encourage others to do the same.

I have been thinking though that this is the way you ought to feel when leaders leave. You ought to rejoice that they are in God's will. You ought celebrate their accomplishments. But you must also grieve. Love does that to you.

Unfortunately, I think all to often, we have hardened ourselves to this process. We have not let people in to influence us or we are cordial, but never really develop love for those with whom we are called to partner in ministry. These guys have made it easy to heal and love.

One of the shortcomings of this system is that people do not attach themselves, because they are afraid of being hurt. They are unwilling to give of themselves or even be themselves. It stings in times like this. Yet, if we are going to really be the community of Christ, we must be vulnerable and trust. That is not easy, but it must be.

I have committed to follow in the path of my mentor. I will be an open book. I will be a people person. I will not mistake authoritarian and autocratic ways for leadership. Leadership comes when you inspire people to love and in so doing follow you as God leads. God needs people like our mentors.

I am praying that those who will be called in the coming days will transition well. I pray that there will be deep bonds of love built because of the transition. I believe that there will be some hurt. I hope that we will not be oblivious to the pain. I hope we will be vulnerable and let people in.

Do we really farewell well? I need to trust that we will. Is this the best system? It is probably not the perfect system, but it is what we have. I am looking for your opinion. What do you think about the system? What has been your experience? What is your feeling about this type of transition?

What do you think?