Monday, March 02, 2009


Perspective is Everything

“Man, he could sure use some spiritual or social sandpaper, varnish and polyurethane on his way of relating.” I’m sure this thought had crossed all your minds at one time or another as you have read my newsletters. Coupled with the fact that I do forestry and arboriculture very well on one hand, yet couldn’t build a birdhouse out of processed lumber if my life depended on it, attests to my lack of refinement in certain areas. Many of you, through my Gecko Tales and Musings have followed my journey and spiritual growth from 1992 to the present- many of you are pleased, curious, confused, disappointed and even ready to write me off. My NT Gospel’s Professor told me that the definition of snob is “someone who insists another person becomes like them, because they believe they think right and act right, over and above others.” I am not saying you are snobs but simply point out that my journey has been informed by fifteen years of serving in an impoverished country, an international community, and a fledgling Cambodian Church Community. Maybe I am a snob because I would like you become somewhat like me and have some of my perspective. After all, I am 100% American, 25% Cambodian, and 25% International. I am a 150% person. Does your perspective afford you the view of the world that I have? Jesus was a 200% person-100% Jewish and 100% God. His perspective was a Kingdom perspective, the big picture- Israel and the church for the world and the nations, not for themselves. Without a big picture perspective, we often get caught with tunnel vision. How does one gain the big picture perspective? I guess that is the point of most of my writings.

Over the years, generally seven types of people have responded to my newsletters and I wonder how some of these types of people can properly assess our ministry without having been in a war-torn, Southeast Asian developing country. Here are the types of people who typically responded:

§ The Doctrine Police

§ Homeland Security

§ The Offended

§ The Affirming

§ The Admonishing

§ The Generous Antagonists

§ The Challengers

The Doctrine Police always scan my Musings or newsletters for doctrinal deviation and can’t seem to wait to confront me and challenge me on the finer points of the law. Doctrine Police don’t offend me but sadden me. They usually rarely have anything constructive to say, and operate from a very legalistic view of the scriptures.

The Homeland Security folk operate in a similar way. They, like the Doctrine Police, miss all the great things God is doing through our family, and scan my writings for anything that may smack of unpatriotic sentiment. I have told people, I am NOT a patriot. I am a Kingdom citizen before I am an American citizen.

The Offended also scan newsletters for things to be offended about. They include the Doctrine Police the Homeland Security folk, but are also in class of their own. We have been dropped by two churches this year because people were offended over remarks that were ‘unpatriotic,’ or what they perceived as ‘liberal,’ or unhappy about my belief that social justice is an important part of God’s Kingdom agenda. Some of the ‘Offended’ are offended for justifiable reasons. I do, on occasions can be quite (unfortunately) insensitive, and often end up needing to apologize to those I offend unnecessarily. These people are gracious to forgive me and I appreciate their patience with me. It is a humble learning experience for me.

The Affirming are just that- affirming. The always look for and find the good things in my musings or our newsletters and are quite diligent and intentional to let me know. It usually takes about 10 affirming emails to counter the harm done from 1 email from the “Offended” or “Admonishers.” The affirming recipients don’t lack in confrontation skills, and have often confronted me in love, and helped me see myself when I have become proud or self-righteous. Those who are affirming know who you are and I applaud you.

The "Admonishers" are few but their comments have been so hurtful that they have often put me into a tail spin for days or even weeks. In my newsletter, I might be rejoicing how God is doing miraculous things but the "Admonishers" will search the Gecko Tales or my Musings to find something, no matter how minute, to correct. The Affirming confront with love, the Admonishers look to shoot the wounded, to be the experts, the ones who have all the answers, as if correct answers are more important than right praxis.

The Generous Antagonists are friends and colleagues who do not necessary share an evangelical Christian perspective or even a Christian perspective in general, but feel free to share their opinions with me. They don’t hold back and they are honest as to say what they think doesn’t jive with reality. They affirm what I do, but often question the motives or existence of the one I claim to have committed my life to and serve. I welcome their feedback, dialogue and even their passionate disagreements for they have known me at my worst and still accept me while many Christian Brethren only accept me if believe and act as they do.

The Challengers also include the Generous Antagonists and the Affirming. They challenge my assumptions about God, people, my methodology, my philosophy, my ideologies, theology, and character. They push me to rethink, and re-process many of the things I assume to be true, but have never stopped long enough to dig as deep as I should. They keep me sharp and help me to be more aware of my thoughts and actions.

Some of you might wonder, what is the purpose of this particular musing? Well, it might be good for people to know that God’s children in “full-time” ministry, especially ones that serve overseas, experience a myriad of stressful situations that you cannot possibly imagine (unless you been there and done that) as you try to see their situation through “contemporary American social lenses.” As someone has said, “perspective is everything.” Some of our strongest advocates, other than very close friends and family, are those who have had cross cultural experiences themselves. All in all, we want to hear from you, and although our view of this country might be difficult to hear at times, and our theology being informed by our experience may clash with yours, our perspectives, I believe are valuable for you, in order that you might expand your perspective on God’s agenda for the world. “The difference between leaders and followers is perspective. The difference between good leaders and great leaders is better perspective.” Most of you are leaders in some capacity and my hope is that your perspective becomes a glocal (global and local) perspective, a big perspective, and a Kingdom perspective.



Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Warm Fuzzies on a Cold Rainy Monday

Many of you know me from experiencing different angles of my life so some of you might not be all that familiar with the rugged logger-backpacker-tree climbing-tobacco chewing Brian of days gone by, but by you all know how unpolished and rough around the edges I am. In light of being the rugged individual that I am, I, on occasion, do get the “warm fuzzies.” Notice that everyone puts warm fuzzies in parenthesis when they write it?

I find myself driving around the greater Seattle area continually on just less than a quarter tank of gas in my 1991 Ford Explorer. As I monitor the gas gauge I subconsciously coach and urge the quarter tank to last as long as it can, but alas, it never listens. I get so sick up and fed looking at that quarter tank and nickel and diming it by putting ten to twenty dollars in the tank. The other day I was out of gas and money so I was forced to put $25 worth of gas on the credit card. Now I am experiencing the “warm fuzzies” as I see the needle pointing to just over half a tank. Don’t knock the “warm fuzzies.”

While living in Cambodia we had a cook-helper named Srey Neang who came from the provinces. She was about 32 and she had a short and very well natured husband named Phat. Because of the patronage mentality of the Cambodian people, Neang and Phat became like our grown children. They held us responsible for taking care of them and when we left Cambodia last year, we set them up with jobs for when we would be away but they fell through. I just heard that Srey Neang is working out well in her new job with the whole Kramm Family (missionaries with Pioneers) in PP, and Phat has two jobs now. This news made me very glad- a level which rises above that of the warm fuzzies. I don’t know if one can experience varying degrees of warm fuzzies, or if you just move right out of them into some other category of emoting.

Sunday I attended a debriefing for those members from the Seattle churches that support us who recently went on a mission trip to Cambodia. It was so rewarding to see how this group has grown and matured over the last 9 years that I felt a desire to write a case study on When Churches Get Short-Term Mission Right. I am waiting for someone to commission me to do the job. Attending that debriefing was quite a few degrees on the barometer above the warm fuzzies. I felt proud, proud to be associated with such a group of people.

Matt and I have been doing tree work on Saturdays and holidays. The differences between doing tree work in the Seattle area and Southern Connecticut is vast. Trees and shrubs do not have a dormant season. They grow year round and hence are much taller and bigger. Ok, so what else is new? The interesting thing is that in CT, people wanted perfect trees, and when an arborist or dendrician stepped on the property they had trees that had been trained properly and something to work with. In this area most people try to do it themselves first, then call the tree guy. I chuckle to myself because I now know what it is like to have been God when he created the universe “ex nihilo.” I get the “warm fuzzies” knowing that I can still climb and prune at age 51, and love every minute of it (once or twice a week is good).

Driving down 405 one can see on a nice day the snow capped mountains of the Olympic Range and the Cascade Range, and Mt. Baker, Mt. Rainier, etc., in a 360º ring around the Seattle area. It is difficult not to be impressed. With the weather like it is here, one may go about their business in a literal fog for days or even weeks, than all of a sudden, snow capped mountains just pop up to great heights out of nowhere. The warm fuzzies pale in the light of feeling an actual awe, as long as one doesn’t jump out of their skin and drive off the road when these monoliths simply appear out of nowhere right in front of you!!

I teach an Adult Sunday School class and I am the youngest in the class by about 10 years. I have discovered that I don’t feel the need to be an expert seminarian and deliver vast amounts of biblical content and lofty ideas to the class, but instead provide opportunities for class members to use and share their deep knowledge, their life’s experience, their talents and spiritual gifts with each other. I do guide and facilitate of course, but it is fun to discover new things together as a group. I feel I get more out it than my class members. We just have fun being the body of Christ and learning as very active participants.

Well I could ramble on but I have to head out to visit a tree nursery, then meet over lunch about bringing the Good News of the Kingdom in both word and deed to Cambodia. The tree nursery is warm fuzzies territory but discussing Kingdom business in Cambodia is more like the feeling you get when someone awards you a special privilege like giving you the key to the office that no one else has. Are you following me yet?

Live from Seattle,

The content of this “Musings” does not necessarily express the opinions and views of the whole family of Mercer Island Geckos, but solely that of the author.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Theology of the Great Santini

Theology of the Great Santini

Lest you think I am plagiarizing Pat Conroy’s book, The Great Santini, I assure I am not. I am simply using the title of his novel as a metaphor for a number of different things. It might be that you boomers you never read the book but you surely saw the movie, and you pomos out there have probably read and seen neither- but I won’t hold that against you.

Who was The Great Santini? According to author Pat Conroy, The Great Santini was his Marine Fighter Pilot father who had served in Korea and now(at the 1967) was preparing to serve a tour in Vietnam, and who constantly had to move his family all over the eastern seaboard as he reported to new posts. I’m sure you can imagine how his family of seven children reacted when the Colonel came home and announced; “Pack up, were moving again. We’ll be on the road at midnight to make good time.”

The Colonel, usually in full dress, was competitive in everything, everything but academics and he wanted to make his boys in his own image and his way of doing that was to beat them, throw things at them, verbally and physically abuse them, and to tear their hearts out. When he beat his wife, Pat as a boy would jump on the Colonel’s back only to be swatted off like a persistent fly. Names like pussy, mama’s boy, weak, sad, you’re shit, you’re worth nothing, etc, were the words the of encouragement Patrick Conroy received from the Colonel when ever he tried something that required feats of strength or agility, like sports. He had to answer his father, “Yes, sir. No, Sir. I’m sorry, sir.”

For those of you who vaguely recall either the book or the movie, I need not go on describing the character of The Great Santini. I propose to you, ‘what did you feel when you read the book, saw the movie, or read my brief description above? Think about it for minute.

As it applied to me, years before I got married, I thanked God my dad was not The Great Santini even though his style might have been similar. I got my brain addled and my butt kicked a few times but I usually deserved it, and for the most part it was no where near a real Santini experience. On my part, I was every bit of the Great Santini to my younger brother who still shows the scars for it. Now married for eighteen years with children growing up in my household I ask; “Was I the great Santini? Or to what level was I the great Santini?” Unfortunately there were those times when I put on the colonel’s uniform and became The Great Santini to my children. There were times when I cuffed them, insulted them, verbally abused them, and times when I ground down their self-esteem with the heel of my jungle boot into the sand. Fortunately most of my The Great Santini days are over as I have learned to become someone else, but those days leave their scars behind with which I will have to deal with the rest of my life. A little bit of The Great Santini lives in all of us, no?

Pat Conroy was point guard on the Citadel Bulldog’s Basketball Team and averaged 25 points per game in his senior year. His coach was another The Great Santini type who destroyed his team through petty jealousies and his own insecurities, knowing that he himself would never be the famous college basket player he once was- therefore he went about ruining the potential professional careers of the Citadel’s Bulldogs Basketball Team players. Conroy majored in English and was also the President of the Honor Court, the editor of the school paper, and a major writer for the poetry club. His story of hazing during his plebe was just as full of a nightmare as living in the same house with the colonel- just a lot more of them.

We all have our Great Santinis in this life. I have had my share, thankfully most of them short-lived. It was The Great Santoni who dogged my soul and spirit, far across the oceans with betrayal, pettiness, game playing and uncalled for admonishment for close to fifteen years until I had realized I had given him the power to affect me like that. One day I just refused to give him power over me and The Great Santoni’s jabs and strikes withered up drier than a bone. He was done.

Sometime we have The Great Santinis in our lives who abuse us through mind games, through gossip, spreading of rumors, and through physical and verbal violence. Sometimes it’s hard to sort them all out. Life is full of them. Sometimes we’re akin to a pin pall rolling down through the life lines of lives bouncing off various forms of The Great Santini until we either get catapulted back up only to go through them again, or we luckily plunk into the whole on the bottom.

How does one overcome The Great Santinis of this life? How does one like Patrick Conroy overcome a life full of Great Santinis of all kinds stacked on top of each like cordwood? Conroy went on to write six excellent novels (most about his life) which were mostly best-sellers but not without a cost. He is on his third wife now, had dealt with severe lasting bouts of depression, and contemplated suicide a number of times (his brother committed suicide by jumping off a tall building and mental illness runs his generation of the family). He is a scarred man but somewhat fulfilled as well.

I recently saw the movie Slumdog Millionaire and couldn’t fathom how three children from an Indian slum in Mumbai made it through an unending maze of Great Santinis up until young adulthood. Actually, the real Great Santini would have been a blessing compared to the Karma parked on their front matts. How did they make it when no one, literally, was there to help them, only exploit them?

Another movie worth watching, Gran Torino, directed by, and starring Clint Eastwood visits the same storyline except in the form of a Hmong family in Minnesota who wants to keep their son from joining a gang. In this scenario, Clint Eastwood as The Great Santini neighbor next door, ends up comparing his cultural values with those of the Hmong family and finds his own American values out of whack. He changes over the course of a few months to take under his wing Hmong teenager who calls "gook" and "slope" who was forced to try to steal his car by the Hmong gang and Eastwood teaches the boy constructions skills, then only to lose his own life in the process of peacefully saving the young Hmong boy from a joining gang.

Our world is stacked with Great Santinis. So who are we? Are we the Great Santini to our children, our neighbors, our parents? Or are we on the receiving end? Have we gone through Santini’s like cordwood? What price are we paying to get our souls back again? It doesn't seem like the factory will not stop churning them out too soon. The onslaught may be great but some Great Santinis can change.

Pat Conroy wrote The Great Santini as an act of revenge on his father who had severely beaten all members of his family from the time Pat was a youngster to his graduation date at Citadel. The Great Santini read the book, The Great Santini, written by his son Pat and was cut to the quick. Of course some things were disputed, but by and large, he began to change, and he changed radically. Pat Conroy tremendously enjoyed the new relationship he and his father came to build between themselves over the last 15 or so years of The Great Santini’s life.

Change is possible no matter how much the odds are stacked up against us, or against someone else. It won’t be fun, it won’t be easy, you don’t have to like it, and it will be messy, but let’s get on with it as much as we can. And God uses to The Great Santinis of this life to shape us into who and what he wants to be. God’s shaping is never fun easy either, but it is the way he chooses. I don’t know any other way that Pat Conroy could have responded to God’s shaping through his father, coach and plebes in his short 21 years. Would I trade his fame and fortune for those experiences. A tough call!

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Prisoners of Disobedience

Victor Frankel was wrong. Unless we go the through the very rigorous process of examining our cultural values and world view, and making the necessary corrections (a long process), we will never be free. God nor the Bible cannot set us free unless we agree to follow God in obedience into the deep, deep process of shaping that moves us along in our spiritual development until we reach a phase where we can hear Him granting us freedom from our cells of cultural captivity by engaging in a reworking of our enlightenment, modern and American cultural values and world view.


Saturday, January 03, 2009


Listening to God?

I began fasting once a week and I really don’t like it all that much but I feel the need to seek God more intently and intentionally as I tread the turbulent waters of marriage-family tensions, and financial pressures. About 11 am this morning I took a break and lay down upon my bed. I just lay there for awhile, enjoying the silence and thought about the concept of listening to God. I waited for God to speak to me in the deafening silence, but words came not, nor was there the thundering voice of God like Saul heard on the road to Damascus, or that still small voice that Elijah heard on the side of Mount Carmel, breaking into my cottage-like bedroom/office.

My mind wandered to a shabby Rhododendron I transplanted for my landlord. The plant was barely surviving as the roots had no where to grow, so they grew around the root ball making it a solid mass of circular dead-end roots. When I dug the hole for transplanting the “Rhodie” to a new location, I dug the hole rather wide, and then plopped in the root ball. I back filled my wide hole with the excavated soil so the roots would not hit a ‘brick wall’ of compacted soil when they began to grow out of the root ball. I bought some bone meal to apply as organic phosphorus which helps the roots grow out of the ball and into the surrounding soil. “Plant down your roots, you shabby shrub,” I commanded it.

My mind suddenly changed channels and I saw an image of the infamous Bonsai maple I agreed to root-prune for a friend. I pruned the roots a bit too drastically and the leaves withered, turned yellow, then brown, and the little Bonsai went into dormancy. It sits there in now in our house looking rather pathetic with its brown leaves, a few falling off here and there each day. I’m holding it for safe keeping until next spring when I bring it back to the owner.

Here I am one day, encouraging the roots of a Rhododendron to grow out of its bound up root ball into new soil, and another day root pruning a Bonsai Maple so the roots don’t grow out of the root ball.

I saw the Bonsai in my minds eye mocking me. I had pruned out the deadwood, crossing branches, and thinned it a bit, and even removed girdling roots, but that made no difference at all when looking at the dormant midget-maple with the crispy brown leaves hanging on for what seemed like dear life. The more I thought about it, the more I could relate to the poor little Bonsai. Over the last few years God has been doing a lot of structural pruning in my life, which, by the way is painful, but nothing like the root pruning he initiated in my life most recently.

I was thinking, “Gee, I feel rather dormant here isolated on “The Island.” Maybe I’ve gone into spiritual dormancy. Is there such a thing? And I might even look dormant to the general public. Oh, no! But, then again, dormancy doesn’t mean growing has ceased, does it?” Did God intend for me to go into dormancy in order for His severe root pruning to heal and grow below surface where no can see?

You may be wondering by now, ‘how do you know the Bonsai is dormant and isn’t dead?’ Good question. I mixed coffee grounds in the soil for organic nitrogen, and gave it the proper amount of bone meal for root growth, and water it regularly, but you’re right in thinking, “Well, you might be creating great soil conditions for a dead tree.” Well, my trick is to scrape a little bit of the bark off each week which exposes some very ‘green’ cambium. This gives me a hint tree is still alive and the roots are still functioning (what roots there are left). The more I though about it, the more my recent days seemed to reflect the plight of the Bonsai. Both of us are so severely shocked by root pruning, that we went dormant to heal and grow in deep places.

I began to wonder why God didn’t just didn’t transplant me into good, moist, properly structured soil, with all the right macro and micro nutrients where I could put down some healthy roots. Then I realized that God didn’t want me to sink my roots down to deeply. Just like the Bonsai, he wants to keep my roots pruned and from sinking them deep into any soil so that at any moment I can be plucked up and transported into the environment where he wants me. I am reminded once again that I am a stranger and alien in this land, that I am a pilgrim, a modern day global nomad, just passing through, looking for a place to pitch my tent.

When I took the Bonsai home from a friend’s house, I just lifted it up and put in the back of my truck, pot and all. There would be no transplant shock like the shabby Rhodie is experiencing now. It dawned on me that true freedom is found in being a pilgrim with the roots of one’s soul not anchored down deeply into any cultural or social soil, or not deeply entwined in any particular economic, religious or political systems and beliefs that would prevent a Jesus Follower from responding to the call of becoming a ‘glocal’ (global/local) nomad for the Kingdom of God.

I found myself thinking about spiritual transformation, and how that bible knowledge does not necessarily translate into more spiritual growth. In a similar way, it is the same with trees or shrubs-just because the soil may contain all the right nutrients, it doesn’t mean the root system can access them and cause the tree to thrive. Organic materials (grass, leaves, bark, woodchips, etc) need to be applied in order to transform the soil so that the roots are able to take up the nutrients. I began to see the difficult challenges I am experiencing these days as the organic material that God seems to be applying to the soil of my inner-life. The process of trying to respond positively to these challenges is similar to adding organic material to a plant’s soil. It appeared to me that “spiritual organic material” transformed bible head knowledge into a more experiential knowledge of God. The application of both physical and spiritual organic materials leads to transformation and growth. Both the key and the challenge to the spiritual transformation of the people of God are found in responding positively to God’s shaping activities, even if it is severe root pruning which few can observe by examining the exterior.

After all this day dreaming and musing about the Rhodie and the Bonsai, I realized that God had spoken to me.

Brian, reporting from dormancy

Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Plato's Cave

Room with That?

Having recently been sleepless in Seattle, I am now sitting in Starbucks comparing the social structures and the way people relate to each other with the noodles shops of Phnom Penh. I miss the flies mating on the tip of my straw and the scraggily cats crawling through my legs underneath the table looking for scraps. Most of the cultural values reflected through social or non-social interactions here in Starbucks are individual freedom and the economics. Very to individual leanings and very low group as opposed to the noodle shops in Phnom Penh where anyone can pull up to a table and join in the conversation as I have done many times.

Starbuck's ever mindful of America's consuming and producing masses has created its very own cultural with its own culture values, freedom, individualism, privacy, and good quality high priced products. It even has a language of its own. "Do want room with that"? The first time I heard that I said; "No I won't be staying that long to need to rent a room." Starbucks arranges their atmosphere as a mix between of sterility and non-community, appealing to post-moderns but still acceptable enough to moderns and boomers. You will rarely find anyone from my parent's generation hanging around here.

I just happened to stop in here to use the wi-fi but it seems to be out all over the city. So I am actually missing the Cambodian noodle shops which have no wi-fi and where I can eat and have coffee for the less than the price of a latte. Plus once Cambodians find out I can speak their language, they engage in quite long conversations, unlike Starbucks where the value of person privacy is highly respected. My children hate it when I strike up conversations with perfect strangers. A friend, Dwight, noticed that whoever I talked to anywhere, I always seem to know someone they knew. That's fun of it. And that happens even in Seattle.

In Cambodian noodles shops I get to hold babies, too-the ones that aren't afraid my beard that is. Of course in Cambodian noodle shops you get the benefit of loud motorcycles and trucks going by as well as the famous Cambodian dust. The waitresses are often from provinces and see me as a novelty and we are able to banter back and forth with each other. They are sort of indentured slaves but not in a bad way. They have not yet caught onto the idea of sanitation but my bodily system is somewhat used to Cambodian germs by now.

This Starbucks is right near the U-Dub so it is filled with many Pomos who have big plans to make the world a positive place through technology, medicine, science health, etc, even in developing world situations. In Cambodian noodle shops, most Cambodians are between 30 and 60 and are wondering where and how they will find work and what the next large scale government abuse on the people will be. They shake their heads in mournful ways, lamenting the way the government has turned over fifty percent of the country to foreign investors and has wantonly used up all the nations natural resources, not to mention grabbing land from poor farmers and squatters. The leader's Swiss Bank accounts are bursting at the seams.

Seattle is a very diverse community where world events are not swept under the rug in exchange for sports scores and local human interest stories. I applaud the people of Seattle for this. I guess if I ever resettled anywhere it would be here but I still yearn for Cambodia, where life is not so sterile, and where people in spite of being traumatized by war and an authoritarian government, are still quite animated and alive. The Cambodian noodle shop is symbol of life, a life that is not squeaky clean, a life where smells, tastes, heat, and insects remind you that rubbing shoulders with others means true engagement with a culture that has no values that protect ones privacy or individual freedom. Right now I am surrounded by beautiful well meaning people but engaged by none of them. Such is life in Plato's Cave.


Reflections on a Short Term Trip

Reflections on a Short Trip to Cambodia

It’s almost like I never lived in Seattle. Being in Cambodia was like existing between two differing states of reality. In some ways, it was like I had never left Cambodia and knowing that it would only be a two week stay altered my sense of the Cambodia reality even more. The life and ministry of my Cambodian and expatriate colleagues has carried on without me for the last seven months and that was ok. KEY felt more Cambodian and in a way that is both positive and negative. My expat friends looked a bit rough around the edges as the stress was piled up in heaps upon them. Some have called me to meet to let me know of their new spiritual leap into universalism and syncretism. Stress, burn-out and vicarious stress disorder meanwhile take their tolls. Other missionaries call to meet with me for advice about their future or strategies concerning ministry. It is strange being called the ‘old hand’ now.

I was invited to preach at a Cambodian church yesterday called Cornerstone. This faith collective is led by two of those I have mentored and one of my KEY staff personnel. There was no one there over thirty mainly because the church is informal, has rather contemporary music, is led by a group of 3 Christian leaders, rather than a sole authoritarian figure micromanaging the church. It has a real friendly atmosphere and is actually fun to attend-no status barriers exist as in this church as in the bulk of other Cambodia churches which are largely American imports. I was rather dismayed when I saw my staff person preaching in Sunday school when I arrived- he knows better! When I was on deck, I decided I would ask permission to organize the group in a circle, and share the word from a chair with the leaders sitting next to me. I often turned to the three leaders to interpret and reiterate what they thought I was saying, and often asked the participants (yes, they participated in the sermon) what they thought. In the end, I had each leader summarize my sermon. I did not leave room for a whole lot of passiveness. And it was fun. There 50 young people there with about 40 missing due to traveling to the provinces for the holidays.

Alana and Matt were along for the ride. I did not see much of Alana as she slept over friend’s houses quite a bit. Matt saved up quite a bit of money and eventually I did not see much of him in his prone position on a couch in front of the television which eventually became barricaded behind pizza boxes that were almost touching the ceiling. Members of the International Church who worked for the US Embassy allowed us to stay in their house which was extremely comfortable. What a stress reducer it would be to live in that house.

Since the couple using our house had to give it up due to an increase in rent, they stowed all our stuff at their house. I spent a few days sorting through it, re-packing it, and getting things Debbi wanted. Everything was in terrible shape as seven months with out use just seems to cause rapid disintegration. My motorcycle that Abe borrowed seemed to be in decent shape. Our car’s frame seemed be almost rusted through so the car and our stuff was sent off to the KEY drop in center. KEY will probably get the car as a donation as it will cost us too much to repair the damage of the last seven months.

Apart from a staff wedding, and the Diamond Program 1 and 2 Graduation, I spent the other half of my time catching up with both Cambodian and Expatriate colleagues. A lot noodle soup was consumed in the process- not to mention squeezing in treatment for a sinus infection and getting two crowns done.

It was nice to see that some of our former DP grads are picking up momentum toward putting human rights issues on the Kingdom agenda. I have to shake my head in wonder as some in the west have told me that this is a distraction in light of sharing the Good News. The Kingdom of God is found where justice and righteousness are found, and according to the Old Testaments God had a lot to say about his people who ignore the oppressed. The few Cambodian churches willing to take risks concerning human rights and which serve from margins are making Kingdom gains. When I speak in churches (usually not institutional churches) they always introduce me as the foreigner who went to jail to protest the incarceration of Sok Someoeun and Bon Samnang who were innocently jailed (4 years now) for the assassination of union leader Chea Vichea (they were finally released on Dec 31, 2008).

I left Cambodia still convinced that a focus on holistic development of emerging church leadership the way we are doing it can only lead to hope for the present and future. As I write this short brief, I am now sitting in soul-less Seoul after 13 hours waiting to board the final leg of journey back to Sea-Tac where I will be sleepless in Seattle for at least a few nights. I am looking forward to seeing Debbi and Jordan, and to give some good reports to the Seattle churches concerning their investments in God’s Kingdom initiatives in Cambodia.


Monday, August 18, 2008


Agents of Change??

Agents of Change?

Often, we as followers of Jesus we are encouraged to become agents of change or agents of transformation. Both terms are couched in the context of God’s Kingdom agenda which integrates word, deed, life and sign. All around the world there are pockets of faith collectives who have centered their lives on following Jesus and who are bringing integrated change to people and communities. What is it about these people that enable them to bring change?

Change is perpetual and gives rise to both problems and opportunities. Every solution we apply to a problem perpetuates further change and again creates different problems and again, more opportunities. By solving problems, we create new realities. As Heraclitus wrote, “Nothing endures but change.” Management Guru Dr. Ichak Adizes would say; “Since change is here to stay, problems are here to stay….Forever!” I agree with Dr. Adize’s belief that change is life, and as long as we are alive we will have problems. And the corollary here is that dead things are not plagued by change so the livelier one is the more problems they are likely to have.

Philip Jenkins in his book The Next Christendom, The Coming of Global Christianity, traces the decline of Christianity in the Northern Hemisphere and notes the rapid growth of the church in the Southern Hemisphere. Commissioned by Jesus as agents of transformation, how can we as a faith collective be in decline or slow death? Those who are surviving and who are alive are those who have learned to manage change well. Those who manage accelerated and complex change well in this age are the ones who make the right decisions and implement them the fastest.

The problem for collectives of Jesus followers is not change, but the acceleration of change. And with change comes problems at faster and faster rates. This and the fact that Christian leaders over the age of 45 tend to plateau and cease to interpret and analyze cultural trends and the effects they have on both society and faith collectives. Many of us Jesus followers dread change because it brings problems and problems bring stress and today we feel overwhelmed and inundated because of the accelerated rate of change. We experience and try to deal with this accelerated change in all parts of our personal lives and when it comes to church, we feel too drained to continue to manage and deal with change so church often becomes a haven of past traditions where we can lay down our weary souls.

We need to implement change at the same rate it comes down the pike to us. We cannot slow change. Right now we need to understand that the lion’s share of our expression of church is a cultural construct and much of what we do in Jesus’ name is done in the name of tradition that stems from cultural influence from the good ole’ days gone by, rather than the Bible. The very modernism J.Greshem Machen fought so hard to protect the church against at the turn of the century is the very thing that ended up molding America and the church in ways Machen could not have fathomed. How much is our expression of church is modern and how much of it is Biblical. I think we would all be quite surprised to find out the truth, and how just how much we are prisoners of culture.

Jesus understood the culture he ministered in, and if we are to be as relevant as Jesus was in his culture than we need to first realize that our culture is now going through a large paradigm shift and those who were born after 1964 have very different culture values and perspectives than the boomers (who are institutional church friendly) and those from the World War II era. The message doesn’t change but the medium needs to.

The challenge the leadership of our faith collectives faces today is not only to manage change, but to lead accelerated change in the face of accelerated change, and stay together while doing it. Leaders need to prepare Jesus followers to learn how to undergo change and re-integrate it into the system on a consistent basis. A missional compass will be of great help in making the right decisions and implementing them in beat with rapid changes that confront us each moment of each day. Leaders need to return to their jobs of cultural interpretation and lead us out of cultural prisons of disobedience to become the cultural pilgrims and sojourners Christ calls us to be. It is then that change won’t be chains.

“Reasonable men adapt to their environments, unreasonable men try to adapt their environments to themselves.” George Bernard Shaw

Jenkins, Philip, The Next Christendom, The Coming of Global Christianity. Oxford University Press, New York. 2002.

Adizes, Ichak. Managing Corporate Lifecycles: how to get and stay at the top. Prentice Hall Press, Paramus, NJ. 1999


Tearing Down Sacred Place

The Tearing Down of the Sacred Places

Two years ago my brother and I were forced to sell my parent’s house in Connecticut because they were getting to the age where doing stairs was extremely difficult. We took ten grand off the going price and it sold in a week- and that was that. But ‘that wasn’t that.’ Far from it. Every night for a full year both of us had various dreams about the house we grew up in. In my dreams I was always returning home only to find the woman who bought the house in my kitchen. I always had to profusely apologize for barging into her kitchen without knocking. Another scenario that plays out is my parents were still living there, waiting for the new owner to move in. Last month, I dreamt that I was traveling from a long distance and ended up at 10 Chestnut with all my bags and I wanted to check on my tree climbing equipment in the garage because I planned to do a few jobs to support myself when I realized the house was no longer my parent’s. There were strangers in it, and the garage didn’t have my equipment. I was thinking to myself, “I have no where to go, what will I do? I’m tired of traveling and need to rest right now.” How will I support myself without my equipment?

While mulling over these dreams, it dawned on me that I had been grieving the loss of a sacred place that was overflowing with historic memories of my life and the life of my family. I was intimately familiar with every inch of that house and yard. My parent’s house and I had an intimate and enduring relationship that abruptly ended, only to live on in my mind. It reminded me of being on the wrong end of an intense break up. I feel that I am still mourning the loss of that sacred place and I can relate to Neil Young’s “Helpless” where he sings of similar mourning;

There is a town in north Ontario,
With dream comfort memory to spare,
And in my mind I still need a place to go,
All my changes were there.

Helpless, helpless, helpless
Baby can you hear me now?
The chains are locked and tied across the door,
Baby, sing with me somehow.

My musing is not about the nostalgic mourning of ‘the good ole days, but of the passing of a sacred place that gave me a feeling of well being, comfort, and security, and which also served as a marker to my existence. But now the chains are locked and tied across the door and I mourn that.

When I was just 18, our summer cabin on Lake Zoar was torched by an arsonist. This place, in middle of the forest with no other houses within half mile was an extremely sacred place. This is where I first met God, not in a church building, not through his word, but through his world. I remember as a very small boy standing on the top of set of very steep stairs made of cinder- blocks, cement and rocks. Red Cedar pole railings hemmed in the long steep descending steps that led out onto a retaining wall that my father built from which we often fished. On early mornings I stood at the top of the steps, holding on to a pipe railing painted forest green waiting for the sun to come up over the ridge across the lake, and when it did, the lake would dance brightly with thousands of sparkling sunlit wave caps which like a moon beam on the water danced right to the bottom of the steps. Standing in my sacred spot next to our cabin which was ensconced in towering green hemlocks, drops of dew trapped in many intricate spider webs stretched out between ferns glistened as the first few rays of the sun broke over the ridge. A gentle zephyr blew in off the lake, and with it pleasant smells of fresh water, earthy smells of decaying forest floor, and strong coffee being brewed up in the kitchen. The distant sound of a fisher man’s far away outboard reverberated up and down the lake, joining the cacophony of early morning songs of sparrows, chickadees, cedar waxwings, bluejays and squawking of ravens. The exhilarating sensation of depth perception (looking down the long steps to the sparkling water through the hemlocks) completed an experience of a full sensory stimulation. I felt so fully alive and in complete awe of life itself. It was truly a spiritual experience. I was able to recapture those exceptional moments over the next few years but they began to wane in intensity as I grew older.

I did not know how to, or even see the need to mourn the loss of that sacred place at the time, as I was a senior in high school with so many parties to go to, and track meets to run, etc. Occasionally my brother and I would hike up to the site of our former cabin where you can still make out the foundation. We don’t stay long but we paid our respects. The chains are locked and tied across the door.

In 1968, I was introduced to another sacred place. It was a Boy Scout camp called Camp Toquam in northern Connecticut. It had a steep trail down to the water front that meandered down through a Northern Hardwood forest, and just smacked of mystique. The adventures, the exploring, and the camaraderie with other scouts made it a magical and mystical place. I spent many a weekend campout there, went to summer camp for five summers, and even worked on staff during the summer of 1973. Toquam was not only a sensory experience, it was a social experiment as well as I met scouts from a neighboring city who were Jewish, African-American, Asian and Latin American (my scout troop was from an all white town). That in itself made it in an extra sacred place. In 1975, the same year my first sacred place was burned out, our council sold my beloved camp in a merger. It is now a declining and unkempt piece of property belonging to the State of Connecticut, used for occasional outdoor training for juvenile offenders. I was so angry I vowed never to have anything to do with scouting again. I was more alive in my sacred places than I ever was in church buildings, and I wondered why God was dismantling my sacred places and locking and tying chains across their doors.

I had back up sacred places though, and they were particular routes, or campsites on the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut and southern Massachusetts that I found from back 1968 when I first started backpacking. Bit by bit, the trails became over crowded, empty campsites were difficult to find, and the high density impact on the environment took its toll. The sensory experiences of being in nature, the mystique and magic of the Appalachian Trail began to all but disappear.

Thousands of miles across many oceans, I often daydream about my sacred places. In the beginning, Cambodia had a few semi-sacred places but with the forest all cut, and the rapid development of anything natural for tourism, there isn’t much hope left for finding a sacred place. And, as Neil sings;

in my mind I still need a place to go

When I ponder my dilemma of being bereft of sacred places, especially with the selling of the house I grew up in, I feel, in a sense that I am truly homeless in this world - that I am just a wanderer, a pilgrim, or alien, and I am reminded of these verses in Hebrews 11:13-16:

All these people died having faith. They didn't receive the things that God had promised them, but they saw these things coming in the distant future and rejoiced. They acknowledged that they were living as strangers with no permanent home on earth. Those who say such things make it clear that they are looking for their own country. If they had been thinking about the country that they had left, they could have found a way to go back. Instead, these men were longing for a better country-a heavenly country. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God. He has prepared a city for them.

I mourn the dismantling of my sacred places as places where I met God and experienced a taste of a heavenly country. But like Jacob who wrestled with God and tried not to let him go, it might be time to let my sacred places go, and see them not as places that are like long lost shrines, but as God given glimpses into his promises that will unfold in the distant future. The feeling of being a global nomad with no permanent place is not an easy or comfortable feeling but my God afforded glimpses through past sacred places gives me a better feeling for the coming Kingdom and helps me to see perseverance as worthwhile.


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