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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Bees, Blueprints and Balance

Somehow September came and went, and I didn't post anything. It could be because I was on the road at least two days each week that month... I loved every adventure as I traveled from Greenville, Illinois to Seattle, WA to Pasadena / Azusa / Rancho Cucamonga... phew. All super interesting projects, but I am glad to be sleeping in my own bed for a few days.

During all those trips I've saved up so many good links that I will have to pace myself and not knock you over all at once! Let's get started.

Be the Bee: The Beehive as a Metaphor for Life in Christian Community. This 5 minute video is so beautiful and lyrical, I don't want to say very much. Just watch it. I will bet that you will use it in a staff meeting, Bible study or sermon very soon.

Five Fundamentals for an Evangelical Future. I start getting hives when I read any sentence with the word "fundamental" in it, but if you can resist the temptation to blow over this one, I think it's worth a read. Please do not think these are five MORE things to add to your never-ending to-do list... instead, I would recommend this list as a filter for you and other leaders in your Christian organization (church, non-profit, school, etc.) to use to think about your strategic planning. There is no one-size-fits-all blueprint that will work for everyone as we plan for the future, especially not in this season of "discontinuous change." I am currently working with three different organizations who are trying to adjust long-successful systems and programs in face of the new challenges of the 21st century. I think article provided some good points to jumpstart the conversation.

Work/Life Balance Strategies. In all of my conversations with friends, colleagues and client, this topic nearly always comes up at some point. There are WAY too many quick-fix solutions and platitudes. I thought this article took a unique approach, and may strike a chord with you.

This 100 Year-Old To Do List Hack Still Works. If the work/life balance issue applies to you, you might find this article of interest as well... I just passed it along to a maxed-out pastor friend of mine. I'm interested to see if it is helpful. We all have the "could-you-help-me-figure-out-how-to-get-everything-done-AND-somehow-keep-all-of-my-projects-organized?" problem at various points, right?? This article is an effective short answer to the question.

What #firstsevenjobs says about Today's Young Adults and the Job Market This quote caught my attention: "The number of teenagers who have some sort of job while in school has dropped from nearly 40 percent in 1990 to just 20 percent today, an all-time low since the United States started keeping track in 1948." I am stunned at how different life is for today's teenagers. To illustrate, you can also read this article on the decline of the driver's license among teens. I bet you'll never guess how many 16 year-olds get their drivers' licenses...

ENOUGH for now! I'll post again in a few days. Meanwhile, I'll end with this:

In a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing
vessels is likely to be more productive than energy
devoted to patching leaks.
Warren Buffett

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Dating, Discipleship, Drop the Mic... 8-30-16


I normally post 4 or 5 good things I have come across in the past week or two, but I hit the jackpot this past week. I found every single one of these little gems fascinating... hope they are half as interesting to you!

Hello Goodbye? Catch up with Josh Harris and I Kissed Dating Goodbye. As my friends in Minnesota say, "Uff da!" As a youth pastor who worked in the 90's, I can verify that this was the IT book of the era for Christians. I don't know the origin story for purity ceremonies, but this book sure contributed to the whole nutty phenomenon. Almost 20 years after the book first came out, this article in Slate.com includes an interview with the infamous author himself, and he discusses the fallout that came a-tumblin' down for years afterward. MUST READ.

3 Tips for Aspiring Women Leaders. OK, this isn't quite on the "must-read" level of the first article... especially since I wrote it! Published on the 96th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote, this is a revision/update of an article I first had published in 2014. I list it here because I really appreciate the good people at Seedbed.com, which is becoming my #1 go-to theological / ministry resource site. CHECK IT.

How God as Trinity Dissolves Racism. If you're in a hurry and only have time to read one article from the bounty of this week's post, read this one. This is a masterful and prophetic essay by one of my heroes, Richard Rohr, on how racism has risen in our country, and offers a substantive solution. #dropthemic.

Don't Let Future Shock Happen to Your Non-Profit. Regardless of whether you are part of a non-profit, a church, or an educational/government institution, I think this article asks some excellent questions to reflect upon. I have worked in the non-profit arena for over 30 years, and I feel like the rules have changed since the financial crash in 2009, the advent of globalization, and and and... This article comes from a new newsletter generated by SmartBrief (all their newsletters are here: http://smartbrief.com/subscribe The article about Future Shock comes from there "BoardSource SmartBrief" on non-profit governance.

Daily Text. I know, we all have favorite go-to's in terms of daily readings and devotions. Here's a new one that I'm finding challenging, thoughtful and creative. This is also from Seedbed.com -- have I mentioned I like them? I recommend this particular daily devotion because it is delivering new insights on passages I've read (and taught on!) multiple times already, and I find that very refreshing. They are currently beta-testing a new online group devotional platform that I am trying out, where a group you meet with can remain in touch in between meetings through this devotional. I will post about it in the future if they go big with it.

Thrifty Christian Reader. This website generates a daily email during the week on deals they find online for books... not just Christian books, but maybe... books that might be interesting to Christians? This little newsletter seems to find all the big discount days on books I want to read and talk myself out of because of the cost. But regularly they find the days where books like Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is on sale for $5.99 on Kindle, or The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne for $1.99. My Kindle library has exploded due to this little website... #ilovetoread

Teens' Online Church Draws Young People from Around the World. Perhaps the trippiest of all the links I have on this post. One part amazing and a few parts weird... Read the entire article. Pretty darn fascinating. As I read this I could not help but recall the infamous line given by Brad Pitt as Billy Beane in Moneyball: "Adapt or die."
Final thought.

That is the true perfection of man, to find out his imperfections.
St. Augustine, philosopher and theologian

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Quote-a-Day... 8-18-16

This is a rich passage from Annie Dillard, whom I also quoted on Monday...

Thomas Merton wrote, “There is always a temptation to diddle around in the contemplative life, making itsy-bitsy statues.” There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage. I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.
Ezekiel excoriates false prophets as those who have “not gone up into the gaps.” The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit’s one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself for the first time like a once-blind man unbound. The gaps are the cliffs in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are the fissures between mountains and cells the wind lances through, the icy narrowing fjords splitting the cliffs of mystery. 
Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the solid, turn, and unlock— more than a maple— a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.

Dillard, Annie (2016-03-15). The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New (pp. 184-185). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. 

The truth and power in Dillard's writing is often not evident at first glance. But on vacation I have the luxury of lingering over what she writes... so as I dug a bit deeper, I discovered what she was referencing from Ezekiel. It comes from 13:5, where Ezekiel says,
Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the hedge for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of the Lord. (KJV)
This didn't help! So I read some of the surrounding context, and looked into a commentary or two for this passage. The Oxford Annotated Bible says this:
True prophets would care enough about their people to go up into the breaches (like Moses, Ps 106.23), i.e., to risk their lives by arguing with God on the people’s behalf (9.8; 11.13).
Ah, now I'm getting somewhere. This is about that well-used (but perhaps little understood) phrase, "stand in the gap." Building on that, I see that Dillard is calling us to dig deeper into life, to not settle for less, to speak the truth to power when necessary, to squeeze the last drop out of life, even if it means facing deep and intimidating confrontation. This reminds me of C.S. Lewis' counsel in his sermon, The Weight of Glory:
It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
Where are those "gaps" in my life? In your life? Where do I need to go, stalk, squeak and spend?

On this vacation, when I'm not reading, resting, or enjoying the outdoors, I am watching the Olympics! Today I heard a quote used by one of the USA track women as motivation, taped to her bathroom mirror, that captures all of this succinctly:
"You do not wake up today to be mediocre."

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Quote-a-Day... 8-17-16

Today I'm recommending an entire article today, not just a pithy quote. As I nerd out on vacation by reading to my heart's content, today's adventure takes me to exploring the realm of spirituality in California's history. As someone who seeks to develop leaders for the Free Methodist Church in Southern CA for the 21st century, I want to be a constant student of my context. Despite being born and raised in California and having lived both in Northern and Southern California, I still have a lot to learn about my state.

Through some lovely serendipity, I have come upon an interesting journal published by University of California press titled, appropriately, BOOM. It's subtitle is "A Journal of California," and that fits. Perusing the last couple of years of issues, I see some fascinating articles on various aspects of CA culture, past / present / future.

The article I recommend from it today is titled, A Golden State of Grace? by Lois Ann Lorentzen. Here are the opening lines that hopefully motivate you to read further...
Making sense of religion in California is a daunting task. California’s religious extravagance is fascinating—Heaven’s Gate, the Crystal Cathedral, Synanon, Starhawk, Harold Camping’s end-of-world predictions, Aimee Semple McPherson, Esalen, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the Grateful Dead. Everything is here, it seems, and then some.

Keep in mind what isn't mentioned in this quote: the California Missions, Calvary Chapel and the Jesus Movement, the Vineyard, Scientology and Saddleback... and these days, Bethel Church is leaving its mark. What a fascinating, spiritually eclectic place that California is!

Given the breadth of this topic, the author only touches on several examples in the article -- and makes me want to learn more. At the outset, she gives a quick recounting of earlier CA history, and I found this powerful:
The point of this abbreviated history is to note how populations and religions change dramatically in very short windows of time. California went from indigenous in 1769 to Catholic by 1833 and to predominantly Protestant by 1860. The mix of religions in California doesn’t look the same as other states.

Check out these stats:
Forty percent of all US Buddhists live in California, as do most Hindus and most Muslims—70,000 Muslims in Los Angeles County alone. California is 28 percent Catholic, 20 percent Evangelical Protestant, and 10 percent mainline Protestant. This is in contrast to the United States as a whole, where 70 percent of Christians are Protestant. To study religion in California is to study the world’s religions.

This grabs me the most:

As goes California, so goes the nation. 
California’s present is the nation’s future.

Though I sound like an impassioned representative of the Tourism Bureau at this point, I would say that none of us can ignore this. History seems to bear out this theory, so it's worth studying in depth.
The article concludes with these thoughts:
Is there anything special about religion in California? As a teenager in northern Minnesota, I fantasized about California a lot; I knew it was special. I wanted it, the mountains, the oceans, the freedom, the diversity, the tolerance, the experimenting. Did I romanticize and essentialize? You bet! But now I am a Californian, with an ongoing love/hate relationship with this place. An academic, I’m still unsure about the answers to the questions I posed at the beginning of this essay. I have concluded, however, that California matters a great deal when we think about religion. 
Forgive me if you are not a Californian reading this. But as I vacation throughout the state this week, it still intrigues me greatly.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Quote-a-Day... 8-16-16

From Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. As you probably know already, this is a collection of essays addressed to his 15 year old son.

That was the week you learned that the killers of Michael Brown would go free. The men who had left his body in the street like some awesome declaration of their inviolable power would never be punished. It was not my expectation that anyone would ever be punished. But you were young and still believed. You stayed up till 11 P.M. that night, waiting for the announcement of an indictment, and when instead it was announced that there was none you said, “I’ve got to go,” and you went into your room, and I heard you crying. I came in five minutes after, and I didn’t hug you, and I didn’t comfort you, because I thought it would be wrong to comfort you. I did not tell you that it would be okay, because I have never believed it would be okay. What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it. I tell you now that the question of how one should live within a black body, within a country lost in the Dream, is the question of my life, and the pursuit of this question, I have found, ultimately answers itself.

Coates, Ta-Nehisi (2015-07-14). Between the World and Me (pp. 11-13). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

I am simply listening at this point. My lips are sealed, and I'm trying to read with my eyes, ears, heart and mind wide open.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Quote-a-Day... 8-15-16

I'm on vacation and planning on lots of reading. Here's some goodness from Annie Dillard:

It is still the first week in January, and I’ve got great plans. I’ve been thinking about seeing. There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from some generous hand. But— and this is the point— who gets excited by a mere penny? If you follow one arrow, if you crouch motionless on a bank to watch a tremendous ripple thrill on the water and find yourself rewarded by the sight of a muskrat kit paddling from its den, will you count that sight a chip of copper only, and go your rueful way? 

It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so hungry and tired that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get.

Dillard, Annie (2016-03-15). The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New (p. 152). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. 

I am halfway through this collection, and cannot recommend it enough. I started reading Dillard years ago, but in the years since then, I've lived more of the highs and lows of life, and she feels brand new to me. This book is a collection of "top hits," and offers some new as well.

Dillard is not for the faint of heart. What I mean is that she is a precise and thoughtful wordsmith. I cannot read her the way I read a magazine article or blog post. I have to slow down, often re-reading a paragraph, to drink in the imagery and point of what she is saying.

The essay titled "Seeing," taken from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, is a tremendous way to start this vacation. I want to have my eyes (and ears, and heart, and mind, and soul) WIDE OPEN to the wonders all around me. Indeed, the world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from some generous hand. Let's do this!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Parenting, Prayer, and Papa

I'm heading out soon for a much-anticipated week away on vacation, but before I drop the mic, I wanted to share a few resources that I found especially useful this week. Not sure how they all relate to one another, but they sure reflect the varied things I'm always working on.

Common Prayer ~ free app! In my post from the end of July, I noted some reliable devotional resources I have taken advantage of for years. Soon after, I received an update about one of my favorites, generated by New Monasticism leaders Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Shane Claiborne. I've used my hardcover copy of Common Prayer since the day it was released in 2010, and access the website almost everyday. But this past week I received news that their app for iPhone/iPad had recently been released for free! Pass along this great news to everyone and use it to create spiritual connection and intimacy among your friends and leaders.

Child Leaving for College is Like Labor All Over Again. This was published in our local alternative weekly, and I thought it really captured the angst that many parents feel especially at this time of year as their beloved offspring enter this crucial transition into adulthood and leave the nest. The subtitle says it all: "Hey, can I get an epidural here?" If you work with youth and their families, this article provides a good laugh (and perhaps a few sympathetic tears), and best of all, an invitation to talk more.

Two Homes, One Childhood: Co-Parenting After Divorce. Another, more jarring parental transition comes when parents separate and/or divorce. Perhaps through your work or maybe in your own life, you have to walk with someone through this painful journey. This podcast episode provides some excellent, though at times poignant, insights.

Need Help with Your Writing and Editing? I'm working with a client on crafting a mission statement, and I always see the first draft or three as an opportunity to throw all the spaghetti on the wall and not wordsmith too much. But eventually you need to be brutal with your precious creation and get real. I found this great page of Hemingway quotes to get my editing groove on, and sent it to my client as well. This also feeds my eternal English major heart! You may or may not know that Hemingway's nickname was "Papa" ... I had a professor in my 20th century lit course who described Papa's writing style as "never use ten words when one will do." As someone who can tend to suffer from "verbal diarrhea," this website is a great motivator (and wake-up call?)

Final thoughts. I read this this morning:

He prays well who is so absorbed with God that he does not know he is praying.
    ... Francois de Sales (1567-1622)

As I noted in my journal, "I have brief moments of this, but certainly pray for many more." Ironically, to pray like this is something like becoming humble; the second I actually achieve humility, all is lost! In other words, it is a goal that I cannot reach consciously or willfully. Such connection with God comes on his terms, and through ongoing relationship and intimacy rather than through goal-setting or to-do lists. So my wish for you is to... be absorbed with God, I guess. Godspeed!