theilluminationdilemma

stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls

Mark Sayers Being Awesome…

“The difficulty for those of us who are called into leadership in this era, in a society of the spectacle riddled with passive spectatorship and intermittent distraction, is made increasingly difficult.

“The society of the spectacle creates passivity among its citizens, a reluctance to initiate, to lead. Instead we are encouraged to view, to consume. We fear committing, worrying that by doing so we will reduce our freedom, cut ourselves off from the myriad of choices that constantly entice us.

“Reducing your options is particularly difficult for people raised in the society of the spectacle. By stepping into leadership, you refuse to stay within the narrow parameters of contemporary culture and you decide to accept the price of your decision: you choose only one option, and thus negate the seemingly endless possibilities culture appears to offer.

“Leaders…respond to God choosing them. Thus, the first responsive step of leadership is of utmost importance. It is an act of rebellion against the society of the spectacle–it is to relinquish a life of many options so that you can receive God’s one option.”

- Mark Sayers, Facing Leviathan

A Shout Out to My Seniors

10014732_10102217582443835_688711228_oSpring Break 2014 will always hold a special place in my heart. Yesterday’s post unpacks some of the reasons.

There is one other big reason and it has to do with the students pictured above: (front L-R) Sarah, Anna, Bridget, Ruben, Faith, and Rebecca (front). For the purposes of this post Sarah is a stand in for Dorsa (although Sarah’s been a huge part of the larger Sojourn story and is going to intern with us next year, which is super exciting).

These six students (again substituting Dorsa for Sarah…Dorsa, unfortunately, couldn’t make this trip) will always be extremely special to me. They were all sophomores when I came over to BU in the fall of 2011, and took over as lead in the spring of 2012. There was quite a bit of turmoil and transition at the time, but, for whatever reasons, they stuck it out with me, and now they are really able to enjoy the fruit of that as their college careers come to a close.

It is not an understatement to say that there would be no SojournBU without these six. And because of their faithfulness they helped shape a community that will live on well after they graduate in May.

Rebecca has helped lead cadres and raised the bar in our conversations by bringing incredible insight and intelligence to the group. Faith is the “mom”, loving and caring for people well. Ruben brings the goofiness and an unparalleled commitment to, and passion for, community. Anna has done everything from hosting and leading groups, to fighting with student activities to make events happen, to pursuing freshmen, to being our guinea pig “public relations” intern. Dorsa is our radical lover of justice and people in the margins. And Bridget is the heart and soul of all we do, pulling off amazing events and bringing people closer to Jesus.

Our ministry is a million times richer for their contributions, and it is bittersweet to see them get ready to go.

And so, maybe the biggest reason this trip was so special is that we got to do it together.

Loving Salinas

breadbox2I knew this year’s spring break trip would be a different experience for me than past trips. I was the primary organizer and connection for this trip, and then there was the small fact that we were bringing students to our hometown.

I knew the responsibilities would look different, and certainly the texture of the trip would feel different as well.

However, I was not prepared for how all of this would affect me emotionally. Turns out the week was a profoundly moving experience.

I challenged our students at the beginning of the week to take up three postures: that of a learner, a servant, and a teammate. They more than rose to the occasion.

As learners they asked good questions, got to know many of the people doing great work in Salinas, and demonstrated a ton of respect to our partners.

As servants they did any and every task that was asked of them, always with a happy heart.

As teammates they looked out for each other and got to know each other better by participating in meaningful activity together.

Three things really moved me about the way this group took up these challenges. First, the Mexican culture permeates Salinas, especially on the east side where we did most of our work. Mexican heritage is part of Amy’s story, and now our story, and even for a gringo like me, there’s been a lot of wrestling over the years with the divisions in our home community.

I’ll never forget spending summers working in the fields with the county and watching people treat my partner, Teo, with an incredible amount of disrespect, until they found out he actually was my boss. The harsh truth is that Mexican-Americans, and Mexican immigrants, don’t always get much respect in Salinas, but our students treated everyone they encountered with a great deal of respect, which meant a lot to me (and to the people we worked alongside during the week).

Second, when I was teaching in the Salinas school district (2002-2006) I grew to love the kids growing up on the east side. To watch our students love on and care for this next generation of Salinas youth brought me to tears on a daily basis.

Third, our students also loved our families really well. It was kind of surreal to sit in my mother-in-law’s backyard, and in my parent’s garage, with 20 people from Boston. Talk about world’s colliding. But, it was also beautiful to allow our family to extend hospitality to the student’s we’ve been investing in for the past couple years and then to see our students reciprocate with more great questions, and conversations, and thank you’s, and smiles.

So, thank you Boston friends for loving Salinas well, and for all that means for me and my family.

Be Awesome

1780167_10202444553689725_2052193352_oI plan to post several reflections on our past two weeks in California, but I’m going to work my way backwards. Mostly because our return home was pretty traumatic.

We got up at 5 am, west coast time, said tearful goodbyes and drove to SFO (where we said more tearful goodbyes). A small blessing happened at the airport when we were able to get Marina her own seat (although that did mean I had to sit a row ahead of the rest of the fam).

Everything kind of went downhill from there. Overall, M did fine on the plane, but she’s done better (she only slept 20 minutes). I came down with a head cold the day before and wasn’t feeling so hot during most of the flight.

When we finally landed in Boston (6 pm east coast time), feeling sick and tired, Stacey picked us up, we ate some dinner, and finally got home just before 8 pm. And then things got crazy.

We got everything up stairs and turned on our heat (a sad fact, in and of itself, after being in California for two weeks), and less than a minute later our house was full of smoke and the smell of smoke. Turns out there was some kind of water leak down stairs while were gone, and we’re still not sure what exactly happened but there was no way we were all sleeping in our house in that condition (today we are home, but we are still trying to fix all of this).

So, we gathered everything up again and headed to Stacey’s house (thank you for being so close and for house sitting this week). As we were hurriedly trying to get everyone and everything in the car the back gate of the Jeep falls on me and pops out my shoulder. This shoulder has been troublesome for a long time, but this episode was particularly gruesome and given the circumstances I did not handle it well.

We finally got everyone in bed sometime around 9:30. What a day.

My immediate reaction to all this? Let’s go back!

Which leads me to some thoughts I jotted down on the plane: during the week students were around, we got to hear from several great people we are connected to about how they are radically living out the ways of Jesus. Everyone who shared did a great job and challenged our group to think and act more like Jesus.

I most enjoyed listening to Ben, the lead pastor of Cypress (the church that housed our group for the week). I thought Ben shared a number of things that were extremely applicable to our students, but one significant idea stood out to me.

Ben talked about his process of growth as a person, and as a leader, and he stressed the importance of faithfulness in the small things. He said that when he tried really hard to be good at the small things, at whatever was right in front of him, then the next thing, the future, seemed to naturally make itself clear. When he stressed about the next thing, and neglected the present, everything seemed more muddled.

So Ben’s advice to our students: just be awesome at whatever you are doing right now, and then when the next thing comes, be awesome at that (which sounds very cool in an Australian accent).

A lot of our students are facing transitions: graduation, starting a new phase of their program, marriage, internships, new jobs, moving from the first half of college to the second half, all kinds of transitions.

It’s common for students to be looking ahead. As a result it is difficult to be present, and it is difficult to see the value in whatever they are involved in right now.

And it’s common for me to do the same thing: to look ahead, but also to want to run back.

Ben gave us a good word: just be awesome at school, awesome at work, awesome at being a college student, and when the next phase starts be awesome at being a PT student, or a seminary student, or a new spouse, or a new employee.

And when the next phase starts with all of its new challenges and difficulties: don’t turn around and run backwards. Last night I did not feel like I was awesome in any way, and it’s actually in those moments that our faithfulness is most tested.

Be awesome at the little things, and big things will come! 

“The Details Matter…

“Art becomes craft when inspiration is expressed in detail…the more someone or something matters to us, the more the details relating to them matter to us. When someone creates out of love, it is visible in the details. When something matters to us, the details matter. Moving the dream into the details is the true art of craftsmanship. It is here that we move into the tension of creation and refinement. It’s easy to dream but too easy and too tempting to become lost in our dreams.”

- Erwin McManus [The Artisan Soul]

“Moments of greatness…

“Moments of greatness are far more appealing than a lifetime of faithfulness, but it is through a lifetime of faithfulness-a lifetime of integrity, in which we have chosen to be strong and courageous-that we will look back and realize that our lives have become masterpieces.”

-Erwin McManus [The Artisan Soul]

SpringBreak2014

We are back in the homeland preparing for the arrival of 17 students and 3 more staff (plus the 4 of us who are already here). I always love and look forward to Spring Break trips (for more on why, click here). But, this year is very special, because bringing students to Salinas, Monterey, and San Francisco is personal, and strangely intimate. But, I can’t wait to share the goodness with them. And there are a lot of people here who are stoked to meet them and bless them in so many ways. 3 more days!

HPIM6943

All Wounds and No Scars (Thoughts on A Culture of Grievance)

The title (all wounds/no scars) comes from Erwin McManus’s new book The Artisan Soul, and sums up perfectly some thoughts that have been brewing for a while. Also, what follows is, in many ways, a follow-up to my last post, so check that out if you haven’t seen it.

One of the great gifts of post-modernity has been the resurgence in the importance of story. I have found thinking about the elements of story, seeing my life as a story, and even reading scripture (and doing theology) from a narrative perspective to be immensely helpful.

But, there is a dark side to the elevation of story. That dark side manifests itself in all sorts of ways: from social media/selfie narcissism to an agenda based hybridization of the gospel (a tactic used by those on the left and the right both politically and theologically).

In other words, stories are important, and thinking narratively is helpful, but when your story becomes THE story, we are right back at the same old problem we’ve always had.

We are not the hero of The story.

When we are the hero of the story, life is all about us and what we have experienced, and we end up with a culture of grievance.

Let me give you an example. In liberation theology, much good work has been done to bring the stories of the oppressed to light. But when getting the story out is the ultimate goal, or if expressing my story and all the pain I’ve experienced is the end, we don’t leave a lot of room for Jesus to work. It might be a gnarly story, and it might make a great movie, but if there’s no resurrection there’s no life.

To use the parenting example from the previous post: both examples of parenting stances I cited end up making the child the Hero. So, let me say it again: we (nor our children) are the hero of The story.

What’s fascinating to me about all of this, is that when we make discipleship in the way of Jesus about causes or projects…when we reduce parenting (or governing, or leading, or anything) to an either/or paradigm of rules vs. total freedom…we commit the worst mistake of the Pharisees.

The Pharisees are these characters in the story of Jesus who get a bad reputation for rule-sticklers and judgmental (which they deserve, and which, as we have seen, both miss the point completely). But, if you read the stories of Jesus you will notice a phrase pop up from time to time: wanting to justify themselves (see Luke 16:15 for an example).

The real problem of the Pharisees wasn’t being judgmental, it was wanting to justify themselves.

And this is the danger of story. We end up creating stories that seek only to justify ourselves.

Which is the antithesis of the gospel, the good news that Jesus does the justifying for us.

McManus writes that there are two kinds of “uninteresting people”: those who have never suffered, and those who have suffered and that suffering is all they know.

He writes: “They are trapped in their pain; they wallow in their despair; they are all wounds and no scarsAll they can talk about is their pain.”

It is good to tell our stories. It is good to share our pain and experiences.

But may we move past our suffering and our stoires to something deeper and more beautiful.

“These are the most compelling people: the ones who have overcome tragedy and found beauty; the ones who have drowned in despair but found hope; the ones who should have forever remained trapped in this rubble of their failures and yet found courage and resolve to rise from the dead.

Parenting, Original Sin, and The Goal

The other day my wife asked our almost 18-month-old daughter to do something (I think it had to do with putting clothes away), and it was fascinating to watch the wheels turn in our little girl’s head.

She started to move towards obedience, then said “no,” then leaned back towards obeying, said “no” again almost put the thing away, and then finally ran in the other direction.

My immediate thought: “you little sinner.”

My second thought: “That was harsh.”

Which pretty much summarizes two prominent schools of thought on child raising out there in the world (and even within the church).

If you go with my gut reaction you are either “biblical” or a “cruel/shame-based” parent”.
If you go with my second thought you are either a “soft/hippy” or an “organic/love-based” parent.

Having reflected on that moment, and my reaction to it, over the past couple of days, I think it all misses the point.

I absolutely believe in original sin. It’s one of the easiest biblical truths for me to believe. But, I think far too often this gets applied in unhelpful ways.

Original sin (and the subsequent “total depravity” doctrine) are misunderstood to mean that given the choice between “right” and “wrong” we will always choose wrong.

No. We can, and do at times, choose right,
choose good,
choose beauty,
choose right relationship.

But we also choose the opposite. And, back to the scene with my daughter, we struggle and agonize over the choice.

Choosing good, choosing to submit, choosing others-over-self does not come naturally. That is what I mean when I talk about original sin, or total depravity, or whatever you want to call it.

I watched my daughter listen to my wife’s request, process it, and then wrestle (in a very visible way) with what to do with that request. And that struggle, that wrestling, is the issue to me. Most people focus on the outcome: did she obey or not. Or they debate the ethics and morality of obedience or imposing rules on a young child.

Which all misses the point: we are hardwired to choose ourselves over others. And that is the problem of original sin.

This is why Jesus’ invitation to follow him involves picking up a cross, denying ourselves, and becoming great (read, good) by serving others instead of ourselves.

I don’t want to downplay morality, but I think the parenting conversation gets lost there and then lives in denial about the real issue (self-centeredness).

The goal is not to raise rule-followers or narcissists, but wise, whole, self-giving human beings. 

That’s what we are shooting for.

Miracles

Seek and you will find.

Our world blasts ahead in search of the spectacular, and if that is what you seek, that is what you will find. There is always something bigger and better and more awesome right around the corner.

College. Graduation. The next job. The better job. The right person. The big day. The raise.

Meanwhile there are small, but incredible miracles, that happen all the time right in front of us.

In the last week: the deal on spring break tickets we found…wrestling with marina before bed…good friends and neighbors who pray for you and for the people you are fighting for…the encouraging email…the student who gets it.

May we be more and more in tune with the miracles that are right in front of us, all the time.

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