Thoughts on Creating Culture

Lemme begin with a quote from David Brooks in today’s New York Times article “What the Beatles Tell Us About Fame.”:

The greatest thing a society does is create its own culture. Each society creates a landscape of stories, symbols, assumptions, iconic artworks, prophets and meanings, and then we live within that landscape. We create our culture collectively, as a community. A culture doesn’t exist in a single mind, but in a network of minds.

And I’m thinking about how my tribe–practitioners in the Way of Jesus–does or does not “create a landscape” for culture. I mean, maybe we do in some ways. Maybe we don’t. That’s kind of where my brain is meandering today, so let’s dive in a bit.

See, I tend to think that Francis Schaeffer was correct in how “culture” shifts. You know, how a society might move from the clean-cut 1950s to the Woodstock 1960s or something like that. That’s a simple example so don’t read too much into that. My point is that the pendulum of culture morphs, and Schaeffer purported that–over a period of time–ideas flow from philosophers & academics, down to artists, to musicians and then to the general culture gets those ideas (which eventually will influence theology, but I want to stay away from that discussion here).

So, for example, take the Beatles. Lennon & McCartney started out with Love Me Do & I Wanna Hold Your Hand and influenced the culture in all sorts of ways from dance moves to hairstyles. Then, as their careers progressed, they were influenced by Eastern thinkers & artists–which influenced a culture shift in the late 1960s, right? Again, this is overly simplistic but. you get the point.

And now I think that Schaeffer is still correct with a few differences. First, that culture shift is MUCH faster now with mass communication that wasn’t available when he was writing in the early 70s. Second, I think that “artists” would include not only musicians but also filmmakers and video game designers–as well as writers–(all of whom are storytellers at heart) which has tremendous influence on general culture.

That said, I’m curious: From the quote above, what is the influence of the “network of minds” in those that follow in the Way of Jesus? How are we creating culture for the better? If we aren’t presently all that effective, what could we do to improve that influence?

Because I think out tribe should be doing that…right?

What Would It Take For You To Change Your Mind?

“People don’t like change.”

“I miss the good old days.”

“That’s not the way we do things around here.”

I’ve heard these kinds of statements for over three decades of full-time ministry. I’ve worked for Youth for Christ, three different churches, a seminary, and a charter school. It’s pretty safe to say that churches & Jesus people tend to gravitate toward what “worked” for them. You know, that Young Life program they were involved with, that youth group they were a part, that church that welcomed them. In their way of thinking, the way that appealed to them is the way it’s “supposed to be.”

Oh, and it’s not only church folks. I’ve heard refrains about my old neighborhood’s gentrification & ruining the fabric that made it cool, that the music of today isn’t as good as it was “back then,” that today’s athletes aren’t as tough as yesteryear’s heroes, that our country is “going to hell in a handbasket.” So it goes.

And, to a certain degree we all like what we like, right? We’ve learned a few things along the way, too, and wisdom from experience informs our beliefs, right?

I mean, I know what I like when it comes to the “way church is done.” I have political leanings like everyone else. I was drawn to the cool neighborhood for the same reasons others were. I still like the music I liked years ago and probably don’t know any artist nominated for 2022 Grammys. I have preferences about purity in college athletics or the on-field celebrations of pro athletes.

But deep down, we all know that change is inevitable.

And maybe it’s the over-two-decades of working with teenagers talking, but I decided a while back that I didn’t want to be the “get-off-my-lawn” or the “these-kids-with-their-rock-‘n-roll” older guy. Because, well, my daughters both pointed out areas where they saw me becoming that kind of guy. They were doing what young people are supposed to do: ask questions about the status quo. What status quo, you ask? Pretty much all of it from politics to music to everything in-between.

Their suggestions: Try reading/listening to other voices from different places and stations. You know, like get news from differing perspectives, read books from authors from different nations/experiences/genders/ages/religions other than your own, experience other traditions of not only church, try new music & movies & such. So, I did. And I do.

One of those books was Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World, by Rutger Bregman. It has a lot of ideas that challenge my previous perceptions…and some really good arguments for implementing things like universal basic income for everyone, healthcare reform, educational improvements and other ways of “fixing” the things that are broken. Some ideas I like. Some I don’t. Some I want more information about. But a fantastic read that challenged a lot of my previous assumptions.

What I’ve noticed, especially on social media and in hearing conversations in the circles I spend most of my time in, is an unwillingness to even consider that another opinion might be valid or that our own opinion might be suspect. And Bregman brought to mind a few comments that caused me to wonder why people don’t seem to engage in kind, thoughtful exchanges of ideas these days.

Here’s a couple of quotes:

As people and societies get progressively older they become accustomed to the status quo, in which liberty can become a prison, and the truth can become lies. The modern creed–or worse, the belief that there’s nothing left to believe in–makes us blind to the shortsightedness and injustice that still surround us every day. (page 14)

The widespread nostalgia, the yearning for a past that never really was, suggests that we still have ideals, even if we have buried them alive. True progress begins with something no knowledge economy can produce: wisdom about what it means to live well. (page 19)

But here’s the one I want to focus on:

When reality clashes with our deepest convictions, we’d rather recalibrate reality than amend our worldview. Not only that, we become even more rigid in our beliefs than before. Mind you, we tend to be quite flexible when it comes to practical matters. Most of us are even willing to accept advice on how to remove a grease stain or chop a cucumber. No, it’s when our political, ideological, or religious ideas are at stake that we get the most stubborn. We tend to dig in our heels when someone challenges our opinions about criminal punishment, premarital sex, or global warming. These are ideas to which people tend to get attached, and that makes it difficult to let them go. Doing so affects our sense of identity and position in social groups–in our churches or families or circles of friends. (page 236)

Notice that when we watch a YouTube video on a better way to carve a pumpkin for Halloween or whatever, we’re wide open to those kinds of things. Or maybe how convenient the new air fryer is compared to the old way of making chicken tenders. Or downloading library books onto the Kindle. That’s simply showing us something different than the way our parents showed us or whatever.

But we dig in our heels when we get challenged on something that affects our identity and/or status in our circle of friends.

That power of identity shows up when someone suggests that we make some changes to our worship services like styles of music–remember “worship wars?”–(or in some cases, simply redecorate the building). Or when the neighborhood we love starts getting clubs, restaurants or housing that appeal to a different demographic. Or when someone says new music is better than our music. Or when the opposing political figure has an idea that might actually benefit the greater good even if it doesn’t help (or might even hurt) me a little bit. Or even when we see an athlete celebrate an important moment in a manner we were taught never to do.

And it dawned on me that we’ve lost the art of having thoughtful and engaging conversations on these kinds of things because we view these kinds of things as a part of who we are. And if we were to start talking about change or maybe realizing that the “other side” has some legitimate points worthy of discussion…

…maybe we could be a bit kinder. Maybe a bit gentler. Maybe a bit more gracious. Maybe a bit more loving. Maybe a bit more humble.

…if we simply asked the question “what would it have to take for me to change my mind about this?” And realized that maybe we don’t have all the “right” answers. And maybe, just maybe, some changes might be good for everyone involved even if it means I don’t get my way.

Because, maybe, just maybe, we’re looking for identity and peer approval in all the wrong places.

Your thoughts?

Record Keeping for 2021: Books I Finished

49 books this year: Not too shabby considering all that went on:

Sunshine Girl: An Unexpected Life by Julianna Margulies, 3/5 stars
Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation by Daniel J. Siegel, 4/5 stars
Reflex: The Natural Way to Live the Christian Life by John Harding, 2/5 stars
Beautiful World, Where Are You, by Sally Rooney. 3/5 stars
Live No Lies: Recognize and Resist the Three Enemies That Sabotage Your Peace, by John Mark Comer, 4/5 stars
Brat, An 80’s Story, by Andrew McCarthy, 2/5 stars
Galatians: Commentaries for Christian Formation, by N.T. Wright, 4/5 stars
The Wreckage of My Presence: Essays, by Casey Wilson, 2/5 stars
The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig, 5/5 stars
The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music, by Dave Grohl, 3/5 stars
Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing, by Lauren Hough, 2/5 stars
Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Believed, by Kate Bowler, 4/5 stars
On Being Human: A Memoir of Waking Up, Living Real, and Listening Hard, by Jennifer Pastiloff, 2/5 stars
(Re-read) Facing Leviathan: Leadership, Influence and Creating in a Cultural Storm, by Mark Sayers, 4/5 stars
Yearbook, by Seth Rogan, 4/5 stars
Broken Horses, by Brandi Carlile, 3/5 stars
God, If You’re Not Up There, I’m F*cked, by Darrell Hammond, 3/5 stars
The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion, 4/5 stars
People We Meet on Vacation, by Emily Henry, 3/5 stars
Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey, 4/5 stars
They Wish They Were Us by Jessica Goodman, 4/5 stars
You’re Leaving When?: Adventures in Downward Mobility by Annabelle Gurwitch, 3/5 stars
Why Not Me?, by Mindy Kaling, 3/5 stars
The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, by Rod Dreher. 3/5 stars
Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation, by Kristen du Mez, 4/5 stars
If I Knew Then: Finding Wisdom in Failure and Power in Aging, by Jann Arden, 4/5 stars
Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, by Amy L. Sherman. 4/5 stars
Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality, by David G. Benner, 3/5 stars
The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery, by David G. Benner, 3/5 stars
I Don’t Want to Die Poor: Essays, by Greg Arceneaux, 3/5 stars
Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples a Few at a Time, by Greg Ogden, 4/5 stars
I Might Regret This: Essays, Drawings, Vulnerabilities, and Other Stuff, by Abbi Jacobson. 3/5 stars
Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, by Adam Grant, 4/5 stars
Emotionally Healthy Discipleship: Moving from Shallow Christianity to Deep Transformation, by Peter Scazzero. 4/5 stars
A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing by Scot McKnight, 3/5 stars
Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep by Tish Harrison Warren, 5/5 stars
Broken Signposts: How Christianity Makes Sense of the World by N.T. Wright, 4/5 stars
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, 4/5 stars
The Congregation in a Secular Age: Keeping Sacred Time Against the Speed of Modern Life by Andrew Root, 5/5 stars
The Mom Factor by Henry Cloud & John Townsend, 2/5 stars
The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels by Michael D. Watkins, 2/5 stars
Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick, 3/5 stars
The Act of Dialogical Preaching: The Conergence of Conversation & Proclamation in Public Space, by Dan White, Jr. 5/5 stars
A Very Punchable Face by Colin Jost, 4/5 stars
Think Like a Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day by Jay Shetty, 3/5 Stars
Bag Man: The Wild Crimes, Audacious Cover-Up, and Spectacular Downfall of a Brazen Crook in the White House by Rachel Maddow, 3/5 stars
The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West . . . Again by George G. Hunter III, 4/5 stars
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, 3/5 stars
Disaster Preparedness: A Memoir, by Heather Havrilesky, 4/5 stars

Year-End Reflection: Final Day (Day 5)

You might remember from Sunday’s post that I’m going to be sharing some (not all, for what should be obvious reasons) of my reflections on the year. The idea is that time allows for a different perspective than something daily or weekly or even monthly. You might also want to check in on Monday’s post on the physical/mental/emotional reflections, Tuesday’s post on where God “showed up” or felt distant, and Wednesday’s post on thankfulness or yesterday’s post on excitement & concerns for 2022 before diving in. On to the final day!

Today’s Question: What practical additions or subtractions to my life do I feel God wanted me to implement so I can draw closer to Him in the coming year?

This entire reflection on my year started a few years ago when a pastor from the church I attended in Dallas talked about it. At the time, I hadn’t heard it talked about much (if at all) but now–in my circles of interest, anyway–it seems common. You can hear John Mark Comer on his Practicing the Way podcast or maybe even check out Colorado pastor Glenn Packaim’s newsletter and you can get a lot of practical help in doing so. The thinking is that most New Year’s resolutions don’t last and re-framing the conversation as one to get you connected with God will have more lasting impact. I guess it’s because it’s connected to relationship rather than behavior it might have more “legs” to it.

Anyway, Packiam’s newsletter has these questions for the last day (Comer suggests a slightly different angle by simply analyzing your rhythms in your day and ask yourself how it affects your heart) that I kind of like so I’ll follow it here:

  • Do we have any rhythms in place to connect us with God or to help us stop or that involve play? 
  • If so, which ones do we want to continue? 
  • If not, how can we start? 
  • Then, we think about the relationships we want to invest in, the people we want to bring in close and the ones we need to let be for a bit.

See, I tend to view the spiritual life in a holistic manner…that the spiritual life is all of my life. I don’t make a division between “sacred” & “secular.” So, when I talked about sleep & diet & exercise in an an earlier post in this series, I include those in the rhythms that draw me closer to God. Common sense, really. I mean, if I’m exhausted I can’t focus on prayer, or if I’m hungry I can’t read or if I don’t exercise I feel like doing nothing and just lay around. So, I’ll keep doing those things that are workin’ for me.

The one rhythm I’ve let slide is a true time of rest…which is wildly different than recovery–most folks I know when they talk about rest it’s because they’re burning the candle at both ends and say they need to relax. The reality is that is a reactive deal. Rest is proactive. It’s the source of your ability to work. Recovery is the end result of trying to do too much–this year, instead of blocking out a time for rest (or Sabbath, if you want) I’ve been more loosey goosey with it. Just grab a few hours here. A bit of time there. So, I’m going to add from Friday at noon to Saturday at noon for intentional rest & enjoyment. Being a pastor and all I don’t get Sundays off so that’s my best time.

I’ve got a good guide for my daily rhythms that I’m excited to use: Shaine Claiborne’s Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. I’ll be using that as well as reading through Psalms 2x (a chapter a day, with some of the longer ones broken into more manageable pieces), Proverbs every month, and the rest of the OT at 2 chapters per day and 1 chapter of the NT per day. I space those out so I read a Psalm when I wake up and a Proverb before I go to sleep, then the OT before lunch and NT in the mid-afternoon.

I’ve also learned that instead of having down time and using that for “play,” (which I include creative pursuits) I’m often quick to grab my phone and doomscroll Twitter or check out the Instagram or see what sports scores are going to infuriate me or some other time kill. I’m going to limit my social media & other media activity so I can engage more play. That’s a lesson my therapist encouraged so instead of nodding politely when he says it, I’m actually going to apply that this year. My guess is that less screen time will help my mental stuff, too.

There are some relationships I want to invest in this year that will draw me closer to God, too. It’s always my desire to try to be a better husband and father. At different life-stations, it demanded different things and different ways of doing that…and I’m still trying to navigate the empty nest and how I can be a better student of my wife and love her well–it’s always a moving target, right? She’s fascinating and it’s cool to see how she’s constantly growing and changing–so I want to be better at that. I want to have better relationships with my adult kids–which is unique when you have 844 miles and 1681 miles between you and the natural limitation of Zoom/FaceTime.

I also want to find my “Band of Brothers” here in Colorado. I kind of took for granted having a group of guys that kept each other in line in all sorts of ways, and when we moved, I really felt like my Thursday afternoons (that went on for about more years than I care to admit–and we all had significant ministry experience so empathy was easy) helped me stay on a slow, steady growth path. When I moved, it was just…gone. So, this year, I’ve found a few guys that we’ll start a “huddle” with (a term for our church’s offering for those that want this kind of thing) that I’d be friends with even if we didn’t work together & I really want to invest in that relationship. There aren’t really any people I feel like I need to scuttle in 2022, so that’s a positive!

So, there’s my reflections for this year. I do have to say that 2021 has been mostly enjoyable and exciting for Team McKinney (with some significant drawbacks that are pandemic related), and I’m looking forward to 2022…

…so Happy New Year, patrons. I hope it’s a year full of growth, love and joy for all of us. We could use more of that, right?

Year-End Reflection: Day 4

You might remember from Sunday’s post that I’m going to be sharing some (not all, for what should be obvious reasons) of my reflections on the year. The idea is that time allows for a different perspective than something daily or weekly or even monthly. You might also want to check in on Monday’s post on the physical/mental/emotional reflections, Tuesday’s post on where God “showed up” or felt distant, and yesterday’s post on thankfulness before diving in. On to day 4!

Today’s question: What am I looking forward to in 2022? What is creating uneasiness about 2022 for me?

Personally, my hope is that this is a year of deepening relationships in a lot of different areas. I think now that my wife and I are a bit more settled and she’s starting connections with a vibrant art community in town, well, that will be good for our relationship. I’ve also been building relationships in the neighborhood that I’m hoping they continue to deepen. I’m looking forward to connecting on an authentic level with some guys (we’re going to be in a “huddle” at our church–more on that in a minute) I’ve gotten to be good friends with. I always want to have a better relationship with my kids, too. So, I think 2022 will be good for me to have better relationships in a lot of areas after a year of change & having some older relationships morph due to geography and such.

Professionally, after a year of observation and floating ideas around with staff & other leaders at my church, I think we’ve got some insights on creating multiple ways for people to grow in their relationship with Jesus without having to make any drastic changes that could alienate folks. I believe we have a good mix of keeping the things that were “working” as well as some new tweaks that will allow people to be intentional about making decisions that will help them move forward in their spiritual lives. In other words, if you like the men’s/women’s/life group you’re in, GREAT! We’ll continue to support those. For those folks where those iterations aren’t helpful, we’ve got some expositional studies I’m excited to teach and some helpful courses on parenting, money & marriage on the docket. And for those that want to dive deep in their spiritual rhythms and get encouragement from others in that same boat, we’re excited about our “small small groups” which we call huddles. Just 3 or 4 folks who spur each other in their faith.

Spiritually, well, things are going well. It’s been a good season of slowing down & developing rhythms that have created an environment where I feel like I’ve been growing slowly but surely.

Emotionally, I’ve found a good therapist here that has been really helpful for me to process a lot of things I’ve tucked away for a long time. It’s stretching for me but also necessary and truly helpful for me. Intellectually, I’ve got a good list of books and podcasts that should challenge me, and some shows/movies/music that I’d like to see that will make my life better so I’m good there.

As far as the uneasiness. Well, in each of those areas…

Personally, you can’t control the other folks in the relationships, right? I mean, I could have the desire to deepen in the areas I mentioned and have better relationships with the folks in my life…but what if they don’t? Or, worse, what if they do deepen and it turns out they are not too keen on me as a person? Those are my own hang-ups, but real nonetheless.

Professionally, whenever you’re in a church setting, folks tend to get concerned when they feel changes are afoot, no matter how small they may be. For example, I’ve already heard things like “we’re losing our D.N.A.” (when, frankly, I was brought here to help ensure alignment with the original vision from the very first sermon, so if anything, we’re trying to deepen that ‘D.N.A.’) and “this is just the same stuff with new packaging” (which is funny because discipleship is really based on the same principles as 2,000 years ago but you have to adapt them to your context, so when you think about it, it’s all the same stuff with new packaging since 31 A.D.) so it’s important for us to communicate clearly and very well or we could have some unnecessary setbacks for what we’re trying to do to make disciples. This is a 5-7 year process–as I see it–so my hope is folks will allow us to have steady growth in that process as well as graciously let the inevitable hiccups be seen as “failing forward.” See why this can create some professional uneasiness.

I don’t really have uneasiness about the emotional, intellectual or physical stuff going on in the next year. The stuff with my therapist requires dedication and openness and willingness even when it’s difficult, but I’m enjoying the overall process of that so whatever reticence I have about it is far outweighed by the results I’ll see.

So, tomorrow, we’ll wrap up this reflection…

Year-End Reflection: Day 3

You might remember from Sunday’s post that I’m going to be sharing some (not all, for what should be obvious reasons) of my reflections on the year. The idea is that time allows for a different perspective than something daily or weekly or even monthly. You might also want to check in on Monday’s post on the physical/mental/emotional reflections and yesterday’s post on where God “showed up” or felt distant before diving in. So, on to day 3!

Today’s question: What were you thankful for in 2021?

There’s no question that I’m thankful for my wife in 2021. It’s fair to say that I’m no day at the beach and I fully understand why I stay in this deal far more than I understand why she does–that’s been constant over our three-decades-and-change. But what I’m especially thankful for this year is her wisdom and insight regarding my career flip-flop that resulted in our move to northern Colorado. She knows me and understands me and when I was weighing getting back into working for a church (it ain’t all giggles and roses), she helped think it through and talk it out. Even with all the garbage she’s put up with because of my career she was great with insights and it’s pretty great to have someone who is your best friend to make these kinds of decisions with.

I’m thankful that our family was able to connect for the first time in 18 months last year. That’s by far the longest time I’d ever been apart from Kid1 (Kid2 lived a few miles from us so we were able to see her fairly often)…and little did we know the family vacation to New Orleans in 2019 would be the last time we’d all be together due to the pandemic. So, in 2021, things died down and vaccine rates went up and we were able to all fly to D.C. to celebrate the launch of Kid1’s first novel. It was a great time and we didn’t think much of the pandemic and we ate great food and celebrated what certainly was worthy of celebration. It was good to have everybody together and even though we were there a few days, it still felt way too short.

I’m thankful that my students at Uplift Luna worked so hard during the pandemic and finished strong even I after I left that position. It was a difficult year for them and I worked with the class of 2021 for two years. The first year, things were normal until the school got shut down in 2020. They were on-track to get the requirements for their International Baccalaureate diploma (think of an A.P. program for every subject and they can get college credits)–and then everything went online. The course I taught thrives on in-person small group interaction and the teacher walking alongside them during their big research paper. So, the online hybrid put them at extreme risk of not being able to complete the requirements. But they persevered, and when I left for my new job at the end of February, the friend & co-worker Ted took the baton and we had 27 students submit for the IB Diploma, and 17 were rewarded with that designation. Compare that to the record of 2 being rewarded from our school and those kids buckled down and persevered and did the work. I’m thankful to have been a part of those kids getting a leg up on their own goals and dreams for the future.

I’m thankful for a church family that has welcomed me and my wife into their fold. The church has been around for a decade and to a certain extent I feel like I’ve walked into a movie 15 minutes late. I’m trying to learn the characters and the plot and all that but the reality is that Foundations has made us feel comfortable as they catch us up to speed. It’s a great opportunity and an exciting time to be here. The staff seem to appreciate what I bring to their table and the people seem excited to see what’s next. I am constantly reminded that I’m in the right spot at the right time. It’s cool to think about what God might do here.

I’m thankful to live in northern Colorado. It’s beautiful…and the little downtown area where I live is perfect for us.

Lastly, I’m thankful for NOT having to complete my formal education. It’s been fantastic to read what I want when I want and NOT have to write papers about it.

Sure, this is all in addition to all my basic needs being met–which I DO NOT take for granted–but this was to focus on specific things in 2021. See you tomorrow!

Year-End Reflection: Day 2

You might remember from Sunday’s post that I’m going to be sharing some (not all, for what should be obvious reasons) of my reflections on the year. The idea is that time allows for a different perspective than something daily or weekly or even monthly. You might also want to check in on yesterday’s post on the physical/mental/emotional reflections before diving in. So, on to day 2!

Today’s question: Where did I see God “show up” in 2021? When did God seem distant?

The first thing that comes to mind is that God showed up in making clear that the move to Foundations Church was the thing He wanted for me in 2021. The interview process was wonderfully transparent on both sides. The details of the move–especially the movers who got it all here during a terrible Texas ice storm and finding an apartment in an area that was a “fit” for us–came together swimmingly. A church family that seems hungry for discipleship–even if they aren’t aware of all that will entail (and, yes, the expected hiccups are starting to happen) in blending attractional practice with making disciples–and a staff that has embraced my oddities and quirks.

Another way He showed up was in my former students. See, when I came to this job, I had to leave a group of students in a rigorous academic high school program called International Baccalaureate. I taught the “hub” class called Theory of Knowledge (it’s a class that should be required for every person in the world, thinking through how you know what you know, focusing on bias and prejudice and authoritative acumen) with the same students for two full years. My inner-city group fought through the pandemic that ended their first year and required a mash of in-person/online learning in year 2 (which, if I have to tell you how difficult that is for inner-city kids who, for many, English is their 2nd language, you aren’t paying attention) and 17 of my students attained the IB diploma (with shouts out to the other cohort teacher–and my good friend–Ted for getting them over the finish line) when previous years the highest number who earned that was 2 from our school. My last day was teaching them the last bit of new material and their last weeks were independent application of the requirements. That IB diploma allowed many of them to get one full year of credit at their colleges. I’m so proud of the effort of my students and they did the things and finished strong even in my absence. Their thanks in texts and during their graduation speeches and emails were so encouraging.

God showed up in seeing my oldest daughter achieve her dream of having a published novel. As a parent, I’m not sure that there’s much that is more rewarding that seeing them do what they love to do and are built to do and she gets to write for a living. She’s been wildly successful in her “day job” as a co-owner/writer for Defector (the business model alone is innovative and successful, too), but watching her read from her debut novel God Spare the Girls was truly a blessing…and seeing all her friends and family and co-workers that shuttled from all over the country during a pandemic to enjoy it with her, well, it was so fun.

Obviously, there are so many more that I could list here…but they’ll stay in my personal journal. Those were the big ones.

Where did God seem distant?

There have been fits & starts for Tracy and her adjustment to Colorado. She’s been sick with things that aren’t serious but she had a nasty bout of bronchitis and then a rough go with COVID that took her out of life for about 3 months total. This set her back in a lot of ways–from making true friends to connecting with an art community to not being able to enjoy all that northern Colorado offers in the summer and fall seasons. We left the best friends we’d ever had in our married lives and not having a friend group (that isn’t from the church) has been hard.

(Redacted) There was a piece here that talked about my children, and that’s best kept between us.

One last thing: the pandemic kind of brought my teaching at seminaries via the adjunct professor role I love to a grinding halt. It’s so nice to teach seminary students in “mini-semesters” and while it is definitely nice to work for a church that will allow me to do that a couple of weeks per year, there simply hasn’t been the chance in over two years. I miss it.

To be sure, I’ve seen glimpses of God at work in both of those areas, but overall, it feels terribly slow and those glimpses are for sure seem to be exceptions.

So, that’s the list I can put out there for public consumption. See you for Day 3 tomorrow.

Year-End Reflection: Day 1

You might remember from yesterday’s post that I’m going to be sharing some (not all, for what should be obvious reasons) of my reflections on the year. The idea is that time allows for a different perspective than something daily or weekly or even monthly. So, here we go!

Here’s today’s question: Monday: How did I do in 2021 physically (how were my exercise/eating/sleeping/etc. habits this year)? What about intellectually (what did I watch/read/listen to, etc. & what did they do for my mind/heart this year)? How about emotionally (what were the ups & downs I experienced and how did I handle them)?

Physically, things went pretty well. This is a direct result of habits I started nearly a decade ago when I went to the doctor and he warned of an impending heart attack–which I certainly didn’t want. I started out with a 25-minute workout on these things called DVDs. Then I ramped up to 50 minute sessions. What started out as a necessary drudgery has turned into at least a bearable habit…now I’m doing a mix of cardio (at least 6 miles per day) & free weights and I’m down 11.2 pounds from a year ago (and 62.4 over that time a decade ago). Also, when the weather allows, I walk the 2.2 miles to/from work and that helps a LOT with mental & spiritual rhythms. Another thing that helps those is that I discovered not only hiking (which northern Colorado is LOADED with great hiking trails minutes from my home) but also climbed a 14er this year with designs on doing more. It’s nice to have weather that allows for outdoor activity.

Tracy and I are eating well (thanks to Hello Fresh, which is PERFECT for empty nesters and has saved us a few bucks on groceries), too.

One thing that has helped my sleeping habits has been the job change. Shout out to teachers, man. I worked at an inner-city school and we’d have to BE THERE at 7:30am and we couldn’t leave until at least 4:30pm (and coaching baseball made it tough to get home by 6:30pm). Now, I’m able to manage my time pretty well & get off my screens an hour or more before bedtime and get into a routine that allows me to get at least a full 7 hours nightly–which helps with all sorts of mental stuff and allows me to get my workouts in before my workday.

Intellectually: well, that comes pretty easily to me. I love to read and learn. I read a couple of newspapers (actual verified, reliable sources–which I deem important…others seemingly think because Bob said it on his blog that it’s true) from different political perspectives. I should finish 2 more books by the end of the year which will give me 50 for the year. I’m finishing up Grenz’s systematic theology of community which was the best theology book I read this year. I also enjoyed The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, Joan Didion’s beautiful The Year of Magical Thinking, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how much I enjoyed my daughter’s debut novel God Spare The Girls. By far and away the worst book I read this year was Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing, by Lauren Hough.

I generally don’t watch too much TV or Netflix and when I do have time, I mostly watch sports. But the few shows I watched, well, the key for me is to think critically about the shows and stimulate thinking to see if you align with the ideas & values of the shows. I feel like I did that with the books and shows and movies and music this year. So all’s good there.

Emotionally, I learned from my therapist that I do something called “flattening.” I tend to mute my emotions a LOT. Apparently, this is a pattern I learned early on from when my dad died unexpectedly when I was a teen. See, the things I feel, I feel VERY deeply & when my dad died there were some deep things going on–and my mom was grieving and would cry a lot so I learned to control mine so as not to be the cause of even more grief. I just got good at what I thought was staying on an even keel.

Turns out this is not so good for me. Or the people around me, either. So, for example, when I feel that deep love for my wife or daughters, I tend to keep that to myself or when I do express it, it comes out in measured tones. And the same for when they hurt me, it cuts deeply and I don’t let them know. My tendency is to pretty much tell myself that I need to get over myself and then I couch it in terms like, “I need to serve my family.” So, I wind up being less than honest with the people I care about and then spiritualize that. It’s something I’m aware of and working on…which is something helpful going forward into 2022.

So that’s day 1. See you all tomorrow!

Year-End Reflections: Slowing Down

There’s a magazine my oldest daughter Kelsey brought into my consciousness a few years back called Delayed Gratification. Their deal is that they report on the news three months after it actually happened. The “win” is that you get some perspective on looking at, say, a proposed budget line-item a politician submits. One the day it’s proposed, it sparks a lot of debate and your focus is on the daily ping-ponging of the benefits/downsides. Three months later, you might find that it was much ado about nothing since the bill got defeated by the city council.

The same is true in our lives, right? Passing time changes our perspective.

The fight we got into with our spouse amounted to nothing. The bad grade our kid made on a test proved to be meaningless since they rallied and brought their grade up. The team’s early season success turned out to be a mirage and now they won’t make the playoffs. The bad week at work exposed some flaws you fixed and the business had a fantastic 3rd quarter profit. On and on it goes.

But in the moment? They were big deals at the time. We wondered about the stability of the marriage. We got anxiety over our child’s future. We got our hopes up that THIS IS THE YEAR! We didn’t know if we’d have a job in April. The roller-coaster of emotion that takes place in our day-to-day is all over the map.

A few years back, a spiritual rhythm I started was a reflection at the end of the day. Sort of like an athlete might do to see what went well or areas need more attention. Just a few questions to help me think through areas of my life for about 15 or 20 minutes. The good, the bad, all of it.

Then a couple of years back, one of my pastors who was also into that sort of thing encouraged our entire church to do the same thing from the day after Christmas until New Year’s Eve. Just think through your whole year now that you have some perspective on all the day-to-day reflections. I’ve done it the last few years and found it beneficial…

…so, if you want to come along with me on this year’s reflection, here’s what I think about & a bit about how I do it.

I get my Pilot G2 medium-point blue gel pen. I have my composition notebook. I get a beverage I enjoy. I spend 15-20 minutes just writing & thinking.

(Others who aren’t as naturally drawn to introspection & reflection just get the questions and think about them in their bed or while taking a nice walk. There’s no “right” way to do this. It’s simply some time to get away from screens & busy and try to figure out some ways you can grow closer to God in the coming year and love your neighbor more in 2022 by improving in the areas you struggled with in 2021.)

Anyway, here’s the questions I’ll be using this year, starting on Monday:

Monday: How did I do in 2021 physically (how were my exercise/eating/sleeping/etc. habits this year)? What about intellectually (what did I watch/read/listen to, etc. & what did they do for my mind/heart this year)? How about emotionally (what were the ups & downs I experienced and how did I handle them)?

Tuesday: Where did I see God “show up” in 2021? When did God seem distant?

Wednesday: What am I most thankful for in 2021?

Thursday: What am I looking forward to in 2022? What is creating uneasiness about 2022 for me?

Friday: What practical additions or subtractions to my life do I feel God wanted me to implement so I can draw closer to Him in the coming year?

And, yes. I’ll be putting a few of my responses here every day…so if you want to do this with me, feel free to join in the comments if you feel comfortable!

Festivus For The Rest Of Us

As you all know, December 23 is the official date of Festivus…the holiday–invented by Frank Costanza–for the rest of us. So we gather round the Festivus Pole after dinner for the annual Airing of Grievances! This is the one chance you have every year to tell the world how irritated you are…so let’s start with the statement that should get us all excited to begin:

I GOTTA LOTTA PROBLEMS WITH YOU PEOPLE!

(For the first time in a long time, I don’t have to begin with my annual questioning of why Pitbull is famous. He’s apparently gone from public consciousness-A FESTIVUS MIRACLE!)

Haven’t we seen enough of the women on Reelz pointing to a box of words asking a question about their husband/children/friends and then lip-syncing a song with an answer while dancing? I’m going to need a little more creativity outta you folks if you’re gonna make these kinds of things.

Why do I have to remind people that the proper order is “let the people who are ON the elevator exit, THEN you may board?”

If you don’t clean up after your pet, a pox on your house. No excuses allowed. Not one.

I don’t know who needs to hear this, but can we place a moratorium on the phrase “I don’t know who needs to hear this” preceding your tweet? You know who needs to hear it…

A sports-related triad: All replays should be viewed at full-speed & if it isn’t clear/convincing then assume the refs got it right and fans then have to shut up about it; Any wide-receiver who makes a first-down signal or imitates throwing a flag suggesting pass interference should be fired immediately; and major league baseball: why do you keep insisting that we all stop enjoying this game?

Attention weather: When I moved to Colorado, I was told about snow in October and possible white Christmases and the (alleged) joys of snow shoe-ing. Get your snow act together, state. I feel ripped off somehow.

Streaming services: There are too many of you that only have one or two shows I want to see and now I think I have 38 different ones that are impossible to remember which shows are on which platform and it’s virtually impossible to remember to cancel and now I think I’m being $4.99-ed to death. Everybody needs to merge into one. Let’s keep it simple out there…

It’s okay to be bored and think about whatever your brain thinks about when you’re doing nothing. Let’s do everything we can to avoid pulling our phones out and killing time. The stats are in. More analog, less digital, amirite?

I don’t blame Kate McKinnon (she’s brilliantly funny) but I’m going to need Verizon to cut back on the number of bad commercials they put her in. I do blame Rob Gronkowski and USAA for bad commercials and bad acting.

Lastly: COVID and all your variants. I speak for all of us when I say we’ve had just about enough.

It’s been another wonderful Festival Airing of Grievances, everyone! Please feel free to add your own in the comments to join in the celebration and I’ll see you later for the Feats of Strength…