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When Our Plans Turn to Ashes

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Starting Over with IntegrityLent begins on Ash Wednesday this week. People from all walks of life around the world will make their way to church to receive the mark of the cross in ashes on their foreheads. That is, they will do that if their particular faith community observes that ancient Christian practice. It can be a powerful service to attend, because it reminds us in spite of all our greatest designs and most meticulous planning, things can quickly turn to ashes before our eyes. 
Why Ashes? Ashes are an ancient symbol of how our human cleverness, schemes and dreams all too easily go awry, and end up as a pile of ashes. People in ancient times would smear ash on their faces as a sign of mourning or in response to something terrible they had done, for which they were asking forgiveness.


In spite of all our good intentions and hopes, things still fall apart. How about you? What plans or dreams of yours have turned to ashes? What does it take to start over, but this time with integrit…

Rubik's Cube Reality

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Over the years, I have had many conversations with people concerning God's Will. Usually, these conversations have been couched in terms of trying to discern what God's Will is for their lives, sometimes in broad general terms, but more often in terms of specific decisions or directions they should take.

I have always been able to relate to these questions, because for many years in my youth I wondered the same about my own life. What did God want me to do with my life? Should I become a biologist or an actor? Did God want me to go into the ministry instead? (That decision won out, but I have never been certain that it was God's absolute and immutable will for my life.) For years, I told people that I was waiting for God to drop a golden scroll at my feet that would lay out in clearly defined terms just what I was supposed to do. Until then, I perceived that I was stumbling around in the dark, following my own best guesses. 

Of course, the problem with that line of thinking …

Inscripted Land

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During the ten years I  lived in Eastern Oregon while first serving a church in Heppner and then a church in Joseph, I traveled frequently alongside the Columbia river while traveling to and from Portland.  Usually I traveled by car, but occasionally I caught the bus.  When I rode the bus I had the grace-filled privilege to look out and ponder the landscape.

Columns of basalt line the crests of hills like so many battalions of foot soldiers forever awaiting the sound of the trumpet. Deep gullies and canyons have carved their way into these witnesses to an earlier era of geological activity.  Each canyon and valley has its own creek or stream, swelling with the spring runoff and dwindling during the hot, dry summers. Deep gorges split the rock in two, while a forest of oaks and sumac spring up out of the cleavage.  Sagebrush and an occasional juniper gradually make way for Douglas Fir, Ponderosa Pine, Sumac, Ash and Poplar.  It is a sculptor and painter’s paradise.

There is a starkness t…

Components of Culture 1: Earth

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In my previous post, I wrote about culture happening in the overlap and intersections between four main arenas: 

natural/environmental, spiritual/value-oriented, social/organizational, and aesthetic/expressive. 
In this post, I want to begin with a look at the natural/environmental arena, or the Earth, to put it simply. I put it this way because the earth is foundational to our existence. We are creatures of the earth, along with every other living and non-living thing. There is no escaping this basic fact. Whatever happens to the earth happens to us. 


Perhaps the greatest crisis facing the whole of humankind is environmental.  Ever since the publishing of Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, in the early 1960’s, public attention across the world has been drawn to the dangers of pesticides, pollution, hazardous and nuclear waste, the degradation of ecosystems and the accelerated rate of species extinction.  The scientific community is virtually unanimous in declaring that global warming …

Culture Happens

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In my previous blog, I talked about "creating culture." That probably sounds a bit strange to most people. After all, one might say, isn't culture simply a given? Something that simply happens? How does one "create culture?"

Good question. Perhaps it might be helpful to first look at the word "culture" itself. The
English word is derived from the French culture, which in turn is derived from the Latin cultura, which is the past participial form of colere, which referred to the practice of tilling the soil. The American Heritage Dictionary traces the etymology to the (putative) Indo-European root kwel- and the related form kwel-, which means "to revolve, move around, sojourn, dwell."  A cluster of words derived from this root that include colony, cult, wheel, cyclone, cycle, pulley, cultivate, culture and bucolic.

From this, it is interesting to notice the close association between tilling the ground, dwelling or sojourning, and cyclicity.  Whe…

Creating Culture

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I grew up (literally) in a mid-sized Methodist (later United Methodist) Church in Boise, Idaho. My parents started attending this church in 1958. We attended Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Jr. High MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship) and Sr. High MYF (which in 1968 became UMYF, and then just UMY (I'll let you guess the acronym). I was UMY President at one point, attended church camps, and even served on our Conference Senior Youth Ministries Council (SYMCO). We attended worship every Sunday, unless deathly ill. 

That was the era in which people walked out to a street corner, proclaimed, "I'm starting a church on this corner," and the next Sunday fifty people would show up to help it happen. Somewhere around the later years of high school, I began to wrestle with the idea of going into ministry. This wrestling continued through college, and finally after graduating from Willamette University, I went off to seminary to pursue ministry training.

By the time I started …

Tending the Path

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A year ago, I went on a personal renewal retreat up at Camp Magruder for a week. At Magruder, there is a labyrinth marked out in a sandy field towards the beach from the cabins. I decided to start my mornings after breakfast with a slow meditative walk through the labyrinth. As I walked the labyrinth, I would pull a weed here and there, replace stones that once marked the sides of the path, clear out sticks that blacked the path. I tended that path. As I sat in quiet reflection and meditation in the center of the labyrinth, I was flooded with the realization that we have been given a Path by Jesus to tend. It is a lifelong path of growth and discovery, of risk and adventure, of deep mystery and boundless joy. And I believe that Jesus wants us to get back on this Path.

All around us, society is changing. Attendance patterns in churches are changing. Article after article attempts to parse various generational behaviors regarding faith expression and group involvement. Core-level values …