[House keeping: So, Facebook is turning out to be the worst. I'm keeping my account because I need it for work, and I'll keep posting these blogs there for a little while because a lot of folks only interact with me on that platform. But, I am doing my level best to distance myself from Facebook, so I ABSOLUTELY WILL NOT RESPOND TO COMMENTS THERE. If you would like to interact with this blog post, I highly recommend the comments section below. Cool. On with the blog!]
Sarah had a really great idea.
The two of us have struggled with weight loss for as long as I can remember, and we've tried every trick and diet in the books to get ourselves motivated. However, seemingly nothing can keep pace with the convenience of the McDonald's drive through when you work 12 hour days and then come home to twin boys. Yet, keeping up with those twin boys is a struggle when you're carrying around an extra 20-40 pounds. What to do, what to do?
Sarah told me about her really great idea a few days ago. We would appoint a judge, who would keep us honest. Obviously we chose Ed, because it's Ed. We would then give the judge 20 of our hard earned dollars each month, along with an official weigh in. The contest is to last for 5 months, with each of us setting goals. I'll speak only for myself here, but my goal is to lose 2 pounds a week, or 40 pounds overall. If we get to the end of the challenge and are successful, then our money will go to a charity we approve of, in my case the Mario Lemieux Foundation. If we are unsuccessful, then our money will go to a charity that we disapprove of, in my case, the Philadelphia Flyers Charities.
So obviously, I am not allowed to lose.
I have a three pronged approach to my strategy here. 1) Logging calories. This for me is the front line. I still eat like I'm in college, however my body has long ago progressed into middle age and my metabolism went with it. So far, I'm four for four on logging, and each of those days has been under calories. Check. 2) Apple Watch Rings. I'm working on making sure that those rings are closed every day, which will help me keep moving and active through the day. 3) Workouts, in addition to cycling. Sometimes I fall back on my daily bike commute as all the exercise I need. This is both false, and particularly dangerous because today was the first time I biked to work in about 3 months. Yikes. So in addition to riding the orange steed to work every day, I'm hoping to hit the gym at least three times a week to lift.
So, as the title of this post indicates, I could use your help. Two specific ways you can pitch in are to A) encourage me to keep moving. You know, send me pictures of Flyers fans or something like that to remind me what's really at stake here. But the most important way you can pitch in and help this week is to make a donation to the Bike MS ride coming up this weekend. Essentially I woke up this week like a kid who forgot to study for his finals and realized I had done exactly ZERO fundraising for this event. Not good man, not good. Together, we can end MS, and all that cycling will go a long way to making sure the Flyers don't get my money. That's a classic win-win if you ask me.
So please, donate today. And I'll keep you posted on progress as the challenge continues!
I cannot believe that in 2018, in America, I have to do this. But here we are...so let's get it over with.
If you make racist comments, show yourself to be hateful toward people of color, even if you want to blame those comments on popular sleep medications, that is wrong. While the first amendment protects you from legal action, the words you use have consequences, and you will likely find yourself fired.
If you have a television show, and you use vulgarity to disparage another woman, no matter how much you disagree with her, that is wrong. While the first amendment protects you from legal action, the words you use have consequences and you (should) likely find yourself fired.
I'm referring of course to Rosanne Barr and Samantha Bee.
There are two conversations at play here, the one we are having and the one we should be having. The one we are having is about partisan politics (see last post), where one side is trying to figure out whether they are getting fair treatment, whether both "sides" are being punished fairly. To have this conversation assumes that there are two sides to racist and vulgar language, not that we are universally against them as a people. To have this conversation assumes that this is a political issue. It is not. It's just a dumb issue.
(All of that said, while this isn't the conversation I want to have around this week in the news, I do have some thoughts on the way TBS handled this situation. To keep us on track, I'll include them below.)
The second conversation though is the one we ought to be having. The second conversation asks how it is remotely possible that we have come to this point as a nation where we are comfortable talking to each other this way. How is it that we have become ok disparaging other people so quickly and readily? How is it that we have come to be ok cursing our fellow man up and down, even at the grocery store? How did we get to this point?
If you don't believe me that there is a problem, and that it is specifically an American problem, travel internationally. It always shocks me most on the way home. Having spent two weeks in Asia or Africa or Central America, I grow accustomed to their friendliness. I grow accustomed to people asking me how I'm doing, and meaning it. On the way home, I pass through customs and security checks and all other manner of airport fun. "Oh, we're so sorry you're leaving!" they will say. "Come back soon!" they will call after me with a huge smile on their face. I will fly for hours on the plane, thinking that everyone is just like this. But then I will inevitably get to New York or Chicago or some place like that. I will be greeted by some gruff man or woman behind the customs counter, who very clearly does not want to be there, who will simply bark orders at me. "PASSPORT!" "STAND BEHIND THE LINE!" "NEXT!" All the warmth of the past weeks disappears, and I am left with the harsh reminder: I am home.
Now I've never been cursed out by a customs agent. It just to me speaks to the attitude of the nation right now. We seem more than content to be angry at each other. And it appears to me that we have decided that the freedom that we so rightly celebrate here in this nation has led us to a place of selfish-ness, a me-first attitude that has brought us to a place where it doesn't matter what I say to someone else, as long as I get what's coming to me. And if someone has slighted me, or wronged me in some way, if someone has (at least in my perception) infringed upon my freedom in some way, heaven help them.
The internet isn't helping matters either, is it? I can say whatever I want about whomever I want and never have to look them in the eyes, never have to see the pain I inflict, never have to deal with the consequences of a face to face interaction. So does it surprise me that Rosanne's vehicle of choice for such awful talk is Twitter? Nope. Is it shocking any more when the President of the United States bad mouths his enemies through the keyboard on his phone? Nope. Do I have a hard time imagining Samantha Bee cursing a fellow human from the safety of a studio audience? Of course not. But what is becoming shocking to me is the rate at which I will in fact see this play out in front of each other these days. Go spend some time in a fast food establishment sometime this week, and note how hurried customers speak to and treat the people serving them food. It's often times disgusting.
What should be truly shocking is the way this kind of speaking to each other has invaded the church. We who should be guided by the words and warnings in the book of James:
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.
Or even remember Jesus words on this subject:
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.
If calling someone a fool leaves us open to the fires of hell, I think we're in trouble here. So for my part, I'm going to choose to focus on how I speak to people this week. Are my words an encouragement? Will they brighten someone's day, or darken it? Even if I need to offer a word of challenge and disagreement, can I do that in a spirit of charity and love? Can I do that in a way that the other person leaves feeling uplifted and encouraged to be better? I'm willing to call myself out here, because I'm betting we could all do better at this.
So, let's get out there today and speak to each other better. We are much better than what we've become, but I have no doubt that if we would wake up to where we are, we could light the way for the rest of the world.
Marvel Post Credits Style Ending:
So, a few thoughts on the Samantha Bee portion of this debacle, specifically around her network TBS. I am flabbergasted at how poorly they handled this situation, and I'd be shocked if it doesn't cost them advertising dollars and force them to end her show eventually anyway. Compare what ABC did, which was to immediately cancel their highest rated show upon reading the tweet. It really was just a matter of hours, seemingly long enough to call all the board members together and vote. TBS however wasn't reacting to a tweet, they were reacting to something that was said on their air. Something that was recorded in a studio, where I presume network executives were watching. Something that was recorded and broadcast later, where the offensive comments probably could have (I didn't see it, so I don't know how big a task this would have been) edited around. I understand that the segment in question was also highlighted on the official TBS website for a decent portion of the day, meaning that someone somewhere in the office saw it and decided that though vulgar, it was funny enough to post somewhere. That's like 16 steps along the way this situation could have been resolved before it got out of hand, and TBS blew it.
Should Samantha Bee be (haha) fired? There are some out there in the media who are saying that vulgarity and racism aren't moral equivalents, and they're right. But that said, I am quite certain that if I ran TBS she would be disciplined in some way, and likely fired. But then again, there's a good reason I'm not in broadcasting.
So in rebooting the blog, I recently did what I always do when rebooting the blog: I asked for questions and topic ideas. Because this is what I always do when I reboot the blog, and I reboot the blog quite often, I kind of knew what was going to come. And sure enough, someone asked for me to write about politics and religion.
In a lot of ways, this is a frequent topic on this blog. Even the post that started this most recent reboot was about guns and violence. The truth is, no matter where you stand on that particular political issue, if you call yourself a Christian then your view ought to be informed by your faith. The same can be said of just about any political issue you can come across. It's my view that if your faith isn't informing your political opinions, then one or both of those is rather weak.
However, I would say that it's very important to clarify a few terms.
I think it's of vital importance that we separate the political from the partisan. Our word "politics" comes from the Greek word Polis, or city. In the most ideal situations, politics refers to the organization and welfare of the city, or state, or nation. So on a super basic level, your town has roads that it needs to maintain. Someone needs to pave them, fill in the potholes, paint the lines, plow the snow off of them, things like that. Somewhere, there is a group of people that decides how all of that is going to go down. In our American system of government, we decide who those people are going to be. We elect representatives to sit in a room, and ultimately decide how best to proceed, how to pay for these roads, how to mark them, how they connect, what citizens can and cannot do on those roads, etc. That is politics at its best.
Partisan politics is when you are given a choice, in our country usually only between Democrat (or Liberal, or Progressive) and Republican (or Conservative), and you have to fit your view into one of those positions. The trick is, as our friend Father Richard Rohr would tell us, that dualism rarely works out. Often times if we're paying very careful attention, the choices we're given between Democrat and Republican views are often not exclusive choices, even if they're dressed up that way.
Take for instance the typical debate between the two parties on taxes. Republicans will tell you that our debt and defect are out of control, and that we need to stop spending. Democrats will tell you that our debt and defect are out of control, and that we need to raise taxes, particularly on the wealthy. Now this is a simplification of course, and we could go into a much more nuanced debate to be sure. But any family who struggles with their finances would tell you that if you have an opportunity to increase income and reduce spending, do both. But this is rarely the choice we're given. It is in fact I think because neither side actually much cares about the debt and deficit unless the other side is running it up to get what they want, but that's a whole different conversation. The point of the matter is we're often in partisan politics given two choices, when that's rarely the case. Either some combination of choices is true, or there's a third, fourth, or even fifth choice that often gets left out.
I admit again that this is overly simplified, because there's a lot to get to in this blog post, and would anticipate that anyone who would like to challenge or debate these points in the comments to recognize that. But this still gets at the heart (for me at least) of this first distinction. I will talk politics with anyone all day, every day. I have almost no interest in partisan politics. To this day, I am an independent voter. I don't always agree with the Democrats, and I don't always agree with the Republicans. Likewise, I think the Democrats have some good ideas, and I think the Republicans have some good ideas. It really depends on the issue, and how I feel like the citizens of our nation will best be served by that issue.
Another super important distinction I like to make is between faith and religion. The source of all knowledge in the universe, Google, defines religion in this way:
a particular system of faith and worship.
plural noun: religions
"the world's great religions"
a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance.
"consumerism is the new religion"
So for me, I always make the argument that Pittsburgh Penguins Hockey is in fact my religion. I have regular habits that collectively create and inform my "system of faith and worship." I wear ceremonial garb (jersey and hat) when I watch the game. I treat the arena with reverence, sort of like a holy site (Side Note: What the heck Penguins fans? Clean up your used nachos at the end of the game. Do you know how long we had to wait for this beautiful facility? Take care of your house of worship people!) Do the Penguins take supreme importance in my life? Ask Sarah if we can have conversations when the Penguins are on a power play. If you pay very close attention, I even have this little quark of wiping my brow when the Pens clear the zone on a penalty kill. I've had it since I was a kid. And if all of this is sounding a little crazy or far fetched for you, check out our slogan from this year's playoff run:
Now you might say that I have an idolatrous relationship with the Penguins, and I might very well agree with you. But that's the very definition of religion. Where I think that's different from faith is that I strongly believe that faith can and does change you, and religion is the vehicle to interact with that change. While I religiously watch the Penguins, I've never become a better person because of that religion. Jesus Christ has shaped me into a substantially better person than I was at the start, and religion is the vehicle that happens through. I don't come to church every Sunday out of some ritual obligation, or even because I get a paycheck. I come to church every Sunday because I routinely expect to be shaped and molded by God.
So here in lies the problem: look again at my descriptor of religion by way of the Penguins. Don't you think a healthy portion of our population has made partisan politics their religion? Don't some people worship the very idea of their tribe or party, to the exclusion of others? Don't some people place supreme importance to their tribal group, even perhaps more so than their God? Goodness sakes, there's even a bit of a liturgy in politics, isn't there? I pointed it out in the post on guns. There's a call and response that's all to predictable. This is also easy to see when you watch clips from people who are arguing one point of view during a Republican administration who are arguing the exact opposite point of view during a Democratic administration, or vice versa. The opinion or issue are not the supreme importance, the party is. Too often I think this is what people want to talk about when they want to talk politics and religion (though, I should say, I don't think this is what the person who posed this topic was after). And if I'm honest, I have absolutely no desire to engage in this food fight.
But if you want to talk about how our faith informs our decisions about what's best for the citizens of the nation, that's a radically different conversation. From my point of view, all of that centers on Jesus. If you want to argue that the wealthy should get a tax break, that's fine, but you better be able to tell me how Jesus' message about the poor informs that decision. If you want to argue that we should spend more on social services, that's wonderful, but you better be able to tell me how Jesus' instructing the church to be the vehicle to do such things fits in to that argument. If you're going to tell me you're pro-life, I applaud that, but you better not simply mean anti-abortion, because I think Jesus had a much wider application of what it means to value a human life. And maybe most importantly, if you are going to demonize the other side for their views, if you're going to insult them, slander them, claim they hate their country, or they're out to ruin us, you had best take a look at some of the things Jesus said about enemies and how best to treat them (spoiler alert: you shouldn't have enemies).
As maybe you'll notice, this cuts through party lines like a knife through butter. Any time I come across a partisan argument, where I'm only given choices A and B, I picture Jesus standing off to the side shaking his head at how lost we've become. And I've got to say, for the good of our republic, we better start to figure some of this stuff out soon. The anger, vitriol, combativeness, and ego that has invaded our body politic is horrifying. If all we did, even just a little bit more, was allow Jesus to inform how we treat others with whom we disagree and have loving conversations with them, we would be in a colossally better place.
So I logged on to the blog last week to write some thoughts about the shooting in Texas, because twitter couldn't handle my rant and I very badly felt the need to get something out about all that I was feeling around our nation's gun and violence problem. And as I finished the brain dump that was that post, I realized just how much I missed this blog! I had been trying to get myself to work on a vlog, being a media pastor and all, but I just can't get myself comfortable with being a nerd with a camera in public. So for now, we'll stick to the written word.
I've been giving a lot of thought to the concept of worship lately. This Sunday, I'll be standing at 9:45 on a stage, with a guitar in my hands, surrounded by (incredibly awesome) musicians, and my task will be to "lead worship." (You should come) So very much has been argued and debated over what we mean when we're saying "lead worship." Some have suggested that the title is a bit arrogant. Who am I to be in charge? Why should we elevate one person over another in the body of Christ? Maybe we should call them "lead worshipers?" That kind of sounds silly. This is the conversation that has been going on, particularly in contemporary worship contexts. Some times it's a worthy conversation. Sometimes it makes me want to puke.
But all that takes place on Sunday. Today in particular I've been thinking about how I best prepare myself to lead worship (or whatever) well. I think some worship leaders wait until Sunday morning, taking a few minutes in their office before worship to read some scripture and to quiet their heart, or at least that's what I do. But I think that's a bit like the advice I always hear about hydrating during a race: you don't start hydrating on race day, you start at least two or three days out. I feel like the attitudes and habits of my heart today will have an impact on how I lead worship on Sunday.
So I've been giving some thought to what we mean by "worship." Of course we mean praising God's name, giving God glory both for who God is and what God has done. But I think there are a couple of steps before that. I think first we have to be aware of who God is and what God's done, but even more we need to carry a sense of wonder about who God is and what God's done. I think this sense of wonder is what separates those who worship the idea of God and those who worship God. I have plenty of theological theories and thoughts about God, but if that's all I've got I will have a really happy head and a totally depressed heart. We need wonder.
So I wonder (ha!) if I could take the next few days as a preparation for worship to intentionally place myself in places of wonder? I've found tremendous wonder at God's gift of creation, walking through the woods and just listening to the sound of nature. I've found tremendous wonder at a really good cup of coffee, not the Folgers or Maxwell House kind, but like a really good artisan cup of joe. I've also found a tremendous sense of wonder when I surround myself with others who are full of wonder, and as luck would have it two and a half year olds fit the bill perfectly.
Maybe then, after looking at what God is doing in the world around me, after wondering at the tremendous gifts that God has bestowed and continues to give, maybe then I'll be able to put a little bit of soul behind the notes of my voice. Maybe I'll dance a bit more freer on stage. Maybe the weight of what I'm singing will wash over me in a new way. Maybe I'll be surprised with what God does on Sunday morning, and maybe that will be an occasion for more wonder.
But, I'm just the guy with the guitar. Imagine if everyone who gathered in worship Sunday did this kind of prep work! It doesn't take much. Find the things that take your breath away in life, the things that fill you with joy, the things that make your heart sing, and then sit with those for a while. I think you'll be surprised with what wonder can do for the soul.
This isn't working.
I don't know the details of the shooting this morning in a Texas high school. I don't know what kind of weapon the shooter had, other than he was able to quickly and "efficiently" kill 8 and wound countless others. I don't know how this individual might have access to such high power weaponry. I don't know what would go through a human being's head, a precious child of God, to have such warped thoughts as to pull the trigger while staring into the eyes of their peers and fellow humans. There's a lot I don't know.
But I do know this isn't working.
I know what my position is. I know that I believe limited access to guns, particularly high powered, assault style weapons, will keep the body counts down in situations like this. I do know that I believe that we are called by Christ to value life, and to do so might mean doing something about the incredible capacity to kill we have created as human beings. I know my positions, and as a bonus I can go ahead now and fill in the comments from those who hold an opposing position. They will tell me that the Second Amendment is a right, and such rights should not be trampled upon. They might tell me that guns are a heritage and a tradition. They will accuse me of wanting to come take their guns (I don't). I know they'll say that the guns are already out there, so they need something to defend themselves. I know that I will rebut, saying that those positions come (largely) from the NRA, who spends an inordinate amount of money not to protect the rights of gun users, but to benefit and boost the sales of gun manufacturers. I know that we will go back and forth, circle round and round, probably wound and damage some friendships along the way, and then in a few months time forget that any of this has happened and wait for the next tragedy.
And in spite of all of that, I know this isn't working.
It isn't working because 8 kids aren't going to go home to their parents tonight. It isn't working because my wife asks me what we're going to do when our kids are at the church, just down the hall from me, and a gunman comes in, and I have no answer for her. It isn't working because I know my youth group kids are going to ask me about it, again, and I'm going to have to tell them that we're at a point in time in human history where they are as likely to experience a mass shooting in their school as anyone else is.
This is America. We are innovators of the highest order. The car? That was us. The plane? Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The iPhone? California. The moon? Our flag and footprints. So today, as I mourn, rather than pushing one position over another, I want to call all of us to a better debate. I want us to recognize that this just isn't working, this constant back and forth with absolutely zero action in it's wake. I want us to innovate, to find a way to work through this in a way that honors our national rights and heritage and keeps our children safe. We're going to have to give something up, both sides. That much is clear by the fact that our constant fighting back and forth for each and everything we want has left us stuck.
This isn't working.
But I bet if we snapped out of it, if we realized that we were stuck, if we valued people more than we valued our positions, if we debated with style and class, if we brought creativity to the process, if we set love as our truth north star, we might get somewhere. We might be able to solve this problem like we solved the myriad before. I don't mean to simplify, of course this will be hard. Of course we will have disagreements and difficulties. But we are America. Hard is what we do. Or at least it used to be.
Today, I'm praying for the students in Texas who will be forever shaped by this event. I'm praying for the mothers who are starting to realize they'll never hold their child again. I'm praying for our leaders, that they would have courage to do what needs to be done. I'm praying for my kids, that if we can't make this right, hopefully their generation can. And then, when my prayers are said, my prayers will be lived. Thoughts and prayers are wonderful, they're beautiful. But they must be followed by action. By boots on the ground. By votes.
Because this isn't working...
...but God is.
And he wants you and me to chip in.
So, we had a big relaunch of this here bikey-blog, and I at least was really excited about it. But a funny thing happens when you have two (2) children under two (2) years old who frequently make a habit of sneezing into their father's open mouth: I got super sick. I haven't been on a bike in about a week now.
Man-colds are a very real thing. For some reason, I lack the emotional/spiritual fortitude to see a cold for exactly what it is, and instead approach it like it's a death sentence. But, work needs to be done, so I've been driving the gas guzzler and plowing through.
So imagine my sheer joy when I woke up and saw this scene outside my window:
With school cancelled, my usually busy Wednesday night is completely cleared. So as much I would absolutely love to get out on the mountain bike and do something completely foolish, today I am lazing around in bed and trying to take full advantage of the situation and recover.
I do end up feeling really guilty when I've committed to the bike-style, and hit seasons like this where it just makes the most sense to relax and recover. But one of my favorite parts about the bike-style is that it will always be there waiting for me. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but I will in fact get back on the two wheeled beast and get back on the roads. But as for today, I'm going to sit on the couch, watch YouTube videos about biking, and relax.
Like this one:
Spring is coming!
-The Biking Viking
Oh! Hi there!
I like to imagine that there have been people who wake up each and every day, longing for new fresh J-Blog content, click their way over to here, and sigh heavily with disappointment that I've been away for a while. Perhaps they even got excited when I put up a teaser page, suggesting that the site would be back up and running on February 14th. They may have even set a little countdown clock on their computer, and lived through further disappointment as that day came and went. A month later, those folks would be extremely happy to be here!
More likely than not though, no one noticed I was gone.
But I'm back! Things were nuts there for a little while, with all kinds of ministry travels and adventures and to-do lists. But things seem right to bring this thing back, to get the creative juices flowing, to write.
I also think the theme of this blog is going to shift just slightly. I mean to be honest, it's always been a sort of stream of consciousness thing, blogging about whatever really comes to mind, and I'm sure that will still be true moving forward. But I want to focus more on the two-wheeled life, what it looks like to live the #bikelife.
It all started with Lent, as I wanted to spend this year adding joy into my life instead of taking something away in the name of discipline. Bicycling for sure is one of those sources of joy in my life, something that no matter how miserable the weather, always seems to put a smile on my face. But an odd thing started happening in my life, that I would make excuses for myself every time the idea of cycling came up. "I have too much going on today, I can't ride." "I need to look nice in the office, so I can't ride." "The weather is just a bit below what's acceptable, I can't ride." All of these excuses combined together into a season where my bike sat in the garage, unused, and frankly feeling a bit unloved.
So for Lent, I decided that I would ride my bike to work each and every day. I politely informed my inner voice of doubt that I had spent entirely too much money over in my life, and had more than enough gear to face any and all weather conditions that were thrown my way. I have enough bags and backpacks to ride with any amount of stuff in any kind of weather. I have rain coats. I have snow pants. I have hand warmers. I have road bikes and mountain bikes. Let's get to it!
So that started exactly a month ago. The only days I've missed are the days that my wife needed me to drive the boys to childcare (which seemed reasonable) and one day that I slept in (which was just silly). Otherwise, I've been on the back of a bike both too and from work.
And you know, it's doing exactly what I wanted it to do. It's bringing me joy.
Which isn't quite the same thing as saying that it's been super enjoyable all the time. Case in point: today I rode here to Judy's Java Joint to drink coffee and work on the sermon I'm preaching on Sunday (which, incidentally, another reason for the blog's return is that it is a killer way to procrastinate when you have sermon writer's block). It is 23 degrees outside, and the headwind made me literally cry. Turning the pedals over even once was an incredible struggle. But I am here, and I did under the power of the bicycle. That's a pretty good day if you ask me.
I have a lot of ideas for content, including some new gear reviews, tips tricks and hacks, and even the occasional J-Vlog. Of course, if you want to know anything about the world of cycling, leave a comment and we'll see what we can tackle together.
And, welcome back!
Psalms 96, 147:1-11
1 Peter 2:1-10
Last night, before a meeting up here at the church, I got bit pretty hard by the bug of bicycling. I really wanted to get out on a bike and ride about. So I set out to go to work on the route that I had taken a thousand times before. I was coming down a particular hill, with a car behind me and another car oncoming. I looked ahead and noticed that this road that I had been on a thousand times before had been ripped up, and that they had put down a steel plate. Steel plates are no good for slick bicycle tires, so I quickly started to plot my line to steer clear of it and the cars around me. And that's when I noticed the gravel...
My wheels slipped out from under me. I knew I was going about 15 miles an hour or so, making a fall undesirable to say the least. Plus those pesky cars on either side of me. I was at about a 45 degree angle, and somehow, in time so slow I could see the flapping of a hummingbird's wings, I managed to pull myself up, right the bike, and keep riding without touching the ground. It was miraculous to say the least.
After the meeting finished, I knew I had to ride home. I was a nervous ball of anxiety and adrenaline, but failing to get back on the bike would have made it all but impossible to get back on later. So I hopped back on, said a quick prayer, and started to pedal.
It's amazing how much you can slow down when you are both scared of your surroundings and also pretty sure you were close to tasting death just hours before. So my ride home took on a different flavor than most. This was not a commute that stood between work and home. This was an opportunity to drink in my surroundings. This was a chance to hear the little chirps of animals scurrying in the woods. Or see the beauty of the changing leafs around me. Or, when I hit a particularly dark clearing, see the brightness of the stars. I had slowed down, and now I could see the beauty all around me.
In the morning Psalm today, we read that "all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens." It might not be super clear how much the writer is trolling the people who worship idols in that sentence. Idols at that time were little statues that people would bow down and worship as if they were gods. Someone had to craft those statues, which means it was someone's job down at the shop to carve a little man or woman out of wood, that someone would worship. An idol, by itself is incapable of creating. It has no generative power. It is, basically, unimpressive.
The God of Israel, however, has some serious creative potential. This God is not made by human hands, like some unimpressive statue. This God made the materials to make the unimpressive statue. This God made the leafs. This God made the stars. This God made the created order that I am all too often in too big a hurry to pay attention to.
As previously mentioned, I am all too often guilty of paying attention to things that I create. The things I buy. The idols in my bank account. But last night, thanks to a near death experience (sort of), I broke through and saw the God of creation at work in my life. It just makes me want to slow down more. It makes me want to take full advantage of all that God has made and done in my life.
So let's get out there, eh?
Psalms 12; 146
1 Peter 1:13-25
I have a kind of unhealthy obsession with bags and backpacks. It was worse when I was commuting by bicycle more frequently, because I lived with this assumption that there had to be one bag that would check all the boxes that I was looking for. Waterproof. Big enough to hold a day's worth of gear. Not too cumbersome on the ride. Good organization pockets. There had to be a bag that would fit all my categories, right?
And so the following scene would play itself out regularly for me. I would stumble across a bag that made sense, that seemed like it could check all the boxes. I would save my pennies, because bags and backpacks are unreasonably expensive. I would wait for the package to arrive in the mail. I would hype up to myself how this was the bag that was going to change everything. This was the bag that was going to make getting to work by bike easier. This was the bag that would keep my gear dry. This was the bag that would actually make getting up hills a little easier! And then I would use the bag for a week or two and...
That euphoric feeling I was hoping for, that desired outcome, that changed view on life, never came. It would be just hollowness. Emptiness.
And I fell into this trap again, and again, and again, and again.
(Fun fact: I wrote the first part of this post in the morning, and then went to a meeting which happened to be near REI, so obviously I went in. Guess what I almost did, immediately after writing about that hollow, empty feeling? Humans are so predictable.)
I think that's why Peter's words this morning caught me so hard:
"For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect."
The words empty way of life caught me in a big way, particularly in this holiday shopping season. I think we know when we're chasing emptiness, but usually it only shows itself in the end. We finally catch what we've been chasing for, and it leaves us feeling hollow and broken down. I think about the people who I pass by every day in the coffee shop or whatever, who aren't so much living a life as they are enduring it. And I keep thinking, we were meant for so much more.
To remind ourselves that Jesus wants to redeem us out of that kind of life is worth while. Sometimes we think that if we're not miserable sinners, then Jesus must not want much to do with us. In fact, Jesus came that we would have life, and life to the full (John 10:10). So Peter reminds us that the precious blood of Christ was shed to pull us out of our sleep walking ways, away from an empty way of life, and toward the goodness and fulness of life in Christ.
However your life shows its empty side, whether that's in consumerism or worry or fear or doubt or sex or whatever, you don't have to live like that. Christ has come to redeem us from it all! And that, my friends, is truly good news!
We had a good thing going here on the blog, and then Thanksgiving came, and with it a cold, so I didn't even want to look at a computer screen. But rest assured, we're back! We'll have another episode of Lectionerdy for you this afternoon, if you want to take a sneak peak at the texts. But first, I wanted to get some thoughts out about this time of the year.
Black Friday has always annoyed me. Even more so now that it's been sneaking it's way into Thanksgiving day itself, though that seemed to have dimmed down a bit this year. It's like we are thankful for just a few seconds, and then we have to run as quick as we can to buy stuff. Then we added Small Business Saturday, which is nice in principal. Take care of the little guys, shop local, all that. It's a good thing, but it is in fact ultimately still just celebrating rampant consumerism. Cyber Monday follows, which as someone who can barely summon the strength to get off the couch I certainly appreciate. But again, it's more buying stuff. Then, almost as an after thought, after we're all broke or in unending debt from the three days that proceeded, we celebrate Giving Tuesday. Whatever we have left over, that's what we'll give to someone who needs it.
Look, I can hear some of the objections already. Of course most will say that Black Weekend (a bit more accurate these days, eh?) is about buying gifts to give away to loved ones, and so there's a good bit of noble intentions there. I get that. But I think at the heart of it all is this insatiable need for more. We need more stuff. The people we buy gifts for need more stuff. More more more. And I think it's odd that we've actually set aside time to celebrate that as a culture.
And yet, hiding just behind all the chaos, the church is getting ready to celebrate something truly counter cultural. We're getting ready to celebrate a season called Advent. We're going to celebrate...waiting. In a culture of Amazon Prime two day shipping, we're going to celebrate patience. In the same culture that provided me a device to get my text messages on my wrist, we're going to celebrate long periods of silence. In a culture that seems drawn to flashy shopping experiences, well crafted item displays, lights and glamor, we're gathering around a lowly manger to wait brimming with anticipation.
So this year, I want to celebrate Advent.
I want to celebrate it more than just a change in my stole color for a couple weeks. I want it to be more than diet Christmas. I want to celebrate sitting still. I want to celebrate waiting. I want to celebrate rest and meditation. I want to celebrate everything that the Black Weekend seems to want nothing to do with. I want to recognize that the desire for a Savior that will set the world right is still something our world is eagerly anticipating. I want to celebrate Advent.
If you are interested in joining me in this celebration, may I recommend checking in with the fine folks at Advent Conspiracy. They have some good thoughts on how to live this out practically. To worship more fully, to spend less, to give more, and to love all. That sounds just about right to me. From time to time, we'll hop on the J-Blog here to talk about how that's going.
Let's shop a little less. Let's love a little more. Let's celebrate waiting.
Psalm 56, 149
Sorry gang. First miss of the new project. Hanging out at Laurelville, so full recap when I get back.
Psalm 36, 147:12-20
Can you remember a time when you had blown it?
It's taken me a long time to get over my over 10 year career in Seminary, because I think something about school always puts you on high alert for blowing it. Often times you find yourself in a position where a bad paper, or a less than stellar exam performance can be the difference between success and failure. And to any of our readers who are currently in seminary and dealing with the scourge of finals, our prayers are with you.
Something about the risk of blowing it can create a kind of anxiety that is unique all on it's own. Even when things are going well, there's a risk that right around the corner, something could go wrong.
Take the disciples for instance. In our Gospel lesson today, the disciples are traveling with Jesus, and they left something off the packing list. I imagine that one of the the 12 of them was in charge of bringing the food. Team chef, if you will. And somehow between Jesus offending the Pharisees and Sadducees and getting in the boat, the chef left the bread bag on the shore. Maybe he then tells his buddies to see if anyone can bail him out. No dice. The team chef has absolutely blown it.
Now the anxiety is filling the boat. Would they try to hide it? Would they be able to sneak someone off to town when they landed, get some bread, and get back before Jesus noticed? No that's not going to work. Now maybe they're wondering how exactly Jesus is going to react. Is he going to yell? Is he going to kick one of us out and make us go back to our fishing gig? Or maybe he'll just do that thing some people do when they're mad. No yelling. No screaming. Just disappointment.
And perhaps because they were filling in with their minds what would happen once Jesus discovered that they blew it, they missed entirely what Jesus was trying to say to them. Their Savior and King is sitting right in front of them, trying to give them a warning about the false teachers they run into day after day after day, but they just can't hear it. Their minds are elsewhere.
Look, we all screw up from time to time. We all have those moments in life that we wish we could take back. We recognize moment where we weren't our best selves. And I think it's only natural to imagine the disappointment that this brings our Savior. We don't want to disappoint the God who loves us so much, and yet we fall in to it again and again and again. Confession is critical to the faith. We come before God and each other and admit our faults, because we're not naive enough to think we don't have any.
But we can't get stuck there. We can't be so caught up in our thoughts that we miss what Jesus is saying in the boat right next to us. Especially because I think for most of us the word that Jesus whispers is "I've got this. Remember how I've gotten you out of that jam time and time again? There's nothing that will limit me from doing it this time too. So relax. Take a deep breath. Have some faith."
Maybe we blew it. Maybe even recently. But I think this passage is telling us today that Jesus has a much stronger word of forgiveness than we can even imagine.
Psalm 15, 147:1-11
Day two, and we're still going strong!
I was struck by our story in Nehemiah, which is unfortunate because it means I will have to type "Nehemiah" about a thousand times today. Nehemiah has returned to Jerusalem with some of the exiles with a specific mission, to rebuild the wall around the city. In chapter 5, we see that Nehemiah has discovered that the governors, the people who are in charge of this little band of Jews that has returned, are over taxing their people. The people are finding themselves in debt, and are unable to get out of it.
Nehemiah can't stand this, and for good reason. The people had been expelled from their land because they didn't quite seem to understand how to be justice loving people, so God sent them away. Now they've been back for the biblical equivalent of 5 minutes, and it's right back to where they started. The wealthy are getting wealthier, and the poor are getting poorer. So, Nehemiah is "very angry."
He goes before the governors, the ones who are getting rich, and he confronts them in an interesting fashion. "Should you not walk in the fear of our God, to prevent the taunts of the nations of our enemies?" Basically, Nehemiah is saying that if people keep acting unjustly, it's going to give God a bad wrap. If you're going to call yourself a Jewish nation (or, perhaps for a bit more relevance, a Christian nation) and your people are suffering, that speaks not only against you, but against your God.
After a whole bunch of awkward silence, these governors agree with Nehemiah. "Then they said, 'We will restore everything and demand nothing more from them. We will do as you say.'" Nehemiah wants it in writing, so he calls in the priests to have the people swear a vow. And then something awesome happens, something that you could miss if you're reading this story too quickly:
"And all the assembly said 'Amen,' and praised the Lord."
Think about it. The Jewish people are locked in a battle of politics. One side thinks the taxes need to be higher, the other side thinks that the taxation is killing the poor people. Again, try to find some relevance if you can. But what these people did that was so radical and even a little jarring to me is that A) one side agreed with the other based on evidence and sound reasoning, and B) they got together after the debate and praised God. They had a party. They let out an Amen.
Now, I don't have any illusions that the Democrats and the Republicans are going to get together and sing a praise chorus any time soon. We've been locked in this particular battle for far too long. Instead, I've been wondering this morning about all the times that I was wrong and needed to admit it. I've been thinking about all the times that my hard-headed side comes to light, and someone calls me out on it. My usual gut reaction is to dig in a little deeper, to defend my position a little tighter. But if I'm wrong, and someone shows me how wrong I am, I wonder what it would look like for me to give them an Amen. I wonder what it would look like for me to reverse course and go before God in prayer, all in the same breath?
So that's what I'm going to try to do today. When I'm in the wrong, when my assumptions need to be shifted, when I am found to be mistreating those around me, when I am not representing God well, my hope is that today and everyday I will be a bit more willing to turn around, to repent, and to go before God in praise.
Care to join me?
I find myself at a kill two birds with one stone moment, and I'm going to involve you all. You're welcome!
On the one hand, I very badly want to keep up with the discipline of reading the daily lectionary. I find that when I am truly diving into the word, I am much better able to keep my day in check. Too often I get sucked into my own head, my own grumpy thoughts, and my own agenda. The lectionary has this beautiful habit of pulling me out to see the world from a Kingdom perspective.
On the other hand, I have this blog that has been sitting here idle for a few months. For a little while, I was contemplating a Vlog like my friends Casey Neistat or Peter McKinnon (I don't really know them, but they feel like my friends!), but the first couple of passes at that seemed...well...
Plus, writing is my first love. I am not always the best at it, but as with all things I recognize that when I write more, I write better. So I wanted to dust the blog off, bring some fresh content, and get this thing rolling again.
And so, with those two thoughts on my mind, I welcome you to a new series at the J-Blog: Lectionerdy. My goal is to write every Tuesday-Friday about the daily lectionary. Saturdays will be touch and go, and Sundays and Mondays are surely out because there's no way I can blog and juggle twin toddlers at the same time. But my encouragement would be that we all read along with the lectionary every day, and I invite you to hop in the conversation with me. Think of it as a blog Bible study!
So with that long intro out of the way, today's texts are:
Psalm 123, 146
I have been reading the lectionary off and on for a whole bunch of years, and it seems like Revelation is always a part of the readings. Maybe they just want a constant state of confusion for everybody? But if you are jumping in with me to the lectionary right now, just know that it's going to be weird right out of the gates.
*Author's note: if you search Giphy for "weird," awesome things will happen. Trust me.
Today's reading deals with the apocalyptic vision of Babylon the Great, which at various points along the way is a city, a nation, and a lady. We could spend hours debating what John really meant with this image, what he was trying to poke at, but let's take a second and engage in a thought experiment, one proposed to me by the great Tony Campolo: what if America is Babylon?
"Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry: 'Woe! Woe to you, great city, you mighty city of Babylon! In one hour your doom has come!' The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore..."
So what we see here is a nation that has been wealthy, and has engaged the nations of the world in that wealth through trade and commerce. We can relate, right? We are among the strongest economies of the world, and the strength of that economy has implications for the rest of the world. And it also seems from context that this place known as Babylon has fallen in love with the wealth they've amassed, They like being the center of the economic world.
And, scripture tells us, it only takes an hour for the whole thing to come crashing down.
Think about it. How quickly does the stability of money fall apart when the money fails us? How quickly can a market crash or a bubble burst send us into a tail spin, ripe with fear and longing and disaster? Some times disasters don't even need an hour to come to fruition. It could all come falling apart in a matter of minutes.
And the choir of the kingdom has an interesting reaction when this all goes down:
"Rejoice over her, you heavens! Rejoice, you people of God! Rejoice, apostles and prophets! For God has judged her with the judgement she imposed on you."
At first glance, maybe this seems a bit harsh. Are the citizens of the Kingdom really pleased at someone else's downfall? Are they really that vindictive?
Or is it that they recognize that when an unworthy source of trust fails, you find yourself opened up to new sources?
If money is the only thing you trust in, when it fails you will be in trouble. Your whole world will fall apart. You won't have a really solid compass to guide you through life. And you'll start looking for another one. Or perhaps you've placed your trust in a political party or ideology, and it turns out that they can't solve all the problems you are facing. Where do you turn?
I think John is offering us an out before we ever find that disaster in our lives. What if you placed your trust in the Kingdom now, before the other sources of trust fail you? What if your trust was neither in the donkey or the elephant, but in the lamb that was slain? What if your trust wasn't in the contents of your wallet, but rather in your ability to empty it for those in need? These aren't habits and virtues that have to wait until the end of the world. These are habits and virtues that are available to us in the here and now.
As always, comments are welcome. But my encouragement is to make sure you read all the lectionary readings for the day before diving in, just so we're on the same page.
See you tomorrow!
Greetings friends and family!
My last post on this esteemed blog was August 22nd. I'm so consistent it's unbelievable. Even the author photograph over there on the right is out of date by a lot. Those two babies we're holding are just shy of 40 year old adults (or at least they behave like it). So I blew the dust off the the blog and decided we should hop to a somewhat regular posting schedule. I don't know if any of you find the J-Blog interesting/insightful, but it does something beautiful to my soul to be able to write, so this may end up being more for me than you anyway.
Another thing that did beautiful things to my soul was our youth group on Wednesday night. I've spent an inordinate amount of time lately focused on the youth ministry side of my job, thanks in large part to being a part of The Youth Cartel's Youth Ministry Coaching Program. I've only been to one meeting with my cohort so far, but let me say this: if you are in youth ministry, beg borrow and steal whatever you need to from your church to be a part of this. But anyway, I'm reading one of the books that was recommended for us at the last cohort called Saying is Believing: The Necessity of Testimony in Adolescent Spiritual Development by Amanda Hontz Drury.
I'm only about halfway through (review coming soon?), but it's really great. The argument that Drury puts forward that I totally agree with is that testimony is an incredible vehicle for shaping and identifying belief, and that the adolescent season of life is uniquely perfect soil for allowing testimony to do it's work.
Now, I hadn't read any of that when we made our plans for Veritas on Wednesday night. We do this one particular "worship night" once a year, where we borrow the farm across the street from our church, play flag football, drink cider, and have a campfire. There is something beautiful about worship when it's outside, around a fire. No screens, no song sheets, no band. Just voices and praise. I didn't even go over with a plan for songs to sing, I just let the kids shout out what they wanted to sing, so long as I actually knew how the song went. It was beautiful.
After our usual time of prayer though, we opened it up to hear Jesus stories. Our youth group has traditionally seen Jesus most clearly in fart jokes and funny stories apparently. Either that or they just like laughing. But oh my goodness guys, what I heard from our students on Wednesday night was a youth group thoroughly anchored in Jesus Christ. I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a couple of tears stain my cheeks along the way. Not even because of the life changing dramatic stories, though there were a few of those. I got a little choked up because these kids are getting pretty dang good at seeing Jesus at work in their lives, and it's an honor to be able to share in that with them in some small way.
One of the manifestos of youth ministry these days is to un-program, to do less, to make less of a show of our jobs. For this incredible event on Wednesday, we spent a total of $100 on firewood and cider, and maybe an hour of time getting it together. I would also say that we saw way more growth and impact from our night this week than we ever did in the old days bringing in bands for thousands of dollars and months of planning. I have to be careful here, because good gravy am I lazy. There will be a temptation to do less in all the wrong ways. I think the corrective against laziness though is to be ruthlessly relational in doing less. I don't want to do less just because it will be easier. I want to do less because it will free me to hear the campfire stories that these teenagers are telling all the time, with or without the benefit of s'mores.
Listen up. It's story time.
A few weeks ago, because my wife is extremely organized and on the ball, she brought home a pair of the much sought after eclipse glasses that everyone was searching for yesterday. Until yesterday, I was admittedly kind of "meh" about the whole eclipse thing, but once I caught my first glimpse of it through those glasses, I was overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed at the sheer beauty of the moment. I was overwhelmed at a creator who could give us such wonderful gifts purely for our enjoyment. It was really cool. I snuck outside a few times to see the event in various stages of completeness (we in Pittsburgh never really got beyond 80%, but it was still cool), in-between feeding the boys apple sauce pouches.
Today I'm back in the office, gearing up for the coming ministry season. Ministry for all intents and purposes works on the school year calendar. We start getting busy a few weeks before the kids go back to school, getting geared up for youth group, trips, events, and the normal week to week goings on around here. So for me, today feels a bit like going back to school. As I'm hitting the reset button on habits and happenings, I thought the blog could use a good old kick in the pants. So what you read now is the 845 time I've recommitted to publishing a semi-regular blog!
Any time I do that, I wonder what it is I'm going to be focused on. There is so much of my life that I think is actually worth considering, that without focus we'll bounce back and forth like a kid with ADD in a room with sugar coated walls. Do I write about youth ministry, this being my 11th year of ministry at Westminster? Do I write about media stuff, which I am just really starting to get into here, but have absolutely no idea what I'm doing? Do I write about politics, because it absolutely interests me and let's be honest, everyone else is doing it at this point? What do I do?
What I resolved to is that I would love to write about all of those things, but to write about them through the lens of the Kingdom of God. I think that's something that a lot of people attempt to do, but don't always nail. A lot of people when they write about youth ministry, or ministry in general, tend to write only about leadership. Leadership is great, you need to be a decent leader to get things done in the church, that's for sure. But Jesus never mentioned leadership. It wasn't on his radar. He was way more focused on the Kingdom of God, and that came about through meaningful relationships and interactions, what we might call discipleship. Media is great, but can it be the vehicle through which we proclaim the in breaking Kingdom of God? What stories are out there that need to be told? Where is Jesus moving in people's lives, and how exactly do we capture it? And as far as I can read on Facebook, our discussion of politics has turned into a food fight where there are clear winners and clear losers, all the while forgetting that all the issues we toss back and forth impact real life flesh and blood people. I really don't want to have the food fight conversations any more.
So let's have a better conversation, you and I. Let's talk about how the actions we take, the work we do, and the conversations we engage in are impacted by the coming Kingdom. Let's be critical of ideas and be respectful of people at the same time. Let's find a way to teach our students how to have that conversation, and let's teach them how to keep their eyes open for the ways Jesus is moving in their midst every day.
As long as they're wearing protective glasses...
Longtime readers of the J-Blog know of my friendship with Ed Cyzewski, author and unfortunately for all of us fan of the Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets. We pray for his healing and restoration. Anyway, Ed released a new book a little while ago, and invited me to offer up a review. Being the good friend that I am, I took nearly two months to read it, and even longer to actually get around to writing a review. This, as they say, is #twinlife. Anyway, I encourage us all to take a cue from Ed's author picture above. Sit back, relax with a cup of coffee, and read this review of an awesome book!
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.