I Don’t Care What You Won’t Do

I came of age to a line-in-the-sand piety of resistance. Being a person of faith meant maintaining clear boundaries about the things one would and wouldn’t do, praying for the strength, and constructing mechanisms of accountability, to keep oneself unstained. In college this resistance had mostly to do with alcohol and making out, and it was accompanied by well-rehearsed rituals of guilt, absolution, and recommittment when–not if–one failed.

Faith is resistance.

I’m tying to resist different things now.

But I’m also more attuned to the element of faith that demands embrace, not resistance. It is a stilted faith that exhausts itself in line drawing and boundary building. There is a world of hurt and love and redemption humming beyond where we now are, and the life of faith requires following Jesus into that mess and saying “yes” at least as often as we say “no.”


A Little Bit of Light

A dropped a little coin on a new Chromebook last week and offset the cost by selling my old one. I got it on Monday.

Five minutes with it in my dusty, cluttered office was more than I could stand. I could feel lit judging me. So I spent big blocks of time on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday making the office suitable for my shiny new tool. Four boxes full of books I want for mostly for the name on the spine are gone. The place smells like lemony Clorox wipes.

The impetus for change can come from just a taste, right? A little sip of purpose or direction, a nibble on a corner of control, and the status quo doesn’t work anymore. Everything must reorient to be like the new thing.

I’m not talking about icon packs to match your cell phone’s wallpaper.

Just a little bit of light under the door can compel us to throw open every window in the house.


Pizza And Pop

The Diamond Dogs won their 6:30 semifinal game last night and set themselves up to play in the championship game at 9:00. 90 minutes between games. Some went home for a brief recovery, but most stayed at the field watching the other semifinal game. Some had the common sense to wear jackets or sweatshirts against the January chill. Others did not.

They stood around, sat around, laid around, and the game in progress quickly became a laugher. Someone said they secretly wished for a loss earlier so they could be home by now. Someone else checked their watch and groaned for the 4:15 alarm already set for the next morning.

Then the Dogs’ manager appeared with two hot pizzas. Someone retrieved a Pepsi 12 pack from their car, and a grown up pizza party materialized on the top row of cold metal bleachers. Conversations quickened and limbs loosened up. On the field, the winning team was running up the score and threatening a championship game fight, but the Dogs weren’t worried. They had pizza and pop. They’d already won.

*Note: second place in the bottom rung league is nothing to laugh about


The Heart(break)land

I watched the last five innings of my Royals’ unlikely run through the playoffs while at a church session meeting. We debated the merits of an urban garden project while Madison Bumgarner laid waste to my teams’ hopes and dreams. When it ended, I quietly closed my laptop and turned my attention (my full attention now) to the agenda.

The heartbreak of losing is for the sports fan more wrenching than the thrill of winning. Many of us are trapped in unhealthy relationships with our sports teams and leagues, because our loyalty to them produces far more negative emotions in us than positive ones. Every team but one finishes their season a loser. Even the Royals, who seemed destined to win it all. In the end: the loser. I’m crushed. Me–who leapt up and down in my neighbors’ living room as they won the Wild Card; who cheered them on to playoff wins in Anaheim AND Kansas City with some of my favorite people in the world; who enjoyed countless texts from far-flung friends and acquaintances expressing support for my team–crushed.

Rooting for something is good for the soul, and so being a baseball fan is a holy exercise in thinking and hoping and celebrating and, finally, grieving. Losing is good for the soul. The sports media industry is ripping all of us off with its slow motion montages and canned narratives about the “will to win” (brought to you by Chevy), no doubt. But it is channeling a drama that we need to be fully human. It’s a proxy for the fundamental drama of humanity, with its failing and adjusting, redeeming and overcoming. And as a proxy you could do a lot worse.

It’s over. I’m sad. I’m restless. I want some reprieve. Tonight will be a long night, and it will be good for me.


I Don’t Believe in Soul Mates (The Job Version): A Tip of The Hat To Maryann McKibben Dana

Maryann doesn’t believe in soul mates. She says, “Marriage is a crap shoot. You hope you have some enduring compatibility and you work at it and you let a lot of stuff go, and still there’s all this stuff that acts upon you that you don’t have a lot of control over.”

Isn’t the same thing true about our work?

A canon of mythology has grown up around pursuing work we love, including the ubiquitous charge to “find your passion” and the well-meaning question that was posed to me almost daily in college: “what is God calling you to do with your life?” That mythology puts a ton of unnecessary pressure on people to pick the right work or else miss their God-given calling. And it obscures both the gift and the responsibility we have to work with our lives.

My dad never loved his work. It was a job that paid the bills and enabled some family and leisure pursuits. But he never felt “called” to it. He felt lucky to have it, and, for the last decade of his career, he counted the days to retirement. I’m proud of that. Just last night I was boasting to someone about the work my dad did. But God knows he was never “passionate” about it.

We are called and suited to particular kinds of work, I believe, and God cares a great deal about how we steward the talents we’ve been given. But we should not expect passion to persist at all times in our work, and we certainly should not conclude that when energy fades so has our calling.

I suspect a great deal of clergy burnout (to take one example) results from unrealistic expectations about how new pastors will feel about their work forever and ever amen. When energy wanes for the umpteenth confrontation with a difficult congregant and when earnestness is worn thin, it’s easy to conclude that you were wrong, that you’re not actually called and suited to this work, that real pastors feel differently than you do. They’re called, you’re not. That’s a mistake.

As in romance, so in work. A great, great deal of what makes both romantic relationships and work valuable is the stuff you do when you don’t really feel like it. The moonlit walk on the beach required budgeting for the trip together and arranging childcare and enduring a headache. “I want the truth!” required hours of joyless drudgery and reams upon reams of paper.This is the stuff that doesn’t make the movie montage, but it’s the stuff that really matters.

When we identify our suitability for a given work with our passion for doing it, we are bound to be disappointed, at least some of the time. Disappointment in healthy, both in relationships and in work. Disappointment leads to growth and maturity.

So much of our vocation as leaders and learners, parents and pediatricians, teachers and tellers, comes down to persistence, enduring routine exercises without much energy (much less passion) for the sake of the bigger picture. Or even, in Maryann’s poetic phrase, “The heaven in ordinary things.”

Let’s work for those.


Bible Balloons And Pet Blessings

The community craft faire this past weekend was what it is every year: a very pleasant coming together of artists and craftsmen and craftswomen on a beautiful autumn day in a beautiful place, attended by thousands. Wife, Daughter, and I strolled the booths and sampled the food for a couple of hours before we came to the row of displays in the back corner of the faire. That’s where they stick all of the churches.

Suddenly I felt guilty not to be working.

My church didn’t have a booth. We never have. We have one at the community Fourth of July festival, but not this. Should we?

The church booths do a variety of things consistent with what you’d expect from their traditions and affiliations (or not). The evangelical churches hand out tracts and tie balloons splayed with Bible verses on kids’ wrists. The Episcopal church blesses peoples’ pets. It seems that churches treat the faire as one of two kinds of opportunities–either to put their name and their message in peoples’ hands, or to do something for them (some, like the church offering passersby a drink of cold water in exchange for a chance to pitch them on the Living Water, attempt both).

My state shifted from guilt to smug self-satisfaction. I was glad to be participating in the event as a citizen and not as a carnival barker. I found myself doubting the value of the faire for a church. Why allow ourselves to be lined up alongside scads of other churches to compete for shoppers’ attention? What’s the point of that? Could absence from the faire be a better form of presence in our community?

I have zero confidence in either my smug or my guilty reaction to the faire’s church booths.

I wonder: what’s the real opportunity for churches in community events like this?