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?