Lamenting For Ferguson

I am in lament for Ferguson.

Among the many emotions, lament is the word and feeling that keeps coming up for me. I felt it soon after August 9th and posted a  long list of laments then, many of which I still feel today, some even stronger.

Specifically today, I lament that many are going to miss an opportunity to understand the larger hurt this represents.

I lament the feeling I get when I read “Black lives matter.”

I lament the pain this represents to countless people, people I know, many that I don’t.

I lament that we often judge a situation by its worst representatives.

I lament that we often judge a situation from a narrative that will only allow us to to see this from a singular, pre-determined view.

I lament that we will likely never know exactly what happened between Officer Wilson and Michael Brown.

I lament for the countless black men and other minorities who are profiled every day. You probably know someone who has told you something like, “I always leave my house dressed up enough to separate myself from a perceived stereotype but not too dressed up that I am associated by another.” I lament that is a reality.

I lament the actions of those who perpetuate the case for profiling and I lament those that use this as an excuse to continue to profile.

I lament the violence.

I lament that better days may not ever come or come too late in my lifetime.

I know as a pastor, as a Christian, as a person who values virtues like hope and love that I am supposed to outline a vision for better days. On some level, I still believe that but today it feels impossible to profess and call for this. And I lament this too.

I’ll spend some time in prayer, I’ll keep engaging with others in community, hopefully connect with new/different voices, read, and process. I believe God will meet me here in my lament. And if I can encourage you, let God meet you wherever you are too.

 

 

“On Welcoming Our Newborn” – A Father’s Reflection

IMG_4589 - Version 2This past week we welcomed the addition of our baby daughter to our family. Born on the morning of November 5, Brianna Joy came out healthy, and happy to no longer be confined to the tiny quarters of her mother’s womb (She told us this, “Yeah like anyone would want to spend their existence restricted and spoken to through skin and membrane walls. But really, I’m grateful to be here with you all. I want to be held, known and I want to love my family. Ok, I‘d like some milk please.”) I know, I thought the same thing you’re thinking – She has her mother’s sarcasm and her father’s sweet, gentle spirit.

It’s been a long pregnancy for Susan, and I imagine for Baby Bri. And for the sake of camaraderie, I’ll throw myself in the mix because, really, is there a such thing as a short pregnancy? If you’re listening and sympathizing, it doesn’t go very fast. But it’s great to finally meet her because she’s felt hidden for so long.

I have asked our other children if they remember being in the womb, and they all reply “Yes.” And they walk away to play with they Legos when I ask them to describe it.

Fortunately, I remember my experience waiting to be born. It was warm, softly lit, fairly comfortable if you didn’t move too much. Unfortunately the wifi was sporadic and my Treo always needed to be rebooted – that part of the experience was disappointing frankly. I also remember trying to time my arrival to be memorable but I didn’t want to compete with Jesus so I decided to be born on Christmas Eve. Looking back on it, I feel I over-thought that as I now realize that though you can miss the beauty and meaning of Christmas, nothing can really compete with Jesus. But I was young and didn’t know any better. I also remember things like the doctor who pulled me out ((his name was “Doctor”). He wore these blue latex gloves, had bad breath and hadn’t shaved that morning. I remember the nameless nurses and how they were so excited to meet me and make me presentable and how they handed me off to my Mom and Dad. I remember telling my parents, “So you named me Timothy -that will work. So you immigrated from Egypt to the United States and you picked Jersey City to begin our family? We couldn’t have found a place in Miami?” That last part doesn’t really sound like me back then but that’s my parents’ account and over time the line between stories and memories run together so I just go with it.

Fast forward to today, I’m still thinking about Brianna’s time in her mothers’ womb. Like all parents holding a newborn, we keep saying, “Can you believe she was just inside there?” Pretty incredible how these human people are born. Further, and maybe regular readers and friends are tired of hearing this but I just can’e believe we have this big family since we struggled so much with infertility – ridiculously thankful in the big picture. Now to be truthful, there are days when I act less than grateful for what I’ve been entrusted with but when I take a step back, I’m really humbled by the fact that we’re parents of a growing family.

I for one think Brianna is going to have it pretty good. The youngest of four but since all her siblings are close in age, Susan and I are still in super-parent mode. While we haven’t slept much in 6 years, there is a minimal gaps in our infancy knowledge. How often do you feed a baby? Change a baby? Burp a baby? Hold a baby? Forget about what the books tell you – the answer is always.

Four Kids – still trying to wrap my head around it. Can we really do this? Sure we can. But how well will we do it? Can we provide enough care, affection, can we afford it all, what will their opportunities be like? You think of the other questions, Which kid will get or feel neglected? Who is going to have the hardest time? Which one is going to hate us? Gathering from my own adolescence and from my years of serving in student ministry, I remember that whether you have one, two, five or many more that it doesn’t matter, each kid is going to hate you at some point, each kid is going to feel short-changed at some point and everyone goes through their own valleys. Our prayer will be that each one also find love and identity on the other side of this.

Similarly, being a ministry family, I of course, wonder what the quality of their faith will be, if they will resent the faith/church or if in the big picture, this will be among the privileges they will later claim to have? And of course, they will each have different experiences, perspectives, callings, futures, pasts, right nows. How can we really manage all this? 

Here’s what I learned on Bri’s birthday. It’s amazing how holding a newborn brings peace to the questions. They probably won’t go away but I am reminded once again of the power of presence. Further, I am reminded that there are no foreseen limits to a parents’ love. Though human and finite, the word unforeseen feels right because when we truly love, we don’t see the limits. It’s as close as we have to knowing something eternal, something transcendent; it’s very spiritual and probably where we find it most accessible to relate to and connect with God. It’s extraordinary, a bit illogical, and among the differences between romantic love and the love you have for your children is that it feels magnified when you love your children alongside your spouse.

And so to cut to the chase, we don’t manage children. Or at least we shouldn’t. There is no sure-fire way to safe-guarding a child’s future. We can try as much as we like but there are no guarantees in this life. We can be intentionally faithful, we ought to be diligent, we must be prayerful, we can introduce, guide and help our children process all sorts of things ranging from soccer to ballet dancing to painting to serving to New York sports teams to the sacred to the trivial to the many things in between. But we can’t guarantee, we can’t control, we dare not manipulate – instead, we walk together. 

Somewhat self-aware, I know I’m on riding the high of welcoming a new-born. I doubt my 29 year old self would be able to relate to this post, and in some ways, it would feel like pushing the dagger a bit further. Similarly, I’m cognizant that my 49 year old self might be embarrassed by all this. All I can say is that it’s the testimony of the moment, and I feel I gained something here and chances are there was much to be gained at 29, and more so at 49. Married, single, divorced, widowed, waiting, changing diapers or enjoying being a grandparent, love feels accessible to all of us, and most likely, different than what we anticipated.

It’s late and I probably shouldn’t post this tomorrow but I’m sure you’ll forgive me if I sound a bit over-dramatic about our daughter’s birth. And if not, then please dismiss this as the passionate expression of a proud father. Frankly, it’s a great fraternity to be a part of.

Rethinking: “Fake It Til You Make It”

In a sermon last month I mentioned my concern for the phrase “Fake it til you make it.”  Ok that’s an understatement, I voiced my great displeasure with this maxim. If there was a way for me to remove this and “There’s a reason for everything” from our maxim, we’d have a better world ;)

Perhaps I’m over-stating but i also can’t help but think how this statement is over-used. It’s a phrase we hear all the time. From my observation it’s a bit of self-coaching, confidence-booster. I think it’s trying to say, “I know I don’t got it but I’m gong to act like I do until I do (because I’m really hoping I will eventually).” It’s not so bad right?

“Fake it til you make it” sounds cute until you hear a surgeon say it. Or imagine the anxious moments of stepping onto an airplane, the crew stands at the door, and as you peak into the cockpit, there’s a sticker taped above the cockpit windshield “Fake [Read more…]

Mark Driscoll’s Resignation is the Best Possible Outcome Until …

image from Paul Wilkinson’s blog

This will likely be my last post on Mark Driscoll for a while. As one who has critiqued him, called to stop making fun of him, and in a recent post, called him a cautionary tale, this feels like an appropriate time to close this loop for a while.

If you haven’t heard, earlier this week Mark willfully resigned from being the lead pastor of Mars Hill Church. It’s been a big deal for some of us for a while and you can read up on the details here and elsewhere but there’s been a significant abuse of power, a series of inappropriate actions and years of inappropriate conduct.

While it’s always awful to hear this type of news, I’m grateful for Mark choosing to resign and see this as a best possible outcome to this scene for at least three reasons:

[Read more…]

Thinking About Ebola and the Various Threats of Life

Ebola – the newest of the scariest words we have today. We regularly get new ones to add to the lexicon: Isis, recession, Obama, Republicans, drones, identity theft, and many more. These words mean different things to us in different times. Their power fluctuates from harmless to seemingly all-encompassing to “I hope it doesn’t affect me or those near me.”

It’s customary to blame the media. “They’re always trying to get the public riled up about something!” Despite the hype (and there will always be hype), there is often good reason for the concern.

The Ebola outbreak is real. The World Health Organization reports there have been 4,493 deaths while others estimate the number to be closer to 12,000. Today’s reports are filled with the two nurses’ travel and current care as they treated the Dallas man who died after his trip to West Africa. And like all disease, this is tragic and worth grieving. 

It’s normal after every plane crash, terrorist attack, school shooting, even after hearing of a drunk driving accident to wonder if it could happen to me. We know that we are not exempt from tragedy. While we should never panic, it’s perfectly normal and fairly wise to [Read more…]

I Have a Chapter in a New Book Called Father Factor

 

Father_Factor_Cover_200dpiI’m so grateful to announce that I have a chapter in a book that will be released next       week: Father Factor: American Christian Men on Fatherhood and Faith published by White Cloud Press. It’s Book 5 of the amazing I Speak For Myself Series. 

Here’s how we’re describing the project:

Father Factor explores the intersection between faith and fatherhood, probing the resonance and dissonance created when men examine fatherhood in all its permutations, and how it is informed by and informs their faith.

There are a wide variety of Christian faith perspectives represented in the book and many ethnicities. The contributors include ministers, professors, a real estate agent, an actor, nonprofit leaders, stay-at-home dads, and a call center representative, from locations as far apart as Honolulu, HI, to Paris and all points in between. They each have a compelling story about faith and fatherhood.

Fatherhood is quite the complicated subject for all of us. For obvious reasons it transcends culture, generation, social class, and more. Biologically, we all have a father, but the relationship we have with that man differs for each of us. And so it took  quite a number of voices to speak into such an important, complicated and potentially painful/beautiful subject.

I’m in a season of life where many of the people I have known and loved throughout my life have gone from talking about the realities concerning their fathers to actually now being a father. I find it really interesting to contrast the conversations we had at 15 about our dads and now about being one (and now what we think about our dads). Interesting times.

From what I’ve been able to access, our idea of fatherhood is changing constantly. Among other sentiments, we may feel unprepared but when we see our children, we wouldn’t pass this opportunity to father for anything. I’ve been seeing from my fellow contributors that we’re all trying to find some clarity on the amazing calling of fatherhood.

My chapter is entitled, “Fatherhood Has Changed You” which is a comment one of my friends from seminary said to me. I was a bit surprised by her observation and found myself spending most of my two hour drive thinking about how the last two years had changed me. Infertility and long unanswered nights filled with hurt, angst and what felt like futile prayers were quickly replaced by two healthy, happy, crying boys that got us up in the middle of the night and got us out of bed early in the morning. Only fatherhood (and motherhood) can understand the incredible beauty of this.

One of my favorite aspects of the project is being included with some pretty amazing writers/bloggers/thinkers like main author and project editor, Anderson Campbell, Christian Piatt who wrote the foreword, a new book called Post Christian and writes one of the most provocative blogs you can read), Jason Boyett (Author of many titles including O Me of Little Faith), Andrew Marin (Love Is an Orientation), Micah Murray of Redemption Pictures, Steve Knight and friends of mine like Daniel Haugh and Drew Hart. Here’s the full list of contributors and the short bios.

I was also thrilled when I saw that some of my favorite thinkers/writers/bloggers like  Sarah Bessey (Jesus Feminist), theologian Richard Mouw (the link is his Wikipedia page), Jamie Wright (The Very Worst Missionary) give kind endorsements. I think Matthew Paul Turner (Our Great Big American God), summed up the project very well when he said,  “The essays in this book will make you laugh, bring you to tears, and at times, cause you to rethink your approach to parenting. But most of all, Father Factor will fill you with hope.”

The Awesome Andy Campbell

A HUGE special thanks to our main author/project editor – Andy Campbell. He brought so much goodness together. And grateful for our publisher Steve Scholl and the good people of White Cloud Press.

To share as candidly as possible –  I’m really grateful and proud to be a part of this. There is so much to be gained in the conversation of fatherhood and I’m honored to contribute to it.  So I hope you consider picking up a copy, liking our Facebook page, and spreading the word. AND if you know you will make a purchase, it would be a huge help to us if you pre-ordered (you also get a 35% discount).

The Father Factor Website

You can order it here.

Should We Still Love/Watch the NFL?

For those who are already disinterested or dislike the NFL, it’s easy to see all the recent events as yet another reason to turn off the NFL. But what do real NFL fans do with what’s happening these days?

Confession: I like(d) Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson. “Mighty Mouse” and “All Day” have been great athletes to watch play football. Further, up until now, their off-the-field personalities have been likable. Yeah, Rice has always been cocky but it’s “little-guy in the NFL syndrome” and it works. And though AP preaches a different type of Christian faith than I do, I did appreciate that he trusted Jesus and desired to share his hope with others (Did you see him “preach” at the ESPY’s last year?).

So when news broke out that Rice knocked out his then-fiancé and the images of him dragging out Janay, I was very saddened. Like many, I balked at the two-game suspension Roger Goodell gave and when the video in the elevator was released, wow! I along with everyone could not believe what I saw (I don’t doubt he lives in deep regret of that moment too). Then when the news of Adrian Peterson broke of him beating his four year old in the manner he admits to, my stomach turned again. The pictures and the report are enough, though however unlikely, I hope no video ever emerges of the look of Peterson’s face as he did what he did to his young son.

These high-profile incidents and many others are making us all wonder what is going on, how much is enough and what can actually be done? What does it mean to keep watching/following/cheering? What does it mean to stop?  How does this correlate to every other scandal in the entertainment industry, the political sector, the church world, and all the missteps that my friends and family members make in my own private world? There’s the big picture view of society, the closer ones, and the one in the mirror – what about him/her? And for those of us Christians, how does our faith inform this?

The point is often made that sports is a microcosm for life and I resonate with some of that. I find it to be partially true [Read more…]

My Review of Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure by J.R. Briggs

One of the books I enjoyed reading over the summer was Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure by J.R. Briggs. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book exclusively about failure. I have read leadership books that discuss  aspects of failure and how to overcome it. I’ve read book about discovering success in the midst of various circumstances including failure but again, I’m not sure I’ve read anything exclusively on failure. After all, who would want to voluntarily remember, dissect and process the nature of their many personal failures? Well, it turns out I would. And you might want to also. 

Here’s what I found helpful: 

J.R’s voice. Authentic, raw, bordering on over-sharing, wounded with a hope of over-coming (A nod to the editors for letting him go). He’s bold but not rude. It’s the true North-easterners’ mentality – Honest, mostly-polite, a bit sarcastic and articulate. Is there really any other way to talk?) [Read more…]

On Failing

One of the books I read this summer was called Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure by J.R Briggs. I still need to write my review of how much I enjoyed this book but failure, success and the fears and trappings connected and everything in between is always on my mind – and likely on yours too. It’s safe to make the assumption that everyone has felt the fear of failure at some point. For many of us, it’s a relevant, in and out thing. Maybe right now you are doing exactly what you want to be doing, maybe you’re doing the opposite, whatever and wherever, the fear of failure always lurks.

On good days, we know we will experience failure and success and we’ll live and learn. On the not so great days, we over-fixate, we grieve the loss of something prized, we let it consume and we let it spill-over in other aspects of our lives.

I’m sure you have read countless quotes on failure and have read numerous insights about overcoming it.

“Everything you want is on the other side of failure.” – Jack Canfield

“Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” – C.S. Lewis

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can achieve greatly.” – Robert Kennedy

and of course, an obligatory Winston Churchill quote:

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it’s the courage to continue that counts.”

Sometimes the words make you want to fail so you can experience the joy of triumphing over the failure. But if I’m being honest, if I have to fail, I only want to fail at the things that are inconsequential or reserved in front of an audience of those who will [Read more…]

A New Ministry Year, “Here We Go Again …”

For us ministry types not following the liturgical church calendar, these are a different type of intense days as the new church ministry year begins. The over-all vision has been worked on and prayed on for months, the supporting themes/ministries need to move from ideation to practice and among the many other pieces to move into motion, there is the volunteer search (Please read last year’s post “There Aren’t Enough Volunteers This Year and There Never Will Be”). In addition to all that, there is still the need and your own personal desire to meet with people in the hopes of listening, counseling and serving. As you know, no one goes into the ministry because they love Excel and calendaring.

It can be easy to lose track of the original reason of serving others during this ramp up as often you hear the phrase “Here we go again” with a sarcastic grin. I’ve heard it and said this countless times over the years and it feels like a statement worth unpacking.

“Here we go again” is likely asked by a broad spectrum of people in a variety of contexts. In the church world, staff, lay-leaders, and volunteers of all kinds.

“Here we go again” can be another of way of asking, “Will any of this matter?” We all have limited time and energy and it’s logical [Read more…]