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Freedom's Just Another Word

Freedom’s Just Another Word

The first time I heard an Aussie ask “How are you going?” I thought he wanted me to give him directions, which is hilarious because I know how to get to, like, three places here. Then I realized I was being presented with an alternative to our American phrase “How are you doing?” And I decided that I really liked it.

There’s a chance I’m taking idioms too personally here, but my journey through faith has been like this: religion to grace. Javert to Valjean. Imperative to indicative. My early years of preoccupation with behavior—to my idea of God as the…

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The Real (Suppressed) You

An amazing little passage from Frank Lake’s book on pastoral care. This could be filed away under “what not to do” in moments of great suffering. Lake discusses the human need to have negative feelings, that therealities of rage, anxiety, loneliness or grief should not be kept hidden or suppressed. In the realm of church groups, though, or really any other kind of group, Lake notes that these negative feelings are often seen as problematic and unattractive, even unacceptable. They are often, in these circles, evidence of a lack of faith, a lack of self-esteem, a lack of personal grit. When we are this person, the suffering one in need of a listening ear, we are aware that this is a risk, putting ourselves out there like this. Lake, like Brené Brown, argues that it is a huge act of bravery to be vulnerable about these unseemly emotions.

Sometimes, though, the pain is too great and we just have to share. And instead of finding friends who have faced the same demons, we find strangers who seem not to know what we’re talking about. There are awkward silences, darting glances, pained faces, a quick change of the subject. Someone in the group gets the group “back on track,” and our negative feelings–the thing that derailed the conversation–are cast aside as if they were never spoken to begin with. Here’s Lake:

The effect of this put-down on the anxious sharer is devastating. They feel the group life they have come to depend on and their acceptance in it are tottering on the brink of disintegration. They have shared the worst that they fear to be true of themselves and the group quite plainly did not want to know.

Next week there is a crisis: do I go again or do I stay away? If I do go, who is it that goes? The chastened/corrected John or Mary, resolved never again to risk being disgraced, resolved to act the cheerful charismatic cover-up to the evident satisfaction of all? But that is not the essence of renewal but of the old religion. However skillfully last week’s well-shamed sharer contrives…there will be anger hidden.

Isn’t this, after all, the defining character trait of “religion,” why it so often carries connotations of phoniness, grandiosity, and abstraction? And isn’t this what Jesus came to save us from, from our contrived sense of personal wellbeing? Throughout the gospels, Jesus seems to ask the question of the wounded ones he encounters (and, by extension, of us): where is the real you, not the corrected you? Where is the wound? Everything that is hidden will be brought to light, and released, made new.

The Essential Shift: Moving from Orphan to Beloved Son

A terrific talk from the 2017 Coming Back Stronger Conference in Birmingham, AL. Tray Lovvorn, one of the hosts of Undone Redone, talks about the different ways we understand our relationship to God:

Riding Shotgun: On Being the Clergy-Adjacent

Riding Shotgun: On Being the Clergy-Adjacent

I was hauling a giant luggage container, the kind that attaches to a car roof, across my driveway with the woman who bought it from me on craigslist. It wasn’t heavy, but it was awkward and large, and we were having a bit of a hard time maneuvering it. It was dark outside, and we couldn’t really see what we were doing.

“Oh my god, this is like hauling a dead body by dark of night.”

I said it, and then I immediately wished I hadn’t said it. “I’m sorry—I shouldn’t have said that. It’s just that my husband is clergy, and…

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Party of Five and the God of Party Poopers

Party of Five and the God of Party Poopers

When life gets tough, I like to watch other people’s lives get tougher. In Germany or Avenue Q, this is called shadenfreude; in America, this is called haphazardly engaging in political discourse on social media, or watching just about any popular TV drama. Forgoing the Covfefe hoo-ha, I recently committed instead to a teen soap opera — a precious genre rife with death and tragedy and youth pregnancy scares.

Several episodes deep into a show like Party of Five (1994-2000) and my day-to-day seems pretty alright. The walls begin to lean blessedly outward instead of in. I can breathe, and I…

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Giddy Godless Weddings

Giddy Godless Weddings

’Tis the season.

More than any other time of the year people are celebrating their connection in marriage. Having aged into “friends of Mom and Dad” status, my wife and I have been to many weddings in the last few years. We’ve noticed that this ceremony, which was languishing in our culture, has been enlivened in recent years by my generation’s children getting married.

These days the act of marriage is at best deferred, but definitely its inevitability has been diminished. Weddings happen, but fewer, later — and these long-planned, very expensive, highly produced gatherings are pretty programmed affairs.

But the real story is…

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Working For Dad

Working For Dad

Just in time for Father’s Day, this one was written by Julian Brooks.

My first summer home from Bible College left me with four months to get to work and save some money for the year’s upcoming tuition. Thankfully I had a job lined up and a place to stay that would allow me to save some money. Even so, I was still going to come up short on what was needed to cover the cost for another year of school.

My dad told me before the summer began that whether I worked or took time off to spend with family and…

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Shame as a Motivational Technique

Shame as a Motivational Technique

In Tom Verducci’s entertaining book, The Cub’s Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse, he describes an incident very early in skipper Joe Maddon’s career. In 1986, Maddon was managing the Double-A Midland Angels in Texas. They were a bad team who had just suffered another bad loss. Maddon was apoplectic. He found a newspaper stand, purchased a variety of papers, and began cutting out the classified ads. Later, he taped up these “Help Wanted” advertisements all over the clubhouse, including on the backs of bathroom stalls. The message was clear: “If you’re…

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The Girls of Whitehaven: Love and Friend Requests in Cyber Space

The Girls of Whitehaven: Love and Friend Requests in Cyber Space

In 2009 I was invited to join “Facebook.” I already knew all about it, because my best friend from high school had gone to Harvard, where I had visited her and had seen it in 1974, in her freshman room. Back then, “Facebook” was paper and had all the Radcliffe girls listed in it.

It was mostly a catalog of pictures. Many of those pictures were of Groucho Marx — those who did not submit photos were represented by the specter of the huge mustache, glasses and cigar. This mid-century Facebook was a proto-dating service. High tech as it was — Xeroxed (versus mimeographed) and mass produced, I…

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The King of Dissonance

The King of Dissonance

Well, I’ve been taking up DZ’s advice and making my way through Harriet Lerner’s slim little power-punch of a book, Why Won’t You Apologize? (He actually left it on my desk before the sabbatical…Soooo, did he mean for me to read it? Did I say, or not say, something?) The book is a powerful glimpse into all the strategies and self-deceptions we have around our wrongdoing–on what counts as an apology, and on what keeps us from doing it. As Dave mentioned, Lerner keys in on the prime impulse that makes the non-apologizer a non-apologizer: the need to be perfect.

Some people are so hard…

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A New Musical, an Old Story: Amélie on Broadway

A New Musical, an Old Story: Amélie on Broadway

Readers of the blog may be familiar with the 2001 French film Amélie, an indie love story powered by actor Audrey Tautou’s impish smile and director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s whimsical storytelling. It’s on Netflix right now–if you’ve got time this week, put the kids to bed, snuggle up with a loved one, pop open a bottle of wine, and enjoy a bit of that inimitable French joie de vivre. 

Once you’ve caught up by seeing the movie, you can join the rest of the viewers in confusion over the reality that Amélie is now a musical. Attendees at last week’s NYC conference could have taken the N train to…

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An Un-Earnable Love and the Tragic Death of Performance: "Emotional Stuff" on 3 Mics

An Un-Earnable Love and the Tragic Death of Performance: “Emotional Stuff” on 3 Mics

This reflection comes from Julian Brooks.

Lately I’ve been on a standup comedy binge thanks to the power of Netflix, and I recently stumbled upon Neal Brennan’s special, 3 Mics. For those of you that don’t know, Neal Brennan was the co-writer of Chappelle’s Show oh too many years ago and has since been quietly writing behind the scenes for several other comedy shows.

The special is fantastic in its own right. As the title suggests, there are three mics set up on stage for Neal when the show opens. Each mic represents a different part of the show. One mic for witty one-liners…

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