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Be as Uninteresting as You Can Be? (Thoughts from David Foster Wallace)

I stumbled across this David Foster Wallace interview from almost 15 years ago.

A few of my thoughts are at the bottom after the snippet.


DFW: No one is asking questions about the connections between how we live, what we drive, and the things that are happening [in the world].

INTERVIEWER: Are there means of rebellion [from the status quo]?

DFW: There are people doing it all over the place…The people I know who are rebelling meaningfully don’t buy a lot of stuff and don’t get their view of the world from television and are willing to spend 4-5 hours researching an election rather than going by commercials.

The thing about it is in America, we think of rebellion as this very sexy thing that involves action and force, and my guess is the forms of rebellion that will change anything meaningfully will be very quiet and very individual and probably not all that interesting to look at from the outside.

I’m now hoping for less interesting than more interesting.

Violence is interesting. Horrible corruption and scandals and rattling sabers and talking about war and demonizing a billion people of a different faith in the world – those are all interesting.

Sitting in a chair and really thinking about what this means and why the fact of what I drive might have something to do with how people in other parts of the world feel about me isn’t interesting to anybody else.


Here’s the full interview.

Whether you agree with DFW or not, it seems strikingly applicable to our world, perhaps particularly this week.

Parts of it also strike me as complexly-privileged, specifically the ability to “wait it out” with quiet, uninteresting, rebellion.

But I am especially struck by the gravity of the “interesting” and how it plays out in the stories of our world.

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Listening to and Learning from Eugene Peterson

I was raised with a skepticism toward Eugene Peterson.

How dare he turn Bible translation into a one-man show?

“The Message” isn’t a Bible or a translation. It’s “Eugene’s Happy Thoughts.”

This is not the stuff of serious, God-honoring Christianity.

When I found out that he was well-studied in biblical languages, that he penned The Message not for the world but as a contextual exercise in caring for his local congregation, that his writing is a deep, deep well of wisdom pointing the way to Jesus, I got over that skepticism.

And then it was that I just didn’t have time. He had written a lot of books (not just The Message). They all looked good. But when to read them?

Preparing to move, I sorted through all my books and found a few boxes I was ready to part with. I took them to Archives, the local theological bookstore, and watched them quickly flip through most of the pile, with a few cringes and chuckles. There were a few with some resale value so I traded those two boxes for store credit, enough to purchase a small stack of books to start the next leg of my journey.

peterson-squareGift card in hand, I jokingly asked where the Eugene Peterson section was. While he didn’t quite have his own section, there were nearly two full shelves devoted to his work. I browsed, checked which ones were available in used-but-clean condition, and grabbed a stack of five.

The Contemplative Pastor. Yes, this will be helpful.

Praying with the PsalmsI don’t love the Psalms but Greg is constantly carrying this book around. I should probably try that too. 

Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral WorkKurt said I had to read this one. I should read this one. 

Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity. Integrity, yes, that’s key.

Subversive SpiritualityYes, I sometimes pretend subversive is my middle name.

So far I’ve made it through the first of the list, with a bit of time spent in the second. Embarking on this next context of vocational calling, Peterson’s words have been life-giving and challenging. I’ve underlined, highlighted, and annotated much throughout the book, but particularly appreciated these whistleblowing lines from Peterson on prayer and the vocation of pastor.

Prayer is not a work that pastors are often asked to do except in ceremonial ways. Most pastoral work actually erodes prayer. The reason is obvious: people are not comfortable with God in their lives. They prefer something less awesome and more informal. Something, in fact, like the pastor. Reassuring, accessible, easygoing. People would rather talk to the pastor than to God. And so it happens that without anyone actually intending it, prayer is pushed to the sidelines.

And so pastors, instead of practicing prayer, which brings people into the presence of God, enter into the practice of messiah: we will do the work of God for God, fix people up, tell them what to do, conspire in finding the shortcuts by which the long journey to the Cross can be bypassed since we all have such crowded schedules right now. People love us when we do this. It is flattering to be put in the place of God. It feels wonderful to be treated in this godlike way. And it is work that we are generally quite good at.

Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor

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Gratitude #4 – Open Door

As we transitioned from life in Los Angeles to life in the East Bay, I’ve been writing a series of reflections on the various ways we saw God’s faithfulness and presence during our time in LA.

Gratitude #1 – Los Angeles
Gratitude #2 – Fuller
Gratitude #3 – Kairos Hollywood

As we’ve continued our transition from LA and are now putting down roots in the East Bay, the gratitude continues.

Now it’s time for some thoughts on this whole transition that I wrote for the Open Door Community, shared here for all of you! 

We Didn’t See This Coming

Last year, Krissy and I began to sense a potential transition was on the horizon. We had been in Los Angeles for seven years and unsure what our next steps were; our two main options seemed to be either digging in for another season of life in LA or uprooting and moving closer to family in the midwest (we’re both from Wisconsin).

What was not on our horizon, or so we thought, was uprooting and moving to an entirely new place – away from both our midwest family and our Hollywood family.

Enter Open Door

In February, I got wind of a church in the East Bay that was expanding its staff team. The position and description of the community resonated with me and felt in sync with the work we’d been a part of at Kairos Hollywood. Mostly to convince Krissy I was proactively participating in our discernment process (you know, since we weren’t going to move anywhere but the midwest), I briefly told her about the job description.

Without knowing many details – including the name of the community – she replied, “well, we should move forward on this and see if God opens a door.”

I’m Kinda Into You

From the first conversations I had with the hiring team, I was intrigued by you. Your commitment to following Jesus through creativity and experimental practice. Your focus on formation and mission in local and global contexts. Your love for families and desire to be shaped into a family following God into the journey.

After we visited in May, our hearts started beating faster and we sensed a clarity in God’s leading that felt like a rare gift.

The You Becomes We

Krissy’s dad is an ecologist and he told me recently about convergent evolution – when unrelated species from different ecosystems have overlapping traits and features suggesting deep connection and relationship with each other. As I begin this season at Open Door, it feels like convergent evolution or, in terms that might be more familiar, it feels like God’s woven together our stories in beautiful and unexpected ways, calling our family to join yours.

 

I’m so excited to be entering Open Door’s story in this particular season of the journey. I love the questions Open Door asks – What does it look like to follow Jesus here in this place? What does expanded mission in the East Bay and beyond look like? How can we best participate in God’s formative and redemptive work among us for the sake of the world? – and I’m eager to join you in seeking the answers and trajectories God’s set forth for Open Door in this next season in the life of our community.

May we continue to grow as those who are rooted in Christ and woven together as family.

May we continue to faithfully extend sacrificial love and cultivate others to be and do the same.

May God’s spirit guide us as we walk in the way of Jesus.

 

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Gratitude #3 – Kairos Hollywood

I don’t think I was looking for you when I found you, but maybe I was.

We walked in, weary from six months of shopping around on Sunday mornings for a place to learn, a place to worship, and a place to call home.

We were not looking to move to Hollywood. We were not looking to enter into a season of bivocational ministry (we didn’t even know what that meant). We were not looking for a reason to stick around Los Angeles after finishing up grad school.

But somehow we found those things and more when we found you.

frA creative and eclectic community.

Risk takers and question askers.

Open to ideas and input.

A piece of clay willing to restart the potter’s wheel when a new shape was more conducive to faithfulness on mission – even when painful and disorienting.

It was a Saturday morning and I was sitting beside the little pool in our student housing apartment. My phone rang and it was JR, asking me if I’d be interested and able to preach the next day at our Kairos gathering.

It had been about a year since we had first walked in the doors. Sure, why not?

Psalm 80 was the text, and I spoke about lament as a communal practice. Restore us, not restore me. This is about us, together. Mistakes and gifts, pain and grace all swirled about in the mixing bowl of life together in community.

I broke some rules I’ve since set for myself. I used too much Hebrew. I spoke too long. I used a lot of umms and you knows which, umm, I still use a lot. You know?

shadowcommunityBut you let me speak. You were encouraging, you pushed back, and we kept moving forward.

And you let me lead. Or, more accurately, you challenged and expanded what I thought leadership was, and then invited me into that.

You are the type of community that does not pedestal its pastors. Sometimes I had the mic and sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I answered and sometimes I questioned. You did the same. It was always a conversation and never a monologue.

I was a pastor but I was also a husband and a dad and you didn’t ask me to put those things to the side for any greater cause. The cause was simply our life together and inviting and seeing how God worked in our midst. To be a dad, a husband, a friend, an employee, a neighbor, a patron, a servant – these were all deeply embedded in my job description as a pastor in our community. 

The greatest compliment I received during our season with you, Kairos Hollywood, was not about speaking, counseling teaching, administering, budgeting, hosting, or teaching. It was that the three of us who were called to equip, lead, and pastor the community, equipped, led, and pastored alongside. Not from the front, not from behind a microphone or podium, not from a high and lofty place above – but alongside.

So I am grateful to you, Kairos Hollywood (and, also, to our brothers and sisters in Kairos Los Angeles churches across the city) for helping me find my voice, for allowing me to guide, equip and shepherd, for showing me that to pastor is to walk alongside.

I’m grateful for who you are – a group of people centered on Jesus, listening to the voice of God and responding in the faithfulness made possible through the power of the Spirit.

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Gratitude #2 – Fuller

I came to Fuller with twenty-something years of questions, seeking answers. Open to new ideas, perspectives, opportunities that would lead me to clarity, confidence and a killer resumé for the next step (you know, the one where I would return to the midwest and work for a megachurch. Yeah, that one.).

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Journey, 2003

I sought answers but instead found fellow ask-ers. From all walks of life, from all corners of the globe. All asking questions about meaning, life, God, and the church. Discovering new words and new ways of speaking about our common and diverse experiences, our frustrations and our hopes.

I sought answers, the resolution and dissolution of my questions, but instead found strength and encouragement to continue the questioning journey. With new words, languages, skills, and – most important – friends whose journeys have woven together with my own. Companions, collaborators, teachers, colleagues – constant reminders that even in the midst of loneliness you are not alone.

I sought answers, a tradition to call my own, a tried and true banner under which to find direction, vocation and a career. Instead I found a community of creativity and collaboration. Risks and hunches that the road ahead may wind in new directions and into new terrains. That following God’s wind may lead to uncharted waters, requiring a constantly calibrating compass. That whether the needle seems to simply spin or remains strangely still, God’s voice sometimes continues to speak.

I sought answers but instead found better questions – or, maybe, the same questions expressed with more clarity and humility (a combination that I’ve found most often leads to what the world calls wisdom). The end goal is not a simple and straightforward answer to life’s most pressing questions but a more helpful posture of dwelling with those questions from a place of health, experience, and wisdom. A place of conviction, yes, but also a place of mystery – “take off your shoes for the ground here (the same ground you’ve walked on before and will walk again) is holy.”

I sought answers and, in seeking those answers, found life.

For that – for being a shaping and forming place, a gathering place of sojourners and ask-ers on the way, I am grateful.

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Why We Need to Talk about Gender and Masculinity in the New Parish

Gender, and how the church responds to gender, has been and continues to be difficult and disheartening and too often damaging and divisive. While there are certainly signs of encouragement and breakthrough, there are still too many environments that fail to support the giftedness and recognize the common humanity of half its membership.

A week or so ago I was in Seattle for the Inhabit Conference. This is a gathering of people from various parts of the world who are committed to faith-based contextual practice and neighborhood engagement. The central and guiding theme is that of ‘parish’ – a defined place in which you live, work, play, serve, and care. Parish is a term that dates back centuries and refers to the practice of dividing a region so as to allow clergy to minister, care, and provide for a particular place. The conversations last week centered around the “new parish,” discovering how, in the aftermath of individualism and placelessness, place and proximity can again shape the way we faithfully live and lead in our neighborhood contexts.

One of the sessions I sat in was focused on “Women in the New Parish.” Conferences in general – and too-often Christian conferences especially – are male-dominated; the speakers who speak, the authors whose books are being sold, and the dudes who show up to network tend to be…dudes. Despite this trend, this particular conference makes an intentional effort for a more diverse community and lineup of speakers, and part of that intentionality was a conversation facilitated by women to talk about how women are leading in these “new parish” environments.

The room was small and crowded. I sat on the floor, legs tucked close to my body but not close enough to avoid the occasional awkward contact with those sitting nearest me. A few faces lined the doorframe while others listened in from the hallway. It was a fascinating and difficult conversation. Honest, emotional, deep, and occasionally heated.

One of the first to share said she had been leading in ministry for over thirty years and was curious if anything had changed for the new generation of women leaders. Her intonation and facial expression communicated that it had not been an easy three decades; the crowd’s response revealed a general perception that not much had changed.

Another comment early on questioned the need to have a conversation specifically about “Women in the New Parish.” A separate conversation indicates there could be some separation in leadership or giftings between men and woman. And, because, after all, “there isn’t a session called ‘Men in the New Parish.'” In other words, in an already male-dominated conversation, there doesn’t need to be an hour set aside for special conversation about men’s leadership in the church.

I recognize and appreciate the point of the comment. There’s a whole lot of testosterone present at most church leadership events. But rarely is masculinity discussed openly, honestly, and helpfully in these circles. Perhaps a conversation about masculinity in the new parish (and more generally about masculinity in the church) is actually desperately needed.

genderWhile none of the conversations I was present for (thank God!) focused on mixed martial arts or the need to toughen up men in a quickly feminizing world, and while on the whole the Inhabit Conference is one of the most humble, conversational, open, and egalitarian faith-based gatherings I’ve been a part of, almost all church leadership circles retain a subtle understanding or expectation about what it means to be successful, remarkable, noteworthy.

  • To write a blog is good. To write a book is great.
  • To have planted a church is a good thing. To have planted a network of churches is great.
  • To have cool hair is good. To have cool facial hair is great.
  • To be friends with presenters is good. To be a presenter is to be great.

While none of these (well, maybe except cool facial hair) is strictly gendered, there is a connection between common benchmarks for success and perceptions of masculinity. There is a “cool guy” factor in being a great speaker and catalytic leader with a history of “ministry wins” all while touting the twistiest handlebar mustache ever seen.

I don’t want to diminish or distract from the ongoing conversation about how women are leading in the church or New Parish environments. I hope those conversations continue, and I hope I am able to continue listening in, participating in, and learning from those conversations.

But, for me, a big takeaway from the conversation about women in the new parish was the realization that the ongoing conversation about gender must be bigger than a conversation about “women in ministry” (again noting the importance and necessity of that specific conversation within the larger dialogue). Gender hits deep to the core of identity, femininity and masculinity, insecurities, and personal wiring for relationships and leadership.

The culturally-embedded ties between gender qualities and markers of success is fraught with difficulty, and real and deep dialogue on this is desperately needed – not just for women and not just for men, but for everyone.

How much of what we see as desirable and imitable is rooted in cultural norms and expectations about what it means to be a man, woman, or leader?

How much do we cast aside or diminish the work of those who don’t fit into our engrained understandings of success?

How can we be truly supportive and celebratory of God’s image as it’s displayed in the fullness and variety of gender, vocation, context, etc. we have at work in the local church and neighborhood movements around the world?

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Christians, Let’s Stop Encouraging People to Kill Other People

What a silly, absurd, and heart-wrenching thing to have to say in a tweet or blog post.

The tweet is in response to a sad article on CNN’s Belief Blog today from a leader within conservative American Christianity in support of the death penalty. It’s an article that strives for balance but fails to make a “Christian” argument (in the etymological sense of the word – relating to or resembling Christ). There is very little “Jesus” in this article which encourages Christians to “rightly” and “justly” support the killing of other human beings.

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In my first college semester, I took a seminar focused on the history of punishment. Our readings, lectures, and discussions focused on the way societies and cultures have viewed and used punishment throughout history – to control, to manipulate, to seek vengeance, to restore, to harm and to protect. We studied schematics of prisons, read Foucault’s haunting Discipline and Punishment and engaged historical viewpoints on punishment, crime, and violence. We talked about how penitentiary is rooted linguistically with penance and how rarely the two are connected in our country’s understanding and practice of justice.

One of our readings was Albert Camus’s Reflections on the Guillotine. Especially in light of Tennessee’s recent botched execution, his words are particularly appropriate:

When the extreme penalty simply causes vomiting on the part of the respectable citizen it is supposed to protect, how can anyone maintain that it is likely, as it ought to be, to bring more peace and order into the community? Rather, it is obviously no less repulsive than the crime, and this new murder, far from making amends for harm done to the social body, adds a new blot to the first one.

I’ve written before and still believe that

The death penalty says that:

  • the nonviolent way of Jesus is stupid
  • some people are beyond redemption
  • our prison system is incapable of protecting society from violent offenders
  • ends can justify means
  • the shedding of blood can mend broken hearts
  • vengeance is ours.

The more time I spend looking at the life and teachings of Jesus, the more I wonder how out-of-place he’d feel in our world, or at least in the world of American Christianity, where we are encouraged by denominational leaders to pray and strive for a society that can perfect the art of justly killing our enemies. 

You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. 

If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 

Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.

– jesus

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