Write First. Read Second.

Write first. Read second.

I’ve been doing it backwards my whole life, reading first and then writing–writing about the reading, writing in the style of the reading. Now the reading is a reward for doing the writing first.

The discipline of blogging helps here. So does journaling, I figure, though I have not been a disciplined journaler for years and years. First thing: write. Then read the paper, or your blogs, or your book, or Twitter.

We need to hear what you have to say more than we need you to know what everyone else is saying. Get to the reading though, please; we need you to know what you’re talking about.

But write first.


This Is Another Post About Van Rentals

When the manager of the Budget Rent-A-Car told me that my two passengers vans may be an hour late for pickup on Saturday morning, I started thinking of doing something drastic. This reservation was made back in November. They are taking 16 people to North Carolina, people who have been instructed to arrive promptly so that we can begin (and, thus, end) our day-long drive on time. So when the Budget manager nonchalantly stated, “Oh, they may be an hour late,” my mind started spinning.

“What do you mean?” I asked. “My reservation is for an 8:00 pickup. That has always been my reservation.”

“I know,” he answered. “But if the vans don’t get here on Friday night, nobody starts working before 8:00, so it’ll be closer to 9:00 before they get here.”


I pressed the question. “Can you give me any assurance that they’ll get there on time?”

“I’ll try.”

Nope. Done. I’m out.

This isn’t the first spot of trouble I’ve had with Budget. Just the day before I’d called to confirm the reservation and was told by a junior staffer that, sure, my reservation is in the system, but he can’t really confirm I’ll have the vans. That requires a call back the next day to speak to the manager. So I have to speak directly to a manager to confirm that the reservation I made eight months ago is actually a thing? The ground was already very shaky.

I make these calls to Budget to confirm reservations because they burned me once before, badly.

Seconds after hanging up the they-may-be-late call I dialed my X Factor, the piece of the puzzle I did not have the last time Budget burned me. It’s a local place that only rents these vans and moving trucks. I tried them out for our Detroit mission trip in June and thought they were great (their vans have TV’s in them, which I don’t love, but whatever). They cost a smidge more, but they call me to confirm reservations. They. Call. Me. I explain my situation and the dates I need. The guy asks, “So you need, like, a backup plan?” No. If you have the vans I’ll take them. He has them. Done.

This is my rental company going forward, full stop.

Cancelling the Budget reservation will cost me $50. That’s the best money I’ve ever paid Budget.

I Want To Get Better

What’s the next thing you need to get good at? If you plan your work around a school calendar like many of us in youth ministry, then a new year is only weeks away. My calendar and invite letter all got mailed out yesterday. But in addition to the youth group schedule, the Confirmation curriculum, and the lock-ins and retreats, I need a plan for getting better at a few things.

Supporting volunteer leaders is one. Learning from parents is another. I have some strategies in mind for improving in these areas, but I could really use a group of peers in ministry to suggest still more strategies and help me evaluate the work.

One of the best experiences of such a peer group I’ve ever had was the Youth Ministry Coaching Program cohort I did in 2011-2012. There were 10 of us from different denominations and church contexts. We learned both practical and theoretical tools for our ministries, some from the facilitator and some from one another. It was one of the most useful professional development experiences I have had in ministry.

I should get in another one of those.

In the meantime I’m organizing one. It will be in Chicago, at the church I serve, and it’s launching this fall. The Synod of Lincoln Trails is behind it, so it will cost less. And it will be led by the same skilled facilitator who led mine seven years ago, the always-learning Mark Oestreicher. It’s open to people working in youth ministry in Presbyterian contexts, and so far it has people from Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana. There are still spots open.

Click here to read more about it and sign up.

Whether it’s a cohort or something else, we all need people to help us get better. The time is now.

This Is My Post About Lice


Head Lice, man.

We found it after 9:00 on Sunday night. We’d checked on Saturday. Nothing. Checked again Sunday? Lice. One solitary lice.

In elementary school it was the worst thing you could level against a person, that they had lice. The associations with grossness and deformity were direct. Lice was leprosy for the suburban third graders in the 80’s. I never got it, which means that my social marginalization was entirely self-imposed, the result of persisting in short-sighted fashion choices, like the shoes emblazoned with the Road Runner and plastic batting helmets for hats.

Still, lice. Now I know it’s not so gross. It’s a parasite. Kids get it all the time.

That it took until she was 10 to contract it is a minor miracle, given three schools and countless summer camps, ballet, gymnastics, and now cheer. And that hair; girl is giving Rapunzel a run.

You know Rapunzel had lice.

It’s fine. Everybody needs the late night Walgreen’s run in their life, and this wasn’t the first. When you’re striding the aisles of the 24 hour pharmacy after dark, whatever you’re there for will be the defining element of your day. There’s no dissembling here, either. At this hour those fluorescent lights lay bare your life for the checker to see quite clearly. But who is he to judge? What is he, 12?

The lice removal kit is like the pregnancy test: nobody needs to ask you how your day is when you’re buying it.

We didn’t find but the one Pidiculus humanus capitis on her the rest of the night. Still, we booked an appointment the next morning for the lice removal place (yes, there is such a place. In fact, it’s a chain of places). So Daughter spent the first day of her new summer camp sitting in a barber chair for over two hours having her hair combed over with the finest of fine-toothed numbers. Mom had told her she could take her phone (relax: it’s not really a phone; okay, it’s a phone but it doesn’t have a SIM card; it can only use wifi), but I vetoed that; I couldn’t stomach the visual of somebody carefully attending to my kid while she completely ignored them to watch YouTube or play Geometry Dash. They learn this stuff young, man.

It’s fine if you don’t bring a phone, though, because they offer you an iPad. Unprompted, Daughter turned it down. Then she sat silently and stared ahead at her compatriot in the opposite chair whose eyes positively bulged at the dinging tablet in her hands. Envy? Maybe. But maybe (hopefully?) judgment.

The haul was minor. Relatively few active crawlers and about 20 eggs. Not contagious. Come back for a final check on Friday. Change her bedding every night until then. Take solace in the availability now of the ultimate comeback to all of her digs at your baldness.






I Hope You’re Listening To Startup

Yesterday I opened my sermon with a recommendation. Go listen to the current season of the podcast Startup. It’s about church planting, and it is thought provoking and troubling and inspiring–even if you’ve never been part of a church plant or imagine you will be. Seriously, the experience of this little church plant in Philadelphia and its leaders are so relevant to church work in general that it is well worth your time. Also, it’s just a really well done production. Kudos to Eric Mennel and crew.

I listened to the new episode on Saturday, on my way home from officiating a wedding, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the central question it raised: what if being a good entrepreneur makes you a bad Christian?

It’s a question that pans all the way out to almost every professional expression of the faith. What if the skills and habits of required to successfully run a church or a faith-based organization are actually inimical to the practice of the faith and to growth in the faith?

I don’t think that’s the case, in the end, lest I wouldn’t be in the profession I’m in. But boy am I thinking about it.

Anyway, go listen to Startup.

Writing It Down In Advance Is Allowed

I watched a dear friend give a speech recently that she tried to deliver “from the heart.” She ended up saying things that were imprecise and unhelpful. She wishes she had written the speech down in advance.

Paper is not the enemy of the heart. I’m not sure where we got the idea that words spoken but not written carry greater authenticity than those penned in advance, but it’s not a useful idea. As if the unfiltered product of whatever is going on in our head and heart in the present moment is more meaningful than something we might devise with time and deliberation several moments–even days–in advance.

Writing it down in advance allows you to be spontaneous if the moment takes you. It is said by people who worked on the “I Have A Dream” speech with Martin Luther King, Jr. that none of the dream language was actually in the draft King had in front of him. It had been in earlier drafts, but he removed it. However, in the moment, somebody called out, “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin!” And off he went. I suspect having words on paper allowed the space for King to improvise.

Writing it down in advance is allowed.

What Do You Have To Do?

What do you have to do?


This week?

This month?

This year?

In this job?

In this life?

It should trickle down, right? My big life aims should shape the work I’m doing. The impact I want to make in my work should drive my project list, which should shape my monthly calendar, which will structure my week, which will tell me what I need to work on today.

Of course it’s a luxury if it works like that. For many the world over, there is but one life aim: survive. Secure food and shelter for yourself and your family through whatever means of employment you can get. Today is all that matters, then–the hours I need to work to earn the money I need to put food on the table. That’s my impact.

If you get to decide what you want to work on, you have a tremendous, historically rare, gift. Use it well.


Using One Project To Hide From Another Project

Ministry is project work. A project is a body of work that needs several steps to complete. So this Sunday’s sermon is a project. So is next month’s session docket. And the fall Confirmation retreat. Those of us in ministry settings need to be able to manage and effectively complete projects.

Yet not all projects are equal in terms of impact, are they? I had this thought last week as I was beating a path back and forth between the printer and my desk, trying to complete a project that mostly required documents and numbers and signatures. I attacked it. Meanwhile, on my list of projects, sit a couple of things that require a lot more than printing and signing, projects that need non-distracted thinking and writing, projects that demand a cold call and an ask. They sit there while I knock out the paper and printer projects. Getting those done makes me feel effective, though I know that the real impact will come from paying serious attention to the other projects, the ones I can’t call “done” so easily and that scare me to think about.

I guess what I’m noticing is that being effective in one kind of project can be a dangerous form of hiding from another, more demanding, kind of project.

Two Nuggets From Weekend Reads

Michele Margolis, from an op-ed in Saturday’s New York Times:

It’s not just that our religious beliefs affect our politics — it’s that our politics affect our religious choices. We don’t just take cues about politics from our pastors and priests; we take cues about religion from our politicians.

Viewing our politics through the lens of the gospel is what we should be doing, but Margolis makes me wonder if I haven’t been assuming that’s simpler than it really is.

Her forthcoming book, From Politics To The Pews: How Partisanship And Political Identity Shape The Religious Environment looks well worth a read.

And then Joe Drape, also in the New York Times, about one of my favorite things to fume about: youth soccer. It turns out the American version of youth soccer is thriving in pretty exclusive zip codes.

Currently, American households with more than $100,000 in annual income provide 35 percent of soccer players, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, compared with 11 percent from households earning $25,000 or less.

That I have had such constant contact with the demands of soccer on the students I work with says something about where I have chosen to work.

The Day After The Deadline

That deadline stressing you out represents an obligation you must meet. If you fail, consequences will be real, maybe even severe. You are rehearsing them all in your head. You’re frozen by the fear of them.

A deadline is also an opportunity, though: to have done something. What if you looked forward to the day after the deadline instead of dreading the day of the deadline?

Does that get you unstuck, even just a little?