Saturday, December 30, 2006

Book Review: Sacred Travels

I just finished Christian George's Sacred Travels: Recovering the Ancient Practice of Pilgrimage. I've been looking forward to reading this book ever since I first heard it was coming out. In Fall 2005, I prepared to embark on my own pilgrimage to the Holy Land and was shocked at the dearth of writing on this ancient practice. Especially writing from a Protestant perspective. Three cheers for Christian George for digging up this important spiritual discipline and re-imagining it for emerging generations. And you gotta love the fact that he's a fellow Alabamian.

Weaving tales of personal travel with church history, theology, ecclesiology, and good old-fashioned Biblical story-telling, Christian offers us an opportunity to go on pilgrimage with him chapter by chapter. He demonstrates from personal experience the life-changing potential and spiritually transformative power of sacred travel. As he helps us understand, pilgrimage is more than visiting "holy sites." It's about allowing God to turn our otherwise ordinary travels into holy opportunities. It's about viewing our everyday, ordinary walking-around lives into journeys with God because life is pilgrimage.

Christian packs this book full of history and biographical sketches of ancient fathers and modern-day saints. Even if you aren't interested in the idea of pilgrimage, it's worth reading from an historical perspective.

In a couple chapters, the historical accounts and personal observations seemed a bit disconnected, but in general, Christian did a fantastic job of helping us to connect with the thousands of pilgrims who have gone before us. Two minor disappointments. First, I felt the book ended rather abruptly with no "next steps" for those who are ready to put this pilgrimage thing into practice. It was more descriptive than prescriptive. (Hopefully Christian is feverishly writing away on another more practical book that will guide novice pilgrims towards their next steps of integrating this practice into their own lives). Secondly, I was really bummed that there was nothing in the book on Jerusalem. In fact, there was very little on the more traditional pilgrimage sites of Israel, Egypt, and Turkey. Once again, I hope Christian gives us an opportunity to walk a mile or two in his Crocs after he has an opportunity to journey with God to those places.

Please read this book. After turning the final page, I wanted to read more. But more importantly, I yearned to run upstairs and start packing my backpack and atlas for another holy adventure. Pilgrimage has not faded into the background of our faith history as an outdated practice of odd monks, thrill-seeking explorers, or misguided Crusaders. It is a dynamic opportunity to engage in an outward physical expression of an inward journey. I am passionate about pilgrimage and the opportunity it offers for spiritual transformation, and I am so excited that Intervarsity has published this book. You can read a sample chapter here. And while you are at it, check out the great new stuff coming out of Intervarsity Press's new Likewise line!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Getting Back to the FAQ

Remember that NCC discipleship FAQ series I was working on a while back? Well, I will be cranking up again next week (I know you can't wait!), and I will continue covering questions regarding our leadership selection and training process, such as

How do you recruit leaders?
What is the Annual Leadership Retreat?
What is a semester summit?
What are zone meetings?
What is Leadership 101?

Then, I'll move on to topics like communicating and helping people connect to groups.

Historical Christmas

I'm back in the saddle and working hard on our upcoming leadership retreat! But before we get to that, I've got to comment on my very historical Christmas. Not historical in the sense that children will one day read about it in a textbook and be forced to endure T/F questions related to its events. Rather, about 90% of my gifts were in some way related to history.

Am I a dork?

It all began when my Mom and Dad came to DC for an early Christmas and gave me the 4-disc director's cut edition of Kingdom of Heaven. While I am very aware of the historical and biographical inaccuracies, I still consider Kingdom of Heaven one of my favorite movies, and the director's cut includes some storylines that were axed from the theatrical release version.

Then, the Mom and Dad Zempel (and Josh) gave me the History Channel's The Civil War Journal. I suppose my Southern heritage defaults me to Civil War buff status, but I think it runs deeper than that. I've always been fascinated by the personalities, philosophies, and theologies of the players in that episode of American History.

Then, Ryan presented his gifts. It began Christmas morning with a a little treasure hunt that ended with the discovery of Digging for the Truth, Season One-- a History Channel archaeological series. The History Channel's Beyond the Da Vinci Code and The Execution of Jesus also showed up under my tree.

I've got over 20 hours of history to watch! Then, I get to watch King Lear and Romeo and Juliet from the Thames Shakespeare Collection.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Alicia McKinley

I have a new niece! This is Alicia McKinley Strelow.

Born: 12-19-06 at 3:21 p.m.
8 lbs. 2 oz., 20-1/2"

Congratulations, Jesse and Lisa!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Annual Leadership Retreat

The approach of the Christmas season is always very busy for me. Not just because of the seasonal shopping and eating, but because it is the planning phase for our annual leadership retreat.

At the beginning of every year, we take all of our leaders away for 24 hours to give them an opportunity to connect with and learn from other leaders, receive valuable information about what’s happening in 2007, hear from Pastor Mark about his vision for NCC, and receive valuable leadership training. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

We feel so strongly about the importance of the annual leadership retreat that we foot the entire bill and we encourage leaders to invite their potential leaders. I wrote more about why we do it here.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Wanted: Discipleship Intern

We are looking for a year-long discipleship intern at NCC.

The benefits: The discipleship intern would gain first-hand experience with small groups, discipleship, and leadership training. Potential duties would include visioneering with the discipleship pastor and zone leader team, planning for leadership summits and other training events, developing curriculum, and teaching core discipleship courses. There would also be a learning component which would consist of reading books (both classical and contemporary Christian writing) and learning about different small group/discipleship models.

The disadvantages: Low pay. And you'd have to work with me. :)

If you are interested in the internship, email me or Pastor Joel.

Christmas 2006

Look at our wonderful Christmas tree!!

Ryan and I are spending our first Christmas in DC. For the past 2 years, we have gone to visit our families in Alabama and Oregon, but Ryan's show prevents us from traveling this time. So-- we decided it was time to get our own Christmas tree.

Now, take a step back to get some perspective.

Yes-- that's the same "tree." Yes-- it really is that tiny. We call it our Christmas shrub. And Ryan wrapped an entire strand of lights around it so it has a bit of a Vegas feel when all lit up.

But let me show you how pitiful it could have looked without the Ryan's horticultural skill:

If it's good enough for Charlie Brown, it's good enough for me.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Godspell Auditions

I can't even begin to describe how excited I am about Godspell auditions tonight. For several years, I've dreamed of producing Godspell, and that dream is beginning to materialize. Written by Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak, Godspell tells the story of Jesus and his disciples based on the Gospel of Matthew. The plan is to open the show the weekend before Easter and run it through Easter.

I'm excited about this production for a couple of reasons. One, I think it will be another opportunity for the church and community to cross paths. I hope people will find Christ because of their experience at Godspell. Two, I hope this creates an environment for people to further explore the arts in worship. We have amazing creativity and buried inside these Hill staffers, lobbyists, and attorneys at NCC, and I'm excited about giving them the opportunity to explore those God-given talents.

One of our core values is Everything is an Experiment. This is definitely an experiment!

NCCers on Mission

After service last night, one of my small group leaders came up to tell me goodbye. She's going overseas to work undercover in missions work. Wow. Obviously, I'm really sad to see her go. But I think it's great when we lose leaders because they are taking Christ to the nations. And she told me that God really spoke to her about going to the mission field while she was at the Inward Bound Retreat last June. It's amazing what God is doing all the time in and through folks at NCC.

For whatever it's worth, we lose about 20% of our leaders every year, and most of them are moving across the country and across the globe to pursue God-ordained dreams and callings. We view our discipleship program as missions training, in a way, because we realize that people are typically only with us for a few years and then off chasing the Holy Spirit to someplace else.

Friday, December 08, 2006


My husband received his annual catalog from the other day. He loves the demotivational posters, and now he's got me hooked. I think Potential is my favorite.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Planning Retreat

I was in Baltimore with some of our pastoral and admin staff earlier this week for the annual planning retreat. We put together a calendar and sermon schedule for the year. It's also a time to take a big step back and evaluate who we are and what we are doing as a church. I feel really good about 2006, and I'm looking forward to charging into 2007.

We've got a plan for our annual leadership retreat, summits, leadership training, and We're going to be re-engineering Leadership 101 and re-writing our small groups playbook (so I've put that part of the FAQ series on hold until the new program and draft are finalized).

We will also be unveiling a new small group magazine. Two years ago we had the Small Groups Illustrated that had the feel and look of Sports Illustrated. Last year, we had the National Community Geographic that looked eerily similar to National Geographic. In 2007, we will be introducing the NCC Discipleship Atlas. If we like it, we will probably stick with it for a couple of years.