Nice cycling weather is finally here.
I’m also mad.
Nice cycling weather is finally here.
I’m also mad.
Why did I miss pushing publish on yesterday’s blog you ask? Because I have incredible friends, that’s why! In the midst of this busy season, with a whole bunch of demands on my time, a good friend of mine called and asked if I wanted to go to the hockey game last night. After I said yes, he informed me that they were club level seats. I said yes again.
Now, it doesn’t hurt to see the Penguins win an absolutely must-win game in dramatic fashion. It doesn’t hurt to see Sidney Crosby tee up on a few slap shots and one-timers mere feet away from my face. It really doesn’t hurt when Phil Kessel, legendary Penguins icon, flicks off the coach for challenging the goal he just scored.
But all of that taking a break and enjoying life got me thinking about how busy we all are, and how messed up it is that we all brag about it. I know that I do. I know that for as much as I’ve been posting in the last week about how much I have going on, that is both a complaint, a request for sympathy, and at the same time a brag on myself. “Do you see how important I am? People need my attention, so I must be great!”
Eugene Peterson was recently on my case about this in a book he wrote called The Contemplative Pastor. One of the central characteristics Peterson would most like to see in us is that we be “Un-Busy Pastors.” He would like us to have our calendars free enough so that when someone wants to meet and pray with us, we can do that. He wants us to be un-busy enough to ensure that our sermons aren’t last minute cram sessions, but prayerful expressions of what God is doing in the life of the world. He wants us to be un-busy. And I want that too.
And it’s not just pastors. I think most of us tend to use our busy-ness to brand and to feel a sense of self-worth. Your self-worth and mine do not come from how full our wallets or calendars are. It comes from the God of Grace who reminds us again and and again that we are loved, that we are cherished, and that we are God’s.
So maybe today, headed in to the weekend, we can be a little less busy? Maybe we could take a few moments for the sacred art of taking a breath? Maybe we could unwind? And maybe, just maybe, the Pens will pull out another show-stopper for us tomorrow night.
Author’s Note: Ok, so the streak probably looks pretty dead to you! But I wrote this yesterday, and then got distracted, and didn’t get a chance to hit publish. That’s on me. So, two posts today!
Last night I had one of those moments in ministry. There aren’t many like it. Most of the moments in ministry, at least in a pretty large congregation like Westminster, are chaotic. Running from meeting to meeting, planning events, looking at budgets, sending and receiving e-mail. There’s a lot of “stuff.”
For instance, my day yesterday: I went to an 8:30 am clergy breakfast. I came back to the office to finish writing my bible study. I filmed our announcement show, in which I puked up cereal. I finished the talk for youth group. At 4:00 I went down the hall and lead our Wednesday Bible Study. At 5:00 I hung out with students and talked life with them over fried food. At 6:00 I spoke to high school students about prayer and how sometimes we can loose sight of God. And then at 7:00 I ran back down the hall to my office, put my robe on, and got ready for our Ash Wednesday Service.
I had made the offer to the high school students that they could either come to the Ash Wednesday service, or go ahead downstairs with some of our volunteers and play kickball. Knowing our high school students as I do, I had assumed they would all prefer the later. But as I sat in up front in our sanctuary preparing myself for worship, I saw 5-10 of our kids walk in the back and have a seat. I leaned over to my colleague and friend Louise and said “Dibs.”
When it came time for the imposition of ashes, I made sure that I was the one to be offering ashes to my students. There is so much of ministry we do that is un-embodied. I can’t think of a less embodied act than sending an e-mail to let someone know where the coffee filters are. I barely need to be anywhere to do that. And yet, on Ash Wednesday, I reached out and physically touched people. I reminded them that we are dust, and to dust we will return. I reminded them that this life we’re holding on to is fragile, so we need to have our priorities straight. I reminded them that while this is the beginning of a Lenten journey, we know how this story ends, don’t we?
There was something about that last night that was really beautiful, especially when it came to the youth group. Obviously I’m a pastor to everyone, but I know their stories better. They are the ones who come in to my office after school to tell me what happened at lunch that day. They are the ones who cry on my couch when the boy breaks their heart. They are the ones who live life in community with each other, and invite me in almost daily. It was something special to give ashes to them.
I wish more of ministry was embodied like that. I wish more of ministry was in the physical realm, and not just e-mail and blog posts. And what’s nice about being a pastor is that slowly, all too slowly, I can start to make ministry more embodied. I can turn the tide of what’s expected of us as pastors and bring it back to what I think Jesus would have wanted. A shared life, and stories to spare.
Let’s live in to the Ashes my friends.
In addition to the habit of trying to keep a daily J-Blog going, I decided that it would be a good idea to run a daily lectionary commentary on the blog on the Westminster website (click here if you just can’t get enough of J’s writing). So, I’m a bit crazy, aren’t I? Especially one day after nearly falling off the habit of the daily J-Blog, it seems ambitious and crazy to try to run two of these each and every day.
And truth be told, while this runs counter to just about every single book or blog or YouTube video I’ve consumed on the topic of making habits work, I like when I can be a bit crazy. I like when I have a wild idea that seems so messed up there’s no possible way it will work. There is something about the challenge of that, the insanity, the looks on the faces of people that say “There’s no way he will be able to keep that up” that keeps me going. Maybe I won’t be successful. Maybe I’ll fall off the wagon here and there. But I’m certainly going to give it my all, and see what comes of it.
On that same topic, I was at a meeting this morning where a kind man from the JCC was telling us what they were up to in Pittsburgh. His whole message was that the concept of “Love your neighbor as yourself” wasn’t so much a Scripture as it has been a long held value for the world’s religions. So he and his team have dedicated themselves to cultivating a community that embodies that value. It is sad to me how creating and sustaining a community that loves our neighbors as ourselves strikes me as every bit as crazy as trying to keep two daily blogs going at the same time. It feels like a big project. Why is that such a hard thing? I mean has our political discourse really devolved to the point that it’s an uphill battle to imagine a nation where our first instinct was to love, rather than to argue? To care rather than condemn? To be kind rather than cruel? Maybe it is crazy. But I’m going to work on that too.
Welp, that didn’t take long!
Yes, it’s nearly 10 pm and I’m just now getting to blogging. The last 24 hours have been…interesting.
Last night our sweet Joshy boy started coughing. And then coughing a little more. And then coughing a lot more. Getting him to sleep seemed like a losing battle, so we tried a play from the old playbook, when they were babies. I was going to drive them around until they fell asleep in the car. So we buckled in and went for a drive. And Joshy coughed. And coughed. And coughed a whole bunch. And then when we were at the turn around point, also known as the point at which I could do nothing about it at all, Joshy threw up. I don’t want to get gross, but I’m talking exorcism level puking.
We got home and took care of things, and Sarah and I decided to take shifts with our sweet boy on the couch. All of this led to me being awake from 4 am on, and this was a busy day.
In fact, there was a game once a long time ago where Mario Lemieux scored five goals, all five possible ways (Even strength, Power play, Short Handed, Penalty Shot, Empty Net), and I realized in this season, specifically the month of March, I am scheduled to do, at least once, everything a pastor can do. Preaching, weddings, funerals, baptism, communion, liturgist, worship leader. And I know, some of you are solo pastors for whom this is your daily reality. But I’m an associate who quite happily sits back and preaches once a month, so I’m getting some whip lash if you know what I mean. But, I’m excited for the challenge, and I’m ready to let my metaphorical mullet fly.
All to say, exactly one day after saying I was going to re-establish my habits, things almost fell apart. I am just now sitting down at the table to do the lectionary, to blog, and to log my meals. I missed the gym and there’s not much I can do about that. But tonight represents a moment of discipline, because while I’d really like to go to bed now, I’m getting this done. Because self-change is slow work, but it also has to be intentional work. I don’t want to let one bad day ruin the whole enterprise.
If you’re like me, and you’re trying to figure out some new habits, stick with it. Even when things get hard, the work will be worth it. I promise.
So if you’ve been following the J-Blog for any length of time, you know that this year I had every intention of blogging each and every week day for 2019. And I was doing pretty ok through January. And then February hit. And…
Things got stressful at work, and then each and every single living creature in our house came down with some sort of ailment, and then I came up with even more excuses, and one thing led to another and I fell off the wagon.
I think this is probably true of anyone who has a resolution for a new year. If you make it through January you’re insane. If you make it through February people will build monuments for you. But most are like me, they get a little bit of the way through and they fall apart. Falling apart is ok, it happens to everyone in just about every aspect of life in some way or another. The question is what will you do when you fall apart?
It occurs to me that January 1st 2019 is an arbitrary date to start listing off the habits you’re going to stick to. The capacity to make myself new, to try to improve myself, to get the habits I want to have accomplished, is as much available to me on March 4th as it is on January 1st. And so, I’m diving back in. I had a little inspiration for this from a YouTuber I discovered recently named Levi Allen:
I want to establish some habits of excellence (TM?) for myself, and I feel like I’m as able to do that in March as I was in January. So, here are the habits that I’m going to be working on this month (with a bonus to be explored later):
Daily Lectionary: Each day I want to wake up and be in the word, and to work through the prayers in the book of common worship. I was really on fire with this for a little while, and then again I came up with excuses. But I started fresh today, so I’m 1/1!
J-Blog: I want to write something on this blog every day. I’m a creative person, and I need an outlet for that creativity. When I fall behind on the blog, I notice that I’m less creative in other areas of my life as well. So, each and every weekday I want to be here with you all working through life’s challenges and joys.
Log my food: I was doing really well with the weight loss challenge thing, and then again fell apart. So I’m going to be using the app Lose It! to get myself back on track, and to be really healthy when cycling season rolls around. (Pun not intended but appreciated)
As Levi said, this could be fun to do in community. So in the comments below, do you have a habit that needs a March refresh? Let us know, and we’ll cheer each other on!
I took an intentional week off last week to get away and do some songwriting and reading. I’m super excited about some of the music that I brought home with me, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you all soon! Stay tuned!
But for today, I’m thinking a lot about bears.
I think that cyclists are a good bit like bears. Summertime we’re extremely active. Winter comes, and we curl up inside with a whole bunch of fattening food and we hibernate. We call it quits. We take extra naps.
Now, I’m trying to manage my hibernation a little bit. I’ve been pretty good about getting to the gym for spin classes and weight lifting. These things are active, and a little bit like riding a bike, but they are not riding a bike. They are a cheap substitute. They are like wanting a gourmet steak and settling for the McDonald’s drive through. But, I’m in hibernation mode, so I convinced myself that I was fine with all of this.
And then Thursday happened.
It was 60 degrees outside, so I grabbed the bike and went to South Park for a ride. I didn’t have a whole lot of time, but I made the most of what I had. I hit up a couple of hills. I had to negotiate closed road gates, because the roads I usually hit up were closed for the winter. I felt the wind in my hair. I wore fingerless gloves. I remembered what I loved about this sport.
I think hibernation is over.
Starting Wednesday this week, I’m taking the bike to work. I don’t care what the weather is. Sure it’ll be cold. There may even be some snow. But I miss it too much. Every morning that I wake up and take my car to work, my bright orange bike stares at me with tears in its eyes. So I’m going to take it out a bit more. I’m gonna get the tires wet. I’m going to ride.
The bear is waking up. Time to get on the bike!
When I awoke this morning, and my thermometer in my car read -1 degrees, I was distraught. I am in my very bones a cyclist, and I want to ride my bike. -1 is not the kind of weather one tends to desire when thinking about riding a bike. And so I was kind of grumpy.
But then, someone will always come along and make me grumpier on a day like today with a single sentence. I have heard it from a variety of sources, most notably recently from the President of the United States. When I hear this sentence, my desire is to throw something through a plate glass window, mostly to enjoy the destructive force. The sentence in question?
“Where’s global warming when you need it?”
Ok, let’s break a few things down and then get to the real heart of the issue.
1. Global Warming is better referred to as Climate Change for this exact reason. Yes, the globe is getting hotter year over year over year, but that doesn’t always manifest itself in every single local at every time. Why?
2. Because weather is not climate. Pittsburgh’s climate contains (and has always contained) 100+ degree days, right along with -1 degree days. That’s our climate, and our climate is the reason I spend my days looking at real estate in California. But that’s beside the point. What’s changing is the edges of that climate are getting warmer over time.
3. This current cold snap that basically the entire country is experiencing? Scientists (who we should all start listening to a little more) tell us that it is because of warmer water in the oceans pushing up against the arctic air above them, and that arctic air is now parked outside my house and office. So, the reason it’s so unbearably cold outside right now? You guessed it: Climate change.
Climate change is not up for debate. Reasonable people can argue about whether or not it is man-made (I think it is), but to deny climate change is to ignore the reality of what’s going on right outside our door. Here’s my question though, asked as a pastor who gets a pulpit from time to time: Why is Climate Change not more of a Christian issue? God is abundantly clear in the beginning that we are to tend and care for the garden, and while that garden kind of fell apart on us I don’t get the impression we’re done tending to it. God created this world, and I believe firmly God wants us to enjoy it. Why on earth would we not do everything in our power to protect, defend, and enrich the environment we live in?
I am extremely grateful to the authors of the new PC (USA) Book of Common Worship for including ecological and environmental concerns in their daily prayers, and I pray each and every day for renewal in our natural world. I personally am doing all I can to match those prayers with action and activity, to try to care for the environment as best as I can. I can do better, of course, and I’m going to try. But one of the things I don’t do enough of is talk about it, and at least here on this blog that’s going to change.
So my question to you is this: How should Christians respond to the environmental concerns of our day?
Have you ever gotten that e-mail? The one that suggests that the project you’ve been working on, the craft you’ve given your life to, the passion that you carry for the work you do, is actually misplaced, lacking, or even just awful? That e-mail that has the one line that repeats in your head over and over again, causing doubt in yourself and your abilities? Have you ever gotten that e-mail?
I just got one this weekend.
Now I could score some points (and views) talking about the haters on the blog. But first of all I think that we have a thin grasp on who the haters are, basically just lumping them all together in to some “everyone who’s not me and says so” category. But secondly this is something different. This is someone who can get in to your head and make you question things. Haters are superficial in my mind. This is something more insidious.
So all of this was in my head as I read the lectionary today, and something from the story of Jesus caught my attention. Jesus is on his way to heal the daughter of a man named Jairus, but hears along the way that the little girl had died.
“When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was.”
First of all, it kind of struck me that a crowd of people were laughing at the savior of the world. Jesus knows what it’s like to be laughed at. That’s not something we talk about in churches a bunch. But it’s Jesus’s response that gets me. He put them all outside. He takes the people that are questioning something he very obviously knows something about and INTENTIONALLY gets them out of the way. Not ignores them. Not labels them haters. But he intentionally and actively puts them outside.
Now again, we need to be careful here, because there may be a temptation to put everyone outside who disagrees with you. I don’t think this is what Jesus is advocating. He disagrees with people all the time, and continues to work with and through them. But this, this is something different. This is a group of people who are actively questioning your passion, desire, skills, talents, and abilities. Those people? You’ve got to put them outside. Put them outside your mind. Put them outside your habits. Put them outside your creative process. Put them outside. If people are going to get in the way of what God has called you to do, get them out of the way.
How we do that? Well that’s another thought for tomorrow.
A little while ago I wrote a review of the book Flee Be Silent Pray by my good friend Ed Cyzewksi. Ed is releasing a new and updated version of the book, so I thought I’d re-post the review here to get folks excited about it!
You can pick up the new copy here: https://www.amazon.com/Flee-Be-Silent-Pray-Christians-ebook/dp/B07MCYRQ5W/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1548534273&sr=8-1&keywords=flee+be+silent+pray
When I picked up Flee, Be Silent, Pray by Ed Cyzewski, I was in a mediocre place. I wasn't exactly in a "dark night of the soul," but I wasn't really thriving spiritually either. I would occasionally pick up this prayer practice, that devotional reading, another blog to consume. But everything fell well short of kick starting the spiritual engine. But then, and I promise that I am not over selling this, Ed helped me to have a spiritual awakening.
"God's love is already ours, and until we learn how to simply receive it, we'll get stuck in an anxious rut of performance, failure, and struggle." (Kindle Location 365) That sentence hit me like a ton of bricks, and wouldn't let me go. God's love is already ours. I had actually proclaimed this with tremendous frequency, sometimes from behind the pulpit. But I don't know until I had put it in terms of prayer, of silence, of contemplation, just how meaningful it was to me. The phrase that stuck with me for the months that have followed was "I want to dwell in the joy of God's love," a task made much easier when I was reminded that I already had God's love.
Cyzewski frames much of the anxiety that I was feeling from the place of an evangelical Christian. Truth be told, as a mainline Presbyterian I am not myself comfortable with the label of "evangelical" as our world knows it. I want people to know the Good News of Jesus Christ, but I don't so much feel the need to only vote Republican or believe in biblical inerrancy to do that. But the evangelicals I do know seem to fit the mold that Cyzewski is pointing to here. Their relationship with God seems to be (primarily anyway) one of what we as humans have to bring to the table in the relationship. Have you done enough for God lately? I don't think that's how God works, but I had never really thought about the anxiety that type of spiritual relationship must create for the evangelical. It makes all the sense in the world. And since I was feeling a bit of this anxiety in myself, perhaps it isn't limited to just those who wear the banner of evangelical.
My every hope and prayer is that evangelicals will read this book with an open heart and mind. My worry is that they will read something like this, and fear that Ed has started to "backslide," that's he's caved, that he gave in to prevailing Catholic ideology. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Far from backsliding, I feel like Ed has opened us up to a pathway forward in faith, one that the Church has known about for thousands of years. In a busy, cell phone dominated world, Ed has shown us the value of unplugging. In a over broadcasting Twitter society, Ed has taught us the deep value of shutting down and listening for a while. I hope the Church, whether evangelical or otherwise, is ready to listen.
As we continue to think about the rest we all need, there comes a point where we have to ask the question of why exactly this is a spiritual issue? Why should Christians specifically care about rest and getting enough rest through the day and through the week?
Perhaps we can start with the commandment:
Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Do not do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you. Because the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them in six days, but rested on the seventh day. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
First of all, this is the longest and most detailed of the Ten Commandments. God really wanted Moses to go in depth when it comes to this idea of Sabbath. And the central reason here in Exodus is tied to creation. God worked for six days, then took a rest on the seventh. That seems like a good formula for God’s people to follow.
Last night I met a new friend who was asking about me and my family. I told him that I was a drummer, and that I had twin boys at home. (I told him more than that, but hang in there!) He asked me at one point in our conversation if I thought that the boys would become drummers. And I got this unexpected rush of emotion. There was something beautiful about the idea that my boys would fall in love with something that I’ve fallen in love with. There was a connection there that I treasured.
Something about rest, something about living in to the habits and patterns that God set out for us, seems like it will connect us with God. This isn’t really that difficult to shape out. Take a weekend retreat with a youth group, where everyone leaves their cell phones off and just connects with each other. Surely, at least two or three students will say that they also really connected with God. Something about our rest, intentional and planned, connects us with God. Likewise, when we’re going run and gun, when we never step back and rest, it can become almost impossible to hear from our dear Savior.
So, what does a habit of rest look like?
A few weeks ago, I had a Sunday afternoon all to myself. Sarah and the boys were going to spend time at her mom’s place, and I had no responsibilities at all. These days are rare indeed, they almost never happen. So the question that faces so many of us so much of the time popped in to my head: What exactly am I going to do to relax?
For me the answer was clear. It was cold, but not raining, and so the fall cycling tights came out, and I hit the trails. I wanted to be out in nature. I wanted to see God’s beautiful wildlife. I wanted to feel the wind in my face. I wanted to ride.
When I got home, Sarah couldn’t understand. I had a whole afternoon to rest, to relax, to even sleep if I wanted to, but instead I rode for 20 miles on my bicycle. The things that make the most sense to me as rest and recovery might strike many as foolish, the exact opposite of rest.
The question that I think we all need to answer before we go much further in this week’s discussion of rest and recovery is this: What is it that gives you life? Because by suggesting that we rest more, I’m not suggesting that we all turn in to a nation of couch potatoes. Believe me, there are times when naps are necessary and required, but there are also times where I need to participate in the activities that give my soul life. I need to be active. I need to do, but I need to do the things that speak to who I am as a child of God.
So what gives you life? What are the activities that may require physical effort, but bring you rest and recovery?
So after yesterday’s post, I’ve been thinking a lot about resting. This is something that is commanded that we do in the Scriptures, even in the big ten! We are to be the sabbath keeping people. We are to be the ones who work when it’s time, and to carve our sacred, holy rest. Why are we so bad at this?
There are any number of places where Christian faith is counter cultural, and this is a doozy. I think our American culture tells us that time is money, and so every second that can be given to our work can and should be. We should bring work home with us. We should work in coffee shops when we’re outside of work. We should work on the weekends. We should work as much as humanly possible. Work. Work. Work. Work. Because to not work is to lose money, and to lose money is to lose.
Perhaps this is why God wants us to take time out to rest. Perhaps God knew that we would want to run ourselves ragged. Perhaps God knew that every moment our hearts were engaged in our work (yes, even pastoral work) would be time that our hearts were not fully engaged with who God is. It’s not that you can’t think about God while you’re at work, but be honest, are you really giving it your all?
So for the rest of this week, I want to think about rest. What are the habits and activities that give us rest? How do we more fully live in to the rest that God provides? We’ll look at that in posts to come!
Yesterday was a history making moment. I have worked at Westminster for 12 years, and only once in that 12 year run was worship canceled on a Sunday. But, yesterday with the flash freeze on the roads and the following snow, we decided to take a breather and cancel church for the day.
It was glorious.
For starters, as a well known procrastinator, it should surprise no one to discover that when Jim called me Saturday evening I was only about half way through the sermon. It’s a good one! I’m excited to preach it some day! But I was being lazy, and this was the actual work life equivalent of a snow day coming right before a big test you haven’t studied for. I immediately closed the laptop, and spent the night with my family.
That in and of itself was the big benefit of a day off on Sunday. If you’ve been reading through the J-Blog, you know that we’ve been through the ringer a bit lately in the Fetterman-Freyer household. We’ve had stomach bugs. We’ve have sinus infections. We’ve had ER trips. We’ve had pneumonia. It’s been rough. To have a weekend off in the middle of the upswing, in the midst of some actual physical recovery, was a grace and a blessing that I can’t describe. We hung out inside basically all weekend and played. This is not something I have enough time for during the normal week.
Now, I work for the church, so obviously I think church is important. There is something beautiful about bringing all the prayers, joys, concerns, and graces that we experience between Sundays together for an hour to enjoy God’s great love in Christ. It’s something I look forward to every single week, including the weeks I’m off and on vacation. But there was some redeeming stuff going on in taking a moment to focus on my family, to work on recovery, to have one of those things, you know, a /sabbath./
So my prayer for us this week would be that we could put our energies in to what matters most. If you need some time with your family, take some. If you need some time to recover from illness, don’t push yourself too hard. It turns out that work will be waiting for you on the other side of recovery, I promise.
Happy Monday friends!
(Note: I actually wrote this yesterday, when there was ice, and then forgot to post it. My bad!)
Today I woke up and discovered that my car was coated in a sheet of ice. I cannot, even with all of the words available to me in the English language, tell you how much I hate freezing rain. I’ve been in a few crashes as a result of the unseen ice beneath my car’s wheels, and I absolutely loathe the feeling of being out of control of my vehicle. I took things slowly on the way to work, taking main roads instead of my usual back way (which has the benefit of putting a Starbucks on my route), and yet I still found a way to spin out a little bit. My heart hasn’t left the top of my throat since.
Really, as a cyclist and general outdoor enthusiast, we’ve hit the part of the year where I most miss the sun. Here in Pittsburgh it tends to go away, make itself hidden from January until about April or May. It’s there. It is still providing light. It’s just covered by the clouds. But I miss the direct sunlight, the kind that fills you up with a good bit of vitamin D. I miss T-shirt and shorts weather. I miss the summer time.
And truth be told, there are a few analogies here. The sun is always shining, even when we don’t see it. The light of Christ is always in our midst, even when we can’t feel him. Even when we can’t directly access the benefits of God’s grace, it’s in the air supply around us. I still miss it, but it’s there.
I think the hardest part in seasons like this is to be grateful for what you don’t yet have. I think it’s hard to enjoy the sun when it’s veiled by the clouds. I think it’s hard to enjoy the Son when we are so covered by our own agendas and problems.
So my prayer today is that I might see both the sun and the Son. I pray that I could fight my way through the clouds, and appreciate the goodness that’s all around us, even when we’re unaware.
I took up this challenge to write a new J-Blog post every single weekday of the new year for two reasons: 1) I wanted to discipline myself to actually write more, and I figured you would all serve as a pretty solid source of accountability. And 2) I wanted to get back to writing in a style that made me happy, to find my voice again with this blog.
Of the 11 week days of 2019 I have posted 7 times (64%), and 6 of those posts have put me to sleep while reading my own writing.
Now I’m sitting at home, helping to take care of the boys while Sarah’s still under the weather, and I’m trying to write. It is remarkable how much of a pastor’s life is writing. I have to write a blog post. I have to write a newsletter article. I have to write a sermon. And of course, with all of that piling up in the background, I am struggling with a case of writer’s block.
How bad is it? I think one of the biggest tell’s of mine is that writer’s block is really bad when I write about writer’s block. It’s like a plea for help, a desperate attempt to get something, ANYTHING, written down on paper. It’s a hope that you will all at least take pity on me when the next six things you read are all awful, perhaps thinking to yourself “awww, but he’s trying.”
There are factors of course that lead to writer’s block. My entire family has been sick all year (haha, that joke still works) and I’ve been the only healthy one for much of that, so I’ve been running around a whole bunch. I’ve been taking on more and more responsibility at work and in the Presbytery, and that’s got me moving and shaking. All of this boils together to make me both tired and distracted, a potent combo in the writer’s block world.
And yet, this post exists. I think there is something to be said for just sitting down, massaging the keyboard, and getting an awful piece of something out there. Perfect is the enemy of done. I have spent I don’t know how many hours trying to get that just perfect post, that out of the park sermon, that remarkable book idea to materialize. They never do. And so deadlines get missed. Opportunities wasted. Slumps extended. Sometimes, you just have to act.
Maybe there’s more to this in our daily lives than we imagine. Maybe sometimes we have to just show up, regardless of how prepared we feel. Regardless of whether we feel perfect or not. Regardless of our life’s typos or sloppy sentence structure. Just show up, and see where things go from there.
So I’m showing up today. Or at least, I wrote a blog post. I think now it’s time for a nap.
Last night, I was delighted to partner with my friends Laura, Erin, and Gavin to host another Doubt Night. For those who have never done this event with us, what we do is gather in a local bar, and allow folks to write questions on a note card and then we take our time to try to answer them together. We’ve done this a few times before, but last night was by far my favorite! There were more than a few times that I wanted to hop down off my stool and just listen to my friends and colleagues in ministry tell about their experiences.
There is something about asking questions that tends to freak out people of faith. I think we feel like we’re doing it wrong if we don’t have all the answers when it comes to God. I actually think that’s backwards. If we have all the answers, if our faith has no room for questions, then do we really have anywhere to grow in God? Are we really so arrogant to think that we have God all figured out? Do you think God would get mad at us for attempting to learn more about our God and our faith? I don’t think so. I think God would actually celebrate our coming before the throne with questions, doubts, fears, and failures. I think God loves passing out his steadfast love, and can do that best when we feel out of our element.
As always, these questions are best addressed in a community of faithful folks. If you have questions, may I invite you to join us at Westminster, where we don’t fear questions at all, but rather see them as an opportunity to get to know our God a little bit better!
I knew that there would be interruptions in the daily blogging practice. This particular interruption came in the form of a stomach bug that ripped through our house, the likes of which I would not wish on my greatest enemy. Monday I couldn’t summon the strength to stand up for more than 10 minutes, let alone open a laptop and convince myself of coherent thought. And because we live in a house with twins, we have this lovely little eco system where anything that one of us gets is something that all of us get, and which will likely come around again. Oh what joy!
And so when I got back to the office yesterday, there was a certain amount of trying to figure out which way is up. There were youth group talks to get written, staff meetings I missed to be caught up upon, work that had been piling up, etc etc etc. And while all of that can feel like a tremendous burden some times, truth be told I think there’s a value in taking a moment to recalibrate. What really matters? What demands on my time are the most important? What happens when I’m not around, and how does it get covered? To be sure, I would rather answer all of those questions without having to spend a full 24 hours hugging my toilet. But when we’re looking for a silver lining, we look anywhere we can!
So we’ll be back with a normal J-Blog schedule now for the rest of the month. Unless the plague comes back again. In which case, please pray for me!
Last night our lovely son was up in the middle of the night sick, so naturally I was up in the middle of the night with him. After I had gotten him settled, my mind was racing a bit, so I turned on the news. I watched as an unprecedented number of women, people of color, Native Americans, Muslim women, and other dedicated servants were sworn in to the House of Representatives.
Now, let’s stop here for a second, and let me beg you not to auto-fill this conversation. I absolutely hate the auto-fill function of my web browser, when it tries to guess who I am and what my address is and automatically fill in forms for me. I would guess it is successful 45% of the time, which usually means I have to re-write everything that it’s filled in, which actually winds up taking more time, not less. This to me is a fitting analogy for how our nation handles politics. Everything get’s auto-filled. If I say “Trump,” you probably already have an opinion. If I say “Liberal,” all kinds of ideas come to mind. Here’s what I’m asking, if only for this post, that you suspend the auto-fill.
Because what I saw yesterday had little if anything to do with politics. What I saw yesterday was what I have always pictured America to be: a beautiful tapestry of wildly different and differing people coming together for the greater good. When we’re at our best, we remember that all of us by the very nature of the idea of America come from someplace else, and yet we claim this idea of freedom and democracy as what defines us as citizens. Auto-fill has distorted and dare I say perverted this idea a lot. We assume that diversity belongs to one side of the isle and not the other, and if that’s true well then I want out. We’re all in this together.
It’s not hard to see that our politics is a big flaming mess. I know that. I know there are issues that need to be resolved. I know that we have come to a place where each side has dug in to it’s ideologies and won’t let go. I know that compromise is a dirty word. And believe me I know that we are horrible in how we treat each other or talk about those with whom we disagree. I know all that. But in the mess of our politics, I was able to see some beauty yesterday, and if only for a moment I would like to celebrate that. Yesterday I saw America being America. And it was beautiful.
God Bless America, and may God’s mercy ever be at our side.