April 2017 Pop Culture Roundup

Six items for April...

1. This month I read All About Love by bell hooks. It was my first encounter with her writing, which was a big reason why I picked it up. The subject of this work, as you might imagine, is love: hooks writes thoughtfully and wisely about different aspects of love including its relationship to justice, how we might reflect dysfunction from our families of origin in later relationships, how men are taught to be emotionally stunted and withholding, sex, and much more. It was a wonderful first experience of bell hooks, and I'll be seeking out more.

2. The second season of The Magicians wrapped up this month. The first season signaled what fans of the books would be in for by adapting or combining certain elements; the second veers off the path much more. The defeat of the first season's antagonist happened in the third or fourth episode in order to focus on a second enemy who was also introduced in the first season but is much less of a factor in the books. It was a strange pacing decision, as were several others, but all in all the season was able to weave together 3-4 stories rather well, and given that we were past the basic introductions of the characters in order to delve in, this season was much richer. I'll look forward to the next when it returns early next year.

3. A few weeks ago I decided that maybe I should see if the band Sleigh Bells had released any new music lately (you know, as one does). It turns out that they had just last year with an album called Jessica Rabbit. It features their signature grinding guitars over electronic beats, but maybe a little more polished than on Reign of Terror, which was my first taste of them a few years ago. Here's a single from their latest, "I Can Only Stare:"

4. I've also been enjoying an EP called Voices by artist Madame Gandhi, a drummer from LA who is striking out on her own after touring with rapper M.I.A. Her music is very chill, but with an edge to it both in the beats and in the lyrics. Here's a single from that EP called "Her:"

5. And I've also been listening to Sincerely by Dude York, their third album released just last year. This band has a fun pop-punk sort of sound reminiscent of Weezer. Here's the single for one of their singles, "Love Is:"

6. And finally, I've been listening to Bishop Briggs' self-titled EP, featuring several songs that I've been enjoying for the past year or two, "Wild Horses" and "River." Briggs has a soulful style that I've liked ever since I first heard her, and I'm glad she's finally putting out more than just singles. Here's her best-known song, "River:"

Book Review: Finding God in the Body by Benjamin Riggs

The physical and spiritual are not opposed to each other. They are not two competing worlds. There is not something apart from our life called the "spiritual journey." The journey is our life. When we sleepwalk through life, we are just along for the ride. When we mindfully participate in the journey, we are walking the spiritual path. - Benjamin Riggs, Finding God in the Body

In recent years, I've lost track of how many books on spirituality I've read. I even wrote my own last year, which required me to read even more for research purposes. After so much reading and writing, certain concepts and themes tend to pop up again and again, with different ways of expressing and illustrating them. As you might be able to imagine, not all of these books have been created equal: as with any genre, some are engrossing and well-written, and others...are not.

After so long, I've come up with a few principles to judge whether a spirituality book is good or not:
  1. It minimizes jargon, and explains well what jargon it uses.
  2. It avoids chapters becoming bloated with paragraphs full of the same airy words and phrases, slightly rearranged from sentence to sentence.
  3. It grounds its concepts in everyday experience, striving to connect ideas or practices to what one might encounter in daily life.
  4. It is intentional about inviting the reader to participate in what it presents.
Finding God in the Body: A Spiritual Path for the Modern West by Benjamin Riggs is the latest in this long line of spirituality books that I have read. While the title suggests that it might be a book about spirit-body synchronicity, it is more an introduction to spirituality, mainly using concepts from Christianity but also some Eastern traditions.

How well did this book meet the above principles?

Minimizes/explains jargon: Riggs throws a lot of different concepts at the reader, including contemplation, meditation, mindfulness, sanity, true self/false self, suffering, and more. Many of these weave in and out of each other, but the ones he works with the most are true self/false self, suffering, and meditation. In fact, the process of acknowledging one's false self--that is, the persona we present to the world in order to find acceptance and our own self-conceptualization--runs through most of the book. Because he reminds the reader so often about this, it will be one they will likely be able to understand the best. Others do not fare so well: "sanity" in particular was one that, given its natural ties to mental health issues, did not seem to hold up even as it appears in later chapters. So for some he is very clear, and others could have been explained better or edited out. And I might have gone with the latter, because...

Avoids bloated paragraphs/chapters: There are many stretches of this book where Riggs works with the same concept for pages on end without moving forward with helping the reader understand. One example: in a later chapter on practicing meditation, there is a span of six pages where he explains that such a practice isn't about thinking the right thoughts or only about the mind, with non-sequitors about sanity, chaos, and the language of the body being silence, without connecting them very well to the main subject at hand. He has a 33-page chapter devoted to the identity of Jesus that eventually suggests that Jesus shows us how to relate to God ourselves, but that contains a lot of deconstruction and exegesis that doesn't serve his main point.

Grounds concepts in everyday experience: Riggs' introduction features his own story of pursuing spirituality and the experiences that inspired and shaped him along the way. When he writes about rejecting the false self, he succeeds in showing how what we project to others or ourselves is often a result of our pasts or our desire to fit into the world around us. Unfortunately, related to the above two points, in between there is a lot of pontificating about a lot of different concepts, along with long stretches of treading philosophical water.

Intentionally invites the reader into the presentation: There are two points where Riggs offers a set of instructions for observing prayer practices, one near the beginning and the other toward the end. In between there is much of what I've already described, which the reader might not have the patience to endure in order to get to those sections.

All in all, Finding God in the Body would not be my first choice to introduce others to spiritual practice. I found his own story very helpful and he does well in explaining certain themes, but the book is weighed down by a lot of filler that could have been streamlined or left out entirely. The book takes too long to get to the most informative or engaging parts, and a novice probably won't have the patience for that.

(I was sent a free copy of this book to review by the Speakeasy blogging book review network. My opinions are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)

Vintage CC: No, the Risen Jesus Isn't a Zombie

I wrote this in April 2015 just after Easter, and it seems as relevant today as it did then, as this joke always comes up somewhere. So this is my half-geek, half-theologian response.

In the past few years (probably longer), it's become a common joke to refer to Easter as Zombie Jesus Day or something to that effect. It might actually have been around longer than that, but to me it's been more noticeable lately. The pic to the left was one such mention of it that I saw on Facebook yesterday.

See, he rose from the dead, just like a zombie. Get it?

Sometimes the line between humor and criticism is blurry, and whether this is meant as one or the other varies from instance to instance. Nevertheless, the claim that Easter features a zombie Jesus is misrepresentative of Christian theology and the zombie genre. As it happens, I'm a big fan of both, so I feel some measure of responsibility to delve into the differences between Christian belief about the resurrection, and zombie mythology.

Let's begin with how zombies are conceptualized. At its most basic, a zombie is a corpse that has been reanimated. While not every story features an explanation of how this happens, a fair amount identifies its origins as viral. According to Max Brooks' Zombie Survival Guide, this virus overtakes the brain, alters it, and ultimately destroys its normal functioning. In addition, it stops the heart, rendering the subject dead. Through its alteration of the brain, it reanimates the body, although this newly revived corpse bears little resemblance to what it did before both in terms of mechanism and appearance. The virally-corrupted brain asserts enough control over the body's capacity to walk and, at times, grab, but it essentially drags the body along. All other organs no longer work, and the zombie doesn't have the same use of its motor skills as it did before.

Furthermore, the reanimated corpse is still a corpse. This means it will continue to decay. It no longer discerns relationships; no longer differentiates between loved one and enemy. It doesn't remember who it is or its place in the world as a person. It only knows what the virus causes it to know: a hunger for other living flesh. In other words, the body is no longer what or who it was physically or mentally. It was dead, and now it is, in its revived form, undead. Animated, but still dead.

Let's contrast these characteristics with claims about what Jesus is like after the resurrection. First, in two separate Gospel accounts, Jesus is said to be unrecognizable to people when they encounter him: Mary Magdalene in John 20, and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. It is not until he does something familiar that they finally do recognize him. In Mary's case, he says her name, and in the disciples' case, he breaks bread with them. This suggests some altered, new physical form, or at least some inability to recognize him on the part of the observer. Furthermore, Jesus remembers past relationships and continues to interact through normal means.

The Apostle Paul expounds on his own theory of altered physical form after resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:39-49:
Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory. So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is* from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.
The term "spiritual body" is an oxymoron. How can a spiritual thing also have a physical body? The essence of what Paul is saying here is that one's resurrected form is something new, imperishable, glorious, powerful. This may be what the Gospel writers had in mind when Jesus was not immediately recognizable to some who encountered him. Contrast this with a zombie, which remains in its old, worn out, degenerating flesh.

We next move to John 20:19-31, which is commonly known as the "doubting Thomas" story. Jesus twice appears to the disciples in a shut room, again indicating that he has taken on a new imperishable form. At the same time, however, he shows Thomas his crucifixion wounds. Some may argue that Jesus here is still in his old body, and yet he has appeared in closed quarters. He is recognizable to Thomas, which may suggest that the presence of those wounds suggests that the former body has somehow been redeemed in the process of its transformation. He is still who he was, yet also something new. Once again, note that Jesus takes up familiar relationships and interactions. To save us some time here, note that he does this in every post-resurrection account in the New Testament.

One final story worth discussing is the end of Luke 24, where Jesus suddenly appears among the disciples. He shows them his wounds as in John, but they think they're seeing a ghost. To prove he's more than a ghost, he eats a piece of fish in their presence. Not only does he elect to eat fish rather than take a bite out of Peter's arm, but he is also shown once again to have taken on a new form that confounds an easy dualistic spiritual/physical explanation.

All of these show that Easter is not the celebration of a reanimated, still-decaying corpse that cannot discern relationship. A zombie is still very much subject to the power of death, just in a different, even more horrific way. We do not proclaim, "Jesus is undead!" We proclaim "Jesus is risen!" And what Christians mean by "risen" is newly alive in an incorruptible, imperishable form that is somehow both physical and spiritual, no longer subject to the power of death in any way.

Furthermore, when Christians claim that Christ is risen, we also mean that in a transcendent sense. At communion, we not only remember who Jesus was and what happened in his death and resurrection, but we proclaim his continuing presence with us, beyond the limitations of a single physical form. We proclaim that he is still watching, guiding, presiding, and loving. A zombie is not even its former self, incapable of interaction with us as it could in life.

We dress up like zombies for Halloween. We celebrate Jesus' transcending death at Easter. These are the differences between the two.

Book Review: Rules for Revolutionaries by Becky Bond & Zack Exley

In big organizing we have big target universes. We need to talk to everyone--not just narrow slices of assumed swing voters--about what we want to achieve. We have to get as many people as possible engaged in the work of talking with voters. We have to have voters make demands of their representatives in Congress. Together, we will constitute a wave that will swamp the influence of big money, corporate media, and other establishment players who are invested in maintaining the status quo. - Becky Bond & Zack Exley, Rules for Revolutionaries

Rob Bell had Zack Exley on his podcast a couple of months ago. The topics of discussion ranged from Exley's work on the Howard Dean, John Kerry, and Bernie Sanders campaigns to evolving campaign tactics to his current project to get hundreds of ordinary citizens to run for political office at every level. I was intrigued by what he said, because he painted a picture of a cutting edge way to approach politics and pursue societal change, and because he freely shared his critiques of both major parties and how insular and risk averse those in the inner circles at the top tend to be.

Near the end, Exley plugged the book he'd written with fellow organizer Becky Bond entitled Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything, which I'd placed on my to-read list soon after. It's not a book I'd typically want to pick up, simply because the genre of contemporary political commentary is not what I choose to read for fun. But the way Exley cast a vision in his conversation with Bell for grassroots organizing on such a massive scale, I decided that I wanted to take a look.

And then, by happenstance, the book review network I'm a part of offered it up.

Exley and Bond begin their work by making the case for what they call "big organizing," which they present as bold, innovative, reliant on a vast network of individuals and groups at the local level to keep driving it, and pursuant of sweeping change. In their words, in big organizing people work on "a plan so big it can only be accomplished when everyone who wants change (a majority of the people) works together" (p. 2). The authors suggest that there is actually a sizable enough bloc of people in this country spanning differences that, given the right kind of organization, empowerment, and motivation, could change our nation's direction even without the usual trappings of traditional systems and practices.

Off the bat, the authors stress that in order for these tactics to work, people have to want them to work. They have to put in the time and effort needed to pursue them, and to partner with others who want to accomplish the same goal. But Exley and Bond are very clear from the first chapter on that nothing will be handed to those who want change.

As the title suggests, these elements of big organizing are presented as rules. Every chapter after the first takes its title from a rule, where an explanation with anecdotes and illustrations follows. The first couple of these drive the point home that the revolution will not happen on its own or with ease. It will involve people who want it to make it happen.

After these initial buckets of cold water are thrown on the reader, they turn to the more practical matters of big organizing, many of which may sound quite different from what people are used to if they've been a part of such movements. They take pains to show how reliant on volunteers rather than staff this method is. Especially at first but through its duration, the authors stress that their model counts on unpaid manpower to achieve much of what it sets out to do. Local volunteers know their communities best, and will do much better than outside consultants coming in to present a logo and some slogans.

Other rules are in this same spirit. They advocate for small donations from ordinary people rather than constantly wining and dining big donors who will resist the change you want later on. They make the case for local organization but centralized messaging. They advocate for the perfect not being the enemy of big and risky ideas and actions. And they caution against "single-issue" thinking, noting how interconnected things like immigration, civil liberties, income inequality, and access to healthcare actually are.

Because Bond and Exley both worked on the Bernie Sanders campaign, many of their examples come from that experience. While some may appreciate seeing what these ideas look like in practice in this way (both successes and setbacks), some may actually have trouble with this given how that campaign eventually faltered. I couldn't avoid Sanders' loss clouding the lens through which I read. There was also more than one instance where the authors would express regret for missed opportunities, hesitation, or poor decision-making, saying, "If we had seen this rule through to its full extent, things could have gone better." Of course, neither the reader nor author will ever know that for sure.

Should these rules be discounted given the end result of their implementation in this case? Probably not. I got the sense from this book that Bond and Exley learned a lot from what they did and know how they'll try doing it the next time. But that question still might be enough for some to hesitate on what they present here. Both reference work prior to what they did with Sanders that was more successful, and some may be able to read this knowing that sometimes these rules work and sometimes the human factor or other particulars are too much to overcome.

If nothing else, Rules for Revolutionaries shows us how things can be different if enough believe in and work toward a common cause. They may work or they may not given a certain context and the level of commitment and energy of its players. But as Bond and Exley say at the beginning, none of this will happen on its own. These rules are to be remembered in the midst of the struggle, because that's what it will be.

(I was sent a free copy of this book to review by the Speakeasy blogging book review network. My opinions are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)

Pastoral Prayer for Real Resurrection

based on John 20:1-18

God of resurrection, we have come seeking the promise and hope that this day brings. We are keenly aware of what in our lives needs new life, wondering if the good news of Easter is really enough to transform it. We feel a desperate need for more than just the tomb being empty; for the risen Christ to be truly present with us and raise what seems to be too far lost to redeem.

And so we lift it all up to you, because if there was ever a day all year to do it, it is today. We lift up our stresses, our anxieties, our needs to work harder to impress others or ourselves. We lift up our diseases of mind, body, and spirit that hold us back. We lift up the people we’re estranged from, both the cause of the fraying and its ongoing effect. We lift up our doubts and hesitancies of faith. We lift up our dissatisfaction, our disillusionment, our disappointment, our despair.

These are the places where we need Easter most; where your reminders that you intend resurrection for us will speak loudest and bring most joy.

O God, may this day be more than greeting card-level platitude for the parts of our souls that are hurting and afraid. Make resurrection real for us. Help us to hear our name, to see, to believe, and to proclaim. Amen.


Lent, Day 38. Maundy Thursday.

Previously: For Now, Just Live, Go Ahead and Give Up Chocolate for Lent, Homebrewing Salvation, My Easter Burden, Learning from Lenten Failures, Morning Stretches, Brushing the Knots

I sometimes wonder if I could pull off a full Triduum worship schedule.

If you're not familiar, Triduum is the fancy collective term for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Catholic, Orthodox, and some Protestant traditions give each day their own observance, since each recognizes a different part of the timeline related to Jesus' passion and crucifixion.

Today, Maundy Thursday, is the remembrance of Jesus' final night with the disciples, including the Last Supper, the washing of feet, and the new commandment to love one another.

Tomorrow, Good Friday, is the remembrance of Jesus' death.

Holy Saturday is the anticipation of the resurrection, and includes the great Easter Vigil which features several special rituals during an extended time of worship.

With few exceptions, I've been a part of churches that hold a single service that conflates Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, with Holy Saturday forgotten entirely. I haven't minded, although since I've been in ministry I've been of the opinion that it's only right to do something on Good Friday, even if just keeping the sanctuary open for people free to stop in and pray on their own.

Every Lent I consider what I would do for the full Triduum. Could I give a proper amount of energy to three services in three days, not to mention be up early for our Easter sunrise service and main worship? Could I give each the time and creativity that it needs for a meaningful experience? Would people come to all three, or just one?

There's something to be said for giving each part of the story its due. The purpose of the Triduum is to linger at table and cross and tomb; to build proper anticipation for the big celebration.

I don't know the answers because I've never given it a shot. Maybe one year I will at least to say I tried.

For now, we share bread and cup and journey through the garden to Golgotha tonight, and tomorrow all may pray as they choose. It will be what it needs to be for all who attend.

Some year, I'll try something more.

Brushing the Knots

Lent, Day 35.

Previously: For Now, Just Live, Go Ahead and Give Up Chocolate for Lent, Homebrewing Salvation, My Easter Burden, Learning from Lenten Failures, Morning Stretches

We have three cats. I call two of them our "elder statesmen" because we've had them for 12 years and they're about a year older than that. When we got the one he was still a kitten, maybe all of 6 months old. The other we got from the Humane Society, and he was pretty gaunt in those days.

Neither of them are gaunt any more. They are well-fed and quite rotund nowadays, the result of a life of contentment and receiving love.

They're spoiled. Let's just say it. We are very enabling catparents. And we both admit it.

Nermal, the one we brought home as a kitten, has medium-length fur that, due to his increased girth, he is not able to groom as well as he used to. He has lost weight in recent years thanks to an altered diet, but he still has a lot of trouble reaching down by his tail and, in fact, I think he's lost interest in doing so. As a result, his fur tends to become matted and one of us has to use a brush to get them out.

Our other two cats don't mind being brushed, but he despises it. We have to hold him down to do it, and when he escapes we follow him around until the job is done or we wait until we've regained his trust.

Just the other day I had to brush one of the biggest knots I can remember out of his fur. It took the better part of a half hour, and I had to stalk him around our bedroom in order to complete the task. He growled and hissed at me with every stroke, but eventually I got it and he could go back to relaxing.

Every Lent, I try to address the knots in my fur, or at least maybe one or two. I become aware of one or two ways that I've let myself become a little too comfortable with some aspect of my life and, whether by giving something up or taking something on, I start brushing. It's not always pleasant and sometimes I hiss at the process, but if I'm faithful to what I've set out to do I can at least look back and see some measure of progress since I began.

As mentioned in an earlier Lenten post, I kept things pretty basic this year and gave up sugary snacks. I know how much I can rely on them for comfort and a sense of control, so I decided it would be an appropriate thing for me to go without for a while.

I think it's been a good decision. I haven't really noticed any physiological changes, but the daily awareness that has accompanied my conscious choice to not order that cinnamon bagel, to leave the Girl Scout cookies on the pantry shelf, to pick the non-donut menu item during my church's Sunday morning breakfast, has been edifying and helpful. I think about why I would usually make a different decision and the sort of dependence I've had on those options. For the most part, I haven't even missed eating those things. Every once in a while I have a craving, but it has tended to pass in short order.

What this will look like after Easter, I don't yet know. Maybe I'll just see how long I can go cold turkey. Maybe I'll try a more tempered approach. Maybe I'll attack that entire box of Thin Mints with gusto. But for today, I've been brushing the knot and can see how it has affected me.

Small Sips Likes Cotton Candy

More than coffee needed. Kimberli Lira has written a powerful post on the church's preoccupation with coffee bars:

When church leaders sit around and discuss how they can reach people, I don't think they have the widow in mind. I don't think they have the cancer patient in mind. I don't think they have the children who are growing up without a parent in mind. I am not paying attention to the church décor when I walk through the doors. I don't want to smell fresh brewed coffee in the lobby. I don't want to see a trendy pastor on the platform. I don't care about the graphics or the props on the platform. I am hurting in a way that is almost indescribable. My days  are spent working full time. My nights are spent homeschooling and taking care of two young children. I don't have shared duties with a spouse anymore everything is on my plate. And when I go to church I desperately want to hear the Word of God.

The entire thing needs a read, especially churches that neglect pastoral care in favor of trendiness, hip décor, and flashy worship. It's not to say that these are mutually exclusive, but that as much time as we may be tempted to spend on awesoming up our buildings and presentations, there are hurting people who need more.

Because they all basically say the same thing, anyway? Karl Vaters shares why he's stopped reading all those "10 Reasons Your Church Isn't Growing" blog posts:

I’m far more likely to read a post titled ‘10 Helpful Hints for Church Growth’ than ‘10 More Ways You’re Failing as a Pastor.’ (No, that’s not a real title. But it is how those negative titles feel.)

We need a moratorium on ‘Why Your Church Isn’t Growing’ lists for one simple reason: they don’t work. Slapping the hands of your readers for not caring is like yelling at the people who did show up to church because you’re mad at the people who didn’t show up.

Don’t slap our hands, put tools in them. Tools that will work for us now, while we’re small. Tools that promote health and growth. Tools that encourage, inspire and resource us. Tools we can use.

Negativity gets a lot of clicks, so it doesn't surprise me that most of these posts he's talking about (and I've certainly read plenty myself) go negative. Plus they tend to list the same things: worship isn't lively, people aren't welcoming, your space isn't well-tended, you're too internally focused, etc. Read two or three of these and you're pretty well set.

The "helpful hints" idea is a good one, although many of those such lists would end up being the same, too. I'd rather read posts that drill down on specific issues: an in-depth post about hospitality, a longer post about the importance of maintaining your physical space, ideas on how to liven up the worship experience without compromising what you think worship should be.

For further thoughts on this topic, here's my recent post 7 Reasons Your Church is Doing Everything Wrong.

An emotional appeal. Charles Stone pushes back against the accusations toward pastors perceived as giving "cotton candy sermons," i.e., sermons that are more emotional than scholarly:

Consider TV commercials. Most commercials don’t list the benefits of their products. They tell a story or evoke emotion or move the heart. Dodge Ram’s God Made a Farmer commercial with Paul Harvey beautifully illustrates how emotion moves the heart. I tear up every time I watch the commercial, yet it does not lack depth.

In the past I’ve wanted to avoid being pegged a cotton candy preacher. But I now realize that for any meat and potatoes sermon to stick, we must incorporate some cotton candy techniques, those that we may think don’t contribute much to a message’s depth.

This entire post is wonderful in its analysis of the balance of emotion and intellect needed in preaching. The last part of the post has some helpful hints for incorporating techniques that will aid in conveying the message more effectively to the congregation.

I've long said that sermons can't be theology lectures. That's not their form or function. Sure, they should have depth and convey a theological point, but if they're weighed down by long quotes and extensive exegesis while the preacher ignores the finer points of the medium needed to get people to listen, all the "meat and potatoes" you load it up with won't matter.

A question I've been asking lately. Krista O'Reilly-Davi-Digui asks whether living a mediocre life is acceptable:

What if I all I want is a small, slow, simple life? What if I am most happy in the space of in between. Where calm lives. What if I am mediocre and choose to be at peace with that?

The world is such a noisy place. Loud, haranguing voices lecturing me to hustle, to improve, build, strive, yearn, acquire, compete, and grasp for more. For bigger and better. Sacrifice sleep for productivity. Strive for excellence. Go big or go home. Have a huge impact in the world. Make your life count.

But what if I just don’t have it in me. What if all the striving for excellence leaves me sad, worn out, depleted. Drained of joy. Am I simply not enough?

Since last May when I attended a weeklong retreat on clergy wellness, I've been anticipating letting go of some responsibilities to see what it would feel like to just be a husband, father, and pastor. For the most part this has gone smoothly and it's been amazing to spend time reading, brewing my own beer, writing, driving my family around, exercising, and just being present.

That's not to say I haven't had my moments where I'm tempted to sign up for a long involved continuing education program or rush through preparing another book proposal. I mean, I do still have bigger goals, but I've been trying to weigh them more carefully and ask how much is too much in the face of what's most important. To many that would seem medicore. And I'm trying to fight that for myself, too.

Because it's there.

Misc. Why Logan needed to kill the modern superhero movie. Sarah Bessey on the importance of belonging to a church community. Theresa Blythe on the most common block to spiritual direction.

7 Reasons Your Church is Doing Everything Wrong

1. You aren't reading enough of these lists. How would you even know what you're doing wrong if I wasn't posting a new list every day? I'll tell you: lost. You'd be completely lost. In fact, you've been lost this whole time until you clicked on this list. Congrats, friend. You're now on your way to real, authentic, relevant, hip, cool, emerga-contemporary awesomeness. Stay tuned for tomorrow's list to find out more.

2. You aren't scared enough that you're doing these things wrong. Before you started reading this post, you were too happy and content. Sure, you might have been too busy planning a Bible study lesson or serving at a soup kitchen with your Mission Team to keep up to date, but now you finally have time to realize why those actual acts of ministry fall incredibly short of whatever you should be doing instead. You should be terrified about how wrongly wrong it all is, and then you'll finally be on your way to starting life-changing programs in your church.

3. You're too closed-minded to my wisdom. Listen, I realize that I know nothing about your ministry context and that the particulars of your setting are completely unique and may require a nuanced and finessed approach...but seriously, have you even read any of my books? Or are you subscribed to my blog? Or have you attended one of my conferences? See my list of eight reasons why you therefore don't know what you're doing after this one.

4. Did I mention you need to read more lists? Here are my Four Reasons Why Lists Are Awesome:
  1. They help you keep track of things, like groceries to buy or which bloggers to read.
  2. Numbers and letters should be put together as often as possible.
  3. It's easier to make lists of a bunch of topics than to really delve in and explore one of them.
  4. Clicks.
5. You don't have enough people. Every church can be a megachurch if it tries hard enough. I mean, sure, maybe your worship service hits the right balance for the congregation and maybe your faith formation ministry seems to really be reaching those who attend and maybe your food pantry is well-stocked...but do you really have enough people? Like seriously, do you? Wait, don't answer yet. Think about it for a second...thiiiiiiiink. You could always have more, right? The answer is yes, you could. No, you could. STOP ARGUING WITH ME YES YOU COULD.

6. You're taking too long to change things, and I'm impatient. Hey, I already admitted that I know nothing about you, your church, your people, or your location. Things like "context" and "personalities" get in the way of applying new fresh ideas whole cloth, as quickly as possible, without regard for how well it might really work. But I spent an hour typing this and your ministry isn't growing yet. What's your deal, anyway?

7. You really do know better than me. I'm sure there really are some things you'd like to be different about your church. And you keep showing up every day working to improve and evolve them. And you're frustrated by people who resist or have different ideas. And reading lists like this only adds to the anxiety because they remind you just how far you need to go together. So maybe the first thing you could do right is give up reading posts like these, and find someone who knows you and your people better to give advice and encouragement. Because if your main source of wisdom is an endless stream of lists of things you're supposedly bad at, the Church Universal is in way more trouble than we know.