detourLast week, I was traveling to Minnesota to take part in some training. When I made my travel plans, I had strategically booked a later flight so that I would have the bulk of the day to spend with my family. The training did not start until the next day, so there was no urgency for me to be there the night before. How late I got there was more dependent on me than on anyone else.

My family dropped me off at the airport and I made my way through check-in and security. As I boarded the plane, I thought about the next few days and all that would transpire. I love to travel but as my kids have gotten older, I’ve not always been keen on leaving them behind while I go off on a journey here or there.

I settled into my seat on the plane and before I knew it, there was an announcement over the communication system that we would all need to deplane as there was a technical issue with the plane. You could hear the collective groans from people as they gathered their belongings and made their way back to the gate area from which they had just come.

As we waited for some update of the plane’s status, I played out all of the scenarios in my head of possible arrivals into the Minneapolis airport. As the time ticked by, I went to the gate agent to see about the possibilities that I had before me. If I didn’t at least make it Chicago that night, my prospects were bleak at getting to Minneapolis in time for my training. In fact, if I didn’t make it to Chicago, it looked as if I might miss the whole first day of a two day training.

The next 30 minutes were spent on the phone canceling my car reservation and seeing if there were any other possibilities for travel that the gate agent had overlooked. I never imagined how difficult it would be to cancel a car reservation, nor did I imagine how rude a customer service representative could be to someone who was doing their best to make a fairly important training session.

Needless to say, it was an eventful twenty four hours. I made it to Chicago, managed to get to a hotel paid for by the airline for two hours of sleep, made my way back to the airport, and arrived into Minneapolis about the time that my training was starting downtown. I downloaded the Uber app and quickly familiarized myself with a system that would prove to be incredibly useful over the next two days. I arrived at my training only an hour late having only missed the introductions of the others who were embarking on this training with me.

I like adventure, but I also like control. I guess that you might say that I like the adventures that I can control. Kind of ironic, as I think about it, controlled adventure seems to make as much sense as so many other oxymorons in life like jumbo shrimp, army intelligence, and government aid. The best adventures seem to come when there is a release or abandonment of control, not when one finds themselves hanging onto control for dear life.

But in order to abandon one’s self to adventure, there needs to be some kind of trust in something. At least that’s the way it’s been for me. If I trust something or know something that’s waiting on the other side of the adventure, I will have a much easier time giving myself over to it.

Life rarely provides such a neat and complete package served up to us, does it?

This week, I find myself away from home again for a longer period of time. One short month after purchasing a used vehicle, said vehicle doesn’t start and needs a jump. The scenario played out multiple times over the course of a day and I finally had to bring it into the dealer. Not the kind of thing that you expect out of a car that was certified when purchased, and certainly not the thing that you want to be dealing with when you’re far from home.

As I get older, I am realizing more and more that these are the things of life. Plan A rarely happens as was it was originally thought out. Smooth sailing seems to be reserved for storybook fare, not for real life. In fact, if there’s not some kind of disruption on the way to the final goal, I think I might begin to wonder if something was wrong.

In the midst of the detours, the Plan Bs (and Cs, Ds, and Es for that matter), and the hiccups and bumps along the way, there are some things that I can easily move past while others seem to bog me down. I’d love to say that I easily move in and out of detours and delays without missing a beat, but that would be me lying. Some detours set me off worse than others.

Working through these delays, I have to constantly remind myself that getting frustrated over the situation won’t improve it at all. Getting frustrated with the people with whom I deal with during these detours is an even greater misstep, not only will that not do any good, but that will multiply the number of people who are frustrated due to unforeseen circumstances, circumstances out of my control.

I’m learning to embrace the detour. As I sat in the waiting room of the car dealer the other day, the customer service agent came in to tell me that the battery replacement was not covered under my warranty. Not sure why, but that seems to be one of the items that is exempt from the extended warranty. But I couldn’t help but think to myself, at least I’ve got the money somewhere, at least I can afford this right now. Wanting to afford it and being able to afford it are two different things, and while I would rather have spent the money elsewhere, the fact that I don’t have to scrape the bottom of the barrel for it made me thankful in the moment.

I also couldn’t help but be thankful at the timing of it. I have no major plans that couldn’t be shifted in the moment. There was nothing imminent that I would miss in dealing with this detour. If the detour had taken place in a few weeks, it would have potentially set off an avalanche that would have rippled through plans that have been set for months.

I have heard it said that you can’t control your circumstances but you can control your response to those circumstances. I think I’m beginning to get it, it’s beginning to sink into the deeper parts of my brain. It doesn’t mean that I like it when I am delayed or when something unexpected and expensive comes along, but it does mean that I can look at it as an opportunity to grow and be stretched rather than just one more thing that could set me off.

I’m certainly not there yet, but the beautiful thing about a new day is that you get another chance to try it all over again.

How Many Times?

This time of sabbatical for me has been restful, but it has also been challenging. Not only was it a challenge for me to step away and disengage from work and my world in ministry, but I have been challenged as I’ve spent time alone with God. It’s not that I don’t spend time alone with God during other seasons of life, it’s just that the time during sabbatical is different. When everything else in your life is stripped away, there’s really nowhere to hide when you begin to look in the mirror and see some of the flaws that need to be addressed in your own life.

As I’ve had time to think and reflect, I keep thinking about grace. I’m really not the best at meting it out. Although I’m always grateful when it’s extended to me, I don’t seem to so easily dispense it to others, especially when I feel like I should be seeing something significant in them. If there isn’t forward progress, if I don’t see the kind of progression that I think should be there, I seem to be very judgmental and often put myself in the place of God.

As I thought about it, I couldn’t help but wonder how I could really put myself in the place of God. No matter what, my perspective is always going to be jaded and skewed to be very subjective. I’m never going to be able to see things clearly, at least not on this side of eternity. Something will always shift my vision and if I’m completely honest, make me be a judge and jury.

I remember when my dad was alive and would counsel people who were stuck in the throes of addiction. It seemed that they would take three steps forward and four steps backward. They would seem to be doing well for a while and then they would eventually fall off the wagon and find themselves back in the addiction that they had been trying so hard to avoid.

Through it all, my dad always seemed to be gracious to them. Despite the chiding of my mom, he would always continue to love on these people and extend them grace. It didn’t matter how many times that he had seen the scenario play out, he would keep extending that grace.

Looking back now, he set an incredible example for me. He wasn’t supposed to determine whether or not he should keep extending someone grace, he was just supposed to extend it. Yet somehow I’ve managed to convince myself that it’s my place, that I’ve earned the right to do the judging. How did I earn it? How did I find this pedestal that I’ve managed to put myself on?

How many times? How many times should I extend grace? How many times is enough? What’s the limit to the number of times that I extend grace?

If I’m really honest about it, the answer to that question should be the answer to the question that I need to ask myself, “What’s the limit of the grace that should be extended to me for my repetitive sin?” If I can’t put a limit on that for myself, why should I come up with a limit for someone else? And if I can come up with a limit for someone else, why shouldn’t that limit be applied to me?

So I sit here realizing that there really should be no limit to the grace that I extend to others. That’s not to say that I make myself a doormat for the world, but it also means that I can’t limit grace to others while fully basking in it myself.

May I learn more and more each day just the extent of the grace that I require, the extent of the grace that is given to me every day. When I come to that realization, may I freely dispense that grace to others as I hope and pray it will be extended to me.

Strengths and Learning

Last week, I celebrated my fifteenth wedding anniversary. Just one week before my wife and I got married, we took part in a leadership seminar at our church. During the course of that seminar, we took a number of personality assessments such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and an assessment called StrengthsFinders. It was something new to me then but over the course of these last fifteen years, not only has it been helpful to me but it has informed much of what I do, how I interact with others, and how I lead others.

It’s hard for me to think of a time when StrengthsFinders didn’t come up over the past fifteen years. In conversations that my wife and I would have, we would talk about each other’s strengths and the strengths of others. It helped us in our understanding of ourselves, each others, and those around us.

It’s fitting that I take off today for the first of two training sessions to be a Strengths Communicator. When it’s all over, I will have the opportunity to lead others through StrengthsFinders so that it can hopefully be as helpful to them as it has been to me. I will be able to guide other people in their understanding of this valuable assessment so that they too might reap the benefits of knowing where their strengths lie.

A brief overview of StrengthsFinders for those who are not familiar with it is probably in order. There are 34 signature themes that everyone possesses, the most common talents exhibited by people, identified through the Clifton StrengthsFinders assessment. The assessment gives a person their top five strengths so that people can focus on those strengths, improving them and using them to the best of their abilities. These strengths range from Communication, Empathy, Developer. Relator, Context, and Woo. They give fairly accurate descriptions of how those who possess them exhibit them in their natural behavior.

At some point in my professional career, I started feeling a discomfort whenever it came time for year-end reviews. I appreciated the opportunity to be encouraged for the good things that I had done, but I felt that the encouragement was just a flicker of a moment compared to what I would hear when it came to all of the areas of improvement that I had.

To be honest, when I was working in the engineering field, I’m not sure that I felt this as strong as I did when I went into full-time vocational ministry. I remember a time when I sat in a review and was so pleased to hear the positive feedback that I was getting… the first five minutes. After that, it was all downhill, and I just scratched my head. It didn’t make sense to me. I had worked hard all year long, had good interaction with my supervisor, and yet I felt as if I was failing…..BIG TIME!

A few years later, that supervisor began to get trained in StrengthsFinders. I vividly remember walking out of our building together at the end of the day having spent a few days together with all of our staff talking through the make-up of our staff and their strengths. He looked at me and said, “Do you know what the biggest “a ha” moment has been in this whole thing? It’s you!” I looked at him and thoughts, “Well, it’s about time.” I was grateful that I was finally going to be understood.

Just a few weeks later, he resigned.

I was discouraged. I had finally felt as if I was going to experience a breakthrough. I thought that I would finally be fully understood and would finally be able to focus on my strengths. It felt like a major letdown for me, but I would continue to push forward, doing my best to broaden my own understanding and the understanding of everyone around me. After all, how else can change happen other than spreading the word and educating people?

Along the way, I began to realize that focusing on all of my weaknesses was going to drive me crazy. As a follower of Christ, I am constantly seeking to be transformed. Constantly. Growth and change should be part of who we are…..always….with no exception. We should be able to say that we are not who we once were. At the same time, understanding my strengths and using them to my advantage seemed to be a good focal point for me.

The more that I studied strengths, the more I realized how valuable it could be if organizations used them to their advantage. What would it look like if teams of people who worked together were to look at their strengths to help them better understand themselves and each other? What would it look like if people began to see how they complemented one another as they worked together towards a common goal?

I’ve got lots of theories how this can help me and the teams with whom I work, but only time will tell whether or not these theories are correct and if they can translate to others. Knowing how helpful that they have been to me over the last fifteen years and how helpful it’s been in my understanding of those around me.

I am sure that these next few days will feel like drinking from the firehose. Beyond these days and my additional days in August, I can’t wait to start putting into practice what I learn to see whether focusing on people’s strengths in an organization will be as helpful as I think it will be.

A Month In

It’s been about a month since I started my sabbatical. Over the course of that month, I’ve spent some good time learning, resting, reading, and spending time with my family. I’ve also spent time getting even more familiar with myself, seeing my own idiosyncrasies, and seeking out ways to continue to grow and learn.

The first couple of weeks were kind of rough. To be honest, I felt like I was a bit of an exile. I was gone for a week spending time with some colleagues in Charlotte, when I got back I had a rough reentry and I began to think about just how weird it was to still be at home but be disconnected from all of the people who I had come to know and love, people who had become good friends, people whom I had invested my life. It felt odd.

Much has happened in our country in this month. Specifically, much has happened in Orlando. Tragedy after tragedy after tragedy. The shooting of a rising pop star, the insanity of someone acting out their hatred and disagreement with violence, the death of a little child by alligator, and these are just the ones that are making the headlines. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought that the headlines I was reading were out of a movie script rather than the reputable news outlets, this kind of news used to be the stuff of make believe and fiction, yet here it is, a reality for us all.

I have found that when I stop and slow down, I begin to see God everywhere……EVERYWHERE. When I am rushing through the tasks of my day, it’s easy to lose sight of the little miracles that take place right under my nose, I brush past them as if they were no big deal and then when something doesn’t go the way I want it to, I unload my frustrations. As I have slowed down, I’ve been able to better assess the things before me with a more rational and controlled response. When something breaks, instead of getting so worked up, I lift up a prayer of thanksgiving that I have the means for repair or replacement, something that the majority of the world can’t always say.

I continue to express my gratitude for this time, a time that I am privileged to have. One of the outcomes of this time, a deliverable, was “a better me.” God has done a lot in this short time. He has blessed me with great friends, colleagues, and family. I have filled nearly a third of a journal with thoughts and notes on my experience, which is fine since I still have some more time to fill it up. I have rested, embracing the nothingness of my schedule to seize the opportunity not to be lazy, but to rest and recharge.

This extended time has done nothing but reinforce my own need for a weekly Sabbath. Finding time for rest and recharge is not only beneficial, it’s essential. A few years ago, I could feel the toll that a lack of Sabbath was having on my body, if I’m not careful, I will feel that toll again, and the older I get, the harder it is to bounce back from those tolls.

There is still adventure ahead, there is learning ahead, there is rest and recharge ahead. I am reminded of the words of Solomon, who wrote, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Plans are for paper, but reality can often take a different shape and form. I guess you can kind of think of it as origami, once you’re done folding the paper, it might little resemble the original flat piece of paper, but what you hold in your hands has a beauty that is far surpassing what you might have imagined in the very beginning. If nothing else, this time will contain the stuff of which memories are made. Here’s to the great adventure!

15 Years

jon carrie bermuda 2001How do you sum up fifteen years? How do you find words to describe an adventure that’s taken you to places you never imagined, that’s helped you to learn things you could never have dreamed of, that’s made some of the things that you longed for seem so inconsequential compared to what you actually got? How do you find words to describe the gift that God has given you?

Fifteen years ago today, on a very hot day in upstate Connecticut, my wife and I were married. Even though it was hot and there were some hiccups along the way, it was a perfect day. The storybook wedding that my wife had always dreamed of took place in a country church in Woodstock, Connecticut followed by a reception under a tent.

If you had told me that day where we would be today, I’m not sure what I would have said. I don’t know that I would have believed you, but I don’t know that I wouldn’t have believed you either. My wife married an engineer. We lived in Connecticut for the first three years of our marriage. I eventually left engineering when God called me to be a pastor.

We’ve hardly been the perfect couple or had the perfect marriage, but we’ve knew early on that the big secret of our marriage would be to make sure Christ was at the center and to make sure that we always worked together. We eventually adopted the phrase “better together” as our motto, realizing that separately we might have been good, but together we were so much better.

I don’t know that I would have believed that we would have three kids, but we do. After I held the first one, I didn’t think I could ever love another human being the way that I loved him, but I did. After having two boys, I wouldn’t have imagined that we would have had a little girl, but we did. I wouldn’t have imagined how crazy, funny, sweet, and unnerving that those kids could be all at the same time.

I never would have imagined that I would have lost my parents at this point in the game either, but I also don’t know what I would have done had I not had my wife by my side through all of the storms. Her empathy and experience in counseling was exactly what I needed to help me through the struggles. Her quiet strength, faith, and trust in God were just a few of the qualities that would be so essential for me to weather these storms.

People who have been married for a long time might look back at their own fifteen year mark and think that it feels like yesterday. I think that we can say the same thing about that day fifteen years ago, that it feels like we blinked and we got here. Time has both flown and crawled at the same time, if that makes any sense. There are days that it feels like all fifteen of those years have passed while there are other days when it feels as if I stepped into a time machine to fast forward to this day. Then I just need to look in the mirror at the face I see staring back at me to know that there was no time machine, but in fact, I can see all fifteen of those years lined out on my face, in my hair, and in my body.

No, I can’t adequately describe fifteen years, but it certainly hasn’t stopped me from trying. The one word that means the most to me in all fifteen of those years is “grace.” If it weren’t for grace, those fifteen years would have never happened. If it weren’t for grace, my wife would never have put up with me. If it weren’t for grace, I wouldn’t be able to wake up every day and realize that no matter how badly things went yesterday, there was today before me, allowing me a second chance.

Today is a day of celebration, and for that I am thankful. God is good and I am blessed. Happy fifteenth anniversary to my wife, I love you. Here’s to many more.

Unparalleled – A Book Review

unparalleledWe live in a world where anything goes when it comes to beliefs. It’s okay for you to believe in what you believe as long as it works for you and doesn’t negatively impact me. The problem when we embrace this is that we can quickly devolve into people who lack any real conviction, who aren’t quite sure what they believe, and who don’t legitimately think for ourselves when it comes to our beliefs.

In the area of beliefs and faith, Christians have always spoken about the uniqueness of their faith. When confronted with the idea that all paths lead to God, Christians will swiftly respond by saying that Christianity is unique as it stands in the lineup alongside all of the other major world religions. Jared Wilson takes this idea a step further in his book “Unparalleled” by saying that the uniqueness of Christianity is also the thing that makes it so compelling.

Out of the gate, Wilson writes that, “Christianity has never made converts primarily by winning arguments but rather by capturing hearts.” Although this book falls into the category of apologetics, Wilson isn’t out to win arguments, he is convinced that the truths of Christianity will be as compelling for others as they have been for him. He writes with a style that doesn’t beat down, but gently leads along.

Throughout “Unparalleled” Wilson hits on some of the main, unique tenets of Christianity. He writes about the Trinity, the three persons of God, speaking to their uniqueness and how the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit give us a better understanding of our own human need for connection and intimacy.

Wilson writes of the uniqueness of Jesus, asking the question as to whether the God of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam is the same God. He arrives at the conclusion that, “…to worship God at the exclusion of Jesus is to worship another god altogether.” For those who are seeking to be more inclusive, this conclusion will not be very appealing. Wilson goes on to write, “If one does not affirm that Jesus is God, one does not worship the same God as Christians.” It is through the uniqueness of Christ that we understand the essence of Christianity and the salvation that is offered.

We are all created in the image of God, and that, Wilson says, should impact the way that we look at others. Not only should it impact the way that we look at others, but is should also impact how we treat others as well. He writes, “Human life is sacred because God created it in his own image.” But Wilson is quick to point out, acknowledge, and confess that, “There have been too many prominent examples of professing Christians treating others as less-than-human.” In other words, while this is how we should act and view others, we certainly don’t always get it right. I appreciated this admission and the humility behind it.

Wilson covers the idea of grace, salvation, and the end of all things. He speaks to the impact of sin in this fallen world and the fact that salvation within Christian theology is something that comes from outside of ourselves. This external salvation is a unique concept compared to most other major religions who teach of a salvation through the efforts of the individual.

At one point, as Wilson writes about the brokenness of humanity, he writes, “The worst storms I have faced in my life have not occurred outside of me but rather have been found inside of me.” While I think I understand what Wilson is getting at, I’m not sure that I can completely agree with his statement. Yes, I can attest to the fact that, oftentimes, I am my own worst enemy, but in my own life, there have been significant storms that I have encountered that have occurred outside of me. These storms are a result of living in a fallen and broken world, there was no individual cause for some of them, and I would argue that they didn’t happen inside of me.

There is nothing in “Unparalleled” that is groundbreaking or new to me. Wilson has an engaging writing style and he gets his points across with clarity. While I was reading the book, I kept wondering to whom the book was written. Was it written for believers in Christ, those who are already convinced? Was it written to those who need to be convinced? It seems that it could be beneficial for those who are searching, not yet having come to the conclusion that Christianity is both convincing and compelling.

To those who believe in Christ and accept the claims of Christianity, Jesus is unparalleled, as is the salvation that he offers. If you are in a place of searching, needing to be convinced of Christianity’s claims, this might give you an overview or a snapshot of these claims. There are far deeper and more exhaustive books on the claims of Christianity that may serve you better, but for a basic overview, this might work. It’s not a must read, in my opinion, and anyone who is seeking something more academic may best be served elsewhere.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

How Do We Disagree?

In the early hours of the morning on Sunday, a gunman entered the Pulse bar in Orlando and began shooting. By the time that the dust had settled from the attack, 49 people were killed in addition to the gunman himself. He was eventually killed as well by the police.

As details of the attack begin to emerge, some things are becoming clear. The gunman identified himself with ISIS, the terrorist group. The gunman had been interviewed by the FBI because of sympathies he had expressed in the past. The gunman exhibited unstable behavior in the past and his motives and anti-LGBT attitude seems to have been driven by his association with ISIS and their views.

Any shooting, in my opinion, is a horrific tragedy. This shooting is no exception. We’ve seen this happen too often over the past years, people going about their lives in their schools, in clubs, in theaters, and other places before their lives are upended by someone choosing to use violence to express their views and allow that violence to speak for them.

Why is violence the way that some choose to express their disagreement? That seems to be the $1,000,000 question. Is there no other way that we can express disagreement over issues than using violence? As I think through this tragedy and the 49 killed as well as all of the wounded, I can’t help but wonder about how we disagree with one another?

Granted, it seems that this shooter had a lot more underlying issues than seeming disagreements, but I think that the question of how we disagree still remains. Are we allowing for places in our culture and our society in which people can disagree and actually dialogue about those disagreements? Are there forums in which people with differing opinions can engage with one another in healthy and productive means?

Social media has been both a help and a hindrance for people to express their opinions. When we voice our opinions simply to make them known, we don’t invite conversation. At the same time, I think that we’ve gotten a little lax in engaging each other over differences, choosing instead to simply state that it’s fine for you to believe what you believe and me to believe what I believe, as long as we don’t end up working out our disagreements with violence.

But as I consider my own children, I have to think that how they are taught to disagree will be heavily dependent on what I teach them, both in word and action. That’s not to say that they won’t learn from what’s around them, but nurture and nature are both instrumental in our formation. How are my children learning to disagree?

Diversity can be a good thing, but if we all don’t understand the differences or seek to try to understand the differences, diversity is just another word that we throw around. To simply hold to beliefs because it’s “what we know” or “it’s the societal norm” is not a sufficient reason. If we believe something, hold firm to it as a belief and ideology, we should understand why we believe it. Can we become an apologist for our viewpoints and beliefs?

Not only should we be able to defend and affirm our beliefs, but if we have done the hard work of thinking for ourselves, we shouldn’t feel threatened when we encounter someone who disagrees with our beliefs. The one exception is when the someone that we meet who disagrees with our beliefs takes it upon themselves to use violence to do their convincing, as was the case with this man in Orlando.

I have many friends who hold differing opinions than I hold, but I’d like to think that we can agree to disagree and still engage in meaningful conversations without violence or hate. I don’t know that I will ever convince them of my beliefs and vice versa, but I don’t think that should prevent us from continuing our friendships.

How do you disagree? How well can you defend what you believe? Is social media simply a platform for you to trumpet your beliefs? Or do you seek to grow in your understanding of your beliefs as well as the beliefs of others?

There is an irony in a blog post like this. I fully understand that this has the potential of being the very thing that I don’t want it to be, but I’m also trying to ask more questions to point all of us towards the process of working out the answers for ourselves.

I pray for the people of Orlando. I pray that all of those impacted by this tragedy, especially those in the LGBT community, might realize that there are those out there whose differing views don’t prevent them from still sharing in friendship and love with them. I pray that the peace and comfort of Jesus Christ might be made known in a real and palpable way to those who are suffering and I pray that we can continue to seek ways to peaceably disagree with one another. May those who are mourning and hurting know that they are not alone in their mourning and hurting.

Are You Surprised?

BrockTurner_mug_shot1If you’ve followed the news over the last few days, you may have read about the verdict handed down to Brock Turner, the Olympic hopeful Stanford University swimmer who was convicted of felony rape. A judge handed down what some have considered a fairly lenient sentence for such an extreme crime. The judge sentenced him to just six months in prison out of the possible fourteen year maximum. According to reports, Turner will also be required to register as a sex offender.

There have been many letters swirling about in this case. There was a letter written and read by the victim to her assailant in court (I am not posting it here due to the explicit nature of its content, but if you’re interested in its content, just Google it). A childhood friend also wrote a letter defending Turner blaming “political correctness” for the verdict in the case (you can read an article about that here).

The two most astounding letters that I’ve found are from Turner himself (read about it here) to the judge and also from his father (read about it here). After reading the letters and the pleas from both this young man and his father, I had to make sure that what I was reading was on a reputable site. Could this really be true? Could it be that someone was really trying to dismiss a sexual assault as an indiscretion due to alcohol? Could it be that a parent was actually pleading for their son to have a more lenient sentence because it was just twenty minutes of indiscretion?

As I first started digging into this case, I felt a queasy feeling in my stomach, the unmistakable feeling of dread welling up within me. In some ways, the case reminded me of a high profile case that had come out of my hometown of Darien, Connecticut when I was in high school (you can read about it here). The case screamed of privilege and entitlement, it screamed of the wrong kind of politics which we have seen far too often within our country.

In light of racial tensions within our country over the last few years, I couldn’t help but wonder how different the verdict might be had the assailant been African American or another minority. I have a hard time believing that the sentence handed down would have been quite as lenient as it was, regardless of the athleticism or talent of the assailant.

My heart breaks for the victim in this case. Based on her letter, she admits her own fault in drinking too much, but does one indiscretion deserve another? Does drinking too much to the point of passing out warrant a sexual assault? If it does, then I am surprised and more frightened than I have ever been for the state of affairs in our country. It seems that it’s hard enough for victims of sexual abuse to come forward in these cases, to have to listen to such preposterous pleas for leniency seems to diminish the severity of the crimes.

Turner never admits that what he did was wrong. He says that he is sorry for what he caused the victim. In fact, if you read his letter, he almost positions himself as the victim. He wishes that he had never taken a drink or spoken to the victim, indicating that he had experienced a fair amount of stress and anxiety since that day. Seriously? You experienced anxiety, Brock? How about your victim?

The description of the assailant by his father in the letter seems to be victimizing him, as if he was the one who had somehow been violated. He wasn’t who he once had been, according to his father, but how about the victim? Was she who she used to be? Could she ever really return to a “normal” life again?

Turner’s inability to come clean on what he did seems to be one of the big reasons why people are so upset. If there was some admission of guilt here, people may have seen him differently, but there is nothing that even hints that remorse for his actions within these letters. The only remorse seems to be that the assailant will no longer have the opportunities that he once had and will no longer be able to pursue his dreams like he once did, all because of his twenty minutes of indiscretion.

As I poured over article after article trying to decipher for myself what I could make of the case, I wish that I could say that I was surprised, but I wasn’t. Were you? Does this kind of behavior surprise anyone considering the other things that we see in our country?

We’ve been witnessing the slow decline of moral principles and when moral behavior is eroded, why should we be surprised? It seems that we’re moving towards an “anything goes” society where even standing up for convictions that buck the norm is termed bigotry, insensitivity, and discrimination. There is an overall lack of ownership of mistakes and indiscretions that we may commit. We have become such a litigious society that no one seems to want to take responsibility for anything.

So, should we be surprised when we see this decline and then we read of stories such as this one? Disappointed? Yes. Surprised? Probably not.

Something’s got to give, but I’m not quite sure what it will be. We can’t have our cake and eat it too. We can’t continue to be morally lax while at the same time holding people to high moral standards. Those two ideologies seem diametrically opposed to one another.

Unfortunately, I think these kinds of cases and incidents will become more and more prevalent. I think we will continue to see a casting off of restraint and responsibility until something happens to wake us up. While I know what continues to propel me forward and what possibilities that I see for us to change our trajectory away from where we’re headed, I’m curious what others think. Are you surprised with the emergence of these stories? What hope do you see for us changing our trajectory?

I’m Seeing More Clearly Now

When I was in high school, I worked two jobs on Saturdays to make some money. I worked from 7AM until 2PM at a local gas station and 3PM until 7PM at the local Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop. Not only did it benefit me financially, but it also gave me two very distinct windows into my culture and context. Working for people and with people has a way of doing that.

The job at Baskin-Robbins wasn’t quite as formative for me as the job at the gas station. My co-workers at the ice cream shop were much more like me while I felt like a foreigner while working at the gas station, which was a really good thing. As good of a thing as it was, I had some big lessons to learn while I was there.

You see, I was getting a good education and was most likely headed to college to pursue a professional career. My white privilege mindset had been formed in me by my surrounding culture and I thought that I was so important and special and that I knew an awful lot. Turns out, I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did.

I remember one day when it became abundantly clear to me that I didn’t know as much as I thought that I did. I watched one of my coworkers make his way around a car engine in a way that was completely foreign to me. He might not have been able to pull up all of the useless knowledge that I had stocked within my brain, but when it came to the practical and useful information of a car engine, he danced circles around me.

In that moment, I came to the realization that just because someone didn’t know what I knew didn’t mean that they didn’t know anything. While it may seem like a simple lesson, it was an important one for me to learn as a fifteen year old growing up in an incredibly affluent town surrounded by privilege and plenty. It’s stuck with me since that day, nearly thirty years ago.

The lesson that I learned that day was not something that I simply walked away from and put behind me, it was a lesson that I am brought back to over and over again in my life. If I don’t intentionally find ways to put myself into someone else’s shoes and get a different perspective and appreciation of something, I find that life has a way of forcing me into that place where I can see things more clearly.

Last week, my wife was pretty sick for days in a row. While she’s been sick before, I don’t think she’s ever been hit this hard by something (besides pregnancy) since we’ve had all three kids.

I realized early on that she wasn’t going to be able to do everything that she would normally do. The cooking. The laundry. The cleaning. The keeping track of everyone all at once. I knew that I would need to step up my game. So, that’s what I tried to do.

Now, let me say, I do my best to tell my wife how much I appreciate her. I’ve never been a fan of Mother’s Day for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that mothers need to be appreciated every day, not just on a Hallmark holiday in May. Just because I do my best doesn’t mean that there isn’t lots of room for improvement. As I surveyed the landscape of the house, the list of groceries waiting to be bought, the calendar items waiting to be attended, and the general condition of the house and our family, I realized just how much I had taken my wife for granted. I realized how I just always expected that she would be there, walking behind everyone, waiting to pick up the pieces that were dropped along the way, quietly serving and putting them back into their respective places.

While I had struggled with reentry after some much needed, restful time away, reentry is a luxury that my wife is rarely afforded because in order to experience reentry, you actually need to leave for a time. Moms are always on, whether they are working outside of the home or if they are stay at home moms, their jobs are rarely done and their “me” time is few and far between.

I’ve gained a new appreciation for a role that is not my usual role. My prayer in it all is that I show that appreciation every day. I know that my own capacity to accomplish the things that my wife accomplishes (and accomplishes well) on a daily basis is limited. I can play “Mr. Mom” for so long before I finally crash, my wife has a knack for making it look easy. No, she’s not perfect, but she’s perfect for me.

Now, you’ll have to excuse me, I think there’s something I need to be tending to around this house.

At Just the Right Time

IMG_4276I love to read. It’s not uncommon for me to be in the middle of 3 or 4 books at a time. I have stacks of books that I am waiting to get into. I have a reading plan that I do my best to follow throughout the year (check it out here). I review books here on my blog. People give me books that they recommend.

With all of the books that I have waiting in the wings to be read, I don’t always follow an order or a linear path. I’ll often put aside some books and pick up others that weren’t even on my radar before I pick them up.

I say all this because I am constantly amazed at the countless times in life when I have pulled a book off of my shelf that has sat their idle for months or even years only to have it drip with relevance as soon as I start reading it. It seems that the moment I crack the book open and begin reading was ordained so much that it hits me square between the eyes, speaking to me in the intimacy of my own thoughts and exposing me at the very moment in which I find myself. It’s almost as if I had purposely waited for just that moment to begin reading.

A few weeks ago, I finally got around to a book that had been on my radar for at least a year, Brennan Manning’s “The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus.” My lead pastor and friend had recommended it sometime last year. I ordered it, put it on my shelf, and then promptly forgot about it.

As I journey through the sabbatical that I am on, it seemed incredibly relevant for me to read these words, “Am I getting too serious about life? Have I let my sense of childlike wonder fade? Am I so caught up in preaching, teaching, writing and traveling that I no longer hear the sound of rain on the roof?” As those words jumped off the page at me, I silently snickered as I thought of how apropos these words were for such a time as I am in.

In the middle of a section of the book where he talks about Christmas, I read the above phrase. It struck me as even more relevant because for the past few years, I have worked hard to slow myself down in the midst of one of the busiest times of the year: Christmas. I’ve realized that the four weeks of Advent can too easily be lost to me if I don’t intentionally journey through them.

But these words could hardly be relegated to just the Advent season. Looking at my children, I can see that childlike wonder of which Manning speaks if I simply stop and pay attention. If I look hard enough and silence myself and all that is within me long enough, I can see a living example of wonder right there before my very eyes.

To read this during a sabbatical seemed like so much more than just coincidence. It was as if I was supposed to be reading it at this time and place in my life.

No sooner had I read these words about slowing down and taking things in then I read this, “The early Christians considered themselves supermen not because of superhuman willpower but because of reliance on the supernatural power of the Spirit.” I was pretty sure that I had said something similar in a sermon as one of my “go to” Greek words is the word dunamis which means, “power.”

These two points were incredibly relevant and poignant to read in this season of life. Reminders to not take myself too seriously and to try to keep a childlike wonder about myself, but also a reminder that I’m not nearly as important as I might convince myself and that the power that I have to do things doesn’t originate from me.

As John the Baptist said, “I must decrease and he must increase.” The Apostle Paul spoke of his boasting in his weakness and his boast being in Christ alone. My confidence and strength resides within me, but it does not originate within me, it comes from outside of me, and I can never forget that.

Brennan Manning continues to stretch me and challenge me every time that I engage one of his works. I am not nearly as gracious to myself as I need to be. I far too often find my flaws and flagellate myself with them rather than releasing them or, as Paul did, rejoicing in them. My flaws don’t show my weakness so much as they show Christ’s strength, and that’s an important distinction that I can’t forget.

I know that there will be other books that have been collecting dust on my shelves, waiting for me to pick them up, that will speak to me at the particular and specific moment in which I pick them up. It’s happened far too many times to be considered coincidence. For now, I’ll rest in the lessons that I’ve learned in this reading and do my best to savor them and soak them in.