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. [exploring the endless connections between faith in Jesus and everything else]

Take A Vacation

We went camping this weekend. This was M’s first time in the woods over night. She did great.

We ate bacon:

CIMG4258 (1)

We jumped off stumps:

CIMG4248

We tried hot chocolate for the first time:

CIMG4254

We practiced the spiritual discipline of looking at a body of water while pondering the deeper truths of life:

CIMG4236

At about 7 pm on Saturday evening, M was asleep, Amy and I were reading good books, all was peaceful in our campsite, and I was beginning to compose a post in my mind about the importance of sabbathing, of getting away, even just for a day, of decompressing. I was feeling it. Space, relaxation, the ability to breath deeply. All had been missing from recent weeks and months.

And then our neighbors came back. They were loud. They used “mother-effer” as a singular, jack-hammer adjective. They had extremely negative things to say about everything and everyone they had encountered during the day.

About an hour and a half later the fireworks started. This is not good writing as I lead into a description of an all-time-camping-neighbors-go-crazy-on-each-other-epic-throwdown fight. This was the 4th of July weekend and there were literal fireworks going off for over an hour. It sounded like war.

M slept through it. Her parents not so much.

And then the snoring. Snoring that could raise the dead. I have never heard anything like this before in my life.

M slept through it. Her parents not so much.

Sunday morning was glorious even though it started at about 5:30 am or whenever the sun rose. I guess this was our revenge. M fell off the table bench and started screaming. We were cooking bacon at 6:30 am. You’re welcome, everyone else in camp!

Sabbath’s are great (although, more difficult with small children), and I am all for them. In fact, I would guess somewhere around twenty percent of the posts on this blog have to do with rest.

But sometimes, you need a vacation.

I enjoyed our quick getaway. I regret that we don’t do this more often. But even twenty-four hours leaves a lot at the mercy of neighbors and weather (we lost one day of this trip to a tropical storm because Boston’s the weirdest) and fireworks.

Make sure you take a vacation.

The Great American Rorschach Test

World Cup season is upon us with play beginning last Thursday afternoon (the US get its first match later today), which means going on facebook or twitter involves wading through a morass of deeply divided opinions and perspectives.

Some of my friends love soccer and are reveling in the World Cup, and others think it is stupid and they want the world to know!

Playing and loving soccer (as a red-blooded US citizen), for the past 20 years, I’ve learned that soccer is the great American Rorschach test.

People will see in it whatever the want to see: everything from feminine floppers and over-paid divas who undermine traditional concepts of competitiveness to the beautiful game enjoyed by all the world. It is either everything that is right or everything that is wrong with the US, the earth, sports, politics, and people. I would argue that this is part of what makes soccer so special and so popular: people talk about it and they talk about it passionately.

(A quick aside: I cannot for the life of me understand why people love MMA or boxing. But they do. I cast my vote with my eyes: I don’t watch it, and I certainly  don’t tweet about how stupid I think it is. If you think soccer is dumb, I have one piece of advice: do what I do with MMA…DON’T WATCH).

Let me address a couple of common issues with the game, and then I’ll give you my true theory as to why American’s struggle with soccer (and why I don’t think it will ever fully catch on here, even if we produce a Cup champion).

Typically, the first target of derision is focused around flopping. I don’t think people who complain about this truly understand what a flop is. A flop is not any time a player falls on the ground. Put 22 men out on a pitch, running around at full speed, chasing a ball, and they are going to run into each other and fall down. Ninety percent of “flops” are, upon seeing a replay, truly fouls or incidents where a player is knocked over (or stepped on, or kicked…none of which, by the way, feels good).

There are flops, no doubt about it. It is a skill and a strategy, and it can be used to great effectiveness and it can certainly be abused. But, sometimes it is the only strategy a team might have if they have any hope of surviving a match. The reality, though, according to the numbers run in Soccernomics is that penalties have a very low determinant on who wins the game. Talent and home field almost always trump referees and penalties.

Which leads to another common complaint: the referees are terrible, too arbitrary, too subjective, and have too much influence on the outcome of the game. The same article I referenced above makes the case that while there are always those glaring exceptions (as there are in any sport), the referees have little influence on the outcome of the game compared to other factors.

Moreover, what is interesting to me is that many of the same people who complain about soccer refs complain about instant replay in other sports. Especially IR in baseball in which the “human element” and mistakes/subjectivity by umpires is almost held as sacred (so what do you want, the right call or the human element?).

The NFL, NBA, and MLB have all had significant incidents of referees directly influencing the outcome of the game, but this is never held as a criticism of THE SPORT, only as criticism of the referees. In soccer, the failures of refs are always as a failure of the game itself.

Undoubtedly both of these issues are frustrating, and to a casual fan I can understand why they are difficult hurdles to jump over.

But, here’s the real reason I think American’s struggle with soccer. It’s not the refs, it’s not the flops, it’s not even the low scoring.

Soccer is about the process. It is messy and gray and the results don’t always match the process. It is, inherently, the most unjust of all of the major sports. And, quite frankly, the rest of the world is a little more familiar with injustice than Americans are.

I love soccer, but the most frustrating aspect of the game for me, is that a team can posses the ball for 60, 70, even 80 percent of the time, play dominantly, and lose 1-0 because of one perfect counter attack by the other team (by the way this is the strategy the US has used to great effect in it’s strong showings at the World Cup in 2002 and 2010).

In other words, one team can dominate the game and still lose. It’s unjust.

The goal of soccer is not goals, it is creating dangerous, high quality opportunities to score. Create enough opportunities and goals will come. Over time, the team that is able to consistently do that will win many matches. A team can’t control goals, but it can control the process that leads to goals.

This is true of any sport. You will hear batters, in baseball, talk about their swings and trying “square the ball up,” knowing that that’s really all they can control. In football, teams focus on execution: blocks, patterns, reads, etc, but no sport is as fundamentally process oriented as soccer.

To be a soccer fan is to embrace process over results, mess over order, and injustice over deserved outcomes. Again, the rest of the world is more comfortable with these ideas than we are.

I hope soccer continues to grow in popularity, but I also know that it’s never going to be huge here in the US. This world cup has already been pretty fantastic and it’s only going to get better from here, so if you are ready, now is a great time to jump in and embrace the messy, injustice of the world’s beautiful game.

Summer Reading: Tattoos on the Heart

Tattoos on the Heart  is now my favorite book of all time. It’s not the best book I’ve read, it’s not the best written book I’ve read.

But, it is my favorite.

I dare you to read this book and not be moved: you will laugh, cry, and be disturbed in all the right ways.

Greg Boyle has been working with gang members for over 20 years in east Los Angeles. It is gnarly work. His stories are incredible because he’s been working in incredible conditions. I find, though, that there is a lot of crossover between his work and my work: broken families, father wounds, dependence issues, the search for community and hope.

There are also some critical differences. My students don’t have “F#@! the world” tattooed on their foreheads. They probably aren’t going to be shot by a rival any time soon. Everything they are engaged in is focused on their future, the polar opposite of the gang member.

I’ve been reading some of these stories to our staff and it raised the question: what is harder, ministering to people who are desperate and broken or ministering to people who are privileged and broken?

I’m not going to answer that question here, but I do want to leave you with some of Greg’s words:

“[We are] inching our way closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those who dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when stop throwing people away. The prophet Habakkuk writes, ‘The vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment and it will not disappoint…and if it delays, wait for it.’ Kinship is what God presses us on to, always hopeful that its time has come.”

Brene Brown Being Awesome

“For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is ‘I didn’t get enough sleep.’ The next one is ‘I don’t have enough time.’ Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically…before we even sit up in bed…we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day.

Scarcity is the “never enough’ problem. What makes this constant assessing and comparing so self-defeating is that we are often comparing our lives, our marriages, and our communities to unattainable, media-driven visions of perfection, or we’re holding up our reality against our own fictional account of how great someone else has it. Nostalgia is also a dangerous form of comparison. Think about how often we compare ourselves and our lives to a memory that nostalgia has so completely edited that it never really existed.

The opposite of ‘never enough’ isn’t abundance or ‘more than you could ever imagine.’ The opposite of scarcity is enough, or what I call Wholeheartedness. There are many tenets of wholeheartedness, but at its very core is vulnerability and worthiness: facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks, and knowing that I am enough.

Daring Greatly

Getting Used to Joy

Greg Boyle writes: “Delighting is what occupies God, and God’s hope is that we join in. That God’s joy may be in us and this may be complete. We just happen to be God’s joy. That takes some getting used to.”

—–

A common theme of this blog has turned out to be joy: losing it, finding it, maintaining it.

Some things that rob me of joy:
Car maintenance (and the cost thereof)
Fixing gadgets (and the cost thereof)

Especially the car. I love driving and I appreciate the opportunities a car affords, but I hate affording the car. It makes me grumpy and joyless in no time at all.

——

We read to our daughter from The Jesus storybook Bible every night. Some would say this is not a “real” Bible, but it is God’s word to us more often than not. I’m not sure how much Marina gets out of it, but I am cut to the heart almost every time we read.

Without fail, it seems, we come across a section called “The Singer” whenever I begin to worry about money, fundraising, our car, something that needs to be fixed, our budget, you name it. Without fail.

The Singer is essentially the sermon on the mount, with a special focus on Jesus’ admonition to “not worry”.

Conviction via the children’s Bible.

—–

I met with a student who graduated recently yesterday and she said, in the middle of pontificating on many things, a sort of off-handed comment: “when was the last time you were really surprised by something? I don’t want to lose my ability to be surprised.”

We got Marina some new silverware and bibs, and she got to try them out a few days ago. Her face lit up like Taylor Swift winning a Grammy.

Pure joy.
Total Surprise.
Joining in God’s delight.

Marina has an ability to be surprised, to not worry about stuff, and to delight that continues to rub the edges off my hard heart.

Those things that rob you of joy: conflict, cars, computer, whatever it might be, name them, but don’t allow them to kill your ability to be surprised, to delight.

We happen to be God’s joy. Get used to it.

Summer Reading: The Art of Non-Conformity

First up off the summer reading list: the Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau. Last summer I received my introduction to Chris’s world and the quest for World Domination when I attended the World Domination Summit, and I thought it would be good to revisit some of what I learned through this book.

The essence of Chris’s work is this: live free, be your own boss, and make a difference in the world. More simply stated: live intentionally.

I love Chris’s ideas and agree with almost everything he has to say (who doesn’t want to live a remarkable, unconventional life), and I find a lot of crossover between ministry (especially para-church, fundraised ministry) and entrepreneurship.

However, I also experience a rub with the ethos behind Chris’s ideas. There is an inherent individualism in the quest for “world domination” (read being awesome and doing your own thing instead of working for the man) that runs counter to being married, being a parent, and being a follower of Jesus.

Chris would argue, and I’d mostly agree, that all too often we are encouraged to step in line and live conventional lives because it is the responsible thing to do. We, as a family, have chosen to live unconventionally, so I totally understand that it is possible.

But, I cannot make the same radical commitment to personal autonomy that he has made without sacrificing some of my relationship to my wife, daughter, or the ministry I lead.

The more important point here, though, is the call to live intentionally, and this can, and should be done, no matter what stage of life we are in.

Far too many of us drift through life, expecting other people to give us a shot, hoping that we might, maybe get what we want. Few of us take matters into our own hands, and go for it.

To quote Chris Martin (of Coldplay): “We can’t dance like Usher, we can’t sing like Beyonce, we don’t write songs like Elton John, we just do what we can and go for it.”

And that is Guillebeau’s point: stop worrying about not being Usher, and instead know who you are and go for it!

Chris does a great job of laying out some important areas of life where intentional choices matter: work, money, time, travel, passions, interests, and leaving a legacy.

The book is inspiring, but practical; challenging, but quickly applicable.

I’d highly recommend it for anyone needing a reset, trying to get some clarity on life goals, or for recent college graduates.

Reality, Grace, Obedience [part 2]

I have a friend who has a daughter a few months older than Marina. He told me recently that they have started spanking. I know this day is coming for us, and so I asked how it was going.

My friend told me spanking is hard, but, in a strange way, his daughter draws closer to him afterwards. It might take a few moments, but post-spanking there is more affection, hugs, and snuggling than before.

Interesting.

—–

Our community group spent some time in conversation around the story in I Samuel 15 where King Saul blows it and essentially loses his Kingdom (which will eventually be turned over to David).

Saul is supposed to defeat an enemy and keep nothing (no slaves, no cattle, no good stuff). Saul does go on a rampage but he decides to take the enemy king alive and bring back all that is good (cattle and sheep and whatever else he liked).

The prophet Samuel shows up after this and asks Saul how it went. Saul tells Samuel everything went really well. And Samuel, brilliantly, asks “What is this bleating of sheep in my ears?”

I love this question. It is a reminder to me that I need Samuel’s in my life to ask the obvious question.

Sometimes we need people around us to just say: “Hey, I know you keep saying everything is fine and you are handling it, but I see this and this (I hear sheep bleating) and it doesn’t add up to ‘doing great.’ What’s the real story?”

—–

Grace is fundamental to the Christian worldview. Without God’s grace the world ceases to exist.

But, I find that many, many people misunderstand grace. Grace is not opposed to making wise decisions, maturity, or doing hard, unpleasant things.

Grace is actually what makes wisdom and maturity possible.

Back to Saul. After he realizes he screws up, he begs Samuel to come with him, make a sacrifice for him, and essentially bail him out of his trouble.

Samuel says, “No.”

God says, through Samuel: Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”

My very human interpretation of this is: “Hey dude, if you had just done the right thing, the first time, we wouldn’t need to do all this work to make up for it.”

Grace is the fundamental reality that we don’t need to live in anxiety. That our identity and destiny are set.

But grace is not opposed to saying: “There is something better. You can do better.”

—–

Reality, obedience, grace.

I understand these words so much more as a parent. I don’t want to punish my daughter. But she has to learn, grow, and mature. It’s vital to her survival, and, more importantly, to her ability to thrive and excel at life.

So, is climbing the bookshelf the biggest deal in the world? Not really at one level (although if she continues to climb, she will fall and she will get hurt).

On another level, though, this is part of the process: learning what is in bounds and out-of-bounds, and, here’s the main point, learning the importance of obedience. Learning to trust.

When she screws up I want her to know that she is forgiven, and nothing about my love for her or her identity is ever in question.

But, I also don’t want her stuck in an endless cycle of “sacrifice.” I want her to mature and make decisions that are wise.

Because there are consequences to the choices we make. Grace certainly covers our sin, but it doesn’t eliminate the consequences of our decisions.

Grace calls us to be better, to grow, to mature.

So, a couple of questions:

  1. Are you stuck in a cycle of sacrifice?
  2. Who is your Samuel?
  3. Are you living in reality?

Summer Reading

My summer reading list: hoping to make it through these 11 (no particular order):

  1. The Art of Non-Conformity
  2. The Divine Conspiracy Continued
  3. Tattoos on the Heart
  4. Surprised By Scripture
  5. Daring Greatly
  6. Disunity in Christ
  7. Flash Boys
  8. The Circle
  9. Orphan Slave Son
  10. Unapologetic
  11. Looking For Alaska

Anything I should add?

Reality, Obedience, Grace [part 1]

I taught recently on the passage in scripture where Jesus says “I am the true vine.” My main thesis, given that it was graduation Sunday, was that there are a lot of things you can give your life to, and in fact there are some things you can give your life to that are really good.

But, are those things true?

Jesus, in all of his I Am statements, is making the very radical claim that there are a lot of options, but only one way that is ultimately true.

—–

I read this post the other day, and I thought, as one who works with millennial, that there were many useful insights.

One thing the author says never to say to millennials is “stop being so idealistic…the real world doesn’t work that way.” I agree with the heart of this sentiment: we shouldn’t be killing the spirit of the next generation. Don’t be a wet blanket.

But, I also see idealism wielded as an ultimate trump card. A way to justify our own behavior and to do our own thing without being accountable to anyone, especially someone older, and potentially wiser, than ourselves.

[For the sake of integrity, I have used this trump card myself on too many occasions.]

—–

Of course, I also see a tremendous amount of cynicism, especially in my peers. A friend who just left the ministry told me a story about talking to another pastor who asked him, in so many words: “Doesn’t it feel so good to be out?!”

That kind of stuff kills me…I don’t ever want to be there.

Pastors do see the good, the bad, and the ugly, and there is a lot of the bad and the ugly, but we also know and preach and teach the good news about Jesus, which is fundamentally hopeful.

[For the sake of integrity I can be one crotchety, cynical mess at times.]

—–

Back to the vine. Jesus constantly cuts across the grain of all the false narratives we can construct for ourselves.

Idealism sounds so good, and presents itself in such a positive light, but it quickly runs off the cliff of reality, becoming a balloon floating on the wind with nothing to anchor it down.

Cynicism wallows in “reality,” but in a way that keeps everything at arm’s length to mask the pain we feel, and as a result becomes an un-reality.

The true vine gives life and sustains us because it is true. It is reality. Jesus, the good news of his resurrection, is what is real, and what is true, and what is sustaining.

I see too many people choosing to avoid reality: the reality of their situations, of the decisions they’ve made, of the challenges they face.

But avoiding reality leads us to shallow perspectives and prevents us from ever maturing.

Choose what is real.

On Being a Pro and Writing Stuff Down

A good friend who used to be on staff with us, recently transitioned into the “workforce.” He shaved, got some nice, professional clothes, and went to work at a job where if he screws up it will cost his company money and clients and (God forbid) worse.

I love my job, and I love being able to wear flip-flops and shorts to work, but if there is one thing that bothers me about ministry it is that a lot of people don’t treat it like “regular work”, for lack of a better term.

I saw this tweeted the other day:

“Be professional. Arrive on time. Actually be early. And be organized.

I offer up a wholehearted AMEN to that tweet. (Turns out the source is one of Brad’s articles, which you can read here, and it is very good).

I don’t know a lot of people who treat ministry with the professional mindset. In fact, there is almost an anti-professionalism that permeates a lot of Christian leadership. There are some good reasons for this. No one wants to be cold, distant, or a dictator.

What’s interesting to me is that many other non-traditional professions seem to revel in professionalism. I see this a lot in the writing/blogging world. You can read any number of posts and articles on the beauty of discipline, structure, and professionalism.

Why haven’t more ministry leaders adopted this mindset?

Some like to argue against my point by throwing the “in the world, not of the world” mantra back. And while I do think there are some ways in which we should think about ministry in different categories than the world (money comes immediately to mind), there are other ways (like being a pro) that should be held at an even higher standard than the regular workforce.

The other day our staff team was working on crafting content for our small groups this fall. We are going to talk about parables, and the parable of the Shrewd Manager came up in the conversation. It is a weird parable, and one that many people (myself included) struggle to understand.

In Luke 16:8 Jesus says:The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.”

I think this has direct application to ministry and work and professionalism.

We, in vocational ministry, should be just as shrewd (read: professional) in our work and craft as those who are in other vocational callings.

In addition to Brad’s list (I especially like 4, 5, 6, and 14, although I will print out the whole list and put it in my planner today), I would suggest 3 simple things to improve your professionalism:

  1. Write Stuff Down: in our technological world there are so many ways to store and keep track of things. I find that people who rely too heavily on the digital world tend to be more scatterbrained, forget more meetings, and lose things more often than those who write things down. This is not scientific data, but there’s something about putting pen to paper that, in my experience, seems to improve memory, demonstrate care, and produce results (like showing up, and showing up on time).
  2. Prepare: write stuff down before you go to a meeting, or a one on one. Prepare for those moments the way you would prepare for a talk in front of 50 people. And write stuff down afterwards so you don’t forget! (There’s a theme here).
  3. Act Like You Care: this means that sometimes you wear a shirt with a collar. Sometimes you call AND leave a voice mail (instead of texting). Sometimes you choose your words carefully (and you don’t use certain words you might use in other contexts). Sometimes you over follow-up. I could go on.

I am one of the more informal people you will ever meet, but I have found (sometimes from painful experience) that I want to err on the side of being a pro. It demonstrates care, it demonstrates a strong ethic of work, and it enhances (rather than diminishes) the legitimacy of what I do as a pastor.

Practice your craft, be a pro, and get a pen so you can write some stuff down!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 473 other followers