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.

 

 

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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?

 

The Recalibration of Brent McKinney

Apps were involved. Spreadsheets, too. Scales. Blood work & physician check-ins. Workout charts. Diet plans. I was on it.

Dropped forty pounds in six months back in 2012.

High-fives and compliments all around.

What no one knew was that my goal was fifty pounds. Those last ten are still with me.

It isn’t like I forgot all the principles involved in losing weight that all ultimately boil down to “eat better and exercise more.” I just started shrugging my shoulders and enjoying consistent cheats.

Getting serious about losing those last ten doesn’t require new information or new apps or better scales or a new doctor/nutritionist. I just need to get serious about all that again. Recalibrate.

The dictionary describes recalibration “to calibrate again.” It defines calibrate this way: “correlate the readings of (an instrument) with those of a standard in order to check the instrument’s accuracy. adjust (experimental results) to take external factors into account or to allow comparison with other data.”

And on my spiritual pursuit of the last year, it isn’t like I learned a whole lot of new things about myself or God on my trip from professional pastor to full-time school teacher. It really was adjusting the experimental results and comparing the data to make sure the readings were accurate.

Since several of you have asked me to tell you what I learned about myself and God during this time, well, I wish I could say it was a time of new learning and mystical insights, but it is really just recalibration…but here they are nonetheless:

God is a God of the eleventh-hour. He doesn’t give me much more than a flashlight for the footpath. As much as I’d love floodlights and a GPS, God has me waking up, trusting Him and doing the next thing. After about a year of that and a raised eyebrow that any prayers would be answered, He’s all, “Here ya go. Now you have it.”

God moves me from theorist to practitioner. I spent years talking about living a life on mission, loving God, and loving neighbors…all the while having fits and starts that never really went anywhere. Now, well, it’s an hourly reality.

My vision was too small. Look. We all know the little “c” church in the U.S. is in (depending on the stats you accept) deep trouble or long-term malaise. I am a change agent. It’s deep in my bones. One of my professors calls it a “holy dissatisfaction with the status quo.” I’ve been barking about this and trying to affect change in congregations I worked for…when what I need to be doing is prepping students to fix it on a much larger scale. If you want large-scale change, the academy is where those discussions start and become implemented and change agents gather there. So, let’s dance and you folks better buckle up…my edge is back in spades.

The little “c” church better get it together. Diving into the job search again, and seeing about 30 churches up close as a graduate teaching assistant in the seminary residency class, let me see just how resistant they are to change. It was funny to see a job I applied for open again eight months later, and they posted the same job description and process that caused them to be looking to fill that role after only eight months. Don’t even get me started on the number of churches who can’t articulate their plan for discipleship or design systems to create them. The number of pastors who would leave their job if they could make the same pay doing something else would startle you. Now I have research and stats to back these things up. Youth ministries hold a mirror up to these things. Again, buckle up babies. My dissertation is shaping up to be a Molotov cocktail.

I had a narrow view of my gift. I had a very particular view of my teaching gift and how it should be used. What this means is that I’d seen it normally gravitate to pastoral roles in a little “c” church. A gift like that can be equally effective, if not moreso, in a high-school public classroom even (especially?) if it isn’t overt.

My spiritual life is better since I’m not in church leadership. I can’t explain this really, but it was a pleasant surprise. After 28 years of serving a church, it was pretty nice to hear a sermon rather than prepare three lessons a week. It was nice to enjoy a service instead of critique it for the Monday morning review. It was nice to participate in the Lord’s Supper without having to refill trays with tiny plastic cups and juice. I took a little break from larger gatherings, too, which was incredibly life-giving. My small group, my bible study group of expats, my seminary profs, and some new sermon podcasts kept me in check during the break. But I gotta say the rhythms of the rank and file are a good fit for me in this life station.

God speaks to me through His Word and His people. Still no audible voices or burning bushes or writing on the wall for me…and it wasn’t for lack of asking for them. I always feel like those would be faster and easier so I ask for them. Instead, my answers come from listening to others and their insights. This is why staying in community during my self-imposed exile is valuable. I spent more time over tables, adult beverages, and other conversations for the express purpose of wanting to hear from Him through His people. He didn’t disappoint, as insights and encouragement were steady in the process.

My wife is a great teammate. She puts up with a lot of nonsense being married to me, that’s for sure. But she gets it. Sell a house and move downtown? Okay. Have a small freak out over the lack of clarity? “I’m not worried. It’ll all come together.” Get bent out of shape because churches do and say dumb things in interview processes? “Maybe this isn’t the thing for you anymore.” Decide to take a break from large church gatherings? “Maybe this is what you need for now.” Start the last half of you life as a first-year high school teacher? “See? I told you it would all come together.” I gotta say that decision to ask her to marry me back in 1987 was a good one, and I’m really glad she said yes and stuck around. Lesser women would’ve been gone long ago.

 

So, that’s it, kids.

It isn’t rocket science. It isn’t new insight. Just a recalibration…but to get things working right sometimes that’s what’s gotta happen.

I’m glad it did…and I’m looking forward to seeing how this all plays out.

Plot Twist!

A funny thing happened on the journey between who I used to be and who I’m becoming. Lemme back up for those of you new to the story.

This all started a little over a year ago. I was feeling antsy professionally…and in my experience that meant that significant changes were afoot.  So, I decided to pursue my doctorate and give myself five years to figure it all out. That process necessitated some soul-searching.

The short version is that Tracy and I discovered a lot about ourselves (with the help of some professionals and some friends, and some professionals who have since become friends)…which mostly started with the ideas that neither of us were being who we were created to be or doing work that aligned with who we are and what we’re about. Translation: I needed to walk away from a job that I enjoyed (both the people and the work) and take a blind leap of faith into the next thing. I’d done that a couple of times before and things turned out well, so why not?

So, we sold the home and moved downtown to a loft to figure things out…as one does, right? No plan. Just trust God and do the next thing.

Which, in my mind, meant searching for a full-time job in a church amidst a smorgasbord of reading and classwork for the dissertation. I’d done that before, too. Web sites. Resumes/cover letters. An hour a day…ish. Reading: 2-4 hours a day…ish. Writing as needed. Hanging out on our cool roof watching cool sunsets and thinking deep thoughts: A half-hour to an hour a day…ish…

…which is as romantic as it sounds…

…for about two months.

Then you begin to doubt in the darkness what was told to you in the light. The rejections from churches were fast & furious and rarely explained (unless you were too old, then they thought they’d encourage you by saying, “you’re perfect for the job…just older than our committee wants.”–FYI: this is in no way encouraging). The bank account is dwindling no matter how responsible you’re being. You’re back at square one once or twice a week with no job, no prospects except the resumes you sent that day and a pile of reading to do and papers to write.

So, you now try to trust God, do the next thing, and try some new things.

So, to put a tourniquet on the bank account I started substitute teaching in addition the being a graduate teaching assistant at the seminary. I quickly got tired of “independent study” (read: give them laptops and they quietly surf) and started asking teachers for the lessons a day in advance and I’d teach. Word got around to the staff that you didn’t have to lose a day of instruction and I became a “preferred substitute,” meaning I worked every day at the same high school.

Flash back: When people used to ask me what I’d do if I weren’t working full-time for a church…I’d shrug and say, “I dunno. Probably teach high school English. Maybe coach baseball.”

Flash forward: The leadership and staff at the high school campus in Deep Ellum was encouraging me to get the necessary certification to work there. “You just fit our culture,” they said. “You have the part of teachers that we can’t teach,” they said.

And, last Friday I went through the final part of the interview process–a demonstration teaching session. I figured they’d watch/grade, communicate to the main office, and I’d know in a week or two if I’d made the cut.

Turns out, I waited 20 minutes, they offered me a job. 24 hours later the papers were signed, sealed and delivered.

Starting July 24, I’ll be teaching high school juniors at Uplift Luna High School. I couldn’t be more thrilled.

And, over the next few days, I’ll be blogging about all the lessons I learned in the process. But know that over the next few months, I’ll be hounding a lot of you to load my classroom up with all the Post-It notes and notepads and staplers and pens and pencils and paper your company uses for promotional purposes…

…because I intend to maximize the benefits of who I was for the person I’m becoming–which begins with getting my new students the tools they’ll need to become who they’re created to be. That’s what I’ve always done, when you think about it. That hasn’t changed. It won’t change, I don’t think. Nonetheless,

Here’s to new beginnings…

It’s A Long Road Up to Recovery From Here, A Long Way Back to the Line…

A lot of social media highlighted how uncomfortable 2016 was in the big-picture sense.

I’m far afield from humanity on this. There were deaths of people who wrote books I didn’t read, performed music I didn’t listen to, made movies I didn’t watch, and athletes whose prime preceded my understanding. There were political events that my GenX cynicism of institutions and politicians protected me from experiencing the vitriol others seem to have. There were heartbreaking world events but I remember Live Aid, so each year brings those, too…your heart just breaks for different tribes. So in the big-picture of things 2016 seemed like a pretty normal year to me.

For me, 2016 deviated from the script in that it treated me like a parent treats their graduating senior in late July before heading off to college. Every little thing became a life lesson to cram into my head before it was too late.  I responded in kind to 2016 like by taking the path of least resistance by nodding politely like I’m really interested and taking it all in.

Like doting parents, the reality is 2016 was right and I digested them once I got some distance between me & them. Here are a few of the ways:

My spiritual gift is teaching and I need to be using it. I’ve never been more convinced…and after not using it consistently for over five years, well, it’s high time to get back to that.

I’m not as good a student of my wife as I thought I was. The majority of that story is hers to tell so you’ll have to get her version. The bottom line is that while I was aware she’s an artist, I should’ve put two and two together sooner and recognized our suburban lifestyle was choking her. Our eclectic neighborhood has the crazy diversity where a 10-minute walk can provide interactions with a homeless person, a Ferrari owner, a band member, and a school teacher. I have gone more than a week not using a car. This new lifestyle fits us, man.

My identity was WAY too tied in to my profession. A quarter-century of pastoring provided recognition I embraced. “Doctoral student” is only part-time. “Teaching Assistant” is only part-time. “Substitute teacher” is only part-time. Don’t get me wrong. They’re all legit and keep most of the bill collectors at bay. My point is that pastoring, while somewhat embarrassing to bring up in some circles, opened a lot of doors and gave pats on the back in the circles I used to run in. Not so much anymore. It still stings when I apply for church jobs I feel may be perfect fits and my resume isn’t good enough. Seriously? I thought I was good at my job all that time. Maybe not. See what I mean about my identity tied to my job now?

God uses imperfect people to teach me. I’m not gonna go into it because it’s bad form to pull back the curtain on how church sausage is made. Suffice to say that some hard lessons were learned that came through people who I’m better off removing from my phone contacts and Facebook feeds. Sometimes I don’t like knowing what I know…especially when I know I’m right.

Different expressions of church life are okay. Granted, I have strong opinions about the role of the local church body and how to go about executing that role. I’ve been pretty judgmental on the local church (for the first time in our lives Tracy and I went to Sunday gatherings as visitors) and how they go about their business. Truth is they all have their place in God’s economy and need to go about their business in the way their leadership senses God pushing them. While I’m still frustrated by what I see out there in our Tribe’s business I need to give a bit more grace…even if I can’t find a comfy fit.

I need to get my edge back. Someone I admire told me over libations that I’m at my best when I challenge the status quo…and then punctuated that by saying that God wired me that way and I was bordering on disobedience because he “hadn’t seen that fire” in me for about six years. He said he didn’t want middle age to take away that “Clash, Ramones & Social Distortion” edge that “evangelicals need now more than ever.” He’s right. You know it. I know it.

So, buckle up, 2017. Let’s dance.

 

Happy Suvitsef, Everybody!

In many parts of the world, the day after Christmas is referred to as Boxing Day–a day in which the social order is reversed. The working class gets celebrated with tips/gifts. Some in the military switch ranks for the day. Some have public celebrations where the working class leads parades.

Therefore, I have taken it upon myself to reverse the order of Festivus on the day after it, and declare that it shall henceforth be known as Suvitsef…a day in which we celebrate the Airing of Commendation followed by Repose of the Humble.

It is in that spirit that I offer equal time today for my Airing of Commendations!

Kudos to my wife of 28 years. She’s more beautiful to me now than ever before, and embraces the peculiar adventure of life I drag her through with grace and a smile. We might not have any idea what we’re doing here in midlife, but we’re doing it together. Lesser women would’ve been gone long ago.

Kudos to my daughters. I’m smitten with their wild differences and devastated by their similarities. They are truly smart, beautiful and unique. I couldn’t be prouder of them if I tried. “Love” just scratches the surface of my feelings toward them.

Kudos to the Creator for inventing dogs, far and away the greatest animal on the planet.

Kudos to Deep Ellum for welcoming all comers, especially the missus and I. We found our fit here in the most eclectic neighborhood in Dallas, and this place is lifegiving.

Kudos to the Ramones, the Clash, the Sex Pistols, Social Distortion, X, Fear, Black Flag, R.E.M., the Talking Heads and Frank Turner for providing the soundtracks that help me get through tough times…and celebrate some good ones.

Kudos to some folks at Dallas Seminary who are part of the LEAD weekend. They helped me and the missus discover some things about ourselves that will give the last half of our lives true meaning and such. Not to get all sappy about it, Dr. Hillman and Bill Hendricks, even though we’re broke, we’re bohemian happy and smiling at the future.

Kudos to Alan Hirsch, Hugh Halter, David Fitch, Mike Frost, Charlie Ridenour & Barry Jones for beating the drum of incarnational ministry. It’s flipped our lives upside down–which it’s supposed to do (which is why so many like the idea but truly fear executing, hence will never do it)–and I can only hope all your influence in these areas will get our Tribe seriously neighboring, third spacing and getting the heck out of the church walls for Kingdom influence. Now if we can just get congregations to execute instead of lip-servicing.

Kudos to Peticolas and Lagavulin. You know why.

Kudos to my hetero life mates. I have few friends I can depend on to call me out or build me up when I need either but you guys seem to find that balance every time.

Kudos to all the readers here at The Diner. I’ve been here posting thoughts since 2003 (I can’t believe I used to blog daily) and you’ve been here reading the things I write only to get the clutter out of my brain so I can get stuff done. But for some reason an inordinate amount of you keep coming back…so thanks for that!

Now, for all of you gathered around the Suvitsef Cairn, it’s your turn…