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Saturday, December 31, 2011

As close as I get to New Year's Resolutions...

Things I'm pointing my life toward in 2012:

1. Adopting 2 boys from Ethiopia...boys that will become my sons. (the Sons of Thunder)
2. Doing a "right of passage" for Kami when she turns 13. (Purity Ring & Purity Sword combo)
3. Going on a date every week with my wife to a different place. (52 surprises!)
4. Waking up every morning and saying this prayer: "I'm yours, use me." (daily communion)
5. Getting into an exercise regimen that is consistent. (holistic health matters)
6. Leading Impact toward deeper faith and greater fruit. (God-sized dreams)
7. Reading more books and blogs about entrepreneurial leadership. (create the future)
8. Hanging out in the foxhole with good friends. (C.S. Lewis called them 'golden sessions'.)
9. Reading through the New Testament with the Christ-followers at Impact. (story intake)
10. Partnering with a local church in Swaziland and supporting their cause. (global mindset)
11. Being sensitive to sin without being overly-conscious of it. (mastery of the flesh)
12. Going to more good movies to keep my story-starved heart alive. (the universal language)
13. Planning a daddy-daughter date each month with each of my offspring. (stopping time)
14. Writing two children's books called "Pokey the Porcupine." & "Daddy Daughter Dance."
15. Finding a prayer closet and locking myself in it each day to seek God's face. (face time)
16. Affirming the Impact Leadership Team with words and actions. (fueling the Dream Team)
17. Writing more and talking less. (distilling thoughts)
18. Mentoring artists into modern-day Levites. (Artists bring meaning to truth.)
19. Finding a community mission for our family and giving our money and lives to it. (love.)
20. Loving people instead of pleasing people. (small adjustment that makes a big difference)

Friday, December 30, 2011

Things I've learned about being a pastor this year...

Things I've learned about being a pastor this year:
1. Things look easier than they really are.
2. Sleeping with decisions makes sleeping really hard.
3. Failure is not only an option, it is inevitable.
4. Vision is easy, strategy is another story.
5. People will get mad at you even if you mean no harm.
6. You can't get anything done when you're fearful.
7. Integrity is more important than creativity.
8. You can wow without a team, but you can't win.
9. Losing the right people is as important as attracting the right people.
10. There is a tact and a timing to how and where things are to be shared.
11. The tight rope of family and ministry is a delicate balancing act.
12. Being a good speaker doesn't make you a good leader.
13. There are a thousand small invisibles behind each visible.
14. People's opinions are influenced deeply by perceived quality.
15. It doesn't take much for people to move from defenders to defectors.
16. Just because the Bible is powerful doesn't mean you can slack on presentation.
17. The key to keeping good people is affirmation, and lots of it.
18. At some point you just have to trust your instincts and let it go.
19. The bats in your head are worse than the critics in your church.
20. It's harder to replace good people than you would initially think.
21. For every idea that works, ten do not, but you don't know that until they don't.
22. People think they want certainty, but what they really want is something dangerous.
23. The challenges only make the accomplishments all the sweeter.
24. You can't be afraid of difficult people. There is no cult like the difficult.
25. Being a shepherd is not only being skilled with the staff, but the rod.
26. There is a direct correlation between success and seduction, triumph and temptation.
27. Financial stress in the church is paralyzing. There can't be vision without provision.
28. Ultimately only God can change the human heart.
29. Very few things get easier with time, you simply adjust your pain tolerance.
30. There is no higher honor than pastoring a flock of "sheeple".

As I conclude my first year of being the lead pastor at Impact, I can't believe the workshops and woodsheds God has taken me through. It has been humbling, sometimes humiliating. Nothing could have prepared me for this role. No class. No counseling. No conference. This has been altogether new and surprising at every turn, but I'm grateful for the great people around me who are supportive and patient with my growth curve. I'm the luckiest man alive to be blessed with the Impact leadership and followership along my side.

I look forward to more learnings in the year to come. If leaders are learners, then I want to be the most voracious student in the class.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Lying to yourself on New Years instead of dying to yourself...

What is it about the New Year that makes us feel like things are really new? Something about crossing over the stroke of midnight and the changing of one little number seems to make a world of difference for many looking for a reason to be motivated.

I don't stay up to see the New Year in. I can't keep myself awake. What I'm hoping is that my change this year will have a deeper drive than the chimera of a magic moment. I'm certainly not pinning my hopes on the calendar switch. This isn't my first go around and I've come to realize real change happens when I cinch up my belt, gird up my loins and die to myself.

If I don't die to myself not one dream comes true. There are too many people lying to themselves on New Years instead of dying to themselves. This kind of resolution lasts until the second week of January if you're lucky.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Beauty is in the eye of the "beer-holder", I mean beholder...

Trouble shooters are easy to find. It doesn't take much skill to point out the symptoms and sources of trouble. I wouldn't have to even rehearse to spout off a solid minute of ills that plague my immediate surroundings, shucks, if I took a deep breath I might be able to do it without inhaling, like a Jr. Higher burping the ABC's.

But beauty shooters are altogether rare. I'm finding myself more and more drawn to people that have the same opportunity to bemoan life's trouble but instead choose to look for and champion beauty. There is beauty in tragedy if you squint enough to see it through the fog. You can make out lines of love and shapes of goodness. Sometimes, the ugly only makes the beauty more beautiful. The darker the night the more resplendent the candlepower of one simple wick.

It seems that Christmas can be a time to troubleshoot the daylights out of life. I hope to spend my day thinking upon Philippians 4:8 - "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things." This verse covers the philosophy of beauty shooting, which is as simple as choosing what things to think about. When you "make up your mind" to think about "such things" as truth, nobility, righteousness, purity, loveliness, admiration, excellence and praise, you wouldn't believe what kind of life unfolds that was there all along.

Titus 1:15 puts it this way, "To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted." It's amazing how powerful our perspectives are. I hope I can lock into beauty today and "think about such things". I have a feeling the quality of my day depends on it. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

When God doesn't make things better...



And the Lord said to Abraham, "Take your son, your only son and sacrifice him on the Mount of the Lord. In your obedience you will show that you are faithful to your God." So Abraham set out with his son to the place God had assigned. On the way Isaac inquired of his father, "Father, I see the wood but where is the offering for the sacrifice?" Abraham replied, "The Lord will provide an offering, my son. Though we do not see still we must trust." As they reached the place of offering they gathered stones and built an altar unto the Lord. Isaac inquired of his father once more, "Father, I see the altar and the wood, but were is the sacrifice for our God?"

Then Abraham took his son and laid him on the altar. "What are you doing, Father?" Abraham did not reply but silently bound his hands and feet. Taking a knife from his satchel he stood before his son trembling as he gripped the dagger with both hands and raised it high above his head. His eyes darted around looking for God's intervention. Surely he would spot a promise in the peripheral. He looked in the thicket for movement, but there was none. He looked to the skies for a angel, but the heavens were silent. The hopes of his heart were fading with every second of stillness.

With his eyes closed and his body shaking with a mix of fear and faith, he whispered to himself, "Though I do not see, still I will trust in the Lord my God." He looked around one more time certain that deliverance was hiding close at hand. He readied himself for the unthinkable and with the last of his strength he plunged the knife into the chest of his only son. The screams of Isaac were drowned out by the screams of his father.

Abraham was in shock, holding his son in his arms as he gasped for breath. Isaac looked at him with eyes of confusion and sadness. As Isaac's spirit left his cold body, Abraham wept aloud. He looked around wondering if he missed a sign, did something wrong. He waited for his son to come back to life for hours. He stayed on the mountain waiting for God to show himself, show his plan in all this. As the hours turned into days, his thirst drove him to throw his son over the donkey's back descending the mountain in eerie silence. The wind howled through the mountainside with the sound of whispering voices. The voices seemed to be chanting the familiar refrain of an ancient song. "why, wwwwwhy, whhhhh, whyyyyy..." The wind could not finish the phrase, but his mind completed the sentence. "...have you forsaken me?" "Wwwwwwhhhhyyy...have you forsaken me?

Arriving home, Abraham buried his son, but something else was buried that day that can't be put into words, certainly not the words of any human language.

________________________________

I wonder sometimes why this version of the story (not true, just to be clear) seems to be more true to life, especially after you watch a movie like Blood Diamond, Machine Gun Preacher and Hotel Rwanda. Or when you consider the famine in the horn of Africa or the single mom abandoned by her husband who gets two jobs to take care of her kids or the innocent child who is molested by a perverted coach. Why doesn't God always send the ram in the thicket or the angel to stay the knife?

I think it's easy to believe that when you trust God you always get the princess. You always slay the dragon. You always kick the habit or have your fortune restored ten-fold.

What I've learned over the years is that this idea that everything will work out if you just trust God isn't always true in this life. Have you read Hebrews 11 lately...yes, women received back their dead but others were sawed in two. Only on the other side did they find their ram in the thicket, the angel to rescue the damsel.

Everything works out except when it doesn't. And what do you do with God when it doesn't, when fantasy is exposed as a counterfeit of faith. What do you do when Jesus doesn't come and you get beheaded?

"Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me." - Jesus in Matthew 11.

I'm really having a great day and I'm in a good mood. I don't know why, but this story was in my mind as I was driving to work today and I couldn't shake it. Maybe God doesn't want us to be Merry at Christmas this year. Maybe he wants us to feel the pain of the world and that sympathy will bring the peace and good will that we're singing about. A peace that is often beyond understanding.

Just some thoughts I had this morning.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Success = Biting your tongue off.

You can't believe how much success is simply earned by the simple discipline of biting your tongue.

I think the further you go in leadership, the more restraint you must exercise. There is all the more opportunity to spout off and retaliate when someone talks down to you or slanders you or patronizes you. There are days when I want to "go off" on someone dishing out a well deserved reprimand putting them in their place. Thoughts gather like storm clouds forming perfect come-backs that result in getting the "last word".

But for all the communicating one employs in leadership, the communication that leads to the greatest influence is wisely barred up behind your teeth, staved off by a mix of God's Spirit and the will to die to yourself. And make no mistake, it takes all the will-power you can muster to talk yourself out of talking, especially when it would set the record straight. These are the zingers that almost hurt to hold in.

I feel like I've been on the brink of sending several emails this week that would have felt so good to release to the wild. At times I even began tapping out a rebuttal to a disrespectful tone or a sarcastic choice of words or a false accusation only to backspace my way to a blank email exiting out of the window and moving on to more constructive exploits. I won't lie, it doesn't feel as good. There isn't an immediate payoff. In fact, it's downright gut-wrenching to let someone off the hook. It makes me mad just thinking about it.

But this is why James 3 says, "not many of you should presume to be teachers, because you will incur a stricter judgement". You can't just "go off" anymore or "tell it like it is". Nope, those days are in the rearview mirror along with other childish antics. The filter must tighten its screen, each word weighed, each motive measured.

I wonder if God's greatest rewards are reserved for the leaders who nearly bit their tongues off in an effort to take the higher and narrower road.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Daddy/Daughter Dance with Taylor (poem)...


The First Guy

On a blustering evening

in the month of December,

I danced with my baby

On a night to remember.


It wasn’t the first time

I’d dressed for a ball,

Cause I have other daughters,

In fact, three in all.


But every one’s special

In a way all her own,

Cause each girl’s different

When you get them alone.


This night was Taylor’s,

The runt of the litter,

The last of the darlings

which is sweet, and yet bitter.


This was the last

Daddy/daughter dance fling,

Where we dressed up

To wiggle and giggle and sing.


She kept her dress hidden

In the back of her closet,

I wish I could take

Her excitement and pause it.


There's something about

Little girls in cute dresses,

That grabs your cold heart

and thaws while it blesses.


I waited impatient

For her to come down,

As the princess in curls

All wrapped in her gown.


And low and behold

With a smirk on her face,

She descended the staircase,

Head titled with grace.


She looked at my eyes

Awaiting my stare,

I stood breathlessly

Gasping for air.


She glided to hug me

And asked with her eyes,

“Am I beautiful, daddy?”

That look never lies.


We hugged for a moment,

Made our way to the door,

This was plenty enough,

But, alas, there was more.


We headed for dinner,

She held my big hand,

We talked about dancing

And the night we had planned.


We ate Chinese food

In a booth fit for two,

We talked and we mingled,

Our hearts stuck like glue.


We left after dinner

and set out for the dance,

the passenger seat

held a girl in a trance.


She stared out the window

With dreams in her eyes,

Living the night

Before it arrived.


Cafetorium space

Was turned into a ball,

Decorations of royalty

Filled every hall.


We hung up her coat

she grabbed on my hand,

This moment is special,

You just don’t understand.


You’re not in a school

With a Deejay and punch,

There are no boys or drool,

This is not merely lunch.


In her mind it’s fantasy

Played out in real life,

You are not just a daddy,

You are now her white knight.


As we spun and we twirled

I soaked in each moment,

Wrapping my eyes around

Her like a garment.


She climbed on my shoes

For every slow dance,

Getting some practice

For her future romance.


On one of the slow songs,

She laid on my shoulder,

My mind raced ahead

And imagined her older.


Dancing with someone

Quite other than me,

My time as her man,

Would become history.


But for now I’m the one

She looks to for love,

And I am her hero

When push comes to shove.


And no boy will ever

Know this girl like I,

Cause I am her daddy,

That makes me the first guy.


I love you, Taylor Hope Lena.


Friday, December 16, 2011

Hitting the Ceiling, Hitting the Wall, Hitting the Floor...

Hitting the Ceiling. (Dreams die.)

This is the place in life where you start to give up on the things you were shooting for in your youth. You reach a certain age and you find yourself relinquishing diehard desires that “used to” drive you. Life has thrown you some curves and you’ve swung and missed enough times to know that few hit the home run, heck, most don’t even get in the ballpark. You still enjoy your life, you just don’t wish upon a shooting star or expect great things anymore. You settle for normal and simple, which isn’t all bad. Sometimes the best things in life are the little things. However, when you stop striving for the impossible, aiming high, and going for broke, you also kill the very thing that makes us like God, namely, the ability to create things that don’t yet currently exist. Only God can create something out of nothing, but we can create something that exists but has not yet been discovered. Dreams are essential to keeping us motivated to stay curious about what does not yet exist that needs to. God created and then quickly invited man to name the animals. We can’t create animals, but we can create names. But this takes someone who has an imagination and hasn’t stopped dreaming.

Hitting the Wall. (Life dies.)

This is the place in life where you begin to wonder if even the normal, simple things of life are worth pursuing. Things that are basic needs are hard to come by. Friends, Family, Work, Provision, Shelter, Money…it seems like things that are just happening easily for other people take extra/extraordinary effort to pull off. You’ve given up on hoping it will get better tomorrow or next week. Unlike the past, you hit the wall now and you just can’t bounce back. You don’t have any fight left in you. You’ve fought back before only to be in the same place again. Your relationships are tired or tiring. You’re work is paying less and demanding more, if you’re employed at all. There is too much month left at the end of the money. Debtors and Creditors are breathing down your neck. You’re on your 3rd marriage. You’re kids are growing up and with every year they are wising up to the dysfunction and looking at you differently, almost disrespectfully. And why shouldn’t they, you don’t even respect yourself anymore. You sleep more, eat more, and sin more, but you’re still trying to hide it from everybody. The only problem is you can’t hide depression forever and the only one you end up fooling is yourself. It’s starting to get real dark.

Hitting the Floor. (I die.)

This is the place in life where you flirt with the foulest of feelings. You are either angry or anxious or absent. Depression comes in many forms, but at this level it manifests itself in the form of isolation and a complete dearth of motivation. You can’t muster energy, constructive thoughts, or baby steps of progressive movement…breathing is labor at this stage. You have exhausted all options, used every mulligan at work, and cried wolf with all your friends and family. Your mind is telling you that the walls are closing in and that it’s probably best to pull the plug on yourself before someone else does it for you. Thoughts of ending your life take on more specific plots instead of generic and general feelings. In your mind, life is already over, so why not put the period on this “life sentence”. It’s not just exiting the drama for yourself; you begin to feel like you are a burden to everyone that knows you, and that you would be doing them a favor to erase yourself from their lives. There isn’t a darker night of the soul a person could know.

__________________


I mention this progression of depression because I’ve witnessed it first hand as people spiral from the ceiling to the wall to the floor. It must be said that whatever stage a person is at, God is a God of resurrection and restoration. He can reach into the darkest of night and shine his light of life in/on your dead heart.

I don’t know that I’ve ever hit the floor, but I know the ceiling and the wall quite well. Who knows, maybe the phrase, “I just wish I could go to heaven right now. I wish Jesus would just come back.” is a spiritual way of saying you wish this life would end. I know it’s not the same as wanting to end your life, but I think it comes from similar place of wanting out of this broken and messed up world.

No matter who you are, you will hit the wall. It’s important to detect the walls you’re hitting and to get help before you hit the floor. There isn’t any shame in raising your hand and saying, “I need help, for real.” I know people feel a stigma in revealing dysfunction and despair, but it really quite normal to have these feelings. The quicker you go there with someone, the quicker you will find healing and wholeness.

I just had to write this for those shrouded in darkness. Please don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Incremental before Exponential.

A phrase came to my mind a couple days ago in a staff meeting. "Incremental before Exponential."

It's hard for me to stay in this mindset. I want results, preferably big ones. My nature is not bent toward slow and steady, quite the opposite.

I get fidgety and antsy if something isn't successful on the first try. I get anxious if the preferred picture doesn't paint itself in the first few minutes of an event. I want my Life Group to be deep on the first night. I want every message I give to be "life-changing" since everything is advertised to completely "change your life" these days from soap to slippers.

We are creatures of instant gratification, and I think this might be why Paul was trying to get the people off of "milk" and onto "meat". In another passage he talked of "putting away childish things." There are several milky meanings that could be extrapolated from these texts, but I think they all boil down the inability to embrace delayed gratification and hard, slow, disciplined growth. We like growth like we like our Little Ceasar's Pizza....Hot, Ready, Now!

I was thinking about the time Jesus said that if "you're faithful with the few I will make you a ruler over the many." Small steps and little wins are where things typically start. You have to prove yourself faithful in obscurity, and often times anonymity, before God entrusts you with more. And this is for our good.

Those that are faithful with few will be masters of many. Incremental before Exponential.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Great Impact Leadership Team...

I am the lead pastor at a church with amazing leaders and artists and servants.

For some reason, I was struck with how fortunate I am to have crossed paths with the talent and heart that surrounds me. And all the more fortuitous is the honor I have to do what I love for my livelihood. My joy is my job. My vocation is my vacation. How many could say that?

Getting back to the people that I work with...these are special people.

Our Children's Ministry is led by Andrea Struckmeyer. She is a gifted writer, actor, speaker, artist and visionary. Kidzone is a full-fledged hour and fifteen minute program every week of the highest caliber. Games, Work stations, Drama's, Music, Art, Breakout groups, Snacks, Hand-on learning, Videos, and teaching pulled off by over a hundred volunteers and leaders is a sight to behold. It's like Disney land every week for infants to 5th graders. It is probably the single greatest attraction to our church for families. We are blessed.

Our Student Ministry is led by Jon Bell. He is new to the staff and is bringing such fresh energy to our body! The student ministry is exploding with growth this fall going from a little over 40 the first week to almost 100 the last 2 weeks! Wed. nights are filled with a live student band rockin' out Worship tunes, Funny Youtube clips, Dancing, Crazy games, Small group breakouts, Food, Octoball, Video Games, and Energetic Teaching! What a great job he's doing and what a genuine heart he possesses! It's great to have his family in our humble little town!

Our Community Life Ministry is led by another newbie on our paid staff, well, not so new to Impact, but a new position to backfill Bruce's position upon his departure. Bonnie is a part-time lawyer as well as a part-time staff member of Impact working with connections, communications, community, and culture. She is overseeing EMT and Life Groups and anything that has to do with community life. She knows how to network with the best of them and has a knack for pulling people together. It never hurts to have a lawyer on your leadership team, especially when you're being led by an accident prone lead pastor formerly called Dennis the Menace in his childhood. What a blessing Bonnie has been since the inception of Impact 8 years ago and how fortunate we are to have her join the team in a higher capacity to see the movement surge forward! I love the Davis' family!

Our Reach Ministry is led by a retired pastor by the name of Gene Beerens. He came out of retirement to put his neck out there for the kingdom and for the vision of Impact. He receives no paycheck and yet serves our body each week with passion and purpose making sure broken people are welcomed in and given an opportunity to find healing. He is a sage and a mentor for our staff as well as our body as a whole. What a gifted thinking and activist he is and we are blessed to have his seasoned presence on our team! Fortunate beyond words.

Our Missional Ministry is led by a retired business man named Ted Cox. He also has come out of retirement to serve the kingdom and has a unique vision of banding people together to "love their neighbors". After years of just doing church, he was moved by God to "be the church" in his neighborhood, taking the gospel to the streets so to speak. He is getting a number of people in our body to reconsider the kingdom and to wonder about how God is wanting to use them in their jobs, volunteering roles in the community, and in their neighborhoods. It's grassroots and organic. He's been such a powerful addition to the team this past year...we are blessed!

Our Church Planting Ministry is led by none other than Phil Struckmeyer, the original church planter of Impact back in 2003. He is always on the move and is often referred to as the apostle of Impact. He travels thousands of miles a week visiting churches and supporting church planters and church plants with the sweat of his brow and the beating of his heart. He is a visionary, dreamer, strategist, cultural architect, and pastor of pastors. I've never met anyone else with the humility and passion he possesses for his calling. He keeps the movement alive.

Our Tech and Programming Ministry is led by the prodigy, Dave VanKeulen. He has been on board at Impact since he was 16 years old and is a brainiac of all things technological. But he is not a techie nerd in the full sense of the word. He is the rare blend of tech savvy and emotionally intelligent. His eye for atmosphere and his ear for live sound is stellar. His attention to detail and his pulse for programmatic excellence is unparalleled. There is no way we should have someone of his caliber in the sticks of Lowell, but because we caught him early and because God is shining his face on Impact, we have been blessed beyond measure. What a gift to our body Dave is!

Our Worship Arts Ministry is led by Ryder Jones, who plays the electric guitar like he's taking a walk in the park. He composes music, writes songs, plays with a variety of bands at local venues and clubs, was the lead guitarist on Shawn McDonald's last album, leads worship with a rabid and raw heart that ushers people into God's presence, and leads our artists with a personal and professional care that is respectable and noble. His humility is extraordinary and his musical giftedness is renowned in the Grand Rapids area. What a great heart and what a generous gift of God!

Our Administration Ministry is held together by Tara Grizzel, a new member of the team. In a matter of a few short months she has organized and orchestrated several delayed initiatives bringing joy and passion to the details of administration which can often be dry and lifeless. She is a go-getter, holding my feet to the fire and making everyone accountable to follow through with their duties. She is responsible, faithful and dependable. She is a great proactive thinker. Her intuition and initiative has been a breath of fresh air and her work ethic is matchless. What a great addition to an already great team!

Our Kid's Administrator is Chas Symanski, the co-leader of Kid's Hope and the right-hand "woman" of Andrea in KidZone. She is a details oriented, task-driven, organizer of all things children and has a passion for our church and community when it comes to youth. She will be working on our new website to keep it updated and clean, taking our ministry to new levels of excellence in the coming days! What a blessing her presence has been this year!

Our Frontline Ministry has been led by Deb and Dick Frisbe, another retired couple that have devoted so much time and energy to Impact it might as well have been a full-time job the last 5 years! They lead a huge team of people who make sure everyone coming to Impact has a great first impression and a healthy connection to our culture. They are transitioning out of that leadership role and we are excited to see who comes in and builds on the foundation that they have laid! What a blessing the Frisbe's have been to our body!

Our Cleaning Ministry is led by Karen Pedley. She volunteers countless hours every week making sure our building is spotless and our volunteers are coordinated each weekend. You cannot believe the amount of meticulous energy she pours into the cleanliness of our facility, down on her knees cleaning the base boards, scrubbing toilets, dusting, cleaning windows, sanitizing toys and chairs, vacuuming floors, mopping halls, etc. She and her team don't ask for a dime, they serve sacrificially every week and God pays them with attention. There's no pay like God paying attention! I love her servant's heart!

Our Buildings and Grounds ministry is lead by Cy Floyd and his faithful sidekicks The Grieves father and son duo, Mark and Mitch. Cy is always rallying guys together to pull off last minute projects and much needed renovations or restorations. Things are constantly needing fixing and Cy and the boys are on it like stink on a monkey. Cy is a retired business man who is used to leading hundreds of people to carry out responsibilities. I can't tell you how much I appreciate his leadership at Impact and his stubborn refusal to retire from God's work!

Our Finance Ministry is led by Lori Floyd who has been laboring over our books for over 7 long years. She spends almost 20 hours a week making sure everything is squaring up in the budget and bills are paid. She is so gifted at organizing our finances and even more importantly our fiscal vision which is unlike any fiscal vision I've every encountered. The audacious goals and the risks taken to make sure we stay on the cutting edge of the kingdom would probably cause most people to quit, but she just smiles and pressing forward. I love her sacrificial passion and protection of our ministry. Where would we be without her stabilizing heart behind the scenes! Probably in jail!

Our ministry is also held together with several support staff serving in a cornucopia of capacities. Anything from putting together powerpoint presentations, to locking up the doors at night and turning off the heat, to being a mayor in Kidtown, or a KZ host in Kidzone, the babysitting for Life Groups, etc. The endless volunteers that serve under our leadership range in the the 200-300 range. We couldn't do it without all of these committed Christ-followers. From those hosting and facilitating Life Groups to those heading up the Men's and Women's ministries to those serving as mentors in the Recovery ministries to those rallying people together for the Prayer Ministry, to those leading and serving on the Frontline ministry, to our Leadership Accountability Team who superintend the goings on of Impact...it's a collaborative effort that couldn't be pulled off without everyone pulling their weight for the glory of God.

I just felt it was time to give honor where honor is due. The ministry of Impact is a complex mixture of ministry with so many layers of leadership it would take me hours to explain to you the well-oiled machine it is. Suffice it to say, that it is an honor to lead and serve along side such gifted and godly people and I hope this team stays together for many years to come.

Here's to a great end to this year and an explosive start to the next!

Bring on 2012!

Jason


Saturday, November 26, 2011

left with his name...

I just got back from Thanksgiving 5 pounds heavier physically, 50 pounds heavier emotionally.

Here's why.

My wife's sister has weathered a horrific turn of events in her marriage over the course of the last 6 months which has left her doing the lion-share of holding her children together as well as herself. Just seeing the collateral damage of a broken marriage firsthand was sobering.

I think the thing that just tore me up was walking up the sidewalk toward their front steps and seeing "The Terpstra's" chiseled into a rock off the left side of the entry way. I don't know why, but it just didn't sit right inside me.

How can a man court a woman, take her from her father & mother & sister & brother, ask her to take on his name, and then leave her? She is now Angela "Terpstra" and her children are "Terpstra's". Her home is covered with pictures and memorabilia with that mark of identity written on checks and documents and household furnishings, and the one who asked everyone to take on his name isn't even there. They are left with his name--in many ways bound to it--and he is off spending the holidays with another woman living another life. Something is wrong with this picture.

How dare a man invite a woman into a life whereby she leaves her name behind and assumes his identity as her own only to strand her with an "empty word"? It's not a name anymore, it's a word. I remember hearing someone say, "Your name is all you have." It is your honor, your mark of truth and trust. When you lose your name, you lose everything. All you are left with is a word, an empty, sad, vacuous collection of letters.

It's not just the woman either, the children bear that name as well. They have to sign it on their school papers and say it when called upon in class. They have to see it on the back of their uniforms when they head out on the field and hear it spoken over the loud speakers after they make a tackle on Friday night. The boys will meet someone someday and pass that name along to her. The power of a name is everlasting, you can't just move on and assume another name if you're a son. That's with you for life. There's no getting away from that name, that backstory. It's part of your heritage, your hermitage.

I watched my nephews and my niece wrestle between innocent childhood and premature adulthood in unpredictable waves of rest & restlessness. One moment they would be lost in joy and the next minute their eyes would be sunken in with sorrow. One minute they would be laughing from their gut and the next minute they would be in their room crying from the absence of their father. It was forcing them to endure something they didn't have the scaffolding to emotionally support. What do you do with that?

This name loomed over us the whole weekend. This name was attached to everything touched and talked about. This name is forever etched into our hearts like that welcome rock next to the front porch. It reminds you of days gone by and days yet to come. It taunts you to anger and haunts you with sorrow. It won't leave you be, letting you get on with the beauty of life because, for now, it's the most present/absent thing about reality.

So I'll say it again, if you're a man and you ask a woman to leave her name and take on yours, if you plan on asking her to leave everything she's ever known to come under the banner of your identity, if you want to create offspring that forever are stamped with your signature for the remainder of their days, and if you want to etch your "John Hancock" in the immovable rock of your family's heart, please understand the gravity of your every move, your every motivation, your every moment. All those under your name are counting on your nobility. Their reputation is bound to your next decision. Clave to your character.

When a name becomes a byword, you're never closer to hell in this life.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Adoption thoughts continued...

My wonderments this morning concern the details of where my boys are today and who is with them.

When most people are preparing to parent children, they have 9 months to watch them grow prior to their arrival. You know where they are, safe and sound within nest of their mother's uterus. They are floating there suspended almost weightlessly in amniotic bliss, the water-like fluid that originates from the maternal plasma, and passes through the fetal membranes by osmotic and hydostatic forces. You don't have to worry where they are and whose care they are under, that is self-evident.

You get months to sing through stomach tissue to the little one, wooing them to the other side playfully and tenderly. You get to feel them kick and twist and turn fighting the cramped living space. You get to prepare your home with a nesting instinct in that miserable last trimester. With every month, the child makes itself more known crowding into your bed with you making it more and more uncomfortable to enjoy natural instincts like breathing, sleep and sex. This third party or third wheel goes with you everywhere, and yet, still hasn't arrived in the truest sense of the word. You are given an intermediate time of test driving the vehicle that will forever change your reality.

But I think the most overlooked beauty of this 9-month orientation is the knowledge of the child's location and watch-care. You know where they are and who they're with. You know how they're being treated and what they're being fed. You can take neonatal pills to ensure health and vitality. You can obey "inordinate cravings" for pickles and peanut butter and chocolate ice cream when the child's cravings cry out for something in particular. You don't have to worry about whether the child is being neglected or malnourished or mistreated. You don't have to think about whether he or she has being given physical affection or verbal communication. You don't have to wonder about the sleeping arrangements or whether they are clothed and sheltered from the elements. You don't have to obsess about "separation anxiety", your own or the child's. There is no separation, only anxiety.

That is why today I am thinking about what orphanage they are at and who their caretakers are. I am thinking about whether they are being held and talked to, nurtured and nourished. I wonder about their diet and whether they are getting enough milk for their teeny tiny immune systems. I wonder about how they are getting along with the other orphans crammed in some undersized living space. Are they being kept up at night with incessant crying; are they being given medicine for ruptured eardrums; are they being rocked back to sleep when they get spooked by a sudden sound? Who is checking in on them periodically to see if they are gaining weight or getting sickly? Who cares about them as more than a number in an institution? Do their caretakers understand that it's my son they are rocking to sleep? Do they understand that every touch of hand and tone of voice makes all the difference in the world to their development? Do they know that I'm counting on them to treat my boys with dignity and delicacy? I hope that God speaks that into their conscience today for me. I counting on Him to do that, in fact.

That's what I'm thinking about this morning. The first three children my wife and I brought into this world, we had the peace of knowing that they were always in our presence, always in our protective care. We had the constant reminder of their presence as my wife's belly expanded to make room for their intrusion. We were able to slowly adapt our lives to ready ourselves for their "grand entrance". We knew that if something went wrong, we were there, we were responsible, we were the primal and primary parents. But this time, none of these calming characteristics accompany the arrival of our boys.

We have to entrust all of these innate instincts to someone else, somewhere else. Someone we don't know living somewhere we've never been. This is unnatural.

We are counting on God to be the womb and woman. We are counting on him to be the nurse and the neonatal pills. We are counting on him to be the tender touch and the soothing voice. We are counting on him to be the father and the shelter, the milk and the marrow. We are entrusting our little boys to the watch care of their creator, the maker and sustainer of all living things, the one who holds all things together.

Hold our boys today, Father. Hold them together. Hold them for me and my wife. We can't right now, but you can.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Adoption...just around the corner.

I've been thinking more about our upcoming adoption lately. That's probably because all the paperwork is done and we're simply waiting by the phone for a referral. It's like waiting for water to boil. The more fixated on it you are, the more it seems to slow down the process.

Over the past month we've settled on adopting 2 boys. One will be under the age of 18 months and the other under the age of 3. We are hoping they are siblings, but that's not a prerequisite. We're adopting from Ethiopia, which is uber exciting to daydream about. I find myself lost in thought sometimes wondering what they look like and what they are doing right now.

Are they born yet? Will they be twins? Will they be tall and skinny, or short and plump? Are they being taken care of right now, or are the malnourished and abandoned waiting for someone to rescue them?

What will it be like to have sons? I'm so used to daughters, I don't have a clue as to how to raise a scrapping young boy. Will they bond to us quickly, or will there be a season of trauma that makes the chemistry difficult? What will it be like to be transported back to the infant stage of diapers and eye infections? What toll will sleeplessness take on us that feels different than our 20's? How will sleeping arrangements work out with 5 children and 3 bedrooms? Will they be circumcised? hehe.

Will my heart connect with them and see them as my own, or will that adjustment take days, months, or even years? Will I kiss them the same way I kiss my daughters and snuggle with them, or will they be standoffish and awkward? If they don't take to our family, will I have the perseverance to treat them the same, or will it lead to insecurity that makes me squirrelly. How will it effect my relationship with my daughters? Will it enhance it or threaten it? Will their excitement wear off quickly, or will their desire for this adoption have staying power?

How will this effect our finances? Will we be stretched to the point of stress? Will God come through when we're out on the limb of faith? What things will we have to do without that we currently enjoy? Will we even notice the ways we're cutting back or will the loss of those amenities be felt?

Will these boys grow to love their lives or will they increasingly struggle with their checkered past and what led them down this detour? Will they see me as their dad, or will I always sort of be the white guy that took them in and fed them and provided for them? Will they want to be like me, or will they wish they could meet their biological father wondering about his whereabouts and features and backstory? Will these boys feel like they are one with our family, or will the color of their skin always remind them that they are outsiders? Even if we pound it into their heads, will they believe us? Will they?

Will our community accept them and welcome them in? Will they find friends at church and school that treat them so normally and naturally that they are unaware of their differences? Will it feel at home in Lowell? Will they like the things I like? Will they be artistic? Will they be athletic? With they love learning? Will they love the outdoors? Will they be outgoing or introspective? Will their unique personalities fit into the dynamic of our current family spirit?

My mind is filled with thousands upon thousands of questions like these. It's racing with excitement and trepidation. It should be, it's about ready to get rocked with the reality of 2 new little Holdridge boys being added to the litter.

May the Lord watch over those two youngin's today wherever they may be and may he prepare our home to be the perfect place for their little hearts to grow and thrive.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

thankful...

It is the week before Thanksgiving, and for some reason I feel the need to write out some of the blessings around me that I'm grateful for. I spend a good deal of time bemoaning the bad, I think it's about time I affirm the good.

Here is just a sampling of the myriad of blessings that surround me.

my faithful and beautiful wife.
my fierce and feminine daughters
my idyllic house set back in the woods
my rusty ole' car with the bald tires
my great job as a pastor
my awesome church family
my little town of Lowell
my health and strength
my gifts and abilities
my mind and heart
my friends who care for me
my books and my writings
my guitar
my steadfast parents
my loving siblings
my extraordinary in-laws
my pillow top mattress
my HD flat screen television
my new Tommy Hilfiger underwear
my early morning coffee from Ella's
my staff at Impact who go above and beyond
my freedom to be myself
my goofy scooter
my band of brothers on Wed. mornings
my Mac
my blog
my heritage
my relationship with Jesus and His kingdom
my salvation.

I have so much to be thankful for.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

908 bottles of wine...

It's so easy to read the Bible and not really read it.

For me I graze on the text and glaze over certain concepts or contexts unaware of their true interpretation and, thus, their true implication. I was reading a book recently that was retelling the amazing first miracle of Jesus, the turning of water into wine.

As I was following the familiar storyline, something the author pointed out just about knocked me over. He stated that each of the containers of wine contained nearly 30 gallons each and so when Jesus made the "great conversion", he supplied the wedding scene with approximately 908 bottles of wine. This would be several pallets of wine being delivered at the loading dock out back. Shocking and scandalous!

I don't know why this struck me so deeply, but I found myself wondering how many times something is happening in the Scripture and I'm standing afar struggling to really comprehend what is actually happening in the story. I wonder how many little nuggets like this I've driven by over the years that touch something "truer to life" inside of me. It was a great story before, don't get me wrong, but I felt I was missing a couple things that made it striking. Almost like watching a movie without the sound. The idea of 908 bottles of wine being produced by the Son of God at a party just messes with your idea of Jesus.

I need my idea of Jesus messed with on occasion. I think I've read all there is to read and know all there to know. I feel like I've traced him out and have him outlined. I can anticipate his next move, like completing my wife's sentences. I know him like the back of my hand. This is all, of course, bunk. It's just not true. But I get to believing it's so.

It was this little nuance at the wedding of Cana that caused pause inside me and asked me to look again. To double-take. Maybe I haven't cracked the code, maybe my best days are ahead of me and that God is wanting, now, to unlock little pockets of truth, like a locket with a hidden picture. Maybe my best days of reading the Bible are yet to come. This is exciting.

Who would have thought the number 908 could make such a difference?

I wonder if you think Jesus stingy and stuffy and I wonder if the idea of him backing up an 18-wheeler and dropping off 4 pallets of wine does anything for your heart? I know it messed with my constructs and categories. Beautifully so.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Loving yourself...

"Love your neighbor as you love yourself."

This idea really has serious implications.

First, I must say, I don't find very many people that love themselves. This is odd since most people are selfish and narcissistic and indulgent. But what I mean is that most people at the core dislike who they are and have a hard time cutting themselves any slack. They beat themselves up, they believe horrible things about themselves, they refuse to receive affirmation, they are dismantled at the slightest criticism because it confirms their greatest fear(s)...it's really quite sad.

I know, I know...as you look about you, people are "in love" with themselves and their accomplishments. Their ego is an over-ripened watermelon splitting open at the slightest prick of a blade's end. People talk up themselves and interject stories of their own "awesomeness" whenever a break in the conversation allows for it. Humans are vain and vaunted vultures feeding on others to nourish their own sense of self-worth. This is also true. But I think less true.

I think what is more true is that people are ineffably insecure and nervous. Flitting and floundering about with the darting eyes of a child scared of getting caught. People are afraid of exposure and what would happen if others knew just how sad, sorry and sick they really were. Even people that "are confident aren't", is what I'm trying to say. Even people that look connected aren't. Individuals that appear sinless may actually struggle more with sin than those who wear their sin on their shirtsleeve. Those that talk big are quite likely to think very small of themselves using strong language to convince themselves of what they doubt very seriously in secret.

My experience of others, especially when you move beyond the "hey, how are you?"-"Good, how 'bout you?"-"Good"-"Good to hear."-"Great."-"Welp, have a great day."-"You too."-"Bye."-"See ya." kind of exchange is that people are quite enslaved to anxiety and anger directed mostly at themselves. They hate themselves; they hate their misbehavior; they loathe their lack of follow-through and their chronic co-dependance. They are nervous about what others think and obsessed with "conversations inside their head" before, during and after the "actual conversation". They crucify themselves for saying too much or too little after an interaction. They can't accept God's forgiveness when they sin and nurse a hidden fear that they aren't, in fact, really saved. People want penance if only for the feeling of doing something hurtful to themselves to pay for their moral misdemeanor. People want to pay for their crimes, they want to feel the justification that comes through doing time. And they walk about "serving time" for their daily crimes.

People hate themselves. They wish they were better at something. They wish they could be a different person. They dislike their personality and skill sets. They don't feel comfortable in their skin. Most people put themselves up on the butcher table of their own mind and dice themselves into little beef tips. They scrutinize and criticize themselves with mercilessness. They are haunted by their own impossible expectations they place on themselves...always falling short, always keenly aware of failure and futility.

And so what Jesus is saying is that we need to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Do you see the irony of this? No wonder people treat each other so horribly. No wonder people don't know how to reach out with grace or to forgive an offense. Road rage makes more sense. The use of the middle finger can be better explained. Rants and fits of rage provide a window into someone's soul. Fidgety awkwardness and vague answers to personal questions has an origin. Insecurity begets insecurity. Anger begets anger. Hurt people hurt people.

I am the worst of sinners when it comes to this manslaughter. I take things out on myself. I lie in bed chewing myself out, up one side and down the other. I always look at my presentation and performance through a microscopic lens of perfectionism. I turn on myself. I make mountains out of molehills. I throw babies out with bathwater. I know how to over-react to my slip-ups and punish myself with "suicide runs" for actionable or attitudinal tardiness.

The brutality with which people treat themselves makes it impossible to love anyone or anything.

I hope to be nicer to myself for the remainder of this day. It's not letting myself off the hook to actually say to myself, "I love myself and I love my life, Thank you, God."

Sounds vain, I know, but I wish I treated myself better. I think others would benefit from that.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Simple Life...

People want simplicity, but almost always choose complexity.

You ask how I know people long for simplicity? It's simple. I've heard people say it no less than ten times in the last several days. What with all the spam, dump-truck loads of ideas, multi-tasking applications connected to network devices that sync up with storage clouds that merge with blogs and facebook and google+ and twitter and pinterest and blah, blah, blah.

It makes you long for the days of cords that were attached to phones attached to walls that were attached to houses that served as someones home. Now everything is cordless, which is great and all, but don't cry the blues when you don't feel any attachment. As goes the cord, so goes the attachment.

We live in a wireless society with remote offices. Translated: A phone and a car. Cheaper, yes. But when you're feeling alone, please understand that comes with the territory when you choose to go "remote". And when you're enjoying the benefit of less overhead, don't be surprised if you're starting to feel like there's something "cheaper" about the quality of your life. Our lust for de-centralized models to save cost and hassle has led us to the slaughterhouse of isolation. So we have more wealth, but less richness. Hmmm.

There are days when I want to hoist all the connectivity and accessibility right out the window and go back to the days of simplicity. The days when you had to walk to someone's house to use their phone when you ran out of gas. The days when you had to let someone know where you were going before you left because that would be your last point of contact. The days when you had to go to a library to find a primary source or read a book to find a quote. The days when you had three channels on network television with Matlock or Murder, She Wrote as your entertainment options. The days when boys at least had to work a little bit to find porn and girls still had sleep overs where they talked instead of texted. The days when family dinners weren't interrupted by buzzing/churping cell phones and parents weren't trying to close a deal with an open laptop while listening to their child read a book to them.

I remember when I listened to 570 WSYR on AM radio soaking in Yankee baseball games and Syracuse basketball like a brittle sponge. The static airwaves crackled like an old record. No HD, no six-lane bandwidth, no connection to what was happening on those distant courts or fields other than the frequency coming through that little radio sitting on the apple crate that served as my nightstand and clothes drawer. One connection. One medium. One.

Family nights consisted of board games, singing around the piano, reading books on our parents laps (we were their laptops opened up on their knee), wrestling matches in the living room, circus with dad on his back flipping us over his head while humming a little loop like you'd hear at a merry-go-round, playing catch out in the yard, or walking down by the lake. We couldn't go online, browse DVR'd shows, check Facebook, text, tweet, or play tidily-winks with the world wide web. It was just us, a few options and what we made of them.

It is not unusual to see a household all split into different rooms of the house each connected to some technological device taking them far away from where they are and putting them in touch with something and somewhere else in the world. One will be on the internet, strike that, one parent will be on the laptop while one of the kids will take the desktop, another child will be watching Phineas and Ferb episodes that have been TiVo'd and stockpiled for convenient consumption, another will be on their ipod listening to a recently downloaded song off of iTunes, another will be on their Nintendo DS while another is playing Wii in their bedroom which can also serve as a Netflicks conduit to the world of movies. Dad is out in the driveway pacing around on his cell phone since the service isn't real great in the house. Mom is on her iPhone scrolling through status updates and making sure she doesn't miss anything. This is the "Modern Family" and we're wondering why we're making passing comments about "wanting life to be more simple"?

I know this is the trail of a rabid rabbit at best, but do you see my point? We flippantly chatter something about being busy and longing for simplicity, but our lives leave no room for that longing to be realized. None whatsoever. If only just wanting simplicity is all it took. We'd be all set.

I know it's more than longing for the "good old days" which are more old than good truth be told. But there is something to the bare naked, stripped down, unplugged age of yesteryear that beckons us backward. I fear that if we don't do something "amish" about our scatterbrained lifestyles, our lives will get away from us. We will be robbed blind while sitting in our own home. We will be pick-pocketed and won't know it until we try to make our next transaction, but by that time, it'll be too late. Your credit cards are gone, your license is gone, your social security card is gone...there's no going back.

Maybe that's why some people hook a chain to their wallets. Maybe this is why some people keep their rotary phone. Maybe this is why people won't get a Facebook account. Maybe this is why some people won't cave in a get a cell phone.

And you know what? We hate these people for not keeping up with the times.

But I wonder if right underneath our anger at the inconvenience they cause by not climbing on the bandwagon, I wonder if we're kinda jealous of their joy. The joy that comes with not knowing what you don't know. I wonder if they are the ones who have the time, space and energy to have some life in their living.

Could it be that simple?

Friday, October 07, 2011

Cheer-Leaders and Lead-Cheerers...

I don't know if you've picked up on this lately, but people are dying for leadership everywhere you look. They wouldn't necessarily name it that, but that's what they are starving for.

They would probably express their need for it in sighs of cynical resignation:

"You can't trust those in power."
"The hypocrisy of authority is sickening."
"The people who are supposed to be looking out for you only look out for themselves."
"All parents say they won't get in a divorce to their kids, and then do anyway."
"Pastors aren't any different than any other leaders, they are in it for vain-glory and money."
"It doesn't matter if you're from the Right, Left or Center...politicians are crooked."
"All leaders are liars."
"Teachers don't care anymore, they are just serving time in the prison of their tenure."
"Church is just a bunch of grown-ups who are really cover-ups."
"People aren't motivated my altruistic love anymore, there's always an agenda or angle."
"The best way to not be hurt is to never give your heart to anyone for any reason."
"Even if people say differently, you're on your own and it's best you start accepting that."
"People will take advantage of you given the opportunity. Don't close your eyes."
"Families - a bunch of fakers trying to look pretty in public while being ugly in private."

The vomit that comes out of people's mouth shows a "values-virus". They instinctively know it shouldn't be the way it is, but the best they can do is tell you so. Few are chiming in with a path to "what should be", and fewer still are living the change they want to see giving a picture of "what could be".

I love Jesus statement in Luke 4..."The Scriptures are fulfilled in your very presence." Leaders read what is longed for and prophesied and "become the change", actually "become the fulfillment of the longing" in the presence of the people.

We don't need more people skilled at pointing out the problems. We don't need more people joining the "critic choir", this is for the clods and curmudgeons. We don't even need more leaders to speak on, write on, blog on and carry on about "what's wrong and why". We need leaders who embody the pining cry of society, the ache of humanity. We need leaders to rise up and become the change they are peddling.

And you know what we need more than anything these days..."cheerleaders".

Leaders who are cheering people on. Leaders who are yelling out phrases of encouragement to the players on the field and the fans in the stands. "Let's go, let's go, L-E-T-S-G-O, LET'S GO!!" "D-FENCE. D-FENCE. D-FENSE." "Be Aggressive. B-E Aggressive. B-E-A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E. Aggressive!!"

We need leaders who will be the cheerleader, but even more, the lead-cheerer. The person who will cheer when everyone else has left the stadium in the 4th quarter. The person who will shout from the top of their lungs and live to the soles of their feet the words of life, hope, solution, action and passion even in the jaws of defeat.

Our world is crying for and dying for leaders.

They needs cheerleaders. They need lead-cheerers.

We have our fill of trouble-shooters, problem-solvers, ax-grinders, hair-splitters, and belly-achers. We need vision-casters, team-builders and cheer-leaders.

Man, do we need them.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Everything is Meaningless?

Meaning.

This is what I long for. This is what I feel evades me all too often.

Ecclesiastes is a book of the Bible that talks about this dearth of meaning that we often cannot find words to express. "Meaningless, Meaningless, everything is meaningless. A chasing after the wind." What do you do when a passage of the Bible is communicating a truth that isn't actually true? How do you interpret it and then apply it? Is is possible to disagree with Solomon without disagreeing with God? I don't know.

All I do know is that I couldn't agree and/or disagree more with God's Word.

The part I agree with and feel more often than I would like to admit is the apparent meaninglessness of life. Conversations seem canned and contrived. People aren't listening half the time. Environments are created to keep us from feeling the awkwardness of this vacuum. Throw in the white noise of music in the background and create a mood that doesn't require anyone to make an attempt at intimacy. Nobody has time, not the kind of time it takes to draw in and go deep. So we make passes at things like asking questions, but we don't have time for the answer should the person chose to "go there". So it becomes clear that whether or not we say we want meaning, we don't position ourselves in life to make any time for it.

I was at a pastor's gathering yesterday and we were set up at tables of 8 people as we listened to the leader guide us through vision and values. He shared for about 15 minutes and then asked us to take some time at our tables and answer a simple question: "What are the walls you're hitting in your leadership right now?" I thought: "This is going to be good to hear what everyone has to say around this table." Just then, the leader said, "We have about 90 seconds so keep your answers brief." It took about 10 seconds to figure out how to keep such a weighty question connected to a weightless answer, another 10 seconds to wonder who was going to go first and whether we were going to go around the table clockwise or counter-clockwise, and by the time we shared, people were speed-talking their way through their "leadership lids". Only a couple people got to share even with the "speed chess" velocity.

The leader would then bust into the middle of our sharing from up front with his loud microphone and pull us toward another topic, a great topic by the way. Every topical shift was so important to talk about, but we didn't actually have any time to talk. He would share some nuggets of truth and then tell our tables to take some time to each share our personal response to the question...in 90 seconds. "Where are you at spiritually right now on a scale of 1-10? Please be honest, too, because if we can't be honest here where can we be honest?" Bam, we are talking a mile-a-minute about our chosen number and the reason we chose that number. Remember, 8 people...90 seconds...sharing honestly about the currently reality of our walk with God. This went on for an hour...about 7 very important questions that we had a minute and half to talk about with honesty, meaning and passion. I couldn't help but feel queer.

I didn't feel angry at the moderator, I guess it's better than just coming to a place and having someone just talk at you the whole time about some all-important topic. I really loved even the little shreds of humanity that I heard around our table even though it was hopelessly truncated. It left me wanting more and feeling a feeling that I'm often feeling. Namely, that all the meaningful things are effectively forced into parking spaces in which they can't possibly fit. I'm tired of well-meaning people not treating meaning very well. Myself included. Let me rephrase that...myself especially.

Meaning cannot be pushed around like a pawn, forced upon us in the concentration camp of efficiency. Meaning needs time and attention. Meaning surfaces in awkward silence. It visits perfunctory places and perfectly imperfect people. It emerges as a sidebar conversation...it is usually off-topic and in the baseball diamond of life it is always coming "out of left field". That's what makes it meaningful.

Which leads me to what I was getting at a bit earlier. Though I agree that everything in life feels meaningless, I don't agree that "everything" in life is meaningless for obvious reasons that I probably need not expound upon. There is so much meaning when you're doing the "things" that are meaningful.

Taking my daughter on date on Thursday night was unspeakably meaningful, dripping with meaning, in fact. So I don't agree that "everything is meaningless". The feeling of meaninglessness, this chasing after a gust of wind that you can never catch, is felt when we live our lives in such a way as to crowd out meaning with programs, schedules, demands, expectations, predictions, predispositions, prejudices, terms & conditions. Meaning rarely finds a home inside these human contracts and constructs. There is no room for meaning at this table of 8 with 90 seconds to share the 'what and why' of your deepest passion. It will not submit to these trivial terms. Meaning doesn't want a place at the table...it is the table. It isn't a talking point, it is the point.

So is life meaningless?...yes and no. Yes, if you treat it like a whore. No, if you treat it like a wife. A whore is pursued, used and discarded. A wife is pursued, romanced and cherished. You can't get meaning from pleasure. You get pleasure from meaning.

Meaningful, Meaningful, everything can be meaningful. A running with the wind.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What's in a name?

"Where everybody knows your name."

When I was younger, the sit com Cheers was in full swing. The song had a hook to it, but it was the aforementioned lyric that I think set the hook.

We didn't have a television the better part of my childhood, so I didn't ever watch Cheers unless I was at a friends house and we happened to be lazily surfing the 4 channels on network T.V. that were available at the time.

As I got a little older, I would catch reruns from time to time and it didn't take long to figure out why the show was sticky. The idea of going to a place--any place--and being greeted by name strikes a chord that almost catches you off guard when you're old enough to put words to the longing, or hear someone else do so.

Cheers was a basement bar in the city of Boston. It wasn't fancy. The set up was anything but club-like. It didn't appeal to the animalistic urges of the sex addict looking for an easy squeeze. It didn't draw the affluential or influential. It was a collection of random individuals from all walks of life looking for other people to talk to about their day. It wasn't anything sensational, just normal conversations usually centered on something that happened that day that each of them would casually weigh in on. As people weighed in on someone's story, it suddenly became more and more colorful and nuanced. Something that wasn't all that noteworthy would be massaged by community into something beautiful, insightful and wonderful. Norm was normal on his own, but around these unlikely friends, Norm wasn't normal anymore; he was endearing and transcendent. On our own, must of us are normal Norms.

But here's the kicker, it starts with someone knowing your name. You can't go any further until you cross over this border. We laugh at people who name-drop, but it wouldn't be a joke if it didn't hold some truth to it. When people start using names in a story, something immediately goes form generic and general to more interesting. We laugh at presidential candidates talking about "Margret from Cortland, N.Y. who's struggling to afford insurance as a single mother of 14", but the reason they are using this ploy is because we are suckers for it. And this is why names mean the world, because names represent a narrative. When you move from plastic names like "buddy, champ, legend, dude, and bro" to "Harry, Chandler, Kyle, Sam, or Tristin" something extraordinary happens in the eco-system of relational connection that unlocks the heart.

Knowing someone on a "first-name" basis is the cornerstone of influence. You can impress people in a nameless world, but influencing people requires name-recognition. Names lead to narratives. It's that simple.

I know this, because when I don't know a person's name, I can scarcely tell you a darn thing about their life. If I can, it's fact-based recall. It's hear-say typically. But as I lock in someone's name, their face loosens, their eyes light up and they share with more detail and drama. When I utter a person's name, it somehow tells them I'm interested in them and that they can share more freely without the internal time clock warning them that someone is about to say, "I'll let you go."

A person's name matters immeasurably.

I need to work on this. WE need to work on this as humans. We are losing this art of naming people. Not name-calling, name recalling.

We must stop accepting the label of community without the knowledge of names. You can't have real community aside from real people knowing other real people's names.

The end.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

being out there...

It is very important to be out there.

Even if you don't know what is coming next, just putting yourself out there gives you a shot at being there when something happens. And you never know when something is going to happen.

Church buildings are great places to gather people in hopes that something happens, but I'm learning that life really happens when you're least expecting it to. There is something about a bunch of people rising to an occasion that actually prevents the occasion from occurring. Granted there are times when you get lucky and something special happens smack dab in the middle of something planned and programmed, but rarely. The good stuff happens out there in the unpremeditated and unpredictable crapshoot of the commonplace.

It's hugging the waiters and waitresses in a restaurant you've gone to for 7 years as the grieve the death of their beloved boss.

It's running into friends on the sidewalk and making small talk.

It's attending a community collaborative meeting and listening to leaders in the community share the passions and dreams for Lowell.

It's going out to lunch with a young leader and normalizing struggle and the temptation to disown desire.

It's sitting in the coffee shop with artists and calling them up into leadership.

It's crashing into hard conversations with people that no one else is going to have with them.

It's going to counseling with your wife and letting someone else in on your pillow talk.

It's staying up late with advisors and wrestling through hard decisions with candor and valor.

It's waking up early to meet with your "trusted brothers" and talking about life as it is, not as you wish it was.

It's snuggling on the couch with your youngest daughter and kissing her soft forehead as you watch "Nanny McFee".

It's tasting defeat and victory. It's getting scathing and soothing emails. Caustic voicemails and caring voicemails. It's grinding through necessary evils and relishing moments of irreplaceable joy.

I'm finding that being "out there" is where God laughs and plays. You don't always know what you're getting yourself into...but that's the point.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

So long, Facebook.

Heidi and I went to counseling yesterday to lay our lives in front of someone else if for nothing else than to have someone bear witness to our story. Our denomination pays for a few sessions a year, so we go almost every year for a "check-up", sometimes several times if needs be. I can't begin to describe the lifeline this has been.

So as we poured out our hearts like water, one of the flights of conversational fancy we explored was the onslaught of social media and the constant pressure that comes with always being "connected and accessible". Heidi and I have noticed that since we got internet at home, our time has been swallowed up with staying "on-line" with everything and anything that is happening in the outside world. Increasingly, our time has been spent keeping up, checking up and following up on things that we "come across" or that "find us".

We will be at home, or on a date, or in our car and "texts, news feeds, and emails" will be announced with a cute little chime indicating that something pressing needs to be addressed or reacted to. You can't very well just ignore it, because everyone knows you got it and will assume that you don't value them as much as the next person if you don't respond according to their particular personal "time-table". Our counselor said that one of the problems with all the social media that exists is the lack of ethical education accompanying the product that serves to give us a universal code of conduct with which to function. Because of the lack of this universal ethic, we have a product that means something different to everyone that uses it. The pressure that comes with this sort of unruly relational system is incalculable as everyone gets to make up their own parameters and guidelines as they go.

I am a relational being, so the draw to be connected is very appealing to me. And yet as I talked with the counselor yesterday I couldn't help but feel that my life has been overtaken with "connection and communication" leading to "disconnection and miscommunication". I can't keep up with my inbox for one. If a couple days go by, it will get away from me and someone is stranded waiting for my response to their questions, ideas, thoughts, hurts, or encouragement that I have all but forgotten exist in the first place. I will want to, but if I don't do it immediately there is a good chance I will get behind and never revisit the conversation.

I know what it is like to "put your heart out there" only to have someone never acknowledge the exchange. Increasingly, this will occur and I just can't stay on top of the "news feed". I have more news coming in than I have the personally ability to respond to. What do you do when your "incoming communication" exceeds your ability to respond with "outgoing conversation"? Something has to give.

It is especially disturbing when I consider that I was the one to open up this medium of connection. No one made me do it. I didn't "have to" create easier ways for people to stay "in touch" with me, but I made the decision to do so of my own volition. I, at some point, said, "I want people to be closer to me and I want to be closer to people. I want to be easy to contact and connect with. I want my life to be an open book letting anyone and everyone peruse the pages of my life with the click of a mouse. I want people to stay in contact with my every move, commenting on each and every trifle, whimsically throwing out thoughts and ideas that I must digest and process. I want to be 'on' all the time. I want this." No one made me do this, I chose this. And on many days, I love being 'accessible'.

But between texting, email, facebook, blogs, cell phones, internet and cable, I feel crowded and congested like "rush hour traffic" inside my head and heart. This traffic jam is a world of my own making in an effort to be a "good pastor and a good person". Over time, it has filled my life with more "news feeds" than I could possibly ingest and digest in a thousand lifetimes. Some people can manage this chaos because they aren't creatures who absorb every nuance of life as an artist. But I am not one of those people. I soak in every dainty little detail, filing away content and holding conversations inside my head with the information that I've encountered. I don't know why this is, it just is. I'm sure it has it's bright side, but boy, oh boy, does it have an underbelly that wrecks shop on my heart.

In talking with the counselor, he encouraged me to take control of this area of my life. His suggestion was to take some time off from Facebook and any other social networks that aren't tethered to an "ethical code of conduct". I don't do a great job of managing social arenas, so for the time being, I have to deconstruct my life and reassemble it with healthy terms of engagement. This will, no doubt, be troublesome on some fronts, but I trust that I'll be able to find a balance in it all over time. For now, this is essential to my social sanity.

It was one of many things we talked about with the counselor. It's funny how interacting with someone outside the "weeds and woods" of my reality can make sense of my nonsensical patterns.

So, after this weekend, I will be disabling my Facebook for an indefinite time period. I trust it will help me get my poop in a group which lately has felt more like diarrhea.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A visit to jail...

I visited a young man in the county jail today.

I noticed several things on my visit.

The place has no music playing in the entry or lobby or halls. It is nothing but echoing voices and reverberating noises. Unlike most things in life, you don't notice music until it's not there. I can't believe how music brings meaning to mundanity.

The building is nothing but cement and cinderblock. There is hardly a color in the whole building. Almost everything is gray and white which affects your mood almost immediately. The color is stiff and cold, sterile and stoic, and it isn't long before you adopt this emotional posture without knowing it. This is not a place of emotion or relaxation or recreation. Welcome to a world of gray.

There aren't paintings in the halls or in the rooms. No art. No beauty. Nothing to catch your eye and breathe life into your veins. Nothing remotely close to tender, inspirational, attractive or encouraging. I take for granted the artistry that fills most places that I visit filling me with hope and hospitality. This is not a harbor of hospitality for your heart, this a place meant to be meaningless on purpose so that you realize what you take for granted on the other side of those cold and colorless walls. This place is there to remind you what it's like when life is vacuumed out of the building and you are left with nothing be utilities and the utilitarian world of scarcity and survival.

The guards (other than my good buddy, Ben) are quiet and stone-faced, robotic and pre-programmed. They aren't inhumane, but they aren't human. They dwell somewhere in between the two trying hard to regulate their emotions so as to not appear affected by their surroundings or the feelings of those incarcerated. I want to go up to some of them and say, "Hey, you can talk to me normally, it's ok. I'm not a criminal nor a child, I'm a grown adult with intelligence and ingenuity. There isn't a need to bark orders or to talk to me as if I'm a cyborg. I'm a human who's just trying to help." But alas, many of them have on their work clothes and their work voice, and to try to get them to break character is nigh unto impossible.

As I sat in the visiting room for almost 45 minutes waiting to see my friend, I was struck with the stone-cold silence of the 6x10 space. It was so quiet, I could hear my nose whistling with every inhale. My thoughts were loud and the time was creeping along at a snail's pace. I didn't dare ask if he was close to coming for fear that I would be thrown against the wall, frisked, hauled away for a mug shot, hosed down in the basement like Rambo in First Blood, dressed in an orange pajama-suit and thrown into a jail cell waiting for my wife to post bond and bail me out. What made matters worse is that I couldn't bring anything in with me, so I didn't have a watch or a phone or any way of knowing whether 30 minutes went by or 3 hours. I just sat there in a suspense of disbelief almost untethered to anything that even resembled life.

Maybe this is why Jesus said in Hebrews 13:3 "remember those in prison as though you were their fellow prisoners...". Because until you get into one of those places, you can't begin to imagine how dark a night can be and how long a day can be. You can't even believe the jolt of hope that can come through a hand-written letter or the week of energy that can be produced by the simple hug of a caring human being.

I'm learning that I don't have to go to jail or prison to find these environments bereft of music, color, decency, art, or humaneness. Nope, it's on our block and in our backyard. It's two houses down or just around the corner. Heck, it's often in our own living room with our spouse or children. And it doesn't take much to turn the tide, just a word...

...a smile
...a visit
...a hug.

What you have done for the least of these you've done for me. - Jesus

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Writing to be more grateful and thus, more graceful...

I haven’t written a blog entry for over a month. I think it’s been the longest hiatus from writing I’ve taken since I started blogging back in 2005. Unlike others who take a break from writing to pursue a project or to give something up for lent or to consecrate themselves more fully to higher priorities, this exodus was more of an ebbing away that an abrupt departure or a premeditated decision. I think it was last week that I was reflecting upon my life (something I am used to doing more frequently than I have in recent weeks) and it struck me that I have abandoned this discipline/therapy almost entirely.

I’m amazed how things that feed your spirit are often the first pieces of cargo to go overboard in life. In an effort to survive, you keep the draining disciplines and dispose of the nourishing disciplines.

My nourishing, life-giving patterns include:

1. A date night with my wife each week.

2. Playing with my children and resurrecting my inner child.

3. Watching an occasional inspiring movie that breathes story into my story.

4. Getting out of buildings and into nature, out of conversation and into activity.

5. Getting off the internet and enjoying actual friendships around an actual fire.

6. Reading books instead of email, status updates and memos. (Books and Faces instead of Facebook)

7. Getting into the car and driving to a new and undiscovered location for the fun of it.

8. Going to lunch with my daughters and engaging their friends at school.

9. Saying hi to people in the community with vim, vigor and value.

10. Spending time in the Word and Prayer just to be with my Savior.

The last one may be the most critical piece of cargo that goes overboard. When you separate from your Savior, you separate from the one who saves you once and for all spiritually, but also the one who saves you each and every (I’m aware of the redundancy of that statement) day of your life. If without Him I can do nothing as it says in John 15, then nothing is precisely what I become as I divorce myself from his salvific heart.

And today as I navigate a “reentry into the blogosphere” today, I find myself grateful for writing and it’s ability to be my “silent counselor” listening to my untethered, disjointed gibberish and absorbing my scribbles and scrawlings.

On this day, I write to become grateful in hopes of becoming graceful. I’m glad to be back.