This will be my very last post on this site; we’ve spruced up my other website and combined the two into something brand-new!
Oh, don’t worry—you can still find all my rants (searchable for easy access) and things I don’t understand. All 13 billion of my attempts to understand prayer are here, and the plans for my future dictatorship, and the glory that is Mr. John Daker.
But now we have a schnazzy new look and some fun new features, including……
— the use of some of my favorite greens. Don’t you think green is the most restful color?
— a picture of me that wasn’t taken in a different decade.
— all the fun graphics the web designer created. Thanks, PlainJoe.
—…… including the little bookmark in the top left.
— every post and every comment, from the very first post in 2006 to now, has been transferred over, PLUS all my formatting, PLUS there’s a complete archive link at the bottom of the page. Seriously, the PlainJoe people have magic internet juice.
—the Twitter feed, so you can know what I’m thinking EVERY MINUTE.
— The lovely list of organizations I’ve worked with. Visit their websites, won’t you?
Beginning very soon, you will no longer be able to access my site from the Christian Standard website, so if you’re used to finding me that way, you might want to set a new bookmark to this URL. And for all you RSSers, be sure and subscribe to the new feed by clicking on that fun orange icon below my picture.
As always, thanks for reading. More rants to come.
Foursquare. Do you really care that I’m at Target….again?
Tattoos. Much love to my friends who have them, but I just don’t get it.
The Cheesecake Factory. Have you EVER been there when it’s not so crowded you’re touching strangers inappropriately?
Pinterest. (Didn’t Evernote do this first, and better?)
Christmas cards. To everyone I know: I wish you a very happy Christmas. There—done.
Chex Mix. It smells like cat food.
One problem with Jen University is that for every book I read or podcast I listen to, there are a dozen more of equal or greater caliber just waiting to be discovered.
Jen U may be a ten-year program.
This week I discovered yet another resource that will add on at least a semester. The Veritas Forum is a program of university events featuring scholars and authors and assorted other thinkers discussing “life’s hardest questions and the relevance of Jesus Christ to all of life.” The organization goes after two groups of speakers: “one with a deep and growing understanding of how his/her life, faith and work connect with the story and person of Jesus Christ, and one with a differing worldview, in order to compare the differing answers to our hardest questions.” Veritas began on university campuses and its name comes from the word used in the mottoes of many of them, including Harvard and Yale.
Although none of the forums are scheduled around Nashville anytime soon, the site offers short video excerpts from past events as well as a number of books and other resources. It’s TED meets seminary and I’m addicted. And resigned to never graduating from my own school.
This week, People of the Second Chance launched “Never Beyond,” a series of posters representing well-known characters—historical and current, real and fictional—who have harmed society. Each of them, like this first one featuring Casey Anthony, asks “Who Would You Give A Second Chance?”
The idea is to challenge our core beliefs about forgiveness and grace. POTSC invited me to participate in the blog campaign about this project, and yesterday I wrote a whole post about how forgiveness doesn’t mean being a doormat but it means choosing freedom by giving up the right to punish the other person, and the importance of letting go of anger and resentment, and how even though it may seem impossible to consider forgiveness it’s the path to health, and yada yada yada.
Then I read this.
Two white teens in Mississippi, Daryl Dedmon and John Aaron Rice (why must southerners always have two first names?), got drunk and decided to find a black person to beat up. The first one they saw was James Craig Anderson.
“Dedmon pummeled Anderson repeatedly as he crumpled to the street, according to officials,” said the CNN story. “After the beating, some of the teens left and some got into the truck. At this moment on the video, Anderson becomes visible, as he staggers into view and walks toward the headlights of the truck. The truck suddenly surges ahead, running over Anderson, then continues at high speed away from the scene.”
They ganged up on a man, beat him severely, then ran him over. A man they’d never met. Because of his skin color.
I don’t know how to forgive that. I don’t even know how to talk about forgiving that. Instead of Casey Anthony, I see Dedmon and Rice on that poster, and instead of offering them grace I want to hit them with shovels.
I exaggerate (a bit), but any honest conversation about second chances has to acknowledge how terrifically difficult it can be. We can all picture a person on our own poster, someone we simply cannot imagine forgiving, and our abstract enthusiasm for a movement of “scandalous grace” must become a specific resolve to extend that grace to real people in real life.
So how do we get there? Is anyone beyond a second chance? What if they never feel remorse or admit guilt? How do we live out this movement of mercy in a world of evil?
It’s after midnight and you’re sleeping, finally, after some last-minute packing of crates and duffels and some help from Tylenol PM. Good to see it working—tomorrow you will fly to Tanzania by way of Amsterdam, a 24-hour journey you’re dreading. Sleep is good.
I should be sleeping, too, but I may also need pills. Yesterday on a flight of my own I sat next to an Army private heading out for a tour of duty. I thought about the people who love him and wondered how they could say goodbye as he left for a year or longer. How did they choke down breakfast that morning? How did they endure the ride to the airport? How did they peel themselves away after the last hug?
Tomorrow morning I will find out, as I join your other friends and family to see you off for two or maybe even three years of missionary service in Africa.
Neither of us knows what those years will bring. By 2014 I could be married with triplets (please, no) or promoting my first book or fighting cancer. When you return you will be forever changed by years of learning Swahili, bonding with the young students you’ve taught, and witnessing God’s provision in the desert. Who will we be when we meet again? The changes are both unknowable and unstoppable, and even the positive possibilities overwhelm me as I sit thinking tonight.
But even as my mind races, I know some things will not change: My interest in your work. My love for you as a friend and adopted sister. The everlasting God who holds both of us in his hands.
Tomorrow you, too, will follow the orders of your Captain. You will fly off to war and confront not only the intangible spiritual battles of a country but also its too-real droughts and riots and danger.
And I will manage a few gulps of coffee, and endure the ride to IND, and let you go after the final hug. And I’ll be waiting at the airport when you come home.
Kids across the country return to school this week, and it makes me sad.
Granted, there are tons of kids ready to go back, and just because I hated school for 17 years does not mean I am anti-education.
But what happened to the three-month summer? Today’s kids get out in late May, start pencil and scissor shopping in July and are tucked back behind a desk before August even gets going. When I was younger, June, July AND August were sacred, and were spent riding bikes, climbing trees, attending church camp, reading piles of books from the library, scrounging up quarters to pay the late fines, eating popsicles, cannonballing into the pool, sunburning shoulders, and pestering little brothers. Bliss.
Of course, not every child’s summer was so idyllic, and researchers now believe children without access to camps and libraries suffer “summer learning loss.” As a result, more schools, especially in lower-income areas, are extending semesters and school days and shortening summer breaks.
For instance, according to a recent Time magazine article, Cincinnati offered the 13 lowest-performing schools in the city an optional “fifth quarter,” or extra month of classes, this past June. This seems equivalent to offering Guantanamo prisoners an extra four weeks of waterboarding, but Governor Strickland hopes to eventually add the extension to every school in the state.
Others point out our country’s low achievement scores relative to Europe and Asia, and some believe sociological shifts support the extended day. “Our children are no longer working in the fields,” says US Education Secretary Arne Duncan in the same article. “And Mom isn’t waiting at home at 2:30 with a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. That just doesn’t happen in American families anymore.”
This seems like a classic mistake of cause and effect.
For one thing, that mom (or dad) who’s not home to greet the children after work may also be too tired to give much help with homework or attend parent-teacher conferences. I’m not trying to open the whole should-women-work topic, because the issue is more complex—both moms and dads (when present) improve their kids’ academic performance by taking an active interest and involvement in the process. Keeping kids in school longer won’t make the parents less stressed or more on-task when the kids finally get home.
Second, many of our schools are already in crisis, with teachers struggling to manage huge classes and dwindling resources. Extending a child’s stay in some of them is about as productive as giving the mouse a bigger wheel to run. Some educators realize this, and are using the extended time as an opportunity to give extra attention to the kids who need it most. “Clearly, focusing on the students that are furthest behind is where it makes the most sense,” says Chris Gabrieli, chairman of Massachusetts 2020, which helped create an experimental extended day program in 26 low-performing schools throughout the state. “Middle-class kids, they get a lot more learning time outside of school—they get tutors, they get arts programs, they get music programs, they get summer camps.”
And so we return to my own memories of summer, three predictably wonderful months ending with predictably pathetic tears on Labor Day. Because I had the benefit of those enrichment activities, plus a good public school and involved parents, I graduated at the top of a big class and earned a 31 on my ACT. Although the meager bragging rights of that sentence are about the total good the ACT did me, neither did the long summers do me any harm.
A few more hours each week might help our students become more competitive, but our parents and schools also have a few things to learn. Let’s use the time we have more effectively before piling more onto little sunburned shoulders.
Why companies think a “crazy hat day” will improve employee morale.
Expensive hotels requiring $11 a day for internet access while the Exxon station down the road proudly offers it for free.
Why church secretaries find it necessary to use every. available. font. when designing the weekly newsletter.
Why we are still printing the Yellow Pages.
What is so confusing to Americans about roundabouts.
Writing anything, at any time, on a bathroom wall.
Baby Gap. Who is spending this much for clothes a child will grow out of in three months?
My neighbors who removed their garage door and bricked up the entrance.
The admiration for Katherine Hepburn. Her voice gets on the fringe of the edge of my very last nerve.
Beware of dog signs. If you need that sign, perhaps you should not have that dog.
You don’t have to be a long-time reader to know I’m frustrated with Christianity in this country.
I’m tired of expensive buildings and the capital campaigns to pay for them. I’m tired of huge staffs and routine services and “the church has left the building” (for one day) and maybe-effective programs like VBS (can I say that on a Standard blog?). I’m tired of people who claim to be Christians but have no idea what they believe or why.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s just me. Long-time readers also know I can overthink things and be critical. (It’s amazing any of you still read this blog, actually.)
Are my expectations too high? Is the church we have now what God intended? Does anyone else feel this way?
Apparently at least two others do, and I got to chat with them last week.
Ashley Wooldridge, executive pastor at Christ’s Church of the Valley, shared how CCV completely overhauled its structure by dividing up their entire area into neighborhoods and asking people to build relationships with other CCV attenders right on their street and in their subdivision instead of driving across town for a small group.
But the goal wasn’t more convenient Bible studies; group members are expected to get to know the neighbors around them and own the responsibility for service and outreach in that neighborhood. Groups work together to meet that specific neighborhood’s needs: they provide meals for new mothers and grieving families, help with home renovation projects, organize neighborhood picnics, give groceries to the unemployed, and even collect money for a neighbor’s medical bills or a rehab stay.
(Interesting side note: despite huge growth and a merge with another megachurch earlier this year, CCV’s benevolence budget has not increased.)
On the other side of the country, RiverTree Christian Church is revamping its strategy around “GoCos”–Go Communities ranging from 20 to 70 people, each one committed to reaching a different group. The church will launch 30 of these this fall, but already a few are gathering at the local country club and among the area’s itinerant Mexican farmers. Each group has a leader who’s trained and coached by RiverTree pastors, but each one is also encouraged to function as its own small part of the body and reproduce itself.
Senior pastor Greg Nettle sees this as the way to truly grow; the church recently passed up the opportunity to buy the huge plot of land and build the huge building to focus on this—a strategy that doesn’t require much meeting space and could potentially affect many more people. These folks may or may not ever attend worship at RiverTree, but worship attendance is (finally!) no longer the ultimate measure of success in reaching a community.
I’m not blogging about this to pick on church again; instead, I want to celebrate some churches willing to try different models. Both are more difficult, time-consuming and risky than church as usual. The results of both are harder to measure. And both challenge people to move from consumers of a weekly show to participants in the mission of the church.
Are these approaches a “better” way to do church? I don’t know. But they sure look more like the first church than what the rest of us are doing.
Before jumping into my list, we begin with some honorable mentions contributed by helpful readers after last week’s post.
Their picks for the worship song they just can’t sing included Famous One (for a number of reasons, including the line “For all you’ve done and yet to do”), Breathe (“The song just bugs me for some reason. Mainly I feel like we are suffocating”) and How He Loves (“you know, the Sloppy Wet Kiss song”).
Much ire was directed at I Could Sing of Your Love Forever. The whole song is about dancing with joy and it’s usually sung by “a bunch of stoic, middle-class white people, doing nothing that even remotely resembles dancing,” said one. Another person succinctly summed up my feelings when he said, “Why is this song always performed so it seems like it DOES go on forever?”
But the winner from last week’s comments was my college friend Tom who shared the verse from a song that, he said, “makes me want to shower each time I hear it.” Go check out the comments from part one.
And that leads us into today’s list…..
1. You Are My Passion
Now will You draw me close to You?
Gather me in Your arms.
Let me hear the beating of Your heart,
O my Jesus, O my Jesus.
You are my passion, Love of my life
Friend and companion,
All of my being longs for Your touch.
With all my heart I love You.
Why: If the example from Tom didn’t convince you (seriously, go read it), here’s another example of the “Jesus, my boyfriend with whom I apparently get very physical” genre. And we wonder why there are no men at church.
A good rule of thumb: If you would be too embarrassed to stand up with a microphone and speak the words to your spouse, please do not sing them to your Savior.
2. Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble?
Open up the doors and let the music play
Let the streets resound with singing
Songs that bring your hope
Songs that bring your joy
Dancers who dance upon injustice
Why: How, exactly, does one dance upon injustice? Are special shoes required? And for that matter, why are we going so easy on injustice? Why aren’t we stomping on it? Or kicking it? Or giving it lots of paper cuts and then squeezing lemon juice on it?
3. Above All
Like a rose
Trampled on the ground
You took the fall
And thought of me
Why: First, I’ve never connected with the image of a rose falling onto the ground and being walked on as a parallel for Jesus being beaten and nailed to wooden beams. Neither does “taking the fall” seem adequate (or even respectful).
But my bigger issue is that in typical American style we have made this song “above all” about us. Yes, Jesus laid down his life so we could know God, but the final chapters of each Gospel indicate he was focused on God’s glory, not Jennifer Taylor. Some worship leaders change “and thought of me” to “and now you reign.” It’s not a bad idea, folks.
4. Worthy is the Lamb
High and lifted up
Jesus, Son of God.
The darling of Heaven, crucified….
Worthy is the Lamb.
Why: It would only be worse if Jesus was called the sweetheart of heaven. “Honeybunch of heaven” has too many syllables. But “heartthrob of heaven” could work…….
5. Great is the Lord Almighty
Great is the Lord Almighty, He is Lord He is God indeed
Great is the Lord Almighty, He is God supreme
Why: Simply put, I cannot sing about “God supreme” without thinking of Taco Bell.
Okay, your turn again. Why the erotic subtext to so many Christian songs? Am I way off on “Above All”? And what would you do to injustice?
Most of the time I’m quite content to be a behind-the-scenes person, using my skills to make other leaders and their projects more successful.
Most of the time.
Then there are days like yesterday when I see other people, much more well-known, praised for their abilities. Through a combination of luck and talent (because they are talented), these folks have risen to the top of their fields or the top of the best-seller lists or the top of the blogosphere, and for the most part they are doing good things with their platforms.
But sometimes I feel resentful because, if I’m honest, I think I’m just as talented and just as capable.
Maybe you can relate. Are you the pastor of a small, unknown church who regularly hits a home run with your sermons? Do you privately critique the messages preached by the megachurch guy down the street and resent his popularity and conference invites?
Maybe you work in an office where charisma is more valued than commitment and you see others receive credit for what you’ve done.
Or maybe, like me, you work hard and pay your dues plus some interest just to see others work less, make more money, receive more opportunities and get more pats on the back.
Self pity much? Just thinking this way seems childish, and I don’t like this about myself. I don’t like admitting it to you. But I’m probably not alone. So just in case any of you ever struggle with the same green-eyed monster, here’s what I try to remember when jealousy strikes:
I can’t know another person’s life. It’s easy to idealize someone else’s successes, but that person probably has physical, emotional, spiritual or relational struggles you know nothing about. Remember you’re only seeing one part of the picture.
Get real. It’s easy to feel cheated because I haven’t had the same opportunities, but if I’m honest I don’t have even the beginning of a book idea or a mission to share. Why fuss about not making the team when you haven’t learned the sport?
They feel jealous, too. Believe it or not, that “personality” you’re thinking of is measuring himself against someone else. There’s always someone with more money, more influence or more talent. Comparison doesn’t stop when you achieve a goal; if anything, it gets worse.
Those who need to know, know. The masses may not know my name, but the pastors, nonprofit leaders, authors, entrepreneurs and creatives I work with appreciate me and what I do. Having them as fans is more important to me than having Facebook fans.
There’s still ink in the pen. I’m in my 30s, not my 70s—there’s still time to have more adventures. Even if I was in my 70s, Grandma Moses proved you can begin an amazing career at any age. My story isn’t written yet.
Contentment is a choice. Today I get to see Andrew Peterson in concert (good grief, talk about an artist who should be better known), interview leaders in California and Florida for that Externally Focused project, brainstorm the new name for a midwest megachurch, write an iPhone app description for a church planting group, and connect with you on this blog. I’m healthy. My friends and family are wonderful. The lawnmower works again and there’s no “back to school” in my future. I have a pretty great life, and I need to remember it.
When do you feel jealous? How have you resisted the comparison game?