X

“Why don’t we do X” is better than “What should we do?”, even if you’re not sure “X” is all that great an idea.

For someone to get it right, someone else has to get it wrong first.

Begin (Again)

I got a new colleague last week, and every time I get a new colleague I remember the counsel a very wise former colleague gave me when I was new to her: begin as you intend to continue. It means don’t race out of the gate with a level of energy you can’t sustain. Think in terms of years, not weeks. The rewards for impressing people early are tangible, but not all that durable.

New colleagues provide a moment to revisit the beginning and how it has gone since. Have I continued in the way I intended when I started? In the year 2022, “intend” is doing a lot more work than before. Nobody intended the conditions of these past two years, and so in lots of ways how we started is not how we have continued. That feels mostly to the good.

Yet I am wondering these days if the intentions we started with still have something to offer, or if they’re gone for good.

Look

I sat in a pew for church yesterday, third from the front on the font side, right behind our class of Confirmation students. A baby gurgled and squawked somewhere behind me throughout the service, and I exercised the needed discipline to not turn and look. My look would have been only curiosity, not judgment, but I was sure it would have been received as the latter. So I didn’t look.

When I got up with the Confirmation students and introduced them along with all of their leaders, I named the two leaders who weren’t there. I hadn’t seen them that morning, and so I just said their names and added that they couldn’t be here today. After Confirmation I returned to the pew.

When the service ended I stood up and causally looked around to find the baby. There she was, being held in a side pew by her mother, the Confirmation leader I said couldn’t be here today.

I should have looked sooner.

Found

In 1994 I bought a cd by a Scottish band who’s song I’d heard a few times on the radio and really liked. The album was a revelation, and I instantly started telling my friends about it. They shrugged their shoulders.

Several months later, a freshman in college, I spent money I didn’t have to purchase their earlier album and played it in my dorm room ad nauseam, such that my roommates took to spoofing the band’s name to tease me.

Spring of that year they released a new album and I instantly bought it and poured over the intricate liner notes and made copies of it and played it everywhere I went. One of that album’s songs broke out, and they were all over the radio. To this day, if you mention the band, that’s the only song anyone knows.

There was another album two years later. I bought it at the Tower Records store across the street from my summer job while on lunch break and spent all summer playing it just as much as all the others. But it didn’t go anywhere commercially. And that was pretty much that. By the time they released their fifth album in 2000 they were a non-factor in the U.S., so I had to download it on Napster; it wasn’t even released here.

The band broke up. The lead singer released four solo albums, and I dutifully acquired them and learned them front-to-back. Then last year they got back together and released an album of entirely new material. It’s all great, of course, and I’ve worn it out in my kitchen and my car.

And last night I saw them. In a packed theater. It was wild.

For 30 years I’ve been the only person I know who cares about this band. I have internalized their catalogue to an almost obsessive degree, and a not-insignificant part of my identity has been wrapped up in the fact that I am as into them as I am in a way that nobody else I know is. And last night I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with complete strangers who are as into them as I am. It took almost 30 years, but I finally found my people.

They’ve been hiding in plain sight, and I was the last to know.

What?

“Why?” is only halfway.

If I can come to understand, conclusively, why someone behaves the way they do (myself included), my explanation of that discovery will contribute to making a positive change. But the explanation is not itself the solution.

“What next?” is the rest of the way. “What?” moves us from investigation to iteration, and “next” requires us merely to venture the next step; we aren’t declaring once-for-all solutions here. If this step fails, we’re back to “What next?”

This is a post about parenting.

Hero

Who’s your hero? Do they know they’re your hero? Did they do something incredible to become your hero, or do they possess qualities and characteristics that you regard as heroic?

Whose hero are you? (Don’t be humble: you’re somebody’s).

Heroic conventions tend to be narrow and shallow: strength, daring, the courage to run into a burning building. What about the heroism of the long-suffering or the heroism of the merely present?

Matt and I went looking for unsung hero from the Bible, and we were a little surprised at what we found.

Left

The driver at the front of the line waiting for the green turn arrow isn’t paying attention, so the arrow turns yellow before anyone moves and only 2 cars get through.

The driver at the front of the line waiting to turn left at an intersection without a turn arrow jumps the green light and makes their turn before oncoming traffic can get its foot off the brake.

Can these drivers switch places?

Retreat

I ran a retreat with our 8th grade Confirmation students Friday night and Saturday morning at the church. Time was when we loaded them all in a school bus on Friday night and barreled our way through rush hour traffic to Michigan for the weekend, but the last time we did that was 2019 (the spring retreat was the first covid domino to fall in 2020). Now we send them home Friday and hope they come back Saturday. Most do. Many do.

I build the retreat around a version of the profession of faith questions, the one from the new edition of the Book of Common Worship. There are four of them. The first two are about renouncing sin and calling Jesus “Lord and Savior.” The third one asks you to obey Jesus’ word, and that’s where some students get stuck. “Obey” is a part of what jams them up. Progressives haven’t been comfortable with that term in, like, forever; it’s patriarchal and authoritarian and bears down on a person’s authentic personal choice. It feels coercive.

The bigger piece of the puzzle is Jesus’ actual word. I keep it simple and crib from the Sermon on The Mount: turn the other cheek; you can’t serve God and wealth; love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; don’t worry about your life. Then I ask them if they think any of those would be challenging. Hands shoot up, and by the end of the session every command of the sermon has been targeted for complaint.

I love it.

Watching their faces, I’m reminded of what a cranky seminary professor used to say about infant baptisms, how she preferred the babies loud and wailing, because then at least somebody appreciated the gravity of the occasion. I imagine these 8th grader’s faces to be like those in the crowd of disciples that day on the mount, hearing “enemies” and thinking of the Roman soldiers who daily harassed them, hearing “wealth” and needing lunch, worrying practically every minute about their life.

Confirmation is an invitation to profess faith, and I’ve always wanted that invitation to have the integrity of possible refusal, at least for now, and on the right grounds, not that church and faith and Jesus are boring but that they’re too demanding.

Before the session ends we rehearse the answer to this third question about obeying Jesus’ word: “I will, with God’s help.”

Win

None of the Cinderallas made it through this year, and all of the finalists were expected to make it when the tournament started. There were surprises and upsets like we love, but the four teams left standing are the ones with the best players, the most celebrated coaches, the ones who have made it to the end the most before.

Succeeding when you’re supposed to is underrated.

Who would you expect to win a basketball game of Bible characters? If King David were on one team and Goliath the other? Samson vs. Delilah, Deborah vs. Jail? Don’t hurt yourself thinking about it; Matt and I did a whole March Madness-themed Bible Top 10 episode on this very question so you don’t have to.

Object

“Any objection?”

It’s an easy yet surprisingly effective way to solidify what a group is deciding. Two words (three if you must: “Does anyone object?”) are all you need to give everyone involved a chance to speak their mind and stop the group from doing what it’s considering doing.

Hearing none, it’s decided. We know what we’re doing and nobody is left out.

Hearing one, we spend more time on it.

The one objecting gets to explain themselves without being required to detail an alternative solution. An objection is just a “no,” not a “no, and instead.” But the “no” must be grounded in something the rest of us can understand and address. “I just don’t like it” is not an objection but a temperament.

Allowing anyone to say no helps everyone say yes.