Thursday, September 13, 2012

September 5, 2012 Bad Sermons

I am thinking back on this summer sermon series which I rank as one of the best in my career.

But, while I think it is the best, I also reflect that I have preached some of the worst sermons I have preached in a long time.  In fact most of them have been uncomfortable to do and I haven't felt quite in stride.  They have been longer than I could control.  I find myself getting to places where I am not sure what I am doing.  I have scrapped large parts of what I have planned (which is difficult with the overhead presentations).

The reason, as I reflect on it, is that the point isn't the sermons.  What has made the summer so amazing for me is the homework. The homework is life-changing.  The homework is also why I have preached so oddly. Because it is different than usual.  The focus of the sermon is different.  The pacing and process is different. The target and style is different -- all because of the homework.

I see so clearly that it doesn't really matter what I say.  It is what people do during the week that is important.  This emphasizes something Paul and I have been bumping into for months.  We are trapped practically every week.  "Oops, I'm not doing that.".  It started in the first week.  We ranted about businesses that didn't put their office hours on the doors and then noticed we didn't have them either.  It started at the beginning with neighbors living around us that we didn't know or hadn't seen or talked to in ages.

The obvious and important thing is what we do between Sundays.  We know that but we slip into easy patterns.  My head knows that the important work of the Spirit is not on Sunday but in the rest of the week as we live.  The point isn't learning about God, but living a Godly life.  It isn't about talking about God, but following.  It certainly isn't in griping about how our kids never call, but in calling our kids.  It isn't about talking about being loving, but actually loving.  Not in being friendly but in making friends and being a friend.

We finish on Sunday the 16th at Rohner Park.  But, if I am listening to myself then it is what I do, what we do, in the weeks and months after this summer that is really the point.

Did the summer series change you?

August 27, 2012 Little Delights

The last couple of weeks, our child care worker, Britney, has brought one of her small charges to church.  The child absolutely loves the music at the beginning of the service.  So much, in fact, that all 22 inches of her stands on wobbly feet and dances in the center aisle right in front of Velma while she is leading singing.  What we see is Velma, who has lived through about three quarters of a century, facing the congregation and a little child who hardly comes up to the top of the arm rest of the pew swaying and dancing together while we sing "Here I Am, Lord" or "Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling".

As we talk and reflect on friendliness, I am struck by this miracle.  As long as I have been here, Velma has wanted nothing more than to dance in church.  And now she has a companion.  So, Velma beams all through the hymn sing.  Her energy is up and the hymn sing is better for it.  We all benefit from this.  And then Velma talks with delight about her little partner for days.  That few moments is enough to fill her week with joy.  God enters the building and Velma's spirit is filled by a little bundle of mischief -- an angel is disguise.

It is such a simple thing to join in that an 18 month old child knows how to do it.  That is our parable.  Friendliness is about joining the dance of life that is going on all around us.  For those who have learned to do it, the world is filled with friends.  For those who haven't, ? -- Well????

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

It's That Easy

Paul is probably blogging about this too.  We were sitting in Shotz yesterday at 10:00 in our regular Tuesday morning sermon preparation meeting having a good time.  Complaining because the place was so crowded that we couldn't get our favorite seats at first.  Minding our own business talking about how to be friendly in Fortuna.  When Paul looks behind me and starts laughing and says, "listen to this.  A guy riding a bike had just parked and come in.  He isn't in the place for two second, when a guy behind me, which we had ignored, reached out to the guy and says, "I'm not from around here either " and they begin getting to know each other.  Talking a long time and exchanging networking information.  Puts us to shame.  I can hear God laughing and laughing at us.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Criticizing Friendliness

The Times Standard printed an article last week that was all abuzz in Fortuna.  The Reverend who authored the article was questioning Fortuna's friendliness by how little services there were for the homeless.  Most everyone I talked to was mad about it.  It wasn't that the guy was wrong in his article.  Most of his facts were right about what we don't have.  But he spent no time in what we do.  All criticism, probably with some political agenda behind it, and no heart or any real knowledge.  Ignoring what the council is doing in the last weeks. A slap in the face to those who are doing great work every week, like RiverLife.  And an example of someone taking pot shots from a distance.

But, as Paul and I preach on friendliness to the homeless population in Fortuna, we know there is a lot of room for growth.  It isn't abstract.  They are people, sometimes friends, who come to church, who come to our community dinners.  They are people Sean and others take food to every week, that we walk around or greet on the streets.  We have questions and we struggle to know how to help.  Sunday was interesting for us, and I can't wait to see how things go for Paul next week.

It is really great to have Sean as a resource for us.  And maybe we will live through, perhaps learn from, folks who criticize from a distance.

Flowers Around My Neck

Harriet and I just went to pick up our daughter who had been in Hawai'i with her grandmother last week.  One of the reasons I was excited for her return was that she would bring plumeria.  In Hawai'i, to be friendly, people, put smelly flowers around your neck.  Aloha, lei over your head, and a kiss on the cheek.  You are loved. Glad you are here.  Welcome.

There are lots of flowers in Hawai'i lying all over the place and that makes sense.  Pine needles and redwood bark isn't quite the same but still smells good.  There is something wildly inviting to this physical gesture of welcome.  And, any time I focus my mind and remember the smell and look of plumeria I remember how much I love and am loved by Hawai'i.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Basic Friendly

Tomorrow we will look at Matthew 25.  Feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, caring for the sick, visiting prisoners, providing restroom facilities for people waiting for the Rodeo parade.

That is what we were doing today.  Passing out cookies and water for folks lined up for hours for the parade.  But we got tremendous feedback for letting folks know our bathrooms were available.

Well, that's obvious.

Blue Walmart bags

For our homework last week, we ran into a bit of a snag.  We had this great idea for helping the world, a bit at a time.  Bags for groceries – not exactly a unique idea, but a sound one.  We thought, bags with the Beginning Friendly logo on them.  Pick them up and print and get to church.  No such luck – it would have cost a fortune.  So Paul got some cheap pretty blue bags when he was in Sacramento, the only ones he could find.  From Walmart.  Ok, not what we had imagined, but . . .  Well that is the question.

Can Walmart be friendly? 

It raises some huge questions.  Small businesses around town aren’t too happy about Walmart.  Some things going around about how evil it is are myths, or are past history.  But, it is true that a lot of the money that goes to Walmart goes out of town.  So, does money and business have to stay local to be friendly?  Or fruit, or jobs, or – well the list goes on and on.  We are eco friendly when we eat stuff that is grown close by.  But we also can become insulated, both socially and economically.  Outsourcing takes jobs away from the rich higher paying places and takes them to places that pay poorer wages.  But does it really move money from the rich to the poor, or does it just increase the profits of the very rich?  Where does a call for justice in substandard wages in Haiti really hide a fear of losing jobs where we are?  

What is friendly to the world?  Those are harder questions than I can answer, but they are really worth asking. 

So Walmart bags – to use or not to use, that is the question.  

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Welcome to the 21st Century -- Almost

Last Sunday I was a bit frustrated because while we were getting ready to talk about friendliness in the country, I had set up the possibility of throwing a Skype screen up on the computer at church and having a conversation in the sermon with one someone who is serving in Afghanistan.  Ted, welcome to the 21st century!  A good question for church last week was what moved you to serve our country in this way and how can we be friendly to you this week.  Not a bad question for the Fourth of July.

But we weren't ready for the 21st century after all.  The connection couldn't be made.  We will try again soon.

In an older congregation, I am often asked about young generations who do so much relating on Facebook or text messages.  We have all noticed "kids" sitting next to one another texting each other.  What kind of a relationship is that.  But I think about the enormity of what we tried to do in church last week.  Very close to us, we have the ability to create communities we carry around in our pockets.  My daughter has an iPod and can use Facetime to talk to a bunch of her friends any time.  Though Skype and conference calls, I can sit all by myself on a hill in Fortuna and talk face to face with a friend or a counselor or a resource person in the Bay Area (or probably the moon).

Soon, we will have the kids in Sunday School partnering with a church in some other part of the world.  They can make friends with someone eleven time zones away. They can see what their mission money is doing right now.  And when we sing "In Christ there is no East or West" we could actually sing it with a soldier in Afghanistan.  Friendliness is, or can, be global.

I am not sure I think like that yet, but the possibilities are staggering.  I am sure that something changes in my relationships to my neighbors, and perhaps something is lost.  But I am asking the question, as a pastor, what it means to visit a member of the congregation twice a year when that young member talks to every one of their friends four or five times a day.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Well Paul and I finally got it done last week. 

Weeks ago we sent out a letter to all the pastors in town inviting them to tea in the afternoon.  We got all prepared, set the date, readied the refreshment (well he did ).  Prayed for the event.  And showed up. . . .   and waited. 

As the time to meet drew close, arrived, and passed, our moods went from watching eagerly, to figuring out what we could do with the extra time, to a pox on all  . . .   well, that’s when Dave showed up.  And we had a lovely time with 50% more people than we had when we started.  Great statistics.  However, the reality of the event was far short of the numbers that we expected. On the other hand, I think the three of us began to fall in love with each other.  That slow process that takes years and years to accomplish started as we got to know one another better.

That is an answer to a lot of this summer.  Friendliness plans happen all over the place, but friendliness really only happens with one person at a time.  Even if there is a crowd, friendliness has to occur one human being to another.  Even if we have the greatest event in the world planned, one by one.  We could gripe about the “poor turn-out” but, in fact, is wasn’t poor at all – it was rich in possibility and rich in the friendships that got started. I really like Dave and I really like Paul.  That is a good start to anything.

So, we take a next step, maybe another person and in seven years and six months we’ll have gotten there. 

That’s not bad work.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Friendly Fortuna -- Shhh

I have heard all kinds of good things about Friendly Fortuna this week -- little ways that people have been touched and look forward to coming to town.

One of the most interesting was someone I can't mention.  This person told me there is a business where employees like to do business in Fortuna, they look forward to it.  But the company policy is they can't make public statements like that (a rule probably more for negative comments than positive, but it has grown to be both).

Isn't that interesting.  We get to the point (probably from litigation) where we can't tell each other what we like or dislike about being around each other.  It is like middle school, the last person you can tell you like or don't is the person you like or don't.  Don't we learn what makes us friendly or not from honest feedback?  And the strength to take honest criticism from each other has to be a trait of a truly friendly town or church or family that honors the diversity within it.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Not Always Friendly, and that's OK

Walked into the doors of the church on Friday to get my 10,000 things done and was immediately aware that my church was not friendly.  I  nearly fell flat with the overpowering smell of varathane (or whatever).  We had redone the floor of the fellowship hall.  So, we invited everyone out of the building for a couple of days- enter at your own peril.

It reminded me that there are valid reasons why we are not friendly sometimes.  Our responsibility at those moments is to warn people, and let them know this is temporary.  "Floor redone.  Place stinks.  Come back on Sunday."  or "I am so busy I can't breath right now.  Call me tomorrow."  "I am totally grumpy today.  But I will need a hug in about an hour."

It is ok to not be friendly sometimes.  But it is friendlier to warn folks and invite them back later.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


I can't remember where I heard it.  But, there is some practicing theory about public health.  In order to kill a disease, we don't need to vaccinate everyone (though we probably have to tell everyone we have to vaccinate them to get them to do it).  But depending upon the bug to kill and how it works, we have to deal with a percentage.

I am wondering about friendliness growing in a community with drugs.

I am told that in Arcata, one in eight homes is a drug house.  The percentage (so I am told) is close in Fortuna.  These are homes that are probably closed -- they certainly look closed.  Folks are doing something illegal and they don't want others in.  How many closed homes from drug making, severe alcoholism, family abuse, drug use does it take before it is impossible to actually have a friendly city.  How many times can we say, "I don't want you here" or "Don't look too close" before what we have created is isolation not friendliness.

It is where pleasant smiles and waving at each other lots just isn't enough.  Can a town's economy be based on something illegal and still be friendly?  Or do we build an economy that makes us strangers from one another?  Issues we can't talk about, intimacy that can't develop.

When I came to town as a pastor, I was warned many times to be careful where I went and that there were some places just not to go near -- some places the police were afraid to go.  How can we get over grief if we are afraid to talk about why someone might have really slid off the road, or why their house really burned down?

How many of us does it take working in this industry, on production or consumption, before we inoculate ourself against friendliness and make it impossible to be a hospitable town?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

You've Found the Place

What an audacious title.  Friendly Pastor Ted.  Is it true?  Sometimes.  Hopefully most of the time.  Oh my!  But this uncertainty is the challenge of this blog -- to question the reality of what I think, what we think, and begin really to get more friendly.

Getting ready for the website has been tough, though.  Talking to people, I hear a mix.  Some love Fortuna.  It's the nicest place they've ever been.  For others it is a disaster.  Some of the most unfriendly people are doggedly sure they are friendly.  It is easy to step on toes.  And, just like everywhere else, you can't say anything about friendliness without pissing someone off.  For a pastor to speak honestly about his or her experience in a town or in a church is troubling, it's political, it crashes through boundaries that it may be important to keep up.  What am I getting myself into?

I come from a tradition of a guy who decided he wanted to talk about spirituality with real people instead of "church people".  He gathered folks (who mostly didn't go to church) together every week and they talked about their real lives and how their spirits were lifted or brought low in that context.  Spiritual growth happened by growing in awareness and honesty.  I see the same thing with 12 step programs -- a setting where people probably make the greatest steps toward growth and new life in the world right now.

Okay, so it is hard.  I am going to try.