The World Series starts tonight and I’ll be cheering on my Kansas City Royals. Their matchup with the San Francisco Giants has illuminated valuable personal connections and presented an opportunity to enrich relationships.
My pastor friend Jim is a Giants fan and goes to Spring Training in Arizona every year. Last year he sent me a souvenir cup, and this year he sent me a Royals Spring Training T-Shirt.
For Jim, I give thanks.
Barely minutes after the Giants won the National League pennant and guaranteed the Kansas City/San Francisco series, my friend Deborah called me and the three best Royals fans I know out and proposed a friendly wager: the fans of the losing side will make a contribution to the mission budget of the winning side’s presbytery.
For Deborah, I give thanks.
And then came the 2014 World Series Guidebook from my friend Theresa. It’s all tongue and all cheek and all good friendly fun. It features a picture of the Royals’ mascot, Slugger, saying, “I wish I can hit at least one pitch,” as well as a word search game that includes the word “glumrocky.”
For Theresa, I give thanks.
Sports are not as important as our culture makes them out to be. But they give opportunities like this to connect and to make someone’s day.
This is a special edition of MMQ dedicated to the annual community Walk for The Hungry, which took place yesterday afternoon. I had a group of three walkers, which is two more than I had last year but scores less than our church used to get. I want to pick this thing apart.
A brief history. Time was when our congregation recruited dozens of participants for this event. At least this is the story I’m told. A couple of decades ago, scores of people would raise money and walk, bringing along their kids in what was a vibrant expression of church mission in the community. After some time, the Walk turned into a youth group event, where dozens of teens who had done the walk with their parents as children now did it without them as teens. The church was behind them 100%.
The start of my work here coincided with the last gasps of the Walk as a youth group event. My first couple of years would see between two and five students respond to my pitch for walkers. Then I hit upon the idea of making it a youth leadership vehicle, so I recruited a particular go-getter student to recruit her friends to walk and to raise money in the congregation. That worked really well.
After that student graduated and went off to college, the student leadership model didn’t exactly thrive. So much of what worked was the particular student and her unbounded enthusiasm. Absent that, it was a job.
So here we are. The Walk is no longer a thriving church mission event, no longer a marquee youth event, and not even a clever student leadership mechanism. My three Walkers yesterday are champs, yet they’re frustrated as well. What do we do?
Pull the plug? Do we acknowledge that the energy is no longer there in the congregation for this and stop trying to compel participation?
Re-commit? Do we double down on our efforts? Start recruiting earlier, make more phone calls, really push hard to get either adults or teens to come out? It works for other groups; lots of church and school groups come out for the walk, many of them in matching T-shirts and all kinds of energy.
Give it away? Is there another group in either the church or, say, the church preschool that might have energy for helping the community through the event, and can we set them up for success?
A big part of me wants to pull the plug. But it feels wrong to give up on an important vehicle for our church to be out in the community in mission.
What do we do?
Your attention is a valuable contribution wherever you can spend it. Even in settings where our usefulness is in question, where we feel like the dummy in the room and doubt our right even to be present, we can still pay close attention-and that’s not nothing.
it’s called “paying” attention for a reason. Because it’s costs you one of the most valuable things you have to give. The attention you pay to people and projects infuses them with intention, and, what’s more, we all know the indignity of not being paid attention to. We can choose to dignify ourselves and our encounters with our focused attention.
Of course, that means making a determination about things that aren’t worth our attention. This post is being composed on an airplane with seat-back screens flashing all around. You’re more worth my attention than them.
One of the benefits of doing consistent work and sharing it with the world is that people will use it, even if you think they won’t.
This sermon is a dud. This blog post is empty. That newsletter article won’t be read. But who knows? If we put it out there, people can do with it what they want: tape it to their desk; send it to their brother. But only if we make it.
The same is true of churches. There is so much wrong with so much of what we have a thought to do. But our calling and God’s grace compel us to do the work anyway and let our communities put it to use.
It’s not ultimately our work.
I serve on a presbytery committee that is looking for ways to share work and resources with other nearby presbyteries and finding it very difficult to get anything going (for the uninitiated, a presbytery is a regional grouping of Presbyterian congregations).
It’s not going to work. It shouldn’t work.
It would be different if there were a person, if there was a group of people, that wanted to work in something together. That’s how real partnership works: between motivated people.
But the pursuit of partnership as a practical idea, say for the purpose of consolidating diminishing resources and cutting costs, won’t work. And that’s good, because when it does work it’s imposed on people who don’t really want it and can’t really own it.
What work do we want to do, and who do we want for our partners?
Stuff I learned on Sunday
The coffee that is your sermon-writing friend late Saturday night is your can’t-get-to-sleep enemy early Sunday morning.
The pink tie on the back of the tie rack is there for days like this.
Arriving at the church early to practice the sermon in an empty sanctuary is futile if the custodian is there. He arrives early to tell share a 15 minute story with the first person he sees.
Adult education classes taught by trustworthy, intelligent people on complicated issues on faith and life: this is my normal.
Three high school students with donuts, chocolate milk, and The Lord’s Prayer is church, Church.
The new fourth grade acolyte is fearless.
The experimental worship leading internship with that college student is going to work out juuuuust fine.
A sermon that employs the noun “breach” in the title has a limited bank of synonyms on which to draw. Hole? Crack? Fissure?
Employing the lyrics of a Jackson Browne song for the Prayers of The People is the kind of thing you can get away with once. Make it count.
When your spouse proposes meeting up at “The Mexican restaurant” for lunch, better clarify which one so that you don’t go to one and she another.
Daughter’s growing interest in drawing is accompanied by a growing insistence on narrating the content of each picture.
The “Secret Country” Daughter has been talking about for months is bisected by a river and contains a district called “Vixen.” She’s mapped it. I’ve seen it.
The restraint it took to leave the Royals out of the sermon will be rewarded by a Sunday afternoon group email from congregants suggesting ways it could have been accomplished (winner=”The Royal Priesthood”).
There’s a way to preserve a Jack-O-Lantern.
Four gallons of Jack-O-Lantern solution in a five gallon stock pot+one pumpkin=a wet countertop.
Text from Youth Group Leader that there are no junior high students at youth group makes me think more about this blog post.
Sunday afternoons spent folding laundry are a gift from God.
Stuart Little on audiobook is a valuable weapon in Operation Get-Daughter-To-Bed.
Some battles you lose regardless of your weaponry.
“Daddy I just saw a lizard!” said my daughter the other day from her perch on the living room couch.
“A lizard?” I asked. We live in Southern California, and there are little lizards all over the place. But we’ve never had one in our house before. Yet she insisted she saw one and that it had crawled beneath the cabinet. That cabinet is bolted to the wall. I made a mental note and left it alone.
Then yesterday morning, preparing to leave for the day, I saw the lizard at the base of the staircase, just as she’d described. I made a move toward it, and it scurried underneath the couch. There was no time to pursue it. We left it to the mercy of the cats, and I spent the morning Googling “lizard infestation” and asking peoples’ advice. I’m reasonably certain that it came in through our fireplace and that it’s not alone. My wife calmly projected, “There’s probably a nest in there.” A nest of lizards in my house. Awesome.
Yet the advice I’m getting is to leave the lizards be. They’re harmless. They’re actually helpful, as they will consume lots and lots of bugs. Two cats are something of an insurance policy against the population getting out of control, so leave the lizards alone.
GRATUITOUS METAPHOR WARNING
What are the lizards in our lives and communities? What happenings or people scurry into our routines to unsettle us and spook us and maybe even cause our hair to stand on end but that are actually harmless? Are we battling creatures that will actually promote health and balance if we can only get comfortable with their presence in our otherwise orderly house? What looks like an infestation but might actually be pest control?
What are are lizards? And do we have cats?