Shaped and Worn

20171114_130452.jpgMy head is spinning today with a million different things.

I received news of a dear friend’s passing as I walked into my office this morning.

I spent the last two days away with my fellow ministry partners preparing for what God has in store for us and our church in 2018.

I discovered some of my father’s old devotional journals and have been reading his thoughts.

While I was away on our planning retreat, I took a walk along the beach. There’s something about the ocean….

As I fought the wind trying to push me over and pummel me with its force, the sound of the surf pounding to my side was soothing. At the same time, the magnitude and power of those waves was slightly terrifying as they reminded me of just what they are capable of and how much damage they could inflict should they move beyond the boundaries of the sandy beach.

As I walked, I came upon a piece of driftwood. I spotted it while I was still far off. As I grew closer and it began to take shape within my vision, I began to anticipate the exploration of it. I felt like a kid again, the explorer, everything that I encountered feeling as if it were being encountered for the very first time.

Looking down upon that piece of driftwood, it was smooth yet jagged. I could tell that although there were still rough edges and points sticking out, the ocean had done a number on it. The wind and the waves had softened some of the edges, smoothing them out. Had I encountered the wood at the beginning of its journey into the ocean, I wonder whether I would have been as struck by its beauty.

Beauty. From ashes. From the ragged edges and jagged points. It seemed as if I were looking at a metaphor for myself. If you had encountered me years ago, I wonder if you would have been able to imagine the work that God would do in me over that period of time. Even now, I know that there are some who encounter me and still see those ragged edges and points and wonder when those jagged parts of who I am will begin to be softened.

We are all works in progress, it sometimes feels that we are like this driftwood, at the mercy of the sea. We are tossed and turned by the ocean, thrown back and forth, cut down, thrust underneath the current and undertow. There are times that we wonder whether our heads will rise above the fray long enough to catch a breath before we submerge once again below the surface.

But in our journey, through the storms and the waves, we are shaped and we are worn. The journey leaves us different than how we began it. Hopefully, better. None of us are left untouched or untainted by that journey. The question is, what will we be at the end of the journey and at the points all along the way?

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Winding Down

As my three month sabbatical winds down, it’s hard to put in words the impact that it has had on me. There have been some people who have, whether jokingly or not, assumed that it has just been a three month vacation for me. That’s hardly been the case as I have engaged in training and learning experiences along the way. Not to oversell the moment, but I feel as if the lessons learned during this time will have a ripple effect for months and years to come, both in my immediate family as well as my church family.

I’ve learned an awful lot about myself during this time, some that has made me happy and some that has made me reconsider my approaches towards things. I consider myself to be a person who is constantly assessing myself and the things that I do. I don’t like status quo for the sake of the status quo but would rather see if I can be stretched and challenged to find new and different ways to be who God made me as well as do the things that I need to do.

As I knew setting out, there were some things that just wouldn’t get done while on sabbatical. I feel like I set my sights high without going into “overachiever” mode. I have found in the past that I have often set my sights so high that my own inability to accomplish things ended up being a frustration or bone of contention to me. Instead of feeling like I was improving, I focused more on all the things that I didn’t accomplish, which wasn’t helpful for me or the process of growth.

I have found that we as a society too often move quickly from one thing to the next without fully embracing what’s before us or allowing the experience to wash over us, change us, and reform us. It’s happened far too often in my own life and I’ve seen the results afterwards. In some ways, it’s like taking the caterpillar out of the cocoon before it’s fully been formed into a butterfly. The results are not nearly as satisfying as they could be had the process taken full affect. In fact, the results can be disastrous if the process of growth is stunted or stopped.

One of the biggest takeaways for me, which I am sure will be unpacked more and more in the months to come, is about slowing down. I can’t begin to count the number of times that I have heard from parents of older children how quickly time goes. There is no stopping or slowing down the passing of time, it marches on regardless of whether or not we want it to or go along with it. Some will put the brakes on and will find themselves left behind in the wake of a changing world. Some may embrace the change so greatly that they forget that the change is not for change’s sake but for the sake of a changed self.

While I can’t slow time, I can slow myself. I don’t have to conform to the ways of harried schedules and overcommitments. I don’t have to allow myself to get washed into the stream of busyness that seems to haunt us all if we aren’t careful. I can’t slow time, but I can choose what to do with the time that I have.

I have no doubt that memories have been made in me and my family during my three months. I have no doubt that I am different than I was at the outset of this sabbatical. Like Frodo and the hobbits sitting in their local pub having come back from the journey of a lifetime, the world is different and there is no choice but to see it through new eyes, eyes that somehow look clearer and more vivid than they did before.

I don’t fully know all that has happened within me over this time, but I am going to do my best to probe and mine it, to find out what’s beneath the surface, to see the changes that have begun to take shape and form in me. My prayer is that those changes will ripple far beyond me into all those that I come into contact with on a regular basis.

A Sobering Picture

IMG_2143Our country is in a sad state. We’re divided over politics. We’ve got two pretty crummy options for president. We continue to deny that we have a race problem. We need some healing!

While in Memphis with my family, we visited the National Civil Rights Museum. The museum is housed in what used to be the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and continues across the street into the boarding house where James Earl Ray, his assassin pulled the trigger on that fateful April evening in 1968.

My wife and I had contemplated whether or not to take our kids to the museum. In truth, it was probably more for me than for them, but I still feel like it’s never too early to get kids to think correctly about race and race relations. Did they take it all in? No. Did they see things, hear things, and read things that they can’t unsee, unhear, and unread? Probably, but isn’t that our lives every day?

My daughter was too young, she just didn’t get it. No crime there, it’s hard to be four years old and be thrust into this crazy world and the various issues that we are facing. My oldest probably got way more than I think he did, enough so that I need to figure out how to get some one on one time with him in the near future to talk through his own processing of what he saw, heard, and read.

The first thing that we noticed as we went into the museum was that we were in the minority. There weren’t many white folks in there, and that kind of made me sad. Why? Did others not think it was important? Did they come on other days? Was this just an off day?

As I looked around at the mostly African American patrons, I wished that I could see things through their eyes. I felt as white and privileged as I am. I knew that my perspective was skewed in such a way that there was something that I just couldn’t see, something that I just couldn’t feel because of who I am. As they looked at the statues of slaves, of oppressed, of tormented African Americans, I wondered what they saw. As they looked at the displays of those who had stood up, who just couldn’t take it anymore, I wondered whether there was a pride in them, a pride in seeing someone stand up for what was right, of seeing someone finally put their foot down.

As we walked through the museum, I knew that I had to skip so much of what was there in order to keep our sanity and the attention of my young children. My four year old was running ahead. As I read what I could, as I looked at the pictures, as I took it all in, there were some sights that made me well up. For instance, to see the mugshots of some of these African American women who had stood up for what they believed, you could just see it in their faces, they were pissed off. They’d had enough. They weren’t going to take it anymore, not in a Beastie Boys or Twisted Sister kind of way, but in a real, legitimate way, in a way that says, “We’ve had enough of being treated as less than human!”

As the story of civil rights unfolds around you through pictures, through voices, through news stories, you arrive at this sacred place, the reconstructed rooms where Martin Luther King, Jr. and his friends and colleagues stayed on the night of April 3, 1968. Did they know what would happen just twenty-four hours later?

Then you walk across the street and see things from the other side, from the eyes of the killer, the man who thought that violence was the way to solve a problem, the man who snuffed the life of a man who, though far from perfect, had accomplished so much for black people and minorities in this country.

There are moments in life when you can sense that there is something different, something special, something sacred. This was one of them. To say that I wanted to drink in the moment seems to shortchange it, to cheapen it. I wanted to freeze time to hear the voices of everyone who had stood in this place, to drink in all that I had just absorbed, to hear what they experienced while they were there.

IMG_2204After we left Memphis, I asked my wife to stop by the home of Medgar Evers in Jackson Mississippi. Two men. Two activists. Two families shattered by hate. Two places where death was in the air and where hate did its best to conquer love and freedom. It was all a lot to process, but I did my best.

I wonder what others think when they walk those hallowed walls. I wonder what they feel when they look at those rooms, when they look through those windows, when they see things the way that two men on different sides saw things one day in April nearly 50 years ago.

I wish somehow we could require people to walk through these walls, but you know the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” You can’t force people to see something that they aren’t willing, aren’t capable of seeing. So, I did the next best thing, I brought my kids, and when we were done, we had a little talk. We talked about why people would hate others because of the color of their skin. They couldn’t come up with any really good reasons, in fact, I don’t think they could come up with any reasons. For that, I am proud, because there aren’t any good reasons.

Yet we still find ourselves in this place, at this time, in our country. Black men are threatened and fear for their lives just for being black. Police officers fear the retaliation because of the actions of a few. The rest of us play armchair quarterback because we think that the media is actually portraying things fairly and balanced. There are at least three sides to every story: yours, mine, and the truth.

As I walked through the museum, I wanted to hug every African American brother and sister that I saw to tell them that I saw them for who they are. I wanted to tell them that my heart broke for them, for their families, for their children. I wanted to ask them what I could do. I wanted to, even for just one minute, feel what they were feeling inside, good, bad, and ugly.

In the end, we can only affect the people who are directly around us in hopes that the ripples of that change might go out from where we are, into our communities, into our towns and cities, into our states, and throughout the world. Change starts small, but when it’s combined with the force of others moving in the same direction, it becomes a momentous force that can rise up and conquer. But that force doesn’t come when we separate ourselves, when we segregate ourselves, it can only happen when we come together to hear what others are thinking, feeling, and doing.

I’m not doing enough, but awareness is the first step, education is a close second. Where we go next will be the challenge. The first place that I can start change is in me, I can only hope that it snowballs from there!

Stripped

reflection escherI am currently a few weeks into a thirteen week sabbatical. The purpose of this sabbatical is to rest, recharge, and also learn. I need rest and recharge and I am finding that the time of learning during this sabbatical is different than the normal mode of learning that I experience in other times in my life. While I am constantly seeking to learn and better myself throughout the other seasons of my life, this sabbatical forces me to look at myself without the other distractions (good or bad) in my life.

True reflection should feel intimate and personal. It shouldn’t necessarily be comfortable as you’re getting a glimpse into things that you may not have seen before. In the past, I’ve compared it to those magnifying mirrors that women sometimes use while putting on makeup; they magnify your face to the point that you can see every blemish and imperfection, like it or not. True reflection should give us a glimpse of who we really are, without dressings and distractions.

I am finding that stripping away the things that normally crowd out self-reflection causes me to simply stand in front of the mirror with nothing left to hide behind. I am stripped of all pretenses and coverings and I stand there exposed. There is nowhere to hide, nowhere to run, I see what truly exists.

The challenge may be whether to continue to look in that mirror. If I don’t like what I see, it could be very easy for me to run away, to hide, to cover myself up. In some ways, it seems like a throwback to the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ran and hid themselves once they were aware of their nakedness. They knew that they were exposed and they were afraid. So they ran.

When faced with our true reflection, our tendency may be to run and hide, but if we really want to grow and learn, we must face the sometimes gruesome reality of who we really are, warts and all. We need to take a long, hard look at the reflection that we see in that mirror and decide what we are going to do when faced with that reality. Will we soak it all in and then simply walk away, forgetting what we saw? Or will we drink it in and seek to make changes in the reflection that we see before us?

This isn’t a new dilemma, there are others who have seen the same thing. James, the half-brother of Jesus Christ, made similar observation in his letter when he wrote in James 1:23-24, “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” So, it’s a challenge that humanity has faced for centuries, millennia even.

When all is stripped away and we are faced with who we really are, do we like what we see? If we don’t like what we see, where do we run to in order to cover up our discomfort and dissatisfaction with the reflection that we see?

Looking in the mirror of self-reflection shouldn’t be a discouraging process, yet it always seems to feel that way for me. I rarely ever glimpse the parts of me that are being reformed and reshaped. My focus always seems to be what needs improvement and I’m trying to figure out whether that’s a nature or nurture thing.

Regardless of where it came from, I know that things can change. Standing in front of that mirror and faced with the reflection, how will I respond? Will I be honest about the reflection, or will I run? Will I simply see what needs changing or will I see the places that have been transformed since the last time?

To be encouraged by my reflection, I can’t simply look once a year or once every five years, I need to constantly look back at my reflection, not in an obsessive way but in a way that truly seeks to be transformed and changed into the image in which I was originally created, the imago dei. If I am looking at that reflection often, I will see those parts that are different than the last time I looked, I will see those changes that might be subtle but are changes nonetheless.

So, how about you? What do you do when you see your reflection? Do you like what you see? What are you doing to change what’s there staring back at you?

Change Your Perspective

As a pastor, I don’t often have the opportunity to get out of my own context and see how other communities function on Sunday mornings. The Sundays that I am away I am usually visiting the church of my in-laws or friends, maybe spending a day traveling in the car. The opportunity to go visit other places is a luxury that I am not always afforded.

This weekend, I had the opportunity to visit one of our sister churches within our denomination down in Charlotte, North Carolina. Sunday morning was a little harried as I visited two of the three campuses of this church. Needless to say, I did not make the service at my second location on time. I got hung up in conversation and was about 10 minutes late (the lead pastor told me later that I arrived right around the time that everyone else did).

It was great to see what God is doing down in Charlotte. It’s always neat to see how things differ from your own context. A shift of perspective is always helpful to give me added insight. Getting outside the familiar always forces me to look more closely at things.

One thing that happens when I am able to get out of my context is that I can see what things I feel like we are doing well in my own context. I’m not afraid to admit that I look at things through a very critical lens. I know what I like and what I want and I have specific thoughts and ideas about how to make that happen. I know what things are helping to make those thoughts and ideas come to fruition and I know what things are hindering them from coming true. So, realizing that a different perspective or context can help me be more encouraging is a “Win” for me.

That’s not to say that seeing a different context and realizing that we’re doing things well in my own context means that the other context isn’t doing it well, it just means that it clarifies my vision a little better. I don’t honestly think that you can carbon copy things from one context to another and make things work successfully and smoothly. Context is key and if you don’t know your context before trying something, it could be detrimental.

Experiencing a different context also helps to get new and different ideas. While some things might simply confirm that you’re doing things well and right in your own context, there might be opportunities to experience something new and different, to see how things are done elsewhere which in turn can inject a little creativity (or “borrowing”) from this new context.

When I’ve had the chance to get out of my own context and visit somewhere else, I’ve always been grateful when I’ve seen things done well and differently than I am used to. It helps to shake me out of a rut that I might have found myself in and jumpstart something in me that rethinks how I am doing something. It might mean that I borrow something that I have observed or it might mean that seeing something different helps me to think outside of the box just enough to come up with something new and different for my own context.

The best part of seeing another context is when this new context is filled with people who admit that they’re just doing their best to make it and who never claim to be experts. Humility is always a key factor for me because I’m kind of turned off when I hear someone say (either explicitly or between the lines) that they’re doing things perfectly and have no room for improvement.

We all don’t have the luxury of getting out of our own contexts, whatever they may be, to look elsewhere and to potentially shift our thinking. When we are limited in this ability, then we need to bring that shifting context to ourselves by enlisting someone else from another context to come in and give some honest feedback. It’s not the same as going to check out something different, but it can help to achieve the same goals by giving you a different perspective outside or yourself.

I was grateful for the new perspective I had after this weekend. I’ll get to spend some more time in this new context over the next few days and know that I will gain even more insights as I soak in what’s all around me.

Room to Grow

I sat down with a friend after a Bible study the other day. Although we hadn’t planned on a conversation, this friend is one who I am always willing to engage because of the wisdom and insight that I get from him every single time that we talk. My constant prayer is that I can live my life similar to his in the ability to never leave any person the same as when I met them. I know that the work that is done is the work of the Holy Spirit, but to be used and available and willing is a huge part of that.

As we sat and talked about some of the things that we are experiencing in our lives, I had an epiphany. We were talking about people development and watching people flourish and grow or remain stagnant and plateau. God has grown me an awful lot over the years in that my automatic response when I would see someone who would remain stagnant and plateau was to blame them for their laziness or lack of initiative. I’ve come to realize that there’s another side to the story.

While there is a responsibility on all of us as individuals, leadership plays a key and important role in helping others develop into who they were created to be. Sometimes, people find themselves in environments where they are not able to develop for one reason or another. It could be that those who are supervising them are lacking in self-confidence and keep things close to their chest, not freely doling out responsibilities for fear of losing their own self-worth and identity.

As I thought about it more, what stood out to me was that there are times when there are people that we lead who need to have their boundaries and limits expanded far beyond what they would normally expand them to themselves, if we don’t recognize the need to expand these boundaries and limits, we may be stifling growth.

It’s easy to see this from the perspective of parenting, at least to me it is. As children grow older, responsibilities need to increase and as those responsibilities increase, the amount of freedom that is given to them should increase as they show their ability to fulfill those responsibilities. If there is an imbalance at all, there are a variety of scenarios that can play out.

1) Increased freedom with no increased responsibility

I feel like I see this all the time. Parents will constantly give out freedom to their children without requiring more responsibility for that freedom. When this happens, we perpetuate the entitlement that has become endemic to our culture. If we don’t increase responsibility when we increase freedom, then we will end up with lots of children (and people) walking around who expect things coming their way without them giving anything in return.

2) No increased freedom with increased responsibility

Here is the recipe for stunted growth. When children (or people) are asked to do more and increase their responsibility while not being given increased freedom, they will become frustrated and will most likely stagnate. Everyone is knit together differently, so there’s no magic formula to see at what point someone stagnates, but it will happen eventually. I would hazard a guess that there might be a very small segment of the population that might still flourish despite the lack of freedom that they are given, but the overwhelming majority would end up becoming complacent and remaining the same.

3) Increased freedom with increased responsibility

This is the “Win” of all the scenarios. As responsibility is doled out and given, so is freedom. As someone proves themselves capable, so they are given an increased amount of freedom. That increased amount of freedom will (hopefully) spur them on to better things and to become better themselves. Growth should take place, in theory, as they begin to see the progression and the relationship between responsibility and freedom.

This realization is a huge thing for me. As I raise my own children and as I lead people whom I lead, it is essential for me to realize this relationship between responsibility and freedom. Having three children of my own, I have already seen the vast difference in their personalities, so it’s also essential that I not embrace a “one-size-fits-all” philosophy towards them. They are different, the process may need to be changed and tweaked accordingly. It takes energy, it takes investment, it takes time. I am not a patient man.

I’m curious as to whether this theory resonates with others. Like I said, my own experience with children is only nine and a half short years in the making. My experience in leadership is longer, but it’s only been the last few years that I have looked more intently at it. So, what do you think? Do you see the connection and relationship between responsibility and freedom? Are you tracking with this? Does it make sense?

We Are the Change

we are the change

I’ll be honest, politics disgust me. I both admire and abhor politicians. I admire them for the willingness and boldness to step into a broken system while abhorring them for the same thing. Our political system has come to such a flawed and degraded state that it’s hard to believe that change can happen without a major overhaul and restructure.

Just look at the impending November election. Opinions are fully entrenched on both sides of the political fence. The only bipartisanship that exists is in the opinion of Donald Trump, the supposed GOP frontrunner and both Republican and Democratic loathing of him. The devolution of values and ideals has come to parallel many people’s approach in the sporting world, specifically in Baseball when people like “anyone but the Yankees” or college basketball when people root for “anyone but Duke.” People simply don’t want to see Trump as president and so would elect Clinton in an effort to keep Trump from the office or vice versa.

I’m not sure the last time that I watched a State of the Union address. To be honest, I think this is an area of growth for me. Regardless of whether or not I agree with the sitting president, there is some respect that should be shown to the office despite personality or ideology. I’m learning in this area and need a lot of work, I can be honest about that.

President Obama’s valedictory SOTU address was no exception. In our fast-paced world of technology and information, it seems slightly unnecessary to watch for an hour what will be summarized and highlighted in a brief five or ten minutes the next morning.

As I read through the highlights of the SOTU address on my chosen news source (which is neither MSNBC or Fox News), I read a statement that President Obama made that stood out to me. He stated, “I believe in change because I believe in you!….we are the change we seek.” Those were interesting words, words that could easily inspire, but words that seem fundamentally flawed, at least to me in my own theology, ideology, and politicality.

Earlier that morning, before reading the highlights of the SOTU address, I met with my friend and accountability partner. We have been looking at 1 Kings and were talking through Solomon and some of his missteps in his reign as king of Israel. I made the comment that I was frustrated with myself for turning my mood and attitude on a dime. One moment I could be charged up, encouraged, and joyful and then I could move to an arrogant, impatient, and angry jerk. The repeated pattern had begun to frustrate and even disgust me.

As I talked it out, I couldn’t help but hear my own words, “I’m trying” and “I’m working” and realize that was one of the main problems. As someone who wholeheartedly believes in God and in the power of the Holy Spirit to change and reform a person, I know through my own life how changes have taken place and I know that the credit cannot be taken by me.

No matter how caring, giving, or altruistic one claims to be, at the heart of each and every one of us is lies selfishness. I know that many (if not all) will push back on me here, but I firmly believe that even in our altruism, we can be selfish in seeking out a feeling for ourselves. We can do good things and help people, but at the heart of those actions, if not for a motivation outside of ourselves, we are still being selfish.

I commend the President for his thoughts. I get what he is trying to say and think that he’s halfway there, but the problem becomes when we try to do things ourselves and think that we’re doing it in our own power and strength. I always find two things are true, 1) we’re better together, when we work with others and 2) we’re better with God who gives us the power, strength, wisdom, and know-how to move forward.

Yes, the change lies somewhere in us, we can’t seek for others to make that change happen if we aren’t willing to be part of it. There will be no president or elected official who will swoop in and save the day. Superman is a myth. Israel wanted a king, just like the other nations, and thought that it would help and solidify their place, but it turns out that God was right in the end, he was the one who was to be their king because humans are human, faulty, broken, selfish, and flawed.

We all need restoration. We all need redemption. We may be the change, but in order for us to be the change, we need to be changed first!

The Boy Who Could

bowie aladdinI came into the world of pop music late in life. Well, late in life in comparison to many of my friends. In fact, there were two things that shaped my infatuation with music that would continue for the rest of my life.

The first was my parents’ prohibition of anything outside of CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) and easy listening such as The Carpenters, Andy Williams, Percy Faith, Perry Como, and an assortment of other treasures you can find in your local Goodwill’s record collection. I just wasn’t allowed to listen to “secular” music and was even brought to one of those “Rock Talks” that were so popular in the 80’s where some “expert” stood up and went on and on about all of the popular music groups and what kind of satanic and hedonistic messages they were promoting. Sadly, I probably got my list of “What To Listen To” from that talk.

The second thing was General Music in 8th grade with Mr. O’Donnell. I didn’t actually take the class, I played trumpet in the concert band, but on the days when the band director was absent, I was fortunate enough to have Mr. O’Donnell as a substitute for my class. I had heard the stories of what they did in General Music class over and over again, so I was pleased to finally get a taste of it firsthand.

I remember the day that I walked into class and saw O’Donnell (as we affectionately called him) with the stereo out, all ready to start playing “Name That Tune.” I was so excited….until we actually started playing. I realized just how far I was from the reality of pop music when song after song was played and my ability to identify any of them was virtually non-existent. I think there was a part of me that died that day and another part that made a secret vow to never find myself so humiliated again.

Those two things really shaped the way that I see music to this day. My collection is eclectic and large. It’s hard to pin me down to a favorite style as I like a lot of stuff. Some people say that and then you find out that their so-called “eclectic” style is much more narrow than you thought. When I say “eclectic” though, I mean anything from Iron Maiden to Andy Williams, Anthrax to The Carpenters, Megadeth to Les Miserables, and everything in between.

I’m not sure the first time that I heard David Bowie. I have a feeling that he must have been named at one of those “Rock Talks” I went to during my formative years. After all, he was an androgynous spaceman who had been rumored to be bisexual, why else wouldn’t he end up on that list?

Regardless of my first hearing of him, I remember listening to “Space Oddity” and wondering about Ground Control and Major Tom. I remember hearing his collaborations with Freddy Mercury and Queen on “Under Pressure,” with Mick Jagger on “Dancing in the Streets,” and with Bing Crosby on “The Little Drummer Boy.” When I finally came to the place in my life when I heard his song “Heroes,” I’m pretty sure he had me at, “I will be king.”

While I’ve never been a huge fan of Bowie, I can say that I have appreciated his versatility and talent over the years. This past Friday, on the occasion of his 69th birthday, Bowie released his 28th studio album “Blackstar.” That’s quite a career considering he could never be fully pinned down, never lingering in any one thing for long enough for anyone to pigeon-hole him. He was constantly reinventing himself, in fact, it seems that over and over, the headlines are posthumously labeling him “The Master of Reinvention.” He understood the notion of reinvention before Madonna was even a blip on the pop culture radar screen.

As I woke to the news of Bowie’s death on Monday morning, there was a bleakness and sadness that I felt. January is a hard time for me as it marks my mom and dad’s anniversary as well as the date when we discovered that my mom had cancer. Hearing the news of Bowie’s passing from cancer reopened old wounds that never seem to close.

Over the course of the days leading up to Monday, I had been watching Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” (a blog post in and of itself) and had been feeling the heaviness and poignancy of that film, so the news of Bowie’s death fueled the fire of melancholy that had already been lit.

I think the sadness that came from knowing Bowie was gone was multi-faceted. He is a dying breed, there are not many true artists who are willing to shun public opinion to do their own thing. In these days of Auto-tune, 3 minute songs, and drippy lyrics, artists are a dying breed.

Another aspect of it is that there is something to be said about taking a chance and being willing to fail. All of us, whether we are willing to admit it or not, are too willing to play it safe, to do the thing that is comfortable and familiar rather than trying something new. Bowie is an inspiration to try something new and different, regardless of whether everyone rejects you and criticizes you. It’s a reminder to me that taking chances should be second nature to me, especially as someone who claims to follow the King of Creation who knit everything together.

David Bowie proved to the world that taking chances is worth the risk. He never seemed afraid to try something different and he was never afraid to abandon something that no longer seemed to fit. He proved himself a boy who could in the midst of a world of boys who “know that they can’t.” His artistic spirit will be missed and I can only hope that others might find that same adventurous and risky spirit in order that it might live on.

Chipping Paint and Oncoming Complacency

chipping paintI heard a quote this past week that has been bouncing around my cranium since I heard it. I’ve made reference to it no less than half a dozen times since I heard it because the truth of the statement resonates so deeply with me.

“Time in erodes awareness of.”

That’s it! Might not seem too profound to the average reader or hearer, but to me, who has seen it played out a lot, it makes sense and there is a profoundness in its simplicity. The basic premise being that the longer you look at something, the longer that you are exposed to something, the less impact it has on you without a change of perspective.

Let me illustrate.

In your house, you have a section of wall going up the stairs where the paint is chipping. Every time that you walk past it, you scold yourself inside your head, telling yourself that you need to take time on a Saturday to repaint that section. But the more times that you walk past that chipping paint and don’t do anything about it, the more likely you are to just start to ignore it. The longer amount of time passes, the less your awareness of it will be.

This is why it’s absolutely ESSENTIAL to always be introducing new perspectives and viewpoints into an organization that is truly seeking to change and get better. If organizations or churches continue to have the people who have been within those organizations and churches take “fresh” looks at things, it won’t matter. The amount of time that a person is in an organization can be directly proportionate to their own awareness of that environment.

That’s not to say that a person’s awareness is completely eroded if they have been within an organization or a church for a long time, but the longer they are there, the more effort will have to be taken to gain new perspectives, inviting feedback not from those whose awareness has been eroded over their time and longevity within that place, but from those whose fresh look allows them to see more clearly, without the blinders and lenses of time that have eroded that awareness.

When we stay in the same place for a long period of time, there is a tendency towards complacency if we fail to do something to combat it. Unless we are intentional about changing our perspective and getting a glimpse of things with fresh eyes, we will grow complacent to the very things, ideas, and issues that need to be addressed.

So, what can we do within an organization or a church to change things up in order to avoid the erosion of awareness and the onset of complacency?

1) Be aware – Awareness is the first key ingredient to combating this. If we fail to be aware of our own inadequacies in seeing things clearly, we will continue to do the same thing over and over again, all the while expecting different results. We know where that leads, regardless of whether or not we are willing to admit it. We need to be aware of our own propensity towards complacency and a lack of awareness.

2) Be intentional – Once we are aware of this, we can’t just leave it there. We need to be intentional in addressing the issue. We have to create a structure and environment that looks for opportunities to see the possible erosion of awareness and move towards greater awareness. Intentionality means finding ways to raise awareness and perspective.

3) Invite feedback – This is a dangerous one, I will fully admit it, so I’m following it up with #4, so be sure not to stop here. We need to invite feedback. If we fail to invite feedback, how else are we to measure things? In order to raise awareness, we need to realize our own limited perspective and invite the perspectives of others who see things differently than we do. It doesn’t mean that we take everything that we receive as feedback and implement it. That’s why we need this next one.

4) Measure feedback – This has become one of the hardest things for churches to do, at least the churches of which I have been a part. Measuring feedback is essential, yet the methods for measurement will vary based upon the individual unless there is a uniform process or procedure implemented and put into play that will allow for a more consistent measurement. In the case of awareness, time in erodes awareness of, so it’s important to measure feedback in terms of time in. Like I said, this doesn’t meant that you throw the baby out with the bathwater and you automatically dismiss feedback from someone who has been around a long time, but it also means that you carefully consider how much that person’s awareness of a situation has been eroded by their time within the organization or church.

We were never meant to be alone. In the second chapter of the book of Genesis, everything has been created and God has set Adam over these things, but he realizes that Adam does not have a suitable helpmate. His solution is to create Eve, and we see the beginning of community and partnership. We need each other, that’s how we can avoid complacency, that’s how we can avoid an eroded awareness of our current environment and situation.

As we build deeper relationships with one another, we build up trust and allow for feedback from each other. If our relationships remain shallow, the chances of us drifting down into complacency and erosion of awareness will become greater. Our lives will easily become environments of chipping paint, in need of restoration but lacking the awareness to realize that our perspectives have diminished and eroded our ability to see things as clearly as they really are.

The Road to Becoming – A Book Review

the road to becomingWhat do you do when all of your dreams, everything that you have envisioned for your life is stripped away? How do you respond when all that you are left with is a pile of ashes on the floor while you attempt to pick them up and find hope to go on? What do you do when the plans that you had made for your life seem so elusive that every time you get a taste or sniff of them they you feel that they are yanked out from right there in front of you?

From dreams under the leaves of her grandparents’ mighty Mississippi magnolia tree to the office of a music executive in Music City, Jenny Simmons followed her dream from thought to fruition. After years of doing concerts and productions that she put on with her sisters for whoever would listen, years of feeling the calling deep within her soul to follow this dream of making music because of the connection that it had to her soul, she had finally arrived…or so she thought.

Jenny Simmons saw the example that her parents had set for her and her sisters, the example that said to follow your heart, follow your dreams, follow your call, even when it takes you to impractical, hard, and unsafe places. After all, living by faith rarely comes without a price, and it rarely looks as safe as we would like it to look. So, while she learned to follow her calling, she also learned that following doesn’t come without a cost. “Turns out, following God-sized epiphanies doesn’t guarantee instant happiness, and it might even cost your own children some pain,” she writes.

Fronting the band Addison Road who was on the brink of touring with Sanctus Real in the spring of 2010, she and her band lost all their equipment and merchandise when their van and trailer were stolen to fall apart and my plans began to unravel.” Two weeks later, her daughter was born, but that birth was simply the silver lining of a very dark cloud that hovered over her for more than a year. In “The Road to Becoming,” Jenny Simmons chronicles her experience of having achieved her lifelong dream of being a successful recording artist and singer and then seeing it all wash away.

Through the loss of their own personal vehicles, the literal blowing up of a rented RV (complete with band equipment and merchandise), and the additional loss of the band’s equipment and merchandise, for a third time within a year, Simmons found herself in a place of extreme loss and suffering. “The hardest part of suffering is that the rest of the world keeps going like nothing has happened,” she wrote.

But through the loss, she began to realize that the process of loss involves so much more than just simply losing something. There is a necessary death, an embrace of grief, burial, and rebirth that needs to take place after something to painful and deep. Through the loss and through the pain, she had to remember that God still speaks, even though his voice sounds more, “like a whisper and not the roar of a hurricane.”

In the midst of loss and the desert in which she found herself, she realized that things still grow in the desert. Despite the climate in which you would expect nothing to thrive, there is beauty, there are streams in the desert along which there is life and growth. But in order for that new growth, for something new to become, it, “requires the burying of one’s selfishness.”

Simmons seems to be as much of an artist with words and images as she does with music, painting with words much the way that she paints with notes and lyrics. She is honest and raw, vulnerable and transparent, not seeking to offer answers but rather a shoulder to cry on or a hand to hold through the deserts and storms. She never feigns a full understanding of the process but is open and willing to share of her own triumphs and her failures.

“The Road to Becoming” is a helpful resource for anyone who finds themselves in the desert, searching for life and meaning and wondering whether God has abandoned them. It’s a reminder that, “The end of the story isn’t dependent on the state of the dream.” Simmons doesn’t candycoat the struggles that she went through but shares in hopes that her own experience might be an encouragement to others who might have to endure the same experiences.

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