Church Leadership Social Action

3 Mini-Rants for a Wednesday

Mmmm... nothing like hormone-induced gigantic turkey for your families pre-Black Friday festivities.
Mmmm… nothing like hormone-induced gigantic turkey for your families pre-Black Friday festivities.
  1. Don’t shop on Thanksgiving! – This year, in a sign of pure greed, many retailers will open up their stores for pre-Black Friday sales. Target stores nationwide will open at 9:00 PM on Thanksgiving, basically destroying the holiday for their employees. Their employees started a petition to keep Black Friday on Friday. Last week I got several emails inviting me to “secret sales” where I could get Black Friday deals right now. Stop it. Stop it. Stop it. Making low-level employees work on a holiday so you can make extra money is wrong.
  2. We all pay taxes! It is true that lots and lots of Americans don’t pay federal income taxes directly. But I’ve had it up to my eyeballs with people saying that most people don’t pay taxes. We all pay taxes, lots and lots of them. And while most of the readers of this blog won’t write a check for federal income taxes we pay taxes in lots of seen and unseen places that our more affluent neighbors don’t. We all pay sales tax, property tax, payroll tax, state income tax, tariffs we don’t see, taxes added into the goods we buy like gasoline. Then there are the taxes we pay not in money, but in situations beyond our control. Can someone in the working poor pay to send their kids to an elite school? Nope… so that’s a tax on them. Can the working poor afford the best access to healthcare? Nope… so that’s a tax on them. What about the best nutrition? Or social access to powerful people. On and on and on. My point is simply that we all pay taxes!
  3. There’s more to church leadership than preaching! No, really. The more I get to know folks in a lot of contexts the more I realize that what you do off the platform is what makes you a leader in the church. And if you look away from the org chart and walk around seeing who is actually leading, almost all leadership (People leading others where they wouldn’t go by themselves) is happening outside of the preaching person and outside of the paid staff. I’m not talking about redefining what leadership is in the church… I’m talking about recognizing who are the leaders in your church. How can you go to a church, see all that goes on, and say… “Oh, this is ____’s church.” Gimme a break.

OK, I got those off my chest. Time for a second cup of coffee.

Culture hmm... thoughts

An Ode to the Cranberry, 2010

Photo by rjzii via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Discovered in 1427 by Cardinal Joseph Cran, the cranberry is useful for many things. It is delicious. It is tasty. It is tart. It is good mixed with various other fruits. It floats. It is from heaven. It’s amazing canned shape invites my gobbling. It’s juice keeps away urinary track infections.

Cranberries are magical.

More fun facts about cranberries:

  • Cranberry and brain share the same latin root word, cranium. The Romans believed the cranberries tart flavor stimulated the brain.
  • The cranberry has medicinal values. It cures everything from a hangover to gout.
  • Cranberry bogs are protected in Vermont. It is unlawful to visit one without a permit.
  • There is a Cranberry Festival in Iowa in which the Cranberry queen is carried on a litter as citizens stuff cranberries in their cheeks like a hamster.
  • In secret ceremonies, sacrifices are made to the cranberry god in Nova Scotia.
  • It’s a little known fact that the color red in a Canadian Mounties uniform comes from the die of a cranberry.
  • There is even a cult band funded by profits from farmers, The Cranberries.
  • In 2002, George W. Bush invaded Prince Edward Island for the secret stash of the giant cranberry DNA. It’s trade name is nukler.
  • The french word for cranberry is Ponce de León. When boiled, the cranberry releases essential oils originally flowing from the fountain of youth.
  • When John F. Kennedy declared he was a jelly donut in Berlin, the jelly inside his donut was cranberry flavored.
  • At the first Thanksgiving in 1619, the leaf of cranberry trees was rolled and smoked.
  • The female cranberry is separated from the male cranberry in the processing plant. Males are bagged and served fresh. Females are jellied and canned. Left together they would multiply their goodness and overtake the world.
  • Starved for delicious fresh cranberry– Christopher Columbus discovered America. A state secret of Spain, it was recently revealed  that the Columbus party actually had 4 boats. The Nina, the Pinta, the Santa Maria, and the Cranberry.
  • The red in the United States flag… symbolic of the ancient order of the cranberry… 1749. (Betsy Ross was secretary of the order at the time)
  • It is against the law to serve turkey on Thanksgiving without cranberry sauce in the city of Cleveland, Ohio.
  • Up until 1983, cranberries were acceptable currency in Maine.

Oh cranberries… you are welcome in my home all the time. But especially in November and December.

Do you know more fun facts about cranberries?

Ode to Cranberry, 2009

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Philippians 4 and our Anxious Mind

Photo by Mayr via Flickr (Creative Commons)

The mind is a funny thing.

Years ago I memorized Philippians 4 as part of my devotional time. For me, I find Bible memory a great way to focus my sometimes unfocusable mind. And I find that I live out Scripture better when it is embedded in my head as opposed to plucked from a book.

You can memorize a large chunk of Scripture and then it just kind of sits there, on ice, waiting to be used again. So I was a bit surprised to wake up with this stuck on repeat this morning:

Philippians 4

Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!


I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Thanks for Their Gifts

I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

It’s always shocked me that a man could write these words while in prison. Rejoice? You’re chained to a wall, dude! Peace of God? Are you freaking kidding me! Think about praiseworthy stuff? I’d be thinking about busting out! Your joy and crown? Are you blind! You can’t even see daylight from where you are.

And yet, that’s what Paul wrote as he closed out his letter to the church in Philippi.

Photo by Teresia via Flickr (Creative Commons)

The last couple of days have been filled with anxiety for me. It’s unexplainable and irrational. Factually, I have nothing to be anxious about! I don’t know if its tied to my re-entry or what, but it’s been driving me nuts. On Thursday, as I rode my bike home I just kept having this feeling that I was about to get hit by a car. Then as I sat on the trolley a silly thought came into my mind about a woman seated near me. She was wearing a big, heavy jacket and my imagination got the best of me. I couldn’t shake the idea that maybe she was a suicide bomber and I kind of panicked. The whole way home my heart and mind were racing. I was laughing at myself the whole time. But I just had a hard time shaking it, too.

Philippians 4 helped calm me down and brought me back to a rational state in that moment.

That little episode of stray anxiety reminded me that we live in an anxious society. Our nation is filled with people who are 99.9% secure but still filled with fear. We have access to everything at nearly any moment and yet we only think about how we can get more. We almost never suffer. We almost never go hungry. We almost never want for anything we actually need. So we become anxious for more security, less chance of suffering, more food, and more stuff.

Literally, we (myself included) are sick because we have too much. And we are still anxious for more.

Perhaps I am not alone in needing the truths of Philippians 4 to bring me back to reality in moments of silly panic?

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The weeks to come

This is convention week. For the 5th time this year I will travel to a convention center to run social media. Two DCLAs (for students) and this is the third NYWC. (for youth workers)

I have the best job in youth ministry. I get to meet youth workers from all over the world and remind them that even though their jobs are hard and thankless… they are being used by God to further His Kingdom.


What’s different about this week is a little pre-convention trip to Pittsburgh on Tuesday and Wednesday. (Host of NYWC 08) There I’ll be hanging out with Travis Deans and a bunch of youth workers in the Pittsburgh area. Travis is hosting two meetings of youth workers and I’ll have the opportunity to speak to them and with them. Such a blast! Travis and I lived on the same residence hall floor at Moody. That seems like about 10 billion years ago but I guess it was 1994-1996. We reconnected last Fall in Pittsburgh and I was stoked to learn that he’s been doing youth ministry since graduation! I will see if I can muster up a story about Travis to embarrass him. I may have to make one up.

Wednesday night I fly down to Atlanta. The last U.S. convention is always the largest so that will make it a lot of fun. Since Thursday is normally my travel day to convention I will be working from my hotel room all day on normal work stuff. That said, I do have one detour planned! I’ve been a user and fan of Mailchimp for a couple of years. Their offices are in downtown Atlanta and I hope to pop in on them Thursday to see where they keep the monkeys.

Friday through Monday… you won’t hear from me but I’ll be covering NYWC. (lots of live streaming of our rich line-up of speakers) Typically at convention, I’m busy all day with convention work and meal times are dominated by lunch with people I only see once per year. It’s hard to explain working through a convention season, it goes by fast and slow at the same time. I’ll blink and it’ll be Tuesday morning.

I fly home on Tuesday the 24th, picking up a rental car, and heading home to do some laundry. Wednesday through Sunday… we’re headed to San Jose for Thanksgiving! My cousin and his family live up there and we thought it’d be a blast to hang out with them over the holidays. (And see the Notre Dame vs. Stanford game.) The last time Kristen and I were in San Jose was 2000! So I’m looking forward to that.

The crazy thing about the next 2 weeks of travel? It’s my last scheduled trip. Last year, I had a similarly strangle travel schedule before the holidays… then didn’t leave San Diego county for almost 6 months!

Blog posts during the next two weeks will be typical. Sporadic and random.


The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

Few books require comparison to a Fyodor Dostoyevsky novel. Yet both the length of the story and the depth of the primary character does resemble works like The Brothers Karamazov.

While Dostoyevsky wrote in serials and was therefore paid by the word for his work which in turn paid for his gambling addiction, about 500 pages into The Hour I First Believed I began to wonder more about the sanity of the author, Wally Lamb, than the sanity of the main character. In the end, it was a novel that you both couldn’t wait to finish, while at the same time this reader remained convinced that the story should continue forever. It was a painful joy similar to Thanksgiving Day. You can’t possibly eat one more thing and yet you find yourself opening the refrigerator door, more out of compulsion than true hunger for more.

The story is a first person perspective of the main character, Caelum Quirk. Caelum and his wife work at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado in 1998-1999. The story takes a dramatic twist when Quirk’s wife is caught in the crossfire during the school shootings. Her life is spared and taken at the same time. Spared in that she isn’t harmed. Taken in that the post-traumatic stress syndrome steals much of the joy and peace from her life.

In an attempt to get away from the tragedy and start over, the Quirks leave Colorado and move into the home of his aunt, who raised him. Left with the family farm and a wife whose mental capacity continues to decline, Caelum begins discovering his real family history. This history is disturbing and freeing as Caelum begins to create a new life for himself in the town he grew up in.

While the story is long and covers a decade, it is still interesting. The title misleads you to believe that Caelum’s tale is a spiritual one. While one could argue this search for history and identity is a spiritual journey the conclusion is not a Christian spiritual journey but perhaps one of existentialism. Lamb seems to paint a superstitious picture of Mrs. Quirks religiosity and the parallel between her discovering peace in Jesus and the end of her life is opaque enough to fail hiding the authors bias.

I almost wish there had been a third person narrative about the author of the story coinciding with the writing of the novel. In the appendix Lamb shares how the novel took nearly a decade to write. For him, it was natural and necassary to weave real world events like the shootings at Columbine and September 11th. Likewise, he threads in a story of a women’s correctional facility founder into his main characters life. In the end, I don’t know if these provided a richness to the story or merely context for a story which otherwise would have lacked depth.

While it is obvious that critics will find this novel brilliant I found it to be tiresome. In the end I felt like it was just 400 pages too long.