November Is for Mission Trips. Kind Of.

November is the month to launch sign ups for summer mission trips, which we do primarily online. It’s a project, for sure, requiring several steps: secure the sites and dates for the trips, estimate the cost–including travel, food, lodging, recreation, and any program expenses–, design the web page with the descriptions of the trips, set up the sign up (and payment) mechanism with a clear deadline, set up the process for recruiting leaders for the trips, and the communicate those sign up and recruitment processes throughout the congregation in emails, flyers, and worship bulletin announcements.

All of that is November work. For trips that happen in June and July.

Being a stickler for the details at this stage will allow for flexibility and spontaneity later. Make a budget for the trip’s recreation, for example, but don’t plan it all out yet. Set a firm registration deadline so that people who try to sign up late really want to go.

I really love this stage of mission trip work

NOTE: Urban Youth Mission in Chicago has spots open for youth groups in its summer 2019 program. Now is the time to inquire about dates.


They’re Not Coming

I remember telling someone in the summer of 2017 that I couldn’t wait until the coming November. There was nothing special circled on my November calendar, but this was in, like, June, when I was panicking over last minute mission trip preparations, lining up details for the following month’s trip to a youth conference, and working on whatever else that day required. Everything felt so strained. November, six months off, looked blissfully unhurried by comparison.

Then, of course, come November I felt just as strained as in June, and I think I told someone I couldn’t wait until May.

The days you think are coming aren’t. Those days when your calendar has fewer commitments on it and you can really just focus on the things that feel the most substantive–they’re an illusion.

We do our work in perpetual seasons of strain. If we’re smart we spread that strain out, because there’s no benefit in manufacturing panic for the sake of productivity. Strain is not panic, though. Strain is the ever-present push to do good work, a tautness on the rope of our vocation. We need it.

Our calling is to make the things we care about in the time we have. We wish we had more time, and we’re sure the thing would be better if there were fewer other things demanding our attention simultaneously. But if that were the case the thing wouldn’t end up being the thing we need; the strain of your other commitments gives this work character and flavor. That’s more interesting–and probably more helpful–than whatever it is you think you could make in a vacuum free of demands and pressure.

We want to see the strain in your work.



The appeal of a midterm election is its decisiveness, that it is a straight up or down verdict on performance.

So much can go on indefinitely just kind of working, kind of not.

My Unmatched Sock Bag

We keep a bag hanging on the back of a door for unmatched socks, and when it gets full I go through it to look for matches. It is an oddly satisfying activity. Last night I must have found 10 pairs of socks in there.  The feeling of accomplishment that comes with that feat is real.

We need structures for work that is unfinished. For years I’ve used a “Needs Action” email folder; I triage emails to it that I can’t deal with in the minute but that deserve a reply. At least once a week I set aside time to empty it out. Having a place to put those emails manages my stress when they come in. Making time to deal with them keeps me accountable to the people who sent them.

At some point an unmatched sock has to go, though. I find socks at the bottom of my bag that I have attempted to match so many times I can’t accurately say how long they’ve been in there, so I throw them out or re-purpose them. The fantasy that something I have not completed for months and months is going to somehow magically become completed does not serve anyone.

What’s your unmatched sock bag?


Sunday with (and without) Daughter

She’s up at 6:00. Well, she’s awake at 6:00. It’s 6:15 at least before she’s up. She’s dressed quickly enough, and since she prepared her cheer practice bag last night, she grabs it as we head out the door for the Brown Line train.

It’s 6:25.

The train is more full than usual for so early on a Sunday morning. I notice the runner bibs on passengers. There’s a run happening, and runners are boarding at every stop. Women. Men. Families. I remember that the high school student I recruited to lead worship at 11:00 this morning is doing this run first, then coming to church.

Because of the race route, the Red Line trains are going over the top through the loop, so we may as well stay on our Brown Line train instead of transferring to the Red Line at Belmont, in the cold. It just means that when we get off we’ll have about a 15 minute walk.

There’s a Starbucks beneath the Brown Line stop at Chicago and Franklin. When Daughter comes to church with me this early, Starbucks is the least I can do for her. We’ll pass two others between here and the church, and I suggest we wait, so that we won’t have to carry drinks and croissants along with our bags, but no, she wants it now.

She decided a couple weeks ago that she’s a chai latte person, so chai latte it is. It occurs to me while we wait that the 66 bus will cut several blocks out of our walk, so as soon as we have our hot liquids we join the small crowd standing on the sidewalk outside. The crowd includes one of the church receptionists, who I just saw at the church yesterday afternoon as I was preparing to officiate a wedding. He sizes up our situation in a quick glance and says with a smirk, “You got screwed too, eh?”

I like him. I consider for a minute that, for me, coming to church this early on a Sunday is a central feature of my life and calling. I’m preaching and leading worship today, wearing a robe and stole. He’s got a couple other jobs, and this one scheduled him for the early Sunday shift up against a late Saturday shift. I’m glad we’ll ride the bus together, even for just a few blocks.

Daughter disappears with the bell choir Director once we get to church, because she plays with her daughter during rehearsal at 8:00, while I’m leading worship. The bell choir Director doubles as Sunday School staff, so she’ll take Daughter to Sunday school at 9:30, where she will stay through two more worship services I’m leading. I won’t see her until after 12:00.

She gets those dumplings she likes for lunch, then we’re in a Lyft headed for cheer practice, a 40 minute drive. Her cheer uniform is on under her clothes, and her hair will have to get done in the car. She needs to use my phone’s selfie camera as a mirror, and as she does I snap a picture.

I want to remember these days.

The Room Where It Happens

I don’t really want to be in the room where it happens.

I have stumbled a time or two into that room and spent all my time there looking around, squirming from the feeling of being out of place, taking short little terrified breaths trying to manage the certainty that the next interaction will be the decisive one, the one that reveals that I don’t belong in this room and that I slipped in–unwillingly even–with someone else who does.

Maybe having an impact is less about fighting your way into the room where it happens and more about doing what’s needed when you find yourself in it without trying. Yes, social climbing is gross. But nobody is served by your imposter syndrome and the shrinking it makes you do when you think you’re in a room with people more important than you.


My Neighbor Knows Everything

I loved running in to my next door neighbor last night out among the trick or treaters in our neighborhood, mostly because he’s a cool, laid back guy with a Mississippi drawl who always has something interesting to share from the realm of throwback music or television and so is just fun, but also because he was done up for Halloween and his getup was perfect.

He was Prince, ala Purple Rain. Purple jacket, ruffle shirt, wig–the whole deal. But he’d added his own touch. He carried a basketball. Having no idea why he was carrying a basketball around trick or treating, I complimented it. “The ball’s a nice touch.” His eyes lit up. “Right?” he said. “I’m glad you got that. Nobody else gets it.”

Uhhh . . .

I played along. “Really? Oh man!” I was caught too far off base on this and was about to be picked off, until another neighbor saved me by admitting her ignorance and just asking what the basketball signified.

“Because that guy could ball, man!”

I didn’t say anything else, but I nodded along as if I knew that, as if everybody knew that.

It’s a thing. Prince was an amazing basketball player.

Of course my neighbor knows that.

Doesn’t everyone know that?

Ryder Carroll Signed My Bullet Journal

I’ve posted here about Bullet Journaling and how I use it several times since 2013. Last night I met Ryder Carroll, the author of the system, at my local library. He’s written a book about it and is touring to promote it. 

Yes, he signed my Bullet Journal.

Since he first shared his method for tracking tasks and events in 2013, Carroll has evolved his own use of it to focus as much on the “why?” as on the “what?” He has listened to communities of BuJo users, and their questions have grown less technical and more philosophical, less “How do I migrate tasks from my monthly log to my daily log?” and more “How do I set a meaningful goal?” The book–and his talk last night–is his attempt to offer guidance about pursuing meaningful activities and not just about keeping track of to do lists.

My Bullet Journals are filled with logs and collections of things I have to do. There is precious little in them about things I want to do. Lucky for me, many of the things I have to do I also want to do, but they are clearly responsibilities, and the overwhelming majority of them are professional.

  • Write the weekly newsletter
  • Work on next week’s sermon
  • Write Confirmation curriculum for dates X and Y
  • Draft agenda for next week’s meeting
  • Get Meredith’s Christmas gifts

These lists delight me, especially when they are filled with X’s signifying completed tasks. Identifying responsibilities and fulfilling them is my life. Listening for desires and pursuing them? Not so much.  For five years now, Bullet Journaling has helped me keep track of the various things I’m working on, so that more of them get done and less of them overwhelm me. I am more organized, less stressed, and much more tolerable to be around and work with as a result. I am starting to wonder, though, if this setting up and knocking down of tasks is all there is.

I don’t mind it most days, honestly. It energizes me to organize projects and their related responsibilities. I get a boost from getting things done. But Carroll is suggesting that you maybe don’t want to look back on your life at some point and see only completed tasks; you also want to see thoughts, interests, pursuits, wins, and failures. There’s very little of that kind of thing in my Bullet Journals.



Morning Meditation

I hear airplane traffic, car traffic, and train traffic from where I sit in my apartment in the morning.

I also hear the crunching of the cats attacking their breakfast kibbles.

The downstairs neighbor just left for work. I felt the closing of her back porch door in the bottoms of my socked feet, and the sound of her steps on the kitchen floor has stopped.

The fat cat ambles from his bowl to the sitting room, making soft padding sounds with his feet but also causing these old wooden floors to creak beneath his weight.

I’m making sound too. The clicking of my typing is muted, but no less part of the pre-dawn symphony.

Before any news or responsibility from the day reaches me, I like to take in these sounds. It’s an almost meditative exercise.

Have a good day.

Some People Are Still Listening

There it was again, an incriminating-looking photo with a damning caption about a politician, posted to Facebook with no comment. Weeks ago someone close to me posted it too. 60 seconds on Google was sufficient to learn what anyone who saw it should have immediately suspected, that it was inaccurate, deceptive, and fake. I messaged my close one about it, but I didn’t expect that message to have any effect. We believe what we want to believe, right?

But then there it was again, shared by someone else close to me. Except this time, in the comments, was a word of correction from my close one who posted it the first time.

All is not lost. Some people are still listening.

That needs saying, because the ones who are not listening, the ones who have turned to plotting instead, are getting all our attention. Mail bombs and mass shootings demand attention. It’s what they’re designed for. The briefest of glimpses into the closed circuits of paranoid, hateful, racist discourse that feed these plotters induces stultifying despair. So many people tuned exclusively to villainy and conspiracy, and with deadly, deadly consequences.

Yet they are not the only ones, so we can’t give up. Many are still listening. Though we may never learn of their existence, they are there and they are persuadable. To go silent now is to abandon them to the fearmongers, and we know too well what fear wants to make people do. We must keep at it, then, with the clarifying and the correcting, the insisting on the truth of things and in our own discourse and that of our friends and leaders.

Some people are still listening. Now more than ever we need to be talking to them.