loren Eric Swanson: October 2006

Monday, October 30, 2006

Reflections on returning from Italy

I'm using some very cool technology at the moment--connected to the Internet and blogging somewhere west of Greenland at 35,000. This new Airbus A340-600 has a lot of cool new features including putting a window in the lavatories. It's like rolling luggage. Why did it take so long to think of that!

My time in Italy was really good. Greg and Charmaine Lillestrand led the Worldwide Student Network for at least a dozen years after pioneering works in Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union when the wall broke down. Now that they have moved to Italy and recruited a first class, top draft pick leadership team I'm really looking forward to what God will do through them. One thing to be sure...to create a different future we can't do the same things...even more or better...that we've done in the past. And doing different begins with perceiving and thinking different about Italy. Here's a couple examples. Many say that the students of Italy and Western Europe are indifferent to spiritual things. But 300,000 Italian youth traveled to Germany for the last World Youth Day where Pope Benedict spoke. Donald Malcolm (former director of Agape Italia) said than when interviewed, and asked why they travelled so far, on national television, none mentioned the church or Pope but talked about wanting to get closer to Jesus! What we need to begin saying is "Italian students are very interested in spiritual things, but we are yet to figure out ways to connect with them!" Many Christian workers think they are bringing God to Italy. Go figure! He has been working here for centuries. We enter into a broad stream of his ongoing work. At all times he has used less-than-perfect means (of which we are but one in a long series), but he has been at work and we enter into that work. For statistics of believers in Italy we rely too much on the statistics from evangelical churches. Would the Lord say there are 3-5% of Christ-followers in Italy? I don't think so. This summer Liz and I spent a couple of weeks in Italy with John and Nancy Lamb in the Trent to Rome Class. We saw so many evidences of God at work in Italy! We just have to look with new eyes.

The second part of the conference was held in a hotel south of Florence in the Tuscan hills about a mile from Machiavelli's villa. Very beautiful country. We finished the conference on Saturday night, which left Sunday mostly free. The staff who stuck around had meetings which left me the afternoon to wander through the Ufizzi Museum--the oldest such museum in the world. What a treat! After a two hour wait in line (I should have made a reservation when I first arrived in Florence) I spent four hours wandering the floors getting my fill of Renaissance art and culture. The Mind of Leonardo DaVinci was also on display with many never publically displayed items on...well...display. What a treat! I'll enclose a couple of pics including Botticelli's Primavera and one of a dog who was taking notes on my messages....Go figure!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Florence Morning

This morning took a long walk while the city was waking up. We're staying at the Jolly Hotel, almost on the Arno River a couple bridges North of the Ponte Vecchio. I'll enclose a couple of pics so you can experience a bit of what I saw.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Under the Tuscan Sun

I'm back in Florence, Italy for a few days at the invitation of Greg and Charmaine Lillestrand, National directors of Campus Crusade in Italy--unbelivably great people who left a pretty good job in the states to help figure out how to launch movements everywhere in Italy so that everyone knows someone who truly follows Jesus.

Greg's devotional this morning was powerful. "When we folow the Lord we move from the known to the unknown."

"When we went overseas it was a scrifice but it soon became a desire...and that's where we operate--between sacrifice and desire."

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Forest Hill Church...a note from Kenny Brown

One of the delights of my job is to work with passionate and innovative people. Yesterday I got this note from Kenny Brown. Kenny is a pastor at Forest Hill Church in Charlotte, NC--an externally focused church that is loaded with talented leaders. Kenny and Forest Hill are involved in the fourth Leadership Community for Externally Focused Churches.

Hey, just wanted to give you an update. In the last 4 months, we have over 800 adults serve in the inner city of charlotte. We have 19 partnerships now and we are averaging about 5 to 7 groups a week serving. We have 120 groups with partnerships and impact champions. Over 95 groups have gone out and served.

We are going to try to impact 2000 poor children this Christmas with the over 80% of them tied to our partnerships. We are going to tie Angel Tree (for our whole church) into our partnerships and then integrate everything so that our groups are doing Christmas parties for partnerships. The way this looks is that we have 11 groups connected to an organization called Elon Homes and there are 150 children there. Our groups can't provide presents for everyone so we are going to use Angel tree (the whole church) to provide 100 children presents (the 11 groups will cover the rest) and the 11 groups will throw the party and be the ones delivering them. We are going to do this with all our partnerships. It's going to be crazy. We are going to use Children and Student ministry to sort and deliver some of the presents. Sorry for the long update but thought maybe you would want to know what's going on at the coffee shops in Charlotte. (that extension launched 3 weeks ago)

Things are a lot of fun around here.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Why you shouldn't be too sad your child quit piano

When I was growing up I took a year of piano lessons and lacking both skill and disipline to practice, quit after one year of lessons, a recital and a trip to the Dairy Queen for a large butterscotch milk shake. The only thing I can still play is Chopsticks and The Indian Drum Song...on a good day. Because I like music and enjoy listening to talented musicians I've sometimes thought what it would have been like if I had continued on with my piano lessons. But this past week, through direct observation, I've come to a reasoned conclusion that I made the right decision by quitting. (If anything I wish I could play just one complicated song well, like my friend Brian Birdsall who knows but one song and can play Midnight Sonata flawlessly then mumbles something about not wanting to call attention to himself when asked to play a second tune.) I just want to make the observation that there are some incredibly talented pianists who spend their time playing background music in empty lounges. Maybe heaven is applauding...but probably not.

Southern California

Since Saturday I've been here in Southern California talking about the Externally Focused Church. A friend of mine, Henry Tan, who is part of our Global Learning Community (www.globallearncomm.blogspot.com) invited me to come to the San Diego Chinese Bible Church to talk / discuss the concepts of the externally focused church. They are doing some great stuff here--three locations, five services, three languages and the church is filled with some incredibly smart people--around 75% of the adults hold PhD degrees. Even one of the church secretaries holds a PhD! After the services I did a couple of seminars and then on Monday, Henry pulled together a number of pastors from the area to talk about impacting their communities. Their potential for impact is huge

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Externally Focused Church Leadership Community

This week I'm in Dallas for the fourth gathering of the third leadership community for externally focused churches. It's hard to pick a favorite gathering but it's hard to beat this fourth gathering. Jack Jezreel from Justfaith.org has been our outside presenter and he is the very best on justice and mercy issues. But even more important is his stuff on spiritual formation. I'll attach the link to listen to the mp3 files of the two talks he gave.


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Saturday, October 07, 2006

Chinese Snax

Chinese food is not what it used to be. Check out the pictures of these treats! Note for instance this innovative pizza...with little sausages rolled into the crusts.

Then there are these new flavors of Pringles-- Black Pepper Rib Eye Steak, Thai Curry Crab Flavor, Thai Sweet and Spicy Prawn Flavor. Mmmmmmmmmmmmm! Then how about these chip flavors--Crispy Drumstick Flavor and Italian Red Meat Flavor. But really one of the best things I had was won ton soup yesterday for breakfast.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Great Wall and Greater Foot Massage

Apart the great Chinese food (I look and feel like I'm now part of the double-Chin dynasty) the one thing you have to see a couple hours drive from downtown Beijing is the Great Wall. Truly one of the seven wonders of the world--along with the Pyramids, the Taj Mahal in Agra and Caesar's Palace in Vegas. Built over several hundred years the wall was designed to keep out foreign invaders. Interestingly enough as thick as the walls were they were breached, not by overcoming these awesome structures but by bribing the gate-keepers! Another interesting thing about the wall apparently is not true. Haven't you heard / read that the Great Wall was the one man-made structure one could see from space--no way! Unless we're talking about the wall being visible from a hot-air balloon.

Chinese words and pictograms are very interesting. Because Chinese words don't share our Latin, Greek or Arabic roots there are no cognates as there are in the Romance languages. Words are very literal and stories surround the pictograms. So for instance the word "contradiction" comes from a story of a craftsman who advertised that his shields could not be pierced by any lance and his lances that could pierce any shield. Once again...the contradictions and paradoxes of the East. And we did check out the word for "crisis" which indeed is the combination of the words "danger" and "opportunity." When Chinese pictograms and concepts are literally translated into English one can usually understand the meaning but the transcriptions are written very oddly. So for instance the handwash packages they gave us on the plane read "Hygiene Wet Turban Needless Wash." Or lastnight at the Chinese Acrobatic Performance, the kids performed some amazing feets while the songs were put up for translation on the walls. One translation talked about the "acerose osier." Those are real words in the English language, meaning "needlelike...willows, as the red osier, having tough, flexible twigs or branches that are used for wickerwork." I've also enclosed a picture of the rules posted before mounting the Alpine Slide. Please to enlarge photo click computer aparatus two times to observe results you desire.

This evening Sam, Nancy, Liz and I got Chinese foot massages. First they place your feet in nearly scalding hot water along with a couple of tea bags. Apparently this is why our tea has such an unusual flavor in the morning. Because those who practice Chinese foot massage believe that every vital organ is somehow through the magic of organic fung shway mystically, if not physically connected to the foot, the best and most efficient way to massage one's innards is through massaging the feet. They punch, they pinch, they squeeze, they pull, they caress before slapping your feet silly--but all in all it is 45 minutes of...well...foot massage.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Guangzhau Grappling

This past week I've been w/ Sam Williams in Guangzhau China for the World Wrestling Championships. I'd like to write that we saw Lex Lugar take on Big Show at Smackdown at Summer Slam but it was actually Olympic Wrestling--Greco (the style where Rulon Gardner beat Russia's Alexander Karelin) and Freestyle--very similar to High School Wrestling you may have seen. Points are scored by taking opponents down and exposing their backs to the mat. The US team did OK, placing third behind Russia and Iran in both events. This is the warm-up to what we will see in the Olympics in Beijing in 2008. Two American brothers were on the Freestyle team--Mike Zadick took the Silver and Bill Zadick the gold so it was a big tournament for the Zadick family. The final match on Friday evening was between China and Japan in a lower weight women's bracket. After Japan pinned China in the first round, the wrestler hoisted her coach on her shoulders and paraded him around the ring (see photo). Woah! No wonder she won!

I also thought I'd include a picture of Breakfast. Notice the chow mien juxtaposed with baked beans. East meets West demonstrating the balance between the Yin and Yang--Beansprouts and beans...stability and risk...gastronomy and gas. It is rare that breakfast is so philosophically challenging.