Friday, February 24, 2012

Bye, Bye Birdies!

  Unexpected? Yes. Unanticipated? Absolutely. Unappreciated? Not on your life! I'm thinking that it is not unlike marriage. For the man or woman who thinks that they fully understand the opposing gender, let them try marriage to dispel their illusions. So it was with my church planting experience.
  Having been born in the middle of the Baby Boom Era (1946-1964) framed my evangelical, ecclesiastical influence. America was still assumed to be a “Christian” nation and the spiritual haves and have nots were conspicuous not only by the regularity of their participation in church life but more so by their lifestyles. Among Baptist, it could be summarized by “we don’t dance, smoke, drink and chew, neither do we run with those who do.” One wonders how anyone managed to climb over those kind of walls and gain entrance into the Kingdom of God via Baptist churches! In was only later in life that I discovered that my own family had been living on an island, shared by few, yet claimed by the masses. Needless to say, I carried that ecclesiastical naivete into my own ministry voyage. Where did it get me? The island turned out not to be the Isle of Paradise but the Isle of Frustration.
  Fast forward a few years and enter the Contemporary/Innovative Church Movement. For those who lived through it, you will remember that it was not a painless, seamless process. If we thought that church people fought over the color of the carpet (which may account for why much of it was red), it all paled by comparison to the assault on “sacred” music! You would have thought that we were the ones inside the city of Jericho and those pseudo-spiritual, worldly minded liberals were marching around with guitars waiting for the demise of our defenses. During that period, I had one well intentioned, albeit uninformed saint say, “If the music has a beat, it is godless!” It became apparent, at least to me, that what many were believing and espousing as spiritual stalwart-ism, was in fact spiritual rigor mortis.
  Done is done. Enough is enough. In the words of Roberto Duran during his second pugilistic encounter with Sugar Ray Leonard on November 25, 1980, “No mas”. Little did I fully appreciate the yet-to-unfold implications of my waving the white flag. I was through with business-as-usual thinking about the Kingdom. I was going to focus on reaching the unreached, letting the dead bury the dead, and so I did in 1993, the year that I bought a house with a Sweet-gum tree overlooking the backyard.
  I don’t remember now how she and her husband ended up at our place. They were formerly churched people who had dropped out, a long time ago. We were in the throws of another relocation, finally legal (that’s another story), yet facing the daunting challenges presented by code compliance with the county before we could receive our Certificate of Occupancy. We had always been a cash strapped, pay-as-you-go, do-it-yourself kind of ministry. I was in over my head, knee deep in alligators, at my wits ends when someone suggested that I talk with Donna. Donna? What could she possibly do? As it turned out, Donna was a bartender at a local watering hole and had been so for 17 years. My evangelical, ecclesiastical roots wanted to sprout!
  Before there was Facebook, before there were cell phones, before there was email, there were watering holes. They were the original social networking environment and in many places still are. There are thousands of communities around the globe without a church building, but they will all have a tavern. Donna was the social networking queen. She knew everyone and everyone knew her. At her request, those responsible for overseeing the inspection and permitting process came to our rescue. Additionally, she invited Brenda, who began attending. Brenda, it just so happened, was a Permit Expeditor. In time, Brenda would have a new boyfriend who had a friend that did tree removal. Guess whose Sweet-gum tree got removed for free? Brenda’s father (Murph) and brother (Chuck) owned a salvage/construction company. Over the years, their business has provided us with massive amounts of building materials, free. Chuck, using a backhoe, removed the enormous root system to the Sweet-gum tree for free. Bye, bye birdies!
  What’s the moral of the story? We actually have a couple to choose from. When I began this saga it was going to be “never underestimate the power of networking when it comes to God’s methods and means for supplying our needs”. But on second thought, perhaps more churches should consider planting in taverns! Oh, I can hear it now, the voice from an island far, far away.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Sweet-gum Saga

  Liquidambar styraciflua, better known as Sweet-gum, is a tree that can be both blessing and curse. Please bear with my Sweet-gum saga.
  Upon the realization that I should plant a church, the first order of business was to purchase a place to live. We had hitherto been captive to occupying a church owned residence, known in Baptist circles as a “parsonage.” Since the church we were serving at the time had no interest in sharing in a birthing process, it was assured that they would not take kindly to our remaining in their house. Our search led us to a property in close proximity to the zip code that represented those who had proven most receptive to our previous three years of ministry. (Philosophically, this is going where the fish are biting.) It was a house built in 1958 on a small lot with a Sweet-gum tree overlooking the backyard from the street side of a chainlink fence.
  Over the years, this tree served several purposes. During our children’s formative years, and especially our son, it was a place of adventure, exercise and observation. During the summer months it was the source of ample shade from the hot and humid days. During the fall and winter months it provided practice material for my golf game in the form of its round, prickly fruit as an abundant source of substitute balls. And then, there was another side.
  At some point, my having taken down a section of the fence for a driveway and storage structure, it became a good place to park a vehicle under its sprawling canopy, providing relief from the brutal summer sun. It didn’t take long before I realized the downside to this parking arrangement. Certain types of birds love Sweet-gum trees, not only as a perch but also as a roost. My truck began to look like it had been parked in a barn yard rather than a backyard. Assuming that the problem was caused by a fowl perching practice, I took my trusty chainsaw, scaled the heights and eliminated all of the branches that extended over the fence and above the parking spot. Amazingly, nothing changed regarding the problem because these foul fowl did what they did immediately after takeoff and prior to landing! Since my plans included either a garage or carport, the tree had to go!
  There are a number of myths endemic to our culture. There is the myth of what is known as “Banker’s Hours”, a reference to when a bank used to be accessible to the general population for business, typically 9:00 am until 3:00 pm. I fully understood the mythical component while working for a bank from 1972-1974. My “Banker’s Hours”? 11:00 pm until 7:00 am, better know as the “graveyard shift”. Then, there is the myth of preacher income.
  The joke goes something like this. Three boys are out fishing and began talking about how much money their dad’s made. The first boy says, “My dad is a lawyer and makes $50 an hour.” The second boy says, “My dad is a banker and needs a vault for his money.” The third boy says, “My dad is a preacher and it takes four men to carry all of his!” While there are a few preachers who make millions a year, most of us are at the other end of the income spectrum. When it comes to having extra money for the removal of trees, it’s just not in the budget.
  Fast forward a few years. The tree is long gone and it didn’t cost me a cent. This Sweet-gum saga is less about tree problems and removal than it is about social networking for church planting. And just as the tree removal had to wait, so will the rest of this story......