Friday, June 27, 2008

Forty Five

They say you are only as old as you feel, and I do feel older these days as the joints creak a little more and the legs seem stiffer after sitting for a long period of time. But I still have a hard time thinking of myself as forty five. There seems to be this ideal age in my mind that exists somewhere back between 25 and 35 and that’s where I assume I live. One betrayer that reminds me I’m not that young is old photos. I have never thought of myself as skinny, but who was that thin kid in those pictures from 25 years ago? But this isn’t a moaning session. It struck me a few days ago as I watch younger kids at the mall why I’m glad I’m not walking in their shoes any longer. I’m not sure who to accurately cite on this quotation, but some noted woman once said she would rather have her 50 year old mind than your 21 year old body. And today I concur with that. Age allows a certain surrender and acceptance of reality that is no longer elusive; it is downright impossible. I realized 15 years ago that I didn’t need hair to feel good about myself, and since my genes were helping me out with that discovery, I gave in and shaved it all off. The time saved, the ease of getting ready in the morning, the twenty bucks spent on the trimmer I still use, I’d say that was a pretty good trade. I have to admit that the transition was made easier once I saw that I have a BlueMan quality melon, and seeing Andre Agassi showing up at Wimbledon with a buzz cut. I don’t need tanned skin any longer, which is a good thing since I go straight from pale to red in a high humidity. In my twenties I tried bucking the system and tried out a tanning bed at the YMCA I worked at. I think I still see the damage from that foolish stunt. I don’t need a six-pack, like so many advertisers tell me. I have one hidden behind the twenty extra pounds I carry. Since I know its there, why do I need to show it off to you? That wouldn’t be prudent. No, what I have found as I get older is that I need less that is physical and more that is immaterial. As the body digresses, the aging process aids me in this realization. All the years I spent worrying about how I looked were lost to being concerned with how I lived and how well I loved others. Accepting the inevitability of this physical decline can make way for a whole new outlook on life and a freedom to enjoy it. I’m starting to see more why my dad could tell me, “Son, these are my best days.” Even while oxygen assisted his breathing and even though his body was soon to resign from its duties, he had calmness in his spirit and contentment in his demeanor. He knew what was really important. All else was superfluous.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Are you like me?

Future Pastor, the more you understand the basic needs people have, the more patient you will be when they behave out of sorts. Remember that folks aren’t so much stupid as they are short sighted. Since every behavior has a goal attached to it, it would do you well to know what that goal might be.

Consider this: I think we all have two basic questions needing answers as we enter into any kind of community. We want to know if this group is made up of people who are LIKE me and secondly, we want to know if they are FOR me.

If you are inviting people into community, into sharing life more closely, new people want to know if they have anything in common with the others they are meeting. It shouldn’t take long in basic conversation to find whether or not you have something to talk about. You know how painful it is when two or more people have nothing to say to each other.

So why does someone like that stick around? Why does the weirdo keep coming back to hang out with you and your people? It might be due to the second question. If could be that he senses that you are for him.

It’s not enough to have something in common with others, which makes relationships much easier to enjoy and maintain. No, you and I need to feel that others have our back, and that regardless of what happens, these friends won’t leave us when the going gets tough.

I find this thought in the Genesis story of Adam’s life before Eve. The account says that he was created after the animals, and was given the task of giving names to every creature that he sees. This is pure speculation, but where my mind goes in reading this is to wonder what Adam must have thought after assigning a label to the 9000th beast. I put in his head, “There is no creature here that is LIKE me. Lion, tiger, and giraffe aren’t like me. Neither is the elephant or the parrot. This monkey, kinda maybe, but nothing here like me.”

As the story goes, along comes Eve. After his experience with the all other species, if I were Adam, I’d be thinking, “Finally, here is one LIKE me! Here is one in which I am in common. This is one who walks like I do, talks like I do...”

And soon later, the pair not only find that they have that mutual connection, but they have the opportunity for be FOR one another A partner and mate with which each can be naked and not ashamed.

I believe herein lies the answer to enduring community. We are all on a search for people who will stand with us and not leave us, who will support, encourage and always be there for us. Having something in common is secondary to knowing that we have a place and that we belong.

Future Pastor, people are looking to you, asking of the Church of the Future, “Is there anyone here LIKE me?” and more importantly, “Is anyone here FOR me?”

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I wouldn't do it that way

I’ve felt the need to reflect on my criticism of the Church As We Know It since it is the target of many of my blog entries lately. I want to know if I am guilty of the very things I am trying to point out. What prompted this reflection have been the conversations I’ve followed over the release of the recent Willow Creek study, REVEAL, which as I understand is a long, hard look at their own way of doing church.

My first exposure to WC was around 1994 when I went to one of their church leadership conferences. Many of us caught the virus then and returned home with it and as a result, unknowingly infected everything we touched. Worship services were overhauled. Print material was tweaked. All of a sudden stage lighting found a place in the budget. Even the clothing people wore on stage seemed to matter. It all made perfect sense back then.

Willow later implemented the Leadership Summit, of which I attended several. They always carried a spirit of quality and thoughtfulness. Each year Bill Hybels would devote an entire session to sharing leadership lessons, both successes and failures that their team has learned. It always seemed authentic even though later I knew I would never be trying to take the Church As We Know It in the direction they were going.

We are losing what we could call a “common narrative” these days. There is less and less that we in the West seem to agree upon. We are united around very little. Tom Brokaw calls the WWII generation “The Greatest Generation” because there was a common thread that wove them together. Adversity seems to do that to people (remember what it felt like after 9/11?) But with prosperity comes disillusionment, and that is nowhere more clear than in The Church As We Know It.

When our plans succeed, we may find that we never really knew what it was for which we were hoping. Willow succeeded, so to speak, and now seems to be reassessing what it is they are after. I credit them for that, even though their answers may not be mine. I am united with them in something bigger than method or practice. Faith holds a higher calling.

Every now and then, as my business grows and develops, I have to come back to this short song by the White Stripes, Little Room, and remind myself what in the world I’m doing when success comes my way.

Well you're in your little room and you're working on something good but if it's really good you're gonna need a bigger room and when you're in the bigger room you might not know what to do you might have to think of how you got started in your little room

© White Stripes, 2001 from the album, White Blood Cells

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Thank you, Dad

Sipping coffee out under the patio and enjoying the pleasant sound and smell of rain at dawn, I remembered today is Father's Day. I had an impulse to call my dad and wish him well, but in a similar way a phantom pain strikes an amputee, I knew I would not have that joy since Dad has since passed on nearly three years now. I've repeated it many times, and posted it here a few, but good stories can be retold over again, and I do so once more today. I feel that sharing it is a way I can tell my dad thanks for the life that he lived and the impact he had on me. ------------------------------------------ It took a while, as it does for most youth, to realize that the vistas of the world I was seeing was a direct result of the shoulders I was standing on. I thought in order to matter in the world, you had to go out and conquer it. But what I have learned from my dad, the man named Jack Shinn, I now believe that it’s just the opposite. You make a difference by simply letting the world come to you, and then offering blessing to each and every person that comes your way. From time to time, I would make it back to Route 2 Box 162, sometimes bringing university students with me to visit the farm and experience the country life. Without exception, every person I brought there was greeted by my Dad with a hug and a kind word. Sometimes those students would later tell me how much that meant to them. Dad seemed to think that it may be the only hug they got, so he would offer it. It didn’t matter the color of their skin or how long there hair was, they got the same attention. You make a difference by letting the world come to you and offer blessing to each and every person that comes your way. As I got older, this lesson became more and more evident. People would say to me how much they appreciated Dad’s smile or sense of humor or offering a piece of candy. They remarked how positive he always was, how willing he was to help out. In his latter years, he dealt with much physical pain, but you would only know it through the grimace on his face. He never complained about it and never allowed it to rule his spirit. No summary, however, would be complete without the story I have told many, many times. It’s a story that encapsulates his life and what he valued most. It’s a story that happened when I was about 12 years old, but I didn’t hear it until nearly 20 years later. The story takes place at Route 2 Box 162 Bartlesville. With very few kids around my age, I had to learn how to entertain myself. Dad helped that effort by buying me a little Yamaha 80cc Dirt bike. That motorcycle provided me countless hours of fun. With 26 acres to my discretion, one would think that would be plenty of space for a 12 year old boy to ride. But for some reason, I decided to include the front and back lawn in that 26 acres. As you can imagine, motorcycle tires are not kind to growing grass, and it didn’t take long before a nice little path was worn around the front of the house, to the back of the house, then out to the pasture. Round and round I would go, living in my mind the adventure of being a world-champion racer, or being chased by bad guys. This path was pretty unsightly, given that it was visible to everyone that passed on the road out front. One time a neighbor had stopped by to visit and he asked Dad this question. “Jack, how come you let your son tear up the yard like that? Why don’t you make him keep out in the pasture?” Now this was a pretty logical question given the amount of land we owned, but my Dad’s wisdom sometimes defied logic. To know my Dad was to know what a deep reservoir he was. Even though he was a man of few words, he was also a man of countless thoughts and musings. In these past few days, I have read many of those thoughts recorded in the margins of his Bible. I believe what set my Dad apart was his ability to look at his choices and side with that which was of most importance. In other words, he had his priorities right. He responded to the neighbor by saying. “The grass will come back” he said, “but the boy won’t.” Now if you drive by Route 2 Box 162 today, you will see the grass has come back. The boy lives in Lincoln, Nebraska in a home of his own, with two kids of his own. He hopes to be the kind of man Jack Shinn was, a man who hopes that as the world comes to him, that he will offer blessing to each and every person that comes his way. We will miss you, Dad

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Bow your head and repeat after me...

My friend Leslie was telling me this week how he liked to find hot button issues with people and purposefully push them, just because he liked to see their response. He confessed that he tries not to do that any longer, but that the temptation is still there.

It’s like setting a trap for an animal out in the open light. You don’t even have to disguise it or be subtle. Just ask a question about politics, the environment or religion and watch him fall into the hole. 10 minutes later, the person has worked himself into a fury and all you did was make an inquiry.

I admit I like doing that too. Granted, it is a prideful tendency to exert that kind of conversational control, but it is a heck of a lot of fun and you can just ask forgiveness later if you feel guilty enough about it.

So, if you are a bad person like Leslie and me, and have someone in mind who is doesn’t listen very well and is evangelically oriented, try this one next time,

"How did people find faith before the advent of the sinner’s prayer?”

This is good bait to draw out all kinds of presuppositions and reveal layers of dependence on tradition and practice that the Church As We Know It has relied upon that is not rooted in faith.