Sunday, December 31, 2006

Please enter the last four digits of your....

At the risk of sounding like Grumpy Old Man, I reflect on the cultural progress of Christmas as I see it this year. I had a conversation with some friends recently, discussing childhood memories of Christmas. We got to the subject of favorite gifts, such as the Rockem’ Sockem’ Robots, or the G.I. Joe Survival Camp with 3’ tower and coiled up snake. Seems like every person had a similar memory of some kind. It made me wonder what this same conversation will be like 25 years from now, when the kids of this generation talk about their Christmas experiences. Will they reminisce on the $100 Best Buy Gift Card and how they were hoping for the $250 denomination? Will their minds return to the morning they opened the $50 from Old Navy, American Eagle, AND Abercrombie & Fitch? Will they recall the hours of delight they had with the $75 grandma sent? What will be their stories? I know times change and that it is not wise to wish for the “good old days,” but there is something about Christmas that leaves me feeling a little flat. I mourn the loss of the joy of giving. My wife and I have this little recurring discussion about gifts. She says giving is about the person receiving the gift, so if they want the gift card, get them the gift card. What’s the problem? I, on the other hand, find little joy in going down to Target and having this dialogue with the clerk: “Let’s see, can you give me that green one, no, wait, she would like the one with candy canes?” “That will be $25, sir. Credit or Debit?” Pretty soon Christmas will all just be direct deposit. Instead of getting a wish list, you’ll get an account number and a PIN. I’ll even be robbed of the joy of deciding what color or design I can get on the card itself.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

On Converting to Vegetarianism

I got a new job. I now work at a French bakery. I wish I could say I bake bread, but as it is I just deliver it to a few local stores. One of the stores I visit everyday is a granola joint called Open Harvest. I really like stopping there, as it exudes a unique sense of community. Everyone there is very nice, but are mostly not like me. The air has a distinct aroma, you know, like there’s been a stock pot of parsnips, leeks and rutabaga simmering since Monday. It’s not offensive; mind you, just very different than the Super Colossal Mega-don warehouse called a supermarket where I usually shop. I must confess I feel a bit uneasy at Open Harvest, mainly because I feel like an organic heathen. I don’t think they are trying to make me feel this way, but I certainly sense I am an outsider. There is a definite “look” to the employees, as well as a language and an unwritten set of rules I’m afraid I will break. Today I’m looking at a shelf of snack food, (Keep in mind, here snack food means something different than the chips and jerky at the local Loaf-N-Jug) and below one of the items is a yellow warning label in all caps: THIS PRODUCT CONTAINS TRANS-FAT! Never mind the question that if it does, why are they selling it? I don’t know what the label says to you, but it says to me that if I choose this item and carry it to the checkout dude in the Himalayan hand-knitted stocking cap, I will do so with a sense of shame and chastisement. I can just picture the scowl on checker dude’s face. You’re buying this, this trans-fat laden poison!?!? Help me out here. Stop setting the snack food trap for me, the newbie, OK? I wonder if this is what its like for a person unfamiliar with the Church As We Know It. I’m sure they experience the same look, language and unwritten rules that would exist in any kind of community. These things are inevitable. They are what define us as community, whether we are a church or the Lion’s Club. Maybe we could make things easier by not setting land mines that explode whenever someone outside the community steps on one. Let’s let the offense of the Gospel be a spiritual one, not because your friend is a liberal lesbian who smokes and is afraid to do so around you because she was afraid of what you would think.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Am I Obsolete?

Jack of all Trades and I went to The Church as We Know It together for the first time in I can’t remember. Jack owns a promising media company that specializes in video production, so he asked me to do a job with him. We filmed a church Christmas program. While I’ve not been to anything like that in a couple of years, its like I never missed a day. Same songs, same use of little children in angel wings, same wannabe soloist trying, but not succeeding, to hit the high notes, same street scene of folks walking through yesteryear, same wise men in bath robes, same manger scene, same little speech from the pastor at the end, explaining how this is the church’s gift to you, but that if you were blessed by it, you could give money to one of the wise men standing by the door on the way out. I might try that this year when my family opens presents. “Here are our gifts to all of you, and if you really like them, here’s how you can help me pay for what I gave you. My 12 yr old will come around now with a basket..." As per usual, I think too much about too many things, and this Christmas program was no different. But the main question it made me mull over was, “When and how do we realize we are obsolete?” Among the ministry circles I orbited, there seemed to be a tremendous effort to justify one’s existence and very little concern, if none at all, to ask whether or not one should just simply get out and do something else. In the latter years of my vocational ministry career, I read numerous books that tried to help liberate me from a feeling of guilt, anxiety, and self-loathing about my place and the job that I am doing. I heard messages addressing pastors to stay faithful and hold the course. I was even pointed in the direction of reading about and understanding that what I was experiencing was just a midlife crisis, was that I should just endure until it goes away and then I could be normal again. But nowhere did I hear any pastor give a talk about knowing when its time to get out of the ministry. Why is this so? As I reflect on this underserved need, I’ve landed on a few conclusions: 1. We don’t want to ask ourselves the question, “Am I obsolete?” For me to seriously grapple with this, I have to face the possibility that what I an doing is no longer effective, and is in need of drastic change. 2. Even after asking the question, some professional ministers would have no idea that their work is obsolete, because we all hold to the cliché’ that since Jesus would have come to live on earth, and die for just only one person, all our efforts will be justified if one person is ministered to. (Problem is going about finding that one person) 3. Some of us have been doing the work so long, we fear being able to find another job. We find ourselves trapped. (I promise, I am not making this up. I talked with a dude applying for a mission organization because he couldn’t find a job elsewhere.) Its not a question I can answer for you, but I will direct it toward you. Are you obsolete?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Progress, finally.

I quit my job. While that probably doesn't sound like progress, trust me, it is. For the last 16 months I worked in a commercial kitchen at our university. It was both a burden and an education. It was a great place to enter from the exit of my ministerial bubble. I have to admit a bit of shame as I considered many of the efforts I helped initiate for the purpose of "reaching people." I can't picture any of my co-workers doing anything but rolling their eyes if I were to invite them to something I thought might enable them to "hear the Gospel." The time in this prison of a job has led me to re-think, re-imagine and re-direct much of what I believe about the Gospel. Its been highly liberating. I resist the urge to explain to you, the reader, that yes I still believe in it. I hope my words will be self-evident, which leads me to my point. One of the first days on the job, I was working alongside a woman who I later labeled as Angry White Woman. In our conversation that day, she asked why I was working in a kitchen and not as a minister. I told her I was in transition in life and that I was asking myself different questions than before. Her reply: "What the fuck does that mean?" Part of me felt the need to try and explain and defend myself, but again I resisted. I tried to reiterate that I am going through a time where I am examining my faith. "It's all a bunch of bullshit, you know that, don't you?" It's probably clear now why I called her the Angry White Woman. It didn't take long to find out that her anger stems from the Church. She has a sister with whom she used to be very close. The sister got "saved" and now they hardly speak. Her sister thinks she is going to hell. That's her primary view of what faith has to offer. It makes you judgemental. I tried in vain to build a bridge to her, but I was lumped into the same category as her sister and there was not much I could do about it. It made me sad. One way to look at this story is that Angry White Woman had her chance and rejected God. But I want to address why the sister changed. Jesus did say the Gospel will divide, but I have to think its for reasons other than that it makes you act like an asshole.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A Waste of Time and Money

Sports are an interesting phenomenon. They invoke such responses as deep as fanaticism to mild indifference to outright protest and disgust. It is amazing to think of the role sports plays in our society. The amount of money alone could probably end world hunger and find a cure for AIDS. But it think there is a reason for its importance that some may not consider. I can't answer why for everyone, but I have come to a conclusion as to why Sooner football is important to me. The epiphany came about a month ago in Norman, OK. On Nov 11, I met up with some good friends from college for a weekend of fun and football. The six of us are in similar paths on our spiritual journeys, and took time during the two and a half days to tell how we are different now than during our time at the university. One guy told us how a certain retreat center on a lake outside of town held some of his dearest memories, how it was a place of refuge and relaxation, and that he was grateful for those times. His story came back to mind after the 34-24 victory over Texas Tech. Savoring the win, we slowly walked through the stadium, reminiscing of the good old days. There I found why Sooner football is important. This stadium was my retreat center. Football, for some reason, escaped judgement among my spiritual community. Golf was deemed a waste of four good hours that could be spent praying or reading your bible. Music concerts were a waste of time AND money and indicative of a lack of commitment since we could somehow afford tickets but not conference registration fees. Yet football was sanctioned. We even sold parking spaces at the student center parking lot. I could attend the games and not feel shamed. I love hearing James Garner's voice saying, "This is Oklahoma Football" on the highlight reel. But mentally I add my own images to those of Billy Sims and Steve Owens. I see standing in the rain with Jeff Campbell in November, getting beat by Nebraska. I see trips to Dallas in October with Bruce, Greg and others. Splice in sitting on the pavement in Arrowhead Stadium parking lot with Chris and Kerry around a charcoal fire on Dec 02nd, savoring the win over Nebraska. This is my Oklahoma Football.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Those Damn Charismatics

My Presbyterian buddy and I used to trade the joke about the difference between Baptists and Presbyterians is that Presbyterians will say hi to each other in the liquor store. I enjoy this kind of denominational humor, especially when its self-deprecating. But most of the jokes I like aren't printable. Differences can make us laugh if we let them, but one difference has not allowed my soul to deeply be humored. It has to do with those damn Charismatics. The Baptists I grew up around were always afraid of Charismatics. I could be (am) grossly over-generalizing, but I think its because they were a happy lot. We were afraid, it seems, of happy. It felt too shallow, too easy, not biblical. (I'm not kidding; massage the text long enough and you get the Gateway to Suffering). Happy people were viewed as not in touch with reality. The world is too cruel, too harsh to be so up beat. Jesus, after all, was a man of sorrows. Show me the antonymic verse to "Jesus wept." There is no "Jesus laughed," or "Jesus saith, Pull my finger." "You have no right to be happy." In my season of darkness, a voice would whisper subtle justifications like this one. I tried to believe that it was normal, that I could not be happy and really serious about my faith. I didn't want to be shallow like those Charismatics. Again, where do ideas like this form? It seems to me that happiness is to be baseline. It is the desired frame of reference. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, it is to be expected. It should be normal. Suffering and grief are inevitable, but we don't seek them or long for them like we do joy and happiness. I feel embarassed that I've missed something so obvious. O God, it feels good to be happy again.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Would winning the lottery really make my life better?

I wish I could speak with people like Glen Phillips, who wound up finding the popularity they craved, to see what they would say about the deception of their success. I can't find very many people who would even admit they lust for the spotlight, say nothing about those who actually attained what they were looking for. Vocational ministry, in my experience, was no different than any other career pursuit. You could not get away from the "job" aspect of getting paid for what you did. Maybe this is where I went wrong. How many of us really made decisions about that next position, not truly because "the Lord was calling," but because the salary was higher, the congregation was bigger, and our name would be more recognized? This is one thing that made vocational ministry difficult to reconcile. On the one hand, I longed to have impact, for my life to matter. On the other, I so wanted to gain attention in the eyes of men. In retrospect, I'm so glad none fo my songs or work ever got recognized, else I'd probably still be on the hamster wheel, chasing a pornographic idol called success. The freedom for me now is found in the absence of that dilemma. I can now live out my gifting and calling as a pastor and leader without feeling like I am using the ministry for personal gain. I admire my collegues who serve out of a clean heart and pure motive. May your tribes increase.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Curse of Popularity

One of my favorite musicians is Glen Phillips. On his blog profile he explains his early success with his music career and now his recovery from it. This led to me a thought that may bore you. The need for popularity seems to start pretty young. The phrase “popularity contest” emerges in junior high somewhere, used when kids feel like all the best-known students get picked first for everything. Teachers, coaches and other kids give the nod to ones who are more likeable, thus creating more of a craving for being one of those favored. It’s at this point a kid might make a subtle, probably unconscious choice. The craving for popularity begins its gnawing, so the kid begins to change, becoming someone else in order to fit in. The kid chooses activities that get recognized, never questioning whether or not he loves those activities or not. The main thing is the drug of being noticed is delivered and begins is soothing, numbing work. I wonder how many kids are in sports, play in the band, take certain classes, not because they like those things, but because they are in love with the idea of those things. These kids then grow into adults like me who get into their 40’s and start wondering what to do with their life. I’m not saying I regret the choices of life direction I made, but I do often wonder how life might be different had I not been seduced by a need to be popular. Would I have pursued other interests purely for the sake of enjoying them, without the ulterior motive of hoping they might get me recognized? You always hear bands make statements like this on VH1’s Behind the Music, "You’ve ghot to luv the mooosic, mahn. Its’ awl aboat the mooosic.” They come to these realizations after their fall from the spotlight. Were they in it because they loved making the music, or for what the music might get them? I think I needed to get out of vocational ministry because I stopped loving the music. I prostituted it for my own gain. I had in the back of my mind that it would take me somewhere, that it would make me popular. I needed a change to remind me what it meant to do something for the sheer pleasure of it. I think I’m getting there {could this be the topic for my best-seller?} Solomon said there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his life’s work and I couldn’t agree more. To have something you love doing, regardless of whether or not people think its great or not, is a great gift to possess.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

No thanks, Jesus. I don't drink

I'm not sure why I haven't thought of this before, but the whole grape juice at communion thing is starting to bother me. Could be just me and where I'm at. Maybe it doesn't even matter, but I've got some questions that don't have any answers right now. 1. Why did we (my tradition) start using grape juice in the first place? I can understand if there was not wine available, so to use what you had onhand was acceptable, but why all across the board? 2. Did we think that Jesus used only grape juice? I've witness a few textual gymnastic moves over the years to prove that he did, but his first miracle, after all, was to turn water to wine, really good wine (it seems), so its hard to believe the people at the party were happy about getting a few barrels of Welch's. People celebrate over a case of Caymus, not Juicy Juice. By the way, did people get drunk off that wine that Jesus made? Just curious. 3. What does using grape juice do to the symbol of communion? I would guess to most of my evangelical friends it wouldn't even cross their minds, but to me it cheapens the ordinance. As I said in my last post, we learn to prefer sweet over bitter, but I believe its in the bitter palatte that resides our most mature flavors and richest sensory experiences. Communion is not a sweet, easy experience, so to use grape juice takes something away from my senses as I receive it. Has fear of the symbolic cup led us to soften the intimate portrait of Christ's blood being shed?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Taste of Life

I love helping people learn new things. Its a deep sense of personal satisfacton to have someone tell me they liked something I wrote, having never thought of a particular idea in those terms. A good friend tells me he likes coffee now because I showed him the difference between bad coffee that most people settle for and the really good stuff that makes you want to be a poet. Life is like food. There are different experiences of taste that come our way. We know sweet memories and bitter ones. We have relatives we refer to as salty and relationships that have gone sour. I kid a fellow collegiate minister when we would get together for "coffee" on campus. He would order this skirt drink called a "Mt Fuji Snow." I couldn't tell you what was in it, but all I know is that it was sweet to the taste. Looking at my dark French Roast, he would ask, "How can you drink that stuff?" "I've learned how to enjoy it." I replied. To some, learning to enjoy coffee is like learning how to love eating tripe or kidney. If it doesn't come naturally, why bother? Sweet sensing taste buds are at the fore of the tongue. Sweet is most easily accessed and experienced. It's why babies love sugary treats. But bitter lies further back on the palate, and if we are not careful, we will miss its opportunity to deepen our tastes and our enjoyment of flavor that come through that sensory input. I wonder if this is why the church of my tradition prefers grape juice over real wine? In exchange for the blessing of the vine, have we settled for the drink of children?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Shopping at Starship Records and Tapes

Still thinking about the Ted Haggard bit, strongly believing that the Spirit is never caught off guard by these types of stories. Movie producers and novelists do this kind of thing all the time. Tension is allowed to enter the story. The drama that is created results in an opportunity for the hero to step forward, to think, improvise, to rise to the occasion. We need not hang our head at the onset of this kind of tension. A phrase has stuck in my craw this week after reading an article in Wine Spectator. The author was describing the enjoyment of wine as a "humanizing ritual" for him. He explained that the act of studying the wine, purchasing the bottle, letting it rest in the cellar, waiting for the right occasion, retrieving the bottle, dusting it off, lifting the cord (no screw tops, please) decanting and finally tasting. For him, there is pleasure in every step of this ritual. Through it he feels more human. I think he's on to something. Do simple little acts like this make us more human?
  • is this why I still prefer buying music at a music store than just downloading from iTunes?
  • is this why I like going into the bank and making a transaction with a teller, than via ATM?
  • is this why I plant a garden?
  • is this why I don't like going to the church as we know it? The anonymity, the sameness, the "please hurry and exit this door so the people waiting came come in and take your seat" leaves me feeling empty.
Did Ted lose touch with something of his humanity by the form of church that he helped create? Mega, monstrous, anonymous form that would not allow for his humaness to come forth and get help years ago. Thankfully, the Spirit is still kind and slow to anger.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Iron Pastor

I've been doing some thinking about this Ted Haggard story. For those of you who don't know, he was a well-known pastor in Colorado Springs who resigned this week over sexual immorality. Shock, outrage, disbelief. All are among a common set of responses that people, mainly Christian, have to this story. While I would probably fall into this category had I known the man personally, mine is a little bit different reaction. There is a rising phenomenon today, called the Celebrity Chef, that I find fascinating. Why on earth are we celebrating such a basic, common skill? Why have we elevated the ability to cook to rock star status? Here's my idea. Institutions need rock stars to survive. Hollywood knows this very well. They create them, and we let them. We set the rock star apart in our mind as special, as better than, as other. Is Rachel Ray really a better cook than your wife? Is Paula Deen any better than your grandmother? But Food Network is not going to put your wife or grandma on TV because they are ordinary, and nobody tunes into ordinary. This is why we crave the rock star. The church has done the same thing. It name drops all the time, just read the recommendations of any "Christian" book. "Max Lucado says about...." "Beth Moore writes..." "Henry Blackaby gives two thumbs up about...." Why do we do this? Its because you won't go to a conference with Ernest Goodman as the keynote speaker. Why? You have no idea who he is, even though he might have some really good things to say. But you will shell out the geet to hear Bill Hybels or Rick Warren tell you something you could probably come up on your own, if you gave yourself the benefit of the doubt and just believed that you're as smart as they are. Ted Haggard is just a dude like you and me, sits on the same kind of toilet you and I did this morning. But we've made men like him to be rock stars for us, then get pissed when they fail and we find out they are no different. Maybe incidents like this can remind us that the essense of ministry, like cooking, is a basic, simple skill for everyone. You don't need Iron Pastor.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

95 miles of orange Hot Wheels track

Probably the biggest pile I've had to go through was labeled "Discipline." I'd collected a ton of awards and trophies over the years, so there was quite a bit of personal attachment to these items. Among them were my "Never miss a day reading the Bible" plaque, the "Memorize a verse a day for the rest of your life" pin, a really nice "Pray for everyone and everything" binder. I found my "Save every sermon note from everything I've ever heard" certificate. I even came across the 3'x5' picture of me when I was poster boy for Discipline is the Key to Life Foundation. I was really proud of the accomplishments, which made it hard to go through all of them. One dilemma in asking myself if I really needed these things with me on the next leg of the journey came in the form of the question, "Why were these awards so important to me?" Everything has value, but value is based not on the item itself, but on the opinion of the one who is collecting the treasure. I love eBay. I buy and sell stuff there all the time. A few years ago, my Mom came up to visit and brought with her several boxes of stuff from my childhood. Comics, GI Joe, Matchbox cars and 95 miles of orange Hot Wheels track. My wife rolled her eyes, and I too, asked the same thing, "Where are we going to put this stuff?" To make a long story short, much of it sold on eBay. Why? Because to someone, the 1969 Sears Christmas Catalog (don't ask) was worth $37.50 because of the buyer, not the catalog. I was ready to toss it. My awards of discipline were important because I put worth on them. I thought they would make me look better in God's eyes, and my leaders. Now I see my value is place on me by the Ultimate Collector of Hearts.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Hey wait, don't throw that out...

When you purge your belongings, its always hard to know where to start, especially if the task seems overwhelming due to the amount of stuff you have to sort through. I write with the awareness that one man's junk is another man's treasure. After our garage sale this summer, I hauled the leftovers to the curb for the Monday morning trash pickup. A guy pulls up and asks if he could have the BBQ grill, which wasn't even a part of the sale. I was just getting rid of the rusty of piece of metal. He drove away like he had found a brand new one. A blog buddy [stepchild] wrote my thoughts on the whole matter of kids. We have been doing church simply, in our home with a few other couples, for about a year and a half now. Invariably, when people (always churchgoers) find out what we are doing, the first question is "what about the kids?" Like a smartalek, I say "what about them?" What they usually mean is, how do the kids learn about the God and Jesus and the Bible with out the church as we know it. I hide my offense in their assumption that I am insufficient to lead my children to awareness of those truths. I have to keep in mind that I have been sorting through my pile labeled "Children and Faith" for quite some time now. So when a collector looks at the things I've discarded at the curb, an honest first reaction is to scramble and try to save the precious things from destruction. I don't need them anymore, so I don't put up too much of an argument. What I've kept and taking with me on the journey is a belief that children should be children. Let them play, imagine, create, explore and mostly, learn the way children learn, by watching what Mom and Dad do. Try as we may, but there will never be a greater force on our children than their parents. As a Dad, I take this very seriously.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Would you like to buy some insurance?

I heard an interesting ad this week for a new kind of insurance. It makes sense now that this kind of coverage is easily needed. Even five years ago we probably wouldn't have even known what the heck the commercial was talking about. Identity theft is a 21st century phenonemon. Who would have thought that someone could essentially "become" me just by possessing a few bits of personal information. The anonymity of the Internet allows a thief to pose as me in exchange for goods purchased by my means. Actually, identity theft isn't entirely new. It's been going on for years. The relevant bits that get taken are not credit card or social security numbers, but the facts about who we really are have been stolen. This, like any theft, renders the victim helpless. Until the perpetrator is caught, he keeps running up the bill which lands in your lap. But most self-respecting citizens, once they find their identity missing, will take immediate steps of action to stop the crime from continuing. It's a hassle for sure, but a few phone calls to the bank and credit card companies bring quick results. I was a victim of a similar crime. I had my identity stolen, or so I thought, but I had let it go for so long, I forgot what it looked like. I couldn't recall it from memory, so I just assumed there was nothing I could do. But when I found the gem buried in my stuff, I knew that it was never really stolen at all. I was just led to believe it was. to be continued...

Thursday, October 26, 2006


If we are overcome, it means there is a force stronger than us. My son has started working out with weights. I can already tell. It won't be long until he pins me down when we wrestle. His arms are noticeably bigger. He's about to catch me in height. His strength will soon surpass mine. He will eventually be able to overcome me physically. So for years, I carried around in my stuff the idea that the strongest thing about me was my sin and my desire for it. I was never reminded that since I am now in Christ, the old is passed. I have new everything. I have new power available to overcome. I have it because I am His child, I have His Spirit and I have His authority. After sorting through this pile labeled "Identity," I am carrying out a bunch of junk to set by the curb. I no longer need to believe that my most powerful desires are for behaviors that will harm me and other people, and lead me away from Jesus and all that He offers me. I face my day differently now because of this gem. I pull it out often and polish it, gazing into it. I listen for its message, one of strength, of belief and hope that I am complete in the eyes of the One who ultimately defines my identity. It doesn't warn me or try to invoke fear in me, or shame me for recent mistakes. As I pack for the journey, this is the first thing in the bag. I used to write songs. Sometimes people would ask me what my favorite one was. I would have to say it is the one written about this idea, titled "Overcome." (click for mp3). Below are the lyrics. ------------------------------- Overcome by Kevin Shinn Owned by love, Could I know such power? Bound to grace, Free to journey near Your embrace? Instead I'm prone to wander far away from what I'm made to be Waiting patiently, reveal to me what I have yet to see. Overcome Overwhelm Over all Over everything in me Every word Every thought Every care Over everthing in me Overcome

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Owned by Love

One of the first piles of stuff I sorted through was labeled Identity. Identity, to me, is simply what I believe about myself, which then influences how I act. I believe I am a man, so I dress like one. I'm a grownup, so I don't play GI Joe anymore. I believe I can fix stuff, so I worked on and repaired our washing machine last night. All of these beliefs affect what I do. The thing about identity, however, is that it can be based on falsehood and not truth. Truth says I am a grownup man that can fix things. Falsehood wants to call each of those things into question. The choice is up to me of what I want to believe. So over the years, I've been handed ideas about identity that I stowed away among all my belongings. I've been told I am a sinner, just a sinner, with a wicked heart that cannot be trusted, that I am prone to wander, that I am one sin away from adultery, divorce and spiritual suicide. Reinforced were names like Mess and Needy. Men's retreats reminded me that I just don't get it, that our wives just put up with us and that the key to marital harmony is to go home after work and sweep more floors, change more diapers, and take out more trash. In college, we were told that out of a group of 50, only 5 of us would be walking with God in ten years. What was the purpose of that? It only created fear and reinforced the identity that I will most likely be one of the 45. I could give you chapter and verse for all of these concepts, because I found them cross-referenced and labeled in the pile of stuff. But there, underneath all, buried deep down, was a gem that I will never let go of. The gem is stated this way. "For by what a man is overcome, by this is he enslaved." The context of this is negative. If a man is overcome by evil, he is enslaved to evil. If he is overcome by lust, lies or the idea that he is one sin away from spiritual oblivion, he is enslaved to those things. They will lord over him. But if this is true, wouldn't the converse also be true? If a man is overcome by Good, would he not, in turn, be enslaved to good? If the Beauty of God has overcome a man, would he not be enslaved to that beauty? to be continued...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Two suitcases and a duffle bag

What should I pack? This is the inevitable question before embarking on any journey. What will I need along the way? Do I really need a travel alarm, or will my wristwatch do? Should I take 2 pairs of jeans or three? The tough thing is the uncertainty, never knowing if we will really need what we are taking. Although everyone is different, I find that how we decide what to take on trips is the same. We base the decisions on our values. What is important to me is what I will want on the trip. For example, when my wife and I were first married, we would get ready for a weekend away in two different ways. As I packed the car, my things were in a duffle bag with room to spare. She has two suitcases you have to sit on to shut (one for each day away.) If you looked in our luggage you would find what we value. My tidy little bag shows that I value mobility and simplicity. Hers reveals that she values variety and options. She may not need all that stuff, but its security to know that its there if she ever wanted or needed it. I'm approaching midlife based on my values of packing. I want to simplify my life as I get older. I don't want a lot to encumber me. I don't want lots of stuff to manage. This explains my felt need to rethink all that has been handed to me on my journey up to this point. to be continued...

Monday, October 23, 2006

Coat, Backpack, Suitcase

I am preparing for a trip. And I love to travel. A great memory created for our family was our trip to the UK three and a half years ago. We took planes, trains and automobiles through England, Scotland and Wales. We reference that trip often in our conversations. I wish we could do it again just thinking about it now. At the time, our kids were 8 and 11. So we knew they could be mobile enough for all the different transportation we would be using, but we also knew we had to be smart about what we took as luggage. As we prepared, we reduced everything down to three basic components: Coat, Backpack and Suitcase. Everyone (especially my wife) could take what they wanted, just as long as it fit into these three items we would carry. When departure time came, we would recite the checklist: COAT--BACKPACK--SUITCASE, then off we would go. Getting on a train, or subway, or bus, one of us would call out the essentials. Sure enough, each of us had all three. This made traveling much simpler for all of us. Less to carry. Less to worry about, yet all we needed. The journey I am preparing for is the back half of my life. Up to now I've collected quite a few coats, backpacks and suitcases, into which I would cram neat little tokens and souveniers picked up along the way. I know I can't, nor do I need to, take all of these with me on the next leg, so I am in the process of sorting through what I want to take and what I need to leave behind. The tokens and souveniers are those ideas handed to me by people I met along my journey. They came in the form of tips and techniques to help me live a better life. They also take the shape of exhortations that I must follow, or else. I also find commands to obey, laws to fear, lists to keep, imperative thoughts to nuture. As I take time to go through all this baggage, I'm trying to condense things back down again to one coat, one backpack and one suitcase. This will be the theme of my next few posts. I hope to share my thinking of how I am trying to simplify my faith and ready myself for the journey into Uncharted Waters. to be continued...

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Photos on the fridge

I got a missions publication in the mail yesterday from an organization with which some of my friends serve. Though I hadn't seen this particular magazine in a few years, I still had a similar default reaction as I leafed through it. I felt guilty. I used to think I felt guilty because I wasn't orienting my life to follow suit with the people in the pictures and stories. I also thought it might be because for years I bought into the idea that God calls everyone to go and since He didn't really tell me to stay or go, then it would be safe to just say that I am disobedient. I also wondered if the guilt had anything to do with a lack of zeal for the condition of the world, and a general hard-heartedness I possessed. I now don't think it was any of these. I feel guilty because its easier to want to be someone other than yourself. I've always carried with me a buried feeling of not being enough to really make God smile. I found it hard to accept that the things I was good at actually had a place in God's Kingdom. God needed preachers of the gospel, not a gardener or a lover of nature or a guy who could make memorable beer and pesto. I constantly compared myself to people who witnessed better, spoke better, served better, led better, and deceived myself into thinking I needed to be like them. God was happier with my friends in Nepal than He was with me. I admire folks who live cross-culturally with the purpose of helping people find faith. I love their newsletters. I read their blogs. I stick their pictures on my fridge. But slowly I am doing away with the notion that I have to be like them. To do so diminishes their giftedness, their calling, their passion and their unique place in the story.. well as mine.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Which stack do I put this one?

I work a cruddy job. The biggest thing I don't like about it is not having enough to do to fill the day. I could probably do all that needed to be done in about 4 hours, but rules are rules, and I need to stay 8. I learned very quickly to never ask the supervisor if there is anything extra that needs to be done when I have run out of things to do, else I will find myself cleaning out carts that don't need cleaning or sweeping floors that I swept that morning. Instead, I stick to my responsibilities and stretch them out to fit the time I have and thus fly under the radar. One of my most favorite concepts in the New Testament is the idea of the priesthood of believers, that is, every person of faith has direct access into the holiest of places, and therein can speak to and receive directly from the Almighty. This puts us all on equal standing. But somewhere in the task of equipping these saints, have we put more emphasis on training them to do church work than on finding out what these dear people are hearing from God and in turn, helping get them into position to serve out of that calling. In some ways, I wonder if we have problems motivating men to serve because they see church like my job, nothing much important to do, yet fearful of saying anything because they don't just want to do grunt work for which there seems to be no point. The intent is good, I guess, but how much can we really find out about a man's heart by having him fill out a spiritual gift survey? We teach a class, hand out a multiple-choice quiz, pick them all up and sort them out. All the teachers are put in the children's ministry stack. All the servants are placed in the children's ministry stack. All the merciful are piled on top of these in the children's ministry stack. All the prophets are round filed. All the leaders are stamped with a question mark and the rest are divided up among the staff. We as leaders must keep in mind that everyone by faith has access to the presence and voice of God. Do we encourage them to listen and trust them to act on what they hear, even if it does not fit into our program? Or will we somehow just try and fit them into what we are doing?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Learning to say "Ouch"

I obviously think and talk alot about the Church and the condition she is in. One might assume that its out of my own woundedness that I write, and that would be partly accurate. I have my share of stories of how I've been hurt by others, but I would be a fool to think that someone else out there is not telling the same type of story because of some way I have offended them. But this isn't my point. I have much to say about the Church because I want so much for Her. I know people who have been severely let down by the Church as an entity or by particular representatives of Hers and they have never gotten over it. The pain led to despair and despair has a crippling effect on the soul. When I meet someone like this, I always try to listen for one particular element in their story: Desire. Our worst pain comes at the point of our strongest longings. I had lunch with a guy one day and was going on about my current frustration with the Church, when he stopped me and said, "Man, I like church. I don't know what you're talking about?" I realized the conversation wouldn't go much further because he could not see my desire through the pain that I was offering. He assumed I was demanding an "either/or" proposition. There was tension in the conversation between me and my experience and his, which many folks take to mean either I'm right or he is. I'm not fighting for everyone to agree with me, because that's not how I see the problem. I think I am asking for, and hopefully extending, the permission to say, "Ouch. If we or someone we know has been wounded or let down by the Church or Her servants, we should be able to say, "Ouch, that hurt!" And with most wounds, we want to figure out how to not let that happen again. One path to prevention is to give up and say the Church is full of hypocrites and live in bitterness toward Her. Another way is to figure out how to hold grief for the pain in one hand (because the wound matters) and not let go of the hope for a better future in the other.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Father's Day and the New Leviticus

Here's where I get confused with the whole law thing. My years of reading the New Testament as the New Leviticus left me searching for commands I was not obeying, rules I was not following, sins I was not confessing, promises I was not holding to and attitudes that needed adjusting. I don't know why I didn't catch this earlier, but it finally dawned on me that I'm not going to be able to make this work, despite what preachers and teachers wanted me to think. I really got worn out going to church and hearing yet again about how much I suck and walk away wondering why did I show up today? The worst was always Father's Day, when you go and they hand you a little screwdriver at the door with a little impersonal Xeroxed note attached, saying something about the nobility of being a dad, only to encounter a sermon reminding you of what a poor dad you are and here are 7 steps you are unable to take or 7 promises you will never be able to keep. I feel like such a bad person for pointing this kind of stuff out, because from my vantage point, guys seems to be OK with all of it. I conclude this because they keep showing up, subjecting themselves to the treatment. It's kinda like a procto-exam. If you know the prostate is working good, do I really need the doc have me bend over and check me out every week? Yet guys are still all lined up. The New Leviticus says don't neglect assembling together, but does it have anything to say about neglecting assembly that is a waste of time, and creating or pursuing assembly that inspires, heals, motivates, and encourages instead of inflicting guilt, passivity and numbness?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Trust and Belief

In my life, I can think of only a handful of people who I felt really believed in me. These were people who, because of their belief, enabled me to think better of myself. I don't know where I would be without them thinking more highly of me than I was capable of thinking. I probably wouldn't be married. When I first met her, I thought she was too good looking for me (hot wasn't really a term we used back then). She had a way of lighting up the room when she entered. All eyes turned her direction, especially mine. But that's about as far as it went. There was no possible way such an attractive, winsome woman would ever be interested in balding, pale, blotchy skinned me. I didn't believe. But Mike was one of those guys who saw what I didn't see, and made it a point to ask me a question I'll never forget: "Does Karen have a boyfriend?" "No," I replied. "Have you ever thought about doing something about that?" He believed in me, believed that I would be a good match for this woman I thought was way over my head. I kinda think this is what Jesus wants to do with us. He wants to shed a Law from us, which tells us what we can't do, and give us a new Spirit that sets us free to become what we alone could never imagine. I think this is why the whole Law is fulfilled in one word. to be continued...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Understanding the New Leviticus

If we as followers of Jesus are indeed free from the Law, why is it we have a tendency toward wanting rules to keep us in line. What is it about being legalistic that becomes appealing? I think I have an idea. We live according to laws everyday. Law is useful. Law brings order to societies. It ensures that the bad guys get punished by protecting its citizens. Keeping the Law in society is a good thing. If I don't speed, I don't have to pay a ticket. If I don't traffic meth, I can stay out of jail and sleep in my own bed. This sounds good to me. But ultimately, Law is based on distrust. We don't trust our people of our society to live in such a way that puts the concern of others ahead of their own. So we have to set things like speed limits, and ban certain substances because we can't trust them to drive at safe speeds on their own or avoid drugs that will inevitably bring harm to themselves and others. Wherever there is distrust, there is disbelief. "I don't trust you" means I don't believe you are good or are capable of coming through. This might true in the earthly kingdom, but in the Kingdom of God, there is no place for either of these. In Jesus' realm of rule, we are free because he has set us free. He believes in us. He trusts in us. He does things like give us a Great Commission and then heads for home. He is saying, "You are now my friends, not slaves. Live in your freedom. Become all I've created you to be. Live freely in such a way that a world in bondage can't imagine why they would not follow me." Do I not treat myself with this same distrust and disbelief? And is it safe to say that I distrust and disbelieve myself the most because I know who I am better than anyone? What keeps me from accepting the fact that in Christ I am actually a new person with a new heart that can be trusted? Is this why I feel I need the Law to keep me in line? to be continued...

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Erring on the side of law

When I was in college, there were catch phrases that floated around our community. These were little nuggets of information that indicated an agreement with the values of the group. Some of them were: -"Either this book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book." -"Use your twenties for training." -"You can't soar with the eagles if you hoot with the owls." There was another idea that existed that I accepted as gospel truth, but for the life of me I can't understand why. The phrase was, "I'd rather err on the side of law than on the side of grace." This meant that one was better than the other, and that if I were to take sides, I would take the side of discipline, of hard work and of right and wrong. It never dawned on me to break down this logic. First, if a person is going to make an error, does it really matter which side the error falls? It's still an error. Yet in my communityt, one side was more preferable and it was clear what side that was. This must be why ideas about grace were fairly limited. I got the part that we are saved by grace, but missed the memo on how to live by grace. Second, doesn't the law lead to death? So why did we as eager college students feel so compelled to go there? No wonder all conversation in our accountability groups centered around all our personal failures. We were trying to keep a law, and law doesn't lead to life. This is the path we were led. And its funny how I find myself wanting to defend my past by wondering how much I would have learned about the Bible and discipline with out that experience. But isn't that kind of like the slave being grateful for the master's whip because it taught him obedience? Again, this assumes that with out the law, the person cannot be trusted to do the right thing. to be continued...

Monday, October 09, 2006

The New Leviticus

This is a subject I've hesitated to write or even talk about, because of its controversial nature. I fear being misunderstood, but that kind of fear only leads to bondage, even though it will probably mean that I will continue to burn bridges of opportunity with the community I have been associated with most of my life. The problem stems from one simple verse in the New Testament. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, " YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." Is it really that simple? I have never been led to consider the idea that the believer in Christ has the Spirit indwelling, and within that new relationship is the basis of all new life, faith, hope and love. There has always been added an assumption that the Spirit is not enough to guide me away from sin, away from my flesh and the influence of the world. I don't know if I am alone in this, but I am waking to this assumption and am starting to ask questions, ones that are leading to new freedom in Christ personally, but alienation from some of His people. I think back to the days of new faith at age 17, when I finally decided that the way of Jesus was the way for me. Life radically changed after that. I experienced that new relationship with the Spirit. Things were different. I made new decisions accordingly. I was thrilled. Then, a few months later, I entered college, found a student ministry right away and was shaped by its emphasis on Scripture and personal discipline. And somewhere along the way was handed me the huge assumption that I am fundamentally a bad person and am one step away from spiritual disaster. What this resulted in was a focus on everything negative, and the Bible became a type of law to follow. I was encouraged to read it and look for things I'm not doing right, which only served to reinforce the assumption that I am a screw up. Fear of letting God down in some way became the norm, and the Bible daily showed me every way that I was failing Him. So to do better I took copious notes on every expository sermon I heard, not wanting to miss anything that might keep me from sinning. I made sure I read my bible every day (first thing of a morning) so I would not blow it somehow. I memorized countless verses so I would find success. But it didn't work and I couldn't figure out why. I still struggled with the same problems. I was still anxious. I was afraid of people, and ultimately afraid of God. Then it dawned on me, that maybe the reason I struggled so much with what was called my "walk with God" was the fact that I was still chained to the Law. I was reading the New Testament as the New Leviticus. Had I merely exchanged one law for a new one? To be continued...

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

My Christian Porn

I have a confession to make. This morning I was listening to Christian radio again. I know I shouldn't. It doesn't help me. I don't really know why I do it. Its just a form of porn for me, I guess. I have some sick need in me to feel right, so I seek out ways to disagree so I can feel better about myself. But I was really disturbed in what I heard today. It's probably why I felt compelled to keep listening, when I knew I should tune the truck radio back to sports talk radio. It was the man's anger. I mean, he was livid. He went on and on about how pastors are failing the church and society because they don't manage their household. He continued by saying that the majority of pastors should leave the ministry because of their children, adding that the term "PK" has come to be equated with unruly kids. He made it clear that in no uncertain terms that this is a sin and an abomination. I'm a dad of two kids. I love them dearly and I do my best to let them know daily that they are loved and that life does not revolve around them. I realize that they, in spite of all my love and affection, have choices to make. With my son, when he would disobey or disrespect his mom, I would explode in anger. It never really worked with him. The angrier I got, the more distant he became and the more he rebelled. I blamed it all on his choices and lack of respect. It didn't dawn on my that my attempts to intimidate him into obedience were not going to work. He was too strong. I needed a new approach. I worry about the teaching of angry guys like this one on the radio today. Sure, they may have their "household in order." But maybe in reality the kids are just scared to death of dad. Obedience, yes, but at what price. Some would say that doesn't matter. I think it does. It is God's kindness that leads us to repentance. His anger is justified, but its not what does the trick in getting us to move back to him. What was equally disturbing were the radio hosts, who commented after the tirade, "Boy that guy can preach. He went from preachin' to meddlin'." Maybe that's what they call it. They went on to make a generous offer of sending the CD of this message to your pastor if you send in a love gift. I wondered if I should pray for the pastors who would get the tape, that it would not become an ever greater chain on their burden of trying to raise their kids. It left me sad, not inspired to change.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Teaching Theory without Experience

The older I get, the less certain it seems I am. I thought it would be the other way around. In my 20's I knew everything. Now, in my 40's, I often feel clueless. Could this be that what I held to be true in the past had never really been tested in the realm of faith? Now that I am at a point in life where my faith really matters, or at least seems to be called upon in a more relevant way, I am getting the opportunity to decide what I want to believe and what I want to discard as irrelevant. Take this song that I wrote back in 1994 as a theme for a student retreat titled, Uncharted Waters. The idea we tried to communicate was trusting God in the unknown. I wrote these lyrics in theory. They did not flow from any personal experience, only out of what I hoped to be true, or what I was taught to be true. UNCHARTED WATERS ©Kevin Shinn, 2006 [click here for mp3] Set to sail, It's time to board On a lifelong journey we can't afford The trip is set, the plans are made We need not worry, the cost is paid He will lead us through uncharted waters He will lead us deep into the sea Knowing all the time the treasures we will find Are waiting for us only if we go. What will we face as we explore Away from safety of the shore Teach us, Lord, if we fear change Nothing ventured nothing gained The winds of worry, the storms of doubt The Prince of Darkenss toss us about But our Captain, faithful and true Will protect us and lead us through I listened to this song again last week and was struck by my naievte. I think I wrote Truth, but Truth that had never been tested. This is why I envy guys who can teach. I can't ever imagine not being haunted by this question, "Do I really know what the hell I'm talking about?" The notion that experience was anything we could rely on was grilled into me as evil. Truth is truth, regardless of experience, but thinking this way made me conflicted. The little choo-choo train diagram set me up for derailment. I became an engineer of ideas that I could not back up from experience. If I ever found myself in combat, I would feel better about following the guy who has actually been shot at than the guy who wrote three books on warfare, but never aimed a gun in his life. I was on my way to being the latter.

Friday, September 29, 2006


guymuse posted a question asking why so many church plants fail. I've never planted a church, so I can't speak with any authority, but what I am getting a first had education is in the process of resurrection, or in simple terms, being raised from the dead. While I've not been to the grave and back, I have been to a type of Sheol in my soul, a very dark place where not much is alive. Needless to say its not a good place to be, but good can be pulled from it. Along the path to this grave I wore a little bracelet with the initials on it, "WWSED?" These stood for "What would someone else do?" I am amazed at the amount of things I've done in life because someone thought it was a good idea, or I received strong counsel, or because I didn't think my idea was good enough. I followed my ideas mainly if they were validated by another person. So my bracelet eventually became a handcuff, keeping me chained up on the road to a personal hell. I'm not sure if I totally agree with the idea of WWJD. I understand the concept of lordship, of submission to authority, of surrender, but there is a lot of conjecture that we have to embrace if we carry this out too far. For example, there was a lot that Jesus was silent on. He didn't have much to say about cars, or brushing alone is good enough without flossing, or how much TV you should watch, or if Christians can say the word "suck." I may be totaly wrong here, but something tells me Jesus was pretty quiet on so much because He wanted to see what WE would do. Maybe the bracelet should say, "WWYD?", or "what would you do?" Is Jesus asking each of us for our ideas, not what someone else thinks? To address guymuse's question, I wonder if so many church plants fail because we are trying to do what someone else has done. We assume since the experts said it, or wrote it, or taught it at seminary, so it must be right. I want to believe that if I am born of the Spirit, then that means I am one, a brand new person (the old is passed) and two I can live deeply from that newly empowered heart. Would we see more thriving churches if they were led by people who were truly raised from the dead?

Thursday, September 28, 2006


I need to believe that every person carries with them a need to be inspired. Just as the lungs need to continually be filled with oxygen-supplying air, so the soul must have constant inflow of inspiration to keep it vital. It's interesting to me in the story of the Dry Bones in Ezekiel, that the skeletons in the dusty valley were still considered dead inspite the fact that they had supernaturally been formed together into an army. The real difference came when breath entered them, when they were inspired. Inspiration changed everything. I often feel like that vision, simply walking dead bones, no life, just existence. It's why I'm learning to seek the air I need. Riding my bike used to be optional, now it is necessity. A walk on the trail through the wildflowers is no longer a waste of time. It's imperative. Stopping to literally smell the roses is not jsut a cute saying cross-stitched on a pillow. It's real life. It's my inspiration. Thank God for the iPod as a deliverer of regular breaths of inspiration. I rarely do anywhere without it. Three things I grab as I leave the house: keys, cell phone, iPod (wallet optional). It used to be the "mix tape" back in the '80s, now its the playlist. If I'm ever stranded on a desert island with playlist, here's what I hope I would have updated in the player: 10. Better Way - Ben Harper Most recent on this list. "I believe in a better way." 9. Up to the Roof - Blue Man Group Saw Blue Man in Vegas 6 yrs ago and was never the same. This song is off The Complex CD. "I'd rather look at the sky than wonder why I let you take my time." 8. Hippie Boy - Caroline's Spine. Just simply a well written song. You can feel the writer's longing. He couldn't have made this up. It's got to be from experience. "Come sit beside me, tell me the things you adore, but please don't remind me that I am not the boy you'd hoped for." 7) Holy Visitation - Charlie Hall The song that spoke my name. "Sound the alarm, awaken the watchmen, open their ears, let their voices be loud." 6) Acquiese - Oasis Reminds me of the importance of what we are fighting for in each other. "We need each other, we believe in one another, and I know we're gonna uncover what's sleeping in our souls." 5) Freedom Fighter - Creed I don't listen to this while driving, else I find myself with an impulse to speed. "Freedom fighter, no remorse, waging on in holy war, soon there'll come a day, when you're face to face with me." 4) Make a Joyful Noise - David Crowder I love the image of running wild and free, refusing to be silent. "and I will not be silent..." 3) Drive By - Glen Phillips Former Toad the Wet Sprocket singer turned solo. Given to me by my buddy Scott West as his song of the year. Every guy has prayed this prayer. 2) I AM - Joseph Arthur Thanks to Paul Steinke for turning me on to this artist. "To find out what you really are, speak the words, I AM." 1) Spies - Coldplay I also have Paul to thank for loaning me this disc back in 1999. This song never fails to inspire me and remind me that "when the spies come out of the water, they can't touch you, cause they're just spies."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Marked by Music

I have a little activity I like to do in a small group setting that usually results in an encouraging display. I give everyone a Sharpie marker and ask them to make a mark on every person's hand in the group. It could be initials, a smiley face, etc. In the end each person should have as many marks on their hand as there are people in the group. Once this is complete, I explain how all of us have been "marked" by others in our life in some way, and we carry that mark with us. This then leads to an opportunity for the group to share how each other has marked them. It always seems to have a good effect. My current job is pretty boring, but the upside of it is that it gives me lots of time to think. So I've been thinking about how I have been "marked" by various influences. I started with music, and tried to list some significant works that had a huge impact on me. This is not a "I recommend" list, because it may not be the enduring quality of the music that was influential, but rather the point along my journey when I encountered it. Here are my top 5: 1. Styx - Crystal Ball (LP) Released in 1976, I'm 13 yrs old. This record actually belonged to my sister, but when she wasn't around, I would put it on the hi-hi and crank it to eleven. It was my first experience of having music make me feel something, almost drug-like. The music took me somewhere. I was hooked. " me loud, don't you worry 'bout your neighbors, hope I make you feel good all day long..." 2. John Rutter - Requiem In 1989, I opted to take choral music instead of music history in seminary. Two hours of singing once a week with no homework sounded better to me than three hours of lecture, plus tests. Rutter's Requiem was our material. I was ambushed by the beauty. There were many rehearsals where I was moved to tears, which was a little embarassing and hard to try and explain. 3. Dennis Jernigan - I belong to Jesus (CD) When I was in college, several students found their way to Western Hills Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. But I was warned of that place being charismatic, because of some guy named Jernigan who led worship that was a little touchy-feely. So I never went. Around 1993, I came across this album, and I recognized the name. I finally saw what I had been allowed to miss. His music was so intimate, and was forever marked by it. 4. David Gray - White Ladder - (CD) Released in 1999. I bought this before my trip to China. This is before the days of iPod, so I kept the disc sealed until I got on the plane. His songs struck a chord with me as I was entering a dark time of life. I listened over and over again. "It takes a lotta love, to keep your heart from freezin', to push on to the end." 5. Moby - Play (CD) Given to me by a co-worker in 1999, this introduced me to the world of electronica, in which I am totally immersed now. Moby combined lyrics of old spiritual songs into modern electronic beats and sounds. Many a night was spent chilling in deep space with this disc. It influence the way I make music now.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Worship and Miles Davis

A few years ago, one of the guys who worked with me on collegiate ministry staff asked me what music was I listening to that led me to a sense of worship. I gave him some standard Vineyard CD that I liked, not thinking much of it. I returned his question. He said Miles Davis. I thought his answer was a bit odd, since my cultural framework had put his music in the "jazz" genre and not on the "praise and worship" list. I asked him to explain. He told me that it was the beauty of the sound these musicians created together that drew his soul into a place of gratitude for a God that put His image into humanity. My response was, "Huh." I thought music had to be "Christian" in some way in order for me to deem it OK to worship with. I also assumed that words of songs had to say something about how great God is and how much I suck and so forth. My paradigm was pretty rigid and I was completely unaware that it was. But it took a guy who I was supposed to helping learn ministry to teach me something about myself and to open my mind up a bit. The shift was slow, but I now see what he meant by beauty leading to worship. I bought a Miles Davis CD, Kind of Blue, and can say that it changed my life. I did a little research on the album, which is not hard to do since there is so much written about it. Music experts point to this album as arguably the most influential work on music today. The short of it is this, up until 1959, jazz continued to progress in a more and more complex direction. Bop gave way to be bop, which led to hard bop. All these styles had very intricate chordal structures. Davis suddenly took jazz in a completely opposite direction. He moved toward a simpler approach. The structure of his songs would be based on single note scales, or modes, rather than multiple note chords. What this did was free the musician to explore more freely the improvisational landscape. Davis said of chordal jazz, "once you master knowing how to play through the changes, the music gets boring." Jazz traditionalists balked at the idea, saying it would make jazz too easy, that it would discourage young players from the discipline of learning the standards. Some seasoned players hated modal jazz, because they didn't know what to do with it. It was just too different from what they were used to. The album made a splash then and it still sells well today. Some experts say that even modern electronica and techno has its root in that album, because of its modal structure. Everytime I hear the opening track of Kind of Blue, I get goose bumps. I picture these jazz giants in the studio who were there for just another gig because the trusted Davis' leadership. They had no idea they were about to make history. They weren't concerned with what the music world would think. They had music to make. Interestingly, that opening cut is titled, "So What."

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Church and Cracker Barrel

There is a school of thought that seeks change back to the way things used to be. I would guess this has existed in every generation in history. It seems to human nature, that when we reach a certain age in life, we tend to look back on a previous era as better, more preferable than our situation in current times. Cracker Barrel makes its living on this. They have created an environment for older folks to think back on simpler times. And I really like going there, not just to eat, but to wonder what life really would be like if we could turn the clock back a little. But we must be very careful about wanting "the good old days" back. Leaders paint pictures of the day where we had prayer in school and stores were closed on Sunday, and they tell us how we need to return to these days and "take American back for Christ." It seems noble, but I'm not sure its a good idea. Here's why. Both Solomon and Isaiah warn their readers about this kind of thinking. They called it unwise to think like this. I believe its because this is not faith thinking out loud. Faith yearns for what is unseen, not what is seen. If we only want to return to a time we've seen before, we go back to a visible past, not a hopeful, faithful future. I did a wedding this summer where I kept this idea in mind as I planned what I would say during the ceremony. I wanted to say a few words to the parents at the beginning because they are experiencing not only joy, but also a bit of grief as they see their child finally leave the family in order to cleave to another and create a new expression of family. I told the parents that one way we make the transition easier on ourselves and our children is when we allow our dreams for them to greater than our memories. If we keep wanting what was, our children will never really grow up. They will stay small in our minds. But if we, by faith, believe that better days lie ahead for them, it forces us to release them to fulfill that vision. Leaders must have greater dreams for the Church than memories. This kind of thinking will lead to, as Jesus predicted, "doing greater things than these."

Monday, September 18, 2006

Faith and NASCAR

As leaders of change, I believe it is imperative that we have a keen grasp on the distinction between faith and culture. Much of what is done in the name of faith could simply be a function of cultural practice, and have absolutely nothing to do with faith. Every social group, regardless of size has a culture. Culture is the set of rules, values and practices unique to that Group. The US has a national culture, while the South has a regional culture. Sports like NASCAR have a culture (which I don't yet get). My home state of Oklahoma has a different culture than my state of residence, Nebraska. My work place has a culture, and smaller still, my family has a culture. We are most aware of culture when it is different from our own. The first sign of culture shock is when you find yourself uttering the phrase, "Why do they do it that way?" (again, NASCAR) This especially happens in marriage, as two family cultures collide. (I always thought there was a "right" way to fold a towel) It's part of why so many marriages fail. There is an inability to recognize culture and, together by faith, move toward change for the sake of something better. The Church is no different in this way than any other social subset. We like to think that we are New Testament based or doctrinally true to orthodox practice as if there is some generic standard that people who are right follow, but any expression of the Body of Christ is going to be flavored by the culture of its context. Saturday, I went to two weddings back to back and saw cultural distinction first hand. The first was a hippie wedding held outdoors in a city park. There was no direction for those attending, no PA so you couldn't hear over the wind whistling through the trees. It started late, but the ceremony eventually happened and I assumed, barring any legal snafu, they were officially married. Two hours later at the big Congregational Church, the second ceremony started on time, lasted precisely 17 minutes. Ushers directed people out of the sanctuary per row. It was tidy, neat and orderly. A contrast in culture, but they, too, were officially married. I believe this idea this was in Jesus' question stated in Luke, "when the Son of Man returns, will he find faith?" He's not looking for good morals or if we had deacons and baptized properly. And if faith is what He will be looking for, it will do us well to begin to sort through what is faith and what is just culture.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Culture Shock

One of my most memorable courses in college was Intercultural Communication. It was taught by an eccentric Native American who had a unique way of getting you to see your own cultural biases when compared to a culture different from your own. The thing I took away from this experience was accepting the importance of culture in creating a sustainable way of life. Culture includes the rules we follow each day with out even thinking about them. I interact with women everyday that wear jewlery of some kind. Piercings are common, so much so that I could not tell you what earrings my wife had in last night. But had she come home with a plate in her lip, like the Mursi of Ethiopia, it would have made a huge impression. The reason is because it goes against our cultural rules. Earring, OK. Lip Plate, not so much. We need culture to help us save time in decision making. I got up this morning and put on cargo shorts and a polo. I didn't have to think, "should I wear a loin cloth, or a towel or the ever popular modesty gourd." The food I choose to eat fits into a cultural category, as does most every other part of my day. While I've never experienced it quite like my friends who have lived for an extended period of time in a country outside their culture of origin, I am familiar with the idea of culture shock. It is an upsetting experience. Nothing is familiar anymore. People around you don't speak your language. You get stared at. You're not quite sure how to act. It helps me to process this drastic season of personal, career, and spiritual change in such terms. I have left my country of origin, which is the church as we know it, to make my home in a new culture and see if the Kingdom can be advanced with in it. All I have right now is what was left behind. I have no experience in this new culture we are trying to create. I can remember how things were and compare them to how things are. This is the nature of many of my posts. Thanks for reading and commenting. It helps me more than you know.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Leading from a Distance

I got a postcard in the mail yesterday announcing a new church start in our hometown. It was almost predictable when I saw it on our kitchen table. Very slick publication, heavyweight paper, high resolution photo, text written in a way to try and be hip, or at least somewhat in touch and funny, map to location (middle school auditorium), an appeal to attend and find out how to balance all the pressures of life and finally, anonymously addressed to "our friends at..." I can't say I'm bothered by the mailer, or even think there's anything wrong with it, but something doesn't sit right with me anymore when I see those kinds of things. I must give others the benefit of the doubt and not force them to ask the same questions I am asking. So please don't view this as a judgement on the mailer. See it as one man's attempt to reconcile his own inner tension. I used to be able to subscribe to those kinds of techniques, but today it seems so very impersonal. I gave a lot of years of my life to "leading from a distance." What I mean by that term is being up front and public, speaking or leading music to an audience that I really didn't know. To look out over a crowd of people is pretty thrilling, and to think they are willing to listen to what you have to say is good for the ego, but something about it was very unfulfilling. it always left me wondering what the impact was. How would I ever know? Nice advice would be given to stay faithful and remember that the LORD sees your work, but that never really satisfied. I think I'm yearning for more direct contact with people, to "lead up close." I used to love being in front of a bunch of people. I recently had a guy call me to be an interim worship leader for their church, but I turned him down. I just can't imagine ever doing it again. I enjoy people I interact with at work, and the conversations I have there much more. But I'm not convinced that this shift is all good.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Don't Worry About Who Gets Credit

We spend a lot of energy on stuff that doesn't really matter. I found this out once I made the decision to not need hair anymore. Don't assume that I mean that hair is unimportant. For as much grief as it causes my wife, I still would rather her spend time on her hair than be married to a bald woman. But for me, hair proved to be one thing I could check off the list as "been there, done that." I feel fortunate that God gave me a decent skull. If I were single, I might have moved to Vegas and tried out for Blue Man Group. I think my melon fits their profile. No protrusions or odd lumps that hair was needed to cover. I know its a weird thing to be thankful for, but wait til you go bald and you'll see for yourself. What does this have to do with anything? Probably nothing, but the point I'm making is that once I decided I didn't need hair any longer, I had more energy to spend on something else in the morning. I don't have to wash it every day, or style it, or even comb it. I don't know how many hours that adds up to, but I've grown accustomed to the freedom. Such it is when we don't worry about getting credit for everything we do. What does it matter if you know what you're capable of, if you know the outcome of your work was good? And if someone does take credit for your ideas, you still have the upper hand. You can sleep at night. The loser who stole has more to worry about, more image to maintain, more to cover up. Kinda like a guy with a fat, lumpy skull.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Admitting When You're Wrong

A lot of leadership advice I've been handed doesn't have as much to do with creating an authentic core as it does with being afraid of what people will think of someone in your postion or worry over how a particular action will be perceived. I've heard of leaders doing things like limiting their salary or giving away proceeds from a book, only to give the reason that it was not necessarily out of conviction, but out of fear that the leader would be seen as greedy or profit-hungry. The decision is to prove a point. Success does bring with it lots of challenges like this, but if it ever comes my way, I hope I will be the kind that will make decisions on what I believe is good, regardless if I am in the limelight or not. Admitting when you're wrong is one such decision. Some passive personalities can use it as an easy out. Easier to take blame than to fight through to the solution. Yet I find most leaders don't have this problem. There is something about being right that fuels a competitive edge. [It's probably what helps make the person a leader.] We try and spin the situation in our favor, because being right somehow becomes the goal. I found new freedom when I found that there are more important things in life than being right.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Cry When Something Hurts

From my vantage point, there are two Christian vices that are most acceptable: Gluttony and Anger. I wish I had kept track of the number of fat, angry pastors over the years giving convincing sermons on the evils of alcohol or divorce or not home-schooling your kids or rock music or not memorizing enough Scripture, only to brag about how good the food will be at the church picnic and how much of it they are going eat. [To be fair, wouldn't it have been great, like weight is to gluttony, if God created some visible response to lust, such as your skin turning green each time you engaged in a lustful thought or action. This way we would all be green AND overweight.] On the other side of anger lies sadness, and here is where it is most difficult to turn. It's more vulnerable to be sad than angry, which is why I think we see more of it in the church than grief. Alot of anger gets justified by Jesus' entry into the temple and turning over the tables of the moneychangers, but you've got to know that after that event, Jesus must have been very, very sad. Sure, its conjecture on my part, but I imagine him crying in prayer later, saying to the Father, "This is not how its supposed to be..." Anger and sadness are always connected. So now when I see an angry pastor or leader, I also see a sad one, and I wonder if he ever gives himself permission to be sad and grieve the source of his anger. I think this is why crying is a gift to us from God. Tears are wordless expressions of sorrow, since words seem to always fall short when we are sad, which is why I try and keep my words at a minimum now at funerals. Tears will suffice. I can't help but think that the church would be in better shape if it cried more.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Laugh When Something is Funny

One of the misperceptions of God that I have had to overcome over the years is that God is pissed off all the time. The environment you grow up in has an insidious effect on how you view life, and since many of my influences in school were angry ones, I think I just develped a fear of people in authority, a fear that I would always let them down, thereby making them angry. God bless children, since they teach us as much about who God is than any preacher. I'm especially thankful for my two. I think I know God better now because of them. I don't do it much anymore, but I used to listen to Christian radio. I'm not sure why, since it didn't make me a better one; just call it impulse. One day my daughter and I were going somewhere in the car, and I was listening to a well-known radio preacher. I can't tell you what he was saying, but I clearly remember what my daughter said: "Daddy, can we not listen to the angry guy anymore?" The angry guy. What was she hearing that I was accustomed to? Fast forward to dinner Monday night. I asked my son to give thanks for our food. He agreed and began... Dear Lord baby Jesus. I nearly soiled myself. To explain, he and I had just seen Talledaga Nights, in which a scene where Will Ferrell says a prayer over a meal in the same way. Sacrilege to some, maybe. To me, hilarious. (Of course, context plays a huge role in any humor.) There was a time when I probably would have scolded him for being irreverant, all the while inside really wishing I could laugh. Had I done that, which of us would have been more authentic?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Did you hear about the.....?

Change should be my middle name these days. since that's what I find myself in the middle of. I'm afraid if I took one of those stress indicator tests that rate the amount of life altering events you've been through, it would probably show that I should be committed. In my case, ignorance is bliss. I don't want a visit from the men in white coats looking to outfit me with a new sportcoat. I look at my life and monitor the major events of the past year, such as changing careers, being unemployed, losing my father, my wife being unemployed only to find a high-stress job (which is worse?) All these are external changes. They are significant, but in comparison to the internal changes that are going on, they are not as crucial. A popular topic for Christian leaders to talk about is the need for revival in the church. But the conversation usually revolves around what other people are doing. Like... The Church has lost her first love... Pastors are using the church for professional gain... How could he lead a church and do what he did in secret...? This is the easy work of identifying the need for change, pointing out what someone else should be doing. But real change won't occur this way, not until leaders change at their core. A reader recently asked me what it means to have an authentic core. I could have filled several pages with a really good theological answer a few years ago, but I settle for more simplified answers today. To me, being authentic is: 1. Laughing when something is funny. 2. Crying when something hurts. 3. Admitting when you're wrong. 4. Don't worry about getting credit for a job well done. These are the changes I'm going through internally. I'll expand on them later.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

New name, same old stuff? Does this website seem a little off to anyone else but me? I find it odd to see a website dedicated to the bashing of a practice while itself unashamedly utilizing the very same techniques it holds in contempt. I'm as much for change as anyone. I think the church as a culture is in need of awakening. But a lot of what I see that comes along in the name of change is not necessarily a fundamentally different approach. One of my favorites over the years are the great claims in worship music, boasting that it is "fresh" or "cutting edge, when you find out its only just another way to rhyme "king" with "sing" and "adore" with "forevemore." New churches that spring up can say they are doing church differently, but the only thing that might be different is aesthetics. They still meet on Sundays (or maybe Saturday in a warehouse) and listen to one guy speak after singing a few songs. The only real distinction is that they lit a bunch of candles and dimmed the lights a bit. Real change has got to come from an authentic core. Being an approval junkie, I worried a bit about yesterday's post, fearing that my honesty may come back to bite me, but therein lies much of the problem with the church, of which I have been a contributor. These posts are an attempt to get the log out of my own eye first. I wish these guys well at their effort of initiating change. I just think I'll go about it a different way.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

the [e-word]

The one thing that caused me the most guilt in ministry was the [e-word]. I have probably felt more shame over the [e-word] than anything in my life. And like most shameful experiences, you feel led to hide (remember Adam and Eve?) My attempt to be a good Baptist Evangelical led me to try and try and try, but I always seemed to come up short. I was never confident enough, certainly not pushy. I can't argue a point very well. Most of the time I found myself listening to a person instead of getting a Summary of the Story across. I had good conversations many times, but there was no place on the report form for those. Reports were a big deal in my circle, and it seemed the most important thing anyone ever wanted to know was how many times did I share a Summary of the Story, and how many made a positive decision based on that presentation. So you know what I did? I lied. Yes, I lied many times over. I took credit for stuff I shouldn't have. I fudged the numbers so I would look good and hopefully keep my job. All this because of the shame I felt for my ineffectiveness at the [e-word]. To this day I don't know what to do with that shame. At least I am out of a vocation that requires that kind of reporting, which led me to feel like I had to be deceptive. I envy people who are effective at the [e-word]. It's why I don't feel I could never be a missionary or even a paid pastor again. The freedom from feeling the need to lie is better than the pressure of having to perform a task I am not gifted to do.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Washing Dishes

It dawned on the this morning around 5:18am, while I was sitting on my patio in the dark getting ready to go to what I call my 8 1/2 hr prison, that part of my current struggle of life is over the issue of my identity, or simply put, what do I think of myself? For several years my faith was directly attached to what I did as a minister. There was a built-in motivation to pray or study the Scripture because it was my job and if I didn't then I wouldn't be doing what I was paid to do. This behavior became normal. I was what I did and what I did became my identity. Then came the tearing away of that identity. 11 months ago I started my current job, one that I took out of desperation of needing some kind of income. My first day on the job I found myself in the dishroom of a college dorm cafeteria washing dishes. While this was not what I was hired to do, its all there was for me to do that day. So there I was, elbow deep in institutional strength Dawn dishsoap, scrubbing pans with deaf mute woman and a severely autistic young man. All I could think of was, "What have I gotten myself into?" It was a plunge into the icy deep. I felt like the newest member of the Polar Bear Club. My identity was stripped. I am no longer Worship Leader that writes cool songs. I am now Dishwasher. My reference points were all lost. What would it mean to become a person of faith without a guitar, without an audience, with out a pulpit, without a congregation? I would guess a similar transition shock occurs for anyone who has done something they love for an extended period of time, only to find themselves unable to express that passion any longer. I hope I can change gracefully. It's always a little awkward to watch athletes come out of retirement because they can't face the fact that there is no more place for them in the spotlight. Quoting Alanis Morrisette, "the only way out is through." Healing requires asking the right question. That starting day, mine was, "What does faith act like while holding a stainless steel scrubbie?" This is what I am beginning to find out.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Why I don't feel like a good Anything

My posts this week have come from reflecting on my need to belong. I often wonder how much of who I really am (the first face) did I deny or silence in order to gain acceptance among those whose opinion seemed to matter. I tried to be bold and confident as a witness because everyone who taught on the subject seemed as overbearing as a bullmoose. I tried to display absolute cetainty in all my views because those who led me did so. I sold all my vinyl in the 80's so I could be pure (felt guilty for not burning them). I memorized a zillion verses on little cards so I could have a new one to impress people with. I did a lot of things like that over the years. I'm not down on any of those things as wrong. I'm just trying to take a look in the mirror and sort out motive. Did I do some of that stuff out of wrong motive? Absolutely, but I can't change that part of the story. What I find myself interested in is the future. What of those things will I take with me. I'd really like to take who I really am on the boat and leave as much of the poser as possible on the shore . It seems to me that our yearning for community involves to things; finding people who are LIKE me and also who are FOR me. I saw this a lot in collegiate ministry. Students enter the university looking for a place to belong. They look to clubs, organizations, athletics, etc. to find people who are LIKE them. LIKE gravitates to LIKE. Legacies usually find the sorority of their family member. Christians usually find a ministry. Trekkies usually find the Sci-Fi club. Then if the search turns up empty, sometimes the student will adopt a value of the group in order to gain entrance. Alcohol abuse is sadly a big one that lots of kids embrace. But it doesn't have to be a negative value like that. The biggest value shift comes when a person finds a group that is FOR them. The feeling of acceptance is so rare that instead of risking losing that place, the person will unconsciously change behavior. I think this is something of what happened to me in my early years of faith. I don't fault anyone but myself. I'm a big boy now. Time to put away childish things, become the man I really am. And I just might like who I'm becoming.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Why I don't make a good Evangelical

One plus about my otherwise cruddy, boring job is that I get to listen to The Herd on sports-talk radio. The host's schtick is the same each day. Every morning he opens the program with a take on some sports related issue, sheds a little light on the subject and usually creates a little controversy that becomes fodder for the listeners, callers and emailers to chew on. One day he opens with a bit on "Faith Nights" that are starting to show up at ballparks across the country. He described these Faith Nights as an evening dedicated to Christians who could come to see a game, sit in their own section in the stadium, have their group name flashed on the scoreboard, and following the game, a Christian artists would do a little concert. Now again, there was a time when that would have made perfect sense to me. How cool to get to go to a game and enjoy a show afterward. That would be fine if that's all it was. I guess the reason I don't make a good evangelical is that I don't get as easily offended by certain stuff like I used to. Maybe I should, but the talk show host was explaining more about the marketing of Faith Night. It didn't fit my categories. Faith Night supporters go on and on about how Christians don't have to worry about hearing foul language or setting next to a guy drinking beer, since the have their own section away from everyone else. This is where I don't get it. Am I off here? Have I lost all my convictions? Are my morals compromised? To me it makes about as much sense to yell at the blind guy for walking into my car. Wouldn't it make more sense for me to accomodate him than vice versa?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Why I don't make a good Baptist

Every group has them. They are the boundary markers that get set up to tell whether a person is "in" or "out." These markers could be written or unwritten, spoken or unspoken, yet either way, after a time, you know what they are, because they will make their way to the forefront of conversation, and judgements will be passed down accordingly. Really, these boundary markers are nothing more than values commonly held by that group. Values help define identity and create community. Values are a good thing, but problems arise when they start to contradict one another. My problem is that I've been told I make really good beer. Our ales even won first and second place this past Sunday at our local brewpub's homebrewer contest. It was a very exciting experience to watch people try your craft and comment glowingly on it. One person said, "You've got a gift here." (of course to some that's like saying you have a gift for making good porn films) When we won, there was the need to call people to let them know, but none of my Baptist friends were on the list. I know they would not be able to share the joy. That's what makes this mid-life shift a hard one for me to reconcile. I wish I could just set the fence posts and run the wire that says alcohol is of the devil. It would be tons easier on me, but I can't seem to view the world that way anymore. To create such tight boundaries would limit the places I could go, not just for my sake, but for other people who live in outside territory. My world was safer before, but in comparison to what I am finding, it was more black and white also. I see more color today, more beauty, more danger and more risk. Cheers.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Why I don't feel like a good Christian

I remember very early in my faith experience the amount of guilt that I encountered. Usually the guilt revolved around some aspect that I was not giving enough attention to, like not praying enough, not giving enough, not witnessing enough. And since I tend to be a maximizer, always wanting to do better, always improve on something, this guilt seemed to make sense. How else would I be a better person of faith if I didn't have something nagging me? Likely I would turn soft without it, maybe even abandon the faith altogether. I don't know if its just me, but I seemed to encounter this guilt everywhere I went. It could be the lenses I viewed life through, but something caused me to finally notice it and start to ask, "Is this right?" I remember once hearing a new pastor talk about the importance of having a daily time of bible reading and prayer. He took his audience through how he did this, and I was struck by the shame of his responses. Things like: "God, show me where I've been wrong." "God, show me what I need to do better." "God, I'm sorry I don't do a better job at ......." (fill in the blank. He had several) There was a time when that would have made perfect sense to me, but something, maybe this mid-life thing, caused me to question and reflect on that incident. I'm a dad. I love my two kids dearly. They bring me lots of joy. They both make me laugh in their unique ways. My relationship with them, though, is not centered around all the things they didn't do during the day. I've not trained them to ask me to tell them how they've constantly screwed up or let me down. I try and make sure they know that they are loved and that life does not center around them. This is how I'm trying to change my view of interacting with God; less guilty, more free. It would seem like a preferable and, therefore, relatively easy change to make, but you'd be surprised how several years of guilt thinking become hard to break.