Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The other place

In their rivalry Oxford and Cambridge Universities each can refer to the other as 'the other place'.  Returning from US to Cambridge yesterday really felt like 'the other place' too.  Our Chicago stay flew by with each day so full of activity with work and friends it really seemed we were back at home there. And now we are thankfully back with friends at home here. Thank you to all our friends both sides of the Atlantic who have supported us in prayer and interest.

I like the Gerald Locklin poem which sums up some of the two place syndrome:

                                                    where we are
                               i envy those 
                              who live in two places:
                              new york, say, and london;
                              wales and spain;
                              l.a and paris;
                              hawaii and switzerland.

                              there is always the anticipation
                              of the change, the chance that what is wrong
                              is the result of where you are. I have
                              always loved both the freshness of
                              arriving and the relief of leaving. with
                              two homes every move would be a homecoming.
                              i am not even considering the weather, hot
                              or cool, dry or wet; I am talking about hope.

Of course not everything went to plan.  I will post soon about our discovery back here!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Pascal Greeting

       Christ is risen!

       He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

This responsive Eastern greeting is sometimes accompanied by a threefold kiss.  No matter how it is given, let’s rejoice together today.  As C. S. Lewis wrote:  ‘Among times there is a time that turns a corner, and everything this side of it is new.’  This is THE corner for humankind.

May your worship today be filled with joy as we celebrate living on the other side as resurrection people!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Easter surprise

This week was all planned out tying up (some) loose ends before we fly back to England on March 28th.  Because it is Holy Week we aimed to share in worship services along the way culminating in a glorious Easter Day.   However, last Sunday, at First Baptist Church Wheaton (where I was interim preacher 2000-2002) we learned that the pastor's sister had just suffered a cerebral hemorrhage which meant he needed to fly to be with her.  As Carol was talking with him and his wife she said they seemed so anguished she felt moved to offer me as a substitute preacher should he not be able to return in time!   She says she knows my heart so well that she was sure I wouldn't mind!  I dare not pause too long to analyze just what this means for our relationship!

Yesterday he called me and asked me to stand in for him.  I am utterly surprised! Suddenly from sitting in the pews in the same church these last two Sundays I have been catapulted to lead the people on the best Sunday of the year.  Surprise and great privilege. I grieve over the reason but now(so completely out of the blue) am entering the preaching preparation process.  Of course, I only have myself to blame.  If I keep banging on about the importance of preaching and have even launched a facebook community page.....I should be prepared to step up, especially on Resurrection Day.   

Monday, March 21, 2016

That picture!

Several people have asked me about this picture which appeared without real explanation in the last post.  It shows our new banner which will appear in publicity for a New Kind of Preacher.  Instead of showing a traditional one-person isolated and up-front who is solely responsible for producing a sermon (often judged as good, bad or average!) it represents a preacher who is thoroughly involved in the community.  Obviously they are all worshiping but it is not necessarily the blue figure in front that represents the preacher!  Actually, the preacher belongs with the people and is a witness from among them.  They are not separated but joined-in.  Hence the rather untidy and chaotic swirling of colors and interaction.

The New Kind of Preacher program intends pushing preachers into deepening relationships with God and their community.  It revolves around five interactive roles that preachers need to express:  Lead-worshiper, proclaimer, collaborator, community-builder and missionary.

What are your reactions as you look at this picture?  Does it convey anything of this vision that I have?  Or does it speak in other ways to you?

Friday, March 18, 2016

Oh no, Facebook at last

I am startled to hear myself say this:  I have joined the Facebook community!  After years of resistance, because I know how easily you mount up huge amounts of traffic (and lose vast numbers of minutes), I have relented.  Why?

Because I need to spread the good news of the New Kind of Preacher program that we are launching in the US.  It is clear that one of the chief ways is to create a Facebook presence.

One of the greatest challenges emerging from the colloquium was the way that other seminaries have developed a very strong online presence for their preaching programs.  I confess that I felt rebuked at my technological dinosaur tiptoeing into the twenty-first century I move as a snail.
If you do want to visit my NKPfacebook page and give some encouragement to me and 'like' my page please visit here:

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Blown over

Lightening the tone I have to report another surprising mishap as a follow-up to my earlier disintegrating chair incident.

The wind squalls these last couple of days have been ferocious. Many people have been filmed attempting to open doors against the wind or bending double against its force or worse.... I set out to mail a package at the local post office. Crossing the campus, buffeted yet safe, I walked around the hotel that borders seminary property.  In its lee I was sheltered as only minor gusts disturbed me alongside one side of the hotel.  However I was totally unprepared for turning the corner.  Stepping out from the protection I was caught in a wind tunnel as violent winds channeled along the front of the building. Suddenly, in spite of my bulk!, I was off my feet, blown out of control, falling flat on my face off the sidewalk into the road. Helplessly, with the postal package in my right hand I made an excruciating landing on my left hand.  Such was its suddenness that I lay there in shock for a few seconds.  The wind raged about me threatening to bundle me up and blow me across the parking lot.  Struggling to regain my feet was extraordinarily difficult.
Nursing my wrist that felt broken (though a few hours later it seems just a strain) I stumbled on, determined to reach my goal.  Arriving at 3:10pm well after the posted lunch break of 12:30-2:00 pm I saw a small knot of angry people grouped around a handwritten notice that the office was closed until 3:40 pm.  So, all-in-all not a great success.  To do her credit Carol first expressed sympathy before peals of laughter about my chair disaster followed by being blown over.  Who would have believed it?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Homework delivered

Back from Grand Rapids I am glad to report that homework was acceptable!  The colloquium was organized with numbered tables so that on different days we met with completely different participants.  This made for six fairly intense table discussions on a number of pre-arranged subjects. My aim to stay positive in my posts means that sometimes I stay mum after such events!   However, this proved to be highly encouraging time. On our return journey of nearly four hours, we had time to reflect.  I rejoice in some highlights:

  • the warm introduction of Lauren the new Director to the 'powers-that-be' and my joy at meeting colleagues from so many seminaries across the US.  Some are old friends, others entirely new.
  • acceptance of me as the only 'retired participant'. A pioneer of the whole scheme (John Witvliet) congratulated me on my 'failed retirement'.  He said he was responsible for four failed retirements where professors found themselves back in vital service at Calvin College.  I rather like the term: failed retirement!  Not sure about Carol!
  • levels of honesty about areas of failure and concern that provided a surprising safe space to share our own inadequacies. 
  • flexibility in continuing program design that seems to  have built-in expectations that  beginnings are often rocky and original plans need adaptation. Oh yes!
We are still far behind many established players but we have hope that it's worth persevering. So it was worth flying across the Atlantic!

Sunday, March 13, 2016


Tomorrow Lauren Visser, the Director of our Preaching program (A New Kind of Preacher) and I (as the Program Consultant) are traveling to Grand Rapids for a colloquium organized by the funders.  They have set homework for all participants which includes reading two papers: Leading change through adaptive design and Learning as we go: making evaluations work for everyone.  We have been set the task of analyzing our own programs in the light of these papers especially the latter which urges non-profit organizations to evaluate their work continuously from the inside.  It makes for uncomfortable reading when you are pushed to answer how much time has been given to answering questions about whether resources are adequate and strategies need improvement.  And about short-term and long-term outputs with expected impact.

I guess that most non-profit organizations struggle to maintain rigorous evaluation. Certainly, we do.  So, three days of examination, panels, and reporting lie ahead. And I feel a little like a student facing exams.  Humbling but, hopefully worthwhile all round.  Thanks for prayers and interest.  I'll report back! 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The trust factor - a lesson learned the hard way!

I remember an earnest Sunday School teacher many years ago taking a chair and asking us whether we would be willing to sit on it. 'Do you trust it to bear your weight?' he asked.

Last night a couple of good friends visited our apartment with a chocolate cake for Carol.  We sat around our table with expectation as the cake was cut (and ice-cream was added).  Suddenly, with great drama, I began sinking at the table.  Carol could barely hold back hysteria as I gently disappeared from sight. She said my face showed utter astonishment, like encountering some out-of-body-experience.  I sank to the floor with the chair in pieces around me.  I had not been swinging on it or misbehaving in other ways.  Actually, it looked one of the more recent pieces of furniture in the apartment.  But there it was in fragments with me awkwardly splayed on the floor.

I never thought for a moment it wouldn't support me.  My Sunday School teacher went on to talk about trusting Jesus Christ as a friend you can depend on.  Well, I certainly want to do that....but the broken chair speaks of a lower order of trusting in things and methods to work for you.  Sadly, I see some of us trusting in things and methods in the church. Of course, I particularly think of preaching when, sometimes, preachers just assume that such-and-such a method will work.  They put their trust in it....when it can be so fallible.  We need to put our trust in God and be open to his ways, which are not ours!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Back in action (2)

 I am not underestimating that joining one of these peer learning groups is tough. It's not just that pastors have to pay (!) and commit to a demanding two year program of reading and meeting together but they have to be open to God reshaping their ministry in a personal, spiritual, collaborative framework that really makes a difference in their churches. Really! It is this willingness to be vulnerable - to unlearn some ingrained habits and embrace new ones within a group of peers (all open to God's new thing) - that asks so much of participants.

In the preparation session I used a quote that hit me between the eyes two weeks ago!  Something that rings true in deep places.  The image of journey is commonly used to describe our traveling through life from childhood to old age.  It's well applied to the Christian faith too as we move on (hopefully) from first commitment to greater maturity. Traveling is how life works. What struck me as I read some words from Meister Eckhart, who was a 14th century German mystic, was the complementary truth that there is no stopping on the Christian way.   Just ponder these words:
There is no stopping place in this life.  No, nor was there ever one for anyone – no matter how far along the way they’ve come. Then, above all things: be ready for the gifts of God and always for new ones.

This sounds rather activist but that is the last thing that Eckhart calls us to. Rather he invites us to move on ready for anything that God gifts us with. As the verse of the contemporary song Blessed Be Your Name sounds out:
                     You give and take away
                     You give and take away
                     My heart will choose to say
                     Lord, blessed be your name  


Saturday, March 5, 2016

Back in action (1)

Carol and I landed in Chicago on Thursday evening (in a sprinkling of snow) for another milestone in my preaching project....and today we held our second Facilitators' Session.  Walking across the campus where we are staying brought back such vivid memories.  One staff member said: 'It's like you have never been away!'  Well, it feels that I have been - yet engaging with former students today has been wonderfully positive, taking me straight back into my love of teaching.

Two Northern graduates were present who have been in ministry for nine and eight years (now that shows how time has passed!) and their reminiscences about my preaching classes still seemed fresh.  One of them even brought a presentation pack of eight Penguin biscuits.   Last October at the Preaching Forum he surprised me with a similar gift in memory of the final celebrations when each class shared English goodies, imported by Carol.  He said, 'My wife told me I didn't need to do this a second time but I just had to mark the happy memory again.'

But what about the serious stuff of strengthening preaching?  Our main aim today was to prepare enough facilitators to seed three new groups of pastors in different locations to work through the 'New Kind of Preacher' project.  And, hallelujah, it looks as though that will be happening with strong leadership!  As we worked through parts of the resource modules (only half written so far)  there was an enthusiastic response.  When I returned to our rooms Carol said she knew instantly how encouraged I was by the smile on my face!

So thank you to all who have been upholding this project in prayer. It's still a long road ahead but today finds me rejoicing.