Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I CALL PULPIT: Pog the Father

This is the second entry in a new series here at the Windshield (click here for Part One). Ever seen hypocrisy from leaders in the church? Ever felt uneasy about a ministry named after a minister? Ever gotten frustrated, broken-hearted or angry at church?

This is for you. Me. Us.

But instead of just complaining about it, we're going to call PULPIT! on these shenanigans and start to do something about it. The first step? We need to talk about it. Ergo, where this series comes from.

This series is also to celebrate the release of FINDING CHURCH from Civitas Press, which - yeah - I was a contributing author to. Click on the above link to grab a copy for yourself. And come back later in the coming weeks, because I'll be giving away a copy of the book. Or two.

Anyone remember Pogs?

Back in the mid to late 1990s, there was a huge boom - and subsequent bust - in collectibles that had mostly always been a fringe or niche industry. Someone, somewhere, got the BRILLIANT idea that marketing items which numbered in the hundreds of thousands as "Limited Edition" would drive up the price and demand of them, and as such, make them more desirable. Comic books. Baseball cards. Trading cards. Gone were the days of hearing about someone buying a paper grocery bag of old comics at a garage sale only to find a pristine copy of BATMAN #8 from 1941 in it. We wanted the foil-enhanced, prismatic, die-cut cover that would pay for putting our kids through college NOW.

This glut in the market continued to grow and grow until Pogs hit. The same people who had been buying case after case of brand new comics or cards, keeping them MINT! so as to retain their value, suddenly realized that the retailers who were profiting from their attempt to get rich quick were now trying to sell them collectible milk tops. 

Yes. 


Cardboard circles that were initially included under the lid of glass bottles.

And suddenly, collectors realized the emperor had no clothes.

People began to question exactly what it was as well as the why of what they had been buying into. The immediate drop off of purchases began to affect speciality stores to the post where numerous shops closed. The baseball card market is essentially dead today. Comic book shops are hemorrhaging readers on a weekly basis. Industries which had once been stables in the American culture for nearly a century are on the brink of extinction.

Clearly, this does not parallel many churches today. At all.

There are a number of churches that rely heavy on flash and hype to bring in people to them, whether it's a giveaway, stirring up controversy from the pulpit, or something equally as ludicrous. A pastor I know once actually considered putting an inflatable pool in the sanctuary, and at the start of the service, running from the back of the room in order to leap into the pool to illustrate making a BIG SPLASH for Jesus in the community. Other churches go to the other extreme and shy away from sermons which have any substantive content to them, sticking to messages that are more "attractive," or make us "feel better" instead of challenge us.

We are too busy offering milk (caps) and not meat.

Please bear in mind that while some might jump on this particular negative bandwagon, I am NOT attempting a critique or condemnation of the Emergent/Emerging movement as a whole. There are a number of "Contemporary" churches that are doing outstanding work and have amazing, Godly women and men leading them. These bodies do a phenomenal job in reaching out to those of us who have been burned, beaten, and belittled by the institutionalized church.

Also, I am not advocating a return to the hellfire & brimstone style of evangelism. Fear and guilt might make for good motivators to get people to respond to giving tithes, but they make for lousy ways to heal a broken, seeking heart.

If we look at the gospel itself, like - you know - we're supposed to, the message and the manner in which Christ spread it runs counter to the way many people speak about it today. The message itself is simple: love God, love others. Not just in word but in deed. Because let's be honest: if Christ had shown up today, I doubt He'd have a high Klout score or have gotten a lot of "Likes" for a Sermon on the Mount Facebook page. A simple message of love doesn't carry as much weight or seem as important as the latest five-point lesson on parenting.

A former professor of mine once remarked that the key to engaging students in a learning environment was to give them an equal balance of challenge and support. Too much challenge, and they might withdraw and close themselves off. Too much support, and they might attain a hyperactive sense of entitlement.

I think we need to adapt this to churches.

I love that many of my contemporaries who are now in leadership positions in church look at ways to enhance their messages through the use of object lessons or illustrations as an enhancement instead of the fulcrum upon which their entire message balances. But sadly, a disproportionate number still don't quite get what JD Salinger spoke about through the person of Holden Caufield in THE CATCHER IN THE RYE: people can smell a phony a mile away, be it a phony person or a phony message.

In what ways do you think the church might need to be bolder?

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Broken Hallelujah: Atypical

For one day this December, we long to open the gates wide to brokenness. To allow women and men of all ages to share their stories of hardship and redemption. 

Perhaps it’s a journey through abuse, or bullying, or maybe it’s drugs or alcohol or depression or homelessness or cutting or an eating disorder, but whatever it is, we want to put our arms around it and embrace it, and then let it go. It’s only in dialoguing with one another that we can find hope, and freedom. We don’t want to just dwell on the pain; we want to shine a light on the God in the story, on the redemption in it all.




It was the waking up in my kitchen in a pool of blood that came out of my nose after having blacked out that made me think, "You know, maybe these migraines might be a little bit more than just average."

For as long as I can recall, I've had headaches. Bad ones. The kind where you sit in a darkened room and just try to will your body to relax and pass out so you don't have to be awake for the pain you're going through. I dealt with constant headaches throughout middle school, high school, college, graduate school...missing the occasional class or even days of school, not because I was skipping out to do something fun, but because I was miserable.

As my age increased, so did the intensity with which these headaches occurred. They didn't come with great frequency, but when they hit, they hit hard. Even the mildest of things could trigger them: light, sound, touch, and so on. Yet because my mom (who, spoiler alert, is not a physician) called them "migraines," I self-medicated for decades with over the counter pain killers. It wasn't until one afternoon about ten years ago the scenario referenced above hit that I thought perhaps I should seek out some, you know, professional advice.

After seeing a physician who then referred me to a neurologist, and after a battery of MRI scans, one day I was finally given the name of what had been knocking me for a loop for years: atypical trigeminal neuralgia (ATN). (As a side note, I did take a slight ironic pleasure in noting that my diagnosis was for the "atypical" variety, given the location of the pain origin, my age, and gender. I loved the fact that I couldn't even get a neurological disorder right.) My neurologist suggested that I undergo a series of occipital nerve blocks to reduce or eliminate the pain. I was more than happy to accommodate this idea, because hey, anything beat the alternative, right?

Wrong.

Upon reading the materials provided to me, I noticed some of the side effects of the nerve blocks: tenderness in the area of the injections I could deal with; a sense of disorientation and loopiness I could deal with; the potential for a shift in my personality, including possible damage to my memories? Whoa.

This is the point where God and I started having words. Angry words.

During this season in my life, I was estranged from my family and had been so for years. Every romantic relationship I had ever had ended with Hindenburg-like results. My closest friends were all gone, having moved out of state after graduate school. I was even at "that point" in my faith journey where I was doubting, wrestling with, and openly debating my beliefs. It felt as if the only original part of my heart or life left was my personality: my humor, my sarcasm, my intellect and my wit. I argued with God that since I had already lost so much in my life by this point, it was absolutely unfair and unjust to ask for the last remaining vestige of the me of who I am to be sacrificed so much like Isaac upon the altar of my health.

I wish I could say that the fear of losing myself drove me back into the arms of God, that I was miraculously healed, and that life was full of puppies, happy moments, and cupcakes from that moment on. The reality is that I underwent a series of injections into the base of my skull that probably made me behave in an even weirder fashion than usual. A beautiful, amazing friend flew in to stay with me during my initial treatments so that I wouldn't have to go through it all alone (and to this day, she still doesn't realize what that gesture meant and that I owe her more than she realizes).

And I was still pissed off at God for allowing this to happen.

But although neither my health nor my faith were restored in a miraculous fashion, one thing was restored: a line of communication. Dialogue. Between me and my earthy family as well as my heavenly Father. When you stare down your own mortality as well as the fear of possibly losing yourself, you ego and sense of haughty self-importance begins to shrink. Some of the words were snippy, some were beautiful, but they were words spoken and not held captive on my tongue. And more than that, I felt as if they were received.

Even the snippy ones. Which, you know, I had to ask forgiveness for.

It turns out that all I needed (knock on wood) was that one year of treatments, as I've not had to have any since then. I still have to monitor my health, and I still get headaches, but nothing like what they have been. And it turns out that - like Abram before me - all I needed was to have the faith to be willing to make the sacrifice of changing my personality and not actually go through with plunging the knife. 

And to everyone who has met me since 2002: yes. This really is what I am like, and is the me I've been for most of my life. My personality didn't shift. I've always been this odd.

Fittingly, I've been listening to Jeff Buckley as I write about this Broken Hallelujah. He so eloquently called it "the minor fall and the major lift."

Fittingly, I fell on my knees.

In pain. In exhaustion.

And eventually, I was lifted and able to sing "Hallelujah" at the end of it all. 


At Prodigal Magazine, we believe in being real. Today, a number of the writers are hosting a linkupdetailing our journey to faith through the hard times. Our hope is to set the captives free, through dialogue, put our arms around a hurting blogging world, and show them that we care. Check the link to read the others stories in this series.

Monday, December 03, 2012

I CALL PULPIT: LeaderShift

This is the first in a new series here at the Windshield. Ever seen hypocrisy from leaders in the church? Ever felt uneasy about a ministry named after a minister? Ever gotten frustrated, broken-hearted or angry at church?

This is for you. Me. Us.

But instead of just complaining about it, we're going to call PULPIT! on these shenanigans and start to do something about it. The first step? We need to talk about it. 

Ergo, where this series comes from.





This series is also to celebrate the release of FINDING CHURCH from Civitas Press, which - yeah - I was a contributing author to. Click on the above link to grab a copy for yourself. And come back later in the coming weeks, because I'll be giving away a copy of the book. Or two.

I recently concluded a ten-plus-month stint as the Interim Minister of Students at a local church here in South Carolina. Despite having served for years at another church in a volunteer capacity in Youth and College Ministry and later stepping up as a Guest/Teaching Pastor at two other churches, this was my first - and potentially only - shot at vocational ministry.

To be fair, some of my friends may have differing opinions about this being my one-and-only chance; however, as I have written about before, there are a number of reasons why I don't see myself as prototypically designed for vocational ministry (although God may have other plans). Regardless, this particular experience taught me a lot about what I want, and conversely what I DON'T want, out of a church or a position within one. It also sadly reinforced for me a professional behavior pattern which I have seen modeled from some of the leaders I have served under.

Namely, regardless of which side of the pulpit you stand on, just be honest and be yourself.

Admit you don't know everything and you aren't an expert in every area. When one random Wednesday evening before the youth group activities even start, the first question out of a middle high student's mouth is "Do newborn babies possess a sin nature, or are they born innocent in the eyes of God," I knew it was going to be a LONG night. It's humbling, beautiful, and wonderful when people trust in your spiritual maturity enough to guide them, but remember you are JUST a guide. You are to lead them to the Source, and not be the source yourself.

You may have studied a lot, and may have a deep theological understanding about a great many things. But sometimes, a question is simply meant to be asked and not immediately answered - especially when what you might stammer out is some kind of half-baked response because you simply didn't want to utter the phrase "I don't know." Ignorance is not a sin; it's an opportunity for you to check your ego at the door (or check it at your diploma). Remember that you still have room to grow and for the Spirit to guide you while you don't lean on your own understanding.

Arms are to be raised in worship, not held out as a barrier. It's good to have and maintain healthy, appropriate boundaries between yourself and others, especially if you happen to be married. Conversely, just because you are a leader in or the leader of a church does not mean you are to be BFFs with every person in your congregation and text them back and forth at 2:00 am. There is a balance that can be struck, but sadly, many leaders set themselves apart or above from the ones they lead.

Too many times I've seen a pastor deliver a message and then either physically disappear after the service or emotionally disappear while they're out shaking the hands of people as they leave church. Christ loves His bride, and I truly doubt that He would ever duck out of or be spiritually distant in His receiving line. Sundays are meant to be celebrations, not obligations. Stop using the pulpit as a shield.

Additionally, if you can't or are unwilling to take your relationships past surface-level deep with the people who serve on staff with you, you may need to re-evaluate some of your leadership tactics. Again, no one is asking you to be bosom companions with everyone, but the people who see you the most outside of your family should not be the people whom you stay the furthest from.

God called you, not The Perfect Version of you. I don't know about you, but none of the times that I have served in a church have managed to supplant the me of who I am before I took on a leadership role. I found it humorous that by filling out an I-9 form I was somehow immediately transformed from "Sonny" to "Pastor," when nothing in me had changed. I still watched (and mildly obsessed) over DOCTOR WHO. I still ingested coffee by the gallon. I still (occasionally) acted like a big goof. I still was sarcastic in my humor. I still got angry. I still had bad days. There were days when I doubted myself, God, and what I was doing. And although I was in a paid position on a church staff, I somehow even managed to continue to sin.

Shocking, I know.

While I don't think I ever explicitly called attention to any of my failings ("Hey, guys, you will never guess what I was sexually lusting over today!"), I also never tried to hide it when I was having a bad day, when I wasn't feeling myself, and when I was struggling.  I was still the same person in my eyes; only now, other eyes saw me differently. And I did what I could to try and honor the eyes and hearts of those who looked up to me all the while remaining honest with the me that I knew me to be.

As leaders, we are called to lead by example, and if we set ourselves up as never having problems, we set an impossibly high bar for others. Too many people already exist under the church-imposed yoke of struggling to "be like Jesus," while the ones who are telling them to live that way don't struggle with pride or judgment; they relish in it. Just as with relational boundaries, there are things we can and should appropriately share about our spiritual struggles with one other. Maturity, wisdom, and discernment can guide us in illustrating how we have not lost the need for Christ to wash our feet again and again.

To Thine Own Self And All That Jazz. God made me the way I am. He gave me the talents and personality I have. And it was those gifts, as well as the reflection of Christ living in me, that someone in these churches thought worth having around. Who am I to be any less than who I am? Who am I to dishonor God by not being the me He made me to be?

What have been your experiences with honesty in the church? Have your leaders acted as the first among equals?

Monday, November 19, 2012

ThanksBlogging

Well, since last week was my birthday and this week is Thanksgiving, productivity has been - shall we say - absent. So I'm going to give myself a gift: the gift of taking a break. 

But beginning the first week in December, I'm coming back. With a vengeance. 

And I'm going to begin my first-ever series on my blog:

I Call Pulpit.

(Go on, say it out loud, and then realize what phrase it rhymes with...)

Ever seen hypocrisy from leaders in the church? Ever felt uneasy about a ministry named after a minister? Ever gotten frustrated, broken-hearted or angry at church?

This is for you. Me. Us. 

But instead of just complaining about it, we're going to call PULPIT! on these shenanigans and start to do something about it. 

So send me your questions, your thoughts, your ideas. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Heart of the Matter

I've been a lot more self-revealing on this blog as of late. I'm not sure if it's because of a drive and desire to, or just that I've gotten more mature. Okay, it's probably not the last option, but since my birthday is coming up - the birthday that will firmly entrench me as approaching my mid-forties - I have become more transparent and introspective.

Case in point...

A little over a month ago, I was diagnosed with Secondary Hypertension. I had gone to see my physician because of a pain/pressure I felt just below my ribcage. When she ran a routine test of blood pressure it yielded a reading of 160/105. Bear in mind that this wasn't taken after I'd done a 5K or anything. The most strenuous or stressful moment I'd had that morning was trying to make sure the blueberry muffins didn't burn.

I had no clue what those numbers represented. From what I've been told, high blood pressure tends to run in my family. When I'd go to the doctor and get a reading that was elevated, I tended to just dismiss it as those wacky Lemmons genes up to their zany tricks again. Given the look of alarm on the doctor's face this morning, I quickly figured out that unlike in academia, the higher numbers didn't mean I'd gotten a GOOD score. She ordered a nurse to come in and suck out several vials of blood so that they could run some tests and see what else was screwed up with me. After that, she gave me a prescription for some tiny little pills that were supposed to help regulate the fact my heart was, apparently, messed up.

So of course, I now began to become hyper-aware of every twinge of pain, tingle, or itch on or in me. My Internet browser history revealed a growing love affair with WebMD. And the weeks that followed saw me becoming more Mulder-like in trying to find a conspiracy behind every unexplained ache or odd feeling.

Ashley, bless her heart, has tried to be supportive while simultaneously attempting to bring my paranoia back down to earth by telling me, "You're the same person you were before you found out about this. Nothing about you has changed. You now simply know more than you did." And while she is right and I agree that nothing inherently about me has changed (I haven't sprouted wings, and I still identify myself as a Sarcastic American), some things about me have changed.

I'm becoming more aware of my body, my antiquated biological age, and some of the issues that can come with getting older. But just because I'm starting to know about the possibility of what could happen, it doesn't mean I should become obsessed with it. This, like all my other Magical Medical Mystery Maladies, are just part of me. Any of these could wipe me out just as easily as a random falling meteor could - although being struck down by a meteor would make for a killer tombstone inscription.

I could easily obsess and distress over this, but why would I? Why should I? I don't  need the makeup of my heart to change; I just need to be more aware of what is going on inside my heart.

And yes: there's a HUGE spiritual parallel to be found in that. Go on. Go grab some coffee, and come back to mull it over for a bit.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Guest Blog: Finding Rest

Today, I have the honor of guest blogging for Ed Cyzewski over at In A Mirror Dimly. I first "met" Ed on Twitter, and I had the blessing of getting to know him in real life during my trip to Story in Chicago. Ed's an amazing writer (if you've not purchased Hazardous, you need to go stand in the corner & think about how bad you've been), and someone I am blessed to call friend - and happy that we are actively pursuing keeping our friendship growing. 


After three-plus years of being a full-time stay-at-home dad, I think I’ve learned a little bit about parenting. Factor in the writing (both paid and out of love) that I do on the side, the speaking I do at churches in the area, the day-to-day responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, and – oh, yeah – not completely ignoring my wife, and I’d say I’ve also learned a little bit about time management.
And I’ve learned a lot about sleep deprivation.
Read the rest (pun intended) over at Ed's site.  

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Skool Lurnin' Dun Me Rite

Here's a little known fact about yours truly: my undergraduate degree is in Music. Music Education, to be precise. I realize that some may not be shocked at all to learn that I didn't major in English, writing, philosophy, or the like ("A REAL writer or theologian wouldn't be limited to such a minuscule blog as this..."). Others may be thinking "Wow. Glad to see that student loan debt of yours is justifiable, since you're actively using your education so much." Still others may find humor in that it took me five years to complete a BM.

Personally, I still to this day giggle over the fact that the beginning and the end of my tenure in higher education was spent working with students, helping them to decide on what to major in and what career to pursue. If that's not proof that God doesn't redeem your past and loves irony, then I can't help you.

'music' photo (c) 2010, Tom Woodward - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/One of the main reasons I was a music major as an undergrad? For the longest time, people had told me that I was a gifted singer. And for someone who in high school had such an amazingly low sense of self-worth and self-esteem, those words breathed life into me. Of course, no one ever bothered to tell me what the heck I should DO with a degree in music outside of directing a junior high choir or becoming a barista/starving artist.  And so I pursued a degree in what I thought was the only thing I was good at.

Although I spent half a decade studying chord progressions, music theory, learning to sing in multiple languages, and purging the last vestiges of a Southern dialect and drawl from my voice, what I learned at the end of my first degree wasn't so much about the composition of music as it was about the composition of my life.  

...which makes it fitting that my first degree is a literal and metaphorical Bachelor of ME.

Life threw pop quiz after pop quiz at me about subjects I had never studied and was not prepared for. I failed most of the tests. The finals did, indeed, feel FINAL at times. And yet I still kept coming back, reenrolling semester after semester. I wish beyond anything that I could have taken a CLEP test and escaped some of the lessons I was to learn.

Dropping out wasn't an option. Even Psalm 139 told me there was no place I could go, nowhere I could have run to. Life was going to confer something amazing on me, with all the rights and privileges thereof.

Although the time spent on obtaining my first degree was limited, my life's education isn't terminal. There is still a learning curve, to be sure, and mercifully, there are do-overs aplenty. And despite that some might (justifiably) argue that I wasted five years on a degree I never use, I can still smirk as I flip my tassel from one side to the next. I knew the guy who wore the robe on that day in May. He was not the same kid who enrolled in the Fall five years prior. He had fallen, risen, learned, forgotten some lessons only to learn them again, and even managed to make a new name for himself.

And his educational degree, like his lessons from the school of hard knocks, prepared him better for the next degree to come.

Now, as to why my music has for the most part fallen by the wayside? That's a heartbreaking story for another day.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Dear Rachel:

It's not that you grew up outside of Birmingham, roughly two and half hours from where I lived and grew up in Mississippi. I mean, it practically makes us neighbors (of a sort), but there's more.

It's not that you have helped to disprove the theory that everyone who roots for or loves the University of Alabama wasn't held enough as a child. I mean, we are rivals (of a sort - Hail State), but there's more.

It's not that you're a gifted and articulate speaker. I mean, your smile and laugh alone can alone instill quiet (of a sort) and disarm some of your detractors, but there's more.

It's that there is a genuine warmth in your words that comes across on the printed page.

It's that when I met you, you had such a welcoming and honest spirit that it put my inner fanboy at ease. You treated me as a friend, and not someone who just happens to read your blog. And you were that way with every person that came up to you. 

It's that there is such heart, such passion, and such intelligence behind everything you do. Yes, even the camping out in a tent bit.

It's that what you write shakes me from a complacency in my faith that I may have settled in to, and causes me to live a life that - well, lives out in word and deed that which I claim to believe.

It's that you have taught me so much. I imagine that the years I struggled with my faith, questioning it all while shaking an angry fist at the sky, would have been better had I known I was not as alone as I felt I was. 

It's that you invite the marginalized, the ignored, and the cast out to the table and say "Tell me - tell us - your story." It's the 21st century equivalent of foot washing, showing honor to many that the church would prefer to silence.

Kids of all ages - regardless of gender -
LOVE reading about biblical womanhood!
It's that every time my kid sees your photo on my laptop, he says "Daddy, it's your friend Wachel!" As he grows older, reading your words will help him to know that everyone, regardless of gender, race, socioeconomic standing, or sexual orientation, is a beautiful child of God and can and does deserve respect. It will help him know that mom and dad aren't the only people of faith who think and act that way, despite what mainstream Christian culture might show him.

Some may say you're mocking. I say you're not afraid to investigate. A faith that does not hold up under scrutiny is not a faith I want to take part in. Besides, you are fierce to defend our faith to those who would detract it, and yet comfortable enough in your beliefs to question some of what is said MUST be done.

(Plus, the God we serve has to have a bit of snark in Him. After all, we do. Since we are made in His image, God must love sarcasm. Trust the theology of the quick wit.)

Rachel Held Evans. It's been an honor to get to know you as a person and not just as an online presence. I am humbled by your even knowing my name. You, my friend, are a true woman of valor. Eschet chayil!

And "Roll Tide." 

This blog entry was written as part of a surprise synchroblog event to support the work of Rachel Held Evans and to celebrate the launch of her new book A Year Of Biblical Womanhood, available at finer non-biased bookstores everywhere.

To read the other entries in the synchroblog, click here

Friday, October 26, 2012

Book Review: A Year of Biblical Womanhood

When I stated reading A YEAR OF BIBLICAL WOMANHOOD, I found myself doing something I rarely if ever do: forcing myself to slow down. That's part of the challenge behind this book: you want to just sit and ingest as many of Rachel's words as you possibly can, but you also want to stop and savor the beauty of the narrative she is unfolding. In roughly 300 pages, Rachel Held Evans manages to successfully challenge the misconception that "living biblically" - based on gender roles - can be distilled into a series of rules and regulations.

(c) 2012 Rachel Held Evans
What stood out to me as one of the greatest positives about the text is what many may find as one of its greatest negatives; namely, unlike 99% of the books published in the evangelical Christian community, this book does not ever give a "how to" guide or numerically provide "easy steps" on how to live out biblical womanhood. I'll admit, even though I loathe to read those kinds of books, I halfway found myself looking for those at the conclusion of each chapter. This speaks more to the conditioning we have come to expect out of Christian texts and not how the Bible states we are to live.

This is just one of the many ways Rachel's book shatters expectations. The book is fun without being disrespectful or irreverent to the source material. Her story is personal but universal in application. Her voice shines through in the story she tells, and it is obvious that Rachel the author documenting this experience and Rachel the person undergoing this transformation are one and the same. She does not try to distance herself or the reader from the positive or the negative experiences during the year she writes about. In many ways, it feels as if as a reader you are taking this journey with her. This is due in part to her comfortable, inviting style of writing, but also because of the insights and "aha" moments that are revealed as Rachel scrapes away the veneer of rules-based Christian living so many women - and men - find themselves bound to.

To be fair, the book isn't perfect. But then again, neither the book nor the author ever made the claim that this is THE book on what biblical womanhood should be written by THE authority on the subject - which is a remarkably refreshing perspective for a faith-based book. Rachel simply took the idea that half of the population of Christians everywhere have been told there is only one limited way to behave or have a role to play in our faith, and challenged the readers to examine the biblical text and what we have been told is the only interpretation of it. Of course many will see this as heretical, questioning the established ways in which church and life operates, and they will do and say all that they can to cast her in the most negative light imaginable.

After two-plus millennia of repeating the same pattern of trying to silence these voices, you'd think church leaders would get a clue and stop trying to crucify the people they disagree with. I fear for who they offer as Barabas to the masses this time out. 

Love God. Love others. That's how every day of every year of biblical life for women and men should be lived out. And (SPOILER ALERT) that's what Rachel admonishes at the end of her book. 

While many might take offense at suggesting this as a book one "Must Read," it most assuredly is a book you "Should Read." 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Prodigal: Listen

Today officially marks the beginning of my regular contributions to Prodigal Magazine - read on below for an excerpt, then click on the link at the bottom to read the rest of it. I am insanely grateful to Darrell for asking me to join in here. You should all email him a note of thanks or send him chocolate. 


“Hey, buddy? Did you hear what I just said?”
“Yeah, daddy. Yeah” was the practically-rote response my three and a half year old gave to me while sitting at his desk. He was eating graham crackers and drinking a juice box while the exploits of Grover, Ernie, Bert, and Cookie Monster played out on the television screen before him. It was early in the afternoon, relatively soon after he had woken up from his nap. And although I was trying to talk to him…

—I was clearly not as interesting as puppets singing about plastic bath toys.

A few minutes earlier, a sound that resembled a large, metallic crash had come from our backyard. I slipped on my sandals and was about to head out the back door to investigate the championship wrestling match that a couple of squirrels had undoubtedly gotten into, but I wanted him to know where I was going. Kai is accustomed to me going outside to take the recycling to the street corner, rescue errant balls that roll off the patio, and the like. But just to be safe, I told him for a third time “Kai, daddy is going to go to the backyard to see what that big noise was, okay? You sit right here, and I’ll be back in just a minute, alright? …Malakai? Did you hear what I just said?”
“Yeah, daddy. Yeah.”
Forget “cookie;” “C” is obviously for “complacent.”

Click here to read the rest of the story....

Monday, October 22, 2012

Now

Let me begin by debunking a few common myths about having a child: first, the so-called "Terrible Two's?" They're not that bad. Really. Ask any parent. Things truly take a turn for the worse when they turn three (which not too ironically is half of one of the numbers of the Beast). At two, kids are just beginning to exhibit their independence. Them saying "No" is not the problem. It's when at three, when they can better articulate their argument about why they don't want to wash their hands, go to bed, or eat anything other than French fries for dinner, that parenting gets frustrating.

Also, from the time they become self-propelled (wobbly though it may be) to the point when they are entering the preschool phase of life, as a parent you feel like you almost needed to watch them like a hawk else they stage-dive into an empty bathtub, try to eat to dog food kibbles, or finger-paint their own episode of GO, DIEGO GO onto the flat screen. Again, by the time they reach age three, things change and a little alone playtime isn't a bad thing. You're not going to single-handedly re-codify their MBTI Personality by letting them fly solo for a little.

Just remember: moderation, in all things, is the key.

Recently I've caught myself in the bad habit of saying "wait," or "not now" to Kai with much greater frequency than I ever anticipated I might. Part of this comes from the way he and I have interacted for the last three-plus years: I'm always there, always playing with him, always reading to him, always ready with yet another pack of Gummy Bears. As such, he expects me to be a readily-available plaything 24/7. Because I'm trying to instill in him a moderate sense of it being okay to be alone for a while, I've been trying for both of us to be okay with, for example, me being in the kitchen while he plays with his Legos in his room for a few minutes. But I'd be lying if I didn't also say I've at times "deferred" portions of our playtime because what he wanted to do wasn't convenient to my time, to my plan of what was supposed to be done then.

This isn't me being cruel or ignoring my child, nor is this me intentionally choosing something as more important than him. Both of us taking a break every so often isn't a bad thing. What I've come to understand is that when I do this with such alarming frequency, I'm acting like a parent.

Not like a dad.

And yes: there is a difference.

Kai is simply looking for someone to play with, to spend time with, and he is choosing me. When I continually say "wait" or "not now," those seconds count. They add up to minutes, hours, days when we're not involved with one another - and I know when he gets older, I will regret each and every time I put something that COULD wait before him. There's a world of difference in being dependent on me and being codependent with me. I need to not carve out a gulf between us physically or chronologically, else it becomes an emotional one. Again: taking a break every so often isn't bad.

But nothing...nothing...should be more important than my family. Nothing.

My lawyer has advised me that love does. I've also come to realize that love acts.

And sometimes - love is just plain silly.

It's still appropriate for me as his dad to say "wait" or "not now" to some things - when I've been handing raw chicken and he wants to climb up me, for example - but saying "yes" is much more fun and much more prone to making lasting memories between us. Dress up like a superhero before we head out to the grocery store? Yes. Go on a spy mission in the backyard? Yes. Have a parade on the front porch of our house to celebrate Crazy Thursdays? Yes.

These memories will last longer in our hearts than they will as a blog post or Tweet, anyway.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Book Review: How To Turn Your Marriage Around in 10 Days

Ordinarily, the idea of reading a book on marriage seems about as appealing as getting a root canal after using an actual tree root to bludgeon me unconscious.  Far too often, well-meaning writers (and pastors) take a subject and topic that is incredibly complex and try to boil it down to the easiest, solvable, paint-by-numbers method imaginable, often leaving out core subjects and ideas, and ultimately ending with the pithy idea of "taking it all to God in prayer" as a method of wrapping it with in a nice, neat, theologically-weak bow. So I went into Philip Wagner's How To Turn Your Marriage Around in 10 Days with a touch of cynicism and eye-rolling, expecting to be disappointed yet again with a book that doesn't know how to deliver what it promises.

I love it when I am proven wrong.


In this guide, Wagner lays out ten days' worth of exercises designed for spouses to work on individually and collectively, although the "ten days" portion is a bit of a misnomer; there's actually enough actionable material contained within each chapter that a couple could spend ten weeks utilizing one section each week and still not get bored. Every chapter not only contains a story from his own marriage, but many contain additional narratives taken from couples he knows. Instead of this coming across as padding for the chapters, it reinforces a key concept married couples sometimes forget in their struggles: you are not the only couple who has ever experienced something like this. Taking that sense of struggle from the isolation ward we often place it in and realizing there are communal pains is perhaps one of the greatest strengths of this book.

What I loved about Wagner's method of approaching a marriage is that it pretty much mimics Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs: the core needs must be met first before we can progress on. In Evangelical Christianity, we erroneously think that maybe we should pray more (or harder) or study the Bible more (or harder) as the answer to relational issues without realizing that in doing so, we ignore the basics of our relationship, and sometimes we become harder. Wagner approaches the topic of marriage from the standpoint of it being between two individuals and not two names on a church roster, and that thematically makes all the difference in how his tone comes across.

The concept Wagner used that struck me as IT was summed up in the phrase "Love demands that we climb." Instead of falling back on the exhausted meme "marriage is work," Wagner continually refers to the imagery of a relationship as taking place on a ladder, going one rung at a time, and not progressing further up until the rung we are on is stable, fixed, and can bear the weight of the climb ahead. Or to use some of his chapter titles, "Play" should not come before "Forgiveness."

Like all good albums, there's a "bonus track" chapter included, which encourages the reader to be an active participant and engage in an ongoing refinement of the exercises in this guide. Although the book isn't perfect (for one thing, the constant references to "men and sex" got to be a little distracting if not repetitive), it's relatively thorough and comprehensive in what it covers, and manages to give advice that is not only sincere but humorous at times.

This is not not kind of marriage guide one would read once then put a shelf thinking "well, that was okay." Neither, interestingly enough, is it a marriage guide that I would say is written exclusively for a Christian audience. To be certain, the book is rooted structurally and philosophically within a Christian framework and with a biblical foundation. Yet unlike other "Christian marriage guides," How To Turn Your Marriage Around in 10 Days contains not only enough quality material that a couple in an interfaith relationship or those who come from a different faith background could find material and ideas on how to strengthen their relationship, and it could simultaneously stand as an example of Christian literature that is not surface-level and is incredibly real in expressing the struggles we as people In loving, committed relationships experience.

Really. It's just that good.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Pitching to Shoeless Joe Jackson

I have an obsession with Field Of Dreams, one which has only intensified over the decades since I first saw it. I think I've managed to hyper-analyze this movie from every possible angle and apply it to my life: father issues; finding your calling; pursuing dreams when the world around you says you're nuts; hearing a disembodied voice speaking words of challenge and encouragement to your soul; and growing corn (okay, this one maybe not so much). During the Story Conference in Chicago, I managed to pull out another set of life parallels with this film simply by knowing where the food trucks with shorter lines were located.

The first day of the conference was rich with meeting people in person whom I knew online, and trying to decide if our avatars matched up with what we looked like in flesh and blood. Individuals whose words have challenged and moved my soul were among the sea of hugs and handshakes I found myself in. Once the sessions for the morning were over, I found myself standing in a group as we chatted about what one of the presenters had just spoken on. We were still inside the auditorium and apparently taking up valuable space, because one of the volunteers came to shoo us out so they could set up for the afternoon.

After my group got outside, we saw the insane line of people that snaked around the parking lot as they all tried to hit up the food trucks outside our building. I mentioned I had seen some restaurants that morning as I walked to the conference, so we decided to walk a block up to see what was available. Once we had all purchased our respective meals and sat down on the concrete to eat, I took a moment to just soak in the absurdity of the situation I found myself in.

I was sitting next to Rachel Held Evans. Matthew Paul Turner was snapping photos. Ryan was to my immediate left. Ed was directly in front of me. Alise was just off to my right.

And then...there was me. Eating a calzone, surrounded by writers. REAL writers.

'Kids Field at Talking Stick' photo (c) 2011, Dru Bloomfield - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/There's a scene in Field of Dreams, where after Ray Kinsella has heard The Voice, plowed under his crop, and has waited patiently after constructing a baseball diamond in the middle of a cornfield, Shoeless Joe Jackson finally appears. After having a virtually wordless conversation with Shoeless Joe, Ray utters to himself one of my favorite lines from the movie: 


"I am pitching to Shoeless Joe Jackson."

It was as if comparative to this moment, all the other crazy crap he had done was relatively sane. It was as if he was questioning who was he to be pitching to this legend and giant in his field. It was as if this was one of those watershed moments that he will remember with a smile on his lips every time the memory comes to his mind for the rest of his life.

Clearly, I didn't relate to this in the least.

Later that afternoon, when whomever was speaking about whatever topic they were going on about (my brain was still mush and trying to process it all), I heard a Voice speaking to me. Well, not so much "speaking" as "making me feel and understand something which had been vacant in me for so long that I wasn't even aware of its absence:"

"This is where you are meant to be. This is where I've wanted you to be all along.

"Everything. All the pain, heartbreak, joy and insanity in your life that you have struggled through, cried over, and been reborn into has brought you to this moment for a reason.

"Don't question if you have a right to be here. Don't you dare question if you have a right to be here.

"What and whom I have called worthy, don't you call unworthy. Especially yourself."

I am equals with Shoeless Joe Jackson. And apparently, everyone mentioned above...which is both humbling, empowering, and nausea inducing. I also suppose this means I should stop looking down on myself and actually look up. When you engage with the people around you, you're supposed to look at them, not your own insecurities and doubts. 

I may never have been drafted into a league, but I've managed to be included on a team. A tribe. And not as a tag-along or a mascot, but one of the ones intended to be included.

Guess it's time to see if I can "go the distance."

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Guest Post: Worse Than An Unbeliever

Today, I have the honor of being my friend Matt's lead-out guest poster on a new series about gender roles in the church and family at his site The Church of No People. I've known Matt for three years or so now, and every time I get to see him in person (and that one time on Skype, which we REALLY need to repeat), he always floors me with how genuine, open, and kind he is. Why he chooses to hang out with my sarcastic self is anyone's guess. :)


There are many things I’ve received over the past three years from strangers once they discover I am a stay-at-home dad: high fives, smiles of approval, and the occasional cup of coffee or cookie – all freely given by people who see me interact with or hear me tell stories about my kid. But then there are some Christians, fellow believers, who condemn me sight unseen because of how my wife and I are raising our son.
They will know we are Christians by our love. …as long as our love lines up with one interpretation of the Bible, incomplete though this interpretation may be.
Click here to read the rest of the article. And while you're there, feel free to leave a comment at his site.