February 22, 2018

Test Before Invest

In A New Thing episode 12, Steven Tomlinson talked about a corollary between launching new faith communities and Eric Ries's approach to start-up's in The Lean Start Up. Steven talked about piloting experiments, testing ideas, etc. I talk about this in our Ready, Set, Go missional community workshops and this is also similar to what Jacob Breeze talked about in A New Thing episode 10.

The bottom line is that in taking this approach, testing out concepts and piloting approaches for new communities can cost very little–if anything. It is often simply not worth financial investment until a new community has tested their assumptions and tried out ideas that have proven to bear fruit. Yet, when it does bear fruit is the right time to seek an initial round of minimal funding to see what else can be done. In other words, with a small investment could your missional start-up scale into something more?

This is what we are trying to provide through our Strategic Mission Grants. We want folks to bring us their small batch tested missional ideas, show us what you've done and give us a chance to consider whether that is something that needs some seed money. Watch the video below. If you're in one of the 50-some counties within this Diocese and have been piloting some fruitful, missional work in the Episcopal tradition it might be time to get in touch.

February 21, 2018

Stripping the Status-Makers of Their Power

Photo by Mike Wilson on Unsplash
A few quotes from Jesus ...

Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. John 13:16

Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all. Mark 9:35

So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen. Matthew 20:16

These statements are saying a lot of things. One thing they are not about is piety. One thing these statements are about is status.

All throughout the Gospels, the disciples are arguing with each other about status. In a small, insignificant corner of the world's most powerful empire, a people in an occupied territory are constantly bickering with each other about who is the most important, the most powerful. Over and over again, Jesus says effectively, "You're missing the point; you have to stop participating in the rat race."

Why would Jesus say that? Shouldn't this people group with such little in the first place, at least be provided some significance? Jesus is not here advocating for some escapist, other worldly minded delusion. He's pointing to a truth that exists across religion, markets and politics: as long as you're striving to measure up to someone else's benchmark for status, you've given them control. You lose.

Why is the story line of Black Panther so powerful in American pop culture right now? Because it imagines a way of being human for an entire people group that doesn't require measuring up to another people group's measuring stick. It's an existence that is wholly other.

You strip the status-makers of their power when you stop striving to achieve their definition of achievement. It's at that point that you're able to make your greatest impact, do your best work.

20 years ago when I started getting an imagination for the kind of Christian community I could contribute to I knew it wouldn't measure up to the standards of my colleagues. What I didn't know is that by giving up on competing with them and doing what I knew I was called to do would threaten so many of them. Time and again, I was caught off guard by how threatening these seemingly small and insignificant missional communities were to those leading large and significant churches.

You want to disrupt the system, to make an impact? Take the Gospels seriously. Eat dirt. Start with people no one wants or will welcome or those who have no interest to what the big steeples are doing. Quit worrying about who says "No" to what you can offer and pay attention to those who will say "Yes." Be the last in line for funding or recognition. Prove you don't need it. As Flannery O'Connor once wrote,  "You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd." No one wants to hear this but in all my years of experience, it is most often those that are willing to do this that have the deepest impact. They rarely grab hold of the status everyone else is chasing but their impact is unmatched. If you're willing to be odd, you might end up changing the world.

February 14, 2018

Declare Your Love


Photo by William Stitt on Unsplash/td>
NOTE: I wrote this a few years ago for another website. Thought it worth sharing again on this day.

We were leaning up against my truck. She and I. We had kissed many times before this. But this time, I wouldn’t forget.

For months, I had wanted to tell her something every time we kissed. I wanted to tell her that I loved her. But I was terrified to say it. What if it scared her away? I was crazy about this girl. The last thing I wanted to do was chase her off. And then it happened. She pressed her hands against my chest just enough to gently push back so she could look me in the eyes. “I love you,” she said.

She beat me to it.

Next summer, I will have been married to that girl for 18 [21] years. I still have the same crush on her I have always had. Every year around Valentine’s Day I remember that night. Why didn’t I tell her I loved her first?

I don’t look back on this because I’m competitive in some weird way about this with my wife. Rather, it’s the lesson I think I learned that night, from that kiss and those words. I have no idea how many times I’ve told her I love her since then. Countless. It’s easy. But getting over that hurdle of fear that first time seemed insurmountable. Fear paralyzes us from stating our love, following our passion.

So, let me ask you this: What do you love and, yet, are terrified to say out loud?

It’s the first step of stating it out loud, claiming it, that is the hardest. Once you state your passion, you can’t look back. It’s out there. The good news about this is that you no longer have to hide.

Like me, sometimes you might be fortunate enough to have opportunity announce itself to you. Much more often, though, you are required to name it and take hold of it. In any case, the hardest work—yet most fulfilling—is still to come.

When she told me that she loved me, I didn’t have to reciprocate. I could have remained fearful. What if I didn’t really mean it? What if she didn’t really mean it? It’s risky. It’s vulnerable. Why? Because if it’s taken away, well … that’s why we call it a “broken heart.” This is the risk we take when we announce our passion.

This also exposes a truth about following what you love: you never know until you try living into it. Love is hard. It takes work. And yet it’s fulfilling in a way that surpasses so much in life. It nourishes your soul. There’s no metric for this. But you know how it feels when you are tending to that which you truly love.

For me, I loved that girl. So, I married her and do what it takes to stay in a caring relationship with her. I love being a dad. So, I make sure I’m present and involved even when I feel incapable. I love the Church and those that aren’t yet a part of this incredible community. So, I found a way to make it my life’s work. All three of these terrified me to say out loud at one point in life.

What are you afraid to say that you love? Who is it? What is it? Maybe it’s an art form, a calling, a passion … what is it?

Only you know. We don’t know yet because you haven’t told us.

Maybe you’ll get lucky. Maybe what you love will find you. If it does, you are faced with a choice. Will you let fear take over? Play it safe? Or will you seize the opportunity?

I say, kiss it on the lips. Declare your love. And live into it.

February 13, 2018

Ashes on the Streets

A few years ago I wrote about the practice of taking the imposition of ashes out to the streets on Ash Wednesday. I share it again below with a few edits ...

Photo Credit
A while back, Sara Miles wrote this in a Huffington Post article,

"It's rare in our culture to admit, in public, that you're not in control--that you, basically, are not God. And given the din of advertising and political polemic and hype and doublespeak surrounding us, it's rare to escape the fantasy that money or science, fame or violence or shiny objects will somehow save us from death."

It's still a potent statement a few years after she wrote that. Maybe even more so.

Ashes to Go is the term coined to describe the practice of taking the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday out to public places. This practice has its detractors. Some think it to be a religious short cut; that it's simply not enough–as this post points to.

One of the most radical characteristics of Jesus' ministry was that he touched people–normal folks, in normal situations. I can appreciate a holistic ideal for what this important service is to communicate but I think it is important for us to capitalize on opportunities to be outside of our buildings, within our communities and being completely who we are.

We are prone to forget what it is is like to be outside of our church buildings and let all of our senses absorb what is happening around our holy fortifications. This simple of act of taking the imposition of ashes out into our communities reminds of what kind of people Jesus has called us to be.

That is to say, it may be that "ashes to go" does more for the Christian than it does those passing by, receiving ashes and I am okay with that. If this activity doesn't work for you then I have a simple response:

If not now, when?

Find an opportunity to take the gifts of the Church into your community so that you might learn, grow and flex spiritual muscle you may have forgotten you had. You may find a community more ready for you than you realized. You may find a community oblivious or hostile. In any case, you will know something more about your neighbors than you did before. I cannot overstate how important that is. You will also learn what it feels like to be a Christian "out loud," a Christian exposed and that may be the most important aspect of such an effort.

February 12, 2018

Lent

Photo by James L.W on Unsplash
Lent begins this week.

Is it strange that Ash Wednesday, the the Christian season of Lent begins, is on my birthday this year?

Possibly even stranger is that it is on Valentine's Day!

Unfortunately, many Christians are unfamiliar with Lent. It's an important and formative season for those of us that call ourselves Christian. A few years ago, my friend Mike Angell and I co-wrote a blog series on spiritual practices during Lent. It's conversational and brings together two perspectives on these traditional Christian disciplines. If this season is new to you or familiar but unexplored, check out the series and please let me know what you think.