January 2014 Pop Culture Roundup

Five items for the month of January...

1. I'd been hearing good things about a Netflix original show called Derek, created by and starring Ricky Gervais as the title character, a mentally slow man who works at a retirement home. It is, without exaggeration, the sweetest show that I have ever watched. If one is familiar with Gervais' overall style and humor, you may expect certain a certain crassness. There is some of that in the form of one character in particular, but the overall spirit of the show is altogether much different as Derek interacts with the other workers and the residents. Everything about him is genuine: he genuinely wants everyone around him to be happy, is genuinely curious (to the chagrin of one of his best friends), and is genuinely kind. One of the characters--the crass one, as a matter of fact--sums it up in the last episode of the season: "I always take shortcuts. Derek doesn't. His only shortcut is the right one: kindness." I'm glad there were only seven episodes, because every single one of them caused the room to get dusty.

2. Late last year, a friend sent me a song called "This Gigantic Robot Kills" by MC Lars, a rapper claimed by the sub genre known as "nerdcore." The song itself is a fun tribute to the mid-90s golden age of third wave ska music. From there, I discovered that MC Lars has an entire EP of songs based on Edgar Allen Poe stories. The music is fun, self-aware, and clever. Here, take a listen:

3. Coffeewife and I have been making our way through the newer (read: since 2005) Doctor Who over the past few weeks. I remember being introduced to some of the classic Tom Baker episodes back in elementary school, and have been wanting to get into the new series for quite some time. We both wish Christopher Eccleston had stayed on for more than one season, but have been liking David Tennant as well. As of this writing, we're on season 3, so there's plenty to go before we're caught up.

4. I found out the other week that Toad the Wet Sprocket released a new album late last year called New Constellation. Toad was a favorite of mine in high school thanks to their Fear and Dulcinea albums, so news of their reunion and new tracks was a nice surprise. It's a great outing, with the title track and "The Moment" standing out for me in particular.

5. One of the books I've had to read for my spiritual direction program recently has been Just Ministry by Richard Gula. In many ways, I was familiar with the material: the tagline is "Professional Ethics for Pastoral Ministers." It details many of the issues involved in recognizing the power that the pastoral role holds, its distinctiveness within the congregation, the importance of boundaries, and so on. Again, it's familiar territory, but helpful to hear again at this stage.

Five Really Good Reasons to Leave Your Church

Recently, Relevant Magazine posted an article on their website entitled Five Really Bad Reasons to Leave Your Church. Essentially, it was a lament about the consumerist attitude that some take toward seeking a church, including "I'm not being fed," "I don't agree with everything preached," and so on.

As a pastor, I resonated with some of what the article was going for. It's important to remain in and contribute to a faith community, and if there are certain ministries there that you'd like to see offered, perhaps it's up to you to get it going. Being part of a church is as much about what you add to it as well as what you receive from it. So I think I understand the author's primary intent.

However, not everyone received the article that way. The reaction on Twitter in particular was incredibly nuanced and, oftentimes, polarized. And I understand that as well. While there does exist a certain contingent of churchgoers who hop from place to place and make the experience all about what they can get, seemingly without much consideration for anything besides their own felt needs, there is also a considerable group of folks who leave churches after a lot of prayerful thought and due to much more serious issues present there.

So it only seemed right to come up with another list of good reasons to leave your church. You certainly don't need my permission, but if I can help to give voice to some of this stuff with the 3-4 people who read this blog, then I might as well.

1. Abuse of any kind. My (admittedly limited) understanding of abusive dynamics is that they can be incredibly complex, and from the viewpoint of the one being abused, it can take a long time before one can finally muster the strength to leave such a situation. First, you truly have to realize and admit to what is happening, and even then it can be an emotional, spiritual, and physical battle to get away. There is often a lot of manipulation and guilt at play, and to finally stand up and leave can be a long, complicated process.

But abuse is abuse, and churches are as capable of it as any other organization or individual. Witness what the Catholic Church has been dealing with for the past decade. Consider the stories of emotional and spiritual captivity from former members of certain megachurches. Some churches--whether the way the system itself is set up or groups or individuals within--can be abusive places, and it may be under the guise of faithfulness, proper discipline, or outright denial about what they're doing. This--far and away, in my opinion--tops the list of good reasons to leave.

2. A very unwelcoming atmosphere. There's a reason why this commercial produced by the United Church of Christ a decade ago was received so well by so many:

It's because it spoke to what people had actually experienced.

There are churches of a single ethnicity that react poorly when those of another walk through the doors. Or those of a different economic class. Or those of a non-heterosexual orientation. Or [insert a million other differences that make people uncomfortable]. Even besides those glaring sorts of instances, there are churches that just don't welcome others very well. Granted, some desire and even work toward changing this dynamic, but others don't seem terribly interested. Some churches are incredibly closed off to outsiders in order to protect something that they think needs protecting, usually related to whomever holds power among the congregation.

My freshman year of college, I decided that I'd just walk down the street to an area church for Sunday worship. It was a large, fairly affluent UCC congregation that had a strong relationship with my school, so it seemed like a no-brainer. On two separate occasions during the Passing of the Peace, some people around me blatantly ignored me or refused to shake my hand. In the second instance, the person even said, "Huh, there's no one else around me to shake hands with." This instance was one of the last times I attended. Why stay in a church that isn't very interested in welcoming you into their fellowship?

3. You have questions, but nobody is willing to journey with you in exploring them. You read a book on evolution, think it's pretty convincing, and want to reconcile this new information with Genesis 1. You wonder whether Jesus would condemn people like Gandhi and Anne Frank because they weren't Christians. You wonder whether a story like Jonah really happened. The problem is compounded when you approach your pastor or fellow church members with these questions and are ignored, waved off, given a pat "just have faith" sort of answer, or become ostracized and accused of dabbling in heresy.

Such responses surely aren't going to make your questions go away. They only serve to keep people you thought you could trust from having to take them seriously. At that point, you may be able to let such questions go so as not to rock the boat any further…but probably not. So it may be that a new community where you feel more comfortable wrestling with such issues is worth seeking out. Trust me, they exist, and such questions excite and energize them.

4. Your needs aren't being met. There's a flip side to the argument that the original article makes about this point. His take is that if one brings up one's own needs, one is automatically deemed to be operating out of a consumer mindset or making the church about oneself. So, should a person who prefers hymns and liturgy stay in a place that only offers guitars and drums, and vice versa?

Simply put, certain styles are spiritually enriching and engaging to some and not others. The fact that someone chooses to leave a church because it's moving toward something more "contemporary" and upbeat and they find more meaning in the silence, story, and familiarity of something more formal, it makes much more sense to release them with God's peace than to accuse them of being selfish and abandoning their community. Forcing or guilting someone to remain while also refusing to offer what they need is a form of abuse (see #1).

5. You really are called to leave. Maybe you've been working for quite some time to change one of the scenarios mentioned above with little to nothing to show for it. Maybe certain changes to worship and ministries, necessary though they may be, are causing you to feel nudged away more and more. Whatever the reason, there really may come a point where you discern that it's time to part in the peace of Christ with this community that in the best of circumstances did help you grow, but wants to head on a path that you don't feel called to follow.

Maybe for this one you really do need to hear this from someone: you have permission to say goodbye and to move on to a different church. But make sure that you really do say goodbye, because it's most likely that the people there who love you are going to wonder about you if you just disappear. It's been my experience that people, when they leave churches, don't often explain why beforehand, and that can be to the detriment to those who remain. If they really listen rather than dismiss you as a "church shopper," it will hopefully give them a better awareness of themselves as they continue on in ministry.

Vintage CC: Doogie Howser, M.Div

My ordination anniversary last week caused me to remember this post from way back in December 2005. I'm not as young as I was when I wrote this, but I'm not far enough removed that parts of this aren't still a regular part of my experience. I've certainly learned to react better to it than I did back then, though. So there's that.

I don't mind being The Young Pastor as much as I used to.

The reaction was almost immediate when I started. 'Oh, he's so young...he won't want to visit the older people.' This quote was relayed to me within the first month. I'd barely moved my stuff into the office and already I was the whippersnapper who wouldn't give the retired folks the time of day.

Being introduced to the community was what really got me, though. First swiss steak supper, I quickly found out that I could only fake a smile and laugh so many times when received with any of the following reactions: 'Oh, you're so young!' 'You're young enough to be my grandson!' 'You look like a teenager!' I mean really, do I have to pretend that this is the first time I've ever heard this, play like it's still the cutest thing that someone could say to me?

After a while, I started coming up with a running list of comebacks, some of which I've used, some of which I'm glad I've kept to myself.

'Ah, you noticed.'
'Yep. I'm eighteen. I'm Rev. Doogie Howser.'
'Thanks. I moisturize.'
'The fountain of youth is in the baptismal font. I'm selling vials for 50 bucks.'
'You're old enough to be my grandfather!'

Someone once bought the 'I'm eighteen' line (without the Doogie Howser bit). No kidding. They just stared at me in amazement, their jaw propped up on the pew in front of them. That only irritated me more. I finally snapped, 'I'M TWENTY-SIX!' I tried saying it with a smile, but I'm not sure how they took it because I walked out right after I said it.

I resigned myself to the fact that in that awkward stage where people are just starting to get to know each other and run out of things to say, this is what they resort to: a lame observation about my age. It's not unlike asking a really tall guy if he plays basketball or, God forbid, asking an overweight woman when the baby's due. You never hear, 'Wow, you're black!' or 'Hey, you're bald!' or 'Holy crap, you wear glasses? Me too!' Somehow, 'Boy, you're young' is acceptable in 'polite' conversation, perhaps in certain instances meant as a compliment but more often (read: always) comes off as condescending and a little rude. With observations about one's youth come somewhat masked statements about experience, maturity, and seniority, sometimes constructive, sometimes not so much. The majority of the time 'Boy you're young' slips out of someone's mouth, it is said in surprise, as in 'I expected someone older' or 'You can't possibly be the sole pastor here' or 'If you ever cross me I'll take you over my knee and send you to bed without dessert.'

So yeah, I'm getting over that now. Can't you tell?

I've come to view these exclamations about my youth in a more positive light. For one thing, being a member of a younger generation in a position like mine, I bring a different viewpoint than my older colleagues. You know the phrase 'youthful energy?' Yeah, I dig that one. I've got some of that, and I'm not afraid to use it. 'Boy you're young.' I sure am. And that means I can see some of the ways we need to step up certain things. I might pay more attention to when the youth are getting the shaft. I might be better at noticing that the 20-somethings have needs that aren't being met.

That, and there's a certain level of fawning that my ego loves. I'm willing to admit that. It's something I'm acknowledging and dealing with. At our ecumenical Thanksgiving service two comments were later relayed back to me: 1) 'Wow...he's cute,' and 2) 'Is he single?' I don't get treated like eye candy very often. It can be flattering in small doses. My wife gave me a good squeeze after I told her about these. It felt good to have her agree and to claim me all over again. So there.

So being The Young Pastor has its advantages and perks. True, one has to hear those stupid exclamations a few more hundred times and feign good nature (or does one truly HAVE to do the latter?), but coming from a younger generation, I can point out all those concerns that get ignored, and I get a few compliments in the process. I can even work the prejudice to my advantage. Guitar in worship? Oh, that's just Jeff being young. I can play that game. I won't be young forever though, so I'll get all the mileage out of this that I possibly can. And then when I'm old I'll know to give the new Young Pastor the benefit of the doubt.

On the 9th Anniversary of My Ordination

The big gift that I received for Christmas this year was a new stereo. It's a compact unit in wooden casing, made to look like something you would have purchased in the middle of last century. It includes a radio, CD player, a port for an mp3 player, a cassette deck (!), and a turntable.

By far, it was the turntable that excited me the most. I've never been a record collector, but such an enterprise has always intrigued me. I'm not totally convinced by the argument that they convey a better sound quality, but there is nevertheless something about records that I've always been drawn to, even if I've never really acted on them before now. 

Naturally, it wasn't very long after Christmas that I started hunting around for my first vinyl acquisitions. My sister-in-law, who knew about this present before I did, started me out with a Mumford and Sons record. As I perused websites and considered my options, I finally settled on Oh My God! by Doug E. Fresh and Run-DMC's self-titled debut.

You see, I listened to a lot of rap and hip-hop in elementary school. Don't ask me what got me started, but during those years this is what you heard emanating from my bedroom much more often than not. Among my favorites were several compilation tapes that featured the above artists among others.

In those years, my family lived in a parsonage with a wide open basement that was well-suited for my brother and I to play in. It was a wonderful place for children to burn off excess energy, which we did quite often. I'd often bring down my tape player, so the sounds of Doug E. Fresh's "The Show" and Run-DMC's "Rock Box" would often accompany our play.

This parsonage was the type that featured a separate door down to a pastor's study in the basement area. We didn't play in that room very often, although it wasn't totally off limits either. There was, nevertheless, something special about being in there for me. It featured a large L-shaped desk, often strewn with papers and books, floor-to-ceiling shelves no doubt featuring the popular thought of the day, and laminate flooring made to look like stone, a sharp contrast with the bare concrete of the rest of that level.

As mentioned, my brother and I didn't play in here often. We understood that it was set apart and not to upset it too much, regardless of whether my father was working in that space or not. There would be, on occasion, times when we'd wander in--even me with my radio--though again, we'd be sure not to touch much of anything. We knew that this was a room for work, even if we didn't really know what the work was about other than what we saw on Sunday mornings.

Nine years ago today, I stood up in front of a mixture of family, friends, colleagues, and members of both my home church and the church to whom I was newly called, and was ordained into Christian ministry in the United Church of Christ. I made promises to live into my calling and to uphold the expectations of the role, to honor the faith and order of my denomination, and to minister as faithfully and as effectively as I could to people regardless of their situation or belief.

I must say that after so many years, I understand that this office into which I am striving to live is set apart, but I'm still learning what it means. I still wrestle with the unique role and its accompanying power and boundaries that I am meant to have among the people to whom I've been called. I struggle with the limits of my own abilities and when to advise people to look elsewhere for assistance or direction. I have only recently been figuring out how best to care for myself in the midst of this vocation's demands. I still wonder about some of the basic stuff sometimes, like how to preach more effectively or what the church is meant to be and do in a new cultural moment.

Even nine years into this, I'm still trying to figure out what this work is about.

My Run DMC album arrived just the other day, rubber banded to the mailbox because it wouldn't fit inside. I promptly rushed it inside and placed the record on the turntable. As the opening drums and guitar riffs of "Rock Box" began to fill the room, I was transported back to that parsonage study. Even so many years later, it doesn't seem like some things have changed very much.

"Translate for Us" - A Prayer for Christian Unity

Our many voices ring out
Echoing in ornate marble cathedrals,
whispered between clapboards in country meadows,
plainly spoken among the inner city’s weathered brick.

We speak many languages, each from what we know best:
Kneeling or standing, heads bowed or hands raised;
Calling to you out of a vast catalogue of names;
Requests made in simple prose or carefully crafted verse;
However it is that we make sense of ourselves, of our lives, of you.

We hear one another and wonder,
with such unfamiliar dialects and accents;
beliefs strange and quirky;
experiences to be pitied or pushed aside;
how you could listen to them.

But you listen with the ears of grace and hear that we are each needy,
seeking wholeness,

Translate for us each others’ speech.
Help us hear, as you do, those sighs behind our words crying out
to be understood,
to receive justice,
to be seen as human,
to be your beloved,
to find our own missing pieces,
to make our own jagged edges smooth.

Point to those places underneath where our longings are the same,
and our hope is answered in each other
where you are the one speaking.

Rev. Don Draper

This April begins the first half of the final season of Mad Men, AMC's hit show about ad agencies in the 1960s and their employees.

The show is appealing in that way that shows like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and Boardwalk Empire are. They center around the exploits of a male protagonist whose ways are far from honorable, and yet there is something about them to which audiences are drawn. We are meant to be appalled by their actions, yet we also want to root for them. Most other characters on these shows have their own vices as well; people who could truly be considered virtuous are few and far between. We could chalk this up to basic humanity, or to rough past experiences that help explain current behavior, or imperfect situations calling for imperfect answers, among other possibilities.

The main character of Mad Men, Don Draper, is no different. Over the seasons of this show, we have watched him fall over drunk and blow off commitments. We've watched him manipulate people around him in order to get his way (he's as fit for his advertising work as anyone), and we've seen him indulge in perhaps his primary vice, namely sleeping with nearly every woman who crosses his path.

There really isn't much, if anything, commendable about any of these actions. Don is as sleazy as television characters come. But to me, anyway, part of the appeal of Mad Men is that Don always seems to be on the verge of a breakthrough, or at least closer to it than the leading men on the other mentioned shows. There are hints that redemption isn't too far away, if only he would stick with occasional flirtations with the possibility long enough to see where it leads.

A big part of Don's problem, it seems, is his aversion to opening up too much to those around him. The audience is privy to flashbacks that help explain who he really is and why he does what he does. Through these, we learn that he grew up in extreme poverty, raised by people who were not his biological parents in a house of ill repute. Eventually, he jumped at the first chance he saw to change his circumstances: switching identities with a dead soldier while serving in Korea, beginning his lifetime of deception and aversion to letting on too much about who he truly is.

Don's protective armor is thick. Very rarely do we get a real glimpse into how he feels or what he's thinking, save for moments when he worries that someone is going to discover the truth. Meanwhile, he acts out through alcohol and affairs, and through his work. The surest thing that we know about him, other than that he really doesn't like letting anyone into his life in an authentic way, is that he numbs this aversion through one addiction after another.

Don's is a cautionary tale for pastors. We could almost watch this show as an example of what can happen to people in ministry if they aren't careful. The example is perhaps an extreme one, but there is a lesson to be learned from Don's methods.

Consider the role of pastor; its expectations and demands. Any basic introduction to boundaries will tell you that the pastor is in a position set apart from those he or she serves. This is not to say that pastors are above the people they are called to serve, but that the pastoral position comes with power and a certain amount of distance. Make no mistake that we pastors are called to be genuine with our congregation, but also aware that we play a role in the church that is relationally different from member-to-member interaction. Difficult moments call for a certain professional approach; rarely, if ever, are we allowed to "bleed on the congregation," as it were. We are encouraged to go elsewhere for such outlets, be it a counselor, spiritual director, or peer group.

The difference between intentionally seeking and not seeking these outlets can be huge. If we are not intentionally, actively sharing and processing our struggles, our "hidden selves," with others, the possibility of acting out in unhealthy ways--particularly among our congregants--increases. The chances of engaging in unethical or abusive behavior are greater if we stay inside our shells, protecting ourselves against any kind of appropriate vulnerability, insisting that we can handle it or that it'd be better for everyone if we just figure things out by ourselves.

This is a growth area for me. For the longest time, I was a very self-reliant person. Even though I like to think that I've made progress over the past year or two, I still fight a tendency to just deal with problems on my own. When I was a solo pastor, this tendency only increased. Thankfully, I never acted out in harmful ways among my people, but there was still damage done in other ways. And now that I realize the importance of letting down my guard and sharing myself where appropriate, I think that I and the people around me are better off.

The most recent season of Mad Men showed the beginning of Don's own shedding of armor. By the end, he displayed a much greater willingness to share his past, his true identity, with his family and co-workers. It brought a cost, but the desire for liberation had finally become greater than the desire to hide. Would that we pastors would also pursue the former over the latter.

Litany for Remembering Our Baptismal Promises

As part of Baptism of Christ Sunday, we will be observing a Remembrance of Baptism liturgy. Below is the litany I wrote for remembering and renewing our baptismal promises.

For the faith and family into which we were baptized and for which we are daily gaining a deeper understanding,
Renew our commitment, O God.
To reject what is sinful and to ever more embrace the freedom of new life that Christ gives,
Renew our courage, O God.
To follow Jesus as Lord, and to rely on Christ as Savior,
Renew our trust, O God.
To commit to discipleship by resisting those forces that defile and demean your creation, showing compassion and justice, and making the ministry and life of Christ our own,
Renew our strength, O God.
To be faithful members of your beloved community in learning, service, and celebration,
Renew our bonds, O God.

Small Sips Broke Its New Year's Resolution Already

How many cyber-calories will that cut out? Zach Hoag has made an ambitious resolution for 2014: he's quitting what he calls the "Progressive Christian Internet." Here's how it works:
No, I’m not quitting blogging or Twitter or de-friending a couple hundred people on Facebook (though I’ll likely do a bit of trimming for the new year). Nor am I giving up on certain topics that might be deemed by some to be “progressive” and “Christian.” Rather, I’m quitting a conversation that has come to define the “Progressive Christian” label online,  a conversation that I have been a part of here and there and on and off over the last year or so. I’m putting the kibosh on what seems to me to be a rapidly devolving, fragmenting, and, yes, schisming ideological experiment manifesting uniquely on blogs and social media. And I’m saying sayonara to the talking (tweeting) heads and childish cliques that often dominate this discussion, a discussion which has at times become a parody of itself playing out in plain view of the watching world. 
This is not a call-out post, so I won’t be naming names or linking links. That’s not the point. The point is that the Progressive Christian conversation has lost its way, primarily because of the third word in the label: the Internet. The Internet has fostered a disconnect between the Progressive Christian Internetter and rooted, relational church realities, such that the ideology expressed online has become an end in itself rather than a means tethered to the end of ecclesia. The conversation is increasingly non-incarnational. Whereas evangelical church-planting culture is often plagued by shallow pragmatism, the Progressive Christian Internet goes to the other extreme, philosophizing its way out of any substantial, practical ecclesial application.
He does mention a few specific instances without naming names, but those familiar enough with what he's talking about would be able to figure it out. That's not really the important issue, though. The issue is the overall tone and tactics of the corners of the internet he's looking to leave behind. And I totally get it, because I've seen many of the things he mentions for myself. While I enjoy social media, there have been certain aspects of it that I've given up on or distanced myself from because I haven't found it edifying any more.

There was a period of a couple years where all the deconstruction and dreamy pontification really spoke to me. But it also came with a lot of snark and unnecessary clique formation where people were no longer able to see that we're on the same freaking side. It became tiresome. I'm much more selective nowadays as to what authors/blogs/tweeters I keep up with. I myself don't see the need to give up everything cold turkey, but I get why somebody would.

So Godspeed, Rev. Hoag. I hope it goes well for you.

You don't say. Jan has written a brief reflection on how maybe we should give up on the whole "this is what Millenials like" thing, because, well…
The answer to connecting with each other seems to be more about authenticity (being who we really happen to be while allowing others to be who they really happen to be) than about creating programs  “that singles will like” or planting a church “that GBLTQ people will like” or  reaching out to “young families” by making assumptions about what “they all want.” 
What if we honestly connected with people by asking them about their lives, their stories, their fears?  Before we started programs, before we planted churches, before we redeveloped establish churches, what if we simply connected with people we already know and people we meet in our daily living?  What if we stopped making assumptions about each other based on age, race, religion, etc. and simply connected as individuals?
This is the type of thing that should be stapled to every "church growth expert's" forehead. Stop telling me what this or that generation wants. What we really can only know is what this person, and then this person, and then this person wants. But y'all will write your books and charge for your conferences anyway.

The thing referenced in the post title. One thing I told myself I'd do less of on this blog this year, if not cut out completely, was write about sports. But with this news, I couldn't help myself:
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- University of Michigan head football coach Brady Hoke announced today (Wednesday, Jan. 8) that offensive coordinator Al Borges will not be retained for the 2014 season. 
"Decisions like these are never easy," said Hoke. "I have a great amount of respect for Al as a football coach and, more importantly, as a person.  I appreciate everything he has done for Michigan Football for the past three seasons."  
Prior to joining U-M in 2011, Borges was a member of Hoke's staff at San Diego State in 2009 and '10. 
The Wolverines will begin spring practice on Feb. 25 and finish with the annual Spring Game on Saturday, April 5, at Michigan Stadium.
To say that most Michigan fans were a bit unhappy with the way Michigan's season progressed in 2013 is a bit of an understatement. A large chunk of the blame was placed on Borges, who didn't seem to set up his offense for success with his play calling. Once the other team's defense figured out his plan, he had nothing to fall back on in the midst of games, and overall the personnel didn't seem to match what he wanted to do. So now he's been let go, fulfilling the wish of most of the fan base.

As for his replacement? Alabama's Doug Nussmeier. No, for real:
Nussmeier's got a pretty good resume both as an OC and a QB coach, what with Smoker/Stanton/Bulger/Price/Locker/McCarron on his resume, and quickly climbed the ladder. He's got a good rep as a recruiter and at 43 is relatively young for a BCS offensive coordinator; his Washington offenses were spread/pro mish-mash amalgams and then he seemed to do just fine with Alabama's pro-style attack. It's possible Michigan was going to ride with Borges for another year before the rarest commodity of all appeared: a proven college offensive coordinator with pro-style genes.
WOO. That is all.

Misc. Nakedpastor on something Tony Jones wrote, or the latest reason why Zach Hoag is quitting the PCI. Jan on the way God smells. Yes, really. Just read it. PeaceBang on some basic guidelines regarding how a suit should fit. Hey, it's important.

A Ten-Year Blogtacular

Today is my nine-year blogging anniversary. Nine years of writing at this address. Crazy, isn't it? This blog is just a year away from being a decade old.

I'm actually going to be bumping up against a couple big 10-year anniversaries this year and the first month of 2015. 10 years since I graduated seminary. 10 years since I started in full-time pastoral ministry. 10 years for this blog. And then 10 years of ordination. I'll mark each one with at least some expression of thankfulness and some degree of reflection.

If I was processing transition last year, I'd imagine that this year will at least include processing the sheer longevity of it all; what it means to have been doing certain things for a decade, what I've learned, what I may look forward to.

That, and I've occasionally written what I think is some good stuff here, and I'll continue to drudge some of that back up in anticipation of this writing milestone in particular.

So yes, expect a certain amount of both looking back and looking forward. My hope is that this will be a prayerful exercise of celebrating where I've been and discerning where I'm going.

Thanks for reading.

One Word 365: Share

Katherine Willis Pershey did an intriguing thing in 2013: rather than make a series of resolutions, she picked a word that would sum up what she'd strive to do and be through the year. Her word was "advocate," which led to her taking an active stance regarding gun reforms.

Her word for this year is "gentle:"
I want to be gentle with myself. I want to be gentle with others. I'm probably not - okay, definitely not - going to stop being idealistic or perfectionistic, but I can at least practice some gentleness in the midst of all that endless striving.  
One of the reasons this word calls to me is because gentleness - along with love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control - is one of the fruits of the Spirit, and it means a great deal to me to hew close to the Spirit when setting this intention for the year.
I find this concept simultaneously inspiring and terrifying. I wrote the other day about some of the things I want to strive to do this next year, and in some ways I think it can be summed up thus:


I was very drawn into myself in 2013. I could really trace it further back than that, but due to all the transition, some strong natural tendencies, and some stuff I was processing related to some ministry experiences at my previous stop, I was very much in a spiritual cocoon for much of the year. The positive moments came when I picked up the phone and reached out to people, whether to talk over some of the stuff I needed to get through my system, to catch up, or just to get out for a night.

On top of that, it took me needing to tell people I needed to talk; they weren't going to read my mind. Being able to share a Five Iron Frenzy concert with an old friend was good for my soul. Even sharing books off of my bookshelf with people whom I thought would enjoy them was important for me to do.

So, the seeds are planted. Now for this year, I plan to nurture it further, to share myself more with others in a way that I really haven't for a long time.

So this is my word for 2014: share. To share more of who I am, what I need, and what I have.

May it be so.