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27 March 2013

Explaining the Holocaust to our Nine Year-Old Daughter

Posted in Culture, Church

seder plateThe other night we had to explain to my 9 year-old daughter what the Holocaust was.

Not because she is learning about it in school, but because it is part of our family story. It is part of her story.

I’m a Lutheran pastor. My wife is Jewish. Her ancestors come from Poland. My wife’s grandmother, we call her Bubbie Helen, was just a teenager when World War II erupted. She lived with her mother, Ella, an accomplished portrait photographer, who owned her own studio in Warsaw, and cared for her sick mother. Her father Eser was a traveling encyclopedia salesman. When the war broke out he was in the United States and he sent them letters urging them to leave Poland before the Nazis invaded. Helen’s mother refused to leave her sick mother.

But Helen did leave. At 16 years old, she set out from Poland. Her father would send her letters leading her to the next safe house. They led her across Siberia, to China, to Japan, where she was on the last US refugee ship to California before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.

She arrived in California speaking only Yiddish and with no money. She was taken in by two professors at Cal Berkeley who taught her English. She believed her father was in New York City. His last name was Goldberg. And they called every variation of that name in the New York City phone book until they found him. It took two years until they were reunited.

Later they learned that the rest of Helen’s family died at Auschwitz. My wife’s small family is all that remains.

Now my daughter knows the horrible tragedy of the Holocaust, but also that she comes from a line of strong women, like her great-grandmother Helen, her grandmother, her aunt, and her mom. She knows more now about the evil human beings can perpetrate against one another. She also knows more about strength and courage and living in hope. It is a lesson that our younger three children will also learn in time.

18 March 2013

This is the World You Live (and Lead) in Now

Posted in Digital Ministry, Culture, Social Media, Church

You may have seen this photo published by NBC News about the difference in the crowd in St. Peter's Square from when Pope Benedict XVI was elected the funeral of Pope John Paul II in 2005 and the announcement of the newly minted Pope Francis just last week.

It is an image that dramatically captures the rapid advance in technology and culture—and the difference in the way we live our lives—over these last eight years. 

This change has profound implications for how we live, lead, and minister today.

stpeters

Remember that in 2005, the iPhone, the advent of the modern smartphone, didn’t exist. It was still two years in the offing. Facebook was available to college and high school students, but would not be open to the public-at-large for another year.

05 March 2013

Pastors, You Are Not Too Busy (or Important) To Exercise

Posted in Leadership, Church

runnerIt’s a lie we tell ourselves: “I am too busy to exercise. This work is too important.”

Pastors are among the biggest culprits in perpetuating this myth, and not surprisingly suffer from high rates stress, emotional distress, addiction, and burnout. Many pastors sacrifice their short- and long-term health in the name of their ministry, which to them seems too busy and important to pause for even a 30-minute workout. In the end, their ministry suffers and, at times, is even cut short.

I was struck by a recent profile Michael Lewis (author of Moneyball, The Big Short, and The Blind Side) did of President Barack Obama, in which Obama talks about his exercise regimen. Lewis writes,

“When he awakens at seven, he already has a jump on things. He arrives at the gym on the third floor of the residence, above his bedroom, at 7:30. He works out until 8:30 (cardio one day, weights the next)....”

“‘You have to exercise,’ [Obama] said, for instance. ‘Or at some point you’ll just break down.’”

You have to exercise or at some point you'll just break down.

26 February 2013

Frodo Baggins: Model for Ministry in Tough Times

Posted in Leadership, Church

frodobaggins

We all have models of ministry we emulate, ministry leaders we look up to. These are mostly those who model success, who are able to perpetuate good times and positive ministries. But what about when things are hard—really hard?

We often lack for ministry models in those time, in part, I suppose, because we like to talk about our successes far more than our failures. We don't as easily celebrate people for their brokenness and struggle, and yet, in ministry, we all wind up there at one time or another.

At some of the most difficult times in ministry, I found an unlikely ministry model: Frodo Baggins.

Frodo is the main character in J.R.R. Tolkien's book trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. During the toughest times in my ministry I found myself watching the recent movie versions often, not merely for escapism, but because in those times I came to strongly identify with Frodo Baggins.

You'll remember Frodo as the diminutive Hobbit, who is charged with carrying the burdensome ring of Sauron across Middle Earth in order to to destroy it at Mount Doom in the forsaken land of Mordor.

The Ringbearer

The ring weighs more and more heavily on Frodo throughout the story. The carefree life of his home in the Shire is replaced with a grinding pilgrimmage through unforgiving terrain. He tires and ages before us. The evil influence of the ring threatens to corrupt is kind heart.

Ministry, whether in good times or bad, is about ring-bearing. It is about carrying the burden for your people—for the congregation itself and for the larger church. Always, we hold the hopes and dreams, and aspirations of our people. In difficult circumstances, we also carry their fear and their anxiety. We are often the recipents of criticism and bad behavior. The weight of the task of guiding a congregation through difficult times can take an enormous toll on the ring bearer.

07 January 2013

The Church's Generational Log Jam is Making Everybody Cranky

Posted in Culture, Emerging, Church

logjamMinistry leaders can be so busy lamenting the fact there are fewer people in our churches these days that we often miss how the people who do attend are crammed together generationally.

We are unwittingly cramming six distinct generations into three traditional roles, and it causes all kinds of congregational tensions, which present persistent challenges to ministry leaders.

That’s the important point that Carroll Sheppard and Nancy Burton Dilliplane make in their helpful book Congregational Connections: Uniting Six Generations in the Church. I had the pleasure of co-leading a conversation on generations in the church with Carroll at a recent gathering of the Philadelphia Area Ecumenical Resource Network, and I appreciated this point:

“This is the first time in the world’s history when significant numbers of six demographic cohorts have all occupied the stage at the same time.”

“What is intensifying the problem is that these six generational cohorts are trying to squeeze themselves into an outdated three-generation model of elders, households raising children/career singles, and children.”

“In the six-generational cohort society, it is often unclear who is in charge, who will do the work, and who is raising the children.”

28 December 2012

Best of the Blog 2012: Digital Ministry, Pastoral Transition, and Church Leadership

Posted in Culture, Social Media, Church

20122012 was the most challenging and gratifying in my professional career. I published my first book, left one call and accepted another, and relocated our family of six from Boston to Philadelphia. It was a great year to be blogging to document it all.

What I've learned about blogging is that one does not only write a blog to process the present moment, but also to observe how one's own perspective, style, and interests evolve over time.

I blog, in part, to discover what I'm interested in, what seems worth writing about, and to chip away at larger ideas and challenges in 1000 words or less. In short, in blogging, like all writing, I suppose, the thing you learn the most about is yourself.

So, in a new a new tradition (drum roll) here's the best of my blog, 2102 edition:

Here's the 2012 edition of the blog in raw numbers: 

  • 48 posts
  • 36,134 visits, of which 25,670 were new
  • from 25,727 unique visitors
  • who viewed 57,583 pages on the blog

Top five posts:

Here are more highlights organized thematically:

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