“Everything’s amazing…nobody’s happy…”

I love this clip.  It was funny to watch my daughter try not to laugh at this last night.  I made her watch this piece after she complained about something she needed not happening instantaneously.  I’m using this particular post as an opportunity to remind me of how truly blessed I am (in more ways than mere technology).  It’s a pretty good exercise…choosing to be happy…

“Nothing fails like success.”

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The Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church, Leipzig, Germany)

In evolution, Dr. Inge’s aphorism is probably always right: ‘Nothing fails like success.’  A creature which has become perfectly adapted to its environment, an animal whose whole capacity and vital force is concentrated and expended in succeeding here and now, has nothing left over with which to respond to any radical change.  Age by age it becomes more perfectly economical in the way its entire resources meet exactly its current and customary opportunities.  In the end it can do all that is necessary to survive without any conscious striving or unadapted movement.  It can therefore beat all competitors in the special field; but equally, on the other hand, should that field change, it must become extinct.”      –Gerald Heard, The Source of Civilization

One of the great things about the internet is the how one can stumble upon passage like this.  I read the line “nothing fails like success” in the Foreward to another book I was reading.  I googled the line and found excerpts from Arnold Toynbee & David Somervell’s abridgement of A Study of History.

Since the water in which I’m currently swimming involves churches and denominational systems, the words above seem particularly ominous.  It’s obvious that organized religion has seen much success in the modern era.  I’ll also grant that some forms of these systems are actually experiencing some numerical growth.  However, I believe we are well past the time to adapt to our changing environment.  “The Church” will continue in some form or another…I wonder which forms “must become extinct”?

What are you willing to get off the couch and do?

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Whatever you can do,

or dream you can, begin it.

Boldness has genius,

power and magic in it.

–GOETHE

I’ve been reading a lot about community development lately, specifically interested in how congregations might discover new ways to get outside our worship boxes and be more missional.  My initiation into this topic was through my participation on the Together For Hope leadership team.  This has let me to several books (specifically Practicing Community Development by Donald and Dorris Littrell; The Power of Asset Mapping by Luther Snow; Memories, Hopes and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry and Congregational Change by Mark Lau Branson).  I also was privileged to attend the University of Missouri Community Development Academy a couple of weeks ago.

In the course of my research and reading, two very practical questions arose (specifically from reading through Mike Green’s material):

1.  What are the gifts of “hands, heads, and heart” in [your congregation]?

2.  What are you willing to get off the couch and do?

Great questions for all of us as individuals and for our organizations, churches, and businesses.

the phone call…

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l to r: Sarah & Hillary

I received one of those calls Monday morning about 7:30 a.m.  It was from a minister at our church informing me of an auto accident involving a friend of my daughter.  Sarah was killed instantly.  By the time I reached the top of the stairs, my daughter, Hillary, was there waiting, having heard the news via text message.

As I held my daughter there on the stairs attempting to take the pain away, I recognized through her sobs that she had crossed a line from which there is no return.  Dad could not fix this hurt.  There was pain and shock and loss and finality all flooding her emotions to overload.  We simply had to walk through this together.  Facing mortality at any age is a challenging thing.  Facing it as a kid is gut wrenching.

As a parent, my emotions were flooded as well…profound thanks that I was holding my little girl, profound sorrow for Sarah’s parents, and the lingering unanswerable questions that always follow such a tragedy.  Parental sermons spoken almost by rote every time a child leaves the driveway suddenly become desperate: Be careful, wear your seat belt, drive the speed limit, call me when you arrive, who’s driving?,…  on and on they go.

Ultimately I recognize the line that Hillary had crossed was one that I had crossed as well.  I ultimately can’t protect her.  Life happens…and all that it entails.

Church to-go!

My friend Mark posted this on a blog…This is so perfect!!!!!  This is the evolution of consumer religion!  Think about the possibilities!  They can be franchised and placed at interstate exits! Near the eye doctor at WalMart!  Kiosks at the mall!  Endless possibilities!!!

Seriously, we can laugh at this but our consumer based religion is not very far removed from this strip.  (If you like this cartoon, check out www.nakedpastor.com).

drive-thru

I’ve been waiting for you to get here!

frank-hortonIndulge me for a moment.  I’ve been thinking a lot about Frank Horton lately.  Frank ministered to students on college campuses for 35 years…most of that time was spent as the director of the Baptist Student Union at LSU.   It’s amazing how Facebook has facilitated a virtual LSU BSU reunion.  At the center of all these memories is a wonderful and profoundly loving soul…Frank.

Conversations over the past couple of weeks have brought to mind two specific memories I have of Frank.  One occurred in August of 1981…it was my first visit to the Baptist Student Union as a freshman at LSU.  I had been in the BSU building before…my brother and his wife had been active in the BSU.  Frank performed their wedding ceremony.  However on this particular day, I walked across the big campus feeling as though it contained me and 30,000 people I didn’t know.  It was a lonely walk.  I entered the front doors and there was Frank standing near the fireplace.  When he saw me, his face lit up with that big warm smile of his and he said, “Mike Young!  I’ve been waiting for you to get here!”  As fast as those words left his lips, the long lonely walk across campus was a memory and I was home.  I never enter that building at the corner of Highland and Chimes without that memory coming to mind.

Another vivid memory is of an experience at Dry Creek Conference Center at Spring Assembly, 1984.  The story requires a little context.  By the end of my first semester at LSU I was on academic probation.  I held on the following spring, but then came the fall of 1982…my grade report stated my GPA for the semester was 0.4 and included a letter from the University informing me I was not welcome that coming spring.  I made that 0.4 the old fashioned way, “I earned it” as they say.

The BSU had been simply a place to meet people prior to the football games, watch TV, play ping-pong, skip class, etc.  I didn’t participate in chapel or Bible studies or anything like that.  It was merely a gathering point.  I was a student without direction, hoping the party could continue without too many classes getting in the way.  However, the potential loss of that place was devastating to contemplate…it motivated me to try again. I sat out the spring of 1983 and then entered summer school to begin my ascent out of academic probation.

So the following spring, a year removed from the disgrace of flunking out of school, I found myself sitting on the right side of The Tabernacle at Dry Creek Conference Center clinging to the back of one of the old pews resisting another guilt ridden invitation from some nameless Baptist preacher.  All the BSU directors were lined up across the front of the room.  I looked up and saw Frank and I went forward.  I was greeted with the very same smile that welcomed me near the fireplace at the BSU two and a half years earlier.  I don’t remember anything that I said to Frank.  But I remember his words to me.  “Mike, you’ve got so much to offer.  I’m glad you’re back.  I want you to run for a council position.”  The council was the student leadership group of the Baptist Student Union.  I really didn’t have the resume to justify such a statement.  I had used the BSU, but had not served in it.  I had been an extremely poor student.  But there it was…

Grace.

I give Frank credit for introducing grace into the harsh, black and white religious system of my youth.  Everything about him seemed to exude grace and love.  I am in vocational ministry today because of Frank.  That often sounds more like an accusation than acknowledgment…Baptist vocational ministry can be that way.  But there isn’t a week that goes by that Frank doesn’t cross my mind.   And when he does cross my mind, I think how much better our world would be if the Church universal looked more like Frank’s BSU and less like a store-front for religious goods and services…if the church greeted “the other” at its doors with a warm smile and a sincere, “I’ve been waiting for you to get here!”