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. It’s not online yet, though, so you’ll have to find a copy of the print edition. I’ll even loan you mine.

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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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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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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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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Preparation

Walking to the train early on Sunday morning I’m filled with dread about the work I’m supposed to do to lead worship. I don’t feel prepared, mentally or spiritually. Sunday morning breaks after a Saturday filled with family commitments that offered no time for quiet contemplation of my Lord’s Day responsibilities. They are prepared, waiting for me in my office. But my head’s not there, and the train is arriving.

I don’t start to feel prepared until the first words of the Call to Worship are out of my mouth. Then the occasion takes over and a force more reliable than my diligence moves through the space. I remember again, once the rhythm of worship is moving, how little of what happens here depends upon the leaders’ mental or emotional state.

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Deadline

Today is the deadline for the largest assignment yet in my Doctor of Ministry program, a 20 page paper. I haven’t turned in something like this in 15 years. I’m remembering now what student life taught me so well: done is better than perfect.

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