Life in The Backlash

It’s coming, if it isn’t already upon us.

What meaningful change ever carried the day clean, cruising on to smooth implementation after the speeches and the voting were done?

The backlash may be immediate or it may be years and years in brewing. Either way, if we wish to lead meaningful change, we need to account for it. We shouldn’t be controlled by it, but to proceed in blissful denial of the backlash’s existence imperils not only the future we’re imagining but also the present reality for those we care about and who live in perpetual backlash wake.

The backlash is real. God help us.


Oh Yeah, Teenagers Are Self-Conscious About Music

It was meant to be a fun warmup question, but I could tell a few students in that it was actually super stressful. So many glances being shared around the room, and person after person demurring and saying, “I don’t remember.” I butted in after the fifth admission of lapsed memory.

“Is this question stressing you guys out?”


I’d used the same warmup question the previous hour, with the 6th and 7th graders, without any great difficulty. The skies hadn’t parted or anything, but they hadn’t crawled beneath the tables in fear like this.

And what was the question?

“What was the last song you listened to before walking in the room this morning?”

I pressed my investigation of the high schoolers’ fear further: “Does this stress you out because you’re self-conscious about the music you like and what your peers will think of it?”


They’re a pretty self-aware bunch.

You get far away enough from adolescence and you completely forget about this kind of stressor. You forget that teenagers are walking around everyday certain that their peers are judging them negatively and terrified that something they love will out them as a phony or as uncool (how uncool!). The luxury of talking ceaselessly about the music you’re into at 42 is lost on me.

One of the urgent tasks of youth ministry, then, is the maintenance of a community of teenagers and adults that makes explicit that lack of judgment. We do that as leaders by modeling both kindness and vulnerability. So I shared my answer to the warmup:

Of course they all groaned, “I hate that song!”

Isn’t it great?


A Day Off To-Do List

Make Meredith’s Coffee.

Write blog post.

Make Kiddo’s breakfast.

Pack Kiddo’s lunch.

Take Kiddo to school.

Season pork chops for dinner.

Read the paper.

Clean the bathroom.

Do the laundry.

Watch the new episode of The Walking Dead.

Go to therapy.

Pick up Kiddo from school.

Supervise Kiddo’s homework.

Take Kiddo to evening appointment.

Make dinner.

Clean the kitchen.



Lucky For You There Aren’t More People Here

That intimate concert experience you so enjoyed has a clear downside for the performer and for all the people who didn’t see it. They should be playing bigger venues than this. They shouldn’t be selling their own merch out of a plastic storage bin after the show. They shouldn’t be able to talk to each and every member of the audience.

That they’re selling T-shirts and shaking hands with everyone in a 50-seat cafe is practically criminal, but a) they don’t seem to mind and b) the magic of what they do wouldn’t translate very well to something much bigger than this.

Take a hint from them: make something that really matters to you and then share it, up-close-and-personal-like, with the smallest audience you can find who really, really loves it. Also, if you live in Kansas City, Hastings, Nashville, Austin, or a few other places, go see Freddy and Francine on this tour.


Discomfort Is Good

It is probably true for ministry work that some level of discomfort is good. If we are pushing on buttons that people care about and pulling on levers to strategically apply pressure to systems and habits, discomfort is inevitable (including for the ones pushing the buttons and pulling the levers), and we should not be surprised when it gets expressed toward us.

It’s only a problem if people don’t understand what’s happening. I’m coming to understand the risk of making technical maneuvers without investing an equal amount of time and energy on relational steps. Getting the decisions right is only half the work. We also have to share our thinking and our imagining with the people affected by them and who care deeply about what happens.

Here, email newsletters and website explanations are critical but insufficient. The work is only begun with those tools. It needs to continue with face-to-face invitations to ask questions and express ideas in real time and in public.

The discomfort that comes with change is tolerable, even beneficial, as long as we give everyone a chance to see it clearly.



If the house must be cleaned and if the meal must include salad and desert and if the plans must be negotiated and settled upon 24 hours in advance, then of course people aren’t coming over very often and “We should get together” doesn’t mean anything.

But if the house can be messy and if the meal can be leftovers and if the plans can be no-plans, then we can spend all kinds of time together and we don’t have to bother with “We should.”

I’m arriving at the point where I prefer an invitation (both given and received) with vague and unpromising content to no invitation at all.


What Youth Know About Worship

Last Sunday was for working on Youth Sunday worship, you know that one Sunday on the calendar when the entire service is led by teenagers. We’re starting two weeks out this time.

You learn things when you work on worship with students, things about them and things about worship. For example, I discussed the welcome and announcements part of the service with some of them, and I heard two things that I’d never really considered.

First, you feel welcome when you can relate. Either when you can relate your experience to what’s happening or when you are helped to relate to other people, you are made to feel welcomed. In other words, welcome is about more than the words.

But that relating needs to be real. A student insisted that if it’s forced or inauthentic it feels uncomfortable. Noted.

Youth Sunday, guys: it’s one of the best learning opportunities the church has.


I’m Too Old for General Admission

I think I’ve reached the age where seats are mandatory at concerts. I live in a city with an abundance of live music venues, many of them historic, and my wife and I have started to take advantage of them in earnest: The Riviera, Thalia Hall, The Aragon. It’s an embarrassment of riches, but we’re going to start passing it up if we can’t sit down.

It’s not the standing that poses the problem, but the standing with other people. On Friday night we saw Lucy Dacus and Sharon Van Etten at Thalia Hall with General Admission tickets that we bought in December after the narrow strip of a balcony was already sold out. We were there to see Dacus, for sure, but we spent much of her set dealing with these two concertgoers in front of us who WOULDN’T STOP TALKING. DURING A ROCK CONCERT. Guy on the right would lean over and shout something into the ear of guy on the left and then look back at the stage. Then he’d do it again. And again, and again. Meredith kept having to move to accommodate guy on the right’s head position. What really galled me was that they were talking about another musician, reviewing her latest album, while I was trying to listen to the musician I came to see.

I’m non-confrontational to a fault, but Meredith isn’t. So after we’d exchanged half a dozen irritated looks at one another, we went full-on Todd and Margo. Meredith tapped guy on the right’s shoulder and leaned forward to shout into his ear. I didn’t hear what she said, but he was immediately and effusively apologetic. Less than 30 seconds later, he was back at it.

Come on guy. You’re at a concert. Look around: everybody else looks like they’ve figured it out.

We shifted around in-between acts so we weren’t behind this duo anymore, but we weren’t done with them, particularly guy on the right, who was standing to my left when Van Etten started playing. During her first song I noticed he was swaying, but not to the music. Clearly drunk, his face buried in his hands, he was an imminent shoe-splatter threat. I kept one eye on the stage and the other on him until, mercifully, he left.

We left shortly after, feeling old and crotchety, casting longing looks at the worn upholstered seats in the balcony on our way out the door.


“Do you think, if I asked, coach would let me stay after a couple minutes so I can try to get my back handspring on the floor?”

Practice had just ended. My coat was on and my bag was slung over my shoulder. But her request feels urgent; she has been staying after practice routinely for “open gym” to work on tumbling skills–no to work on one tumbling skill. Back handspring after back handspring, never on the floor but only on the trampoline or the mat. She can do it in every sense but the one that really matters. Ever since she threw herself into this sport last summer, this skill has taunted her.

And why not? It defies every human instinct to hurl your body backwards and your head toward the floor. That’s the hard part, right? The backward plunge? Once your hands meet the floor it looks like a simple firm push and you spring upright on your feet.

That’s how it looks at least.

So now she wants to try on the floor, without a spot, after practice, with the coach’s explicit permission. That’s the handspring before the handspring: asking the coach. “Sure,” I answer. “He’s right there. Just ask him.”

She’s all hesitation and waffle here. Coach is nice and all, but he could say no, and, given how close she feels to achieving this and how serious a step it is for her to invite public attention, that would be devastating; there are still people in the gym. The team of older girls who practice after her team is already on the floor. I meet her hesitation with calculated nonchalance, like, “Sure. Whatever.” Finally coach approaches and I kind of nudge her toward him.

“Um, my dad wanted me to ask you if I could try my back handspring on the floor.”

Whatever it takes, kid.

He raises his eyebrows. “On the floor?” She smiles and nods with resolve. “Sure. C’mon.”

I stand next to coach in the doorway and watch as she performs what has become a well-practiced ritual, snapping her open palms to her sides and then bending at the knees as if to pounce, but then dropping a foot to catch herself. It is one aborted launch sequence after another.

I’m trying to look like I’m not watching, but I think coach can feel my stress. The older team is watching, and that’s making me even more nervous. “This is normal,” Coach mutters, almost under his breath. And then she does it. She doesn’t quite stick the landing and ends up on her knees, but the hurdle is effectively cleared, so she wastes no time getting up and going again, this time with no hesitation, and she sticks the landing.

The watching team hoots and applauds, and I stifle my own holler. But she’s not done. As if to prove to herself that this is who she is now, someone who can do an un-spotted back handspring, she knocks out a couple more with ease.

And now it’s her time to force nonchalance as she high fives coach and brushes past me toward the exit, saying only, “Okay, we can go now.”


Say It

When you say it out loud it may be misheard, misunderstood, misinterpreted or misapplied. The magic and the menace of putting it out there is what happens after. Maybe it’s a marvel we didn’t plan or anticipate. Maybe it’s a mess we didn’t intend.

It’s still worth the risk, though. Every time.