May 8, 2021

Weekend Listening: Marker - Identification of a Woman

I am a product of the 80's. I love the fact that so many current bands are drawing from that era of music. Marker is one of them. Their 2017 release Marker (MR-072) on Medical Records takes me back to those synth-layered new wave records I was discovering at a young age. It's perfect music for a cool, quiet and cloudy morning. Check it out:

 You can find all my weekend listening tracks on the playlists I've created on Spotify and YouTube.

Support musicians! A great way to do this is on Bandcamp. Take a look at what I'm discovering their.

May 6, 2021

Midweek Missional

I started doing this thing midday, midweek where I talk about all things related to mission. Grab your lunch and join me. Here's a glimpse of what it was like yesterday. In it, I talk about religious decline. Specifically in regards to an article I read and a corresponding post I wrote a few weeks ago. Enjoy!

My latest newsletter went out

My newsletter just went out. Here's a bit of what was in there this month:

I'm thinking about Søren Kierkegaard. I am writing this on his birthday (May 5). Kierkegaard was a 19th century Danish philosopher. He wrote critically about Christian faith and the Church even as a devout Christian himself. He embodied the sentiment of one of his titles, The Crowd is Untruth. What I mean is that Kierkegaard had a healthy skepticism about what is popularly accepted. What this might look like today in dominant culture is that what is not normal becomes normalized. 

You can subscribe here and get it next time. I hope you subscribe!

May 5, 2021

Scenario Thinking

Leaders that start new faith communities tend to be some of the most agile, flexible leaders we have in the Church. In fact, most church planter assessments tend to look for these traits in candidates for church planting. What these leaders are able to do is make meaning within an ambiguous context. And yet across Christian traditions and regions in the U.S. I've spoken with church planters that have been immobilized during the pandemic. During the last year, generative work has often been replaced with stagnation. In place of enthusiastic, energetic, hopeful and joy-filled leadership, some have experienced grief, exhaustion, frustration and boredom. Those are just a few words that could have easily described my emotions on certain days throughout the last year. I'm sure you've felt them too. In fact, I know many church planters have indeed had such emotions. 

What I'm compelled to say first is that there is nothing wrong with feeling this way. Considering all that is going on in the world around us it is completely reasonable. The second thing I want to offer is that part of our problem may be that we continue to grasp at one solution. Even as vaccinations continue to roll out and some semblance of normalcy appears on the horizon, we tend to hear people use the term "light at the end of the tunnel." Which may expose part of our problem for those paralyzed by this precarious time: we're only looking for one outcome. 

I'm currently fascinated with scenario thinking. This approach to future planning was brought to my attention by the work of Steven Weber and Arik Ben-Zvi.

"Against the backdrop of such uncertainty, planning seems impossible." They write, "Cognitive biases get multiplied. Wishful thinking and/or paralysis take over. Strategic thought and action is the victim."

Sound familiar?

These two posit whether it might be worth mapping out multiple outcomes so that we can be prepared with different strategies:
"Scenario Thinking is an antidote. It involves a structured effort to imagine different plausible futures in a disciplined way. Then it asks probing questions about what would have caused those future to come about and what implications those futures hold for the business, the marketplace, and the political landscape of the country."
What might it look like for faith communities to apply this? Could it help us map out different scenarios, different outcomes and what corresponding responses might be? One of the greatest outcome of such a practice might be the sense of control it offers us. Such an exercise assists us in clarifying what is within our power and what is not, which is incredibly helpful in times such as this.

I encourage you to take a look at their slide deck.

April 26, 2021

Thoughts on Good Shepherds

Sunday was the fourth Sunday of Easter and for those of us that follow the lectionary we read the passage in John 10 where Jesus refers to himself as the "good shepherd."

If you do a Google image search for "good shepherd" you find lots of images of a white man with a glowing head, flowing hair, well-manicured beard, in a very clean robe and holding a calm, also very clean and well-manicured lamb.

While likely painted by folks with good intentions, let's get a few things straight that most of the images do not:

Jesus probably didn't use hair product or a beard trimmer.

And he wasn't white.

I've written before that we have to pay attention when Jesus uses the adjective "good" to describe something in the Gospels (the "good Samaritan," for example). The same applies here.

Shepherding was a thankless job. It was often risky and difficult work. Few people would have wanted to do it. But some may not have had options. A shepherd's income could be unpredictable. If sheep were attacked by a predator–this could have great impact on the shepherd's well being.

But I don't actually think Jesus intended to contrast himself with all the other sheep herders in the region. He doesn't intend to slander a whole group of the working class in his region.

The Hebrew word for "good" was "tov." It's the word used in Genesis when all God has created is described as "good." But this Hebrew term did not simply mean good as in good v. bad. It also implied functionality, wholeness, beauty.

I don't like my Google–search–good–shepherd–Jesus images. I don't think those give us the same imagination as those in the near east, in the first century when they heard Jesus say this. In their mind's eye I bet they saw someone with dark circles under their eyes from sleepless nights watching out for thieves and hungry animals. Their robe is soiled having trudged through mud and dusty hills with these filthy animals. I don't imagine that words like functional, whole or beautiful would have been terms that would have come to mind when one thought of a shepherd.

Back when my two oldest kids were in middle school, I would watch this woman "herd" children and teenagers across a busy road. At the time, we lived in Washington, DC. If you have not lived in DC, trust me: people driving along this NW corridor are some of the most self-important drivers in the country. How dare anyone get in their way?! They have important meetings to get to.

Sarcasm aside, I would watch this woman do an incredibly difficult job each morning. It's a thankless job. In the sweltering heat. In the freezing cold. There's no way they paid her enough. She was honked at, flipped off, yelled at, ignored and nearly driven into at least once a day, 5 mornings a week. And she did it with an ease that was astounding. Every child crossing those four crosswalks were hers. Each morning I would hear, "Come on, babies!" She would walk right in front of a Lexus or semi-truck and command them to stop immediately when those kids were on the move. No fear. No hesitation. You ought to be afraid that she'll come through your windshield and warn you to never creep into her intersection ever again.

This was her house. These were her kids. Do not mess with her babies on her clock.

And suddenly, I see Jesus.

"Come on, baby! Let's get you across this road. I'll step in the way of anything. You'll get their safely."

Didn't matter if you're walking to work, to the school right behind us or to another school down the road. At this intersection, you belonged to Jesus.

There's a nobility, a charisma we often assign to this passage that may misguide our imagination. Certainly, there is a bravery and self-denying love that is communicated in this John 10 passage. I'm purposely not delving into the Christology that I know is there and deeply appreciate. I'm doing so because I think there is something else important here. I wonder if our images of Jesus (whether on a canvas or in our minds) sometimes miss his incredible capacity to simultaneously display cosmic majesty and accessibility to the lowest of the low all at once.

Jesus is not only shaping how we are to see him in this passage.

He's challenging the assumptions we make about each other.

Assumptions we desperately need to change.

… Here's an ordination sermon I gave a few years ago with some other thoughts on good shepherds:

NOTE: This post was adapted from an another post a few years ago.