Thursday, January 31, 2008

Adoption Race Rounding the Bend

Rachel and David just got word that the Chinese government has completed the bureaucratic process that makes Elizabeth available for them to adopt. Now the travel permit is in the works and should take 6-8 weeks to complete. Then they can go to China to meet Elizabeth and bring her home. Read Rachel’s last post on their blog to catch their excitement. This means that the sprint is on to get frequent flyer miles, money and logistics in place. Pick up the prayers!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Wedding Anniversary

Thirty-nine years ago today (January 25, 1969) we were married at Wooddale Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota (old location on Nicolette). What a journey! Three sons, two daughters-in-law, 3 (soon to be 4) grandchildren. A treasury of friends from each of our stops on the pilgrimage: Illinois, New Jersey, Ontario, Wisconsin, Texas (not to mention our home-bases of Minnesota and California). We have found Christ’s presence in the delight and pain of serving the Church: Countryside Chapel, First Presbyterian Church, MorningStar Christian Church, Central Christian Church. A wealth of adventures and experiences have shaped our relationship from Marriage Encounters in Illinois and New Jersey to life in the L’Arche Daybreak community to friendship with the Bruderhof community. We give thanks for the models and inspiration of our parents’ marriages and the memories of Candy’s mother, Roma Miller, and Norm’s father, Harold Stolpe. Though dramatically imperfect, we have received the great grace of being called to live our marriage as an icon of Christ’s covenant love for the community of faith, albeit through a glass dimly.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Mom's Gets New Glasses

Today (January 18) my sister Elaine picked up a new pair of glasses for Mom (they were lost in the move to the hospital). Not seeing double (and less fuzzy) is a morale boost.

Monday, January 14, 2008

What You Can Take With You

“I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the LORD, and my reward with my God.” Isaiah 49:4

Out of college I joined the staff of Christian Service Brigade in 1969 just after the movement had reached its peak, but no one knew it yet. I imagined myself as part of a cadre of pioneers looking to be on the cutting edge of ministry in the reverberations of cultural upheaval. A much diminished organization continues to serve churches, extruded into a thin wire that is a mere shadow of its former promise.

Candy and I threw ourselves into the heady brew at Countryside Chapel. This small congregation with many young families was a ready laboratory for daring experiments in church community. Non-denominational, out of the circuit of prominent churches, we were free from conventional models. We bonded deeply with each other. And one by one, God spread the core leadership across the country. The presumptuous dreams evaporated, unrecognizable in a merger with another congregation.

Working for Family Concern was a way to pursue my calling with Countryside Chapel. But after three years, the split time becoming untenable, this back-up became my career. Family Concern was on the verge of becoming more than a vehicle for J. Allan Petersen’s personal ministry. As I struggled with my “dark night of the soul” to discern my calling, I fought depression with the hard work of writing, editing and research. Though a catalyst for a host of marriage and family ministries, Family Concern did not have the velocity for escaping beyond a vehicle for personal ministry and phased out as J. Allan Petersen retired.

I still consider my seventeen years as Minister of Nurture with First Presbyterian Church of Mt. Holly, New Jersey (1980-1997) as the prime of my career. Great pastoral team, spiritually strong elder leadership, solid theological foundations, daring global and local mission engagement, creative and thoughtful worship innovation. How empowered I felt to be prepared and sent by this congregation to be the first pastor of a church with a bold vision in Milwaukee. How I have hurt to hear from my friends in New Jersey as that church has struggled and slipped to find its vision for the next generation after God moved that pastoral team in new directions.

At MorningStar Christian Church in Milwaukee, I relished the same pioneer spirit that had been so nourishing at Countryside Chapel. I quickly felt the crush of conflicting visions and competition among leaders that I was unable to reconcile. After only two years, relinquishing this ministry was necessary for the future of the congregation and the health of my family. The congregation sputtered and stumbled, many left, before a new pastor could be found and a new direction forged, which is markedly different than the bold dream that had brought that congregation into existence.

Since 2000, I have been the pastor of Central Christian Church in Dallas, Texas. This church, too, has had a long struggle and endured many crises. What will come of our vision to become a community based, urban, multicultural faith community, bringing the presence of Christ in the 21st Century is far from clear. Yet, my calling here is affirmed over and over from people within the congregation and leaders and colleagues in ministry in the larger church. At 61 years old, it is certainly not about adding to my résumé or building my career.

In terms of institutional success, I do wrestle with Isaiah’s feeling of having spent my strength for nothing and vanity. I remember with a deep ache the doubt of calling I felt in my dark night of the soul in the late 70’s. I recall in 1999 the dizzying bewilderment of being absolutely confident in God’s pastoral calling and gifting for me while having no confirmation of being sent as well as called when going from Wisconsin to Texas.

Yet, I still get notes and messages of the importance of my pastoral presence from many people whom God privileged me with in these past nearly 40 years. Clearly my legacy is not in bricks and mortar, nor in organizations. It is the people through whom God has enriched me over the years. I cannot imagine losing the contact with some of these folk by skipping one of the stops on my pilgrimage. Of course, buildings crumble and organizations dissolve, but people are raised to eternal life.

“You can’t take it with you” is certainly true, but you can take them with you. The people with whom we share faith in Jesus are our eternal treasure. I have often mused how the timelessness of the Kingdom of God means not having to hurry from conversation to conversation.

Even greater is the realization that God is my reward. My fleeting conversations with God, now in Scripture and prayer, will be leisurely and intimate beyond imagination. So my cause is not career or institution but with the Lord.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Idolatry of Seeking a Stable State

The words of the Magi that a child had been born king of the Jews (Matthew 2:2) made the infant Jesus a threat to Herod the Great. His fear provoked violent anger. This obscure Jesus kept threatening subsequent Herods: Archelaus (Matthew 2:22), Antipas (Matthew 14:1; Mark 6:14; Luke 9:7-9; 23:7), Agrippa (Acts 25,26). When those who imagine they have power and authority are threatened, their fear often provokes violent anger. This is not an ancient phenomenon, as current events in Pakistan and Kenya make clear.

The United States is in the midst of the most wide open presidential race in the memory of anyone now living. Orderly democratic succession of leadership and a deep tradition of the rule of law are important protections from the violent anger that rises from the fear of threatened leaders. “Change” has become the theme of this political season, with candidates from both parties competing to convince voters that they are best able to bring “change.” Regardless of how capable and successful these candidates may be, even if elected with a congressional majority, none of them will bring about utopia. None will lead the Unites States to an enduring era of stability and permanent prosperity. Expecting that is idolatry. Even the best candidate is not the messiah. Even the best administration is not the Kingdom of God.

As much as people enjoy the holiday season, most people feel relief at “getting back to normal” after Christmas is over. The decorations are put away. No more parties are planned. Diets are accelerated with the intention of fewer pounds and healthier eating. The lure of “back to normal” is a longing for the eternal stability of the Kingdom of God. But this longing can never be fulfilled within human history. Children grow up and move out on their own. People change jobs and move to new houses, even new cities. Generations rise and pass away. Old landmarks outlive their usefulness and are replaced. Tragedies invade. Empires rise and fall. Wars are won and lost. Wanting to keep things as they were in some imagined golden moment is idolatry. The only hope for healthy, authentic stability is the Kingdom of God.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Update on Norm's Mom

Norm's Mom, Doris, returned to her room at the Michaelsen Health Center of the Holmstad in Batavia, Illinois after about two weeks at Delnor Hospital. Though much improved, she is still weak and is in for an extended recovery time. Her eye glasses were lost in the shuffle getting to the hospital and have not been found. The eye clinic doesn't want to make replacements unless she comes in for an exam, which she is not up to. Our prayers:
  • thanks for getting past three serious and simultaneous infections
  • strength and patience for the recovery process
  • a solution to the eye glasses so she can see more clearly
  • mental, emotional and spiritual peace, clarity and wholeness
  • that the days she still has here can be good and when the time comes, her passage into Christ's presence will be easy

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Epiphany for the New Year

New Year’s Day doesn’t commemorate any historical event or person. It does not correspond to any astronomical milestone, since it misses the winter solstice by twelve days. It seems to be an arbitrary accountant’s convenience for bookkeeping. Yet, we celebrate as though the start of the New Year had some intrinsic significance. Any excuse for a party! Since it is not tied to a solemn occasion, noble character or spiritual value, New Year’s is the ideal rationale for abandonment to uninhibited excess (for one night).

But six days after New Year’s comes Epiphany, whose significance is lost on the contemporary Church as anti-climax to Christmas, if even recognized. Yet, here is the climax of Christmas. The revelation of Epiphany enables us to perceive the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, all peoples have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (Ephesians 3:4-6).

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Praying for Our Family as We Enter 2008

  • For peace of heart and clarity of mind for Norm's mother, Doris, hospitalized in Illinois. For strength and patience for Norm's sister, Elaine, who is present. Thanks for Rachel and David who made two trips from Milwaukee to Illinois to give their support, and Elaine's daughter Helen who also came from Wisconsin to visit.
  • For all details and timing to fall into place for Rachel, David and Sam as they make arrangements and preparations to go to China to get Elizabeth. For Elizabeth's total readiness for this next step in her journey.
  • For energy and focus for Erik as he starts another semester at the University of North Texas.