Seven Years

Today was our anniversary Sunday at Anchor, my church. It was seven years ago that about 40 of us, a core group from the suburban Emmanuel Community Church, launched a new church on the corner of Third and Schilling. A United Brethren church had existed there since the 1930s, but this was essentially a new church. A restart. We had spent the night before, Saturday, giving the place a cleaning from top to bottom. And now, Sunday morning, we prepared to get this new thing underway, and wondered if anybody would come.

About 135 people came, if I remember. Some were well-wishers from Emmanuel, coming over for moral support. But others were people from the community who received a postcard in the mail about this new church starting. It was pretty exciting. We didn’t really know what we were doing. We were bringing over some methods and ministry assumptions from Emmanuel, things which didn’t necessarily fit in our working class neighborhood. But we were smart enough to adapt as the weeks and months passed. The attendance settled in around 90-100, and we’ve grown gradually, even slowly. But we’ve grown, and we’ve produced fruit that doesn’t always show up in numbers.

Less than ten of that core group remain. Another six or so from the previous UB congregation still attend. We’ve been running around 150 regularly lately. Going to two services in mid-September was definitely a good thing. Today we had a potluck after the service. Potlucks are always good things.

I love being at Anchor. I love being vitally needed. I love having so many opportunities to serve and lead. I love reaching and interacting with the type of people who come to Anchor. I love the fact that so many of us still have burning within us a desire to really make a difference in this community. That passion hasn’t been extinguished by settling into patterns, focusing inward, and becoming content with the status quo. There are so many things about Anchor that need improved, and that can’t be fixed by throwing money at it, since we just don’t have the money. There are things that won’t happen unless God does it. I love wrestling with these things.

In a few minutes, about a dozen adults will come over for our Sunday night Bible study. They’re fun people. I didn’t know any of them seven years ago. Now most of them are friends. This is just way too cool.

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Is This Some Form of Racism, or Not?

I’m no racist. When I was in junior high, Dad taught in an all-black inner city school, back in the days of the Martin Luther King riots. My sister-in-law teaches in a mostly black school. I graduated from a California high school which had a huge ethnic mix–hispanic, Chinese, Portuguese, Vietnamese, blacks, Filipinos, and various brands of caucasians: Oakies, Arkies, and Texans, who moved out during the Great Depression. My first day of school there, when I left the bus back in our town, I found myself surrounded by a group of blacks as another black tried to pick a fight with me, and everyone was egging us to go at it. Yeah, I was scared spitless, but I managed to walk away intact. From then on, I walked to a different bus stop. Those same guys came over to our house frequently, since the parsonage had a full-court basketball court in back. I played basketball with those blacks–and with bunches of Hispanics–all the time.

At the ping pong club, I enjoy talking to the various immigrants who show up. There are probably a half dozen guys of Chinese ancestry. There are several Hispanics–Panama, Peru, Cuba, and elsewhere. This week there were two new guys. One seemed to be arabic or persian. He was GOOD, too. I’d like to get to know him. All of these immigrants have interesting stories.

Then yesterday I went to the dentist for a routine cleaning. Normally Becky is my hygienist, but she’s on maternity leave, so I let them set me up with Lonnie, a new girl. I arrived at the office, and there was a black girl standing in the receptionist’s area. I hadn’t seen her before. I told her I had an 8:30 appointment, then sat down in the waiting room. A minute later, she came out with a folder. I figured it contained information for me to update. Then she said, “We’re ready for you now. I’m Lonnie.”

And I began kicking myself for assuming that this new black girl must be the receptionist, and not a professionally-trained hygienist. Some people would say I was just showing some kind of racist stereotyping or exhibiting latant racism lurking within my core being. But I think I just made a simple mistake, an errant assumption…BASED on some kind of stereotyping, I guess. I don’t know. I’m confused.

Anyway, Lonnie was great. I like her better than Becky, and asked specifically for Lonnie the next time. And I ask myself again: is that just the playing out of some white guilt? Over-compensating by making sure I make a choice in favor of an African-American? I don’t want to think so, but…maybe I did?

This is all complicated. And it’s made more complicated by the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons, who continually tell us we’re a bunch of racists, even if we don’t think we are. And I resent that. But there’s a mixture of truth and untruth there, and I’m not smart enough to sort it all out.

Am I racist, and just don’t realize it?

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Easy Marks for Criticism

Wired magazine has become one of my favorite magazines. I also read Time, Newsweek, Businessweek, and the New Yorker every week, so there’s not much room to add new magazines. But we were getting a free Wired subscription for a while–I still don’t know why–and I got hooked. Now we pay for the thing.

A recent article was on the TV channel Comedy Central, and about some of the innovative things they’re doing. The head of Comedy Central previously worked at the FOX network, which was old-school in how it did things. This guy said, “Being at Fox was like taking Latin. It was like learning the language on which all the other languages are based but no one uses anymore.”

I found that interesting. I could make applications to the church, all of them cynical, so I question the value of me drawing out the analogies. I could apply it to church structure, denominationalism, church music, MS-DOS (oops–nothing religious about that), and other things. Might need to stretch some of the analogies, but it could be done. And I would be making some kind of point and using an interesting quote on my blog.

A long time ago, I sat in a two-day advanced writing seminar in Chicago, and the instructor was talking about the topics we choose, in journalism, for feature articles. He said some topics are easy marks–too easy, so easy that it can make us lazy. He said, “You could go to just about any inner city public school and find enough fodder to do an absolutely devastating article about that school–but why would you want to?” Good point. Those school have teachers and adminstrators trying to do a good job under difficult situations. Why kick out the chair from under them?

I guess churchism and denominationalism are pretty easy marks, for those who want to wax cynical. The post-modern writers are certainly having a blast. But foundations, while sometimes outdated, are still valuable. I wouldn’t want to attend a church that went about things the way the churches of my childhood did–but I still find things of value to draw from those days, and I recognize the leaders of my youth as really good people.

I’ll bet Comedy Central can find some valuable things to learn from FOX, which, as a relative newcomer to the Major Networks League, no doubt learned much from the Big Three (CBS, NBC, ABC) while at the same time going in some novel directions.

It’s too easy to criticize those who came before us. But in the church, they usually deserve more respect than the young bucks are willing to give them. I don’t know Latin. But I do admit that if I knew Latin (as my Mom does), it would come in very handy in my work as a wordsmith.

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The Guys-and-Girls Dance

I’m currently in the library of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill. My pastor has been working on his MDiv for the past two-and-a-half years, and this semester he has a class on Monday night. So I rode up with him today. Good chance to talk about stuff. I spent some hours at a Barnes & Noble bookstore, then went down the street to the Borders bookstore. I can always kill time in bookstores. And now I’m back at the college library, waiting for him.

It’s 8:25, and Tim’s class gets out promptly at 9:00. My Airport wireless card is connected to the Trinity wireless system here in the library, but I’ve got a very weak signal. But good enough to connect to Blogger, if I wait long enough. I better hurry, since my battery level is down to 34% and dropping quickly. I’m too lazy to go find an outlet.

I’m in an area with some nice padded chairs. A guy and a girl, new acquaintances, are sitting at two more chairs nearby, and I can hear them talking. Nice kids. Both freshman, evidently. The guy is doing the pre-ask-out-on-a-date dance that I remember playing when I was a college student, several ice ages ago. It’s fun to observe, because I know what’s going on. The guy, a tall skinny fellow with short blonde hair and a backpack, is taking the initiative. The girl is appreciating it. They talk about their classes, dorms, how they ended up at Trinity, what churches they came from, who their professors are, yada yada yada. He plays soccer. They talk well together, easily, no silences.

The guy will find ways to run into her during the day, and maybe they’ll talk in the cafeteria. And one of these days–maybe soon–they’ll go out on a date together. And they’ll have a good time, because it’s obvious they don’t have any trouble conversing. They seem compatible. And they’re both Christians. This is what Christian colleges are for.

I find the whole thing very cute and innocent. And I’m glad I don’t need to do that anymore.

I’m down to 28%. Better hurry.

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Fellowship of Bloggers

On Thursday, I was at a meeting in Bellefontaine, Ohio, with a bunch of ministers. It was a meeting to talk about clusters, the new organizational entity for our denomination. We’ll group all churches into “clusters” of, on average, 7 churches. This meeting was intended to help pastors know how to get started in forming clusters. They’re supposed to take the initiative with this, rather than let some central entity put the clusters together.

I’m hopeful. My pastor is going to be in a good group. I know of another cluster that will be a strong group with guys I would enjoy being around. But there will also be some weak clusters–tiny churches, unhealthy churches, part-time ministers, not much happening.

I know of only a few United Brethren bloggers. Three of us were at the meeting, and we had lunch together. There was Ed Gebert, a UB minister who does a blog which he calls Attention Span. There was Tom Datema, the most veteran blogger of us, an early adopter, who does Braintwitch (a name I love). And me. We check in on each other regularly. Ed’s the most long-winded of the three of us. Tom is the most philosophical. I’m the most inconsistent.

Here’s my style. I start with the kernel of an idea and simply start writing. Eventually, I reach a point where I can’t think of anything else to say. And that’s where I stop.

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Going to Where It’s Happenin’

My church is part of a conference, a regional entity, which includes about 50 churches in Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. Sometimes we start churches cooperatively. This summer, during our annual meeting, we heard a lot about a new church being started in the Cincinnati area. The church planter trumpeted the location as the fastest growing area in Ohio. So demographic studies show.

I just grinned. It seems like every time we start a new church, no matter where it is in the denomination, the location is billed as “the fastest growing area” in the state, or that part of the state, or maybe in the entire country. We go where new homes are going, and that usually means “the rich suburbs.” We pride ourselves on going to the most-burgeoning and baddest place, even though most other denominations are probably targeting the same place, because they’ve read the same demographic studies.

Meanwhile, I attend a church in a depressed, low-income, working-class (if working at all) area near downtown Fort Wayne, Ind. It’s certainly not a growing area. Mostly starter homes, lots of rentals, a lot of vacancies. I was part of what was basically a church plant in that neighborhood. Technically, it was a restart–the congregation that previously occupied that building closed, and we came in with a whole new leadership team and pretty much started over (except we had a great building already paid for).

I’m weary of bragging about going to the “fastest-growing.” I’m weary of going after the rich. There was a huge need for a church like Anchor in our neighborhood. But if we didn’t already have a foothold in that community, through the previous church, we would never have gone there. Because it’s not a growing neighborhood, not the type of place you think you can build a self-supporting church. It wouldn’t be on the radar of any evangelical denomination. Our neighborhood, with hundreds and hundreds of homes and great human needs, doesn’t grab anyone’s attention.

But amidst these cynical pronouncements, let me pause to pat ourselves on the back. Because we United Brethren did pour money and resources and people into basically starting a new church in that neighborhood. We did it. Good for us. May there be more such aberrations.

I remember when Eugene Habecker was president of Huntington College. He wrote a book in which he talked, in a somewhat passionate way, about the idea of naming a new college building not after a rich donor, but as something like “Widow’s Mite Hall.” Maybe honor all the “little people” (like Pam and I) who give regularly and not without sacrifice, but not in sufficient size to merit getting our name on the building. It was nice theory on Dr. Habecker’s part, but I’m still waiting for anything of the sort to happen. I’m not holding my breath.

Wealth counts. A lot. Let’s not kid ourselves.

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Who Sets Your Standards?

On Sunday night, Pam and I started a new home Bible study. We had 19 people there, and one person was missing. I believe we are stretching the “small group” definition. But there’s a reason. Last spring, we did a group with a dozen people–a good size. However, many of them had to miss various weeks–they had good reasons–and a couple weeks we were down to just four people. So I decided I’d rather start with a large group, and if everybody showed up, I could just divide them into smaller groups to get the good interaction that a small group needs. So that’s what we’re doing. On Sunday night, I divided us into three different groups for one particular exercise.

We are a “kids free” group. We have a woman in her 70s, and four college-age whipper-snappers. Most of the couples have kids, but they’re grown or at least old enough to leave at home. Two other groups in our church have the young couples with kids. That’s the way I like it. Don’t I sound like a grouch?

In my previous church (before 1998), Pam and I were part of a highly fertile group of young couples. We had a bunch of young’ns running around, and it was hard to get any good study/discussion done. During our snack time, the women were always talking about kid-related things, so Pam wasn’t all that thrilled. (Guys, whether they have kids or not, will talk about sports, so I was okay.)

That group was in a large suburban, rich church. The group included a number of doctors and business owners. They had money, and they had big houses. When Pam and I bought our own home after living in an apartment for four years–a one-story with a basement–I remember feeling at times like it didn’t measure up. It was smaller than everyone else’s home, not as fancy, not in as nice a subdivision. Here was this nice home God had provided for us, and because of my associations at church, I sometimes felt discontent with our new home.

But then we joined a group which helped restart a church in a low-income neighborhood near the city center. Now, we have one of the nicer homes in the church, and I couldn’t imagine “trading up” to a larger house. It would just seem inappropriate, greedy, to do so. I’m totally content and delighted with our home now, but I had to change churches for that to happen. And now I worry that other people in our current not-so-rich church will, upon visiting our home, feel some degree of discontent with their own home. Because I remember how I felt a few years ago.

Peer pressure is alive and well in the 21st century church. Which is why I continually ask myself, “Who sets my standards?”

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Archie Cameron — One of My Heroes

I’ve written biographies for three people, and all three have now died. The latest was Archie Cameron, a missionary in Honduras. He died last Thursday morning at age 87. Still living in Honduras. Since 1952. An amazing guy.

Archie CameronI spent four years on his biography, which is wrapped around a history of our mission work in Honduras. It was the most satisfying piece of writing I’ve ever done, and I’ve done a lot of writing. I interviewed 40-some people for it, and did huge amounts of research beyond that. We unveiled it during the 2001 US National Conference, which Archie was able to attend. It was a big, big deal for him–and his family–and it wouldn’t have happened without the book. So it’s highly satisfying on that level, too.

My heroes have always been missionaries. Archie ranks right up there. He’s one of our United Brethren giants. He started the Spanish work in Honduras–before him, we were affiliated only with an English-speaking group of about five churches, which withdrew from us within a year of Archie’s arrival. Numerous villages throughout northern Honduras first heard an evangelical witness as a result of Archie and his band of new Christians from La Ceiba. It’s a great legacy for us.

When I say I’ve written three biographies, that’s not entirely accurate. One was a matter of rewriting (someone else did the hard work of interviewing and compiling info). That one was on the life of Orville Merillat, founder of Merillat Cabinets and a major-league philanthropist. The book was shipped down to me to rewrite. I reorganized all of the material into different chapters, converted it from third person to first person, and rewrote large sections of it. Dr. James Kennedy’s organization published it, after first including a lengthy, highly self-serving and (to me) inappropriate introduction.

My name isn’t mentioned anywhere in the book, and that’s totally okay with me. But I must say: at Orville’s funeral, it was a bit surreal hearing one of the speakers read a long passage from the book which tells of Orville’s conversion experience. That was one of the passages I rewrote entirely. In fact, I think I mostly used material from a separate interview I had done with him a year or so before. Anyway, it was surreal listening to that and thinking, “That sounds pretty good.” A bit like an out-of-body experience.

The same thing happened at the funeral of Clyde Meadows, the most prominent UB of the 20th Century. I spent four years on his “as told to” autobiography. I would go to Columbus, Ohio, and we’d retire to his office in the basement, where I would throw questions at him and he would tell me stories in response, stories which were duly captured on my mini tape recorder. His book was published in 1993. When he died in 1999, a part of the book was read at the funeral, and once again, it was very gratifying.

And so, you know what I’m wondering now. Was part of Archie’s book read at his funeral? Even in Spanish? (Yes, the book was translated into Spanish.) I don’t care if it was. That’s not why I write these things. But I’m curious.

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Uh…Hello? Anyone Still There?

So what happened? Did I just get bored with this thing? I haven’t posted in, like, three ice ages (or one global warming). What, now, causeth my prodigal return? And do I intend to stay?

I started this thing for my own amusement. Plus, a blog was “the thing” to do. The new thing. Something every early adopter was adopting, most of them earlier than I did.

My stated passion is the local church, and that’s what I liked to write about. Particularly about my church, Anchor Community. But during the past year, my writings drifted occasionally into venting about my denomination’s (alas) failed effort to join the Missionary Church. Some pretty cynical stuff there. Then I wrote about Promise Keepers, and it was drawing PK people from across the country. So I didn’t want to put up stuff that was too in-house or would turn them off.

Plus, in June, my denomination chose new leaders and new initiatives and embarked on an ambitious plan to create a new future. It’s a very big deal, and I’m in the thick of it doing communications stuff, since I’m the Communications Director. I’m still neck deep, and can’t blame FEMA. And suddenly, two months passed with nary a post.

I think about this thing a lot. Miscellaneous ideas float around in my head as I drive the 25 miles to work. But when I sit down at a computer, whether at work or at home, I always have a zillion other things clamoring for my attention, and I just don’t get around to typing in the Blogger address. I guess it means that this blog isn’t a high priority for me. And why should it be? It’s for my amusement, after all, and amusements take a back seat to the urgents.

But I’m gonna give it another good try. Because, frankly, I miss doing this thing. I miss rambling into the cybersphere, as I’m doing right now. This is a totally content-free post. I’m just blabbering. And I’m sort of amusing myself, which means I’m succeeding in my lowly goal.

So, for those of you out there who, for reasons of your own choosing, pop in now and then and wonder why you never received an obituary notice…well, as Fast Eddy announced to the twerp played by Tom Cruise, “I’m back.”

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50 Years of Marriage and Great Parenting

Last week was great, despite the heat wave. My whole family got together in Gatlinburg, TN, from Sunday July 24 to the next Saturday. The occasion: my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Fifty is a big deal. We rented a huge chalet able to hold all 18 of us, and just hung out together. We did puzzles, hit outlet malls, visited Gatlinburg’s wonderful Aquarium, went hiking, went swimming, made big breakfasts and suppers at the lodge (lots of grilling), and generally had a wonderful time. That’s the whole bunch of us up below, in front of the chalet. Pam and I are on the far right, and my parents are standing beside us.

Gatlinburg

I’m the oldest of three brothers. From my family, it was just me and Pam, because that’s all there is, beyond Jordi and Molly, our cats, who wouldn’t have enjoyed the trip. Stu, the middle brother, was there with his wife, Joyce, and all four kids. And those kids all brought “someone special,” that being two girlfriends, one girl friend, and one boyfriend. Then there was Rick, with wife Dorene and two young children.

When I told people about this trip beforehand, it wasn’t unusual to hear, “Do you get along?” Mom said she heard that question several times, too. Yes, we all get along. I guess that’s unusual. Which is sad.

The trip was probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Before long, Stu’s kids could be going different directions, and work schedules can be an issue. But last week, we pulled it off. And it was a hugely memorable vacation.

On Thursday night, we sat around reminiscing about our childhood years, and generally just affirming Mom and Dad as parents, grandparents, and as a couple. And a lot of what we talked about concerned spiritual matters. All of us are Christians. All of us are highly involved in local churches.

As I told my parents on that Thursday night, to an extent they “lucked out.” I’ve known other great Christian parents who had kids go astray. The fact that me and my brothers turned out right and didn’t go through rebellious periods doesn’t mean they were better parents, necessarily. There are no doubt issues with our personalities that made us easy to raise or more passive than most, and perhaps other factors. But there was still a bedrock of darn good parenting. And for that, I’m extremely blessed.

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