loren Eric Swanson: July 2006

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Devoting a Saturday to Service

Orange County Register
Sunday, July 30, 2006

Some 5,000 people from 28 churches help out in their communities by feeding the poor and aiding neighbors.
The Orange County Register
COSTA MESA - It was Saturday morning, so, of course, Laurel Alexander was leaning on her walker, chatting up neighbors about hummingbirds.
Retired barber Chuck Russell rolled up in his wheelchair looking for pretty ladies to sweet talk. And Jackie Studdert? Now 83, the Texas plain-talker called to a passerby: "I'll tell you how the cow ate the cabbage."
Translation: I'll tell you what's going on.
What was going on at Playport Mobile Village had its 140 seniors abuzz. People – lots of them – were roaming the narrow streets with axes, spades and hammers offering help. For free.
"Words cannot express the feeling you get," said resident Katalina Engar, who no longer can pull weeds since having five hip surgeries and cancer. "I didn't want to seem like I was gushing, but I told them I was grateful."
Young people, she added, generally don't care about seniors. There's a stigma. But this?
"It's like a miracle!"
The miracle workers in this case were about 90 members of Rock Harbor Church in Costa Mesa, participating in Serve Day.
They wouldn't be here if not for a scheduling conflict in 2000. In those days, Rock Harbor rented space at the Costa Mesa Senior Center for services. One weekend was completely booked, so church officials sent the congregation into the streets to do good.
It was so popular that everyone wanted to do it again. And it has grown every year. About 5,000 people from 28 churches (20 from Orange County) now perform 250 projects, including feeding the poor, giving free car washes, handing out flowers and washing windows.
The point, said this year's coordinator, the Rev. David Trotter, pastor of Revolution Church in Long Beach, is to provide acts of service with no strings attached.
"Nobody owes us anything," he said. "The great lesson is that a small investment of time and energy has a huge return in the life of the people you serve."
The small investment for volunteers Denise Cannon and Andi Therrien included a quick dance on the red paving bricks they just re-laid for Loraine Pogue, 86.
"All these young girls could be going to the beach, having fun today," said Pogue, 86, before asking to pose for a picture with her helpers. "But they're doing this for me."
Therrien, 30, a Costa Mesa office manager, said it feels good to participate in something bigger than yourself.
"You're impacting more than just one person's yard or one person's trellis," she said. "You're impacting an entire community."
This was an oft-repeated theme Saturday: Small acts of kindness repeated by enough people enough times amount to something big. Maybe even a modern-day miracle – that anyone can perform.
Maybe that's why so many of the homeowners came out with cookies and water and words of thanks. And why Therrien handed a piece of paper to Pogue before leaving.
"It's my number," she said. "I live right up the road. Call me, and I'll be happy to come back."

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Orange County Serve Day

Just finished up a great day of service in Southern California. Serve day involved 5,000 people from 27 churches serving in 275 different projects around Orange County. Serve Day was started a few years ago at Rock Harbor Church. This year under the leadership of Heather Motichco and Mike Kenyon 1,800 folks from Rock Harbor showed up to serve. Although preparations have been going on for months, the kickoff for most folks was last night at two separate rallies--at Grace Brethren, Long Beach and Mariner's Church in Irvine.

This morning I drove up to Long Beach to meet with Eric Marsh and some leaders he pulled toghether, including Casey Yorman from Northcoast. Casey is one of those young innovative leaders who is mobilizing the 250 small groups at Northcoast into the community. One place we visited that was quite impressive was Food Finders (foodfinders@aol.com) on Atlantic Avenue in Long Beach. Each day they provide (this is not a typo) 50,000 meals a day to children, sick, elderly and homeless of Orange County and LA. An amazing storefront operational model that houses no food but sends it out before it ever enters the door. I've always felt a missionary is only as good as his / her biographer and founder and director, Arelene Mercer, is one of those people few outside of this community have heard of but she is cutting a huge swath for the kingdom.

Another innovative contribution was a creative "extreme logo makover" led by Alexa McNabb of Grace Brethren Long Beach. Alexa assembled professional designers, marketers and personnel from Meals on Wheels. Using an innovative one day process designed by Alexa and John Handy of Mattel, the team was able to come up with 8 viable logo redesigns for Meals on Wheels. Amazing.

Not to be out done, volunteers led a project called "Pimp their Garage" in Fullerton--a remodling project for an innovative youth center. Ladies that are friends of the center fixed a great lunch for all the volunteers. There is no Mexican food better than home made Mexican food.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Bob Buford and Bill Gates Sr.

From Bob Buford's Active Energy

A couple of days after the Ideas Festival, I attended an Aspen Institute Seminar on International Philanthropy. It was small and cozy by comparison with the massive Ideas Festival and the philanthropists came from Columbia, Costa Rica, London, and around the United States. One of my favorite, but seldom seen friends, the peripatetic Mort Meyerson, was one of a small group of twenty. He’s a prophet and genuine wise man. So I got to look at things from his perspective as well as my own. The first evening gathering featured an intimate reception and Q&A with Bill Gates, Sr. Of all the speakers I heard, he somehow was the most impressive – surprisingly warm and accessible, easy to talk to. He is a large man – perhaps 6’3”. I got to spend a few minutes talking directly to Gates during the reception and Mort got to spend a good deal more time. I want to attempt to convey the sort of person he was and to pass along some of the things he said. Mort sent me a copy of the e-mail he sends to his friends and family and, with his permission, I’ll let Mort speak first:

“He (Gates, Sr.) talked about their efforts in world health and U.S. education. He was extremely articulate and gentle. Here is a guy who was a lawyer and now runs a $60 billion foundation for his son and daughter-in-law. He is very plain spoken and looks the part of a elderly professor. I was quite impressed with his not being impressed with what he is doing or the success of his son. He is clearly religiously Christian and I felt this permeates the way he raised his kids and the values he tried to impart.”

I kept asking myself how can someone who runs a foundation larger than most governments be so warm and completely lacking in pretension? I took furious notes and here are some of the things that Gates senior said:

“There are things that happen in life that are really random. For example, we have all these vaccines and yet people are dying in Africa. The inequity is gross. One day, Bill sent me an e-mail saying, ‘Dad, maybe we could do something about this.’ That’s when our global health initiative started.” (I mentioned to Gates that his son had said in The New York Times, “There’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to cure the top twenty diseases.” Gates Sr. said, “Yes, I think that’s doable.” Amazing, no?)

“In our operations, we are very thoughtful about audits and accountability. There’s a larger emphasis on return of investment -- on follow-through and what are the results. You need to find out if what you are trying to do worked out.”

“We’re pretty much done with interconnecting libraries and moving on to other things. The education problem in the United States is of a size that appeals to Bill and Melinda. That’s the worse thing around and who is doing something to change it?”

“The business of philanthropy is thinking through the way to change something. It’s just this simple: You have some money, and you have some things you’d like to see different.”

I asked about Warren Buffett. Gates said, “I know him very well. He’s been troubled about the enormous wealth he has. He and Bill are intimate friends. They talk at least weekly. Their agreement is a solution to the troubles he has had about what to do with his fortune.” Here are some more of Mort’s e-mail reactions to the evening Q&A session:

“… At one point, Gates said he wanted to mention the 1,500 Millennium Scholars. … He said he went to a two-day meeting with them and when he saw them and interacted with them, it brought a different meaning to giving to him. (He then choked up and had tears in his eyes.) He said this was the gift of giving with active participation so just go out and give with your heart and be a participant. I felt connected to him at that moment more than at any other time during the evening as did most of the people in the room I suspect. He wasn’t different from you and me, just a father and grandfather talking about an activity that moves him.”

Mort and Gates had breakfast the next morning. Here’s his description:

“… I would observe that he was a nice man, a gentle man. He isn’t much different from you and I, except he has about $1 million a day to give away, with an eye to making the world a better place. He told me about how the foundation got started. He said that, about eight years ago, he talked to his son who said that people in town (Seattle) were saying mean things about him -- that he didn’t answer his mail about requests for funding. Bill Sr. said, “Why not give me all the mail? And I will meet with you quarterly or monthly and sort things out for you.” Bill Jr. said, “Good idea.” After a few months … Bill started giving along with running the business and, over time, must have come to a conclusion that there was a bigger destiny for him and Microsoft and Buffett’s investment company.”

At the end of the International Philanthropy Seminar, the participants were asked what stood out. More than anything else, it was Gates’ tears and show of emotion about what he was doing in philanthropy. I must say of all the speakers that I consumed in my very intense two weeks, that’s what stood out for me as well. The others were so cerebral.

I want to talk more in the future about what a remarkable innovation Gates and Buffett are fostering, but for now, while it is fresh on my mind, I just wanted to convey the emotional impact that the senior Gates had on me. He had a simple, direct power beyond his words – a power that emanated from his being. Quite affecting. I won’t see his like again soon.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Retirement or Encore?

Good friend Don Wilcox sent me this link. Don works with Leadership Network as Leadership Community Director for churches with effective seniors ministries. His blogsite is www.ioam.blogspot.com. Don is a great thinker and is capturing what is happening in this new space of innovation.

Retirement or Encore
By Ron Crossland

Baby Boomers. Workforce vacuum. Next generation leaders. Talent wars. Immigration. Outsourcing. There's a lot of debate and argument about what the workforce will look like by 2010, 2015, and beyond as boomers around the globe slide into retirement and leave all the future earnings of their companies (and the growth of their 401(k) investments) in the hands of the capable - or not so capable, but far smaller group of younger workers. Authors like Dychtwald, Erickson, and Morison ( Workforce Crisis), editors Beatty and Visser's contribution (Thriving on an Aging Workforce), Niejahr's thoughts about Germany (Altenrepublik - Republik of the Old), and O'Hara-Devereaux's views on China among other things ( Navigating the Badlands) have created waves of thought concerning the demographics of our age. We've created a collective sensation of what the Maori call puangi (stomach sinking, like when a boat surges, or an airplane drops suddenly, or the first plunge of a rollercoaster) about this coming workforce vacuum. (BTW - I got "puangi" from one of the best book gifts I've ever received, The Meaning of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words from Around the World, by Adam Jacot de Boinod.) What are we going to do? Well, frankly, I tend to agree with Dychtwald, et.al, concerning their ideas that baby boomers are not going to stop working. They are just going to start changing the nature of how they view work, just like the younger generation is entering and engaging in the workforce with an altered view. O'Hara-Devereaux likes to think of the current age as the "Badlands" (meaning we are in-between the good old days and the glory days to come - seems like a theme I've been living my entire work life). She argues from a tanker sized collection of evidence that this age of confusion will work itself out over the next decade or so. I heard her speak at the HRPS annual meeting in Tucson recently, and I was impressed by her command of data and puzzled by some of her conclusions. Must mean I'm part of that Republik of the Old. But all this confab about what to do and how it will get done stimulated my mind to consider the following question: Am I going to retire before I do an encore? I mean, are you ready to just end your contribution to work, to the world, to your offspring, to society at large by engaging in some 30-year long recess? (Everyone keeps saying boomers are going to live well into their 80s, 90s, and 100s - pick your pundit for the details.) Encore means "an additional performance in response to audience demand." It means performing one final act or series of acts that let those who have admired your work see that your work is worth admiring. It's often thought of as a command performance. Some artists (aren't you one?) simply repeat one of their favorites - others perform something that was not in the original set. I really prefer the French saying (doesn't this language just have the best phrases for everything) "de l'audace, encore de l'audace, et toujours de l'audace," which means "audacity, more audacity, and ever more audacity." An encore of audacity. That's where I believe a number of us Boomers are going. We are going to boom once again in our third adulthood (right after our second midlife crisis). We are going to work more casually, work in a different industry, work for different purposes, but work we will. Yeah, some of it will be driven by the fact that we can't stop just yet because we are anxious about money. And yeah, some of it will be driven by the fact that our spouses will not be able to tolerate our company 100% of the time. And yeah, it will be driven by the fact that recess is fun, only for a while. But I believe it will be driven mostly by the fact that we aren't finished making a contribution - that there's an encore in all of us. And boomers, today all the world is your stage, so my advice - "de l'audace, encore de l'audace, et toujours de l'audace." Ron Crossland is the Vice Chair of Bluepoint Leadership Development and may be reached by email at mailto:%20roncrossland@bluepointleadership.com

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Three Days on the Cinqueterre

After the class was over Liz and I rented a car and drove up to the Cinqueterra--a bit north of Pisa on the northwestern Ligurian Coast. Travel Guide, Rick Steve's ranks the Cinqueterra as the third place to see after Rome and Florence. We totally agreed. We were fortunate to get to room with a balcony facing the ocean. Liz and I did nothing but take a walk in the morning, lie under a big umbrella and eat delicious Italian food. Pesto was actually invented in the town we stayed in--Monterosso. After three nights we had to leave so we stopped off at Pisa to try to straighten out the leaning tower. All in all, it was a great trip.

This morning I'm in Charlotte, NC with Forest Hill Church who are part of a leadership community for externally focused churches.

Trent to Rome--Final Day

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Andy & Natalie' Summer

Got this letter from our son, Andy and his wife Natalie. It is so encouraging to see what God is doing and the adventure they are engaged in!

Dear Friends and Family,

We leave in a couple days to spend a month in Central Asia in order to lead a team of East Asian college students who are all going on their first international mission trip. None of these students have been out of the country before and yet, with God’s help, these students are going from their own closed country to another closed country that may be even more hostile to the Gospel than their own. Praise God that he is opening doors for people to go and share his good news.

We just said goodbye to some friends from the US. Six weeks ago a group of 31 people came to our city to help further God’s work. All but one of these came from my (Andy) former university, Arizona State. It was fun to see some old friends as well as meet new friends. They trusted God, worked hard and God used them to bless what He is already doing here. One of the amazing things we saw happen this month was that some of the Americans met a group of freshman and sophomore East Asian students who had started their own house church so that they could meet and study the Bible together. These students were on a campus that we had previously not known any believers. God answers prayer and we were excited to see how he worked through our American friends.

For those who like to see numbers, here is what we saw God do this last month:
---500+ people heard about Jesus
---182 people heard the Gospel and were asked if they would like to accept Jesus into their lives
---51 of those people asked Jesus into their lives

Something that many people have been praying a long time for is going to happen. As many of you know in East Asia it is difficult to obtain a Bible. The only place that you can buy one is in the official government church. There may be one or two small churches in a city of 5-6 million, and they are usually not very easy to get to. I read yesterday that by the end of this year (2006) Amity Press will begin printing Bibles that will be sold in a number of bookstores, shopping centers and even university bookstores in this country. People no longer will have to go to the government church and register to buy a Bible. It will make it much easier for people to get their hands on his word. Praise God for this.

Natalie and the little baby inside are doing really well. The baby is growing and Natalie is healthy. When we return from our trip to Central Asia we will go to a western hospital just to have a check up and make sure everything is still good. Thanks for your prayers

Pray for our trip this summer
· the team
· language and ability to communicate
· for open hearts
· for Natalie and the baby, that they would be comfortable and healthy

Pray for the new believers and their future growth

Praise God for working in this country and the world

Partnering with you,
Andy and Natalie

Trent to Rome--Day 8

Tuesday, June 28, 2006


This was a really big day today. After breakfast we bussed on over to the Vatican and were escorted up the stairs of St. Peter’s and to sit on the same platform as Pope Benedict XVI. This is what is means to have an “audience” with the Pope; to be among the two or three hundred people, for some reason or another, are allowed to be on the platform with the Pope. I imagine this is what distinguishes an “audience” with a “private audience” with the Pope. On my left are brides and grooms who want their marriages blessed. There are seminarians from Spain, nuns from Latin America…groups of pilgrims who have arrived in the eternal city. We arrive over an hour early and watch the throngs assemble in the plaza. There’s a celebrative feeling in the air. The time passes quickly as we talk among ourselves with anticipation. A brass band plays Italian song, among them I hear “O Solo Mia.” Names of special guests are read in their appropriate language and a welcome given. “Bakke Graduate School” is listed among the guests from English speaking nations. The MC (I don’t know what else to call him) also mentioned that “the Holy Father will impart his apostolic blessing on any religious relics, will bless families at home—especially the sick and children.” Soon there is a buzz that someone can see the Popemobile and sure enough the Pope drives up the ramp to the platform and takes his front and center seat. We have begun. A youth choir sings the Hallelujah Chorus. The text the Pope will speak from today is from Acts 15—the Jerusalem Council. He delivers brief homilies in six different languages…in this order: English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish and Italian. It is quite impressive. He speaks six languages as well as Hebrew and Latin. Below is the text of his message.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Beside the figure of James the Greater, son of Zebedee, of whom we spoke last Wednesday, another James appears in the Gospels, known as "the Lesser". He is also included in the list of the Twelve Apostles personally chosen by Jesus and is always specified as "the son of Alphaeus" (Mt 10: 3; Mk 3: 18; Lk 5; Acts 1: 13). He has often been identified with another James, called "the Younger" (cf. Mk 15: 40), the son of a Mary (cf. ibid.), possibly "Mary the wife of Clopas", who stood, according to the Fourth Gospel, at the foot of the Cross with the Mother of Jesus (cf. Jn 19: 25).
He also came from Nazareth and was probably related to Jesus (cf. Mt 13: 55; Mk 6: 3); according to Semitic custom he is called "brother" (Mk 6: 3; Gal 1: 19).
The book of the Acts of the Apostles emphasizes the prominent role that this latter James played in the Church of Jerusalem. At the Apostolic Council celebrated there after the death of James the Greater he declared, together with the others, that pagans could be received into the Church without first submitting to circumcision (cf. Acts 15: 13). St Paul, who attributes a specific appearance of the Risen One to James (cf. I Cor 15: 7), even named James before Cephas-Peter on the occasion of his visit to Jerusalem, describing him as a "pillar" of that Church on a par with Peter (cf. Gal 2: 9).
Subsequently, Judeo-Christians considered him their main reference point. The Letter that bears the name of James is also attributed to him and is included in the New Testament canon. In it, he is not presented as a "brother of the Lord" but as a "servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" (Jas 1: 1).
Among experts, the question of the identity of these two figures with the same name, James son of Alphaeus and James "the brother of the Lord", is disputed. With reference to the period of Jesus' earthly life, the Gospel traditions have not kept for us any account of either one of them.
The Acts of the Apostles, on the other hand, reveal that a "James" played a very important role in the early Church, as we have already mentioned, after the Resurrection of Jesus (cf. Acts 12: 17; 15: 13-21; 21: 18).
His most important act was his intervention in the matter of the difficult relations between the Christians of Jewish origin and those of pagan origin: in this matter, together with Peter, he contributed to overcoming, or rather, to integrating the original Jewish dimension of Christianity with the need not to impose upon converted pagans the obligation to submit to all the norms of the Law of Moses. The Book of Acts has preserved for us the solution of compromise proposed precisely by James and accepted by all the Apostles present, according to which pagans who believed in Jesus Christ were to be asked only to abstain from the idolatrous practice of eating the meat of animals offered in sacrifice to the gods, and from "impropriety", a term which probably alluded to irregular matrimonial unions. In practice, it was a question of adhering to only a few prohibitions of Mosaic Law held to be very important.
Thus, two important and complementary results were obtained, both of which are still valid today: on the one hand, the inseparable relationship that binds Christianity to the Jewish religion, as to a perennially alive and effective matrix, was recognized; and on the other, Christians of pagan origin were permitted to keep their own sociological identity which they would have lost had they been forced to observe the so-called "ceremonial precepts" of Moses.
Henceforth, these precepts were no longer to be considered binding for converted pagans. In essence, this gave rise to a practice of reciprocal esteem and respect which, despite subsequent regrettable misunderstandings, aimed by its nature to safeguard what was characteristic of each one of the two parties.
The oldest information on the death of this James is given to us by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. In his Jewish Antiquities (20, 201ff.), written in Rome towards the end of the first century, he says that the death of James was decided with an illegal initiative by the High Priest Ananus, a son of the Ananias attested to in the Gospels; in the year 62, he profited from the gap between the deposition of one Roman Procurator (Festus) and the arrival of his successor (Albinus), to hand him over for stoning.
As well as the apocryphal Proto-Gospel of James, which exalts the holiness and virginity of Mary, Mother of Jesus, the Letter that bears his name is particularly associated with the name of this James. In the canon of the New Testament, it occupies the first place among the so-called "Catholic Letters", that is, those that were not addressed to any single particular Church - such as Rome, Ephesus, etc. - but to many Churches.
It is quite an important writing which heavily insists on the need not to reduce our faith to a purely verbal or abstract declaration, but to express it in practice in good works. Among other things, he invites us to be constant in trials, joyfully accepted, and to pray with trust to obtain from God the gift of wisdom, thanks to which we succeed in understanding that the true values of life are not to be found in transient riches but rather in the ability to share our possessions with the poor and the needy (cf. Jas 1: 27).
Thus, St James' Letter shows us a very concrete and practical Christianity. Faith must be fulfilled in life, above all, in love of neighbor and especially in dedication to the poor. It is against this background that the famous sentence must be read: "As the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead" (Jas 2: 26).
At times, this declaration by St James has been considered as opposed to the affirmations of Paul, who claims that we are justified by God not by virtue of our actions but through our faith (cf. Gal 2: 16; Rom 3: 28). However, if the two apparently contradictory sentences with their different perspectives are correctly interpreted, they actually complete each other.
St Paul is opposed to the pride of man who thinks he does not need the love of God that precedes us; he is opposed to the pride of self-justification without grace, simply given and undeserved.
St James, instead, talks about works as the normal fruit of faith: "Every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit", the Lord says (Mt 7: 17). And St James repeats it and says it to us.
Lastly, the Letter of James urges us to abandon ourselves in the hands of God in all that we do: "If the Lord wills" (Jas 4: 15). Thus, he teaches us not to presume to plan our lives autonomously and with self interest, but to make room for the inscrutable will of God, who knows what is truly good for us.
In this way, St James remains an ever up-to-date teacher of life for each one of us.
To special groups
I am pleased to greet the English-speaking pilgrims present at this Audience, particularly those from the Philippines and the United States of America. On this eve of the Solemnity of the Sts Peter and Paul, I pray that all of you may be filled with the same zeal for Christ that inspired the two Holy Apostles. May God bless you during your stay in the Eternal City.
As usual, my thoughts go to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. We have now entered summer, the time of holidays and rest. Dear young people, make the most of them for useful social and religious experiences; and you, dear newly-weds, to deepen your mission in the Church and in society. To you, dear sick people, also in this summer period, may you not be deprived of your relatives' closeness.
After the service the Pope makes his way around to personally greet those who are on the south side. He meets Ray Bakke and Robert Calvert to whom he says, “I pray God’s blessing on your movement and hope you have much encouragement.” Many in our group are in the front row and personally shake the Pope’s hand. We look for something he can bless and pass to Sarah Strand (Campus Crusade in Florence) a small, pocket KJV New Testament. The most amazing thing happened—when we got it back it was in the translation of The Message and included the Apocrypha! Amazing!

At lunch I ate with Robert Calvert to learn more about PLACE—his ministry to cities in Europe.

After lunch we see ancient Rome. It is hot today…perhaps a hundred degrees and we’re all sweating like the desert fathers. We start at the coliseum and for the next four hours we see all that is standing of ancient Rome. We have an excellent tour guide—Alexander, a Brit who teaches ancient history at Loyola. He really knows his stuff!

We bus over to Sant’Egidio and stop for a little pizza with John and Nancy and Robert and Margaret Fomer—a delightful couple whom we’ve gotten to know on this trip. Then we go off to the Community of Sant’Egidio. The Community of Sant'Egidio is a Christian community that is officially recognized by the Catholic Church as a "Church public lay association". The Community was founded in Rome in 1968 by a group of Roman high school students led by Andrea Riccardi. It is named after the Roman Church of Sant'Egidio (Italian for Saint Giles) in Trastevere, its first permanent meeting place. Since 1968, the community has gathered each night to pray and read from the Bible, reflecting on the Gospel, eventually spreading throughout the world with a mission of helping those in need. Their activities include setting up refuges for the old, hospices for AIDS patients. They also engage in short-term relief efforts around the world. We are told that there are now 60,000 members working in 70 countries to spread the message. Its main activities are:
· Prayer--centered around a reading of the Bible
· Spreading the Gospel to help people who are looking for a sense to their life.
· Service to the poor, which is free and voluntary
· Commitment to ecumenism—friendship, prayer and cooperation between all Christians of the world
· Dialogue with members of other religions and non-believers.

We join in the evening service, with a couple hundred others. The homily is on the widow of Zarapheth—who though poor, had something still to give. We follow the message through headsets. We sing, following the Italian words in thin, blue song books. It’s a beautiful service and a fitting ending of a great day. We finish this long day at the Lamb’s room. This will be our last night together since tomorrow Liz and I will be driving up to the Cinqueterre for three days of vacation on the coast, in a little town called Monterosso.


Where do I begin? Today I have been within arm’s reach of the person who is the spiritual leader to over a billion people. We’ve also prayed with a simple, non-ostentatious group of lay people that have gathered every night for worship and prayer for nearly fifty years. Sandwiched in between these two contrasting expressions of spirituality was the grandeur that was Rome. Both of the homilies we heard today were simple messages on Christian living. Pope Benedict mentioned our need to minister to the poor. The lay-speaker talked about the poor having something to give to others. It is when the poor give that they experience the truth that it is better to give than to receive.

I thought Pope Benedict’s message was powerful. His message on faith was as sound as anything I’ve heard coming from any pulpit. He says, “At times, this declaration by St James has been considered as opposed to the affirmations of Paul, who claims that we are justified by God not by virtue of our actions but through our faith (cf. Gal 2: 16; Rom 3: 28). However, if the two apparently contradictory sentences with their different perspectives are correctly interpreted, they actually complete each other. St Paul is opposed to the pride of man who thinks he does not need the love of God that precedes us; he is opposed to the pride of self-justification without grace, simply given and undeserved.” Did you see that? How different from the conclusions of the Council of Trent that stated in Canon 9: "If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema."

I’m also struck how similar the Community of Sant’Egidio is to the Focolare Movement—both started by young lay people, outside the traditional structures of church but empowered and blessed by those in power who give some of this power away. Both of these are huge, influential movements that are making a difference in the world.


I’m thinking a lot these days about spiritual movements. It is amazing to me that both Focolare and Sant’Egidio were started by young people with a vision of living life differently and it struck such a chord in those around them that others that they too want to be a part. Real movements create their own momentum. You don’t have to push. You don’t even have to pull. You do have to give voice, however to what others are experiencing and others want to see. In the seminal book on movements, The True Believer, Eric Hoffer wrote:
“Those who would transform a nation or the world cannot do so by breeding and captaining discontent or by demonstrating the reasonableness and desirability of the intended changes or by coercing people into a new way of life. They must know how to kindle and fan an extravagant hope. It matters not whether it be hope of a heavenly kingdom, of heaven on earth, of plunder and untold riches, of fabulous achievement or world dominion. If the Communists win Europe and a large part of the world, it will not be because they know how to stir up discontent or how to infect people with hatred, but because they know how to preach hope” (p. 9)

Young leaders need to be empowered when what they are leading is of God. The Catholic Church seems to grasp this. They, themselves might not be hitting it out of the park (it’s hard for institutions to change) but these nimble lay organizations can make changes and adjust to the times. Who can I empower? Are there people I can bless?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Trent to Rome--Day 7

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Today we go to see the eternal city—Rome! I feel like the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:13—“I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (in Rome).” We depart for St. Peters around 9:30 and arrive at around 10:00 am. Tomorrow we have a longer visit so after an hour of sightseeing we gather at the obelisk and walk to have lunch together at an (what else) Italian Restaurant. The food is delicious. I forgot to mention earlier that wine is served with every meal but breakfast. I think most would call it a “table wine”—nothing fancy but very tasty.

After lunch we drive down the legendary Via Apia visit the Catacombs of Saint Callixtus. When people say, “We went to the catacombs in Rome,” this was the place they are referring to. The catacombs were dug out of volcanic rock in the second century by believers who could not afford a proper above-ground family tomb. The most economical method was to dig down and create small shelves for the bodies. In the third century, the church of Rome (not yet recognized by state) took care of the administration of the catacombs by utilizing land donated by better-off Christians. After Christianity was legalized in the beginning of the 4th century believers began to see the place where the martyrs of the previous century, as something special and to be preserved and visted. From the 5th to 9th centuries the catacombs were seen as true shrines and thousands of pilgrims visited the catacombs. In the 8th century the Popes removed the bodies interred in the catacombs inside the city because they did not have the means to protect the catacombs. For the next 700 years the catacombs were abandoned and lost but were rediscovered in the 1600 and 1700’s.

The catacombs are fascinating; with plaster walls inscribed with pictures and various names. I expected to see more fabled “icthus” drawings but discover none. The symbol of the Christians, we are told, is the anchor, with the eye of the anchor representing God, the cross beam representing Jesus and bottom part of the anchor, roughly in the shape of a dove, represents the Holy Spirit. One thing we don’t see is evidence that believers would live in catacombs and have worship services here. That, we are told, is largely a myth! Believers met for worship in homes during the first three centuries and only during very brief times of extreme persecution did some gather in the catacomb’s crypts and pray…and then only briefly. Apparently the catacombs were never places of refuge or living!

After the catecombs we drive back to St. Peter's where we queue up to see the Cistine Chapel which is the last stop as part of our Vatican Museum tour--which is all quite impressive--huge tapestries, collections of Greek and Roman statues...all very impressive. The Cistine Chapel is quite amazing. I had been learning a bit about it from my "Art of the Renaissance" class. Michelangelo didn't want to paint the chapel. He insisted to the Pope that he was a sculptor, not an artist. He had never done fresco work before! His first panel was of Noah's Ark. When the scafolding was removed and he looked up at the ceiling he realized the figures were too small to be seen so he painted them larger from then on. At first he employed a number of assistants but as he achieved proficiency, he finished the work alone.

We get back to the hotel, have dinner and have an 8:30 session with Fergus McDonald who gives us a presentation entitled, “The witness of the historic churches in Europe.” Fergus McDonald is the General Secretary of the National Bible Society of Scotland and has joined us for a couple of days. He takes us through many statistics and observations about the state of the church in Europe. Though it is quite late it nonetheless is very interesting. Much of European Christianity is comprised of people who believe—in God (some 77%) without belonging and those who belong (to church) without really believing. In Western Europe, he notes, 60% of the population is Roman Catholic, 21% Institutional Protestants, 21% Orthodox and a mere 1% non-institutional Protestants (Pentacostals, Free Church, etc). He tells us that these statistics highlight the important role the institutional church must play in the evangelization (or re-evangelization) of Europe. He quotes Maurice Talleyrand—“Without individuals nothing happens; without institutions nothing remains.” Fergus tells us “the way forward” is by renewing, reforming and reconfiguring the church. We finish off by 10pm and head off the Lambs and stay up past midnight talking before we close with a little sleepy prayer.


I know many people said the favorite part of visiting Rome was seeing the catacombs…I’m just not among them. They were good and interesting but sometime after I got there I began to have my doubts that the catacombs were the places of worship. First, they are very narrow in their construction—too small for any group over 30. Second, they are quite far from the city itself. Since most believers lived in the populous Rome (remember, country folk were called paganas—pagans), it would be quite a hike to come here to worship. I guess also I expected to see a few bones like the hundreds I saw several years ago stacked up in the catacombs in the Monasterio de San Francisco in Lima, Peru. With all the bones gone and no real record of persecuted Christians hanging out here, it seemed more like spiritual spelunking. Maybe for the sake of tourism they should have kept the myth alive about the catacombs being places of hiding, living and worship as they hid out from Roman officials.

Fergus McDonald’s presentation was great. Just a shame he didn’t have more time at an hour when we were fresher.


As Americans we need to pay attention to the spirituality of Europe to give us a glimpse of our future. When describing European spirituality McDonald makes note of several forms of European spirituality. The first is “believing without belonging”—those who have not abandoned belief, they have just abandoned church. Isn’t that what George Barna’s book, Revolution is about? Barna says some 20 million adults in America have left the church, not because they have lost their faith but to preserve their faith. Second, Europeans practice what Grace Davie calls, “vicarious religion.” That is “significant numbers of Europeans are content to let both churches and churchgoers enact a memory on their behalf, more than half aware that they might need to draw on the capital at crucial times;” meaning they are glad the church is there for weddings, funerals, etc. Is that not us? Third is a move toward new age or inner spirituality. An article in Newsweek last year noted how nearly all people today in America describe themselves as “spiritual,” though not necessarily Christian. As Europe is today…America may become.

I need to think about the implications of Tallyrand’s quote: “Without individuals nothing happens; without institutions nothing remains.” Individuals bring about change…movements and revolutions. To preserve the benefits of those changes, the changes are institutionalized through new ritual, new buildings and new processes—new institutions. But who really wants to live in an institution? Church, at its root, is a living organism and form always must follow function. Cathedrals of Europe are largely empty because someone paid attention to the institution but not the life within the institution. We’re told that the average local church in America lasts an average of 70 years. Old forms and structures need to be replaced with new structures that help us move forward and thrive.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Trent to Rome--Day 6

First of all...How great was the finals of the World Cup yesterday? Having been in Italy and having watched a bit of two World Cup games featuring Italy in Italy, of course we were for Italy. Seeing a finals like this, watched by over a billion people, makes things like the Superbowl seem small! How a little country like Italy can be the champions of the world is a testimony to the greatness of the game. (That was quite a hit by Zidane, wasn't it?)

Monday, June 26, 2006


We started the day with John Lamb’s devotional. John continues to develop his skills and passion for ministry. I have heard him teach for over 30 year and he has never been more insightful and on target. It has been such a joy to have John and Nancy as traveling companions.

We then hear from Jeff Fountain, Director YWAM Europe and Hope for Europe. He begins by posing a question: “We live in amazing times where we can gather from such diverse streams. The question we need to ask ourselves is do we really have hope for Europe?” That will be the theme of his presentation. “The job of the church,” Jeff says, “ is to build the kingdom while Jesus builds his church.” Because today’s is a long entry, and because Jeff’s presentation, according to his own words, is a summary of what is found in his book, Living as People of Hope, which I will review later, I will delete his presentation from this section.

Over lunch we divide into tables where each table is graced with the presence of one Focolarini. Our guest is a man named Julian. He has helped to start Focolare movements all over the world. He shares his Focolare experience with us. Thirty years ago he was struck by the fact that “these people (the Focolarini) are so different from the people I know.” Julian went on to tell wonderful stories of God’s grace. John and I ask him what it would take to start Focolare in Boulder. He takes my email address and someone will get in touch with me from Denver—Miriam Torrey, I believe was her name. It will be worth a conversation.

After lunch we take a walk into a nearby town above the Mariapoli Center in Castelgandolfo, which is / has been the summer residence of the Pope. It is a beautiful little place looking down on an expansive lake.

After lunch we hear from a geology professor named Professor Zanghi. He has been with the Focolare since 1951. To him “Jesus forsaken” was a powerful statement of life. “The cross teaches us to give without measure …without limits. We must follow Jesus to love as he loved to the point of abandonment of the father. Love is strongly linked to nothingness…not in the eastern sense but the moment I give of myself I hold nothing back.” Zanghi continues: “If you want to meet Christ, get ready to face darkness but darkness can become light…and pain can become joy. We must ‘create islands’ to show that Jesus died and rose again.”

Zanghi is then asked three questions from the audience. “How can Jesus be “Jesus forsaken” when he is seated at the right hand of the father?” He does not hesitate in giving his answers: Quoting Bonheoffer he says, “Yes Jesus is seated in glory at the right hand of the father but we comfort Jesus by comforting every person who is suffering; Matthew 25 says when we love the least of these we are ministering to Jesus himself. It’s about building a new reality.

A second question is about Mary. “Mary is an example. It’s not about devotion but a model to follow. Mary is not in competition with Jesus.”

A third question is about the inclusivity of Focolare: Zanghi answers: “God is Father of every body and loves everybody. The Old Testament says all nations will come to him. God wants all to be saved and only salvation is in Christ. Is he excluding or embracing? I would say God is embracing. Jesus said, “He is who is not against us is for us. We have to have every heart as large as God’s heart.”

Zanghi’s most memorable quote is powerful: “In heaven we find those who love, not those who talk.” Little wonder they are so emphatically passionate about living the gospel.

Throughout the rest of the day, until supper time we hear from a number of other Focolarin—Professor Vera Araujo, Alberto, Angelo, Gabri, Jonbach, etc. Some have been involved with Focolare for over 50 years! They love the “magna carta” of the Focolare…and Christianity--“That they may be one.” One presenter talks of Focolare’s foray into becoming more ecumenical. As Chiara was invited to other places, soon she began meeting with Lutheran churches. Three Lutheran pastors told her, “We want to be in touch with you. When we are together Jesus shows up.” They meet around the scriptural principle of Mark 15:34—Jesus forsaken. “Many years have passed. We understand that we have differences but we need to dialogue about this. Episcopal and Anglicans observed Catholics and Lutherans loving each other. This is how this movement has spread to other cultures.”

One comment is particularly instructive: “We are a Christian movement and have expanded to other Christian churches. As we expand we come into contact with those of other religions—Buddhists, Muslims, etc. What do we do? There are many things we can do together regardless of faith, because these people also care for the community. We each have our own prayer, theology and identity. Obviously we want people to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. We like to respect their identity and there are ways for them to see and live a better life. The “Golden Rule” is something all religions have and something we can agree on and all can live by. We don’t pretend we see Jesus in them, since he is not. This is a human working relationships and don’t know what the Holy Spirit will do. When we talk about Jesus’ presence in our midst there are many types of presence—in his Word, in the Eucharist in one another etc. We just let God be God.”

Ray remarks, “I’m 68 years old and I’ve never heard “Love your neighbor as yourself” as “love your neighbor’s church as your own church.”

Gabri comments on Together for Europe* which we’ll talk about this evening. “What does God want of us? To live out his words; the will of God, the words of God are lived out in different ways. What comes about is not just diversity but unity. A person being from Portugal is secondary to how much of the word a person is trying to live.” That is powerful!

Evening session

Together for Europe is a network of Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and mainline churches who are figuring out how together they can work together to impact Europe with the gospel. On May 8, 2004, 10,000 believers from 175 different churches and organizations came together in Stuttgart, Germany for one day to love and serve the city in a demonstration of solidarity. Focolarini, Lucia Fronza says, “The spiritual network in Europe is becoming bigger, like a net wrapping the world because people have heard the cry and want to answer the call of Matthew 5:16 says, “Let your light shine….” So this network responded by saying, “We want to live out this verse.” We want to share this light with the world as if we were in window case for the glory of the Father. Some say this event was a turning point in our history—where people of various denominations came together. In 2007 we are planning another meeting in Stuttgart. Why? Because each movement stems from a charis…a gift of God. To witness the grace of God each person brings his / her charis to the party. We need someone to tell them that this charis is great. We need everybody’s charis, which has its own beauty and gives enrichment to the others yet keep its own identity.”

The Together for Europe presentation is followed by a brief DVD and explanation of “Roma Amor”—a holistic evangelistic project coming up in Rome. We end up the evening at the Lambs room for more debriefing and prayer. John found that sitting in one room all day long and eating a lot of salt caused his feet "to swell up like Frodo Baggins." Fortunately there was this great footwashing sink in the bathroom.


As we were walking around town and talking with fellow pilgrims around the table it became a bit clearer that we, as evangelicals, have a different starting point than our Focolarini friends. We start with conversion. They start with conversation. Here’s my thoughts: Imagine having never read the Gospels or never been taught the meaning of the passages. To you the Gospels are uncharted waters. There is no one to tell you that some verses are more important than others…that this verse reflects the heart of God more than another. You have not been influenced by Matthew 28:18-20 or Mark 16:15. Yet you find yourself thinking, “How could I bring the love of God to the world? How could all people know that God loves them and that Jesus is God’s son?” Being that the Gospels are flat, without hill or valley, you look for clues. Then you stumble across John 13:34,35, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." And then reading a bit further you read John 17:21-23, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Those would be your guiding verses—love and unity—the most powerful witnessing tools ever. I think this is what Chiara discovered when decided to “live the gospel.”


I really enjoyed hearing Jeff Fountain’s talk this morning. He was particularly insightful in creating his construct of God—being finite or infinite…being personal or impersonal. Jeff says that which path Europe chooses will determine the future of Europe. This will be a helpful diagram for explaining the difference between the fantasy writings of C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rolling.

In my work in cities, I believe that Hope for Europe (who’s conferences I have twice attended) and Together for Europe are expressions of something God is doing in bringing churches together to better do that which they cannot do alone. Both presentations were encouraging to me.

I feel Zanghi’s quote: “In heaven we find those who love, not those who talk” needs to be a guide for my life. I find with the more I travel and tell others, the less I find myself living the truths I teach. This may be OK for a season…but not as a lifestyle. We have one teacher…his name is Jesus.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Trent to Rome--Day 5

Sunday, June 25, 2006

After much anticipation today we saw Florence—the very cradle of the Renaissance. But we’ve got to get to Rome so we have only four hours in Florence before we need to get back on the bus. What do we see? Because we are traveling pilgrims with the Lambs we decide to see David at the Galleria dell'Accademia. I think I would have preferred to go to the Ufizzi Museum but I suppose I agree with the rest that we can’t visit Florence without seeing Michelangelo’s David. Before driving to the city center we drive to an overlook of the city of Florence. It is magnificent—looking as much like it did in the 1500’s as any city in Italy—the Duomo, the Baptistery, Giotto’s Tower, the Ponte Vecchio Bridge lined with houses and shops. I can see it all quite clearly through my binoculars.

The line is long and the day is hot, giving a new meaning to what it means to be under the Tuscan sun. I’m sweating as profusely as one of the desert fathers. We are told it is over one hundred degrees. Perhaps the heat has prevented some from standing in line so after one hour we are able to get into the museum. After passing through a barrel vaulted nave (this museum is laid out like a cathedral) filled with six of Michelangelo’s unfinished “prisoner” sculptures (originally for the tomb of Julius II), there is David, bathed in light filtered in through the domed room built especially to house this masterpiece. He is magnificent—representing the best of the human ideal with his slightly oversized head (representing intellect), and oversized hands (representing man’s works) The statue was completed around 1504 and put on display in front of Palazzo Vecchio. If you look closely you can see that the statue shows some signs of weathering.

Other parts of the museum are less impressive. To the left of David are a few paintings and tapestries that lead into what looks like an outdoor garden supply store with plaster casts of works of 19th century Tuscan artists. Its time to move on.

We walk down to Cathedral Square—Piazza San Giovanni and gaze at the Duomo (the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Riore)(cathedral). What is most impressive is the dome (copula) of the cathedral, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and built in 1434. I am anxious to see the doors of the Baptistery that I have been learning about. The Baptistery is the oldest building in the Square—going back to the 5th century. The shape is octagonal, symbolizing (I read) the “octava dies” or “eighth day”—the time beyond the earthly measurement of seven days…the time of the Risen Christ. This symbolism was intended to give hope of eternal life to these early believers. There are three sets of paneled doors leading into the Baptistery—two designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti and the other by Andrea Pisano. This type of bronze-cast design was revolutionary for its time. The inside of the Baptistery was magnificent. It’s hard to imagine what a 15th century commoner might have thought to enter into such a spectacularly gilded room. It’s time to go, so we head for the Arno River toward our rendezvous at the Ponte alle Grazie with Greg and Charmaine Lillestrand, whom I have known for many years. After meeting up we head over what they call “an Aussie bar” for lunch. The burgers are exceptional.

Greg stepped down from a national leadership position with Campus Crusade in the states to take a position as National Director of Italy for Campus Crusade. They have been here around nine months, learning the language and are still trying to figure things out. One area that is not ambiguous, however, is why they are here. They are not about maintenance or interested in partnering with those believers and organizations that simply want to hold their ground. What captivates them is the possibility of spiritual renewal in Italy. There are many signs of hope. On a recent project with students in Southern Italy, they saw nearly 40 Italian students make first-time commitments to Christ. Naturally they were keen to hear about what was happening in Italy with Focolare. They have currently identified 14 couples that could give strong spiritual leadership to bringing change to the spiritual climate of Italy.

We meet at bus at 2:30 and start our trip to Rome. As part of my personal preparation for the trip I’ve been watching a 36 part series on Renaissance art that has washed over into our time here in Italy. I ordered the DVDs from a company called “The Teaching Company” (http://www.teach12.com/) which recruits the top 1% (so they claim) of professors from Stanford, UCLA, Oxford, etc. to tell us what they know on their field of expertise. I’m not disappointed in the quality of this class. On the bus ride I watched a couple of sections on Michelangelo’s painting of the Sistine Chapel but also of other’s works that include large landscape features. From my window I see those same landscape features, for which renaissance art is known.

We arrive at 7pm and have dinner with Wobbe and Sally Leeuwarden, Juan Bravo, Chris Martin. We talked about what we had seen today. Wobbe said the art and beauty caused him to look afresh at his commitment to Christ, reflecting that these artists and sculptors had experienced a depth of God. We also had a discussion on what made the renaissance the “renaissance.” Chris (who is a priest in the Church or England) talked about the painting in the back wall of a former church of his that he looked at while he was preaching…of people climbing a ladder to heaven and evil-looking demons trying to pull people down. “It was quite a motivation to get my preaching right.”

We end our evening with John and Nancy Lamb for a debrief time and prayer.


The Renaissance was a pivotal time in history for a number of reasons. I read a book recently where the author pointed out that up until the Renaissance art was “flat.” You could tell the story through art and derive meaning from the paintings but it was without emotion. Think of the Byzantine art that dominated this world—flat, expressionless eyes…no movement. Renaissance artists discovered how to paint with perspective and convey emotion, movement and time. How did they do this? How did they get so good? There are a couple of theories. One is popularized in a book called The Medici Effect--Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts, and Cultures by Frans Johansson. He posits that the banking family, Medici, brought together in Florence the finest architects, sculptors, painters, mathematicians, writers. It was their cross-pollenization of ideas and practices that caused the Renaissance. A second theory is the role of competition. Up until the Renaissance, an artist could work a lifetime on a cathedral, painting or repainting as needed or desired. In the Renaissance things were different. Great artists like Donatello, Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, etc were employed by the highest bidder. Patronage was everything. In 1401 Brunelleschi (desiner of the Duomo’s copula) lost the competition for the second door of Baptistery to Lorenzo Ghiberti. They were both asked to create one panel on the sacrifice of Isaac. Talk about a competitive environment! A third theory has to do with distribution of talent among a population group. In other words, for every one million people born, so many will have a talent for math, for words, for art, etc. So when one particular disciple (such as art) is given lift as a high value, all the people from that discipline show up to be sponsored and trained.


Today was a great day. And we needed such a day since we’ve been starting early and finishing late for the past several days. Personally, I love Johansson’s theory of the “Medici Effect;” it is the cross-pollenization of ideas where the breakthroughs occur. This mirrors a process that I try to employ with the Leadership Communities for Externally Focused Churches and the Global Learning Community that I’m engaged with. We try to create an environment where passionate and talented practitioners can be in the same space for 3 or 4 days and put their minds around common challenges. The results have been accelerated progress on all fronts. I think there is also something healthy about “competition” that brings out the very best in people’s abilities (though maybe not in their personalities). A couple of months ago I had a leadership community (12 churches, 50 leaders) meet with John Handy, former VP of design for Mattel Toy Company where he supervised 160 designers. He really stresses that competition brings out the very best design—especially when there are deadlines. Now the rub comes by bringing competition to the church. It’s not that it doesn’t currently exist—think of pastors who are “called” by another (most often larger, better paying or in a better location). Churches are competing for the best personnel…but no one calls it that. Well, we might have to wait on that one.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

I agree with Mel

Last night we went to Pasta Jay's on Pearl Street with the Lambs and Wilcoxes to celebrate Donny's birthday. This is probably the first time, in the past fifteen years we have not gone to the world's best restaurant--Efrain's so it felt a bit like we were committing culinary adultery but it was a great evening none-the-less. Afterwards we walked around the mall, experiencing the ambiance of a summer night in Boulder--replete with didgereedoo players, hillbilly bands, balloon men, magicians and the like. The only conspicuous absentee was Zip Code Man--who can name any town from any Zip Code you give him...and visa versa.

Afterwards we walked up to my work place and had some leftover German Chocolate Cake. I also pulled out 15 T-shirts from a failed evangelistic campaign entitled, "I agree with Mel." Since Muriel Wilcox's nickname is Mel, I thought it would be a perfect gift but was totally scoffed at. This morning however when Mel showed up for her morning walk with Liz (they've walked together nearly every morning for the past 15 years), Mel was wearing her shirt and Liz went and put hers on and off they went. By the way, if you'd like a free "I agree with Mel" T-shirt, send me your shirt size and mailing address.

Trent to Rome--Day 4

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Today was a full day in Loppiano where we heard and saw more about the Focolare movement. The big question, one says, is “How to bring the values of the gospel to the world.” The one “rule” they have (I think of this as a “guiding principle”) is the rule of gospel love found in John 13:35—“By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The movement is very exclusive, involving people from other denominations and even religions. “Buddhists and Muslims share the Golden Rule,” we are reminded. “We are asked to give everything of ourselves but we receive even more in return. We want to give you as much of our lives as possible today.” They talk about “dialogue with modern culture” as opposed to theoretical teaching to be an expression of a new type of society reflecting “fraternity, peace and reciprocity in living the gospel.” The final goal of Jesus is “unity of the human family.” We are giving more statistical information about Focolare, much of which I included in yesterday’s posting.

After these opening remarks we hear a number of testimonials on how their lives were changed by the gospel. I observe strong guiding biblical principles at work and try to scribble them down in my composition book—“Give and it shall be given unto you…” “Truth is found when we love Jesus in them.” These folks are deeply impacted by the Scriptures and also by the life of Chiara Lubich. “Chiara says ‘Tell real stories—not just what you believe but stories of how life is to be lived.’” Loppiano is a model—a laboratory where people can validate the gospel for themselves. The church is any place two or more gather in his name and love and love brings the presence of Jesus. And where there is Jesus there is revelation. In unity we see the Trinity and the wealth that comes from loving one another. “We don’t push with words. We don’t remove the truth but propose not to impose truth. Instead we propose reciprocal love and that is something that can be accepted by all. We tell stories and let people draw their own conclusions.” “Jesus offers his life delicately. John 10:10 says, ‘I came that you might have life…’” “Our final judgment is found in Matthew 25—how we treated the least of these.” When they live this radical lifestyle of love, they are asked, “What makes you love this way? What animates you?” And then of course, they have a ready answer. So they lead with grace followed by truth. “There are many ways to love and listen, but if there is not love we have nothing to say. God finds new pathways when there is love.”

Over lunch I sit with Ray and around the table where there is animated conversation about what we have seen and heard this morning. Folks in our class are getting bothered and disturbed that there is fruit but “what about belief?”

After lunch Ray gives us a bit of context about what we are seeing and hearing here at Loppiano by giving a cursory overview of other believers who lived in community.
Puritan John Cotton fled the Church of England and sailed to Massachusetts Bay where he helped found the city of Boston, with the hope that it would become “a city on a hill.”
· Koinonia Farms was started in 1942 by two couples in the rural south community as a “demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God” In 1969 Koinonia gave birth to the better known Habitat for Humanity.
· Jesus People USA is a Christian community in Chicago.
· Jane Addams began living in intentional community with the immigrants in Chicago
· George Pullman is mentioned by Ray but further research leads me to conclude his was a different model—“When the fortunes of the company declined in 1894, Pullman slashed wages by 25 percent. However, he neglected to lower the rents or cost of groceries in the company town. A delegation of workers went to meet with Pullman and ask him to reduce these costs - the next day, these men were fired.”
The discovery of Focolare is they could live the gospel in every-day life. “When the Communists in Italy came to Chiara and asked her for her ‘secret,’ she answered, ‘Jesus—crucified and forsaken.’”

We hear about Focolare’s aggressive growth and expansion and more recently about their business development, where shareholders buy shares of Focolare based companies where 35% of the profits are given to the poor. So far, 12,000 families have been helped by their “economy of community” way of doing business. Silvano, one of the presenters, shows us a scale model of what their manufacturing center will look like at Loppiano. It’s a beautiful structure full of light and life. When questioned about the cost of building such a beautiful structure as opposed to a low-cost box. The answer is interesting and reflects a developed anthropology. “If what is important is man then we must revolutionize how we think. Man is created for beauty. The home and workplace must be beautiful. To live in ugliness is to sadden a man.” “The poor need beauty as much as they need bread.”

After lunch we have couple of hours of free time. Some take a walk others take a nap. I take a nap on an obscure part of the auditorium floor. When I awake I see an array of bodies all around me, sleeping soundly and snoring.

After our break, we bus over to the recently-built church on the Loppiano property. Not impressive from the outside, it is gorgeous on the inside. Robert Calvert leads us in a brief worship service. It’s what we need right now. After worship a women from the church explains to us the history and design of the church. It was designed, built and financed by the Loppiano community. Everything is done with intentionality--from the design and color of the roof to the pulpit carved out of stone. The stained-glass to our left follows the life and ministry of Jesus. The stained glass on our right follows the life of Mary. Ray remarks how this looks much like a Protestant church. We then break into smaller groups. Ray takes the Bakke students aside and we debrief on what we are experiencing. After a 7:30 dinner at Loppiano we drive back to Mariopolis and go to the Lamb’s room for debriefing and a time of prayer. It’s been a good day.

My good friend, John Lamb, sums up most of our thinking: “I have no categories for this.” If I were to make a brief comparison between evangelical thinking and what we are seeing here I say that we have different starting points. We, as evangelicals, are committed to the assumption that “behavior follows belief.” So we begin with propositional truth to be digested and believed. Truth is something that is to be grasped with the mind. Christian behavior follows Christian belief. Well, in theory I suppose. We believe, belong and behave. By contrast the starting point of those in Focolare is belonging and behavior which leads to belief. What we are seeing is people, who in one way or another are saying, “And I found myself believing.” We think truth is proclaimed. They say truth is where Jesus is present. For us becoming a Christian is a transactional procedure. For them Christianity is a transformational process. For us it is believing the gospel. For them it is “living the gospel.” For us it is very linear. For them, it is very global—the starting point is love. To us, it is about loving our own—being united with different denominations. For them it is more inclusive—loving and experiencing unity with those outside the family of faith. For us the Great Commission is about “teaching them…everything I have commanded you.” For them, it is “teaching them to observe…” beginning with radical love and unity. We say “Works without faith is dead.” They say, “Faith without works is dead.”

Wesley seems to have experienced this shift of thinking by his contact with the biography of Catholic nobleman Monr. de Renty (1611-1649). “Throughout his life, Wesley continued to refer to de Renty as the epitome of Christian holiness coupled with concern for the poor and effective methodology.”[1] De Renty’s small groups formed the model for Wesley’s class meetings. More importantly de Renty helped shaped Wesley’s spiritual growth model.
The focus on the Anglican groups was personal growth through careful attention to themselves; de Renty concentrated on personal growth by ministering to the needs of others. The Anglicans hoped that Christian service would be the eventual outcome of their quest for personal holiness; de Renty viewed Christian service as the context in which personal holiness developed…. [F]or Wesley, de Renty’s model of growth-through-service enabled him to steer his groups around the dangers of morbid introspection and mysticism.[2]

I feel like for the longest time I’ve been looking at the gospel and the Christian life through one facet of a diamond. These past couple of days we are seeing the gospel completely differently because we are looking through a different lens. In all the conferences I’ve been to I’ve never heard what I heard this morning--“We want to give you as much of ourselves as possible today.” The challenge to live the gospel is huge. Yesterday (July 7) I was talking with a friend about what I hope to learn from the Focolare experience. What we saw is very radical but very compelling. There is a peace and joy that radiates through these lives. There is no pretension or nothing to be pretentious about. There is no posturing. All is surrendered to love.

I work with a lot of churches that are seeking to be more externally focused and churches that want to be tranformers of community. What I’m seeing here is invaluable. It is a model that has endured. We are hearing from people who have been in the movement for 40 or 50 years and it just gets sweeter.

[1] Henderson, Michael D. John Wesley’s Class Meetings, p. 48
[2] Ibid P. 50

Friday, July 07, 2006

Nathan's Hotdog Eating Contest

How great was watching Nathan's Hotdog eating contest last night on TV. All I have to say is that people that train eating 30-40 hotdogs daily are really skinny. My conclusion? I need to eat more hotdogs! (From http://www.gambling911.com/070406daily.html) It was an admirable battle today as five-time weiner champ Takeru Kobayashi out chomped Joey Chestnut. In the end, Kobayashi ate an amazing 53¾ frankfurters in 12 minutes to win the annual Independence Day hot dog eating competition on Coney Island.
Joey Chestnut had swallowed 52 Nathan's franks -- just chunks away from Kobayashi's winning amount. However, Chestnut can be proud with his gut-busting feat, as he just set an American record.
Our favorite pick, Sonya Thomas, a.k.a. the "Black Widow' tied her record of last year of 37 hot dogs. Had she beat that, the 'over' proposition offered by
PinnacleSports.com would of paid $6 for every $5 wager.
Although Sonya Thomas did not win, she came in third which is admirable considering her beefy competition.
Thanks to
Gothamist.com for blogging the event live, and providing us with the live results.

Trent to Rome--Day 3

Day 3—Friday, June 23, 2006—Focolore Retreat Center, Trento

This morning after breakfast Moses, from Ghana and Eric from Nigeria lead us in a short time of worship. This is one of the great things about taking a class like this. There are leaders from several different countries, each bringing his or her faith, culture and worship styles along. We are then introduced to Seleshi Kebede Nadew from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He had some plane connection problems and so arrived to Trent last night. He tells a bit of his story followed by what is happening spiritually in Ethiopia. After the Communists closed the churches the different denominations had to work together. He says, “It took the shedding of blood for us to work together,” to which Ray adds, “Too bad Jesus didn’t do that!”

After a few opening remarks we number off and break into small groups. The Bakke program is based on reflective learning so times like this are essential. Processing by oneself has limited value and I always find the insights of other trigger dormant or undeveloped thoughts in my own self. The group follows the same reflective patterns as our journaling and book reviews—“What are you seeing / hearing?” “What does it mean?” “If you believed this, how would your life change?” But this small group session is a little different. We’re still all a bit confused about what we are seeing and hearing. My impression is that the Focolare is similar to the Catholic lay organization Opus Dei. Whereas the Opus Dei was started for men but now welcomes women, Focolare was started for women but soon admitted men. It is probably one of several Catholic lay organizations. We don’t have enough pieces of the puzzle before us to figure out what this Focolare thing is about. But we are hopeful.

After a coffee break—and the coffee is very good in Italy, we hear a presentation about a cooperative enterprise in Trent called “Trento Adente.” The translation of the presentation seems muffled and unclear. A meeting with the Mayor of Trent has been cancelled but Ray fills in with some interesting comments on “cathedral theology.” Most cathedrals are oriented on an East-West axis in the shape of a cross. Because roughly 5% of the medieval population was literate, stained glass was used to tell the biblical stories—the New Testament stories and saints adorning the Southern wall with the Old Testament Stories and heroes adorning the Northern walls. The New Testament, therefore was more illuminated (literally) than the Old. Rose windows are a must for Gothic Cathedrals. The cathedral in Trent has one particularly interesting rose window called “The Wheel of Fortune.” It is a large round window with twelve panes of glass representing the hours of a working day. In the very center of the window is a character representing “Fortune.” On the outside of the window there are twelve figures, symmetrically placed to correspond to the twelve glass panes. The figures are moving counter-clockwise towards the top of the circle where there is a seated figure on a thrown—representing the apex of achievement. After reaching this apex, however, the figures begin to descend again. The wheel of fortune—a visual picture of the book of Ecclesiastes.

After lunch we bus into Trent and visit the cathedral once again. Ray does a short press conference. In a sleepy town of 100K out of town guests who are curious about the city are a novelty. We are graciously received by the Bishop of Trent who gives us a short address in English. The name “Trent” (Trento in Italian) comes from the name of the Roman town Tridentum that preceded Trent. The Bishop gives us a bit of history of Trent and the cathedral. Trent is a “bridge” city, bridging Germany, Switzerland and France with the rest of Italy. The eagle is the symbol of the city. The cathedral is built over an earlier graveyard…meaning it was built outside the original city walls. Acoustics and accent aside, I think he was glad to have us in town.

We then drive to Loppiano. Loppiano is one of thirty “cities” around the world built on an entire community living out the gospel. (From the Website: http://www2.focolare.org/En/loppiano_e.html) Located on the Tuscan Hills near Florence, Italy, with schools, factories, workshops, a farm, Loppiano today numbers 800 inhabitants coming from 70 nations: from West and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, North and South America, Asia and Australia. Students and teachers, professionals and workers, artisans and farmers, young people and entire families, priests and men and women religious, members of various Christian denominations and other religions: a prototype of a new kind of society based on the evangelical law of love.

Building a little town, a "mini city", which may reflect an ideology, a way of life, has often been the dream of men and women who gave rise to new philosophies, ideologies or spiritualities. Chiara Lubich had the same great desire.
In the fifties, when the Focolare Movement had just started spreading, people of different ages and social conditions gathered during the Summer in the valley of Primiero, in the Dolomite Mountains in northern Italy, to deepen together the style of life they discovered through the Movement.
Thus they gave birth to a temporary "little town" called Mariapolis (City of Mary). Chiara Lubich had an intuition: that original summer experience would become permanent.

Every year over 40,000 visitors come to Loppiano. They come from everywhere to become temporary citizens of the "Permanent Mariapolis" and experience the atmosphere of unity which is its main characteristic. The commitment of all those living there to practice day in and day out the new commandment of reciprocal love, make of Loppiano a meeting point of different peoples and cultures, like an open "lab" offering the possibility to anyone to experience unity among people and to find out that it is possible.

Schools of formation for members of the different vocations belonging to the Movement are also located in Loppiano. At present such schools of formation are 9: for the "focolarini" (men and women) who consecrate their lives to God within the Movement, for the families, for diocesan priests, for religious priests and brothers, for sisters, for the young people of the Movement (called Gen or New Generation), for men and women "volunteers" (lay people committed to living the Gospel in the various fields of society).

At Loppiano we settle into a lecture hall where we are introduced to a couple of Focolarini. One man, Nicola, working as a geologist tells us about city projects they are engaged in--city project that can involve everyone; churches, government, business, etc. “The task he says, is to spread the word everywhere—to the university, to the church, into arts, economy.” We watched a short DVD on one of the city projects—a lot of work projects, clothes distribution along with a bit of futbol and volleyball.

The next presenter, Mari shares her testimony of involvement in Focolare and the real difference they are making in the lives of people. “The starting point is to love everyone.”

We break for dinner at 9:30…another long day…and head back to the Lamb’s room where we debrief and pray together.

We are seeing something very radical here! This is not just theory on what a community transformed might look like, this is probably a working illustration of how people who live selflessly for one another and for Jesus really looks like. But I don’t know enough about the movement yet to make any type of intelligent analysis. What I am seeing however is a group of selfless people who are trying to live the gospel 24/7 and there is a different quality of life and experience that is very attractive and simple. This is not a welfare state. Everyone works. It is radical sharing but it is not atheistic Communism. It’s a picture of Acts 2 living out the gospel today. No one is claiming anything for themselves but willingly sharing it with the community. They are not just a bunch of organic farmers eking a living from the soil. These are professionals who have raised the value of living in community. One thing that impresses me about the model is they are seeking to influence every sector of society including the sectors that shape society—arts and media.


If I were to take this seriously, how would my life be different? Well, that’s what I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. A month or so ago when Liz and I were talking about the goals of this trip, we both agreed we wanted this not just to be a class but to be a time of renewal for each of us and to be open to what the Spirit of God was showing us. I may have mentioned this yesterday but there is a simplicity of faith that we are seeing. Several years ago I remember thinking about what a community would look like where everyone was a believer and walking with the Lord. I thought of life at Arrowhead Springs—the then headquarters of Campus Crusade, where believers lived and worked side-by-side. Was that the picture of heaven? Was that a picture of the kingdom? People who lived and worked in that environment laughed at the suggestion. What I’m seeing here is a new way of living the gospel. Maybe this is normative Christianity; not average Christianity but normative Christianity.