Baseball was the activity that most defined me as a teenager and young adult, and I nearly quit it before I’d barely started. I was 10. I couldn’t hit, catch, or throw, and the springtime games in Colorado meant a lot of standing around in the cold doing nothing interesting before getting yelled at by the coach for doing the same.

I told my parents I didn’t want to play anymore. They wouldn’t let me quit. At least not easily. Baseball was a huge thing for my dad growing up, and, with my older brother showing zero interest, I was his last chance to have a baseball player in the family. But more than that, I think my parents didn’t like the idea of letting their kid just quit. So they said I could quit but that they would be . . . wait for it . . . very disappointed.

I didn’t quit. And after a few more months I got the hang of it and shortly came to love it. For the next 10 years it was the activity I privileged over almost everything else in life.

I’m thinking about almost quitting baseball because my seven year-old wants to quit ballet and I’m not letting her. I should say she wants to quit ballet again. A few weeks before the end of the term last spring she grew tired of it, and I let her stop going. But after a ballet-free summer, she pleaded with her mom and I to start up again this fall. We gladly complied. Now, four weeks in, she wants to quit again.

We already paid for the whole season, so she’s not quitting. But also, I feel that same my-kids-not-gonna-be-a-quitter thing happening that must have been happening for my parents nearly 30 years ago now, but I don’t know if that’s that good or bad for my kid.

I’ve heard people advocating for allowing kids to try out lots of different activities and quit if they don’t like them. That helps, they say, develop a sense of what you’re interested in for its own sake and not for the sake of pleasing parents. My kid has a lot of freedom to try things out. On top of ballet, she’s done science camps, gymnastics, tap dance, music lessons–practically everything she’s ever expressed interest in. But I always smart a bit when she quits.

Yesterday, talking with a group of 12th graders, I found myself urging one of them to quit football. He hates it. He tried to quit a week ago, but the coach twisted his arm so that he stayed on the team. This week he’s been miserable, and he quit going to practice by Wednesday.

“You clearly don’t enjoy it,” I told him. “It looks to me like, emotionally at least, you’ve already quit. So just tell the coach you’re not playing anymore.” I go on to relate how, after 10 years of loving playing baseball, I quit loving it at the end of my sophomore year of college and quit. I actually phoned the coach an hour before our last game and told him I wasn’t coming. And that was that.

The 12th grader said I was right–he doesn’t enjoy it–and that he’s definitely quitting.

Did I just turn a teenager into a quitter? Why do I feel good about that?

Eugene Peterson, Please Forgive Me

I have described Eugene Peterson, the author of the popular Bible paraphrase The Message, as a writer who never met a cluster of words he couldn’t hyphenate. Consider his paraphrase of Psalm 1:

How well God must like you—
    you don’t hang out at Sin Saloon,
    you don’t slink along Dead-End Road,
    you don’t go to Smart-Mouth College.

That hyphenating tendency signifies one of Peterson’s signature traits as a Christian speaker and writer, and that is a relaxed grasp of the conventions of faith, especially the conventions of pastoral ministry.

I have never been a Peterson fan. Check that. I was a Peterson fan while I was considering pastoral ministry, during those several months when I was talking with peers about it, praying fervently about it, and reading everything from Buechner to LaMott pertaining to Christian vocation and call, including Peterson’s The Contemplative Pastor, a book that my pastor at the time enthusiastically endorsed.

Here’s an emblematic quote from that book:

How can I lead people into the quiet place beside the still waters if I am in perpetual motion? How can I persuade a person to live by faith and not by works if I have to juggle my schedule constantly to make everything fit into place?

The Contemplative Pastor argued for an approach to church leadership that privileged solitary contemplation and reading over administration and the running of programs (I seem to remember the book urging pastors to spend hours every day reading, in particular, Dosteyevsky).

That worked for me. Long stretches of meditative reading and writing is what I longed to be doing. It’s what I imagined seminary must be. But once I started seminary I was relieved of that fantasy. And then, once I started working in churches, first as a seminary intern and then as an ordained Minister, I realized first hand just how out-of-step with Peterson’s vision of pastoral ministry the real world of mainline Protestant pastors was.

In those circles, The Contemplative Pastor was treated with a mixture of distant admiration (stressed out pastors whisping, “yeah, that would be nice”) and outright scorn, as if Peterson’s posture was not just unrealistic but unprofessional. I quickly become one of those who relegated Peterson to that chorus of voices I did not wish to listen to.

It’s been 11 years since I was ordained, and in that time I have served two churches and got myself involved with all kinds of work in presbyteries, synods, and other networks of church leaders, all while regarding The Contemplative Pastor as a model not for me. I have spent a decade in perpetual motion, learning the art of schedule juggling. I’m tired.

I think I want to give Peterson another chance.

Luckily for me, a very thoughtful colleague just yesterday left a copy of Peterson’s memoir, The Pastor, on my desk.

How My Church Is Fixing Children’s Time

Children’s Times are a worship staple in lots of mainline churches. Both Presbyterian churches I’ve served have had long histories with inviting kids up to the front of the sanctuary during worship and treating them to a lesson or a story.

While the Children’s Time is a focal point for a lot of congregational nostalgia, it is also the one moment many churches have of explicitly welcoming children, so it deserves to be done well, and that is easier said than done.

[Excursis: creative, smart people like Adam Walker Cleaveland and Theresa Cho are experimenting with and sharing new tools and insights to help churches welcome children]

My colleagues and I recently changed a couple of things about our Children’s Time that we hope will allow us to improve the church’s welcome of children of all ages and developmental abilities.

First, we moved it from after the Passing of The Peace to before. When it followed the Peace, it was the first part of worship’s second movement, Hearing And Proclaiming The Word. It preceded the choral anthem, Scripture readings, and the sermon. So it needed to be based in telling a Bible story. That suited me fine, because my training was to gather the kids, tell them a story, and then get out. No props, no metaphors, no Q&A: just the story.

That’s the way to go with elementary-aged children, but our kids’ ages have skewed younger over the past several months, and trying to tell a four of five minute story to preschoolers is a different animal. They want to move. Restraining them produces tantrums, but letting them roam the chancel is distracting–if the substance of your activity is sitting passively and listening to a story.

But moving the Children’s Time forward in the service makes it part of The Gathering, the first major part of worship that also includes greetings and announcements and The Call to Worship. That part of the service handles improvisation and movement a lot better. And that’s the second change we’ve made: we’re building in movement.

We don’t feel like sitting and listening is developmentally appropriate for most of the kids we having coming forward now, and so we are building our welcome of children in worship around an invitation to move, either by standing and then sitting, by clapping their hands or stomping their feet, or even by getting up and relocating; last Sunday we moved from the chancel steps to the communion table and back again.

This movement also involves the adult congregation. Most of the movements we do with the children are simple enough to be repeated by the adults, and so we explicitly invite them to join in. That has the added benefit of transforming the Children’s Time even further, turning it from a moment for grown ups to passively watch (and even judge!) children into a chance for them to connect with and welcome kids into the church.

How Does World Communion Sunday Actually Achieve World Communion?

One of the benefits of being an Associate Pastor in my context is getting to watch a skilled colleague plan worship in a way that honors the Reformed tradition and promotes vibrant interaction. This is true of worship she designs, say, in the middle of summer, just as it is of services that are more prescribed, like World Communion Sunday.

Yesterday my colleague knocked out not one but two terrific liturgies to lead us into the experience of world communion, one for our congregation and one in collaboration with the Indonesian congregation that shares our worship space. Everything was thoughtfully and deliberately put together, and both liturgies did all the things you want World Communion Worship to do: speak several languages, trace the history of the occasion, and call for the church’s involvement in the most God-forsaken corners of the globe. My colleague is a pro, you guys.

How is it, though, that this particular tradition, embraced by the majority of Protestant denominations in the middle of the last century, actually achieves its stated aim? Does it?

My colleague very helpfully explained to the congregation yesterday that this particular practice of urging Christians of every denomination to share communion on the same Sunday arose during the dark days of the Great Depression, and that it really found its footing within the protestant ecclesiastical establishment during World War II, when the exercise felt like the church’s way of “holding the world together.” No doubt that was powerful: American churches whose European fore-bearers in the faith were killing each other coming together to witness to Christian unity.

Two things about this practice today, though. 1) We don’t live in that Euro-centric world anymore. The parts of the world that most urgently need held together are places like Syria and Umpqua, Oregon. The forces tearing humanity apart are no longer European super powers heaving bombs at one another’s capitals but random gun violence, human trafficking, and mass migration.

2) Christians of different traditions showing their unity (“And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love . . . “) is not the witness to the gospel that it once was. It feels to me like the non-Christian world has made its peace with denominationalism, so Methodists and Presbyterians and Lutherans breaking bread together hardly registers. I mean, these are fine distinctions, aren’t they? Most people who aren’t in church can’t parse the Catholic/Protestant distinction, and many more see no reason to distinguish between Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism.

The American cultural landscape today features organized religion on one hand and individual spirituality (or not) on the other, not necessarily in conflict with one another, and with neither proving particularly effective at stopping mass shootings or sheltering the huddled masses. In that game, you don’t get points for hugging your own teammates.

How might World Communion Sunday, then, but transformed into something that pushed the church to share communion (and not only as a sacrament) with people who most desperately need it, and not, as the tradition’s originators intended, with other Christians?

Monday Morning Quarterback

I invited a handful of college students from our congregation over to my house yesterday afternoon for chili and conversation. We did this a few times last year, and I am eager to establish it as a fun gathering that keeps post high school youth attending local colleges connected to one another and to the church and that curates meaningful conversations about God and faith.

I’ve even got a Biblical scholar coming.

I made chili. I made cornbread. I put on cider. The scholar had a conversation about creation all teed up.

And one student came.


No doubt it was a valuable time for him, what with a free meal and some one-on-one prodding from an Old Testament expert, but it’s not the scale of participation I envisioned.

Before he left, the solitary participant observed that not enough had been done to invite people. I know he’s right, but I’m exasperated by the increasing complexity of communicating with individuals and groups using an ever-expanding network of digital and analog tools.

Three weeks ago I posed this gathering to a group of students using Facebook Messenger. Their reply was positive. So last Tuesday I posted the day and time on the Facebook page I’ve set up for college students. Yesterday I sent text messages to individuals to remind them.

That strategy feels scattershot, and it depends on me remembering to initiate communication pieces in the middle of doing lots of other things, none of which involve actually talking to these college students face-to-face. Is that what’s missing?

I asked my lone attendee for help in spreading the word about this the next time we do this, and with some insight as to the best possible day and time to do it. But it’s my job, ultimately.

That job is not to come up with event ideas to throw at people but to reach out to them with interest and to build relationships with them based on curiosity. That requires face time.

So, back to school with me then.

(One more time: not Rocky. But he’s on his way back!)

A few weeks ago, I was on vacation. (And it was glorious.) Part of my trip was to southern California – Fullerton to be exact (southeast of Los Angeles) – where Prof. Lisa Long, a friend of lo-these-many years, is making her mark with the faculty and students in the College of The Arts at Cal State-Fullerton (go Titans!).

It was great to see her new home, her office, the campus, the studio (where she teaches modern levels 1 and 2 in Graham-based technique and composition). I even sat in on two classes, meeting her students (terrifying them with the introduction that I was in from out of town, casting for a production – a conceit we could only hold for about 15 seconds, their fearfaces more than I could bear … but a good lesson, as she shared, in always being ready to say ‘Okay. Fine. I got this. Bring it.’), watching her work with them, seeing them absorb her passionate leading, internalize their learning, and respond in expressive wonder as their own creative light-bulbs ignite. It was gorgeous and meaningful in ways I’m still putting together.

In one of our many conversations about how much she loves her work at CSUF, and how wonderful her students are (reflecting their teacher, I keep reminding her!), I asked Lisa about how you ‘grade’ something so personal and creative. Is it based on how unique the work is? How well the dancer takes correction? The technical clarity and precision?

Yes, that. But also, she said, ‘One of the evaluation principles written in my course description is ‘risk’. I want to see what chances they’ll take.’

Holy cow.

My brain has been rolling that around ever since.

Risk as an EXPECTATION. Not like ‘oh yeah this could be dangerous so buckle up all your protective gear and sign six pages of waivers before you go’. But ‘Show me.’

For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

Show me what you’ve got, Risk says.
How you dream,
what it sounds like,
where it moves,
how it feels,
what it imagines,
that it breathes,
if it lasts,
or doesn’t,
or has to.

Show me you can risk.

(Rev. Courtney Richards, leaving the keys under the mat.)

(Pastor, preacher, fancies-herself-a writer, maybe-eventually-DMin-student (yikes!). Connections Pastor at Harvard Avenue Christian Church, Tulsa OK. Lover of food, beverage, laughter, high heels, the people she works with, and the community she serves. Find her on Twitter @c_rev, where she’ll ramble about church stuff, rage over social justice stuff, throw around pop culture stuff, and occasionally rant about crummy customer service.)

bold risk danger what?

(Still not Rocky, btw.)

So … about that bold, risk, almostdanger thing.

You’ve seen this, right? If you haven’t, please please please see it. I’ll wait.

Okay then.

Amy Pence-Brown (who, as it turns out, is a friend of one of my good friends – who knew?!) is my absolute shero. I covet that kind of boldness … about my body, about my life, in my career, in the lives of people I know and love, for all of the things for which they covet boldness too … that kind of risk and danger and whooooo putting it all out there. Covet covet covet.

The bazillion views and shares, the press coverage (‘coverage’! ha!), the celebrity responders (Kevin Bacon!), the notes from moms and friends and strangers and everywhere. Bold. Risk. almostDanger.

And the pay off.

  • If she can do it, why couldn’t I? (After all, even Amy borrowed her inspiration from another group somewhere else.)
  • If the people who picked up markers would do what they did, why wouldn’t I?
  • If they would leave water for her to drink … offer a hug that included even more physical contact that usual (I mean, skin! eee!) … encourage a friend to leave a heart, write a word, share the story …

… why wouldn’t we?

I don’t mean why wouldn’t we take off our clothes – although if that’s what works for you and what you need, then … drop ‘em, baby! …

But when we see others who are bold … who risk … who are faithful … who are courageous … who do the almostdangerous …

Is our reaction to assume ‘sure they can, but how would I?’
Or do we think ‘YES! That’s me too! ME! TOO!’


(Rev. Courtney Richards. Pastor, preacher, fancies-herself-a writer, maybe-eventually-DMin-student (yikes!). Connections Pastor at Harvard Avenue Christian Church, Tulsa OK. Lover of food, beverage, laughter, high heels, the people she works with, and the community she serves. Find her on Twitter @c_rev, where she’ll ramble about church stuff, rage over social justice stuff, throw around pop culture stuff, and occasionally rant about crummy customer service.)

DANGER (a blog takeover)

(Not posted by Rocky Supinger. No matter what it says above.)

Earlier this year, I was invited to join some friends – all clergy (and all Presbyterian), in various roles – in an informal peer group. (They needed some diversity, so they invited a Disciple.)(Insider church joke FTW!)

We check in with each other during the day – not for any reason in particular, but just to have touchpoints in very full days and careers. Several travel extensively, many have children (from kindergarten to college); we are parish and university and denominational office ministers. In the midst of it we cherish connection with those who get how wonderful crazy different unusual sometimes unspeakable exciting challenging ridiculous mundane emotional tiring invigorating every single day of ministry is.

Yesterday, one criticized an article he’d read, saying it (among other things) lacked substance.
I said: While I agree with one point the guy made, the rest IS pretty cloying and thin.
He: Cloying and thin is exactly the kind of language that post is missing.
Me (joking): Let me know when you’d like a Disciples guest writer (and I’ll see if I can find you one!).
He (not joking): Well, MY blog is quiet this week, here’s my login and password, have at it. #carefulwhatyouwishfor
Me: Danger Will Robinson!
He: Blogs need danger.

So. I’m going to invade Rocky’s blog a few days this week.

It won’t be world-changing. It will be fun, and different for me, and a chance to say a few things and write a few things to share with friends who’ve encouraged me to write. And while it’s not REALLY all that dangerous (I hope! for Rocky’s sake! please still love and adore and read him after this week!), it IS a reminder that we called not to be timid, but to be bold. Not to sit idly by, but to risk.

I love this spin on Paul’s words (2Cor6:12 MSG):

Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way.

Why do we make ourselves small? Why do we hide a Light that was made to be seen?

So. What’s your bold? What’s your risk? What’s your not-really-dangerous-but-maybe-a-little-bit thing that needs doing? Personally? Professionally? Faithfully?

Write. Invite. Show up. Call. Come back. Offer. Laugh. Sing. Play. Apologize. Read. Practice. Give. Try. Go. Do.

“Blogs need danger.” Maybe … so do we.

(Rev. Courtney Richards. Pastor, preacher, fancies-herself-a writer, maybe-eventually-DMin-student (yikes!). Connections Pastor at Harvard Avenue Christian Church, Tulsa OK. Lover of food, beverage, laughter, high heels, the people she works with, and the community she serves. Find her on Twitter @c_rev, where she’ll ramble about church stuff, rage over social justice stuff, throw around pop culture stuff, and occasionally rant about crummy customer service.)

Let’s Make Grannies of Youth Leaders

The TED Radio Hour is a great podcast. Subscribe to it now if you haven’t already. Listen to this episode first. It features Sugata Mitra and his School In The Cloud idea and his philosophy of “self-organized learning environments” (SOLEs). Want to hear the whole talk? It’s here.

Mitra’s basic conviction is that children can organize themselves to learn really complex skills and information without a traditional teacher functioning in the way that traditional teachers function, namely giving lessons and assessing for comprehension. He has done multiple studies where he’s placed a computer in the middle of a rural village that has never seen one and then stood back and watched in wonder as the children from that village used it to learn at a level comparable to Mitra’s control group of elite private schools, but without the aid of a trained teacher.

Here’s the most interesting part though: adults still have a role in these SOLEs that tremendously impacts learning, but it’s not to instruct. It is to encourage.

The story from the talk is great. Mitra asked a 22 year old accountant to stand by the children as they played with the computer and to frequently remark things like, “Wow, how did you do that?” and “I could never have done that when I was your age!” He calls it the “granny” method, and it increased the learning of the kids in his SOLE’s by 50%, even though the young woman knew nothing about the subject the kids were exploring.

There’s some brain science behind this about how we function cognitively when praised versus when we’re threatened with punishment, but I’m less interested in the mechanics of that than the application for the church. What community of people is better positioned to “granny” children and youth into their own learning and growth than a church?

Is this not the main thing we’re asking adult volunteers to do when we invite them to help with youth group? With Sunday school? Encourage kids in their own exploration of God and faith and the Bible and the Church? That’s so much less intimidating than being asked to authoritatively teach some body of truth, because, really, who feels competent to do that? I certainly don’t.

But words of encouragement don’t mean anything if they don’t proceed from a person who is earnestly interested in the learner as a human being. I asked some 12th graders yesterday if they perceive that the adults in their life are actually interested in them as people. They do, happily. And they named particular teachers who express that interest. Their faces glowed talking about them.

The main thing granny does, after all, is like you.

“I’m Just Putting This Out There”

The more I hear myself say that, the less I know I’m owning my ideas. Like most verb clauses prefaced by “just,” this one wants to do something without seeming to want to too strongly (my last favorite such clause is, “I’m Just Saying“).

Sometimes I’m so afraid of being perceived as pushy that I’ll soft pedal an idea I care about. “I’m just putting this out there” allows me to share the idea, but it shifts the responsibility for caring about it to some other person or group. And if my lukewarm presentation fails to win any support, well, that’s on them. I tried.

No I didn’t.

Nothing is more likely to make me care about something than seeing that you do. Don’t just put something out there for it to die for lack of nurture. Present it with care, and guide it into my consciousness so I can see it the way you do.


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