Church

Dread

There’s a thing you’re responsible for, a presentation or a product of some kind, and every time you think of it you get a shot of discomfort in your stomach and you spend a couple seconds wishing it were finished or even gone altogether. There is a momentary certainty that you will fail and that this failure will furnish definitive proof to all who see it that you’re over your head and unqualified, that you’ve been faking it.

Let’s just call this feeling dread.

I’ve been responsible for certain types of work regularly over the past 15 years, and I still dread them every time. Sermons. Retreats. Weddings. Funerals. The approach of every one of these commitments features this kind of dread. It doesn’t go away. And yet the spectacular disqualifying failure the dread portends has not yet materialized.

I’m starting to accept that dread will always be a part of work. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s even good. Maybe dread is an indicator that we’re working on something meaningful.

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Church

Early

I arrived early for the wedding. I’m early by nature and always nervous if I’m not present for a commitment at least an hour beforehand. But on Saturday I didn’t have anything else to do in the intervening time; daughter had been dropped off at Cheer Camp, and the family car was out of town, so I rode the Blue Line into downtown and walked the mile-or-so to the church, picking up my second coffee of the day on the way.

Two hours early.

I only learned that the wedding started an hour later than I thought it did after I’d been there for an hour. It was like daylight savings time.

Two hours early. Again.

I arrived early for the wedding. This one is not at the church but a hot wedding venue in the West Loop, but it’s on the same day. I want to be there in time to check out the space and robe up, but not so long that I need to dress well. I’ve got on slacks and a tie, and my shirt sleeves are scrunched up past my elbows. No worry, my happy hour look will be concealed by my robe shortly after I get there.

I learn that the wedding starts 30 minutes later than I thought it did almost immediately after I arrive, when the wedding coordinator raises her eyebrow at me and says, “Oh, you have plenty of time.” Now I have half an hour more than I thought I did to stand around with a gathering crowd of smartly dressed people (think tie clips and loud mismatched suit jackets) 20 years younger than me. I cling to the wall and face the window, sipping cup after cup of water.

Yes, better early than late. But twice on the same day?

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Church

Read The George Packer Essay in This Month’s Atlantic

An essay by George Packer in this month’s Atlantic absorbed most of my commute yesterday. It’s titled, “When The Culture War Comes for The Kids,” and it relates Packer’s and his wife’s struggles to honor their values and do right by their kids in New York City schools, both public and private. That struggle is mostly centered on values of racial and ethnic diversity, as well as a belief in the importance of public education for democracy. It feels like an acute struggle in New York, but it’s present everywhere. The essay is troubling, engrossing, and deeply personal. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Here are two quotes from it that I’ll be chewing on for awhile:

“Identity alone should neither uphold or invalidate an idea, or we’ve lost the Enlightenment to pure tribalism.” And . . .

“Constantly checking your privilege is one way of not having to give it up.”

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Church

Persistence

One more reflection on the Apple event.

We are all paying a price, financially and otherwise, for this annual ritual in which technology companies reveal the newest enhancements to their products. Everything must improve. Everyone must innovate. Persistence and maintenance matter far less than breakthroughs.

Imagine if Tim Cook had announced yesterday, “Apple has made 10 different iterations of iPhone, an amazing device that has created heretofore unimaginable connectivity and and productivity and entertainment for millions of people worldwide, not only through iPhone itself but also through the generations of devices made by other companies that have copied its features. I’m here today to announce that we’re still doing it!”

The room would have been silent.

It’s consumer capitalism, I know. But it’s amped up to such a degree and made into such an anticipated ritual that I wonder how we work our way back from it. Can we?

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Church

One More Thing

The Apple event was today, and it was every bit the spectacle of consumerism the world has come to expect. As soon as I could I fired up YouTube to watch Dieter Bohn’s Hands On video with the new iPhone(s). Then I watched Tech Insider’s 12 minute recap of the whole event.

I’m not an Apple fanboy. I use an iPhone you can’t even buy anymore, and the only other Apple product I use was a gift. But I’m drawn to the spectacle of what Apple makes and how it talks about those things. As a culture, we have a badly disordered relationship with technology, I’m certain, and we don’t think nearly enough or carefully enough about how our phones and computers are made and at whose expense. Neither are we mindful enough about the economic model undergirding the industry. We need to listen well to writers like Franklin Foer and Shoshana Zuboff, who are pointing out clearly and compellingly what Apple and co. are doing to the marketplace, to the planet, and to us.

And yet, I wonder if there isn’t a corollary risk of failing to be impressed enough at the artifacts Apple parades on stage once a year. The aesthetics these products embody and their functionality were simply unimaginable even a decade ago. If you showed them to the most technologically sophisticated person from an earlier generation, she would have no idea what they were or were meant to do. If we’re not gobsmacked by the iPhone and Apple Watch, then maybe our senses are too dulled.

These tools are not primarily for us, of course. They are for Apple and Apple’s shareholders, and if they don’t make Cupertino money they will be gone (note the obsolete 4-inch iPhone SE in my pocket). But awareness need not prohibit delight. Maybe being so suspicious of technology and the corporations making it as to be incapable of marveling at something like a retina display is just the opposite error of the uncritical fawn.

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Church

Growth

One of the great gifts of youth ministry is years-long relationships with young people during a time of great maturation. I saw several students yesterday whom I’d not seen since May, and the gains in height alone were a marvel.

We are witnesses to growth, both the kind that parents measure with a pencil on a wall and the less obvious kind. It occurs to me that an important task of youth ministry is to scout for growth, and then to point it out: to the church, to young people themselves, to their parents.

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Church

Bike Ride

I spent a week in Amsterdam this summer and, like I suppose every American who visits that city, was bowled over (nearly literally) by the bike traffic. Everybody is on a bike all the time everywhere. Pedestrians must watch out more for two wheels than four. It’s an old city built on a series of canals and so not super friendly to cars, yet super friendly to bikes.

The bike riders in Amsterdam are merely commuters. They’re riding upright on these Dutch style cycles with the handlebars curved back toward the rider, and nobody seems to be doing anything but going from point A to point B as they’re pedaling. Nobody save for a few small children wears a helmet.

This is a dramatic contrast from the bike commuters in my city, most of whom are helmeted and hunched over racing style or mountain style (or a hybrid thereof) bikes and probably outfitted with racing gear. They’re focused and breathing hard. They’re using fitness trackers.

It’s the difference between cycling as a practicality and cycling as a tool of physical fitness. I’d like to use mine for the former, but that feels impossible when everyone doing the latter is whizzing past me in brightly colored tops, legs a pumping. Yesterday somebody on one of those bike share units showed me up on Lawrence Avenue.

It’s not a race, I keep telling myself. I don’t have a personal best to beat. It’s just a commute.

I’m not very convincing.

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Church

What Am I Forgetting?

I hit snooze once. Just once. Then I weighed myself, put the kettle on, took the dog out to the back yard, climbed back up the stairs and made myself a cup of the Guatemalan coffee Meredith picked up at Bru Coffeeworks yesterday.

I sipped my coffee while listening to a daily liturgy podcast I found on Spotify this week, produced by a church in Omaha.

Daughter was up, so I stirred myself from my corner chair to prepare Meredith’s and my breakfast, as well as to assemble our lunch salads.

It was a calm, routine, pleasant morning, in which I completely forgot to write a blog post.

Have a nice day!

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Church

Marketing To Church

I’m conflict averse, so when I found myself stuck in a sales call a few weeks ago I allowed the agent to schedule another call, with a different agent from her company, Right Now Media. I was thoroughly annoyed, but, you know, nice.

I’d picked up the phone even though I didn’t recognize the number (an increasingly fraught commitment). Now here I was consenting to be called again, fully intending to not pick up.

Right on time came the second call. And the third. And the fourth.

They should teach a class in seminary about the telemarketing and junk mail aimed at churches. There is an entire industry most churchgoers never see but that markets all manner of products, mostly media, to pastors, promising church growth through the form of books and videos. Most of them are as savvy as a timeshare sales pitch. But lots more than you would expect get through. They’re persistent, and they prey on a pastor’s fear that she’s letting her people down, that she’s letting God down.

Direct marketing to churches is a scourge.

There’s a better way to do it. Nobody from Illustrated Children’s Ministry has ever called me or sent me a form mailer. I get emails from The Youth Cartel about their resources, but I’ve opted into them. I’ve purchased things from both of them and will no doubt do so again.

You don’t have to be sleazy to sell things to churches.

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Church

On Conquering Roller Coasters (And Then Not)

Doing something once doesn’t make it a habit. This is something parenting teaches you over and over again. Just because she ate her vegetables for the first time doesn’t mean that she’s now a vegetable eater any more than you going for that first jog makes you a runner.

I took Daughter and her pal to the amusement park yesterday because Daughter had been asking to go all summer. It was a surprising request, given that she has never shown the slightest bit of nerve for thrill rides; we used to live a 45 minute drive from Disneyland, and in all of her trips there up to age 8, she wouldn’t go near anything more daring than Dumbo.

But she professed a new resolve–a new desire, even–and so we went. She started with the small one, which is still a roller coaster, so . . . win. From there we went directly to Superman Ultimate Flight, which is as coaster as coaster gets, and then to the newest one with the longest line, a 25 second pin-your-ears-back dare to the universe called Max Force. Done.

After lunch we conquered the old wooden classic, American Eagle. Okay, so now Daughter rides roller coasters. It’s a thing she does.

Nope.

Because just a few hours later she fell apart at the front of the line for a roller coaster far less challenging than the three she’d already completed. I had to step out of line with her and wait for her friend to ride alone.

After that she would only entertain rides she’d already conquered.

But conquer them she did.

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