Church

Know Nothing

“Don’t speak about things you know nothing about” used to be a much easier maxim when the number of things about which you could speak was limited to a daily newspaper and three national broadcast television channels and when “know” merely meant possessing an adequate grasp of an agreed-upon set of facts.

Now we can know nothing about so much more.

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Church

(Don't) Have A Take

“Have a take, do not suck” was the tagline of a sports call-in radio show I used to listen to enthusiastically. Jim Rome was at least a decade ahead of the “hot take,” to no great end.

A take feels less useful than an opinion or a view. My opinion may be worked out after careful consideration, but my take is off-the-cuff. My view of the matter is in dialogue with others’ views, but my take stands on its own. Takes lake the conventional humility of opinions, and even when the modesty of a view lacks authenticity, even when its humility is strictly conventional, it is still doing something valuable. Takes burn hubris for fuel.

So that’s my take on takes.

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Church

Extra

Maybe instead of valorizing the extra time that people are putting in and making heroes of those who stay late and come in on days off, you should focus more on making the most out of the time you are already allotted.

Eight hours is plenty of time to do meaningful work, and two hours is more than long enough for an effective practice session. If you consistently need more than that from people, maybe you’re doing something wrong.

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Church

Pushing

“You’re pushing up against me,” said a voice two passengers in front of me during my commute home on the Red Line yesterday. I looked up to see a woman wearing headphones whose head was turned toward the rider in front of me but who was not looking at him as she added, “And it’s pissing me off.”

The train car was packed so that everybody was pushing (and pushed) against everyone else. The winter Red Line rush hour commute is an uncomfortable pressure cooker of humanity in bulky coats and backpacks, and it’s amazing to me that there aren’t fights on it every day. Mostly people handle themselves quietly and with the occasional apology for the stepped-on foot or the brushed-against arm.

But one shudders to imagine the ways ill-intentioned people abuse such forced proximity to other humans. Surely women bear the worst of that.

I studied the man who had been addressed. He didn’t react to the accusation. He wasn’t wearing headphones, so he surely heard her, but he stared straight ahead. I hadn’t seen him do anything in appropriate, but how could I? He looked really young, and I was grateful for whatever it was (maturity? Shame?) that prevented him from answering his accuser in the moment.

But I noticed how tightly he was gripping the hand strap–too tightly, like way more tightly than a person would need to for stability. His fingers were turning bright pink. It looked like a body’s worth of rage all concentrated in five fingers. I held my breath to the next stop and fled the car before the doors were fully opened.

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Church

Less Than 0

Great Clips knows that I get my head shaved with the “0” guard on the trimmers. I say Great Clips knows this, and not any employee of that esteemed franchise, because every time I go I’m greeted by a person I’ve never seen before; turnover in that company is for real.

Yesterday was no different, except that when the stylist confirmed, “0?” I cracked, “Or less than 0.” She nodded in recognition and then pulled from the drawer a different set of clippers than the ones she was already holding. She explained that these were indeed less than 0 and that, though she rarely uses them, they were just the thing for me. I felt kind of special.

It only took a couple of passes along my left temple, though, before the guard flew off the trimmers and landed on the floor behind me. The stylist looked at the device, baffled, and then retrieved not only the guard from the floor but also the metal plate the guard clips to–and also the screws that secure the plate to the base of the clippers. She returned to the chair to show me this collection of pieces and to attempt reassembly. I even got to put in one of the screws. No luck. She deposited the mess back into the drawer and resumed the job with the first set of clippers, saying nothing.

So here I am with about four inches of my head less than 0 and the rest of it merely 0. It just don’t look right.

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Church

Concert Surprises

I saw two concerts this weekend, and both provided delightful surprises.

I went with two friends on Saturday to see Cold War Kids, whose set was opened by a female pop duo called Overcoats I’d never heard. They were GOOD. And they showed up onstage with the headliners a few times to great effect.

Then Meredith scored tickets for us to see Ben Gibbard on Sunday night. We’re Death Cab for Cutie fans from way back, but neither of us knew what to expect from a Gibbard solo show. There was plenty of material we’d never heard, all played on a stripped-down stage with only an upright piano and a guitar. But there were also some Death Cab standards, a couple of Postal Service callbacks, and a truly arresting moment in which Gibbard announced that he was going to play a song by someone who is no longer with us in order to keep him alive. The theater fell silent for a moment and remained hushed as he played a melancholy cover of a Frightened Rabbit song that should not move one to cry, but . . .

I collect music, creating lists that can be experienced the same way over and over again. Concerts remind me of music’s power to surprise. More concerts please.

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Church

Defaulting To Our Training

Defaulting to training isn’t always wrong. That feels necessary to say, because I only hear the expression used in change-making circles as an accusation: the culture has changed; Christendom is over; the church is not relevant–and we keep defaulting to our training.

Point taken.

And yet about that training . . .

I see now why my seminary curriculum stayed out of specifics. I cursed it once I graduated and found myself responsible for budgets and busted boilers, like, “Fat lot of good Systematic Theology is doing me now.” But there are people in the congregation trained in budgets (which has a great deal to do with Systematic Theology, actually), and there’s probably someone close at hand to help with the boiler. I was the one trained in locating those parts of church life in the grand story of Scripture, in proclaiming God’s presence in the midst of them, in teaching the church to see that. That was my training, and I see now that I should have defaulted to it more, not less.

I think our training might be better suited to the moment than we’ve given it credit for.

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Church

Not To Be

I read it in a book last week that the church’s mission is to “be a community.” It reminded me of the introduction my friend Chris, a blond-haired, blue-eyed YoungLife staffer, used to give to all the 20 somethings crowding the pews at our startup church’s Sunday night service. With his arms earnestly outstretched and his head cocked to the side and sweetly smiling, he would report, “We want to be an authentic Biblical community,” and we all nodded in equally earnest agreement.

Leaving aside the dangerous vagueness of what a “Biblical” community might be (one that stones adulterers?), “be” feels like too weak a verb for what a community strives to do. Meaningful communities do more than “be.” They practice certain habits and perform certain virtues. They invite members in and nurture one another. They share time and expertise, and they pursue learning. They commit to important work. Communities do a lot of things, none of which can be captured by the verb “be.”

If our aim is merely to be a community, our aim is too low.

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Church

Ski Retreat

I took four leaders with me on last weekend’s ski retreat. One is on the church staff and drove a van, on a week’s notice. The other three were all under 30: a Jamaican who has never skied (and didn’t this weekend), an industrial designer who has been coming to church for seven years and recently joined, and a former ski instructor.

Where else are you going to get a group of people like that together to lead a group of teenagers on a weekend outing? From the driving to the ski instructing to the cooking and cleaning and game playing: we shared in all the work and there was real joy in it.

Just another reminder: youth ministry is a terrific vehicle for ministry with adults, particularly young adults.

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Church

Coach

The youth coaches I most looked up to as a teenager must have been the ones my parents liked the least: young, intense, guys who wanted badly to win. It’s a hazards of competitive youth programs, whether sports or debate or jazz band–the professionalism and maturity of the coach to whom you entrust your kid.

I had plenty of responsible, level-headed coaches who valued my long term athletic and personal development over the team’s place in the standings. Looking back, I recognize that these coaches were always a parent of a player on the team. That must have affected their approach to coaching.

The other ones–the ones I so admired and yearned to impress–probably didn’t have enough going on in the rest of their lives to moderate their zeal for youth sports. The stories they told about former diamond glory still were, for them, the best it had been. They lacked the perspective of a life filled with meaningful commitments off the field and outside the gym. Some of them still lived with their parents. One of them bought us beer.

The impact of a coach on a teenager goes well beyond what they teach about technique and the way they inspire with a pep talk. It extends to how they make and communicate roster and practice decisions and how they relate as grown ups to players’ parents. Responsibility and maturity in those latter areas matters more than excellence in the former, to my view.

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