Friday, April 27, 2007

A Random Update...

Thought I should just do a quick update on how the sabbatical's going. In a word, it's awesome. We're having some great times as a family, we're able to rest and renew, and I'm having a blast at Samford. I totaled it up today and realized that I've read 16 books since we arrived here a month ago. Most have been on the area of preaching. I'm really focusing on the act of preaching. I think one of the problems with preaching is that we've tried to use it to educate rather than to help people encounter God. That's a simple take on my thinking. I'm meeting with Calvin Miller several times next week to talk about it. Probably not that exciting for most of you, but it really turns my crank.

I've also been reading a lot about (and by) Oscar Romero. He has intrigued me for quite some time and I'm finding digging into his life fascinating.

The surprise read was Tempting Faith by David Kuo. In the deep south faith and politics seem to meld into one thing. While I think that faith should shape your politics I find that a lot of what is happening here is the other way around. Politics is seeking to manipulate faith for it's own agenda. Faith is used to justify political positions. Kuo's book was a fascinating read and one that I would highly recommend.

So life is good. Family is loving life, other than school being pretty tough. You can read about all our exploits here. For me...lots of thinking...ideas swirling. I find that's what makes me happiest.
Thanks for reading. I'll keep you posted...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

What I learned from an Idol (American Idol, that is...)

As you may have read here, my wife and I recently braved Birmingham rush hour traffic to enable our kids to meet former American Idol contestant Ace Young. It was no small task. Hwy 280 out of town was three lanes (each direction) bumper to bumper for several miles. It was stressful. We had to be to the Wal-Mart by 5:00 pm or we would miss him. My pulse quickened. I looked for every possible short-cut. My normally mild-mannered disposition bordered on the verge of road rage. When we finally arrived (at 5:00 on the nose), I held out little hope that we'd made it in time. Celebrities have people who move them from place to place. They have schedules to keep, people to see. Sure enough, as my girls entered the store they could see Ace, but he was standing behind one of his "people" who was about 6'3" and close to 350 lbs. He told them clearly "No, we're done here." But size isn't everthing. The bodyguard was subjected to something in their eyes that has melted my fierce resolve far too many times. He softened and let them through. I was ecstatic. It was a great moment and I thoroughly enjoyed watching them meet this "star" they had seen so often through the TV screen. If I had to sum it up in a phrase I'd have to say that a good time was had by all.

As we drove away I started to reflect a bit on the expreience. I'm a pastor, reflecting on the spiritual lessons of life is what I do. Truth be told I never really cared much for Ace Young while he was on American Idol. I'm as much a sucker for celebrity as anyone, but Ace just never turned my crank. If it was up to me I wouldn't have walked around the block to meet him. Don't get me wrong, I liked him instantly as he talked with my children. He was amazingly warm and engaging for someone who had been a Wal-Mart commodity for the past two hours. But the only reason I went to incredible lengths to see him was because my children loved him. They thought he was awesome. I gave myself to the task because of their love for Ace.

As I thought it over I realized that there was a faint echo of something deeper here. God wanted to remind me of something from my "Idol" encounter. Sometimes we do unusual things out of love for someone else. We love people we aren't drawn to because someone that we love, loves them. My passion for seeing Ace had nothing to do with him and everything to do with my love for my kids. The truth that I began to realize was this - our love for people we aren't comfortable loving needs to flow from our love for God and His love for them. If we love God we will, by default, love those He loves. You can probably see where I am going with this. He loves everyone. He loves the jerk at work. He loves the freeloader taking advantage of the system. He loves the person who has wronged you, hurt you, betrayed you. Far too often I have tried to "drum up" love for people who have made my life difficult. But maybe what I need to do is remind myself to grow in love for God. As my love for Him deepens, maybe I'll feel a little more excited about the people He loves. I seem to remember Him saying something about whatever we do for the least of these we have done for Him. Maybe the inverse is true as well - what we do for Him we'll learn to do for the least of these...

If I can love Ace Young because my children love him, then surely love for God (who loved me first and greater than I could ever imagine ) can help me to love the people He loves.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Community of Faith…

I wrote in my last post about my feelings of “culture shock”. I have been surprised by just how different the culture is here. I find myself wishing it was like it was at home. Wondering what people are thinking…why they are doing what they are doing. The violence is overwhelming. Every newscast tells the story of another shooting in Birmingham. And like any city, in a ten to fifteen minute period you drive from palatial multi-million dollar homes with pools and tennis courts to the “projects” where houses are run down, burned out, and surrounded by garbage and broken down vehicles. It’s a long way from Hope, both geographically and metaphorically. I realize that the visible differences seem to press the idea that the people are different as well. But I think that at the heart of things, these beautiful, passionate, angry, loving, self-conscious people are really much like the people who live down the street from me in BC.

I have been encouraged to experience the church here. There is something refreshing about coming to a completely different context and seeing people moved by and passionate about the same things that have shaped me. Easter week was exciting as I participated with strangers who felt the pain of a God who would die out of love for a rebellious people. We mourned together the fact that we had caused this travesty. Then on Sunday we sang for joy as the Truth reminded us that not even our sin and stupidity can hinder God in accomplishing what He wants to do. The joy of the resurrection was every bit as real, even when filtered through a southern accent. There is a reassurance when you see that the Spirit of God is alive and well…and very much at work in a context different than your own. You begin to remember that this truth is way bigger than you are. That it impacts the core of the person…a core that is the same no matter where you live.

My favorite part of Holy Week was the service at the Seminary on Good Friday. The service was boring (as my wife said in our Alabama Adventures blog –, but the chapel itself was amazing. The artwork and d├ęcor gave a sense of the transcendent. Above us was a huge dome that was painted as a balcony. (That's a picture of it at the top of the post...) The figures looking over the edge, watching our worship were believers throughout the history of the church. Above them was a beautifully done picture of Jesus, surrounded by the angelic host. On that day it was more than just art. It was a reminder that when I come to worship, I am not alone. I am joining a community made up of Alabamans. But even more so, a historical community, coming together outside of the restraints of time. We are all joining in worship of the person who unites us and makes this all possible. That is a powerful realization. We never worship alone.

So yes, I’m feeling the shock that comes from being immersed in a different culture. But I’m also being encouraged by remembering that there is a Truth that transcends culture. That no matter where I am, I am truly home when I bow in worship as a part of the eternal community of faith. This community exists to confess that Jesus is Lord of all, Ruler of the Universe, and reconciler of all people and cultures who dare to surrender to His Lordship. That makes this an exciting place to be. And when you think of it that way, it doesn’t seem so far from home.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Reflections on the first official week of the "Sabbatical"

Well, I should write something I suppose. We finally have the internet at our house. That's a good thing. I'm getting settled in at Samford and have wireless access there, but have been spending most of my time looking around, reading, and settling Maddie into her school. All of the kids are transitioning really well. Maddie's anxiety makes it a bit tougher to get her settled, but she's really working at it and doing way better than I thought she would.

What do I do on a sabbatical, you ask? So far I have been reading a lot. I'm prepping for some discussions that I'll have in the next couple of months with some of my "theological" heroes. They've agreed to sit with me and let me pick their brains about this whole pastor thing that I do. I am trying to think out what it is that I want to ask them in order to utilize the time I have with them in the most effective way.

I'm also enjoying my family. It's really weird to not have to wonder if the phone will interrupt our evening. Last Friday morning I realised that I needed to plan our week-end. What would we do for church? How would we spend Saturday? It was really fun to feel free to do whatever. My week-ends usually don't have that much flexibility. Ang and I are havng a blast too. Best decision I ever made to marry her! She makes sabbatical fun!

A big surprise is that I'm feeling some culture shock here. Alabama is a world all to itself. I like it, but it's a bit different. I had thought that growing up in the south would make my transition pretty seamless. The girls might feel a little culture shock, but I was sure that it wouldn't affect me. Not so. I felt a little better when the telephone line installer said that he had the same feelings when he moved here from...Louisiana. It's a different world. But it still belongs to God and He seems to have a lot of fun teaching me about who He is through the things that I am experiencing. Just to let you know that the more things change the more they stay the same, we've had a phone line here for only 4 days and I got two, you count them, two telemarketing calls tonight. But, just like in Canada, they can never pronounce Kuhn right.

We miss our family, friends, and our church family, but I am convinced that this is going to be an experience that all of us will grow through and will treasure throughout our lives. I'll keep you posted as things progress. Until then, keep praying for us. And Jim, if you're reading this (or if Sandy is) then happy retirement. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy. And congrat's Mike and Jan. All the best people have four kids. It's the lazy self-centered ones that stop at two.

Just read through this and I must admit it's pretty boring...I guess you had to be here...but it's working for me so far.