Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Don't Want Them To Grow Up?

Do what we did. Box your child up in a glass table.

With reduced feeding a little luck you can retard your child's physical development and keep them cuddly longer.

Ok, maybe not, but watching Colston (almost 11 mos) explore lately has reminded Jen and me that he's quickly scooting out of the infant stage and towards toddlerhood. He's much more curious than our first child (Addy) and seems most interested in what he isn't supposed to have.

Usually Jen and I are able to watch our children's tendencies and assign credit or blame to one of us. In this case, we're having to travel down the family tree a bit. Although I'm sure Jen and I gave our folks plenty of fits, we were actually the more compliant kids in our households. Looks like Colston- whose middle name (Matthew) is in honor of both of his uncles- got some of their rascality too.

And we couldn't be happier about it.

(*Note: All stunts in this post were performed by a resilient baby under the close supervision of his over-protective and more experienced older sister. Adults should NOT attmept to crawl through end tables. Seriously. You aren't as small as you used to be. Attempting this maneuver as a grown person will just get you stuck in the table. Save yourself the humiliation.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

That's Enough...

If our culture has a favorite word, it might be the word: MORE.

More food, more money, more square footage, more cup holders, more channels, more memory, more features. Yes, I'll take them all please!

More isn't always a bad thing, but lately I've found myself missing the word "enough".    Most of the time I only say "enough" because I can't afford or justify more.  Whatever happened to my ability to be content with some, but not all that I could have?  And should we even begin an honest discussion on wants vs. needs?

Why am I asking these questions?  Because I am (hopefully appropriately) alarmed by Jesus' assertion that money and stuff are constantly competing with God for my soul- and that only one of the two can really win.

So, I'm trying to build the practice of "enough" into my life as a safety valve.  Just because I can afford something doesn't mean I have to.  One small example in my personal life is my computer bag.  When I got a new computer last fall, I quickly started searching for a new bag to go with it.  You know- to protect the investment.  And to make me look hip- and not too businessy or geeky.  (Which I realize is a lot to ask from a computer bag.) I narrowed the options and was about to order my first choice when I stopped to pack for a trip.  There inside my suitcase was an old, tired messenger bag.  I took this as more than a coincidence.  Here was an opportunity to say "enough".  I could afford a new bag and justify it.  But I didn't have to have it.   One neoprene laptop sleeve and 5 months later, my computer is doing fine.  My hip factor is unchanged.  But my soul feels the tiniest bit freer.

"Enough" is growing on me.  A couple of weeks ago we bought a car.  After we settled on the model we wanted, we had to decide on the trim level.  Although we planned on buying the base version (which has almost every option you could have added to a car 10 years ago), I found myself wondering if we "needed" to move up a trim level or two.  More was raising it's ugly head- and I was cooperating.  Then my wife stepped in.  She said "enough" and we went home with the base model.  Since this was her vehicle, I'm glad she made the call.  As her husband, I want to provide her with more.  Maybe "enough"- and the blessings it brings- is more important sometimes.

So, how about you?

Ever notice the constant pull of "more" in your life?

What- if anything- do you do with that?

Do you intentionally use the practice of "enough"?  If so, when/how?

Use the comments feature and share your perspective.

Friday, February 22, 2008

When Conformity Is Rebellion

Yesterday we turned in a vehicle that we've been leasing for the past three years. Start to finish it was a great experience. In fact, we all got a bit teary as we said goodbye to the car that had carried our family safely so many times.

Knowing that our turn in deadline was approaching, we went out and got a replacement vehicle last week. Here's a pic:

Yes, we got a van. A Honda Odyssey to be exact.
The first two friends I mentioned this to gave me same reaction:

"Oh you finally caved and got a van, huh? Welcome to soccer-mom-world."

Honestly, there was a touch of either condescension or pity in their tone of voice. I was a bit irritated.

Then it hit me- they think we're conforming. I think we're rebelling.

When we leased our last vehicle, vans were the norm for young families. My wife chose an SUV then precisely because she didn't want to live the stereotype. (And because someone with one small child doesn't really need a van.)

Based solely on my own keen powers of observation, I'd say the tides have turned. Most young moms bemoan the van and choose.....the SUV. Ergo...the SUV is now the new soccer mom vehicle. For what it is worth, I think Honda's research may agree with this. The theme of the Odyssey's brochure is "The Van Is Back". They know that vans are no longer the go-to family vehicle.

Which leads me to how much I love my wife. This go round she once again had the choice of a van or suv. Why did she choose the van? Because it was more practical for her with 2 young kids, and we want to be able to haul our friends and family around with us without rearranging our car seats every time.

The SUV was the "I'm better than that other thing (van)" statement in some folk's minds. Jen chose what worked for her- even though many of her peers are making the opposite choice.

Sounds like rebellion to me.

In a van of all places.

Who knew?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Where Do You Blog?

Tonight I'm trying something new, blogging on the toilet.

Not like that- potty minds. Geesh. Are we still in middle school?

I'm sitting on the CLOSED lid, capturing some thoughts while Addy practices "swimming" and decides whether or not she'll throw a fit when it is time to wash.

How about you? Where do you blog or catch up on your computer time?

(Note: If "at work" is your answer, and your boss doesn't pay you to blog/surf- feel free to use a pseudonym.)

Monday, February 18, 2008

My Office (Today)

Lots of my friends outside of Raleigh are kind enough to ask me how things are going with my new job and church community.

One of the questions I get asked the most often is...Do you have an office?

The answer to the question the way it is being asked is no. We don't have dedicated office space @ Connections. As a result, I'm free to work wherever I wish. So far, I'm kind of bouncing around between Bruegger's Bagels (my usual morning hang- big thanks to Nick the manager & the rest of the crew who treat me so kindly), Panera, Caribou Coffee & Bear Rock Cafe. Bottom line is I'll work pretty much anywhere there has a decent free wi-fi connection and a good atmosphere.

I'm getting the chance to meet people (like Dave- who I run into a few times a week- always in a different spot) and absorb the local vibe. So far, I've learned a couple of tricks to make the mobile office thing a bit easier:

1. In ear headphones- the kind that block out noise- are a must.
2. Grab a seat near an outlet- the battery life indicator on your laptop is overestimating.
3. If you are on your mobile phone and people are staring at you, you are talking too loud. (Who me?)
4. Know what to take with you when you hit the restroom. My iphone and laptop go with me. Everything else stays on the table.

This afternoon, I won't be found at any of my usual haunts. I'm on the apartment patio, enjoying the blue skies and warm weather.

Ok- back to work.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Blessed On Both Sides

Last weekend four of our friends from Lexington made the trek to Raleigh to hang out with us. That sentence probably isn't descriptive enough. Our friends left Lexington around 10pm on Friday and drove straight through to NC. They were in town less than 36 hours and had to bunk in a hotel because our apartment was full up. We savored each moment we had with them. They made us feel loved. As we said goodbye, I had this sense that my friends had done for me what that Barnabas guy in the Bible did for the folks around him.

But that wasn't the best part. The best part was that seeing our old friends head home didn't leave us homesick. We really are loving our new church community and feel lucky that so many people have embraced us so warmly. Just last night Jen was out for the first time with a lady I knew she'd hit it off with. They went to dinner around 6:30pm and came back around midnight. Tonight she's out to coffee with another gal who is so sweet and down to earth. Today I had lunch with a great family who has been as hospitable to me as anyone I've ever known. (Of course, feeding me enchiladas with tomatillo sauce is an easy way to my heart.)

Our old friends don't leave us homesick. Our new friends aren't "replacing" our old ones.

We truly are blessed on both sides.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Score One For Raleigh...

Jen and I have had the privilege of living in some pretty great cities during our adult lives. Every time we've moved, there have been things about our old place that we've missed and things about our new place that helped make up for the missing.

Although there's plenty to like about both Lexington (our last home) and Raleigh (our new home), the weather in our new town is a bit more attractive today:

Lexington- High of 38 with rain and potential for snow and ice

Raleigh- High of 58 with the chance of a random shower

And did I mention that this will be one of our coldest days this week? Or that we were in the 60's and 70's last week?

If I get some time, I'll put together a post on some of the other losses/gains in this move.

And whether you are reading this in Lexington or Raleigh (or elsewhere), know that we appreciate your friendship, support and prayers.

Monday, February 11, 2008

It's a girl!

Our family is growing again.

NO- not that way. We're not crazy, brave or noble enough to add another child to the mix at this point. ("Or maybe ever" -Fred)

But we did get Addy her first pet this week. She's only been asking for one for 6 months now.

We decided to stick our toes in the water slowly (pun intended) and get her a female beta fish. This seemed a better alternative than Addy's suggestions of elephants, zebras, dolphins, etc.

Maybe someday we'll upgrade to something furry and cuddly. But for the time being, the low maintenance pet seems to fit our season of life the best.

As for the name, our loquacious daughter has settled on the name "fishy fish". Makes perfect sense.

Feel free to start the pool on how long we'll be able to keep the fish alive. I'm setting the line at a solid 3 months.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Everyone Is An Atheist...

No, not in the technical sense, but most everyone has some version of God that they don't believe in. In fact, I've heard a couple of different folks suggest this was a helpful way to journey alongside people who say they don't believe in God. Invite them to tell you about the God they don't believe in, because chances are you don't believe in that version of God either.

This past week I was at a worship gathering of people who are trying to follow the ways of Jesus and we sang a song called "I Am An Atheist".
Here are the lyrics:

Words and music by Brian McLaren and Aaron Strumpel

I am an atheist when it comes to the god of violent jihad.
I am an atheist when it comes to the lord who converts by the sword
I am an atheist when it comes to the mission of politicians using religion as ammunition.

I believe in you - the artist of trees and galaxies
I believe in you - the poet of oceans and rivers and streams
I believe in you - the god of compassion who calls us to action
I believe in you

I can’t believe what they believe but I believe in you
I can’t believe what they believe but I believe in you

I believe in you - majestic designer of space and time
I believe in you - composer of beauty and music of life
I believe in you - the holy forgiver and wild reconciler
I believe in you

I am an atheist to the gods of the greedy ignoring the needy.
I am an atheist to the gods who make others torture and suffer
I am an atheist when it comes to the view of the chosen few, who judge and condemn all who differ them

I believe in you ... mighty in meekness and gentle in power
I believe in you ... the word who has spoken good news to the broken
I believe in you ... transcending mystery, with us in history
I believe in you
You can hear a full version of the song HERE.

How would you write your own verse(s) to this song- either describing the God you do or don't believe in?

Monday, February 4, 2008

Looking For Something A Little Different?

How do you feel about today's worship music (ex. Crowder, Tomlin, Hillsong United, etc.)? I mostly really like it. So do a lot of folks I know.

Of course, I have friends who would fall into the "not so much" camp. They think it all sounds alike, or seems too repetitive, or is too much about us and not enough about God. Author, activist and speaker Brian McLaren voiced some of these opinions in an open letter to worship songwriters a while back.

Guess Brian felt like it wasn't enough just to ask for something more/different out of the artists who gift us with worship music. As a musician and songwriter, he took his own challenge to heart and with some friends wrote and produced some worship songs that run from a different vein.

We sang some of these songs at the Everything Must Change Conference this weekend. They seemed fresh to me, so I picked up the cd. The recordings are even better than the live experience. They have an organic, acoustic (guitars, mandolins, harp, viola, percussion, etc.), experimental feel (incl. electronic liturgy, a canticle and a chant).

If you have been griping about the state of today's worship music, want to hear from some new voices, or just want something a little different to add to the worship music you already have (and like), give Songs For A Revolution of Hope a listen. You can hear full versions of each song, find lyrics and chord charts and purchase individual songs or the whole shebang if you so desire. My favorite songs on a disc always change over time, but right now I'm especially digging tracks 2, 8 & 10.

Feel free to share your opinion using the comments feature below.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Everything Must Change Last Session

Saturday 2:30pm
"A Revolution of Hope" with Brian McLaren

Beware of quick fixes and silver bullets.

Change is a messy and continual process. It has always been this way.
Our problem is that we expect to go through it just once or for it to end.
We'd rather have a once and for all process full of clear, easy steps.

When Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robin Island, he and other political prisoners saw themselves as being on the campus of "The School Of Democracy". After 20+ years of imprisonment, their dreams came true as Nelson became the first democratically elected president of South Africa.

We ought to see ourselves as being in "The School of the Kingdom of God". However difficult or lengthy the process, the dreams of God are being built in us.

Jesus didn't teach His followers easy steps, He taught them Be-Attitudes.
He embedded the Kingdom of God within them.

Beware of easy answers. But be there for sustained:
- Personal Actions. Small things we do. (ex. recycling) They won't change the world. The acts of large corporations and entities will far outdo our meager efforts. But they will change us. We don't HAVE TO do these things. We GET TO do them.
- Community Actions. Projects with friends. Start by getting your group thinking new thoughts together.
- Public Actions. Spirit guided movements. Taking a stand in public in ways that are really important.
- Global Actions. Global awakenings.

"Real solutions have the character of ways out. (Like when we feel stuck or trapped.) They orient themselves to walking down a way, not achieving a goal. "

"We make the way by walking it."

Yes, there's urgency, but there's not urgent or hysterical pressure. The key isn't getting there, but getting on the way.

Faith helps a bit here.

Think in terms of progress, not perfection.

Everything Must Change Cont.

Everything Must Change Conf.- 9:00 am session.

WHICH JESUS?- Brian McLaren
I'm not terribly impressed when people say they believe in Jesus. I want to know which Jesus they believe in.

Which Jesus do we believe in?

Always good to keep looking at scripture to re-fresh and re-inform our vision of Jesus Christ.

For the next year, whenever you see the word "Christ", translate it to "God's Liberating King". This is what it means/meant in it's original context.

In Matthew 16:13-20 Jesus takes His disciples on a field trip to Caesarea Philippi and Peter's famous statement about Jesus' identity (you are the Christ, the Son of the living God) comes out. This and many other similar statements were applied to Caesar in Jesus' day/culture. For example, Caesar was called the "Son of the living God who brought Good News". The beautiful description of Jesus in Colossians 1:15-20 contains phrases usually applied to Caesar.

Jesus suggests a completely different picture and narrative of authority and leadership:
- Caesar was a liberating King who brought peace by the sword and the shedding of other's blood.
- Jesus is a liberating King who
brought peace by the cross and shedding his own blood.

Peter objects to Jesus' revelation that He will be a suffering King. Peter was a child of his culture, where power and change came with violence.

Are we so different? We are drawn to Jesus' ways, but they are often/always in direct opposition to the ways of our culture and the desires of our self/flesh. We feel pulled in both directions.

What we believe about Jesus affects the way we believe change will come about in the world.
If we stay with the conventional view of Jesus, we will get more of what we've already got.
If we're willing to believe in a Jesus who changes things by suffering and humility, then we might get somewhere.

Christian leaders through the ages have decided that Jesus' message is impractical and if we want to "get something done" then we're going to have to default to the form of leadership that seemed most natural to Caesar and us- pushing, shoving, making others bleed. (For their own good of course.)

When we talk about pursuing this different, humble vision of Jesus, we aren't talking about watering the down the Gospel.

We're saying it already got watered down.

And we need to reconstitute it.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Everything Must Change Conference

This weekend I'm attending a conference called "Everything Must Change" based on a book by the same name. Just in case you are interested, here's a stream of thought recap from the opening session:

Session 1: Waking Up From A Bad Dream. (w/Brian McLaren)
The problems the church has been trying to solve has had little to do with the real problems of the world. (Ex. We worry about music styles. The world worries about extreme poverty.)

Multiple lists have been developed of Global challenges. For an example, check out the 8 Millenium Developmental Goals.

Brian has tried to boil down the root causes of the top problems:
1. The Crisis of the Planet. Our society has created prosperity (the good life) that far outpaces the imagination of our ancestors, (ex: no ancient king had the simple pleasures of air conditioning and a hot shower we see as givens today) and overtaxes our closed eco-system (aside from the random asteroid, only solar energy comes in, aside from the random rocket, only heat goes out) which we are deeply connected to. We can't keep this pace up.
2. The Equity Crisis. The prosperity system is working well for 1 billion of the 6.6 billion people on the planet. (ex. the top 5% of the world's population hold 70% of the world's wealth, the remaining 95% hold only 30%) Even though significant numbers of people are coming out of extreme poverty, the gap between the rich and poor is growing wider and wider every year. (A child born in the Congo today has a life expectancy 40 years SHORTER than one born in the US)
3. The Security Crisis. If you feel there's no way to get a piece of the prosperity others have, you feel desperate and do whatever you can. (ex. terrorism) The rich and poor are becoming increasingly more armed to fight each other.
4. The Human Motivation Crisis. Why haven't people been motivated to fix these problems? People are motivated by the stories they frame their lives around. Religion provides core stories for most of the earth's population. The stories the major religions (Christianity & Islam- 53% of the world's peoples) are telling either aren't addressing the above crises or are making them worse. Christians especially are reading the stories of God looking for only certain themes (ex. eternal salvation) and missing others. (ex. bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to earth) "What you focus on determines what you miss."

Jesus introduced a new narrative. A good news story. A story of a Kingdom that comes through reconciliation, restoration, humility, sacrifice and love.

These crises aren't going away anytime soon. We need to re-claim a story that creates a way of life that makes sense in this crazy world.

We need to start dis-believing the old narratives that create these crises:
- Domination
(if we were in power, things would be better)
- Revolution (if they were out of power, things would be better)
- Scapegoating (it's their fault- get rid of "them" and things will get better)
- Isolation (We're screwed, let's pull back and take care of ourselves)

On the way into group discussions: "Listen each other into free speech"

Going into worship: "Worship is subversive. It's like giving the finger to all of the other things that demand our adoration."