The Adventure Continues…

Nothing was wrong.

But something wasn’t quite right, either.

Spring of 2020 was a mash-up of graduation celebrations, didn’t-get-the-job disappointments, Zoom-teaching wins and losses, COVID-related boredoms that bred creative pursuits, and such. You could see the breakdown and you could see the beauty even if the breakdown got all the headlines.

Summer hit and, for the first time in five years, I had…




The marriage was good even if we’d fallen into some ruts (some lockdown related, others due to the normal failure to pay attention to the relationship). Teaching high-schoolers online in the inner-city had challenges but also sparked creative ways to connect with my students. I got into the best shape I’ve been in since I was in my 30s and then I rediscovered how much fun learning is when you pick your topics (MasterClass, anyone?). And then the plan I had for post-graduation fell through and I had…



…time to think about what might be next.

See, I thought I would be full-time in academia once I had the right letters after my name. I had a shot at one job and it fell through and then COVID crushed the job market for professors. There are job posting boards for professors that haven’t posted new listings since last May. Then many institutions even scuttled using adjunct professors (which occasionally allowed me to scratch my academia itch) for not only last year, but this next school year. I just figured I’d teach another year of high school and begin the job search when the pandemic eased up.

But I was antsy. Something wasn’t quite right.

So, update the resume. I open up my mind to what else God might be doing in my life that might not be in academia. Check the recruitment search firms and websites every now and again. Pray…because it’s finally come to that. Seek. Listen. 

So, update the resume. Check the recruitment search firms and websites every now and again. Pray…because it’s finally come to that. Seek. Listen. The Fuzzy Front End is here again (

Recruitment search firm has a job prospectus that’s intriguing. Click a few buttons. Look at that church’s web site. Apply. Doesn’t hurt to kick the tires, right? Even if it’s the only job on about 14 different web sites that might be a good fit for you and there’ll be a zillion applicants you probably can’t compete with anyway, never hurts to throw your hat in the ring, right?

No need to bore you with the details of the interview process that started in August and went through December of 2020. You do need to know this, though: I was unflltered during this particular process. See, I didn’t need a job. I had one. And one that I liked. And one that was fulfilling. And one with a lot of people I like working with.

And you better believe if I was going back into working professionally in a church, well, you better believe they were going to get the real me. They may not like what they see, but what they see will be real. And I was. And manalive so was Tracy. When you’ve been a professional Christian for over two-decades, you are well-aware of the damage that churches can do to your family, so it might be best to put our cards on the table.

And manalive was the search committee and staff transparent and authentic about who they are and what they’re about. They pulled back the curtain for us and were equally forthcoming that we may not like what we see but they would be real, too. It was a mutual admiration situation. Prayers. Seeking. Listening. Offers.

The fuzzy front end became the next logical step.

So, yeah. I’ll have “pastor” in my job title again starting February 15. Those of you that know me & Tracy also know that when God says “GO!” clearly we’re pretty quick to pack up, strap in and get on with the adventure.

But in no way will it change the way I live my life or do my job. I was a pastor as a school teacher…and frankly, had many more opportunities for ministry every day on campus than I did when in previous church gigs. (As an aside: Frankly, so do you).

See, Foundations Church in Loveland, Colorado is dreaming about making disciples of Jesus on a large scale. So am I. So, this should work. There really aren’t enough words in the thesaurus for “excited” for me to use here. I get to use my gifts and talents to serve people that want to dive in to the abundant life that Jesus said He came to give us. 

And we get to move to a place known as a haven for artists, with a low cost of living, family friendliness, an “urban” feel in a suburban setting and a “blue collar” mindset in a white-collar scene. In other words, we fit…both the place and the new family that just adopted us.

There’s a real peace that comes from knowing that everything is…



So, after 26 years of living in DFW, it’s time for us to go. The moving van comes Thursday…and we’ll be in The Sweetheart City on Valentine’s Day. (Loveland gets a LOT of mileage out of their name this time of year…but also the Chamber of Commerce gets a lot of mileage out of it all the time).

And for all of you that keep telling us, “That’s so cool how you and Tracy just up and GO! But I could never do that…”

Yes. You can.

Just pay attention. Seek. Listen. Pray. Then pack up, strap in and get ready for the adventure.

It’s time. And maybe not just for us…because you can always find new adventure in re-framing how you view loving your neighbor wherever you happen to be. You don’t have to move to live adventurously.

Here’s a few photos…

First, they took me out for barbecue. This t-shirt is patently false. I will sorely miss Texas brisket and Tex-Mex made the way it should be.
They told me that the snowfall we were getting the next day was no big deal because “it’s only going to be 2 to 4 inches.” I feel like I need to take a MasterClass on snow driving skills.
Our new apartment building.
Our new neighborhood. Yes. It is very, very Deep Ellum. For my friends in Flower Mound, our new neighborhood is like if Parker Square and Deep Ellum had a baby.

Trust God and Do the Next Thing

Sometimes I solicit blog topics on my social media, and today I’ll talk a little bit about “hope.” My friend Brian asked me what keeps me hopeful for a better future and my friend Dick piggybacked on that with “how do we have hope for 2021 after a crazy 2020?”

You ever felt like there should be…


I’ve felt it in a couple of job situations where I didn’t feel like I was doing much more than paying bills and repeating the cycle. I’ve felt in at times in various relationships from friendships to marriage to family. I’ve felt it in what I do with free time. I’ve felt it in my spiritual life. I felt like nothing was necessarily wrong, but things weren’t really right, either. There just had to be…



I think the root cause of that–most of the time, anyway–is that people are hard-wired for shalom. See, in my formal education I wound up in orbit around a lot of people who are familiar with Hebrew and it turns out the concept of shalom is a big player in the Old Testament and the life of my Jewish friends. The word, in essence, means peace. A peace that comes from the state of affairs being in harmony with God, self and neighbor. I once heard it described as an unblemished manifestation of the grace of God. I like that.

When we step outside of that shalom, we feel like something is missing. Like there should be more. Pascal referred to that feeling as a “god-shaped void.” Augustine said, referring to God, that “our hearts are restless unless they rest in you.” Thoreau noted that most people live lives of “quiet desperation.” So, when there’s some sort of disconnect between the ideal life and our real life–whether in relation to God or not–we have an innate belief that it can get better or that state of affairs can be improved.

And whatever the state of affairs entails, it can usually be improved in some way, right?

In American politics, we hope that elections can set things right again (spoiler alert: it won’t. Ever). We hope our team will win the big game or the championship. We hope we win the lottery. We hope we can get a few more years out of the paid-for vehicle to avoid car payments. In America right now, we hope the vaccines work so we can get back to whatever we mean by normal. We hope that we can have a job where we feel useful and get to do what we do best. We hope that our marriage or our relationships with our kids or family will get a little better. We hope we can get out of debt. We hope that we can make sense out of our existence in some way.

So, in a very real sense, hope is tied to our belief system–or worldview–and dependent on the entity we put our trust in to accomplish shalom. That politician can get things done. The team playing to their talent level. The odds of 6 ping pong balls making lightning strike our bank account. The ability of the mechanic to work the necessary magic. The science behind the medicine and our body’s reaction to it. Our impact in our field of employ. The responsiveness of others to our want of deeper & better relations. Our self-discipline to save. The outworking of our faith or lack thereof.

Again, those I’m in orbit with that are familiar with Hebrew note that there are roughly 7 words for “hope.” They all tie in the ideas of waiting patiently, trusting (one variant even describes a trust “from the loins,” which I find amusing), longing for, and a straight direction towards an expectation.

And when you think of it in those terms, you can see why the Jewish people live in hope. They’re awaiting the Messiah. The one who will make things right. The one who will redeem the people from their oppressions. The one who will bring shalom. Deep in their guts, they wait, expectantly, for things to be set right.

This is a beautiful picture to me.

Most of you know that I follow Christ. This, too, means I’m awaiting the Messiah. For his return. Deep in my gut. Waiting expectantly for things to be set right.

So what do we do while we wait?

I think the key is found in the book of Jeremiah, speaking when the nation of Israel was in exile in Babylon (talking about wanting things to be set right again–think about your nation in exile in a foreign land) in chapter 29. God told them to build houses. Plant vineyards. Start families. Pray for the welfare of that nation (imagine that). Then God told them that generations later He would bring them out of that situation.

In short, they were to live faithfully, do the next thing and wait on God. Hope, to me, is a matter of perspective. See, I’m living in a foreign land (that I also love, by the way). I have gifts and talents and passions I get to use while I’m here. I vote. I watch sports. I love my friends. I love my family. But there are money troubles. The teams don’t always win. The numbers never hit. The politicians screw things up.

Shalom gets broken. In small and big ways.

But I have very real reasons to hope that God will give me the proper perspective on whatever happens while I’m in my own exile. I build. I plant. I start. I pray. These keep me balanced.

And I wait expectantly, deep in my gut, for Shalom to be manifested fully–in small and big ways. I celebrate and enjoy when I see God’s grace and I grieve when shalom gets broken–in small and big ways. In the meantime, I simply trust God and do the next thing (stolen from my friend Tim).

That perspective keeps me hopeful for a better future, whether it’s 2021 or 2051.

I hope all of you have a very happy New Year…one full of shalom.

Record Keeping for 2020

Books Finished in 2020:

No One Asked for This: Essays, by Cazzie David (4/5 stars)
PRAY: Finding Ways For Ordinary People To Connect With God In All Of Life, by Neil Cole (3/5 stars)
One Thing: A Revolution to Change the World with Love, ny Neil Cole (3/5 stars)
The Deeply Formed Life: Five Transformative Values to Root Us in the Way of Jesus by Rich Villodas, (4/5 stars)
A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn, (4/5 stars) The Autobiography of Malcolm X, by Malcolm X & Alex Haley (5/5 stars)
How to Be Alone: If You Want To, and Even If You Don’t by Lane Moore (2/5 stars)
Open Book by Jessica Simpson (3/5 stars)
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid (4/5 stars)
Normal People by Sally Rooney (4/5 stars)
Wow, No Thank You. by Samantha Irby (3/5 stars)
The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron (4/5 stars)
God Spare the Girls: A Novel, by Kelsey McKinney, 5/5 stars (totally unbiased review)
Jesus > Religion: Why He Is So Much Better Than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough by Jefferson Bethke, 4/5 stars
Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why by Paul Tough, 3/5 stars
Teen Angst? Naaah… by Ned Vizzini, 4/5 stars
When You Find Out the World is Against You: And Other Funny Memories About Awful Moments by Kelly Oxford, 3/5 stars
Wallflower at the Orgy by Nora Ephron, 2/5 stars
Everywhere You Look: Discovering the Church Right Where You Are by Tim Soerens, 4/5 stars
Attempting Normal by Marc Maron, 3/5 stars
What Are We Doing Here? Essays by Marilynne Robinson, 3/5 stars
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, 3/5 stars
Look Alive Out There by Sloane Crosley, 4/5 stars
I’m Fine…and Other Lies by Whitney Cummings, 3/5 stars
How To Be An Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendy, 5/5 stars
Wine Girl: The Obstacles, Humiliations, and Triumphs of America’s Youngest Sommelier, by Victoria James, 3/5 stars
Dream Big: Know What You Want, Why You Want It, and What You’re Going to Do About It by Bob Goff, 4/5 stars
More Fun In The New World: The Unmaking And Legacy Of L.A. Punk by John Doe, 4/5 stars
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, 5/5 stars
Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies: And Other Rituals to Fix Your Life, from Someone Who’s Been There by Tara Schuster, 4/5 stars
“Multiplication Is for White People”: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children by Lisa Delpit, 4/5 stars
C.S. Lewis Essay Collection: Faith, Christianity and the Church by C.S. Lewis, 5/5 stars
The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers, 2/5 stars
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, 4/5 stars
Untamed, by Glennon Doyle, 4/5 stars
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull, 3/5 stars
Down With This Sort of Thing: How is the Gospel Good News in Contemporary Ireland? by Dr. Fraser Hosford, 4/5 stars
How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell, 4/5 stars
Give People Money: How a Universal Basic Income Would End Poverty, Revolutionize Work, and Remake the World, by Annie Lowrey, 3/5 stars
Conversations with Friends: A Novel, by Sally Rooney, 3/5 stars
You’re a Miracle (and a Pain in the Ass): Understanding the Hidden Forces That Make You You by Mike McHargue, 4/5 stars
Sing Backwards and Weep: A Memoir by Mark Lanegan. 3/5 stars
Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis. 4/5 stars
Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, by Tish Harrison Warren. 5/5 stars
Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets, & Advice for Living Your Best Life, by Ali Wong. 3/5 stars
Deep Ellum: The Other Side of Dallas, by Alan Govenar 4/5 stars
Here for It: How to Save Your Soul in America, Essays, by R. Eric Cole, 4/5 stars The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God, by Dallas Willard (2/5 stars)
The End of Youth Ministry?: Why Parents Don’t Really Care about Youth Groups and What Youth Workers Should Do about It, by Andrew Roots (3/5 stars)
Feel Free: Essays, by Zadie Smith (3/5 stars)
Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life After Which Everything Was Different, by Churck Palahniuk, (4/5 stars)
And I Don’t Want to Live This Life: A Mother’s Story of Her Daughter’s Murder, by Deborah Spungeon (3/5 stars)
The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World, by John Mark Comer (4/5 stars)
Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland, by Pasi Sahlberg (3/5 stars)
Student Ministry by the Book: Biblical Foundations for Student Ministry, by R. Scott Pace
Lego Build Yourself Happy: The Joy of Lego Play, by Abbie Headon (2/5 stars)
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, by Patrick Raddon Keefe (4/5 stars)
Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church, by Kenda Creasy Dean (4/5 stars)
Practicing Passion: Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church, by Kenda Creasy Dean (4/5 stars)
Everything Must Change, by Brian McLaren (3/5 stars)

Media Consumed in 2020:

Justified, seasons 1 & 2, FXX via Hulu
The Flight Attendant, season 1, HBOMax
No Direction Home (Bob Dylan Documentary, Parts 1 & 2) Netflix
Just Mercy, Movie, Amazon Prime
Space Force, Season 1, Netflix
Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, Movie, Hulu
Upload, Season 1, Amazon Prime
Schitt$ Creek, Full Series, Netflix
Outer Banks, Season 1, Netflix
Community, Full Series, Netflix
Miles Davis: The Birth of Cool, Netflix Documentary
Taylor Swift: Americana, Netflix Documentary
The Sopranos, HBO GO
Better Things, FXX
ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band from Texas, Netflix Documentary
Don’t Think Twice, Netflix
The Living Temple: Podcast
The Portland Sessions, John Mark Comer and Mark Sayers, Bridgetown Church Teaching Series “This Cultural Moment,” ongoing podcast
Avenue 5, HBO GO
Sunderland ‘Til I Die, Season 2, Netflix

Music I Listened to in 2020:

Rock Bash Playlist, Amazon Music
The Weakerthans, artist playlist, Amazon Music
Alternative House Party Playlist, Amazon Music
The Hold Steady, artist playlist, Amazon Music
Quaker City Nighthawks Station, Pandora
NOFX/Frank Turner, West Coast vs. Wessex collaborative album, Amazon Music
Micah Schnabel, Amazon Music
Pearl Jam, Gigaton, 2020
Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffiti (1994 Remaster)
Frank Turner, Be More Kind, 2018
Screaming Trees, Amazon Playlist
Social Distortion, Live at the Roxy, 1998

You’re Not Listening!

Sometimes I solicit blog topics on my social media, and today it’ll get kind of deep as my friend of over 40 years, Henry, asked this question: “What drives someone to blow up things instead of being part of a peaceful solution?”

I used to read to my little girls before bedtime. Often, their choice was some children’s storybook Bible.

On one particular night, the oldest had some questions about Jesus’ death and resurrection…to which I interpreted as a ploy to avoid lights out and hang with Dad some more. “We’ll discuss it over breakfast in the morning, sweetheart.”


“Listen. You have Mother’s Day Out tomorrow so you need to go to sleep…”

“No. Dad. For real…”

“Sweetie, I’m not goofing around here. Turn the light out and…”

She stood up in bed. My highly introspective, articulate and expressively reserved child (who probably did have some serious questions about a need for a substitutionary propitiation, mind you) STOOD in her bed, fists clenched by her side, and said through gritted teeth and whisper scream:





…TO ME!”

My wife came around the corner at that time and, equally as stunned as me, said, “Maybe you better talk to your daughter.”

See, the kid tried to ask some questions that were important to her, and the alleged authority in the room was dismissive and working his own agenda.

In my defense, it was a stay-up-late ploy that I’d gotten in trouble for on several previous occasions (causing the wife to come around the corner and give me that look.) but I was dismissing her without giving much thought to anything other that adherence to the bedtime schedule. She was frustrated by my dismissal of her questions to the degree that she was ready to do something to release that tension. I’m not sure what. Maybe fall down and cry? Punch a wall or me? Scream? But she wasn’t being heard, that’s for sure, and didn’t have any leverage to change the circumstance.

And that’s the essence of the answer to the question.

See, there comes a time when “peaceful solutions” hit their limits. Think about it for a second.

The guy at the bar who tried everything not to fight the drunk accusing him of something he didn’t do. When Auburn wanted to play the Iron Bowl on campus and Alabama said it would be played in Birmingham. The lunch-counter sit-ins during the Civil Rights Movement. The Black Lives Matter protests this summer. The Boston Tea Party.

I could continue, but you should get the idea. Sure. There are two sides to every story. The reality is that Huxley was correct when he said that liberties aren’t given, but taken.

But those without the leverage get tired of talking and not being heard, or patronized, or ignored. There’s a limit to what you can endure before a lid blows off. It takes various forms. A punch. A threat with some financial teeth and public opinion behind it. Moral outrage that turns a political tide. Shattered glass and Molotov cocktails. A bunch of rebels in a tavern organizing a lot of tea in a harbor.


Now that limit is different for everybody. It’s the very nature of the discussion of civil disobedience. When is enough…



And it creates a lot of tension because there aren’t really any easy answers. Sure. Occasionally, violent expression can be explained by the mental instability of the perpetrator. You know, the world became too much for somebody and they “snapped” and blew something up.

And, yes. There are a few opportunists in the mix. Always have been and always will be. You think some folks didn’t keep a few of the crates of tea for themselves up in Boston? Smart money says not all of it hit the harbor. Isn’t it funny how those in power see the Boston Tea Party as beautiful and the BLM protests and criminal?

But when that limit has been reached something has to give. And it gets messy…I have to wrestle with what our leaders do to “the least of these” systemically that prevent them from enjoying the America I get to have. I have to live in that tension between trying to hear the message and avoiding anarchy.

It can be as simple as when the Deltas in Animal House had the administration against them and doing a “futile and stupid gesture on somebody’s part.” Or a child being ignored by her dad. Or the location of a football game. Or turning the tide of public opinion. Or severing the ties of political connection. Something’s got to give at some point. In the end, talking only gets you so far. The line of where that “end” is will always be debated.

And we’d all do well to do more listening and trying to understand…

…and then doing what we can to fix broken systems.

Answering Three Quick Ones

Sometimes I’ll solicit blog ideas from my social media and the last time I did it there were two pretty heavy topics and three pretty lighthearted ones…I’ll tackle the shorter ones today and dive into the nature of evil and the inspiration for hope in the next couple of days.

First, Kevin asked where in the world I’d like to travel if money/time weren’t an issue. Many of you know I used to travel a good deal for work and have passport stamps from some pretty unique places but here are, in order, the places I’d still like to check off:

  1. Australia. I’ve seen the pictures and would definitely like to go to the cities of Sydney and Melbourne. I’m not much for the outback, but I’d love to see what all the fuss is about. Bonus: there are some pretty cool innovations in the way church is being done there with some very forward thinking pastors that I’d like to see.
  2. The Camino de Santiago, French route (31 days). I was going to go last summer (thanks, Covid) but I’m the kind of person that thrives on being alone and having space/time to think…but I don’t want to sit in a cabin or hotel room somewhere. This is perfect. Cheap. Walking about 15 miles a day. There are other people if you do want to engage.
  3. Machu Pichu, Inca Trail hike (5 days). Same as The Camino, just shorter. I’ve also never been to South America so bonus points.
  4. Japan. Only had a layover there and it wasn’t long enough to get out of the airport. Seems like a place I’d enjoy…and I would definitely take in a ball game there!
  5. China. This is kind of a “because I feel like I ought to” kind of addition. You know, see the Great Wall and such. But really only if I was headed to Hong Kong and/or Singapore I’d add it into the trip.

Next, Jeff asked about my top-5 women in rock and roll. Again, in order:

  1. This list begins and ends with Chrissie Hynde. The Pretenders are an amazing band, and her life is like Forrest Gump. Everything from Kent State to trying to marry Sid Vicious for a work permit to still making great music for five decades (and the last Pretenders album–Hate for Sale last July–is really, really good)
  2. A close second for me is Exene Cervenka. Okay, I know you’ve never heard of her. And that’s a shame. Because X is one of the best American bands of all time, IMHO. They’ve been at it since 1978 and their album last year, Alphabetland, is really, really good, too. She’s their lead singer…and she started their concert in Dallas (10 years ago) by saying, “Wow. You guys have gotten a lot older since the last time I saw you…and I’m a grandma.” They’ve never stopped touring.
  3. Tie: Kim Gordon and Kim Deal. These two, man. Sonic Youth and the Pixies/Breeders. They are truly influential musicians and songwriters, producers (Kim Gordon produced Hole’s excellent first album), actors, fashion designers. Everything you’d want artists to be.
  4. Tie: Ann & Nancy Wilson. Heart. These two put together some of the best albums beginning to end. Took that Led Zeppelin structure and made it their own. Great guitarists and songwriters that inspired a lot of young women to pick up a guitar.
  5. Five-way Tie: The Go-Go’s. Simply the best all-girl band that wrote their own songs. Not at all what their videos painted them out to be, and Belinda Carlisle is a punk of the highest order. Catchy songs, excellent musicians. How this band isn’t in the Hall of Fame shows exactly what a joke the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is.

Lastly, Tyler asked what I don’t understand about people his age (Millennials) and what I respect about them.

What I Don’t Understand: The fascination with phones/screen time. The results are in, man. The amount of time spent texting, TikTok-ing, game playing, Tinder-ing, Instagram-ing, all of it. It affects social interactions, sleep patterns, mental health (the constant barrage of information isn’t good for you) personal esteem (comparing your real life to social media lives of others) and is even shown to change the way the brain is wired in some studies. And this doesn’t even factor in the loss of potential creative space (so much innovation comes from being bored and letting the mind just GO) or development of personal relationships. I simply don’t understand the infatuation with the pocket computers.

What I admire: The reality that the Millennials are championing the idea that the America us GenXers and Booomers experienced isn’t their experience (you know, like when my state-school university could be paid for by working a minimum-wage job for the summer)…and all that entails. The focus on work/life balance, enjoying the “now,” exposing and working to change things so America makes room for the oppressed, exposing and working to change churches. I’m not sure why the Boomers are so reluctant to make room for their leadership. (Spoken like a true, “whatever, man” GenXer who just looks at both sides–while being ignored–and can’t figure out how to let the olds let the kids have their say…just like the Boomers demanded when they were their age.)

Sunday Mind Vitamin: Rituals & Results

There’s an article in Today’s New York Times about “divinity consultants in the workplace.” The main idea is that people are spiritually adrift (and not only because of Covid-19, although that is mentioned as a contributor) in life and work, so some companies are hiring spiritual guides to bring “spiritual richness” to the workplace.

So many ways I could go with this topic. I’ll start with the premise: That people are spiritually adrift.

I tend to agree. Overall, the Church isn’t growing. Oh, and please don’t try to argue that with me. I’ve done academic research. The only issue is to how steep the decline actually is. And you know what I hear when I say that? “But…OUR church is growing! We’ve grown 5% per year the last three years!” My response: What are you measuring? I guarantee you it’s Sunday worship service attendance. You do realize all that tells you is that you have a worship service that’s attractive to people of your theological bent. Which is good, for sure. But it isn’t Kingdom growth.

Oh, yeah. And can you tell me if that 5% are new believers who now attend or if they simply migrated from other churches? Spoiler alert: They can’t…but they could if they wanted to. I think that’s important.

So, yes. That leaves many as spiritually adrift…and companies see this as an opportunity for their brand to be compassionate and to highlight capitalism’s ability to have a moral center of sorts. So they hire folks with divinity degrees as, for simplicity’s sake, office chaplains.

Because they understand that ritual is important in people’s lives.

At Harvard Divinity School, scholars have been studying the trend away from organized religion for decades. Their consensus is that while attendance at formal services is at a historic low, people are still looking for meaning and spirituality.

(note: it’s a given that service attendance is at an historic low)

People are (and always have been) looking for meaning. This falls in line with Pascal’s “God-shaped vacuum” and Romans 1. I agree wholeheartedly. The unfortunate reality is that churches haven’t been effective in discipleship–which causes people to become disillusioned and eventually drift away. We promise an abundant life and then unintentionally reduce that to services and small group attendance and mission trips and serving somewhere on Sundays rather than stripping away the ecclesial trappings to focus on what practices allow for fully following Jesus Christ into that abundant life He pretty clearly mentioned is why He came. Check John 10:10.

Anyway, the response of these workplace chaplains is to focus on the formative nature of rhythms.

The Sacred Design Lab trio use the language of faith and church to talk about their efforts. They talk about organized religion as a technology for delivering meaning.

“The question we ask is: ‘How do you translate the ancient traditions that have given people access to meaning-making practices, but in a context that is not centered around the congregation?’” Mr. ter Kuile said.

See, we all have rhythms. Daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. Some are personal. Some are corporate. Some folks wake up & have coffee and ease into the day. Others wake up, shower, eat and head to the office. Some take the long bike ride every Saturday. Some take the yearly family vacation. These personal rhythms form us.

Same for our corporate rhythms. Super Bowl Sunday. July 4. MLK holiday. Back-to-school.  Football season tailgates or Friday afternoon Happy Hours. Some go to church or mosques or temples every week. Elections & voting. Crossfit. These are things we do as citizens of a country or with like-minded people that also form us.

But did you notice the phrase “translate ancient traditions…?”

This is where the Church can and should shine. Christians have a long and varied history of spiritually formative practice that are so very easily translated into our times. These are well-documented, and are both personal and corporate in how they manifest themselves.

And these rhythms are designed to bring us to a right relationship with Jesus Christ. Nothing less will suffice. Nothing less should suffice.

See, the article rightly points out the limitations of an office-based spirituality, namely the inability to create authentic community (“Can we be in deep community if I can fire you?”) and a boutique approach to spiritual life (“…people pick what they want from different faiths and incorporate it into their lives — a little Buddhism here, a little kabbalah there. It is consumer-driven religiosity.”).

And again, this is where articles like this tell us what we already know: The Church can create authentic community and provide a response to the God-shaped vacuum that people have. And they can do it in ways the corporate context can’t.

This is the hope the Church offers the world. This is what gives me hope. I believe in the Church. And the I’ll continue to bang the drum of discipleship. Effective discipleship. One that doesn’t make it easier for believers to come and fill up seats on Sunday and then head to lunch and go on with their lives until the next week and leaves them disillusioned.

But rather one that teaches the “why” of rhythm. One that teaches the “how” of rhythm. One that teaches the “Who” of rhythm. So that people will truly love God and all that entails. So that people will truly love their neighbor and all that entails.

Spoiler alert: you’ll lose a lot of yourself in those pursuits.

But one that teaches so much more than smelling cloves to celebrate getting a domain name or creating funerals for failed projects. Because that’s disillusioning in its very own way.

The bottom line is that, in either case, ritual for the sake of ritual eventually fades and highlights a spiritual hunger.

The church would do well to focus on substantive practice in the way of Jesus. He said it Himself: Feed my sheep. Right?


Bands of My Life

The drive-time sports radio hosts on The Ticket (sports-adjacent talk shows all day here in Dallas) started doing a segment once a week where each personality answers the following questions about the music that influenced them. Since those of you here at The Diner are well aware of my love of a myriad of musical styles, I thought I’d insert myself into their discussion.

And feel free to make your own list and post it on the venue of your choice!

On to the questions.

Band I Hate: Florida Georgia Line. Granted, I’m not much of a country music fan, but what’s being championed today is just rock with fiddles. This style of bro-country is an abomination that would make the country music legends roll in their graves. Not that I feel strongly about it or anything…

Band I Think Is Overrated: Boston. One album that had three good songs on it, sold a gazillion copies and let that one album ride the charts for nearly two years? Meh.

Band I Think is Underappreciated: X. This band has been doing it for 40 years and I am still floored that most people have never heard of them. So many truly great songs (I’m looking at you See How We Are, 4th of July, and the entire Los Angeles album) and they never really stopped touring. I guess maybe their deep association with punk pigeonholed them and kept people from listening to them. But they play so many different styles (see their 2020 release Alphabetland) there’s something for everybody to like. Big fun live, too.

Band I Love: The Hold Steady. They’ve been at it over 20 years, but somehow they slipped under my radar. Other musicians talk about how they are such fantastic storytelling songwriters and I gave them a listen. Now I can’t get enough of them. I even like that they innovated a touring style where they stay in a city for five days and only tour like 10 cities. People have said they’re a cross between The E-Street Band and the Replacements. Others have said they’re the best bar band of all-time. I think they’re both right. I was going to see them in Nashville in June. Thanks a lot, COVID.

Band I Can Listen To Over And Over Again: The Replacements. I don’t know if it’s the nostalgia of it all or what, but I got into this band when I was in college and they were a pretty consistent soundtrack. But I can have Alexa shuffle their music all day and never hear a song I don’t like or get tired of it, so here they are.

Band That Made Me Fall In Love With Music: Aersosmith. I have no idea how 7-year-old me got a copy of their initial album but it had “Dream On” on it, and when I heard “Same Old Song and Dance” on the radio, I was all in. I bought all their albums and they got heavy play in my childhood. That bluesy, guitar-driven rock somehow fired up something in my brain that made me want more of it. I will distance from everything they did after Walk This Way with Run-DMC, however.

Band That Changed My Life: The Ramones. I discovered punk not long after my dad died (I think it was the summer before my freshman year of high school, so it must’ve taken punk three or four years to get to suburban Alabama pre-MTV) and for the first time I heard music that sounded like I felt. When I put the needle down on their debut album and heard “Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!” it was all over for me. They were a gateway to a long list of punk bands that I couldn’t get enough of, the people who accepted all comers as long as you really loved the band, the speaking truth to power, and all that came along with it. All. Of. It.

Band That Surprised Me: Cold War Kids. I make a serious effort to get to shows to see supporting acts because you never know who you’ll discover. I was at a festival with Kid1 over 10 years ago and let her know that I wanted to see Beck (and we both were pumped to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers after him) and she took us to a stage where she knew of some cool bands. Cold War Kids opened for Beck (and followed M. Ward and Regina Spektor so Kid1 picked a great lineup for us on day 1) and I’ve seen them four times since. They’re fantastic and seem to get better. I saw

Guilty Pleasure: KISS. They were the first concert I ever saw and 11-year-old me was blown away by the pure spectacle of it all. I only wish I’d saved all the albums, posters and such in pristine condition. I could likely retire.

Band I Should Have Seen By Now: The B-52’s. They were kind of ubiquitous in the South when I was in college and seemed like they were always playing within a couple of hours of driving. Because of that I never made them a priority. Everybody that’s seen them and told me about it lets me know that I should’ve. They’re on the list.

Great Band To See Live: Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls. It has been so cool to see them go from opening for Social Distortion (the band that came on after them started by saying, “Um. Yeah. We didn’t know we were going to have to follow THAT. Wow!”) to supporting act to headlining. It was cool in the early days to go to shows and see them manning their own merch tables and having drinks at the bar after the show with fans…which, in some cases they still do. I’ve seen them 10 times and they’ve never disappointed and had some nights that were truly transcendent. I’ve seen him do acoustic shows, storytelling shows, and shows that felt like a riot was about to break out. He’s great every single time in every single venue…but I gotta admit the most fun was when he played a pop up show in Fort Worth after he became a headliner and to see him in a club again was one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to.

Alright, kids, there’s my list…how about posting yours either in the comments here or in other social media? This’ll be fun.

The Amusement Park for Clinical Narcissists and Caldron of Self-Absorption

Let’s talk a little bit about social media, shall we? On social media. I get it.

I mean, we intellectually assent to a few realities. Like how the posts give us everybody’s best selves. We see vacation spots. We see the happy family grad photos. We see the athletic accomplishment. We don’t see the sunburn, the family fight before the ceremony, or the awful day on the pitch. There’s even a term sociologists use (Instagram Effect) to call the lonely feeling we get when we compare the outside lives of others to our normal life, leading to both loneliness and FOMO.

We also are aware that it’s a limited medium for discussion. 240 characters isn’t enough to really develop a thought, and the threads can be tough to follow. The comments section can get off track in a hurry. The same bumper-sticker shared memes don’t allow for nuanced reflection.

We are aware that social media is an “echo chamber” that–more or less–reflects the thoughts and opinions of our friends/followers. Moira Rose (played by the amazing Catherine O’Hara–who is right up there with Gilda Radner, IMO), using the flamboyant vocabulary to express her opinions in the show Schitt’s Creek referred to social media as both “an amusement park for clinical narcissists” and a “caldron of self-absorption.” It’s funny because it’s true, right? Really. Who do we know that’s changed their mind because of a post? I’ll wait.

But now that I’ve cleared what we do know from the docket, I want to share with you some deeper realties that I discovered while reading the book You’re a Miracle (and a Pain in the Ass): Embracing the Emotions, Habits, and Mystery That Make You You (Kindle edition) by Mike McHargue. He’s also known as “Science Mike” on the popular podcast The Liturgists.

First, social media is designed to move the stuff that will keep your attention to primary spots in your feed (page 106). They want eyeballs on their page for as long as they can keep them so you’ll see the ads that make the money. So, they moved from a chronological presentation of information to one that uses an algorithm to determine what you like and don’t like.

One of the biggest attention holders is using that algorithm to bring about moral outrage. That will keep our attention and get comments going. To be sure, moral outrage can get movements going (history shows this to be true, but always in the context of people connecting in small groups to develop a strategy and take time to develop as those groups grow larger), but social media is “unnatural in frequency and intensity.” (page 107).

The clicks, likes and comments are blended into the algorithm to get people going on both sides of the issue, nothing gets resolved (they want the argument to keep you on the page longer) and the end result is the owners of the media company get rich. There’s no financial incentive to care about what this unnatural form of discussion is doing to people’s mental health.

Moral outrage creates activity deep in our brains. It’s potent because it has a social component, and politics and religion play a key role in people’s sense of identity and belonging. Outrage makes us feel like a good person (“I care! I won’t stand for this!”), and at the same time it makes us feel like a part of a group. It also offers us a foil in the form of someone who is clearly wrong from our perspective.

McHargue, Mike. You’re a Miracle (and a Pain in the Ass) (p. 107). Kindle Edition.

The unnatural frequency and intensity aren’t healthy for us. At all.

Second, there’s the compulsion side of things. We don’t let our brains go to silence and solitude and even boredom. We follow the Vegas-style design of our phones and pick them up to check social media rather than allow our brains to do what they do when they have time: usually something creative or insightful or pushing us to think deeply or any number of helpful things. Compulsions can become addictions. Even if they don’t, they create an image of stability rather than us dealing with our stuff. I touched on this a bit in earlier posts so I won’t get too much detail going here. I’ll just leave this quote:

We engage in compulsions because they offer relief from anxiety. An afternoon donut, looking at Instagram every fifteen minutes, and plucking the hair from your arms all offer an escape from a moment of anxiety or boredom. That means almost any behavior that offers some relief from anxiety can become a compulsion, whether it’s food, sex, video games, or even something as benign as reading.

McHargue, Mike. You’re a Miracle (and a Pain in the Ass) (p. 55). Kindle Edition.

Ever stopped to ask yourself what you’re escaping from and dealing with it?

Lastly, for today anyway, social media is crushing our sleep–and we all know how important sleep is to our brains and emotional well-being. We take our phones to bed and stream shows (that have no commercial breaks and are designed to keep us bingeing–Netflix gives you less than 10 seconds to make a decision on whether or not to keep watching) and check social media and get outraged (or follow someone else’s outrage).

Our brains have a few systems for regulating our wake/sleep cycle. The primary system is based on light. Is it any wonder that staring into a bright light into the late evening and night makes it hard for your brain to move into a sleep cycle? For hundreds of millions of years, the sun was the sole source of bright light on this planet, and our bodies evolved to use that light as a clock. Today, we’ve hijacked those systems, and we’re unhealthy for it.

McHargue, Mike. You’re a Miracle (and a Pain in the Ass) (p. 111). Kindle Edition.

So, why did I choose to go down this road today?

Because I’m in a place where I’m starting to get serious about regulating social media. Yes. It’s a place we need to be. Yes. It’s something that has benefits. Yes. It can help build and maintain relationships.

But it has limits.

It has real dangers we need to be aware of.

And we need to consider how we use it and what it does to us so we can make decisions about what we want it to do for us rather than let it dictate what it will do to us.

Your thoughts?

An Open Letter

This is intended for my white friends. Anyone can read it, but my audience is specific.

My Dear Friends,

I love you.

I’m sorry, and I’m asking for your forgiveness.

And I’m sure I’ll mess this up and people will get hurt. But speaking out is better than nothing. And if I’m hurtful or say the wrong thing…I hope you’ll show me grace. I’m still learning.

Unfortunately, it took two recent events to start a discussion with Tracy about the time to speak out on racism. I’ve seen LOTS of tear-gas situations on the news since the 1970s…but not one where my daughter was in the mix. I’ve heard lots of stories from friends who are fearful about their child/spouse/friend leaving the house to go jogging or shopping…but hearing my daughter say it about the man she loves hits me differently. Again, please note that the ideal me should’ve said something sooner.

And I’m sorry my daughters had to ask me to say something publicly before I did. My rationale went something like this: “Name one person who’s ever changed their mind because of something they read on Facebook.” Or “I’m not a pastor anymore, I’m just a high school teacher.” Or “I am not the least bit interested in virtue-signaling or performative allyship.” Funny how a little tear gas or fear-in-the-eyes will change the mental narrative.

I’m sorry for my silence on matters of race. 

I’m a poster-child for white privilege. Being raised in suburban Birmingham allowed me to view the Civil Rights movement from safe, social binoculars. We took field trips to Linn Park in school. I’ve run my hand on the bricks of the 16th Street Baptist Church. I’ve sat in a replica of the jail cell where Dr. King penned his letter. The Civil Rights movement was academic to us. I never had dogs charge at me or felt the pressure of a firehose or experienced a concussive explosion or got cuffed and sent to jail. So, we heard stories and climbed back on the bus and rode back to our free-range childhoods.

Those busses took me safely back to a stacked-deck system that benefitted me. I half-assed my education–because of my privilege I could–and never really gave Manifest Destiny or the Trail of Tears or the Lincoln-Douglas debates much (re: none) thought beyond the grade I needed to get to get the diploma I needed to get to go to the college I was expected to go to because my maternal grandfather sent his three kids to college and my paternal grandparents sent their four kids to college. 

Debt-free degrees are conferred. Good jobs follow. Networks develop. Patterns repeat. I could live and die and me and mine had it pretty good. These are explanations, not excuses.

I am only now, at age 54, scratching the surface of an understanding of my prejudices and biases that still knee-jerk into my brain from years of this privilege. I mean, I thought I was educated regarding racial issues. I took the field trips. I read the books and watched the speeches. I encouraged others to read and watch! But I wasn’t fully educated. I could pat myself on the back because I grew up in Birmingham and knew racism was wrong. But I didn’t do the get-your-hands-dirty work of learning how the systems (that let me and mine have it pretty good) hurt the least of these. I could always go back to a safe free-range adulthood. I’m early in my journey on this, so I’m spending a great deal of time unlearning.

Which necessitates new learning and new ways of thinking as I deliberately try to detox my racist thinking and actions. There’s a lot of reading of books (Ta-Nehisi Coates is an author I particularly like that helps me see different perspectives) and watching a lot of documentaries that are on all the ubiquitous lists these days…and making a concerted effort to discover art that my formal education neglected or my own interests ignored. 

So, let me break my silence on a few things:

Right off the bat, just so we’re clear, racism is a sin. It is an affront to God. And, as much as we may not like to admit it, the consequences of that sin results in systems of oppression and we are all called to stand against it as a follower of Christ.

First, I am learning to see people’s pain differently in this moment. My empathy toward all oppressed people is growing. I am listening…and I do not like what I’m hearing when it comes to bigotry, hatred, fear and racism. I am only now educating myself on redlining and bank loans. The police brutality in this country is horrific. The funding of public education being based on property taxes is racist. While it’s hard for me to get my arms around a phrase like “systemic oppression,” when you start to see the specific ways it shows up, then you can dive in deep as to how you want to work to fight. But we have to educate ourselves. We have to do the work, find where the system is broken, and do what we can to fix it.

You may need to change the way you vote, too. Previously, my voting (on the national level and I have NEVER voted a straight ticket) in the 9 presidential elections was 3 times Republican, 3 times Democrat, 2 times Libertarian and 1 write-in (a throw-away vote as I didn’t like any option). In almost every mid-term election, I voted against the incumbent representatives. When I lived in the suburbs, I usually voted for some friend I knew running for whatever or somebody my friends knew and were really excited about. I’ve since learned not to be so cavalier with my ballot. Since I’ve moved downtown, we’ve engaged more in the process. We’ve been to dinners with candidates and meet & greets and community meetings about the new train line–mostly when I was tired and hungry and didn’t really want to go. We need our votes to be about what we’re FOR, not what we’re against. And they have to be informed and they have to be about more than just one issue.

Second, we need to begin thinking through how we apply the Biblical truths I’ve taught and believed over the last 30 years. My “stump speech” included truths about the Imago Dei of every person, about how in the Church there is “neither Jew nor Greek,” about how we’re all a masterpiece created by God, about how the Sermon on the Mount is a manifesto for change.

See, if we took that seriously, we might take a look at paying more in taxes (or donating more to charity) for the good of our society. To help “the least of these” or “love our neighbors as ourselves.” I think we can admit that what is happening now highlights that things aren’t working to break oppressive systems. There are a lot of ideas out there to fix some of them, such as Universal Basic Income. Or universal healthcare. Or paid sick leave. Or fixing a broken immigration system. It’s a long road and it requires nuanced discussions…but we need to be having them and to be open to being uncomfortable. How do we advocate for Kingdom values in our system? What does it look like to move toward FDR’s belief that the “test of our progress is measured by how we treat those ‘who have too little?'”

Lastly, we need to diversify our friend group & our experiences. I teach at an inner city high school (my scholars generally speak two languages fluently and are learning everything in their second language, so they blow me away every single day) with more diversity than I ever had in all my formal education. I live in a more diverse community. I have more diverse friends to hang out with. I have grown so much through uncomfortable conversations over dinner with the neighbors (we did that more in two months than we did in 17 years in the suburbs), or chats with work colleagues (who are all seemingly half my age), or hanging out with a homeless guy to hear his story, or shopping local and paying more, etc. And we’re all going to have to sacrifice and we’re all going to have to change. And it’ll be painful. It’ll hurt a lot. Loving our neighbors is hard…

…and worth it.

Maybe I’ll leave it here for now. My guess is that this is just the starting point.

Please know that I am learning–and unlearning. I’m glad my daughters and friends put me in spots where I’m uncomfortable and have to deal with my own heart and mind.

I’m so very sorry for my silence and any pain that silence caused you. I can only ask for your forgiveness.

And promise to be better.

And, yes. I love you more than words can express.




C.S. Lewis, My Friend Mark, and Tina Fey

Okay. I’ll go cliche here.

The decline of ‘religion’ is no doubt a bad thing for the ‘World.’ By it all the things that made England a fairly happy country are, I suppose, endangered: the comparative purity of her public life, the comparative humanity of her police, and the possibility of some mutual respect and kindness between political opponents. But I am not clear that it makes conversions to Christianity rarer or more difficult: rather the reverse. It makes the choice more unescapable.

Back to the cliche. Was that in yesterday’s New York Times? 

Surprise! (not really…just go with it)

I read it yesterday in C.S. Lewis. Essay Collection: Faith, Christianity and the Church in an essay titled “The Decline of Religion.” (If you’re interested, you can listen to an audio version here). It was written in 1946.

Nearly 75 years ago.

In sum, the essay discusses Oxford undergraduates ditching chapel services after they were no longer mandatory and how that “reveals a situation that has always existed”: That maybe our culture has never really been all that religious. That maybe there were other factors that led the church to believe she was doing better than she really was. But at the same time, little pockets of revival were breaking through at the time that cause a degree of excitement in that now folks would be able to make a more clear choice. That’s me paraphrasing Lewis, BTW.

And, yes, I covered some ground toward that end in my dissertation. See, I needed to establish the practices that led to spiritual maturity. One implication might be that if someone was growing, they’d continue to attend their church. Conversely, if churches weren’t doing that, there would be an exodus of sorts.

So, I did a lot of research on church attendance trends. Some were “sky is falling.” Some were “this is kind of cyclical/normal.” I won’t dive too deep into my own personal views here. Suffice to say that I believe there’s a 3% (or so) decline–which is REALLY troublesome. What I can say for sure is that, like Brad Griffin states, “To summarize, no major Christian tradition is growing in the United States today. A few denominations are managing to hold steady, but that’s as good as it gets.”

And, to re-emphasize, IF “holding steady” is acceptable, we’ve got bigger problems. My suspicion is that “holding steady” is being very generious.

In fact, my friend Mark Matlock wrote an excellent book last year called Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon in which he and co-author David Kinnaman report Barna Research Group’s findings as follows among young people ages 18-29:

  1. 22% consider themselves ex-Christians (Prodigals)
  2. 30% are unchurched (Nomads)
  3. 38% are habitual churchgoers (which, interestingly is defined as once per month)
  4. 10% are resilient disciples.

Yeah. Do the math. The church doesn’t seem to be doing that great at the one thing it’s charged to do: make disciples. Every business book out there says the first thing a business needs to do is face the brute facts. Surely this is something to consider.

And, as I’ve gotten in trouble for saying, I don’t blame people for leaving their church if it falls short of helping them engage in the truly abundant life found by living in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. That’s on us, man.

But, like Tina Fey says in her essay Tina Fey’s Rules of Improvisation That Will Change Your Life and Reduce Belly Fat* in her book Bossypants, there are no mistakes, only opportunities. Something great can come from the improvisational comedy dance even if it feels like the whole scene is coming apart. Fey notes, “In improv there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents. And many of the world’s greatest discoveries have been by accident. Take Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups…”

Okay…so, here’s where C.S. Lewis and Tina Fey collide.

Lewis is correct when he says in the essay that the decline was due to a myriad of factors, but the reality is that there is a revival happening at the same time. In other words, now is a great opportunity to rescue the “scene.”

See, before the pandemic, while we were at best “holding steady” (read: really in decline but I’m being conservative here), there were a lot of positive things I was seeing on the fringe. Youth ministry publishing is becoming saturated with important works (yes, I gave a list to one of my professors last summer of all the book the library needed) on making disciples. There are encouraging signs that pastors are starting to see that their sermons are part of a formative process rather than the raison d’etre of the church. The importance of loving your neighbor via the job, the hobby, the involvements, etc. is being nodded toward. The importance of becoming “rooted” in place and embracing life as an exile in a land where the Christian worldview isn’t the majority opinion is being talked about.

Pockets of revival.

On the fringe.

Where all great movements start.

And times of crisis have an ability to accelerate changes that were already in motion.

Just keep that in mind, patrons.

As C.S. Lewis noted, “But it is the early days. Neither our armour  nor our enemies’ is yet engaged. Combatants always tend to imagine the war is further on than it really is.”

But that was 75 years ago…

…excited yet?