Becoming a Catcher

People are talking about their word for the year. Or, I should say people have been talking about it for a while, but I’m not the most proactive person I know. So I’m just getting to it. I’m trying to learn.

In 2020 I chose Listen. I had NO clue how much we would all need to be listening to one another that year. As a country, we’ve rather failed the listen test. I hope, however, that I learned that year and this how better to listen to those with whom I don’t agree. That’s going to be crucial in coming months and years. I prefer to plow ahead with the way I know is RIGHT. But listening—that’s been so profoundly helpful in understanding my siblings in Christ from all kinds of backgrounds. (See my book roundup post for some books that taught me how.)

In 2021 I chose Rest. The year was . . . not that. I’ve never been so exhausted. I’ve never felt so close to burnout. Many of you know this feeling. I didn’t learn rest as I would have liked. I did however, learn how much I need to learn about it. I know many of the rhythms I need to have in place. But as Princess Mia says—“The concept is grasped. It’s the execution that’s a little elusive.”

Speaking of elusive, I think 2022 is going to focus on Hope. I need it. So many others need it. It’s in the name of my church.

If we believers need to be anything right now, it’s embodied hope for our homes, churches, communities, and beyond. Incarnate hope for those who lost their last shred of it months ago. This might be the most valuable ministry any of us ever do in our lives.

I’d like to spend the year chasing down hope and wrestling with it until it blesses me. J D Salinger’s character Holden Caulfield (not at all one of my favorite books) has this dream where he talks about catching children playing in the rye fields before they tumble over a cliff. He muses:

“I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.”

JD Salinger, Catcher in the Rye

That’s what I think I’d really like to be, too. A catcher. One who sees the hopeless or the ones barely hanging on and catches them, letting them feel a God who won’t let them fall over that cliff. A God from whose love they can never be separated by any force on, above, or below earth. So, hope.

Let’s walk, eyes wide and head high if we can, but crawling and weeping when we can’t, toward the horizon of hope. I pray hope blesses you in 2022.

2021 Book Round Up

I

t’s time for a book roundup, of course. So no recipe blog backstory–just my list of favorite books from 2021. According to Goodreads, I (slightly) exceeded my goal of 42 books! (This doesn’t necessarily mean the book I list released in 2021–just that that’s when I read it.)

  1. A Church Called Tov, Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer.

What a book for its time. As we all drowned in the Ravi story, yet another story of power abused, I began to wonder–what is the answer to halting this cycle? It doesn’t do any good to remove these men (and sometimes women) from power. We need to figure out why it happens and, more importantly, why we allow and even create circumstances ripe for it to happen. Then I picked up this book immediately after asking those questions, and there it was. The answer I was saying someone needed to write. Isn’t it great when things happen like that? Must read for all church leaders.

2. Dear White Peacemakers, Osheta Moore

Moore pulls no punches yet manages to write with such love and understanding of white people who aren’t “there” yet. Her stance that everyone is beloved pulls readers into wanting to learn how to bridge those seeming unbridgeable divides. Hers is an incredibly accessible book for those looking for something to give a white person who needs a “beginners guide” to racial issues. A group study is also a great idea!

3. Jesus and John Wayne, Kristen Kobes DuMez

There’s been enough said about this one that I needn’t add much more. Suffice it to say it explains so very much of how we got where we are today in the church. Voted most likely to get thrown across the room several times before you finish it. For good reasons.

4. On the Spectrum, Daniel Bowman

My new son-in-law put this on his Christmas list and I bought it. I read the intro and was captivated by the professor’s beautiful writing. So, of course, I got myself a copy. The author makes a case for learning about people on the autism spectrum from those people first (nothing about us without us), and his writing makes the case for him. I learned so much and fell in love with the unique gifts, and challenges, that come with being on the spectrum. You simply can’t learn this from anyone who hasn’t experienced it themselves.

5. The Making of Biblical Womanhood, Beth Allison Barr

Is complementarianism/patriarchy historic Christianity? Dr. Barr has a surprise answer for us. We’re listening to the historians this year, and I am here for it. How else will we know how to navigate the future?

6. A Rhythm of Prayer, Sarah Bessey et al is an incredible devotional read. The power and beauty of these prayers is breathtaking.

7. 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager: Making the Most of Your Conversations and Connections, Kara Powell and Brad Griffin

As an expert on next-gen conversations, I loved this look into what teens really want to know from all of us. The amazing thing was how the 3 questions fell so neatly into the 3 big ideas I teach out of the creation story: We’re created to relate to our Creator, to live in community, and to work toward a purpose. Funny–it’s almost like the longings into our hearts are matched by the plans of God. Great practical book on talking with, listening to, and understanding younger generations.

And to round out a top ten of sorts, I’ll list my favorite 3 fiction books this year. I made it a goal to read ten classic novels I’d never read. These rose to the top for me, even though some were rough to read. The best novels are at times, and then after you put them down, you can’t stop pondering them.

  1. Beloved, Toni Morrison
  2. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
  3. North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell

Do you have suggestions for me for 2022? I already have a half dozen on board, but I’m always interested in suggestions!

(So many more that were very good books. Here’s the full list of what I read this year. I’d heartily recommend almost all of them.)

Dark Sky–an Advent Meditation

In September, I stood in some International Dark Sky Parks in Utah, staring at the stars in more abundance and brilliance than I’d ever seen them. Lights studded the sky from one horizon to the other, constellations I’d never seen clearly visible. Only occasional car headlights in the distant parking lot disturbed the complete liquid ink of the night. My husband practiced his astrophotography, while I risked sore neck muscles tomorrow for the immediate wonder tonight.

During this Advent season, I want, at least figuratively, to go where sound and light make no dent in a quilted black kaleidoscope sky. I want to sit, in the fulness of a silent night, and look at the glory above my relatively insignificant head. 

Advent, the province of stars, makes me long for both darkness and light. I long for and believe in the Light that no darkness can overcome. I’m grateful fort His presence in a world that needs that kind of piercing hope.t

Yet we wait, too, and we wait so often in the dark.

There are things we can see only in the dark. 

Slighted stars, not usually bright enough for attention when they compete with city lights. I want to notice the overlooked.

I want to choose to see, as Matthew did in his genealogy of Christ, those whom history has ignored and privilege has deemed invisible.

Fitful dreams come in the dark. The ones we can’t quite pin down in the morning but whose presence in the darkness might lead us to new questions.

This Advent, may we be willing to sit with the questions and listen to the dreams of others.

The power of grief shows up in the dark, and I want to appreciate again that blessed are those who mourn. I want to weep with those who weep. Fellow stargazers, afraid of beacons that mercilessly glare on their still open wounds, are willing to be vulnerable in darkness. I want to sit with them and hear their stories.

Waiting patiently on the Lord, being still and knowing who God is, come easier in the darkness, when we already move slower. 

Pinpricks of hope. The camaraderie of quiet. My own smallness in the universe. Like stars, these all appear more accurately and acutely in the dark.

I, like so many, am afraid of what I can’t see. I fear treading beyond my safe circle of light. But what if there is another kind of light in darkness that I know little of?

It took a blazing star for the supposed wisest people to look for God. But Lord, let me discover you in the darkness. Let me seek what I cannot see. Give me eyes to find you where you so often went, after all. Amen.

Good Imposters

Photo by Isaiah Rustad on Unsplash

I learned a new phrase this week—“New marriage imposter syndrome.” I’m very familiar with the last two words, but not in the context of marriage. When explained to me, though, I understood the concept perfectly. 

“It’s when you wonder who let someone your age make such an adult decision as getting married.” (Reader, it doesn’t matter what age you actually are.)

I remember that devastating crash of doubt the day after I got married. I assumed I was the only one who’d ever felt it. It’s not great to begin married life believing you’re an awful wife for momentarily thinking you might have made a terrible mistake. I’m glad we can name it now and let newly married people know it’s normal. 

Imposter syndrome is real in most areas of life. It’s well documented in the workplace, especially affecting high-achieving women. (Although some current research suggests maybe it’s not the women who have the problem but the workplace. Finally.)

It happens to parents. We wonder—Who let me walk out the hospital with this little creature? I don’t know the first thing about what to do with one of these! It doesn’t let up. We’ll spend the rest of our lives second-guessing our ability to help a child grow into a happy, healthy adult and beyond. Pastors question ourselves on the regular. Christians are sure God loves us but not at all positive God likes us very much. 

Usually, this is hurtful nonsense. But I’m going to flip this thing a little bit.

What if, despite the very real detrimental effects it can have, imposter syndrome isn’t wholly bad?

Perhaps a little bit of understanding that we’re not able to do all this (whatever all this is) on our own is, dare I say, a healthy thing? Maybe it’s women who are in the right of it when we doubt our capability and believe we need to crowdsource rather than the men who (statistically) are certain they are the right man for whatever job they want to do.

When I officiated our daughter’s wedding two weeks ago, I asked the guests to stand as they pledged themselves to help the new couple through the joys and sorrows of their relationship and their faith. It’s a sacred pledge, and I wanted them to recognize that. We’re used to thinking of our marriages as “our own business.” Americans are used to thinking of anything that touches their lives in any way as their own business. 

In reality, life is a communal event. Because we’re not any of us old enough to make life’s most important decisions on our own. It’s taken me so long to accept that.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

When God said it wasn’t good for humans to be alone, God was making more of a statement about community than marriage. It wasn’t whole, in order, good for humans to be on their own. 

Maybe we all need simultaneously to be standing and saying “Yes, I will help you through this thing called life—I will be your people” and also seeking that input from others with all our hearts. 

Yes, the church has failed egregiously when we’ve been too intrusive in others’ lives. There is a correction and complement that seeks a self-righteous “I told you so.” We’ve witnessed the delving into someone else’s privacy that cuts wounds with its veneer of holiness. Too often, church leaders have sought to be the authority in believers’ lives without the vulnerable posture of fellow pilgrims. Too often, we’ve been happy to tell others they weren’t qualified to run their own lives and we were. We need to repent and lament that pride. 

The true community of believers—those who will cheer us on us when we’re capable and shore us up when we’re not—has become a unicorn. So rare as to be a rumor one has heard of but doesn’t quite believe in. It wouldn’t be a rumor, though, if it didn’t exist. Ive seen it. I see it in our church. I see it among online believers. I see it in house churches and small groups of straggling pilgrims who’ve decided they’re not church but are working together toward being something. 

The people who are there for us when we admit we feel like imposters in this world. They tell us—yes, you are. We all are. Every one of us. But it’s OK. We’ll get there, together.

Imposter syndrome isn’t all bad. Let’s let it lead us to our need for others.

What Do You Want?

“What do you want?”

Sometimes we don’t know how to take that question, right? It could be asked in an annoyed voice—like a big sister rolling her eyes at a little one persistently trailing her.

It could be asked by a restaurant server who wants your lunch order.

Or a loved one might be angling for your Christmas list.

Who is asking and how makes a difference in our answer.

“What do you want?“ happens to be the first question Jesus asks. What would you say if Jesus asked you that question?

Read the rest here. at The Glorious Table.

Chasing Waterfalls

Well yes, I do chase waterfalls. Scrambling over wet rocks, climbing higher in spray, jumping down them to solid ground below—that was my perfect road trip afternoon for most of my life.

These days, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome exacts a painful price if I try that. Every step on uneven terrain has potential for a turned ankle or a fall. I climb and descend—but slowly, carefully, watching every single foot placement and evaluating the next one for security. Recovery for a mistake takes far longer now than it did when I could jump up and dust off the skid marks from my backside.

It’s slow. It’s not the joyful abandon of earlier days. I sometimes can’t appreciate the vista around me for the attention to detail below me. But it’s reality, and ignoring reality isn’t wise for anyone, regardless of natural ability.

On our September trip to five national parks out west, I learned this again and again. Watch where you’re going. Calculate where your steps will lead. Be ready if the footing shifts.

I don’t like it. It’s not my personality. I think, though, it’s a good lesson.

It’s Not Just Hiking

This process describes most of my life as a church leader, too. I used to have no worries about scurrying down the hill, quickly sidestepping roadblocks, creating plans B and C on the way. 

“Throw is at the wall and see what sticks.”

“Don’t be afraid to fail.”

“Just do it.”

I’m not suggesting these outlooks are wrong. They served me well. One of the things I wish young people believed more was that failing is not fatal. Having the courage to let go of control would benefit more church leaders and their people.

It’s just that perhaps, some of us are in a different time now as leaders—whether of churches, families, organizations, or volunteer brigades. Maybe those of us who have been up and down the waterfall a few times have a different job. Maybe it’s our calling now to proceed with more caution.

Experience Teaches Something about Jumping

A jump is a commitment. I tended to make those commitments before. Now, I’m more cautious, knowing there are perils I can’t see until I’m balancing on the rock. Perhaps in lieu of jumping higher right now, It’s my call to look down. 

I have the experience to yell back to others—

“Hey, that rock has some solid spots, but don’t put both feet there. Stay aware of its weaknesses. Be ready for when it lets you down.” 

“You can choose that route, but you won’t recover from a fall from that path. You’ll wash out at the bottom. Stronger than you have tried.”

“You’re in the weeds. I know it looks like there isn’t a path because pain or confusion has covered what you thought you knew. But there are footholds there that will hold you. I know this. I’ve been held.”

“You can do this. The reward is worth it. Keep going!”

The trail has been blazed for those coming behind me with leaps and skids, with triumphant sprays of joy and frightening slides. Now could be my time to create a different path. One that makes clear where the footing is solid and won’t fail beneath. A path that shows where and wh

A call from my place of experience that says, yes, there are dozens of ways to get up and down these rocks, but don’t put all your faith in one outcropping, and don’t forget there is solid footing to which you can always return.

Now I’m looking ahead enough before every step to instinctively know when recovery will be too difficult if I choose one direction, when one path will get me to the goal albeit slower, and what my limits are either way.

It’s my turn to travel slowly, deliberately, and wisely, knowing the leapers and jumpers behind me may choose other routes, but they will know, from what I’ve laid out, where sure footing lies. They can return to it. It will hold.

Cricket, Connections, and Context

Photo by Alessandro Bogliari on Unsplash

Homework

Hearing someone describe the sport of cricket reminds me of Dr. Seuss’ grinch kvetching about Christmas morning chaos. “And they’ll play noisy games like zoozit and kazay, a rollerskate type of lacrosse and croquet!” 

Mixing bats, balls, wickets, and bowling sounds like a sport that can’t make up its mind. 

It even adds a nod to the moral universe when it explains that Rajeshwari Gayakwad, a world class player from India, bowls slow left-arm orthodox, a term that conjures priests more than it does athletes. 

This means, by the way, that she spins the ball with the fingers of her left hand, attempting to trick a batter into believing the ball will strike the ground and bounce one way when it will, in fact, go quite the opposite direction. Spin bowlers rely on deception rather than speed (hence the addition of slow in the description) to strike out their opponents.


Why do I know this? I’m taking a Master writing class (veery slowly) from Malcolm Gladwell. He’s who I want to be when I grow up. The first assignment was to accept a randomly generated topic and write an article about it. My assigned topic? Rajeshwari Gayakwad.

You won’t be surprised I’d never heard of her, given my obvious knowledge of cricket. I thought—how can I write an article on this person and sport I don’t really know, or care, one bit about? 

Then a funny thing happened. The more I read about her, the more interested I became in cricket. By the end of the article, I was googling world titles, country stats, and discrimination in India like I wanted to write a book on it. 

Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

Commonalities

I’d found commonalities with Raj. She also lost a parent very young. The feeling of responsibility that creates toward the surviving parent empowers her, while it nearly destroyed me. 

She knows what it’s like to be a woman in a man’s profession. She understands far more than I do how a culture can work to hold women in their assigned places, even and especially talented, ambitious ones. Her defiant post— “I Was Told Cricket Is Not A Girl’s Game,” resonates with this woman who was told the same about pastoring.

She wants to make her profession better for the women who come after her, as do I.

A woman on the other side of the world suddenly mattered to me. Her success at playing cricket, inspiring girls, and buying her widowed mother a house mattered. It mattered because I had taken the time to learn about her, even when I thought it was a strange assignment on an uninteresting subject. 

The correlations should not be lost on us. 

First, there are a lot of people on the other side of the world right now in need of compassionate comprehension. The Afghan crisis is one that requires our attention, but it also requires our effort to learn before we begin to post ALL the opinions. As has been mentioned on twitter, it’s funny how many people suddenly pivoted from being epidemiologists to foreign policy experts. 

That might mean listening to or reading the stories of refugees to find commonalities. Common ground brings out our compassion and our willingness to learn more. As losing a parent made me care about Raj more, so maybe discovering you share an occupation or a goal with a refugee can bridge the language and culture barriers. Driving Afghan refugees to doctor’s appointments gave me a window into how dangerous it was for them to assist the US military—and it gives me compassion and fire to do something now.

Before we dismiss the desperation of others we know nothing about, let’s delve into their stories so that we can find what makes us alike, not fear what doesn’t.

(Read some refugee stories here, for instance.)

Photo by belinda Fewings on Unsplash

A Foreign Language

Another correlation is quite different—it’s in the face that we in the church show others. Hold onto your pearls—those who don’t go to church find some of our language—and even Bible stories!—quite odd and disconnected to their lives. It’s like the rules of cricket. Unintelligible words and rules that they don’t see a reason to care about and certainly don’t want to run afoul of. 

Pastors, leaders, preachers—how can we make our speaking about the Bible make sense, and be interesting, to those for whom it’s a foreign language about an obscure sport?

How are we creating correlations between their lives and the Scripture? I don’t mean an up-to-date illustration here and there. I mean,

how are we creating walkways between life in the Bible and life in the now in a way that makes people take notice and care? 

In my monthly newsletter, I mentioned the Theology of Work Bible commentary—it takes the Scriptures and correlates God’s ideas about work to people today who are seeking meaning in what they do. 

This summer in church, we studied Romans—and talked about the strong correlation between believers who judge and look down on one another then and now.

Photo by Luke Besley on Unsplash

Bridging. Correlating. Creating connections that make people care about something they didn’t think they cared about.

This is good discipleship.

That’s our job as pastors, whether it’s teaching Scripture or teaching love of neighbor. We are given this task of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5.16-20) That’s what bridge-building is. It’s the work of the kingdom at hand.

Featured

How Do We Define Strength?

Photo by Nima Sarram on Unsplash

Can we handle another opinion on Simone Biles? Spoiler—I follow gymnastics, having been a gym mom for years. My daughter follows it in extreme detail. We know all the sides. So I don’t come to this imbroglio as an armchair pundit, and I come with zero tolerance for criticism of this courageous woman. 

I do come, though, with a conviction that Ms. Biles, and the discussion following her decision to withdraw from competition, mirror a debate in our Christian culture over what strength is and who defines it. 

I posted this inquiry on twitter—one I didn’t expect to get so much discussion.

The answer appears to be circular. Boys don’t go into it because our culture holds up football as the ultimate goal for male fame. Basketball is good second option for popularity. 

Sports and Other Things

When boys don’t choose a sport, funds for it go down in the most important arenas of training. As kids don’t see any heroes emerge in those sports, fewer find them interesting. Especially when they’re as difficult as gymnastics with excruciatingly slow gains. And the cycle perpetuates itself. 

Even as we had the mild debate, some declared—“Boys just prefer contact sports. They’re wired for it.” Are they? Or is it that our culture refuses to value the things boys and men can do that don’t fall into the “manly” categories we’ve preassigned? This, obviously, doesn’t only apply to sports.

Is it coincidence that the people decrying Ms. Biles are mostly white men who want to replace her as GOAT with—other white men? Could there possibly be anything else going on there?

The debate rages in the church, most importantly for my, and I’m guessing your, purposes. What makes a person strong? How do we define courage? A large contingent of popular teachers want to answer those questions in a very unhealthy way.

Strength in the Church

Strength, to this demographic, means domineering, winning, ignoring personal pain, and refusing to value compassion. It’s the John Wayne paradigm, as Dr. Kristin DuMez has so perfectly explained. It’s what many of us have been listening to in CT’s podcast about Mars Hill.

Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

This popular mindset in the church doesn’t only devalue a courageous gymnast. It’s more a symptom of a pervasive illness of which, sadly, conservative church men are usually the carriers. It devalues the Christlike perspective that gold medals and power and lack of self-examination don’t make you a whole human being. 

Choosing Whole

Whole, shalom humanity comes from an entirely different kind of strength. 

  • The kind that says “no” to winning when it would destroy your soul (or your body, family, etc)
  • The kind that chooses to walk away, when all of you wants to stay, if staying would violate who you are and what you need
  • The kind of strength that offers the opportunity to shine to someone else, when you could hoard that chance to yourself
  • The kind that chooses the good of the group over the glory for yourself
  • Strength that is willing to take the boos of the crowd rather than violate your conscience 
  • Strength that sends a message to others that you are worth more than what you do

As most overwhelmingly support Ms. Biles, there is that contingent. That group that demands—if you won’t dance to the tune we play, you don’t deserve our praise. If you won’t conform to our definitions, we will replace you with someone who will. (Not surprisingly, a black woman never will be able to meet their definitions.)

Photo by David Hofmann on Unsplash

As so many gratefully praise Simone for her courage, what if we do the same for our leaders in the church? What if we throw off those terrible, unhealthy definitions of strength, power, and courage, and embrace the path she has shown us? The path Christ showed us, long before this. 

What if we begin to value choosing to go small rather than big? Giving away our power? Holding enough of ourselves back for our mental and physical health, our families, and our souls? Declaring that we are more than what we do, and everyone gets a chance to do what they do best?

Being the GOAT, in ministry or in sports, is’t worth as much as we imagine. Choosing whole is where the real strength is.

New Normal

For a while those first few days of vacation, I didn’t know what to do with my phone or hands. 

I couldn’t check twitter. Couldn’t google that question that came to mind. Couldn’t color a picture first thing in the morning. Couldn’t snapchat my kids. Couldn’t mindlessly scroll instagram.

I couldn’t use my phone for anything at all but taking pictures. Slowly, my hands found they were relaxing their grip. So did my soul.

Burned

Truth is, I’ve been feeling on the cusp of burnout for a while. Pastoring through a pandemic is not the casual stroll some people seemed to think. (Oh, you don’t have to do anything but record a sermon. How great is that? You must have so much free time!)

Yep. Learning new technology, and having to change it every time we had a new iteration of church, was easy peasy. So was dealing with mental health crises in the community. Helping our little church cope in their own loneliness and fear. Working with people who couldn’t pay their rent. Purchasing our first church building and planning a major reno project on it. Not taking a Sunday off in over a year because you can zoom from anywhere and people needed me. 

The stuff of idle leisure, right?

And doing all this while never getting to hug my kids or even my husband, a man who spends all day in peoples’ respiratory systems, so not a good bet during COVID for immunocompromised me.

It was a lot. It was a lot for you, too. I know without asking that you went through and did a LOT. 

I don’t list those things for pity. I list them to explain why I, like a lot of you, teetered on the edge of wanting to chuck it all and move to New Zealand to become a hobbit village guide. (Still not a bad option. I’d consider it.) 

I was tired, cranky, physically weak, and weary to the bone of doing One. More. Thing.

So I went on our overdue, twice canceled trip of a lifetime last month with high hopes of rest and renewal.

I got those. It was the most glorious time of my life. Yet reentry created other problems I hadn’t anticipated. I’d planned for rest—but I’d put all my expectation on those two weeks. I’d assumed they would be a magical step away from reality that brought me back to earth somehow changed into a new me ready to take on anything in my path.

Pro tip: You cannot undo 14 months of overtime with two weeks of vacation. It does not correlate.

Sabbathing Well

I’d begun a sabbath with all the wrong beliefs about what it was for. Even though, given I’ve written and taught about sabbath as one of my favorite topics, I knew better. 

Sabbath isn’t meant to give us a rest from work or to bring us back to work ready to break new records.

Sabbath is intended to refresh us by rekindling our relationship with the One who knit together our souls. It’s meant to remind us that we done’t run the universe, and the world will turn on its axis without us giving it a nudge. 

I love Eugene Peterson’s work on this.

I hadn’t treated it like that.

Because I’m me, I crammed the time before and after our trip with ALL the things.

  • Of course I could send out an important, long email for a new group I was chairing.
  • Of course I could write the sermon for the day after we got back and deliver it even though we got into the airport AT 1AM Saturday.
  • Obviously, I could prep the June newsletter so it could go right out two days after we returned. (You know it didn’t.)
  • Clearly, I could run 25 errands, prep for a cat sitter, pack, and still do a normal week’s work. Also take the computer in for a complete wipe and reset.
  • Of course I could, given that computer wipe, start right up Monday morning after we got back with a full week of meetings, agendas, sermon writing, social media handling, and 3 doctor appointments.

Of course.

I set myself up for returning to the exact state I’d left rather than taking what I’d learned on the trip and putting it into practice. Fortunately, God stopped me in this nonsense before I could undo all the good.

I find myself asking the same questions post-vacation that I’ve pleaded with my congregation to ask themselves all year about life post-pandemic.

What kind of “normal” do you want to return to?

What are the best things you want to keep from this time?


How are you going to go about intentionally making sure you reboot life 2.0—the version you really want as an operating system?

New Normal

I want a normal that remembers—I matter, but I’m not indispensable.

The world can do without me for two weeks. Or longer.

Not that I don’t matter to my congregation and to others I interact with. However, I matter more to them whole and healthy, recognizing my role as facilitator and friend rather than savior or enabler. We’re partners—and that means free communal give and take, not one-sided offerings. 

It’s going back to relying on and respecting their God-given gifts. That’s taken a backseat during pandemic when stress was everyone’s worst passive aggressive friend. It’s time for a resurgence of trusting people and letting go the reins. If you, like me, have been grasping them a tad too tightly, slack up. Let people surprise you again with what God is giving them to share. 

I want to make available, not necessary, part of my new normal.

I want a normal that makes time for quiet wonder.

Snorkeling right in the face of penguins, sea lions, iguanas, and turtles does something to you. I’ve loved all of God’s wild creation since the day someone first put a book of ABC animals in my hands. That wonder tends to fade in our every day though, when we’re not close enough to a pelican to see its feathers ruffling in the moonlight.

Pandemic allowed my inner over-achiever to amp up the work level and ignore the rest of the world outside my home. I couldn’t leave the house anyway. Why not be more productive? 

Hiking and snorkeling every day required me to see with grateful eyes all the wonder of the world. Going face to face with a penguin or struggling up a volcano’s side reminded me that I’m part of a stunning creation. The author who set it in motion surely can give me what I need to do my work without me going at it 24/7. A grateful me surely will produce better work. 

I want to make awe, not achievement, part of my new normal.

In the future, I plan not to hyper-schedule the time around my full-on breaks. I’ll prepare with joyful anticipation rather than cramming all I can in the last few days. I’ll ease back in. I will refuse to feel guilty about that. It’s in the easing that we remember lessons learned and slowly apply them to a refreshed and possibly reoriented life. That takes time, and it’s equally as important as the vacation/sabbath itself. 

So no, I haven’t done all the things on the list in June. I’m going to enjoy the birds a little longer. Take a few more walks in my garden. Ease back into life so that maybe that easier way will become the pattern. Because you know what? Work isn’t life. All of life is life. I’d just forgotten. 

I want, plan, to make a whole, shalom life, not a piece by piece one, my new normal.

The High Adventure of Discipleship

Today the blog is devoted to the Introduction to my new book–Preaching in the Soundbite Age: How a Collaborative, Image Drawn, and Skeptical Generation Can Reshape Our Sermons. It’s a case for radically changing the way we preach and teach.

I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you will give me your feedback, or share my email signup link with someone you think could be interested!

The Christian life is a spiritual pilgrimage. It is a not a journey to a shrine which has limitations of space and time. It is a journey into life, a life so rich no limitation of space or time is able to contain it. But is this how we perceive the Christian life? We go to church, worship, study your Bible, etc. But where do they call for the high-adventure?

Francis DuBose, God Who Sends

The people in our churches are crying for the high adventure. They’re dying for it. Especially our young people. They might not know they want it, but they do. Behind the entertainment, the adrenaline-fueled Sunday morning gatherings, and the guaranteed-no-fail discipleship programs, people in our churches hunger for something they haven’t quite defined.  

They hunger for participation, not spectatorship, in the kingdom of God. Once they’ve experienced it, they don’t want to return to the passive sidelines, watching their faith but not shaping it. They’ve found the joy of discovering what God is doing with and through them and living the process with their community. They want to know why no one has told them before that discipleship isn’t a program but an on-the-field, glove-in-hand team sport.

It’s not an easy sell.

Most worshipers are used to being fans in the stands, not players in the arena. They won’t warmly welcome a radical change in that plan. They aren’t going to be excited about taking the reins of their own spiritual growth—at first. They might be like the high school classes I taught years ago. 

Used to sitting in their seats and listening to the teacher lecture about sonnets and Steinbeck, those teens looked at me like I had asked them to teleport to Neptune the first time I said, “What do you think?” The strange new teacher asked them questions instead of feeding them information. What was this sorcery?

Yet within a few days, those same students engaged in conversation about Shakespeare, voiced their opinion on Jonathan Swift, applied Jane Austen to their daily life,. and told me that classes had never been so interesting. I even had the rare privilege of a senior coming back to thank me for teaching her to think, thus getting her into her college of choice.

Pedagogy has known for decades what churches haven’t grasped—people learn, and change, when they engage and invest.

Monologue had created a dislike of literature and a distrust for its relevance in my students. What is it doing in our churches, where the stakes are far higher? The adaptive change necessary for preaching and teaching in a completely new way will take time, finesse, and patience. Do we want to be whipped by the potential backlash? Is the difficult work, both in crafting something new and in convincing people to accept it, worth the effort? Can we afford the possibility of attrition in a church already beset by loss?

Here’s the more important question to ask:

Can we afford not to?

In a spiritual climate where we’re already losing our next generations in high double digits, can we afford not to put in the struggle to retain them—not for their butts and bucks but for their, and our, spiritual well-being? Just as in the Babylonian exile, their well-being equals ours, too (Jeremiah 29.4). The older generations’ faith is only viable as it gets passed on. It’s only fresh and flexible as we’re learning from others.

If we are not making disciples with our preaching and teaching, what are we even doing on Sunday morning?

As I wrote this last year, I sat in my home office, in isolation because of COVID-19. Racial trauma roiled our country. We feel the stirring of God doing something different in his church. We know in our hearts things will not be the same when this is over. For some of us, we’ve been feeling the need for a wave of change long before pandemic forced our hand. We’ve been looking out to sea, watching the horizon, waiting for the sails to come over the edge that signal God taking us on a different journey. Some of us have been longing for it more than we ever imagined. 

Things will not be the same. Preaching should be one of the things that changes.

We’ve realized the value of community and the preciousness of input from others in this time of uncertainty and isolation.

Interactive preaching is the perfect tool for putting teaching and community together to disciple our churches. 

Our people don’t need programs and workbooks. Why would we offer them a classroom when we could be putting them on the field? They need to be equipped, as the early Christians, to disciple themselves toward being like Jesus. They don’t need information so much as awareness of how to filter the information they’re already surrounded with 24/7. They need the skills to learn deeply, slowly, and permanently, the things of God to change their lives from the inside out. This we can give them, if we learn to change ourselves first.

Pastors, preachers, church leaders, boards, and elders—it’s time.