You are the bread

{Finding a new perspective on my own place, my own people, in my own words}.

“You are the bread and the wine of your place. Do you hear the biblical hints in that statement? That is, God has put the place in you and you in the place. The place meets God through you and God meets the place through you in the local church”

I woke up early this moving to arrange a divine encounter between a few of my very best friends: flour, water and salt.

Flour travels for our weekly meetings in a 50 pound sack that usually lives in the cooler part of our home for about 6 months at a time. Wheat doesn’t well in Santa Margarita. It would grow, in fact a human friend just down the road grew, threshed and ground his own wheat for bread just a few years ago. They say it would take about 1/4 acre of wheat to feed one family for one year. We don’t have enough land and we probably eat more bread than your average family. That’s because we enjoy life more than your average family. Bread is life, at least it makes life worth living. 

50 pounds, divided evenly into two kitchen storage containers, enters our meetings in 900 increments. 900 bread flour join 100 wheat four for an even kilo. Somehow this makes the whole thing work in an easy and memorable way. So, flour travels, arrives, waits, and on joins the party every Friday morning.

Salt arrives in much smaller quantities to play its large role in a minor way. Sea salt does make a difference, though I could not tell you why. The simple, concentrated flavor that gives rise to so much in bread – just try to leave it out and see what happens. 20 grams of salt, always shows up 20 minutes late to the party. Flour and water need a little while to get to know each other before salt impedes the process and moves the whole thing toward flavor.

Water flows simply falls out of bed and rolls downhill from the town well that can be seen from the yard if you stand in just the right position. This is Santa Margarita water, fresh from the ground and solid with minerals. The joke is that the local water will either make you live forever or give you kidney stones. This is the water of life. It combines distant flour from the land and salt from the sea to create something wholly new – bread. Life. Joy. Fellowship.

Santa Margarita bacteria join the Santa Margarita water and the distant flour/ salt mixture to reproduce life. This bread began many years ago now when flour and water, mixed in equal measure by weight, was allowed to sit on the kitchen counter overnight. It was cut in half, again fed with water and flour, equal weight and allowed to sit. This process went on for impatient weeks to bring death to life. Still water. Dry flour. Now alive with bacteria and oxygen, combining into what we call flavor. A little bit of that fermented dough, combined with flour and water, began working on this loaf last night before I laid my head to bed. When I entered the kitchen it was awake, alive and ready for the day’s labor. 

And these Santa Margarita hands of mine engage in the providential act that becomes bread. Flour. Water. Salt. Bacteria and the labor of the hands of this man to make this bread that can only exist in this place. The flavor of a people and a place. My people. My place. The bread that gives life.

And this providential gift becomes a miraculous ritual on the table of communion the following Sunday morning. Local bread and local wine, brought together to make an ancient ordinance, an ordained rite, to nourish body and soul of local church. Well fed men and women feeding only on the good news the Jesus lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died, now strengthened to love their people and their place.

And My Train Just Ran Through it

{In returning to my people and my place after a 3 month sabbatical, I desired to look at it, and my book that celebrates it, with a new perspective. A good friend encouraged the thought and pushed me to be creative in the way I did that. In chapter 2 of You Are There we speak about the train that shapes and defines our little town, just like every town is defined by some landmark. What must it be like for big city folk who travel through on that train and just get a glimpse of this ideal life?}

I fell asleep before we ever left Jack London Square. The frantic morning took way too much out of me. Waking up before dawn to catch a train ruins the romance of a fancy city center hotel with all the amenities. The amenities were still tucked up in bed. Wake up, clean up, dress for business, dash to the cab, sprint to the station and drag my tired self to the upper level car hoping for a seat on the coastal side – none to be found. It’s the port side for me.

My L.A. advertising company has been doing business in the bay area for generations. I’ve come to discover that I do old business in the old way and they’ve discovered it’s best to let me. The chugga chugga of the Coast Starlight gets my creative juices flowing – and the hurry, wait, hurry, wait of the airport security line arrests my soul, gives it a good pat down and hands it back to me, along with my belt, my shoes and my dignity.

I slept southbound through San Jose and Salines, waking up with a shake somewhere in the grassy hills of San Luis Obispo County just as the train made a grand, sweeping turn to the left. We rounded that curve on what had risen into a glorious summer morning and entered a small town whose name could have been Shangri La for all I know…or Radiator Springs…or Mayberry. The school was empty, quiet and the grasses touched here and there with the golden color of drought. Not a sign of children there, but then we bent around towards a little commity park where time stood still…and it did again for me, just long enough to take it all in.

A playground built like an old west storefront was presently home to a swarm of children running wild. Swings swung high and swings swung low. Little ones streamed down the slide, roughly one by one, like the drones in line for the TSA – only with shoes and dignity. At least with dignity. One young boy stood king of the world on top of the play structure called the  merchantile, just like a Sheriff patrolling his beat.

A local fire truck was letting kids spray the hose  while other kids were having their faces painted. A group in yellow vests  bbqed hamburgers for a hungry crowd. And some pickers and grinders in 5 gallon hats crowed out from the gazebo while locals sat, tapped or danced under the shade of mulberry trees.

That’s right, its July 4 and this is a true American celebration of the true American life. Somewhere between San Francisco and Los Angeles a Norman Rockwell painting has come to life. Some little town enjoys the life I sell in ads to city slickers in either direction…and my train just ran through it.

Cute little nightmare?

{In returning to my people and my place after a 3 month sabbatical, I desired to look at it, and my book that celebrates it, with a new perspective. A good friend encouraged the thought and pushed me to be creative in the way I did that. In chapter 1 of You Are There I tell the story about our wonderful old church building that I have affectionately named the Cute Little Nightmare. But what does it think of the name? Honestly, I think it would have a lot to say and would not be too happy about it.}
Cute little nightmare? Why don’t you sit down for a minute son and let me tell you about the way it was when we meant business, when we did a lot with a little. I, with the men, women and children of this Community Church have given and given again. The time and money, heart and soul that we stored away is what you now use to do half as much with twice as much. I could tell you stories about boys and girls, births and deaths, marriages and divorces. I could tell you stories of Pastors who did the job without computers, secretaries or cell phones…and without counting the hours they were on the clock.

I may only be able to seat 100 at a time, but in over 60 years, thousands have gathered to worship within my walls. Sure, those walls are not what they used to be, some of them were never much at all. Yet, every scar, every sign of wear tells a story and and every story has a soul.

My doors have been open to hurting and broken families who did not care a bit that the foyer was too small or sometimes doubled as a office, or storage, or whatever was made to work for the time. The lonely old woman who found belonging in my congregation never once thought twice that the Sunday School classroom was also the hallway to the bathroom.

Now, the color of the chairs was not my fault, I like the pews better myself. There was room for more human backsides, if you slid them in tightly together. And once together, we would open the Bible and then nothing else mattered. And we would sing! Man, would we sing! There are nights when I sit here quietly on the hill and I swear I can still hear the harmonies of those old hymns. And Hazel’s piano playing will live in my bones as long as I’m still standing.

When they tried to tear me down after the earthquake of ’93, with all the other unenforced masonry buildings in the county, my people stood up for me. Hazel said she had tied the rebar herself back in the 1950’s.

You may count the times the downstairs classrooms has flooded in the wet seasons, but countless children have had their sins washed away in those same rooms. There were times when it was deep enough to baptize in it. But when the water dried up, we opened the Bible again and young ones in the faith became adults in Christ who raised young ones in the faith. Those children, who sang their opening exercises on my stage, are now ministers, missionaries and servants of God in all kinds of vocations. My footprint may be small, but my handprint is global.

Over 60 years of open doors, open Bibles and open hearts. Sinners have been converted, baptized, sanctified and many of them glorified. Four generations of Christians have been raised up who are stretching from here to the ends of the earth and back. You call that cute? I call it glory. You call it a nightmare? I call it a dream come true.

Sabbatical rest 

Mama’s piano. 25 years ago, when I first started in pastoral ministry, I would run to my sister Caryn’s house in the desert to rest. I’m 46 now. Caryn has been gone for over a decade. Home and family are still the best people and place for retreat.

Exploring plumb lines 3

#3. Think deeply, live simply.

I am honestly addicted to learning, to constant intake. So podcasts are just death to me…and joy at the same time. I currently have 485 active podcast episodes on my Ipod. I love to think and listening or reading makes me think and we so seldom think deeply. There is something amazing about hearing an educated person speak of a Christian view of economics, for example, when he or she is able to explore one simple point for an hour.

I stole a phrase from Ken Myers and like to say that I have the gift of bibliography. For me that means that I cannot think without recalling what I have read. My mind immediately spiderwebs out to include a book, a page and where that book is on my library shelf. It kind of a curse.

The most prominent book on my shelf is the Bible. Actually Bible(s) – 20 copies in 4 languages. So my spiderweb always centers around God who has revealed Himself and His way in the Bible. I cannot think about coffee without thinking about Jesus. This is how deep thinking becomes simple living for me. The greatest commands of Jesus are to love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself. (Now, God gets to define what he means by love, but that is a topic for another day).

My point – and how this becomes a plumb line for who I am and how I live is this – the more deeply I think about God, about economics and about coffee, the more I will live in love for the real God and for real people. That is what I mean by living simply. Everything else is secondary.

Connecting with people all over the place

IMG_1845I sat down to write a book about putting people and place back together. It stars the people and the place who have played such a significant part in putting me back together – the people and place of Santa Margarita, CA and Santa Margarita Community Church in particular.

It has been a joy to have others share my joys and enter into the stories that have made me happy in this place.

But something is happening that I did not expect. I am connecting with people all over the place.

As friends reach out for a copy of You are There, it has been like having small reunions everyday on Facebook, over email…and our postmaster gets to hear all about you while she helps me get packages sent you way.

It’s good to catch up, I hope you are doing well.


Exploring my plumb lines

1. Start with God, because God starts w/ God.

This is both a personal and a professional plumb line. Personally it gives me a relational border and reminder. It is like praying the Lord’s prayer, “Your Kingdom come,” I am forced to remember that it is not my kingdom that will bring wholeness to the world, but His. That impacts the way I walk and the people I walk with. God is always first.

It also establishes my philosophical and theological a priori. God is my starting point. I assume that God exists, the God of the Bible, because God assumes that He exists. What I find is that this is a much better starting point than assuming that you or I can properly access all things. We are fools and starting with ourselves always ends up in foolish places. Starting with God leads to goodness to me and through me into my world.

Just a thought on the professional impact of this plumb line. I have sat for years on what my denomination calls an ordination council. That means I am part of a group of men and women who inquire about the character and understanding of one desiring to be ordained, or affirmed, as a pastor or ministry leader. One of the main things I look for is – do they start with God? Do they answer from God’s Word? Do they even know God’s Word? Far too many do not. They rely on their own cleverness and education.

Any minister who does not start with God as God has revealed Himself in the Bible is a dangerous substitute for the real thing.

Here is the deal. I think I am quite clever and I have little lights shining on diplomas, meaning I am proud of my education. So, in avoidance of becoming a great potential danger to my church whom I love – I start with God, because God starts with God.

Thank you for asking

IMG_1649Many of you are asking how you can buy a copy of You are There and we are very grateful.

First, if you know us, buy from us. That is always the best and easiest way.

Ask personally, call, send an email or FB message and we will get your copy in the mail for $15.00, including shipping. Google Wallet makes payment easy.

Next option is to buy from the publisher: They can offer 20% off the retail price.

You are There is best read in groups, how about reading with your friends or Bible study group?



Why did I write, “You Are There?”

I wrote this book for several reasons. First, handing on a love for Creation Care is a “come and see” kind of thing. I wish I could invite every one of you to my place, to walk with me, worship with me, to sit down over a cup of coffee at The Porch Cafe…just so you could see, feel, touch and taste what it is like when God puts people and place back together.

I also wrote this book to add a pastoral voice to the many good books on environmental stewardship from a scientific or theological perspective. Creation Care is simply a part of whole life discipleship, what I call, “following Jesus all the way down to the dirt.”

Through my involvement with A Rocha, a Christian Conservation organization, I have found myself in the middle of heated conversations between the evangelical church and those with environmental concern. It is not uncommon for the church to take quite a beating for not being there when the creatures they were given dominion over needed them most. Some of the criticism is called for; some is certainly not.

Rather than beat up “the church” as an organization, whose primary God–given task is making disciples, this book hopes to help put the local church back together with its place. The simple, common sense reality is that you cannot love people and destroy their place and you cannot love a place and ignore the people who live, work and worship there. Read along and I will tell the story of the place and the people that have helped put me back together; the people that live in the place called Santa Margarita, California.