Like Anyone Can Even Know That…

Like many of you, I have a bit more time on my hands. So, I asked friends on Facebook to provide blog topics. This one is for my Jeff Leinenkugel…who asked, “Why do some people really believe that “God has a plan?”

First, let me deal with the other questions Jeff asked:

What is OPS+ and why does it matter? Is WHIP the best pitching statistic? OPS+ is a baseball statistic that takes on-base percentage and slugging percentage, and then normalizes it across all players and factors in various ballparks and such. To me, it doesn’t matter. Give me Bill James’ 2002 Runs Created statistic as determining the offensive quality of a baseball player. The object of the game is to score runs, so wouldn’t a player who scored/created runs be most valuable? Too much to explain in this forum, but you can find all you want about Runs Created here. And, yes, WHIP (walks+hits divided by innings pitched) is the best pitching stat.
 

Are the Sex Pistols really more influential than the Ramones? Overall, no. They really only had one album and certainly contributed to the political angst and rage and fashion of punk so in some ways they were game-changers. But the Ramones’ unique playing style (all downstrokes) and the really, really good musical hooks–just played really, really fast–not to mention longevity, well, there’s a reason that their music is now hawking everything from cars to sodas to cruises to GenXers.

If there was an “all time” American Idol style show, would Freddy Mercury beat out Axel Rose in the finals? Axl Rose would never make the final. The final would be Freddy Mercury against Aretha Franklin. Give me Aretha.

But here’s the biggest question:

Why do some people really believe that “God has a plan?”

I’ll start with an anecdote: Long ago I was in a youth ministry job interview where I was in a room about 20 people from all aspects of the church and it wasn’t very organized. Questions from theology to parenting to media choices were coming from all directions and I started getting mentally tired after about an hour. The last question came from a parent who asked, “If we were to offer you the job how would you know it’s God’s will for you to accept it?”

Wow. Just. Wow.

Like I said, I was beginning to get a bit irritable and didn’t feel like diving into the multi-layered discussion of knowing God’s will or the inevitable worms that would emerge from that can…and that’s similar to how I feel here.

I’ll let you know my answer to her question more toward the end…but Jeff’s question presumes a few things. First, that there is a God. This requires my assumption regarding which concept of God one is talking about…which I’m guessing is the Texas Bible Belt Christian one, so that’s the one I’ll roll with.

(This question isn’t really limited to those who believe in a god. Atheists and agnostics will say things like “the universe will spin something positive out of this.” Just wanted to note that here.)

This also presumes an understanding of the Bible, which for purposes here I’ll mention that there are several sections of the New Testament alluding to people being “created for good works which God prepared beforehand” and being “predestined” according to God’s purposes. I could go quite a while on all this but since this is a blog post and some really intelligent book-writing Christians have been kicking those ideas around for roughly 2,000 years, it’s highly unlikely I’ll add anything meaningful to that discussion in this forum. I went all that way to suggest that there is evidence in the Bible for God having a plan.

That said, I think it’s important to discern what people mean when they say that phrase. Usually, it’s when something bad/negative has happened. Context matters. It could be an ill child, failure to get the job you wanted, an injury, a divorce, whatever. “God has a plan,” they say.

See, I think it’s a statement of faith and hope. Faith in that God is in this situation with them and they will “get through/over” the difficulty they face. Hope in that not only will they get over it, but they will be “better” for it…or grow in meaningful ways. I think that’s why most people say it. God has a plan, He will see me through this, and I’ll grow from the experience.

The reality for me is that I agree that God has a plan. That comes easy for me. The difficulty is in figuring out that plan when it isn’t laid out clearly in the Bible. So, for example, I don’t have to discern if drunkenness is God’s plan for my life…clearly from the Bible, it isn’t. There’s lots of easy ones.

The difficulty is when you have to figure out something that isn’t clear: Will my son get better? What is God trying to teach me in quarantine? Why did my spouse leave me? On and on, right?

Back to the answer I gave the nice lady who wanted to know how I would know if God’s plan was to take the job.

I told her I noticed her wedding ring. I asked her, “How did you know that it was God’s plan for you to marry your spouse?” She thought about it and said, “Well, I prayed about it and I loved him and he loved me and we both felt God leading us to get married.”

“Great,” I responded. “But he could’ve left you at the altar, right? When did you KNOW?”

“Well, I guess after we said our vows and kissed.”

And that’s how I answered. I wouldn’t know God’s plan until after I moved and became part of their church. Everything up to that was an educated guess–meaning presumption I was following God’s leading by prayer, consultation with other believers, etc.–on my part of this plan God had for me & my life. I wouldn’t really know until after the fact.

So, I think people say “God has a plan” because it has basis in their sacred text and it’s a statement of faith and hope…

…and…

…yes, I got that job. Which was unquestionably formative in my faith and some of the best times in ministry I ever had. All part of God’s plan… 🙂

My List of All-Time Great Pop Songs: Change My Mind…

Several years ago, over dinner with friends, I made a comment about how a certain pop song was a “one of the best pop songs ever written.” I was apparently so off-brand that the table went nuts about not only my opinion, but also that I–of all people–would like that song.

It’s important to let you know that I never said I liked the song. I just noted that it had one of those catchy, memorable, ear-wormy things that make you sing along…stuff that makes a great pop song. Somehow, the re-telling of the story among attendees has morphed into that song being my favorite song and that my denial of this reality is only due to protecting some sense of punk-rock street-cred. Look, the last bastion of any remaining punk-rock street-cred fell the day I was awarded Yard of the Month by the suburban homeowners association in 2014.

Nonetheless, I believe in transparency and authenticity here at The Diner…so, for this Sunday morning, I will give you the official listing of truly great pop songs, counting down from 15:

15). I Got A Feeling, Black-Eyed Peas, 2009. Really? You don’t chant along with “Tonight’s the night…”. Please. Yes, you do.

14). Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Cyndi Lauper, 1983. I think it’s funny to watch women my age still swish imaginary skirts around like she did in the video when singing the chorus.

13). Push It, Salt N Pepa, 1986. Do I even have to explain this?

12).  Everybody Have Fun Tonight, Wang Chung, 1986. The chorus, man. And the pauses make you do that conductor thing when they silence the instruments.

11).  Let’s Dance, David Bowie, 1983. A good friend of mine, back in high school when Sony Walkmen were first coming out and we had no idea how loud we were talking when wearing headphones, sang the words “tremble like a FLOWWWER” in class during silent work time. We are all Dale.

10). Ray of Light, Madonna, 1993. Far and away her best-crafted song. Never got the respect it deserved, IMHO.

9). 867-5309/Jenny, Tommy Tutone, 1981. There’s not a girl who was in high school in the 80’s named Jenny that didn’t have this song sung at her in some way during that time.

8). Hey, Ya, Outkast, 2003. We’ve all shaken something like a Polaroid picture.

7). ABC, The Jackson 5, 1971. Don’t think this song is great? How come the world knows the chorus nearly 50 years later?

6). Come on Eileen, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, 1992. That scene when Emma Watson as Sam in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” says “Oh, my God…they’re playing good music…” when this song comes on? Well, Sam says what we are all thinking when we hear the first notes.

5). Jungle Love, Morris Day and the Time, 1984. This is a great song with the “Oh wee oh wee oh” and all. I do have to admit my belief in ranking this song this high may have something to do with Jay (of Jay and Silent Bob fame) singing it in that movie and raving about Morris Day and the Time with signature foul language.

4). Head Over Heels, The Go-Go’s, 1984. The Go-Go’s are seriously underrated, man…and this song really highlights Belinda Carlisle’s songwriting chops.

3). Black or White, Michael Jackson, 1991. On any pop list, well, Michael Jackson could easily commandeer 7 of the top 15 songs, so I just picked my favorite. I probably like it the best because of the guitar work seems to enhance the song, not drive it like it does in Beat It.

2). MMMbop, Hanson, 1997. This is the song my friends went nuts about when I mentioned it. I stand by my statement that it is a great pop song. Don’t believe me? Welp, you’ll be singing it pretty much all day. You’re welcome.

1). Let’s Go Crazy, Prince, 1984. Prince is the real king of pop…and I will fight you on this: This is his best song. That’s just science.

Alright, kids…change my mind.

 

Thoughts on Grace and Punk

Like many of you, I have a bit more time on my hands. So, I asked friends on Facebook to provide blog topics. This one is for my friend Kaitlan Angel…who asked, “Please tell us about your punk rock background. I always wanted to learn more. How did you come to embrace kicking butt while also being a progressive Christian?”

It’s been said that you can tell a few things about a believer in Christ by their favorite stories about Jesus. My favorite stories involve making whips out of curtains, turning over tables, incendiary phrases like “brood of vipers” and “setting the earth on fire.” Make of that what you will.

While long-term readers of The Diner are well acquainted with my punk rock background, for the newcomers, here’s the short version: My suburban middle-class free-range happy-family childhood did a 180 after my dad’s unexpected death at age 36–I was 13. Nightly dinners around the table turned into latchkey kid Steak-Umm sandwiches or microwaved hotdogs on wheat bread. Afternoons were reserved for Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen King. My Frampton/Boston/Skynyrd soundtrack morphed into Ramones/Clash/Sex Pistols/Social D in pretty short order. My new music now sounded like I felt.

And there was a new Tribe that came along with the music. We ordered Doc Martens (back when they were the footwear of the working class) from England. We wore t-shirts that eventually got banned by school dress codes. We snuck out and went to punk clubs and lied to mom about why the glasses got broken. We moshed and got bloody and came home feeling strangely better. This tribe was accepting of all-comers. You just had to like the music and forgiving of any blows exchanged during the concert donnybrooks.

In the meantime, firmly believing that God had a plan for my life and equally stalwart in my belief that the plan unfolding before me officially sucked, I’d simply decided to allow God to patrol His side of the universe while I moshed on mine.

Another long story short for the newbs: Late in my junior year of high school, a guy helped me find my way back to Jesus by pointing out all those “Jesus as Revolutionary” stories. And, yes, I struggled with Jesus people. They were polite but firm: Fix the punk stuff and toe the company line–which was, by and large, khaki and go-to-college and Republican party. They were equally loving and quite clear that they were glad I was coming around the church.

That tension between the Jesus I read about in the Bible and the behavioral codes of the people in His Church always gnawed at me. The Jesus I read about seemed to welcome the fringe folks, right? He was always blessing the wrong people and challenging those who thought they had it all figured out…and I was (and frankly, still am) on the outside looking in.

In my junior year of college, I began to study what “grace” meant in my own life and how that manifested in my day-in, day-out lifestyle. Here’s what I think you mean when you say that I’m a “progressive Christian,” Kaitlan.

First, I became resolute in refusing to ask those who don’t adhere to my faith to adhere to the moral coding of my faith. Why would I expect those who don’t follow Jesus to follow His teachings or the behaviors (which are merely indications of our heart’s desire) that are clearly laid out in the Bible. You know, adultery, drunkenness, gluttony (um, uh-oh) and on and on. I’m pretty sure that C.S. Lewis influenced my thinking on that. Also, when trying to establish credibility on any topic in Christian circles, mention you’re pretty sure C.S. Lewis said it.

Second, grace allows me to let fellow believers live their lives before Christ, not me. Yes. I have friends who believe in Jesus who adhere to different interpretations on all sorts of issues. I mean, entire books have been written on crucial passages about homosexuality or women in ministry, and while I have opinions I believe I can back up…well, so do other people who are often more educated on those topics. So, my mantra has been, “Hey, man. If you can run it by God, you can run it by me.”

Finally, grace lets me give time for people to grow. My growth in Christ has been circuitous to say the least. Everybody’s ducks don’t have to be in a row right now. I can give the Holy Spirit time to work in their lives just like he’s been doing in mine. Spiritual formation is a slow business. Eugene Peterson said that. Pro-tip: if you want your idea to have credibility, mention that Eugene Peterson said it.

So, Kaitlan…when I think about it, the punk movement provided a path to let others be themselves…and that ethos mirrors what the Bible teaches. It lets me be myself and I’ll do my best to let others be themselves before God. I’ll do my best to love everybody with absolutely zero agenda. And, while I believe the nihilism of punk caused its demise, I equally believe that the life in Christ allows for grace and love to be the driving factor in my life and the lives of many who I am in league with.

And I don’t think that’s progressive in any way…I just think it’s what Jesus said and did.

Luna Preparatory High School Commencement Address, May 24, 2019

The senior class at my high school voted me as the teacher they wanted to give the keynote address at their graduation. Here are my speaker notes/transcript of my speech. I’m placing it here as several scholars and parents asked if I would make it available to them…so, here it is:

Commencement Address

Uplift Luna High School

May 24, 2019

 

Before I begin my address to the Luna Class of 2019,

I’d like to take a moment to say “thank you” to all the parents.

While that is customary at events like these,

I’d like to stress to each of you that I deeply appreciate the trust you’ve placed in us as educators.

You send your children, your most precious gifts, into our hands every school day for nearly 8 hours.

I hope I have been a person who is worthy of that trust.

So, parents, thank you so much for trusting us with those you love so much.

 

And, to the Class of 2019,

I am honored to have been chosen by you to represent the faculty today.

We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?

This whole thing started when I was the least-qualified Web Tech teacher in the world

and you were downloading movies from Russia instead of building your web sites.

Over the last three years, we’ve talked about what it means to live a good life,

We prepped for the ACT,

We’ve written and re-written and re-written personal statements,

We read novels together,

We checked portals,

We entered CAS hours,

We experienced college acceptances and rejections,

and we’ve made our beds.

 

As a group, you made room in your lives for a middle-aged, former punk rocker

who was trying to find out what the next phase of his life would look like.

And, frankly, because of you, that next phase looks like I’ll be at Luna for the foreseeable future.

You have changed my life in profound ways.

And I have a tattoo you designed that will remind me every day of that.

 

Now, as you go forth from here, you have the chance to change the lives of others,

and your world,

in profound ways.

There is much in this world that needs to be changed.

You could simply accept the world the way it is, play it safe, and walk a well-worn path to what others call success…

or you can make the decision now to shake things up.

We have a long history of admiring those who shake things up.

We know their names: people like Cesar Chavez, Muhammed Ali, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, Jack Kerouac, Jackson Pollack, Bob Dylan, Max Mills…

I could go on, but you get the point.

We rarely remember the names of people who played it safe. We don’t need more imitators and followers. We need more originals.

Hopefully, at this point, you’re asking “How do we shake things up in the world? What does it look like for us?”

I have a few ideas, and keep in mind that you’ll have to make some personal changes in your behavior.

First, make the decision to create, rather than consume.

How many text messages, Instagram stories, hours of video games or binge watching another season of The Office does it take to make your life complete?

The time you spend consuming social media or online gaming or streaming takes you away from creative pursuits, not to mention you won’t have any real life engagement with other people.

You have let me into your lives and told me your stories which helped me create a better story for my life.

You can certainly influence future roommates and classmates and campuses.

So, go your separate ways and tell your story and listen to the stories of others.

The only way to do that is life on life, never on a screen. Use your cell phones and laptops as little as possible.

 

Also, when you’re using your screen, I’ll remind you that you generally aren’t creating anything.

The world needs your paintings and photography,

your short stories,

your robots,

your mathematical innovations.

You are one of the most creative classes ever to come through Luna.

We know what you’re capable of,

and it borders on criminal to waste your brain power watching videos of people slapping cheese on babies’ foreheads.

If you want to change the world you’ll have to live a lifestyle that people will want to emulate…

live a deeper, better life. That doesn’t happen on cell phones or laptops.

 

The second way you can shake things up is both simple and complicated: Be more loving.

I’ve told you before that in a world that is so polarized, the most punk rock thing you can do is to choose to be loving…especially when others around you aren’t kind.

In fact, this has been modeled by the faculty. There have been some days when your behavior caused us to want to light you on fire…but we didn’t, not only because it’s illegal but because we care about you.

Because I know this to be true: You are loved.

Every one of you graduates can look on this stage and know that at least one of these teachers truly loves you.

Not every high school graduate can say that.

This world needs more people who ask the question, “What is the most loving thing that I can do right now?”

Oh, and yes,

Sometimes the most loving thing can be to stand against the status quo and protest the system.

Malcolm X and Dr. King were doing the most loving thing they could do for the world, even if it that love took very different forms.

Love doesn’t always have to polite and can often be difficult

and often requires great personal sacrifice.

But strive to think through what the most loving thing truly is in any given moment.

So, when you think about it, our time together, well, the days have been long but the years have been short.

And really, all the things I said in this speech,

and our lives together these last few years,

can be summed up with this statement:

“Be better, my dear muppets. Stop the shenanigans and live wisely, so you can experience shalom.”

 

But I don’t want those to be my last words to you as your teacher. I’ve given this a lot of thought, and these are what I want to be my last words to you:

 

You have made my life better

and will always be as close to me as the ink in my skin.

You have helped me write a better story than the one I was living,

and I’m so thankful to have walked this part of the journey with each of you.

Thank you.

Know that I love you.

Congratulations, Class of 2019.

Now, get out there and have some fun.

Gentrification and Me

*** A few days ago I came across a podcast that discusses the challenges facing the church in the west. If you’re interested, the speaker is Mark Sayers (senior leader of Red Church in Melbourne, Australia) at a meeting hosted by Bridgetown Church in Portland. The podcast really has my brain going…and I thought maybe it’d get yours going, too. So, let’s have a conversation, shall we? These thoughts were spurred by the second installment.

Anyway, Wikipedia defines “gentrification” this way: “Gentrification is a process of renovating deteriorated urban neighborhoods by means of the influx of more affluent residents. This is a common and controversial topic in politics and in urban planning.”

I’m seeing this first-hand as my little neighborhood here in Dallas, Deep Ellum, has been gentrifying. It had bad reputation (drugs and crime) a little over a decade ago. Artists have always called this area home and it’s always had a bohemian vibe, but in the early aughts, well, you didn’t come here unless that band you HAD to see played here…and it was a 50/50 shot that your car would be vandalized or broken in to.

A few years back, just before we moved here, it was on the turnaround…cheap rents brought serious business owners, a school moved in, and a church, and warehouses became higher-end lofts. It’s the way of things, right? And, yes, I realize Tracy and I are part of that–moving from the ‘burbs to a loft almost four years ago. And, yes, the rent on our current place is pushing us down the street later this summer. That view can garner more than we’re willing to pay.

Now, that turnaround has longtime residents, mostly artists, talking about being priced out and having to move out. I do have to say it’s pretty strange to see families standing in long lines for ice cream, or pre-school princesses in tiaras getting a fix of unicorn themed treats, or dude-bros paying $15 for a smoke infused drink but you can actually enjoy a night out at some really good restaurants and enjoy walking around. Wins. Losses. It’s the way of things.

And I was thinking about the gentrification today on my walk home from church…I mean, I had to take the long way around the building because construction cranes for the three new loft complexes going in had closed a sidewalk. This thought hit me: My faith has undergone a gentrification of sorts.

Long-time readers (and, hey, there’s over 15 years of entries here, people) are well aware of that journey. 23 years of full-time ministry had caused me to see a couple of things. Mostly where my own faith was creating a yearning for “more” even though I couldn’t really describe what that meant. The other part was where the Christian Industrial Complex–of which I admit I was a part of (more on that in a second)–had some role to play in creating what Mark Sayers talks about here:

Corporate renewal begins with personal renewal…the first task is not to descularize society. It’s not ours to set up some giant program movement where we desecularize the West. This actually begins as every renewal begins with the desecularizing of yourself. How have we tried to live without the presence of God? How have we tried to live without God? And this changes thing, you know? We’ve got our teams and our structures and our hierarchies. None of that’s gonna work. None of it will work unless this process begins in us…

…There are cultural Christians in a 21st century garb. And the cultural Christian in the 21st century garb may not affirm or believe the explicit prosperity gospel, but they live out an implicit prosperity gospel. That they can have the goodies of consumerism with a Christian veneer painted over the top. They are creating a new kind of faith where it’s pick-and-choose and this is termites and white ants underneath the foundations of the Church…

…And a lot of the Church models we have now are just churn and burn, 90% turnover every year…the Big Show…I can get a lot of people in the room but it’s really hard to get them to completely give their lives to Christ.

So, I was seeing a lot of what my dissertation will refer to as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and others call “cultural Christianity”…which really isn’t anything new. Pastors have long been aware that oftentimes we weren’t seeing those things that Jesus says should be an abundant life in our own experience and we weren’t seeing them in those we served.

And I started asking questions. Lots of them. They started with “why?” I followed them up with “what if…?”

Yeah.

People get real uncomfortable when you start deconstructing the Sunday service. Or the small group ministry. Or the way we do mission. Sure. It starts simple enough. “Why do we have to have the guitar player play music while we pray?” Eventually they get bigger, like “How is our worship service formative for our people? What if we de-centralized the Sunday service in the spiritual life?”

Yeah.

People got real uncomfortable.

But even I knew that renovating–gentrifying, if you will–started with me. I had to go back and evaluate what I was doing and who I was becoming and if that lined up with the things I saw were supposed to be true about my life and faith. Suffice to say there was dissonance.

And–pardon me if I make a four-year journey one sentence–it took a while, but the better things moved in and made my “neighborhood” better. Sure, there were some costs. Ones that are a bit too raw to put on the table here…and nearly caused me to chuck it all, gripe about the price to pay to stay and just move out. But now I see it’s okay for the ice-cream place and the princess party and the $15 smoke infused drink and the dive bar and the cookie place and the cool punk club to live next door.

What I came to realize was that you can’t gentrify the neighborhood without taking care of your own business first. And gutting a building can be difficult and hard work and painful and create discomfort and others might not like the new look when you’re done.

But that’s okay, man.

The neighborhood will eventually be different anyway. It’s the way of things. But today I’ve realized that there was a time those questions listed above would’ve–and should’ve–created discomfort by how I’d have to answer them.

And the chance to be a part of the revitalization of things has me amped…even if it’ll take a while and the construction makes me take the long way around.

 

 

Random Dissertation Thinking

Most of you are likely tired of hearing about the dissertation I’m writing…I’m tired of just talking about it, too, even though I’m still loving my topic. That said, I’m really excited about what’s happening and the writing process, while daunting, is good for me.

Anyhow, the reading & study involves a lot about background research and I came across a podcast that discusses the challenges facing the church in the west. If you’re interested, the speaker is Mark Sayers (senior leader of Red Church in Melbourne, Australia) at a meeting hosted by Bridgetown Church in Portland. The podcast really has my brain going…

…and I need to get the thoughts out in some sort of organized way so I can keep them and I thought this might be a good chance to crowdsource and get feedback while I think out loud.

You in?

Good.

Here we go. Background: Sayers has just discussed the state of play in the church in the West (spoiler alert: things ain’t great, basically highlighting that the culture has influenced the church more than we realize) and he begins with this question/thinking:

What if, at this moment, I (God) would like to renew the Western church? What if I (God) have to let it get so bad? What if you have to get to the point where you’re like, brilliant preaching that’s culturally relevant, it ain’t gonna work? Incredible worship, that just is trying to be as close to the culture as possible, it’s not gonna work? The whole aesthetic and design of churches, one that is actually ahead of the world, it’s still not gonna work? Leaders who project this atmosphere and persona of cool and seem really relevant, that’s not gonna work…you can go into different kinds of discipleship structures and groups but none of it’s gonna work. Because renewals happen when people get to the end of themselves…

…I think that what God is saying at this point in time, and what he’s been telling to me is “Don’t just come out and give more of a story how we got to this moment. That’s part of it. But actually reframe this moment from one of crisis to one of opportunity.”

So, as that relates to my dissertation:

First, my research is showing that, at the very least, the Western church is NOT growing. With some minor exceptions that show 1% to 2% growth, at best the church is stagnant. Mostly the numbers show that churches are declining in numbers and the ones that are growing usually do so by “transfer growth” rather than “kingdom growth.” Suffice to say that it ain’t good…and looks worse when you study younger generations. The stats are all over the place when it comes to how steep the decline is, but I think it’s around 3% annually (which doesn’t sound like much but think that through).

Second, I’m of the belief that the reality is that the “invite a friend to the outreach event” way of doing business is only effective for those that have some background of church attendance and are thinking about “getting back into church.” It won’t stem the exodus (no matter how big or small you think that exodus is). So, this is where I think Sayers is right. The “relevant church” thing where we think that getting folks to come to church is to get our preaching right, our music right and our programs right and people will come has had their day. It was good for a time, and was effective in bringing some folks back into the fold. However, in Sayers’ words, it no longer “works.” Something different has to come to the forefront, right?

See, I believe some of the decline is akin to a real estate bubble. The growth numbers that happened when we got our stuff “right” has revealed that, once the shine wears off, that method you used to attract people came up short of this truly abundant life our Tribe promises…and those people who were never truly given a chance to understand what it means to follow Christ (through meaningful discipleship) because we were so busy getting our music/preaching/programs right, and, well, they bailed. The bubble burst. Maybe rightfully so.

Finally, I think Sayers is right, too, when he says that this is a moment of opportunity. What if…

…what…

…if…

God was using this moment in time since the bubble burst (or is about to) to be like a tide going out, allowing our Tribe to gather strength before we “come ashore” with more force?

So, yes, I’m excited about the challenges ahead…

…and would love to hear your thoughts.

Go.

Word of the Year for My 2019…Or, “Applications from the Enneagram.”

I’ve taken them all, man. I’m an INTJ. I’m “high-I.” I’m a “Learner” with the secondary as “Belief.” I could go on. Granted, I don’t put a world of stock in these self-reported personality inventories. To me, they’re a lot like reading a horoscope in that you read a lot into pre-written results. But, alas, I took the Enneagram inventory for a doctoral class I’m enrolled in.

Turns out, for those of you that have any idea what this one is about, I’m a 1 with a 9 wing, and a 4 as my 3rd trait. A “Reformer,” with a strong “Peacemaker” trait, supported by “Individualist” leanings. But in reading these descriptions, I decided to use them to sort of guide me in my goals for the year.

See, I gave up on a list of goals a few years back and sought to come up with one word that would be the north-star for that year. The most notable one was the year I wanted “clarity” and, manalive, did I get that in spades.

Anyway, there are few things I gleaned from the Enneagram results that have pointed me to my one word for 2019. Here’s a few things that those of you who know me won’t be surprised by but came directly from the test analysis results.

First, Ones are driven by a sense of mission:

This sense of mission impels Ones to rise to their highest standards, to make personal sacrifices, and to evaluate themselves regularly to see if they are falling short of their ideals. They feel that they must live a balanced, sensible life in order to have the clarity and inner resources necessary to fulfill their purpose.

Second, Ones have an outward appearance of balance, but appearances can be deceiving:

Ones appear well balanced and sure of themselves, but they can suffer from extreme self-criticism, feeling that they are never able to measure up to their Olympian standards…At such times they feel burdened by their responsibilities and by the sense that others will not do as thorough a job as they will.

Lastly, Ones tend to grow by having more “play time” in their lives:

Becoming moody, depressed, and uncommunicative because of repressed anger. Not allowing enough “play time” in the relationship—feeling that all spare time must be used for serious purposes (yard work, checking finances, reading “educational” or “meaningful” books, attending meetings or lectures, discussing political issues, etc.)…Ones also grow by playing —by finding areas of their lives that are lighter, freer, and that offer opportunities for spontaneous creativity. Most Ones have a great sense of humor, and the more they allow themselves to entertain and enjoy others, the better for everyone involved. Basically, Ones grow to the extent that they can accept reality with all of its apparent contradictions and “imperfections.” This, of course, especially applies to themselves.

So, reading this and looking ahead to 2019, here’s a few random thoughts before I give you the one word I’m going to focus on for the new year.

I’m really connected to my mission. I have 101 scholars who I teach in either an A.P. English class or a College Transitions class that I have truly come to love and enjoy. Serving them well is an unwavering commitment. I also have a side gig at DTS as a teaching assistant and I have a good thing going there, too. I’m also on the downhill side of my doctoral pursuits. Nothing changes much in this regard as 2019 shows up.

Where the problem shows up is in “appearing balanced, but burdened by responsibilities and serious purposes.” See, in order to get high school lesson plans completed, graduate level papers graded and dissertation reading/research done, I keep a pretty rigid routine.

Truth be told, when I rest…I feel guilty. When I’m out with Tracy or hanging out with friends, there’s always this voice in the back of my mind saying, “There’s a better use of your time.”

And 2019 will require a lot of “routine.” I mean, I’ve got to get my scholars ready for their A.P. exam in May. I’ve got scholars who have important decisions to make about their next four years and will need me engaged. I’ve got two master’s classes to help the students learn about ministry. Oh, yeah. I’ve got a dissertation to write…starting with 35 hours of class next week learning HOW to write one.

Frankly, it would be easy to just put the nose to the grindstone and knock it all out and sleep next Christmas break. That’s what I would normally do if I didn’t put some degree of stock in the Enneagram’s result…but I also know how that would end up: a lot of moodiness, withdrawal, and repressed anger. Nobody around me wants me to be any of those things.

So, I need more honest rest. More “play-time.” Entertaining and enjoying others. Giving myself some grace. I could easily survive 2019…but finding creative ways to do these things will let me thrive in 2019. And that’s truly what I want to do.

The word that keeps coming up this time around is “balance.” Be sensible, sure, I mean, I’ve got stuff to do. But I think I can ease up on the “Olympian standards” I place on myself. I can give myself a break and not feel guilty for doing so.  I can play more and do more things that give me life, like concerts and nights on the roof with the missus watching sunsets and hanging out with good friends…and sometimes just doing nothing by intent. Oh yeah…and writing for fun (so, yes, I’ll be firing up The Diner again).

So, let’s raise a glass to 2019…and balance.

Cheers! Here’s to a great year for you & yours.

 

 

 

 

 

That’s One Word For It

As one who’s been told that I have what a seminary professor termed “a holy discontent with the status quo,” I have to be very careful to strike a balance. Most days you could take “holy” out of the equation when it comes to discussion the state of play in American churches. I’m not really proud of that.

Join me in the tension, won’t you? Today’s New York Times article should be a nice starting point.

Here’s a quote: “Instagram built our church,” he [pastor Chad Veach] said one afternoon at his office here a block from the El Rey Theater. “Isn’t that fascinating?”

Tread lightly, Mr. Veach: The method you use to attract people will be the method you have to use to keep those people. The reality is that you can have a huge church that is built by the Holy Spirit or one that uses proven just-add-water formulas the article mentioned:

“But saving souls is a business like any other. Pastors today who want to start a ministry for those 40 and under follow a well-traveled path. First, they lease an old theater or club. Next, they find great singers and backup musicians. A fog machine on stage is nice. A church should also have a catchy logo or catchphrase that can be stamped onto merchandise and branded — socks, knit hats, shoes and sweatshirts. (An online pop-up shop on Memorial Day sold $10,000 in merchandise its first hour, Mr. Veach said.) And lastly, churches need a money app — Zoe uses Pushpay — to make it easy for churchgoers to tithe with a swipe on their smartphones.”

…and it’s difficult to know which is which. If it’s the former you might want to give credit where credit is due.

Now, a bit of background: Justin Bieber and Chris Pratt are among the attendees of a three-year-old congregation that is growing like kudzu.

And here’s the tension: Jesus seemed to make room for freelancers in Luke 9. Ephesians 4 tells us we all have a gift and a role. 1 Corinthians 9 tells us to become all things possible to win others. I could go on.

Needless to say all this stirs the discontent (and my dissertation work ain’t helping, either). Instagram building the church. A well-traveled formula. Branding. Merch. All of it raises my eyebrow. Fascinating, right?

So, I’ll try to get over myself. And trust that God knows what He’s doing. But manalive it’s hard to keep from turning over tables today…

 

 

 

In Honor of Our 29th Anniversary…

…Future Me is setting the DeLorean dashboard destination time to Dec 24 1987 (PM) 3:30.

There are 29 things I’d like to communicate to Past Me to save from myself. While I don’t need to get Tracy to the Sigma Pi Orchid Ball on time so our daughters can be born or anything like that, there are a few things that might save a bit of hassle. So, cue Huey Lewis & the News “Back in Time” and know that the two fiery tire tracks have sent me to the Hoover Square 6 Theaters parking lot…

29. Turn off the television in the background when you’re proposing in about half an hour. While it’s a cute story having George Harrison’s “Got My Mind Set On You” MTV video providing the soundtrack to that moment, maybe have a better sense of decorum.

28. Use the phrase “I don’t have a particular preference, so choose the one you like the best and I’ll be happy” rather than “I don’t care” when choosing bath towels and place settings and groom’s cakes and such. Fiances apparently think your words mean specific things.

27. Look at the puppy’s feet when choosing the cutest one at the humane society. She’s gonna grow into them. Also, don’t take your secretary’s word for it when she told the clerk it was a boy, and even though the paperwork says “male” she’s gonna roll over a few days later and you won’t have girl dog named Buford.

26. Even if you and your 38-weeks pregnant wife are tired, go ahead and put gas in the car the night before so you won’t have to do it at 3AM when her contractions are four minutes apart.

25. Maybe keep the thoughts on how tired and uncomfortable you are in the labor room to yourself. Also, after 18 hours, your comments on the machine’s measurement of the contractions’ intensity or lack of cable sports channels aren’t really appreciated, either.

24. Labor & delivery is a surgical procedure. People will give you a romantic notion of how beautiful it is but they’re all pumping sunshine. The wonder comes when the nurses hand you a cleaned-up burrito-wrapped baby and you feel like your heart will explode when they put them in your arms.

23. Measuring the nursery wallpaper border incorrectly results in a smooshed teddy bear in one corner. You aren’t good at math. Let her handle that.

22. All those things you talked about at the top of Reunion Tower in Dallas about what our ministry life would be like? You were pooling ignorance.

21. Your first home will have so much life because all the Campus Life students that come over all the time. Remind them that ONLY when front curtains are open they’re welcome to come in without knocking. If you aren’t clear on that, well, it can be embarrassing for both newlyweds and students.

20. Trust your wife more early on in spiritual decision-making. Remember when you fasted for lunch for a week before making one major decision and when you told her your thoughts, she said, “I’ve known that for a week. I’ve just been waiting on you to get there because I didn’t want to influence your thinking.” She’s got a good feel for that stuff and it’ll save you a lot of hassle if you trust her.

19. Oh, yeah. Don’t listen to those well-meaning folks in church circles who tell you what your life should be like about praying together and giving you horrible devotional books for couples. Find your own rhythm and ignore their insights. It’ll save you both a lot of false guilt.

18. Dinner/bath/bedtime with toddlers is among the greatest times you will have. Don’t let punk rock you think otherwise.

17. Spoiler alert: Auburn is going to win the national championship in your lifetime. That will save you a lot of emotional disappointment from 1988-2009 wondering if the football gods are gonna answer that little prayer for your East Alabama college.

16. Leaving a ministry of students you love to go to seminary will be one of the hardest things you will ever do.

15. So will holding down three jobs and going to seminary with a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. You will be exhausted most of that time but it’ll be well worth it.

14. It won’t get easier when you leave another group of students who endeared themselves to you to move across town. Those kids will change your life and ministry for the better. It’ll seem like you were there forever, but only a little over a year.

13. You’re going to see it all in ministry leaders you serve with: extreme legalism, financial mismanagement, sexual misconduct, philosophic differences, et al. Some you will handle better than others, but try to be more focused on Him. You will be hurt more deeply than you know by people who you think should know better. Thinking they’ll always be Spirit-led is an unrealistic expectation.

12. People will have strong opinions about you and your ministry, and they will somehow feel free to voice them in front of your wife and kids. A lot. Try to do a better job of shielding them from that because it will have longer lasting hurtful effects on them. You will get over them more easily because you develop a thicker skin. They will have a much tougher time.

11. Be a better student of your wife. There are some things you shouldn’t have to wait nearly three decades to discover. Hint: She’s an artist. Give her the space and freedom to develop that. How you missed that is beyond Future Me.

10. You’re going to love traveling the world. I know it’s the late 80’s but you’re gonna walk in Red Square. You’ll see Beirut. You’ll visit countries that aren’t even countries yet. You’ll walk in the Taj Mahal. You’ll also see the dark side of those places. Not bad for a kid that hasn’t been north of Nashville yet.

9. When the old dog starts to show age, get the apprentice so the old dog can show them to ropes. Your wife and daughters will be dog people, as we know that cats are the official pet of Hell.

8. You won’t regret being intentional about making memories with your family. Pike’s Peak. Lake Pend Oreille. New York City. Disney. San Francisco. Gulf Shores. And when you’re in those moments, be IN those moments. They will invent the Internet (don’t ask) and you’ll be able to work from anywhere. Don’t.

7. Hanging with your adult daughters as friends is so much fun. There are upsides and downsides to getting married young and having children young…but one major upside is being young enough to travel and hang out with them. The hard work of parenting children tends to pay off when you enjoy them so much as adults.

6. Everybody says to remember that your wife will be with you after the kids move out and to develop your marriage relationship all along the way. Take that seriously, because learning to date and such is more difficult in the Empty Nest than you think. So much happens in 22 years of child raising that you can lose focus. Again. Don’t.

5. You’re going to get a doctorate in 2020. It’ll be your wife’s idea, and it’ll set the stage for the last third of your life. Listen to her a lot sooner and maybe you’d be getting it next year instead of being only a third of the way through.

4. Pay attention when people ask you what you’d do if you weren’t in full-time ministry, because you’ll wind up doing that very thing when you aren’t. Again, be a better student of your wife. She was intuitive about these things and tried to tell you but you weren’t as active a listener as you could’ve been.

3. You will love living downtown and the new friends you make will become some of the best friends you’ve ever had, even though you’ve only lived here a little over a year.

2. Just so you know, your wife will still be striking with her beauty. You’ll think you’ve never seen anything more beautiful when she walked the aisle on your wedding day, but that woman will walk across a room in sweatpants and carrying laundry and she’ll take your breath away. She won’t even be trying and be stunning.

1.  You will be loved more than you have loved. I wish I could tell you differently. Lesser women would’ve been gone long ago, and she’s still here and still enjoying the adventure. You will laugh a lot. You will smile at the future together. It will be an adventure. But you definitely get the better end of the deal, Holmes.

Well, the DeLorean’s “present time” setting is for Jul 16 2017 (am) 9:50 so that’s all your going to get.

One last thing: Tell her happy anniversary first thing every morning on this date. It’s the best decision you ever made.

*fiery tire tracks outside the Hoover Square Six Theater after 1.21 gigawatts hit the flux capacitor

** DeLorean flashes into view on Commerce Street in Dallas in front of Mitchell Lofts.

A Great Group Question for the 4th

Our “posse” (Tom’s word for our family-like gathering) connects weekly at some randomly chosen (re: best bang-for-the-buck happy hour) neighborhood establishment. We catch up. We shoot the excrement. We tell stories. We laugh a lot.

My contribution is the conversation starting question if too much mundane was in our week or there’s a lag in storytelling or too much Trump talk. Sometimes they’re deep (“How does your significant other make you better?”). Sometimes not (“Your Favorite TV show as a kid…Go!”). It’s a gift. Questions requiring controversial and playful subjectivity work best.

Anyway, since many of us will be gathering in groups for the Independence Day holiday, I thought I’d provide a themed conversation jump-start for all of us.

The question before us today is, “Top 20 Greatest All-American Music Groups.” The caveats are as follows: They have to be a “group,” so obvious great solo acts like Elvis, Michael Jackson or Bob Dylan are not allowed. Second, every member must be an American, so acts like Fleetwood Mac are verboten. Third, your favorite group might not be the best group, so you’d better be prepared to make a case if you fire off Van Halen in your top 20.

Here’s mine:

1 & 1A: The Beach Boys, The Eagles–These bands have it all: recognizability, critical acclaim & longevity. I’d give the nod to The Beach Boys for the ability to sing along with. Best song: California Girls, Life in the Fast Lane.

2: Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band–Best song: Born to be Wild.

3: Credence Clearwater Revival–Best song: Fortunate Son

4: The Ramones–Don’t tell me they’re ranked too high here. They changed everything. Innovative and influential. Best song: Blitzkrieg Bop.

5: The Jackson Five–say what you want about Michael Jackson’s solo world, but as a group, they were amazing. Best song: A-B-C 1-2-3.

6: Nirvana–again, another band that changed everything. Best song: Come As You Are.

7: The Supremes–really tough call here with so many personnel changes, but no matter the original lineup carries enough weight, IMHO. Best song: You Can’t Hurry Love.

8: The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Much like the Boss, most people associate him as a solo, but he, too, had a band. Best song: All Along the Watchtower.

9: Simon & Garfunkel–hesitant to put a duo in here, but a duo is a band and they are big time. Best song: Mrs. Robinson.

10: The Grateful Dead–Another tough call as they don’t really have full-blow recongnizability but they are uniquely American, for sure. Best song: Truckin.’

11: Public Enemy–Maybe they should be ranked a bit higher but their political leanings alienated a lot of folks, even if they made them more endearing to me. Best song: Fight the Power.

12: The Doors–A little inaccessible to the masses but really, really good band. Best song: Light My Fire.

13: R.E.M.quite possibly the most under-appreciated band on the list. Best song: Radio Free Europe.

14: The White Stripes–again, another duo, but Jack White needs to be on this list somewhere and this is my favorite of his bands. Best song: Hotel Yorba.

15: Aerosmith–longevity works for them here, for sure. I still think their earlier stuff is awesome. Best song: Same Old Song and Dance.

16: N.W.A.–I would’ve loved to see what would’ve happened if they’d been able to avoid the trappings and pitfalls associated with their success. Best song: (tie) Straight Outta Compton, F**k tha Police.

17: The Talking Heads–maybe video actually hurt this band because their music gets obscured by their presentation. Best song: Life During Wartime.

18: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers–I’ve seen him live so many times and when he just plays the hits it takes two hours. Again, most people associate him as a solo act but they are a band. Best song: Swingin’.

19: Pearl Jam–they’re not missing a beat as they get older. Best song: Alive.

20: Lynyrd Skynyrd–close call here with them & ZZ Top for the last slot, but Sweet Home Alabama & Free Bird trump LaGrange & Gimme All Your Lovin’.

Honorable Mention (in no particular order): The Byrds, Run-DMC, X, Cheap Trick, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, The Pretenders, Foo Fighters, Iggy Pop & the Stooges, Kiss, Blondie, Bill Haley & the Comets, Black Flag, The Everly Brothers, Metallica, Parliament Funkadelic, the Velvet Underground, Guns N Roses.

 

There’s mine…who are yours?