Reflecting on David Brooks’ Q Talk on Humility at #qdc

Photo by Ken Worth


I was excited that Q invited David Brooks this year for a couple reasons. One, I appreciate his thinking, two, I really liked Bobos in Paradise, three, he’s Jewish and we need great voices speaking into the Church, even if they identify themselves as outside of our faith.

In his introduction he told a story of Dwight Eisenhower who apparently had a terrible temper when he was a young child. During one of his tantrums, instead of consoling him, his mom told him that, “He that conquers his own soul his greater than he who conquers a city.” Eisenhower would later say that was the greatest piece of advice anyone had ever given him and that quote served as an excellent backdrop for the 18 minute presentation.

Brooks noted that in today’s culture, there is a shift in self-conception, low pre-self occupation, and the sense of vocation differs greatly from that of previous generations. To illustrate this, he cited a number of disturbing stats that illustrated American arrogance. The formula basically was asking a group of engineers, accountants, etc, about their job performance, get a high number of self-approval, find a statistic that completely undermined their effectiveness, safety record, etc. thereby revealing their collective arrogance. I know I ruined the illustration but it was kinda funny.

Along with our vocational arrogance, there is the cultural trend that personal debt has increased in young generations, public debt as well. The idea is that current generations push the cost onto their future generations, past generations didn’t do that. Brooks was very clear – all of this is connected.

He touched on the way we handle risk and, the nature of polarization today but paid special attention to the idea of “moral inarticulateness”. He said, “We have raised a generation of good people but inarticulate of morality. They have no vocabulary for morality, we told people to discover their own morality.” Powerful.

There was a little humor as well, he mentioned how some 20’s and 30’s admitted how much they wanted to be famous. In fact, some said that they would prefer fame over sex. Brooks said something like, “As one who enjoys some relative fame, believe me, sex is better.” I do wonder about the admission of the 20’s and 30’s. It seems to be more about access than the actual experience. Meaning, it’s easer for that age group to find sex than fame and that becomes the allure. It probably also has to do with the notion that fame and power inevitably allow for things like sex, money, travel, connections to celebrities, material amenities/experiences connected to pop-culture’s “good life.” But that’s another story.

There are a lot of people talking about humility these days. And generally, I consider that as a good thing unless it’s just the token “humility” talk to insert in the conference that goes on about how amazing we are. In truth, initially I wasn’t particularly excited to discover Brooks was going to talk about humility but he did such a great job framing it against our cultural mindset, it’s a presentation that comes back to mind frequently.

In thinking about it, my appreciation is largely due to his critiquing of his fellow Boomers in order to help X’ers and Millennials. Further, though he was contrasting inter-generational arrogance with previous generations, I did not get the sense that he was romanticizing them. Like countless others in my generation, we are inspired by the many who have walked these roads before us, so the Eisenhower illustration works. Our frustration lies more with the over-prescribing and the undermining tone along with the hypocrisy that we have found among our elders (that’s among the reasons why so many have either been jaded by or have completely given up on the institution and organized anything).

And so the cycle finds itself ready to repeat itself. Thus, humility (and self-awareness) becomes a key virtue, not only for us personally but for us as a society. We cannot serve the issues of the world with unresolved hearts. For me, our personal and collective arrogance has everything to do with where we have found our sense of identity and how/what we are really pursuing with our lives. May among our prayers be that we in all generations rely on God to tame our souls so we can bless our families, our neighborhoods and our world.

For more on Q check out:
Q Ideas –  They will be making these presentations available soon for subscribers. I think it’s a worthwhile investment (I think all the talks will be available for around $50-75)

David Brooks’ New York Times Opinions Page

My other posts on  #QDC so far here like:

Reflecting on Mark Batterson’s 5 Points on Church & Place at Q

Reflecting on Andy Crouch’s Discussion on Power (And How it Relates In the Church Sector) at Q

A Pentecost Sunday Reflection

I gave a brief meditation at our Pentecost Service on Wednesday. It went something like this:

This Sunday is Pentecost – the word means different things to many different people. For me an Egyptian-American born to Presbyterians parents who was raised in a non-denominational church in the Northeast but attended a Baptist college in the South, well, the term has taken me some time to get used to. Frankly, there was a time where I would have wondered what I would be doing at a service with the adjective “Pentecost.”

Now to a dear friend of mine whose grandmother found Christ in a charismatic setting, well that has made quite the difference for 3 generations, the idea of Pentecost holds special meaning for him. Pentecost. It means different things to different people all across the world.

What some might not realize is that it’s a very Biblical word, so for all who take the Scriptures seriously, we should reexamine its use and perhaps reclaim its Biblical meaning.

Pentecost was the fiftieth day after Passover. It was also an agricultural festival, the Feast of Weeks, when the wheat harvest was celebrated with a one-day celebration (Ex. 23:16, Lev. 23:15-21, Deut. 16:9-12). But for the Jews in the Old Testament, neither Passover nor Pentecost was simply an agricultural festival. These festivals, of course, celebrated the identity-forming legacy in the young nation of Israel with the stories of the Exodus and the Passover.

You may remember it would be 50 days after Passover until they would come to Mount Sinai and Moses would receive the law. Pentecost is about God giving to his redeemed people the way of life by which they must now carry out His purposes. His message and empowering them.

How appropriate then for God to send the Holy Spirit to this young church to proclaim He was with them.

In Acts 2, we think of the disciples gathered. Having seen the resurrected Jesus, having seen Jesus ascended and having been told to wait in Jerusalem. The disciples, still, in shock, still grieving (in some way), but still hopeful and still together. Suddenly a loud, rushing, violent wind fills the room and the Holy Spirit descends upon them like tongues of fire. They start preaching to the masses who had gathered from various cultures in Jerusalem for the Passover feast and people started hearing them in their own languages!

It’s a crazy scene – People start hearing the words in their own language and are amazed, some speculated that they disciples had been drinking.

Sometimes to us the miracle feels arbitrary or interchangeable. Jesus walking on water, or healing somebody but to change the miracle of tongues to something else would have changed an important part of the story.

Here’s what I mean. Had the Holy Spirit given the disciples say, the gift of flight and they starting flying around Jerusalem (even if they were singing – imagine singing flying apostles!), people would have gathered, they certainly would have been astonished and they would have asked themselves two questions: One, what does this mean? And two, have we been drinking? “Just what do they put in the orange juice here in Jerusalem?”

But back to the first question, what would this have meant?

To change the miracle would have been changed the meaning of Pentecost profoundly. The miracle of tongues at Pentecost is God saying, “I’ve made the message of salvation available to everyone, I’ve even put in your own language.”

One of the major points of Pentecost is that the message of the risen Jesus is for everybody. Regardless of ethnicity, background, tradition, tribe or language.

Here at Grace Chapel, we get to enjoy the blessing of being a multi-cultural church. Being an American Middle-Easterner, it’s one of the first things that I would notice. Like many here, I love our diversity. I for one, like the sound of broken English – it’s the language of home.

And so may we never take this multi-culturalism for granted. As we celebrate this, we should be challenged as well.
As we reflect on Pentecost Sunday, let us ask ourselves:

1. Are we being faithful with the gift of the Spirit that God has empowered us with?
2. Are we being faithful with the gift of each other?
3. Are we being faithful with the gospel message of the Risen Savior that is to be shared to all people?

May we as a Church reclaim the Biblical nature of Pentecost and may we be a Spirit-led people and Spirit-led church.

Reflecting on “Controversy” – Post 4 – If You Can’t Deal With It, Don’t Be a Christian

I know the more sensitive title would have been like, “You may find the Christian life difficult at times if you do not adequately understand or can deal with the never-ending controversies of life.” While it’s all true, it’s a lame blog title.

So here we go – The Christian life is riddled with controversy. I suppose it starts with the audacious claim of the resurrection. I mean we are talking about a dead man who claimed to be God and came back to life and promised all His followers this same resurrected life. Even worse, true Christ followers actually believe this is true.

In fairness, most people in the West today don’t consider this to be controversial anymore but in the first century, believing that the resurrected Jesus was the son of God could get you killed. Today, you can believe in just about anything so long as it does not infringe on another’s rights. Of course, we cannot say the same for other parts of the world.

Today, in the West, we have different controversies, separation of church and state, religious freedom, gay versus traditional marriage, abortion, and the list goes on. My argument is that because the nature of Christian belief and conviction is always tied into the public square, the Christian will never be able to avoid controversy.

In thinking about this, the following questions naturally surface, “Where is the balance of being bold and being controversial?” “Where is the line between being prophetic and unfairly using “shock value?” “Where is the line of not fighting every battle and not engaging in those that are necessary?”

And that’s the real motivation behind this little series. I find that too many of us go out of our way to avoid the entanglements of controversy. Worse, if controversies are always personal (to someone), this becomes the near equivalent of the priest and the Levite crossing the road to not touch the beaten man in the story of the Good Samaritan.

Most of us prefer the path of least resistance and generally if we are a part of a controversy, we tend to choose to be the instigators of it as opposed to being confronted by it. I suspect this is due to our desire to be in control. But the Christian life contains a moral expectation, communal accountability and is rooted in the followership and imitation of its central figure. Thus, controversy becomes part of the deal.

That does not mean that we should instigate controversy, fuel it or foolishly create it. Bad examples would include Pat Robertson (who believes any news is good news), Fred Phelps (who I do not identify as a faithful Christian; nor do I consider his mob to be a church), and that old guy who kept predicting the end of the world (I only wish I could forget the name Harold Camping) or some blogs that bluntly ask, “What do you think of gay marriage?” Regarding the latter, it’s good that we’re having this conversation online, the problem is that some are only having the conversation online. It’s a different conversation when we you are actually looking someone in the eye versus typing at your screen.

Finally, while we cannot be involved in every controversy, it does mean that we should do our part to confront the controversies that come into our paths. If we cannot, it seems to point at a lack of faith on our part and that should create alarm.

The type of controversy that I support is when we sincerely and lovingly try to stand for the common good for God and others. It’s been my experience that the better of these moments happen in conversation and community. I hope we as Christ-followers can defuse some of the cultural tension, clarity to confront the hype, peace to overcome the anger and wisdom to move us toward redemption.

Reflecting on “Controversy” Post 3 – When It Gets Personal

In posting about the nature of controversy, it seemed necessary to discuss on what happens when we find ourselves in some type of “controversy.” To avoid being over-dramatic here, I’m using the term as the idea that there are going to be times when you discover that people are intensely debating a subject for some period of time and the subject is you.

Most of us have no idea what it feels like to be under critical scrutiny like Tim Tebow or other celebrity types. But in our corner of life, many of us have felt watched, judged, and gossiped about. (We should also remember that we have all been guilty of doing this to others.)

In my first post I shared about an awkward moment about a decision I made that some deemed as “controversial”. Though initially it didn’t feel like it deserved the term, I do remember there was a good bit of unexpected discussion. I remember feeling a bit exposed and vulnerable. I also felt judged in some weird sense. I remember how I felt toward these “detractors.” And I remember feeling that it felt more personal than it ought to. Initially, I thought it was so odd that it became something so dramatic and that’s when it dawned on me, “it’s not the decision they don’t like, it’s me.”  While this was certainly not true for all who were conversing, it was true for some and this part of the nature of controversy, criticism and leadership.

I recall another time where I was sharing my heart on something I was willing to take the heat for. It’s like that big wave that you see coming and after it hits, you have two thoughts, “Yeah that’s what I thought it was going to be” and “My shorts are still on right? Thank God.”

In some ways, it was a similar feeling of vulnerability. This time, I had direct conversations in phone calls, emails and some in person. Some parts of it sucked as I thought, “I can’t believe this person doesn’t get it!” I learned a little more about spending more time listening than defending which is not just something that you need to only say but actually do. I learned more about compromise and a little more about clarifying. Some of it still hurt but looking back on it, it felt like I actually added to a larger conversation that needed to be had.

The important thing for me to remember was to keep perspective, keep conversing, try to keep growing in character. For the Christian, prayer, Scripture-reading, fasting and other disciplines are essential in creating and keeping your perspective. Conversing is necessary because we need to be in community, not just to avoid self-isolation, not just so others can understand what we are trying to say but for also encouragement and accountability. And lastly, we ought to never be spiteful but to respond to our critics with mercy and grace, even if they are unfair. I find this to be very difficult. It’s easy to respond in anger, in spite, even sarcasm (well, maybe a little sarcasm is ok) but it depends on what you are seeking.

If we are seeking reconciliation, reacting in anger for the hurt generally only reinforces the statement/action/reaction initially made against you. However, responding with charity, respect and a spirit willing to engage in dialogue can not only be disarming to your critic(s) but may actually lead to good things.

As I said in my second post, controversy can lead to conversation. And though we should not instigate controversy, we should be not afraid of it. It’s not the end of the world, it’s not the end of your career (scandals not withstanding) and we may actually find it to be the beginning of something better.


I’m a little off schedule with our move and excited to be preaching this Sunday night so pardon the inconsistent postings but thanks for reading.

Reflecting on “Controversy” Post 2 – Seeing It As an Opportunity for Conversation

In my first post, I made the point that there will always be controversy and that we should probably get better at dealing with it.

Controversy is a tricky thing of course. For those caught in the middle of the controversy, it can be a very painful experience. If you are among the grieved, offended, angered party, controversy is an opportunity to be heard. In its best scenario, it’s a chance for progress or even change! Depending on how inside/outside you are of it will generally determine how annoyed you get with the fueling of it and its attention.

For example, most of us would agree that the Tim Tebow thing was much to do about not too much. Ok, the guy likes to kneel and pray a lot. Whether you are a huge admirer or a detractor, let’s move on. Of course whatever chance we had of that disappears now that he is playing for a New York sports team. Had he played for Jacksonville, it would be much different, they simply don’t have that type of media attention there. Still, I wish the Cougars, err, the Jaguars the best of luck this season).

While over-discussed certain people and topics, we certainly under discussed others. As a society, we probably could have discussed the Genocide in Sudan a bit more. We shouldn’t forget about the elections and ongoing unrest in the Middle East and regardless of what we feel about the Occupy Movement, it should remind us of the pain and frustration that it represents in our neighborhoods. None of these conversations are actually over of course.

As a Church, we should be discussing these as well. I would also suggest specifically as a church, we could have discussed Rick Perry’s thoughts on government a bit more (Santorum’s Catholicism limited some of the Evangelical input). Many of us Christian Gen X’ers and Millennials are very concerned with some of this Buster’s idea of Christian nationalism. I for one, am grateful that the Perry campaign ended. That isn’t meant to sound as a personal attack but as soon as a politician attaches “Christianity” to his platform, I get very sensitive because now, the candidate is attempting to represent me in a number of ways. And to put it politely, people like Rick Perry do not best represent me.

I’m sure he’s a great guy, maybe a good guy to have in a church but not a President type. I appeal to a fundamentalist who was no stranger to controversy who said, “I would rather have an atheist who is a neurosurgeon of excellent talents operating on me if I ever need a brain surgery than to have the best Sunday school teacher in the world who doesn’t know a thing about it. I’d much rather have the atheist if that is his specialty. … We’ve got to elect a president who, whether he or she goes to church or which church or whatever, understands the issues. And the top issue today in our culture is survival.” Even Jerry Falwell got it.

So here’s what I’m saying – looking back on it, Perry’s short run for the Presidency allowed for conversation. Without Perry, I would have fewer conversations on nationalism, patriotism and the Kingdom of God, the verbiage of Christian America, Church and State, Mormonism and the popular motto that “everything is weirder in Texas.”

And that’s what’s good about controversy. Controversy gives us an opportunity for conversation. For me, there are only so many times I can talk about the weather, or the traffic, only so many times I can talk about entertainment culture of even sports. Some times, we need to have a serious conversation and controversies allow for that. The media hype gives us a headstart in thinking about the issue. Further, the culture’s emotional response (whether it be in the forms of anger or sympathy) creates urgency. And when we finally stop talking about the weather and the traffic, we might be able to cut through the superficialities, deepen friendships, offer hope to those around us and maybe even contribute to the collective good.

That said, there certainly is a danger in becoming a controversy hunter. Having to make up your mind on every issue does not make you informed, only opinionated. This opens the door for pride and anger to enter the heart. There is also a danger in turning into an information junkie because everything tends to get objectified and even this becomes no more than a hobby. This invites apathy and possible disillusionment.

On better days, my motives for conversation include the following:
An opportunity to reduce the tension.
Our culture is so quick to respond and it’s usually in anger. We can speculate on the cultural psychological makeup of why but on the other side of it, we ought to ask, are we contributing to the pain or helping to lessen it in at least some small way? Reducing the cultural tension can help us think more rationally, and hopefully, respond more compassionately. Usually when this happens, the media shuts down reporting on the controversy and looks for another.

Second, such discussion creates an opportunity to listen. There have been numerous times when the conversation began in talking about a particular scandal and then a more personal experience like the pursuit of success and pride became the new center piece of the conversation. Listening in these moments can do wonders.

Third, such discussions, even heated ones, create an opportunity to see the other side. In conversing with those with different presuppositions, we not only gain understanding of “the other”, we not only offer our side to “the other” but we each get to see the complexity of the issue and the complexity of our respective personhood. We realize we have motives and experiences that have shaped us, and sometimes they need to be altered, destroyed or celebrated. It’s best if we can do this together.

Lastly, controversies can allow us to get to the heart of the matter. For example, going back to the Rick Perry example is that I was suspicious that he was using the Christian narrative as a tool for his political agenda. Certainly I would like to see more Christian values in the culture, including in the government, but not at the cost of the message of Jesus. And even more so, I do not want to see the powerful arm-twisting and crafting sound-bytes for hollow agendas. God does not manipulate, nor should we dare to either. And so, when I talk about moments like this, I get to talk about the calling and the potential of the Church as God’s vehicle to bring His kingdom of goodness, love and redemption to this world. I get to talk about how a strong church can reach out to the a increasingly secularized culture and how we are all invited to be part of God’s redemption.

It’s in these ways, controversies create opportunities for conversation, even for goodness, and we ought to be faithful with them.

Reflecting on “Controversy” – We’ll Always Have Some

Controversy – the very word itself creates unrest in the heart. I cannot count the number of times that I have seen that word preceded with an attaching name/place and thought “Here we go again.”

There’s a controversy in every corner and when it gets big enough, it becomes cultural.
Lately, it’s the Trayvon Martin case.
Romney has a daily controversy, Obama does too.
In the NFL, it’s the Saints Bounty scandal and soon it will be another “Tim Tebow Controversy.”
A couple weeks ago in my little sub-culture, there was controversy surrounding the movie Blue Like Jazz (which in case you forgot ;) I liked the movie. Here were my posts)
About two months ago, it was the Kony 2012 controversy which started as a sub-culture thing and blew up globally (while I have my concerns, for the most part, I support their work).

Chances are you have started, instigated, fueled a controversy in your corner of life. Likely won’t make Headline News, probably not a Lewinsky life-changer, and hopefully it’s something you laugh about now.

Years ago in a previous church, I changed the Middle School ministry to include 6th Graders. We talked about it for months, it felt like I consulted 500 out of the 300 people in my church, it seemed everyone thought it was a no-brainer. Then it became official and someone told me, “Well, that decision is a little controversial.” I couldn’t believe the word “controversy” was used. “People are actually talking about this?” Then I found out that some didn’t even have sixth graders, some didn’t have kids in the youth ministry! It reminded me of what Paul said, “Does the foot say to the hand, I don’t like the kind of gloves you are wearing?” (I didn’t say which Paul). So much of it didn’t make sense to me.

I’ll tell you this though – I remember it felt personal.  But I’ll get back to this later.

This series is going to have a couple parts but today, exploring the nature of controversy and our appropriate response to it. But today I want to reinforce the simple point that there will always be controversy. Always. And we should probably get better at dealing with it.

The logical question is why?  Well, in some sense we need them and in another sense, there’s money and power to be made.  Some controversies are legitimate. Some are created to keep you watching. Similarly, some only to get site clicks. Of course, these statements are subjective. But discussing/creating/manipulating controversy creates revenue, popularity and increases platform.  However, at its best moment, it also has the potential to lead to the truth (or a form of it).

We’re always going to have controversy and as Christians, I look forward to discussing how  we can add goodness to them.

What controversies are you following? Have you created any in your corner? Have you ever been in the middle of one, even a small one?  Feel free to add your thoughts and hope you tune in to the next post.

Reflecting on Mark Batterson’s 5 Points on Church & Place at Q #qdc

Been looking at my notes and thinking about Mark Batterson’s Q Talk on Church & Place.
Here were his five main points:

1 – We need to find ways of doing church that no one is doing yet
2 – We need lots of different churches bc there are lots of different people.
3 – Church ought to be most creative place on planet
4 – Be known for what we are for, not what we are against
“Criticize by creating” – Michelangelo
5 – Church belongs in middle of market place.
“Coffee houses are postmodern drinking wells, screens are postmodern stained glass.”

Mark is the pastor at National Community Church, has authored a number of books and is a regular speaker at national events. From the few times I’ve heard/read him, I appreciate his balance of ideas and numbers. Here’s an example from a Q piece he wrote a while back “Postmodern Wells: Creating a Third Place.” Though I’m not really following his work but what he’s saying is what I’ve been thinking about and trying to apply to my ministry. Hmmm, maybe I should start following his work.

Anyway, in general I agree and respect Mark’s points. He said quite a lot in the nine minutes he was given. Certainly resonate with the first one. In some sense, it’s a bit over-stated but I think it’s a great question to begin asking in any ministry context. It’s this mindset that had my friends and I are wondering about concerning alternative worship services, pub church gatherings, small group dynamics, etc.

Completely agree with the second point and I find myself saying something like this all the time. We need churches like Solmon’s Porch and McLean Bible churches. We need churches that meet in pubs and coffee house, I believe there is still a place for the traditional church and I of course believe in the large church structure as well. We need different churches that are always reforming and seeking the Spirit for the sake of the Kingdom.

Point three sounds nice. If by that, we mean the Christian community (as opposed to only the institution) needs to be the most creative place, yeah, I guess so. But I’m not sure I would say it like that. I certainly think we need to aspire to be creative and pioneering. We honor the great Creator when we create. When I think of creativity today, I of course, think of Apple, the Arcade Fire and The Tree of Life (are you reading Bo?). In any case, Mark is right to encourage us here.

I would outright disagree with point four if so many people I respected didn’t keep saying it. I understand that for too many people outside the Church, we are only known for what we are against (gay marriage, abortion, Democrats). Of course these generalizations are not helpful. I do want the Church to be known as a community of love, compassion, open-mindedness. However, I think we should be known also as a people that are against unfair discrimination, injustice and closed-mindedness. When there’s a hate crime, society should say, “People in the Church are going to be angered, there is no room for racism here. We need grace and love.” People are not saying that and I know that sounds idealistic but it’s certainly consistent with the teachings of Jesus.

And regarding point five, I wish he could have had more time to unpack this. I need to take a closer look at what they are doing with the Ebeenzers Coffee House. I have visited, it is cool, great space, and they serve One Village!   It felt that very few communities could use this as a model but again, I would need to learn the story.

As a staff, we’ve talked about things like this a couple of times and I think this is a needed conversation in our churches. Not only because of the economical climate, not only because American culture is steeped in the marketplace, but I see it as stewardship. Even further, should local churches enter the market place, I hope we can do so with a countercultural attitude that confronts the negative aspects of consumerism and celebrates the better things like fair-trade, fair-wage, ethical marketing and a Kingdom-minded mentality.

For more check out:
the church he serves at, National Community
His new book The Circe Maker

and you can follow him on Twitter.

For related posts on my time at Q, you can read:

Reflecting on Andy Crouch’s Discussion on Power (And How it Relates In the Church Sector) at Q
Reflecting on the Q Conference, Washington DC Post 1 – Back Home & Grateful