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June 2010

June 28, 2010

Embrace Life

A friend showed me a very powerful commercial today. I was sitting in my office and he dropped in for a quick chat. Periodically we push creative resources back and forth at each other. It's great fun and I always benefit way more than he does...

Anyway, in the course of our conversation he directed me to YouTube and had me do a search for "best seatbelt ad."

Wow. He was not kidding and I was not prepared. And from that point on, a funny set of circumstances unfolded. You see I was sitting there watching this ad and he was standing directly behind me. As the ad played out, I began to cry. Then another person walks into my office - my back is now to the both of them and I've got tears streaming down my face - and this person who has just walked in is introducing himself to me, wanting to meet me and...nice. Nice to meet you.

But it was fine. Actually it was nice to meet him under those circumstances: no pretense, what you see is what you get, and all that...

And besides, I am quite happy to be so moved, especially when the whole point of the advertisement is to effect an emotional response that incites a change in behavior. Recently there has been a morbid seat-belt ad running in New Zealand where a guy crashes his car and kills his passenger. Blood is dripping on the surviving guy and when he looks around and finds his dead passenger's eyes blankly fixed on him, he begins to repeatedly scream, "Quit staring at me!" It is just horrible.

Now, compare that description with this.

That is an effective advertisement. Don't you think?

Of course, this ad is not only effective, it is affective, too. Why? Am I moved because I love seat-belts so much and this ad preaches the gospel of seat-belts so efficaciously? Of course not. Rather at a certain point this ad becomes about more than seat-belts. It taps something deep and true and important in me, something for which seat-belts are a signifier. I am moved to tears by a power and beauty for which this ad is merely a sign.

For me, this ad is powerful because it is about the ways our lives propel us forward, the ways we make decisions and do things and how, in the course of it all, we are unexpectedly sideswiped by events and circumstances that we cannot see coming - or control, even if we could. The power of this ad is captured in the beautiful image of those small, yet strong, hands interlocked around their beloved as all hell breaks loose about him. And perhaps most importantly, it reminds me how grateful I am to love and be loved, to grasp and be grasped - by my family, my friends, my communities of faith near and far, small and large.

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June 24, 2010

Formulas or Descriptions?

201006241029.jpgStanley Hauerwas's new book, Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir, is a real delight. I am reading it in an episodic and leisurely manner, which memoirs lend themselves to. I have just finished his account of his father's death. Describing him as a good and gentle man, Hauerwas connects these virtues to the Beatitudes as he preaches at his father's funeral.

"My father was a good, kind, simple, gentle man. He did not try to be gentle, for there was no meanness in him...It was simply his gift to be gentle, which he gave unreservedly to those of us fortunate enough to be his family and friends.

"That his gentleness came so effortlessly helps us understand better Jesus' beatitudes. Too often those characteristics - the poor in spirit, those that mourn, the meek, those that hunger and thirst for righteousness, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted - are turned into ideals we must strive to attain. As ideals, they can become formulas for power rather than descriptions of the kind of people characteristic of the new age brought by Christ; for the beatitudes are not general recommendations for anyone but describe those who have been washed by the blood of the Lamb. It is they who will hunger and thirst no more, having had their lives transformed by Christ's cross and resurrection."

He continues:

"Part of the difficulty with the beatitudes is that some of the descriptions seem problematic to us - in particular, we do not honor the meek. To be meek, or gentle, is, we think, to lack ambition and drive. Gentleness, at most, is reserved for those aspects of our lives we associate with the personal, but it cannot survive the rough and tumble of 'the world.' Yet Jesus is clear that his kingdom is constituted by those who are meek and gentle - that is, by those who have learned to live without protection. Gentleness is given to those who have learned that God will not have his kingdom triumph through the violence of the world, for such a triumph came through the meekness of the cross."

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June 22, 2010

Point-blank Questions 2

Travis Reed has posted another video from our March conversation, this vignette just a bit over a minute long. In this video we interact about the practice of leadership.

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June 18, 2010

Point-blank Questions


I first met Travis Reed in 1996. At the time, I was a seminary student living in Denver, working part-time alongside Ron Johnson at Pathways Church. Ron and I went to a "Gen X" ministry conference - one of the first of its kind actually - at Glen Eyrie in Colorado Springs. It was there that I connected with Travis, and also met Chris Seay and Doug Pagitt, both of who would become good friends.

After the conference Travis and a couple of the guys he was with came up to Denver. They spent a good part of that Saturday night hanging out with me in my tiny apartment and the next morning worshiped with us at Pathways. I lost touch with those guys and forgot about Travis - until I went to Rwanda in 2008 where he and I reconnected at an Amahoro conference.

Travis is a filmmaker. He has a business/ministry/website called The Work of the People. That name, by the way, is what the word "liturgy" means - literally "the work of the people." Anyway, Travis travels all over the world making films. That is his gig. Well, that and showing up in my life at the most random times and behaving in bizarre ways when we're together. That is also Travis's gig (these two sets of pictures, taken more than two years apart, demonstrate a little of Travis's bizarre sense of humor). By the way, I've blogged about Travis and his work before and you can read about it here.


Shortly after I arrived in New Zealand, Travis appeared in my life again. He was hanging out with a mutual friend, Mark Pierson, traveling around Australia and New Zealand working on a film project. We met up at Laidlaw College, then went across the road for a coffee and a chat. It wasn't long before Travis pulled out his video camera and started asking me point-blank questions. I wasn't really expecting this, though I probably should have. It was good to spend time with Travis and fun interacting this way. He recently posted the video of our conversation.

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June 14, 2010

What Kind of Story?

shippingcontainer.jpgAs you might imagine, relocating a family halfway around the world is a bit of challenge.

Of course, there are all of the logistical issues that have to be worked through: navigating immigration, packing and unpacking a shipping container, buying new cars, finding a house and suitable schools, getting tax identification numbers, opening and closing bank accounts, settling into the rhythms of a new job career, etc. There are also the many little things that add up and remind you that you are not home: blowing up your computer because of confusion about how power converters work, wanting to watch sports and only being able to find rugby or netball, having it rain 15-20 times per day, paying $3.50 for a doughnut...

Don't get me wrong. This is not bad. Far from it, actually. It simply is. And as such, we are adjusting to it all quite well. It is amazing what you learn about yourself and each other when the trappings that make up your life are taken away. And you might also guess that the hardest adjustment is not the "things" that are absent, but the people. Living so far away from the many people we love and who love us so generously and consistently makes me ache with pain that doesn't go away. It is a sweet ache, though, and I would never want it to completely disappear.

Just this week that ache turned to joy when we hosted our friends Mike and Vicki King in our home for five days. We were tremendously blessed by our time with them. The night before they left I laughed so hard I cried, nearly wetting my pants in the process. Though we have met many wonderful people and are sowing the seeds for significant friendships, there is no relational equivalent to Miracle-Gro. Meaningful relationships are built over time. After having a wealth of such relationships, their absence is felt acutely.

Do you know what the biggest challenge in all of this has been for me, though? It took me awhile to figure it out myself. About two months ago, I noticed I was asking the same question over and over. Actually, that is not quite right. At first, it wasn't obvious to me that I was asking anything. Rather, something seemed to be going on deep inside me. Occasionally it would break the surface in the form of a feeling or even a word or two. When it did, I had the sense that something of vital importance was stirring in the depths of my heart. Its elusiveness intrigued me. Whatever this something was, it would not leave me alone. As I have continued to listen to my heart and had conversations with other people, I have slowly been able to give voice to the question I have been struggling to speak: "What story am I in?" That is the question that has emerged from my soul. Isn't that weird? "What is that about?" is probably the question you are asking.

I should probably say I am a story person. I love stories - hearing them, telling them, reading them...you get the picture. The entire first chapter of my book Intuitive Leadership is about my love of stories and my sense of their importance to our lives - especially as we seek to relate to the God revealed in the stories of our Scriptures. For the last 15 years, I have known the story of which I was a part - so much so I took its presence for granted. It was the story of Jacob's Well and my part in helping birth that church in midtown Kansas City. The story of trying to figure out how to participate in the life of God in that place with so many good people is one of the best stories I know. What a story it is and continues to be. Overwhelming, really. But when I sensed that my storyline was diverging, and in a way I couldn't have ever predicted...well, I don't know how to describe my reaction except as non-reaction, also known as denial. The truth is it took me five years to come to grips with it.

And now I live on the other side of the world, wondering what story I am in.

Recently our family began reading Don Miller's new book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. We're generally not the kind of family that reads books out loud together, by the way. This is definitely a first. Generally what happens is after a meal, I open up the book and read a chapter or two out loud. Despite some early skepticism, it has been really good for us to do this together. Why? Because in this book, Don is trying to get a sense of his own story. Reading about his search for the thread of his story has helped us to get some perspective on our own. Many of you might know Don's writing from his first book Blue Like Jazz. He is a great writer, self-effacing, funny, and incredibly gracious. He also has really important things to say. Which brings me to the quote I want to share. I won't want to spend a lot of time setting it up. If you want that, buy Don's book and read it yourself (which you should probably do anyway). I will say that as he is learning how stories work, he makes the observation that the best stories are the ones that have great conflict embedded in them. As he works at interpreting the story of his life, he observes,

"I wanted it to be an easy story. But nobody really remembers easy stories. Characters have to face their greatest fears with courage. That's what makes a story good. If you think about the stories you like most, they probably have lots of conflict. There is probably death at stake, inner death or actual death, you know. These polar charges, these happy and sad things in life, are like colors that God uses to draw the world."

He tells of his experience watching a news report where some people caught in a shooting rampage are tortured before being killed. It's horrific stuff.

"I had to turn the television off, because I could see the torture in my head the way they were describing it. I kept imagining these people, just living their daily lives, and then having them suddenly ended in unjust tragedy. When we watch the news, we grieve all of this, but when we go to the movies, we want more of it. Somehow we realize that great stories are told in conflict, but we are unwilling to embrace the potential greatness of the story we are actually in. We think God is unjust, rather than a master storyteller."

I don't think Don is trying to do an end-around on the problem of evil and suffering, by the way. I don't think he's giving facile explanations for how God is going to make everything better in the end, either. I do think he is saying that we often spend of our lives avoiding the kinds of conflict that could make us into great characters with great stories. I think he is saying that we like conflict when we see it condensed into a two-hour narrative that resolves neatly, but struggle to believe that our conflicts could likewise birth something beautiful and compelling and good. But they can. And I am discovering that even though I don't know what story I am in, living down here at the end of the world, I know that I am in a story that is beautiful and compelling and good - not despite the many challenges I've described, but because of them.

And so are you.

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June 03, 2010

Honest to God?


I just checked out Kevin Vanhoozer's new book from Laidlaw College's library, Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion, and Authorship (and if you just clicked that link, yes, it costs $130.99 US). Although I am already reading too many books right now, I couldn't resist starting another. The title alone captured me - and alone is worth an entire blog post, but I'll save that for another day. For now, I'll share this quote from the book's preface:

"Those who would be honest to God must strive to avoid both pride and sloth in the their God-talk. Theological pride overestimates the adequacy of human language and thought; theological sloth underestimates the importance of responding to the provocations of God's self-revelation. The one goes before destruction; the other pre-empts instruction. Yet it is hard to miss the recurring biblical theme that God wills to communicate and make himself known: 'The word of the Lord came to...'; 'the Lord said...'. Theology is ultimately irresponsible if it fails either to attend to what God says or to think about the nature of the one who addresses us." (xvi)

He goes on to describe the necessity of honest conversation as the crucible for meaningful God-talk.

"Christian pilgrims emerging from the valley of the shadow of deconstruction are more aware than ever of how one's situatedness can distort one's speech, regardless of one's sincerity...Self-inspection is nowhere near as effective, however, as exposing oneself to the rigors of honest conversation. The shortest route to dishonesty is that which avoids dialogue. Being honest to God ultimately requires humility and boldness, the antidotes to theological pride and theological sloth respectively and the necessary prerequisites for entering into constructive conversation." (xvi)

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