Jacob's Ladder

Jacob's Ladder
(a poem in opposition to goal setting gurus)

There are people who build or buy
ziggurats and stairways
step upon step
landing goal and reaching quest
and heaven laughs
or cries to wonder
what they are up to.

To make their goal
they must narrow their heart
and abandon all frivolity
and regret Bethel’s rest
and shutter their eyelids
tight against the night.
They will not homesick cry
but position their stone
to face the sunrise
with all of tomorrow's energy;
so doing, they miss the night.

My angel bounces
down the up escalator
and whispers conspiratorially,
“The path to God is horizontal
it’s like a labyrinth
and you must face Esau again,
for all that is past is present.”
and “Motivational gurus aside
no one takes the stairs anymore.”

Jacob will make mistakes
in business, wives, and child care
and youth’s lust will be converted
by miles to go and promises kept
but in each moment there is the whole
and heaven laughs or cries
with us invisibly
In dreams and quarreling loves
and beyond the river, we’ll be OK

In time Jacob’s only goal will be to live
Then the unnamable one will wrestle him
and wash him in the night
until all traces of a master plan is gone
and he cries for breath, spirit, God!

Then the labyrinth will become a whirlpool
Jacob limping
hurt beyond repair
will find Esau easy.

- Bill
Send me your thoughts bill@notperfectyet.com

eternal life poem

As he supposed
Lingered until his last breath
And in that final exile
Whit and soul
Into a billion bits
Others may go as they suppose
Into restful places
Or merge into all else that is
Few return to atoms

What is the soul
If it is not indivisible?
What can be more ironic
Than a thinker thinking
That from bits they came to be
And to bits they will return?

I am as I suppose
An indivisible integrity
Of whit and soul
And in that final exile
Will cease until
A resurrection


     Humility relates to authenticity in an appropriately subservient way. Living as a humble person requires lifelong learning of the most painful sort. But, humility itself is never the object of our quest. While it is a good thing to derive goals from the each of the three aspects of authenticity (Spiritual Passion, Mission, Community), being humble is something you don’t shoot for. You instead accept life’s lessons, realizing that your efforts to improve anything grind to a halt when you become self-serving.

            Paul’s famous chapter on love (I Corinthians 13) helps in understanding the contribution humility makes. Each quality that Paul uses to define love in vv. 4-8a, is also a behavior that we witness in the people we think humble. Love, like humility, “is not self-seeking.”

            Moving back then to verse 3, Paul says that even if we make great strides in our personal mission and that leads us to self-sacrifice and giving “all I possess to the poor,” still I won’t be authentic. Similarly in verses 1-2, Paul addresses the quest for spiritual passion by saying that even if I can speak in the tongues of angels, move mountains, and make profoundly deep prophesies, I am nothing without humble love. One could back up even further and see the entire 12th chapter of I Corinthians as a warning against seeking to build community without at the same time cultivating humility.

            Contemporary (postmodern) culture gets the need for humility, but only rewards authenticity. Being a humble person won’t make people seek you out for advice. Authentic people, however, will always be valued, even if they have to humbly suffer the repercussions of the choices they make on behalf of their personal mission, commitment to community/family, and religious enthusiasm.

            Cultivating humility is never a matter of putting oneself down in order to appear meek or to tell self-deprecating jokes. The word ‘humility’ is rooted in the earth (humus) and reminds of how humanity was formed out of the ground (Genesis 2:7). Life is meant both to teach us the folly of being proud when we are but mud-balls and to help us remember the fact that we have been individually molded by the hands of God to be who we are meant to be. Humility alternately roots us in these two great truths: In ourselves we are nothing and in God we unconditionally loved. Everything that happens to us can either make us bitter and recalcitrant or lead us to embrace humility and become more authentic.

            What this means for the church is that we should accept the way postmodernism mocks our reliance on institutional authority. Today’s secular culture keeps us humble by persistently asking two questions:

1) If the church ceased to exist, what difference would it make in our lives?

2) What good has the church done recently?

I think that our interactions with contemporary culture will continue to humiliate us until we stop hiding behind our traditions and act with authenticity.

Send me your thoughts bill@notperfectyet.com

Biblical Thoughts on Authenticity

Acts 2 and Authenticity

           ‘Church,’ as a distinct social entity was born on Pentecost day. You put your finger on how those who loved Jesus “were all together in one place,” (Acts 2:1) and then flip back through the Gospels, and our Lord is shown building a community in preparation for there being ‘church.’ Then the Holy Spirit falls, enabling what Jesus had planned to be manifested. Moving forward through the early chapters of Acts we see the evidence of the institution forming and seeking to put into practice what Jesus wanted for his people. I use the word ‘authenticity’ to group the three actions that mark the early church: a passionate love for God, the deliberate performance of mission in their context, and the intentional formation of a loving community. Acts 2:41-47 and, to a lesser degree, the great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) becomes the home base for any discussions about changing the church or seeking renewal in the Holy Spirit.  Church leaders should note how the three aspects of Authenticity (Passion, Mission, Community) are manifested in these verses. What comparisons can you make between the early church and your church? How does the postmodern culture’s emphasis on authenticity demand changes in our institution?

-send me your thoughts bill@notperfectyet.com

Change Circle

Working the Circle Backwards

            The logic of the Change Circle becomes clear when you work backwards in diagnosing a local church situation. Step 3: Asset Reassignment asks the question, “Do the long-term assets of a church, that is, its facility, community reputation, process for obtaining pastoral leadership, etc., support the congregation in their desire to be an authentic church together?” We all enter into church leadership wanting to make our church be like what we read about in Acts 2:42-47. As time goes on, however, every congregation accumulates buildings, non-member policies, and habits concerning the pastoral office that jeopardize their authenticity. The journey away from authenticity usually begins with a mishandled transition. Unless corrected, this path leads on to leadership burnout, ineffective structures, and a disconnect between the church and its stated mission. 

            When there is a failure in the church’s physical structure, such as poor accessibility, a wise leader can trace the weakness back to concerns about authenticity and transition.  Thinking about authenticity reveals at least two issues: the failure of the congregation to see itself in mission to the disabled of their community and their willingness to dismiss themselves from full participation in fellowship when they reach a certain age. Moving backward to transitional issues, every longstanding facility problem has its roots in the failure of the church’s organizational process to make timely and effective decisions. Organizational issues, such as a conflict between the trustees and the pastor or church council, should alert us the need to change how we decide things. The motto of any transitional period is, “the process is more important than any one result.” Specifically, getting the trustees to relate their actions to the church’s need to be authentic is more important than getting them to approve the proposed wheelchair ramp. Often we will need to employ listening skills to discover at what point in the congregation’s history did the pastoral role become defined in a way that limited the effectiveness of future clergy persons.

            Another common ailment, particularly among smaller rural and inner city congregations, is the rapid turnover of clergy. Here there may be a loss of pastoral leadership every three to four years, forming a chain back to the beloved pastor Jones who was there long enough to become ‘one of us.’ The fact that the pastors after Jones became ‘unintentional interims’ can usually be attributed to a failed transitional process. The revolving door nature of the job prevents even the most gifted pastors from guiding the congregation towards greater authenticity. Unfortunately, many denominational officials become part of the problem by blaming the congregation’s difficulty on its smallness, rural-ness, ethnicity, or the general obstinacy of the current leadership. Working the change circle involves teaching the congregation to be pro-active in the pastoral search process. It also involves providing lower cost forms of pastoral leadership (shared ministry, retired clergy, certified lay ministers) without the stigma, so that the emphasis can return to becoming more authentic, rather than on supporting the institution.

-send me your thoughts bill@notperfectyet.com

church success


Throughout the fall, it was mandatory that sermons contain at least one football illustration. I was amazed at how often the lectionary pointed to the Steelers. In the bleak February that followed, I reflected on how seductively sports have redefined success. People are fond of quoting Vince Lombardi’s epigram, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” Church leaders long for such motivational drivel like the deer pants for cool streams of water.  Pastors need to realize that being motivational isn’t everything. Games like football, the stock market, as well as, most commercial enterprises, are competitive zero-sum-games. Winning and losing are painted as moral opposites, like good and evil. The church plays in a different arena. We seek to bring healing, save souls, transform neighborhoods, and help people to live in the world as effective disciples of Jesus. A local church may do all these things well and not grow. We can be faithful without being winners.

How then should we define success, if it’s not about winning? The most successful church of history was the one that appeared in Acts 2:41-47. Authenticity was the benchmark of the early church’s success. For the next three centuries, she oscillated between winning and losing, but authenticity was her trademark. In order to be authentic, a church must occupy three dimensions: It needs height or spiritual passion, breadth or an outwardly directed involvement in mission, and depth, that is, the ability to propagate a genuine community of love. Another way to say this is to speak about congregational health. A church isn’t healthy unless it has passionate faith, active outreach, and a winsome fellowship. Outsiders can tell when a church looks flat, or narrow, or shallow. Healthy or authentic churches do well even when their denominations or neighborhoods are in decline.

Bill Kemp
-send me your thoughts bill@notperfectyet.com

Communion & beatitudes

 It has been a good Sunday - we had communion and we remembered how Jesus said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for what is right." The story of the good Samaritan tells about two blessed people... the man who was beat up hungered to be made right again -- he hungered for healing, he thirsted for relief from his pain, he longed to see justice happen and for good government to rid the road of robbers. He got blessed and so will all those who hunger and thirst.
The Samaritan was also blessed... he hungered to do right for someone else. He thirsted to be useful. His compassion was his hunger and thirst. He got blessed because he was ready to stop-- had that first aid kit ready on the donkey!
But, too often... we are like the priest who was in a hurry or the Levite who didn't want to be involved.
Forgive us -- feed us with grace, Loving God.

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