What I Write About

I write about the infinite number of intersections between every day life and the good news of the God who has come to get us.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Super Bowl Magic Carpet Ride Pick

So last year, the best team in decades came into the SuperBowl heavily favored to win. The New England Patriots were undefeated and rolling.

The New York Giants had played three games on the road as a Wild Card, were underdogs (I believe) in all three and had won all three. They were on a Magic Carpet Ride, and it didn't stop until they lifted the trophy, stunning the Pats who were clearly the better team throughout the season.

Arizona is on the Magic Carpet Ride this year. The Steelers are the better team and on paper they should win. But the pick here is Arizona. And I'd love to see it--I'm a big fan of Kurt Warner.

Please enjoy (responsibly) the Great American Holiday that is the SuperBowl.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Great Dance Meets Carpentry...and Cube World and....

Kruger shares a story to illustrate how the Western picture of the gospel as being mostly about forgiveness has made us miss the whole point of the Christian story.

He had a carpenter working in his house who was a Christian. He asked him if he ever thought about how Jesus relates to his carpentry. "Not really," was the reply, "I guess he makes me an honest carpenter."

Kruger unpacks this:
"Is that it? Is that all we have to say to the carpenters of the world, the engineers, the designers, the artists?...Jesus will make you honest?...Is honesty the extent of the relationship between Jesus Christ and human beings?...is it reducible to mere morality?"
Kruger argues that by missing the Great Dance of the Trinity, we've missed the point of Jesus' coming, downsizing it to mere forgiveness, and thus missing the point of that forgiveness: to participate in the glad beauty, power, love, and joy of the God of all things. We've been invited to swim in that River, and have it shape how we do everything in our lives.

I had a similar conversation with an art student once at my former school, VCU. "How does Jesus shape your art?" I asked him. He had no idea at first. Then he said that there was certain art that he felt wasn't good or glorifying to God--pornography basically. But he didn't just want to paint pictures of Moses, David, Jesus, Mary and/or the disciples.

So all he had was the negative, moral implication of his faith (no pornography) but he couldn't fathom the positive influence that life shared in the Land of the Trinity could have. The only positives he could come up with were boring, limiting options. He hadn't begun to consider the fact that infinite joy and beauty and grace were all around might just spark some holy creativity. No one had told him that there was such a thing.

My guess is that most of us, from cube world to elementary school teachers, to full-time parents, to students in the classroom, event to us "religious professionals" are similarly at a loss. Perhaps this accounts for our lack of energy, joy, and impact in our world.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Great Dance

"There are two things that I have known for as long as I can remember. The first is that there is an invisible river flowing [through life]...of glory and abounding fullness, of passion and goodness, beauty and joy.

The second is that this great dance is related to God. But for the life of me, I could never understand how this could be so. 'God' to me was an abstract, austere, omni-being somewhere up there in heaven, or worse, he was a legalist who cared only about his rules."

So begins C. Baxter Kruger's "The Great Dance: The Christian Vision Revisited." If his quandry summed up here resonates with you, you would do well to get this book. Baxer goes on to talk about where his longing for union with this river of beauty and joy meets up with his understanding of God: in the wonder and power and glory of the Trinity.

Here are his three main conclusions:

1. There is the Trinity, and the great dance of life and glory and joy shared by the Father, Son and Spirit.

2. There is the incarnation as the act of the Father, Son, and Spirit reaching down, extending the circle, their great dance of life, to us.

3. There is our humanity, which is the theater inwhich the great dance is played out through the Spirit.

Kruger argues that a Western focus on forgiveness in place of adoption has caused us to miss the whole point of the God story throughout history. There is forgiveness, of course, but forgiveness is a means, not an ends. We are forgiven in order that we might be brought up into God's very life, the Great Dance of the Trinity that plays throughout history and is rushing to its' final, decisive end.

He argues that although the Trinity has mostly been the ground of nerdy theologians, it's actually the centerpiece that brings our faith to bear in the most practical of places: parenting and fishing and soccer practice and classes. This is a slim volume that's intended to bring the glorious dance of the Trinity to bear on the common person.

I'm still reading, but I give it thumbs up. Check out their web site for more info: perichoresis.org.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Just heard that the Chapel Hill Herald ran my rant (a.k.a. the open letter to the religious studies department) in their paper today as a guest column. I knew it was going to run, just wasn't sure when

It's 8:50 p.m. now. If you hurry, you still might be able to get a copy at your local news stand.

For Those of You Who are Irregular

I realize that some of you have the audacity to only check in on Piebald Life maybe a couple times a week, maybe less than that. Ergo, the long-ish posts from the past couple of days can be a little too much to take in.

So to serve you today (and to let you catch up on the action from this week), here's a quote I've been meaning to post for a couple of weeks from St. Ignatius:

"Very few people realize what God would make of them if they but abandon themselves in his hands and let themselves be filled by his grace."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pressing Through Disappointment

Yesterday when I came home I was greeted with exceptional vigor by my 5-year-old son, Davis. He rapidly informed me that he was building a rocket ship. He took me by the hand into the kitchen and so it was: cereal boxes wrapped in aluminum foil, cardboard tubes, and tape and glue littered the floor.

I sat down and joined in the fray. Davis was getting more and more excited: "We'll go outside and TAKE OFF!"

Eventually it became clear that he wasn't entirely clued into the fact that this was a pretend rocket ship and that it wouldn't actually fly. Kelly tried to break it to him gently. But he was crestfallen, pitiful, walking around moping and pitiful. His parents couldn't build him a rocket ship. It won't be the last time we disappoint him.

Within a few minutes, Davis had recovered. But it seems that pressing through disappointment with others is one of the only ways that we can mature in our relationships with one another, at least here in the Land of the Ruins. I dare not hazard a guess as to how things might have been had things gone otherwise at the Great and Terrible Exchange.

For Davis and I to have a mature relationship, he has to realize that there are things that I can't or won't do. If he's still asking me to build him a rocket ship that he thinks can fly at age 20, we're in trouble.

With friendships, it's different to be disappointed. We can opt out of friendships more easily and often when we encounter disappointment with a friend we try to play through it (thus stunting the opportunity for real relating, real intimacy, real friendship) or we cut off the relationship entirely.

Obviously in both the child-parent relationship and our friendships, there's a point where the disappointments become abusive or manipulative and it's clearly time to make important decisions for emotional, spiritual, and even physical health and safety.

Shifting the conversation a bit, it seems that disappointment with God is a crucial step in the maturing of our relationship with him as well. The hard thing with God is that (unlike my inability to build a rocket ship) there's nothing he can't do. So it can feel a little more premeditated, almost vindictive. God could do something, but he's not, he won't. Especially when our request seems like something a good God would want to do: heal a parent battling a disease, for example.

But for whatever reason, the fires of disappointment, even in our relationship with a perfect and all-powerful God, are essential for our growth. What will you do with your pain? Embracing both the disappointment and God in the midst of that disappointment is a crucial part of our growth. Otherwise we either maintain a shallow, immature relationship with God or we quit on him. But to press through disappointment is the path to health, life, and joy that we so deeply desire.

It's just hard to see that when you realize that your rocket ship won't fly.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

An Open Letter To the UNC Religious Studies Department

I recently received news of your decision to pursue an endowed chair in Islamic studies. As a Christian campus minister, I must say that this is welcomed news. Given our current political-social-religious milieu, to have students thoughtfully engage with this strong and long-standing faith tradition is a welcome addition to the UNC palate of ideas, exchange, and dialogue.

My one concern is this: it seems that one of the pre-requisites for professors in the New Testament and/or studies of Christianity is that they are not "biased" by a personal commitment to the Christian faith. From what I know (and I confess that I do not know all the teachers employed by the University who teach on these subjects), there is no tenured professor teaching on the history, development, or texts of the Christian faith who is actively and personally engaged with the Christian faith.

If the University wishes to be consistent in continuing to pursue this practice, it might make for an interesting hiring process in looking for a chair of Islamic studies. I'm sure that there might be any number of people who would be qualified to teach on Islam who have absolutely no personal investment in or engagement with Islam.

However, prudence might suggest that this practice be abandoned altogether. It would be of enormous profit to the students and faculty if professors who were authentically and thoughtfully engaged in the practice of their faith were actually a vibrant part of the intellectual life and religious discussion of UNC-Chapel Hill.

Of course, this is unlikely to happen. To hire a faculty to teach on Islam who practices Islam would be a coup; to hire a faculty to teach on Christianity who practices Christianity would be...somehow inappropriate.

Of course, much of this stems from the secular, pluralistic, humanistic worldview that so dominates the University landscape. This faith tradition is in its adolescence in terms of development and has its roots in Christianity--and like an overly-grumpy adolescent it has a tendency to over-react to the parent.

Giving the University every benefit of the doubt, perhaps a part of this glaring omission in the hiring process is the assumption that students in the U.S, particularly in the South, already have some exposure to the Christian faith tradition. That may have been true twenty years ago. It certainly is not true today.

For many students, to have a thoughtful, nuanced, well-versed professor teaching on subjects related to Christianity who actually practiced Christianity would be just as new and powerful as having a thoughtful, nuanced, and well-versed professor of Islam who practiced Islam.

Best to you as you pursue this hire and as the religious studies department continues to evolve and reflect the ever-changing social and religious landscape of our world and our culture. I hope and indeed pray that the UNC religious studies department may one day actually reflect the full array of faith commitments--not the full array, minus one. Such a move would only benefit the students, the faculty, and the intellectual, moral, and indeed spiritual climate on campus.

Alex Kirk
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Friday, January 23, 2009

Sabbatical Journey Day 63: Inklings of Awakening

The most surprising part about the start of my sabbatical was how tired I was. Accordingly, I found that I had very little interest in thinking/talking/engaging with "ministry stuff." I was relieved to just go to church, sit on my butt, lead my little small group through James, and hang out.

A couple of weeks ago I started to worry: what if I was still un-interested in ministry stuff in mid-March when I had to go back to campus and think about ministry stuff?

But this past Sunday we had a church-wide new-year congregational meeting. We were talking about the challenges that we face as a growing church plant meeting in a school gymnasium in uncertain economic times: space issues, budget concerns, opportunities for growth, etc.

And I found myself pretty jazzed about it. What could I do? Where could I jump in?

The answer for now, of course, is nothing and no where. I'm on sabbatical and it's good for me to fast from those impulses for the rest of this precious and short season.

But I've gotta' admit that it was a little bit of a relief to find that those impulses were still there.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Trouble with Blogging (and Your Status)

So the problem for the glut of us bloggers out there and the glut plus a million of you Facebook users is this: you begin to live your life through the lens of your blog post or your Facebook status.

No longer are you actually present to the events as they unfold--say, a nice day with your kids or an afternoon throwing the frisbee on the quad. You are constantly evaluating: would this make for a cool blog post? How might I make this sound like a cool Facebook status update?

This perpetual evaluation of our lives based on how we might "spin" it into something public as a part of our persona or image is particularly alluring for those of us who are tempted to live for the applause and approval of others anyway. Facebook is crack for us people-pleasers. If you're a people-pleaser and you haven't recognized this yet, good chance you're already in need of intervention.

That doesn't mean we should avoid blogging or Facebook altogether. But it does mean that we must be vigilant to guard against the insidious ways it might hijack our lives. First step: admit the problem.

Many thoughtful saints through the ages have urged us to live our lives for an audience of One. I am instead perpetually tempted to live my life for the audience of my 615 Facebook friends and those of you who read Piebald Life.

Fasting is a biblical way that God invites us to enter into spiritual, emotional, and physical maturity. When our stomach is not our god, when we are free from even the most basic drives and urges in our lives that speak so loudly to us, then we are free to live a real life indeed.

In my case, I will sometimes fast from the activity itself (i.e. stay off Facebook, not blog on the weekends). But I will also make intentional decisions to fast from my ideas that I want to use on Facebook/the blog.

In other words, occasionally I'll catch myself framing up an experience or thought for a blog post or Facebook status update and I'll realize that it's inappropriate: either I'm still in the moment and need to enjoy it rather than try to package it, or it's after the moment but it's too precious or important to pimp out. So I'll fast from using that particular update or post idea, just to make sure that I'm running my thoughts and not having my thoughts run me.

Date Night

Two tickets: $90

Two large Papa John's pizza's for dinner with friends: $22

Four hours of babysitting kids who were already asleep: $40

Watching Clemson lose to UNC for the 5,632nd time in a row in Chapel Hill with my wife: priceless.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


It's a winter wonderland day here in North Carolina. After a morning of playing in the snow, the fam cuddled up to watch the inauguration.

Some thoughts:

-Obama continues to be who we thought he was: a leader. That may or may not mean he makes good policy decisions, but he's tremendously poised and articulate and has "it"--that leadership thing that you can't fake.

-His inauguration speech captured "the genius of the and" that so mobilized the country to vote for him. Global leadership AND global partnerships, environmental issues AND economic growth, governmental activity AND individual responsibility, national security AND a willingness to extend olive branches.

His part about dismissing the cynics who are finding the ground shifting beneath their feet was genius--as was his dismissal of "big v. small government." It's exactly true: the old bifurcations and either/or's aren't there any more, or at least as far as most Gen X'ers and Y'ers see it.

This is a critical piece that McCain just didn't get and that I wonder if Republicans in general understand. Obama isn't just bridging in terms of race (more on that later) but also world view.

Obama's rhetoric represents the best of the post-modern over-corrective: less tribalism, less us v. them that so effectively galvanized the country during the Cold War era. Reagan traded on this ingeniusly during the '80's. G.W. tried to recycle it post-9/11. Whether or not Obama is able to live out the rhetoric consistently in terms of policy decisions and working the political machine in Washington obviously remains to be seen....but I find the early signs hopeful.

If Republicans do not want this to be the end of their parties' influence in our country, they will have to find ways to re-cast some of their primary values in terms that connect with the next generations willingness to embrace "the genius of the and" rather than the old dichotomies that no longer seem all that relevant.

-Pulling back a bit, let's just marvel for a moment at the 44th peaceful transfer of power in our nation's history. In the grand scheme of history, this is one of the most breath-taking and unexpected things imaginable.

-Finally, for those of us who take the Scriptures seriously, today was a tremendous day regardless of who you voted for. The Biblical picture of "powers and principalities" at war against God's created order has manifested itself most powerfully and grotesquely in our national struggle with racial issues.

Today, in the peaceful transfer of power to an African-American president, I think we at least partially exorcised a national demon.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sabbatical P.S.

This weekend was the half-way point of my sabbatical. Break out the orange slices and the Gatorade.

It's been a great two months mostly focused on the un-hooking process. These next two months will be much more about engaging with the issues of my own soul and then reflecting on my 12 and a half years of ministry.

But today I'm freshly grateful for an organization that has given me this gift and for the supporters who are continuing to make it possible.

I'm looking forward to what the next two months hold.

Which Orphans and Widows?

Yesterday our church small group Bible study re-gathered for the first time this calendar year after a long hiatus over Christmas. We're studying James, and we finished off James 1 yesterday.

At the end of James 1, we get this charge: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress

Later that evening, I was talking this over with Sam, a friend of mine who's in the small group. One of my struggles with that passage is that when it was written, the orphans and widows that you knew about were in your immediate vicinity. Really, up until about 100 years ago or so, the average person was aware of the pain in his or her town or maybe region and not much beyond that.

Today, of course, we are uber-connected to all the pain in the world. If you were so inclined as to decide to refuse to be happy as long as you knew that others suffered, you would fairly easily live a monstrously joyless life.

My friend Sam pointed out that the social dynamics of the church that James is writing to are different as well. It would seem that the orphans and widows were knocking down the door of the church.

James is telling them to care for the people coming to them, to not turn those people away, as much as he is to go out and meet the needs of the neighbors. Today, at least here in the U.S, our social net is much better constructed...and our churches are fairly segregated socio-economically.

I think that all of this leads me to a couple of convictions:

1. I am charged to "not merely listen to the word and so deceive myself. Do what it says!" My temptation towards compassion fatigue is not an excuse for apathy.

2. I am charged to intentionally seek the Lord to understand which widows and orphans I'm to go and care for, and which ones I'm legitimately free to release to the hands of God and the care of others. This will always frustrate someone--most of us feel like the widows and orphans (or whatever other cause that you might feel passionate about) are the ones that matter and that everyone must get on board with.

But I think that we need to allow one another the freedom to engage and choose our particular issues (in step with the Spirit, not in step with simply our own preferences) in an issue-saturated, broken world.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


My bro recently pointed to an excellent site "exploring the interface between evolutionary science and Christian theology."

Thank goodness for someone who's able to deal with the false either/or of Christianity or evolution. I have many students for whom this is a stumbling block that in my humble, scientifically un-learned opinion, need not be.

The road to faith is challenging enough without creating false challenges to it. I hope and pray that more of this kind of thinking might emerge and take center stage in evangelical Christianity...

Super Scenarios

The SuperBowl that I'm hoping happens: Arizona v. Pittsburgh

A SuperBowl that I would enjoy watching: Philly v. Pittsburgh

The SuperBowl that I'm afraid will happen: Philly v. Baltimore.

And that's my pick for tomorrow's games. Philadelphia wins in the desert and Baltimore wins an ugly defensive struggle in Pittsburgh.

Remember, these picks are for entertainment purposes only...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Safe at Home & My Top 10 Hard Rock Songs of All Time

This morning I boarded a plane in Chicago (-6 Farenheit, -30 windchill when I left). I landed at Raleigh-Durham International airport and as I was strolling through to baggage claim I saw breaking news: a plane just crashed into the Hudson River.

Fortunately it looks like everyone got out safe. Sounds like the pilot was a rock star.

It makes me want to hug my kids extra-hard when they come back home from Nanny and Grampy's tomorrow.

On a totally un-related note, I heard from someone recenlty that VH-1 selected Guns 'N Roses "Welcome to the Jungle" as the greatest hard rock song of all time. As a formerly devoted G-N-R fan, I must say that I take great delight in Axl and Co. being awarded such a lofty honor, but I liked "Paradise City" better.

My Top 10 Hard Rock/Hair Band Songs of All Time:

10. Def Leppard, Pour Some Sugar on Me
9. Jane's Addiction, Been Caught Stealin'
8. Van Halen, Jump
7. AC/DC, Back in Black
6. Motley Crue, Dr. Feelgood
5. Metallica, Enter Sandman
4. Bon Jovi, Livin' on a Prayer
3-1: Guns 'N Roses: Welcome to the Jungle, Sweet Child O' Mine, Paradise City

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Overdue Book Plug

This past fall, my bro released a book: Unlocking Romans.

For Christmas he sent me my very own autographed copy. I've been reading it over the past couple of days. Great, great stuff.

Daniel's writing at a pretty academic level, so this book isn't for everyone. But if you're someone who enjoys a graduate-level study of biblical issues (i.e. if N.T. Wright is on the back of your toilet or on your bedside table), then I'd recommend it.

In terms of Protestant church history, Romans is one of the most central books in all Scripture. Ergo, there's lots that's been written about it over the past many hundred years. You don't have to know every argument that Daniel's countering to get the gist of the book: that the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the primary lens through which we best understand Paul's argument in Romans--even though it's mostly been glossed over throughout the years.

From there, Daniel goes on to apply what it might mean to embrace the resurrection of Christ as a focal point for all of Christian living, not just understanding Romans.

Like I said, it's really good stuff. I'm just bummed that my little brother's book came out before mine: Small Group Leader's Handbook coming to a book distributor near you in November, 2009. Makes a great stocking stuffer!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Joe's Blog

Thanks to several of you who e-mailed me Joe Bauserman's blog.

The posts that he wrote are "from the fireside" or "from the beach" and they are definitely worth reading as he processed his battle with cancer.

F, H, & L

I'm reading 1 Thessalonians these days. Probably the first letter that Paul wrote, which probably makes it the oldest book of the New Testament.

Sitting down to read it again, I was struck by verse three:
We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
It will be many years and many miles later before Paul writes his famous "love chapter" in 1 Corinthians 13, where he summarizes faith, hope, and love as the "three things that remain." But here they are, faith, hope, and love, at the very beginning of the first words written in the New Testament.

It seems to me that for Paul the work of the gospel is always good works produced by this inner transformation. Our motives matter. What's happening on the inside produces good or bad fruit.

Paul, along with Jesus, have as much to say about the transformation of the heart and motives and attitudes and beliefs as they do about the outworkings of obedience. Both matter, the former and the latter, but the latter can only bear the good fruit intended if there's inner-life change happening as well.

I wrote last week that I'm working with the Enneagram as a sort of A.P. Myers-Briggs to help me to see myself more clearly. The goal of that is that faith, hope, and love might replace the broken motivations of anxiety, pride, and selfishness in the matrix of my motives. This won't happen over-night or even over the next two months of my sabbatical.

But I'm delighted to think that my life might be growing more and more in this direction over the next 35 years or so. That would be a life worth living.

Monday, January 12, 2009

In Memorium

A number of times throughout the years I've talked about how Kelly and I worked through some hard stuff in the first five years or so of our marriage. And I've also mentioned that we were in and out of counseling.

The counselor who walked alongside us during those years was Joe Bauserman. He died this past weekend after a battle with cancer.

A couple of days ago I mentioned that I enjoy living the life of a contemplative--prayer, study, retreat. This can be directly attributed to Joe. We were there for an appointment early in our marriage and my staff career. It was approaching summer time and I was telling him how much I disliked the summer--my extroverted self shriveled up in the face of so little contact with students.

Joe was normally very calm and patient and process-oriented, but I remember what he said to me that day: "If you don't learn some disciplines of study and silence and rest then you'll die in your job." So I learned them.

Joe was a gifted counselor and at one point it seemed that everyone we knew had spent some time with him, was meeting with him regularly, or was planning on meeting with him soon. He was a gift to so many people in the Richmond community.

I do plenty of what I call "light counseling" in my job. What I want to do is what Joe did for us: listen well, look for root causes and not get distracted by surface issues, be patient with the process of discovery and repentance.

Joe will be dearly missed. He apparently started a blog to capture his journey as he battled against cancer but I can't find it at the moment. I'll link to it soon.

Good-bye, Joe. My wife and three kids and I all owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude. Thank you.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Using, Not Trusting

Psalm 20 is a sweet passage full of hopes of victory and prayers of blessing over the king as he heads out for battle. Towards the end, there's this great little line that has run over and over again in my head over the past couple of weeks.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
Now here's the thing. If you were to take a look at the army of Israel during this time, I'm quite sure that you would have found horses and chariots fully employed and in use for battle. The Psalmist here is not outlawing the use of horses and/or chariots. He is saying that while the Israelite army will employ horses and chariots, they will not and do not trust in them for victory.

This using (in an appropriate way, not in the pejorative sense of the word) but not trusting seems to be at the heart of much of the biblical description of how we are to relate to the things of this world. From the Ten Commandments through Jesus through the letters of the New Testament, we are called to enjoy all things at our disposal and to use them but not to put our hope and trust in them.

This has deep ramifications for Christians as we think about our money, particularly, as so many of us are discovering that trusting in our own savings or resources does not yield the security it promises and that we crave.

The idea of using but not trusting is a bit of a tricky dance here on this side of the fall, as people living in the Land of the Ruins. It sounds almost like we're being toyed with, or being baited into something.

But perhaps this prescription is the only way that anyone can be healthy in relation to things. Our obsession with things de-humanizes us. Don't we all know someone who is bent in on money or their car or a hobby who is, well, weird?

This invitation to put our ultimate trust in God frees us to use things in ways that keep us from becoming sick--it's the one option that we have that makes us free, healthy, joyful human beings.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Tonights "Championship" Game

I look forward to the day, many years from now, when we look back on college football as we now know it with a rueful grin: "Can you believe how stupid the system was back then?" I cannot wait until we get rid of this dumb BCS thing which only makes sense to those who are making a small fortune on it.

Earth to BCS people: college football could possibly eclipse professional football as the passion of the land if you'd just create a reasonable playoff system. Let me put it in your language: you could make a freakishly larger sum of money if you actually implemented such a system.

In the mean time, we've got Florida v. Oklahoma tonight. Not a bad match-up, just that from what I've seen this year Utah and USC and maybe Texas should all be looking ahead to next weekend's matchup along with the winner of tonight's game.

Tim Tebow should have won the Heisman this year. He'll show why tonight. Florida 45, Oklahoma 36.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Gifts and Destruction

So this season of my sabbatical I'm focusing on more specific soul-level work and evaluation. My goal is to have a more clear-eyed understanding of who I am (one definition of humility is simply seeing ourselves as we really are) and to be able to evaluate more faithfully what my thirteen years in ministry has been about.

To do this work, I'm reading about the Enneagram. It's basically an A.P. (Advanced Placement, for those of you for whom high school was a long time ago) Myers-Briggs.

It's a pretty interesting and thorough-going look at personality and ability and motives and how all our baggage and gifts come together for good and/or for ill. The book I'm reading recommends that people engage with the Enneagram sometime in their mid-30's to late-forties, after they've had some time to establish some life-patterns and perhaps become discontent with those patterns.

It's helpful for me that the book I'm reading was written by Richard Rohr, a Catholic Franciscan priest. He is good to tie in a Christian world-view along with biblical characters and saints throughout the ages who fit the different types.

I've just finished reading an overview of the nine types that they sketch out. I'm still trying to figure out where I "fit."

But the core insight that I really resonate with is that our gifts, passions and power that give us the most life also contain the seeds of our self-destruction. Rohr insists on the centrality of repentance and redemption of every type (or "number" in the Eneagram structure) in order for these gifts to mature and bear the fruit that they were made for.

I have seen this already at work in my life. My places of greatest strength and gifting are the places where I'm most tempted towards self-serving and independence rather than dependence on the Spirit and help to do the work faithfully.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Caillou Christmas

The week leading up to Christmas, the kids were watching Caillou, a PBS kids show. For those of you who don't frequent PBS kids television, Caillou is a cartoon featuring a preschooler (Caillou) and his family. It's generally innocuous entertainment for the kids.

In this particular episode, Caillou's pre-school class was having a "holiday party." At one point in the show, Caillou says he's excited about the class "Christmas party." His mother immediately corrects him: "O no, Caillou, this is a holiday party." She goes on to explain that there are other holidays during this season and that there are kids in his class who celebrate those holidays.

A couple of parenting thoughts as I've been considering this exchange and what it teaches my kids.

1. This is as it ought to be. PBS can't elevate Christmas over the other holidays, nor should they. In other words, it is not PBS's job to teach my kids about the centrality of Christmas. That's my job.

To change the venue a bit, it's also not the public school's job to teach my children about the importance of Christmas. I wouldn't want even a Christian teacher in a public school to ignore the other holidays and the students under their care who celebrate those holidays.

2. At the same time, given that my faith commitments are to Christianity and not pluralism, I don't want Christmas simply lined up with every other possible holiday celebration. I want my kids to be able to engage other faith commitments (be it Judaism or pluralism) from the starting point of God's work in Christ, not from a pretend neutral center that does not actually exist.

3. So I want my kids to be able to engage with humility and gentleness the other celebrations around Christmas through the lense of Christmas. I want them to be firmly fixed on the certain good news that God has acted decisively in human history through the coming, working, dying and resurrection of Jesus Christ at a single point in time and history.

I want them to be able to see how this coming of Christ actually fulfills all the hopes and dreams and desires and partial-celebrations of Kwanzaa and (C)Hanuk(k)ah (thanks, Daniel). But I don't want that to create this un-necessarily intense bifurcation of we're the "good guys" and everyone else are the "bad guys."

4. But as Fowler has mapped, there are stages of faith. It takes emotional and intellectual maturity to be able to hold convictions firmly while also able to enter into the complexity of the world graciously and humbly--the best of us don't usually get there until mid-life!

So where does that leave my wife, me and our five-year-old, three-year-old (today! happy birthday, Zoe!), and 16-month old?

We have to teach them and equip them as best we can to live in a fairly complex, multi-cultural world from the viewpoint of Christian faith. We have to take opportunity to explain things as best we can, with language as best as they can grasp it, all the while praying a ton for wisdom and for the Spirit to do the work that only the Spirit can do.

We could also lock them up in a closet until they're 21, but I think that might be a bit of an over-reaction.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Sabbatical Journey Day 43: Six Week Reflections

A smattering of thoughts from my first six weeks in sabbatical land:

*Sabbatical Unhooking. Perhaps it will come as some encouragement to my students who read this that it's been harder for me to mentally leave campus than I anticipated.

Some of this, of course, has to do with the challenges we had this fall--would've, could've, should'ves have plagued me at various (and sometimes surprising) times. A wise mentor told me it would take about a month to un-hook. That's been about right.

*Sabbatical, Interrupted. It's been a really choppy six weeks. Some of that is just the normal holiday travel and celebrations. Some of that is unusual circumstances: sickness, crisis, etc. But if there was going to be a really choppy month of sabbatical I'm glad it's been this first stretch--it may have in fact facilitated the unhooking process.

*Sabbatical Guilt. Over the past six weeks I've gotten word of several friends who have lost jobs. Losing your job always stinks, but it's obviously even more loaded during the holidays. So I've got friends who are jobless and wondering what's next and here I am, slacking.

Of course, the response to this is that there is always some reason why it's not a good time to be on sabbatical. This particular season it's a bad time because of the economy and some of my friends circumstances. But my clear sense is that this sabbatical is given to me by the Lord for for this time. The Lord has appointed me to have my own seasons of struggle, turmoil, conflict, sadness, victory and celebration. This is a season given to me to rest. It is not a gift that it would be wise to reject or to spend overly-much time feeling guilty about.

*Sabbatical Contemplation. When I first started Piebald Life, my explanation for the title was that it described this split in my inner-world. Part of me is dialed into people, leadership, programs, seeing God's people grow and communities develop and is driven (sometimes to a fault) towards what I consider to be successful ministry.

But another part that I have acquired and developed over the years is a contemplative side. The contemplative tradition in Christianity is devoted to long periods of silence, solitude, reflecting on God's character and beauty and power and worth and our own internal world along as it connects with the wonder and glory of God.

At this point in my life and ministry, I have no problems moving from "leader" mode into "contemplative" mode. In fact, there's a good bit of relief in the transition. Sometimes, I'm afraid, I enjoy the contemplative side because it involves two things that I find endlessly fascinating: God and myself. Clearly, an over-fascination with the latter is not a good thing. I need the Lord to help me from switching the order of those two things and to keep me from making the contemplative life an escape from serving or loving others. Perhaps, again, this is part of the gift of these first six weeks being so choppy.

*Sabbatical "Progress." Even in the midst of some interruption and not much of the rhythm I hoped, I have done what I wanted (and I think needed) to do during these first six weeks. I have unhooked. I have read Lord of the Rings. I have watched plenty of college football. I have spent some sweet hours at Starbucks and/or Panera with my Bible and journal. This first season of sabbatical is over--I have taken the deep breath that I needed.

The next stretch will be devoted to more directed soul-examination. And beyond that, to looking back over the past 13 years in ministry to see if a birds-eye-view of the patterns, opportunities, challenges and set-backs might bear the fruit in my soul of worship and understanding what God has done so that I might be more fully equipped to follow him more eagerly in the future.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Tolkien Christmas Grab-Bag

*So we had a great Christmas...in fact, we're still having a great Christmas. With six grandparents all making appearances of one type or another, Christmas just keeps going and going. The last of four Christmas's will go down tomorrow. Spreading it out is a good way to go--it keeps the kids heads from completely exploding with excitement Christmas morning.

*Highlights for me included finishing Lord of the Rings for the fourth time. A few quick observations this time around:

1. The story is epic. It's vast and sweeping and intricate and nuanced and just a ton of fun.

2. I think that even the most ardent LOTR fan would say that at points Tolkien's writing gets a little campy, a bit over the top in his eagerness to make a point about how "kingly" this person looked at this moment or how significant a certain event was.

3. This was my first time reading the books since watching the movies a couple years ago. I continue to be grateful for how true to the story the movie was, with some notable exceptions.

I am particularly vexed that they sent Strider to an almost/non-death in the second movie. Seriously, there are enough important characters throughout the story that have "we thought he was dead" moments that they didn't need to create another one.

4. Some tremendous quotes, here was my favorite:
"My I not live my life as I will?"
"Few may do that with honor."
*Christmas cheers for my wife, she is tremendously thoughtful about gifts for our kids. We give them each three gifts, in keeping with the biblical story of the three wise men who brought gifts. We discuss the gifts but she really does the creative work as well as the leg-work. And the gifts were all big hits this year. I really appreciate how thoughtful and intentional she is about knowing our kids, gift-giving is just one opportunity to see that in action.

*We saw a couple of movies over Christmas. Hancock was a lot of fun. But no matter what anyone tries to tell you, avoid seeing Mama Mia like the plague.