Saturday, December 29, 2007

Importance of Passion

I have to admit that growing up I never really enjoyed country music. I cannot say why at an early age I did not appreciate it, but regardless, while I will not run screaming from a room if it is turned on, it has never been something I really actively sought to listen to. Last night I had the pleasure of going to the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, TN. The Bluebird Cafe started as more of a cafe/restaurant , but has since become a performance venue for aspiring and established country music writers. The basic format is that you enjoy a meal, or drinks, or desserts while listening to four artist perform songs they have written, they each take turns, go in a circle, with the audience watching from their tables on all sides. As the evening progressed I came to better understand why I do not personally care for country music, and at the same time also realized why I was really enjoying the musical performance. Country music is simply too different a culture from who I am, a fact made quite clear during one song which offered tree-huggers as an example of how "the world is going to hell." What made it enjoyable for me, even when I did not care for a individual songs lyrics was the passion which each performer put into their work. These were their songs, that they had written, and these words were ones that spoke deeply to them. I could tell from watching the people around me, that the draw for many of them was in hearing the writers "tell it like it was," that for these people as well, the songs rang true. What made the songs good was not technical perfection, or universal appeal, but that in each one was the heart and the soul of the writer, the passion of the individual. If they were simply doing covers of other people's songs I doubt my experience would have been quite the same. I know that something I struggle with every week as I prepare to lead worship is how to make everything perfect, so that everyone is happy with what happened and no mistakes are made. An important insight I think I gained from my vacation is just the opposite, that what I really need to do is focus on preaching with passion, leading with passion, and if I have that, even when people disagree with my theology, or the musical selection, they will gain a greater appreciation for the passion that they see, and that to me seems more important right now.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Thoughts from the Dome

I attend the Vikings game last Monday against the Chicago Bears. It was an interesting experience for me as it was my first professional football game. I have been to numerous Twins games at the Dome, but the added 20-30,000 people really makes a difference on how crowd it feels getting in and out of there. The observation I want to share about this experience actually applies equally to when I have been there for baseball or football. On of the things that alway impressed me about airlines was that as stressed and rushed as most people are, there is an order and a civility to exiting a plane. Almost without fail people wait for the row in front of them to leave, rather than trying to rush past them as they try and get luggage down or fiddle with their purse. This is not the case at the Dome. When the game ends, it is every fan for themselves when it comes to leaving the place. Certainly the closer you are to the exit the quicker you are able to get out, but there is not a sense of order or politeness in how people leave the stadium.

As I reflected on this while watching people continue to stream past others wanting to leave, I came up with my theory, this was an instance of the personal vs. the crowd. On a plane, you are in a close space with everyone. No matter how much you might have been annoyed by the person in front of you crushing your knees by leaning back, you can still see them and relate to them. It is very clearly an individual that you are pushing in front of. At a game you are simply forcing your way through a crowd. Stalin's quote "one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic" seems very appropriate here. In fact watching people move through crowds at a stadium, there is little sense of manners about it. People usually are deliberately not looking at the people they are forcing their way past. If you press against the person in front of you, no one can cut in. Now I can understand not wanting to get separated from the people you are with, and I know how bad traffic gets leaving the Dome or another stadium, but still the bottom line is people as a group behave very differently when confronted with such a crowd. And I know it is not just that sports fans are less polite than travelers, since no one has every apologized for leaning their seat back into my knees, or talking too loud on their phone while waiting for takeoff. While I have experienced my share of rudeness at games, I have also had the most obnoxious Cardinals fan in the world offer his jacket to my sister when she was cold during a game at Wrigley Field. At the Vikings game I was sitting on the third seat from the end of a row of what seemed like the most active people in the stadium, I was getting up every other play it seemed at times. But even then I know several of them apologized for making us stand, people in the row are close enough to be personal, but that nameless person waiting to leave is not enough a person to warrant the same manners to.

My experiences at the Dome are microcosm of how we live our lives, it is easy to be nice to the neighbor, the one that we know and can see as a person, the challenge is in seeing Christ in the stranger, the faceless person in the crowd. We need to find ways to look more broadly and notice the people we are trying to ignore. I know I am guilty of this, I am apologetic as I cut people off in my car, and would be the type to cut in front with a quiet excuse me. But as I reflect on it, the challenge is to really respect people as individuals and not as crowd. To see the Christ in each of them. Guess that is just one more thing to add to my To Do List for 2008.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The tight-rope of minsitry

Today I have been thinking about the challenges of being a young adult in ministry, particularly a doing ministry to other young adults. A while ago a friend of mine called me out for being too pastoral and there certainly is a challenge in my friendships of tending to be come pastoral, which changes the nature of the relationship, since then I am suddenly acting more like a wise adviser than someone who is equal to them. My fondest memories of college and even of seminary were the conversations I had with people about their faith. Often they were late at night, quiet moments, when people would share with me something of what they believed, or even something they struggled with. I love people's faith stories, I love to hear them, I love to share in them, and I love to help people explore them more deeply. Part of my passion for doing ministry to young adults is I believe there are other people out there who have similar struggles to the people I knew in college and I want to help them with their faiths. Where this is all going I think is just realizing how easy it is to blur the line between being a friend to someone and being a pastor to them. As I think about meeting young adults in my area, do I seem them as potential church members or potential friends? The debate constantly rages as to whether one can be both. I know from my own experiences that is hard to separate the two but that it also hard to be a real friend to someone if you are their pastor and hard to pastor a friend without it changing the nature of that relationship also.

I don't have answers to all of this ... but the issue weighs on my mind today. If anyone has insights into the tension between friend and pastor, I would love for you to share here.


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Snow Day

I am sitting at my computer, a warm beverage in hand, and snow gently falling (again) outside the window. Is there a better time for some good thinking? I love snow for a variety of reasons, but one that I am appreciating right now is that it gives me reasons to slow down. I do not always take them, in fact I feel I have run more errands in the last few snowy days than I usually do, but even while running errands I think about whether or not I need to go out, and try to go slower when I am out. As a pastor I have a tendency to race from one location to another, always trying to do lots of different things. Snow and racing around do not go well together. I am always amused and at the same time worried about the people who try to race in the snow. My big theme this Advent season is trying to do less and that is really hard to do. There is a tendency around the holidays to want to do more, to try and work harder, to get more done. I think the falling snow is just another reminder how each of us need to take a moment and slow down. There is a quiet peacefulness to snow fall that I believe needs to be celebrated. I do not know what I am going to give up today to just relax and enjoy the snow, but I feel that part of what each of us is called to do is listen to what God is saying through the weather and find some quiet moments during a season of carols, noise, and rush.