Anxiety Is The Enemy of Collaboration

I have a retreat to lead this weekend. My monthly and daily logs are jammed with tasks related to it: order the supplies; plan the games; design the lessons; collect all the consent forms.

I have five leaders coming on this retreat.


It’s an embarrassment of riches. And yet it took me until yesterday to give any of them anything meaningful to do. How does that happen?

Anxiety is the enemy of collaboration. When I’m worried about getting something done well, about not failing at it, I bury my head in tasks and barely stop to account for the team I’m working with. It’s no good.

Hopefully five days before the retreat is not too little time for my team to feel involved and prepared.


Why I Don’t Have Much of A Blog Post Today

Some mornings I get up and write a blog post before I do anything else.

This morning I wrote emails.

The emails took more thought and care than most of my blog posts do, so I’m pushing down the disappointment about not writing a very good post today.

Writing is writing.

I’ve Been Getting Something Wrong About Confirmation

The subject of the verb “confirm” in my church’s description of Confirmation is “the church.” The object is “them,” “those baptized as children.” Following the object is this prepositional phrase: “in their baptismal identity.”

“. . . the church shall confirm them in their baptismal identity.”

Two things about this.

  1. Almost every Confirmation class I have led has included youth who were not baptized as children. We have adapted the process to welcome a broader range of students, recognizing that the present intention of a student matters just as much as the past intention of their parents.
  2. Nearly every Confirmation class I have ever led has also included youth who choose not to “make public their personal profession of faith and their acceptance of responsibility in the life of the church.” And yet, though they are not received by the session as active members, they are still presented to the congregation during a service of public worship and confirmed in their baptismal identity. Their identity as beloved children of God does not hinge upon their profession of faith.

I’ve made of habit of telling Confirmation youth and parents that “getting confirmed” is not really something you do in a Presbyterian church. You make a profession of faith. I see now where that has been wrong. Some students make professions of faith. All of them get confirmed.


Friday New Release Focus: Emily Haines And Deer Tick

Emily Haines of Metric has a new solo project out today, the same day that Americana band Deer Tick releases a two volume project. These are the two releases I’m excited about this week.

The summer I moved to California, 2007, I spent a lot of time learning the freeways and listening to Grow Up And Blow Away, the Metric album beloved of indie music fans for its dramatic history–recorded in 2001, its release was delayed by the band’s label until a different label bought the rights and released with only minor revisions. I learned the Inland Empire to that album. Here’s my favorite song from it:

Here’s a track from Haines’ album out today, called Choir of The Mind. It’s released by Last Gang Records, the same label that released Grow Up . . . in 2007 (and, incidentally, the label for a bunch of stellar north-of-the-border acts, like Stars and AC Newman).

“Planets” doesn’t blow me away, but Choir of The Mind goes in the library on the strength of Metric’s resume.

Born on Flag Day is a Deer Tick album released in 2009 that was my introduction to that Americana band. I loved it, and my love has everything to do with John McCauley’s scratchy vocals. Everything. Deer Tick had me at “Easy,” the first track on Born . . . 

I am a little suspicious of the “Vol.1, Vol. 2” convention they’re employing with what they’re putting out today. But I can’t argue with “Card House,” one of the songs they released from the project last month.

Any new music releases you’re excited about today?

Three Propositions About Call Stories

So, my call story:

The first time I pronounced the Assurance of Pardon during a worship service, something clicked. It was the summer of 2002, and I had just begun my first required field education experience, a 10 week church internship in Parkville, Missouri. On the very first Sunday, I was tasked with leading the Call To Confession, the Prayer of Confession, and the Assurance of Pardon. It was the Assurance that did it.

Something crystallized in all of my education and experience in that moment. Saying to a sanctuary full of strangers, “Believe the good news: in Jesus Christ we are forgiven” instantly felt like the thing I was supposed to be doing in a way nothing else had. At the close of the internship I returned to seminary fully committed to training for the pastorate.

Almost every pastor I ever met has a story like that. There was a moment, an encounter, an exchange. Some call stories are about worship, like mine is. Some are about pastoral care, or service. Some happen in solitude. One of my favorite, Frederick Buechner’s, is about laughter.

Here is what I now think about call stories, though. They aren’t forever. They don’t impart an eternal identity. They don’t give you a template for what to do with the rest of your life.

Why did I think, at 26 years old, that I had hit upon the thing I was meant to do forever? Why do some of my friends in ministry struggle, years into congregational ministry, to reconcile their experience of actually being a pastor with the vision of the calling that so arrested them in the beginning?

Let’s be honest about the hazy romanticism and sentimentality we attach to “call” talk. It’s not helpful. As much as that duo can sink marriages, it can do the same to ministry careers.

Here are three propositions about calls to ministry, then:

  1. A call experience is a window into a God-given talent and love for a type of work. The clouds may part for you while leading worship or while ministering to the sick in hospital or while driving the van on a mission trip. There is something in the work you’re good at and that makes you come alive.
  2. We’re called to work, not to roles. Confusing those two is troublesome. My vision of my work was bound up in my understanding of the role of a small church pastor; when, three years after my ordination, I couldn’t find any small churches to pastor, I came to doubt that I was called to ministry at all. What emerged was a very different role (Associate Pastor) with a different community (youth) than my call had envisioned, but that allowed me to deepen the work.
  3. Many call stories are set in the called’s youth or early adulthood. They testify to a spark for something about ministry that, at 40 or 50, may not be a raging fire. That doesn’t diminish the validity of the call, and it doesn’t mean that the called has forgotten their “first love” of ministry. It means they grew and changed. The church did too. The world did too.

What is the work you fell called to? There is more than one role in which to do it, for sure.

I Had A Dream About Bob Garfield

I don’t know if he called me or I called him, but there was no doubt I was on the phone with Bob Garfield. We were discussing something I had written that he was going to publish. The conversation was light and full of banter, like we were old friends, but I was walking a nervous line: trying to impress him without seeming to.

There was an editor there, too (you know how space and time collapse in dreams? Bob was on the phone and the editor was with me, and yet the editor was speaking to Bob, and not through a phone). She offered wink-wink assurances that my piece would be thoroughly scrubbed of the amateurism is inevitably contained. She was mean.

Some wins are also losses. Even in dreams.

Gluten And Youth Group

So here’s a funny little thing that makes a big difference: gluten.

All of the cookies, crackers, bagels, sandwiches, and pizza we give to teenagers and their families at church youth events have it. For 99% of them it’s not a problem; they hardly even know it’s there. But for an increasingly visible segment of our community, gluten is a no-go.

We’ve tried to get savvy the past year about providing gluten free food alternatives, but now we’re getting uncomfortable with the demand that places on some to self-separate. What if we went gluten free by default? How hard would that be?

Food ought to help build community,  not reinforce division.

What You Wish For

As a new pastor in a small church I hungered for colleagues and routines to guide and shape my work. I had neither. I was a solo pastor in a “redevelopment” congregation; the routines that had guided the church before my arrival were exactly the ones that needed adapting.

Maybe that situation would cause another inexperienced pastor to thrive, but it didn’t me. Instead, I had to learn how to trust my gut and to shape my own routines. My second call and a terrific colleague taught me how to do that even more. That lasted eight years.

It’s funny how things come around, because my present call gives me colleagues and routines in abundance. Only now, 13 years after my ordination, it’s taken some time to figure out what to do with them. I’d got used to making it up as I go.

What do you wish you had? Learn to flourish without it, then it will come.

“The Culture” Doesn’t Exist

The discipleship of my early 20’s fed on a steady diet of cultural critique. “The culture” was watermark by which I measured the church’s mission and my own integrity, and that measurement needed to exceed or oppose or supplant everything I deemed to be “cultural.” I fashioned myself counter-cultural.

The culture was relativistic. I championed truth.

The culture sought pleasure. I sought restraint.

The culture rewarded individualism. I cultivated community.

Of course, what I’ve learned since then is that there is no such thing as “the culture.” Instead, we live in a bazaar of cultures, where churches, parachurch ministries, and individual Christians are all taking part in various elements of multiple cultures, advancing their values, all the time.

I am the culture. My discipleship, my vocation, demands a counter-cultural posture, I still believe. Only now I suspect I need to be more specific about which culture I’m countering, perhaps even which values of which culture. And then I need to own all the other ways in which “the culture” is my friend and ally.

Because if “the culture” doesn’t exist, then neither does “the counterculture.”


Suspending DACA Will Make A Spiritual Crisis Worse

Very few people without citizenship documentation have called upon me for pastoral care in my career. My failed attempts to offer them some measure of comfort or reassurance made a durable impression that their challenges outstrip my awareness and my skill by a lot.

It is perhaps worst for the young, who are closer to me in age than the parents who   brought them to the United States to make for them a better life. That promise largely delivered, with a standard of living, safe housing, and educational attainment far beyond what was in the offing in the country of their birth. But the constant awareness of one’s tenuous citizenship status takes a spiritual toll.

Hours spent in my cheerless office with a young person, a college graduate, perpetually unemployed and vigilantly fearful for hers and her parents’ potential deportation, crying heaving sobs about isolation, anger, and depression, forced me to recognize the spiritual crisis our country is in: countless (literally) young people who love this country and know no other home live in constant fear of ejection and face menacing structural barriers to becoming contributing members of the American citizenry and workforce.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy enacted in 2012 addressed two elements of this human crisis in a meaningful way. Young people brought here as children were spared the paralyzing fear of deportation and given a work permit. It allowed people who have only ever experienced themselves as Americans to relax even just a little into the assurance that this country wants them to be part of its future.

Suspending DACA will do palpable harm to masses of mostly young people for no compelling reason.

Suspending DACA will also diminish the present character and future prospects of the United States. Ejecting people who desire to contribute to the future of the country is foolish policy, even if you believe, as the Attorney General does, that the policy granting them reprieve was inappropriately enacted by the Executive, and not the legislative, branch of the government.

Suspending DACA will deepen a spiritual crisis that is barely five years into being made slightly, though tangibly, better.