Wednesday, June 30, 2010

please note

the inconsistent adopted has moved. five people can now move their bookmarks to

thanks for reading! and thanks for blogger for being a mostly reliable platform for six years.

Monday, June 28, 2010

all questions considered

today i had lunch with tim hawkins, a good friend who leads sojourn collegiate ministry in boston. i have always respected tim's commitment to relational ministry, ability to wrestle with the hard questions and decision to remain rooted in christian church, church of Christ tradition we both claim as home.

during our meeting tim dropped a couple of keepers on me including a statement that "the church is the local expression of the neighborly love of God." he also told me a short story about the sacredness of questions that he graciously agreed to post here. thanks tim!
My second year in campus ministry, one comment changed my ministry.

A friend of mine, Nate, a guy who had been struggling with his faith, had been coming to our on-campus gatherings for a few months.

Eventually, he felt like this might be a good place to bring his agnostic girl-friend.

She came with full-guard up. I put on my best peppy, inclusive, welcoming campus minister voice and pulled out my arsenal of conversational questions.

“What year are you?”

“Where do you live?”

“Where is home?”

“What is your major?"

“What do you want to do with that?”

Each question was met with a short return. One word answers.

I went to the well one more time, trying to make her feel welcome.

“Hey, I’m glad you’re here. I don’t mean to put you on the spot by asking a lot of questions. I hope you enjoy just being here tonight.”

To which she responded with a sentence that has forever changed my ministry.

“Well, maybe if you would ask me better questions, I might talk more.”


I have led with better questions (I hope) ever since.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


if you've heard me talk about it once, you've heard me talk about it ten times (if you're lucky).

i have two degrees that don't pay

i am a part of a church tradition that doesn't seem to want much to do with me

"i can't wait until i work for a real company." "this can't be the way a real non-profit gets it done." "someday i'll be the resident theologian or preacher in a local church."

so i surrender to myopia and refuse to see that i am:

surrounded by the kind of community that is the figment of many dreams (and the subject of not a few sermons)

work beside people whose confidence in my abilities is slowly strengthening my sense of self

called by a God who is teaching me to hope, pray and occasionally participate in the redemption of all things

i'll probably never be a half-full kind of guy, but i need to start recognizing these blessings so that i can be a more whole and holy blessing to the world.

Monday, June 14, 2010

memorandum from captain random

it's 10 pm, i just finished a run and i'm drinking a 'gansett because it tastes best after a mile or two. rest assured that i'll drink in moderation and will cleanse the palette with a cup of coffee before bed.

i went to a retirement party for a special education teacher who spent 35 years working in the boston public schools last week and it was one of the most inspiring evenings i can remember. mr. r's career was a testimony to pouring your life out for others, staying rooted in one community and tunneling through morian mountains of institutional bullshit in hopes of seeing a life or two transformed. i hope that at the end of my career people have half as many meaningful things to say about my efforts. if they have to lie a bit on that day to make that happen, so be it.

tonight i shirked my chores for a half hour to read this remarkable interview with ira glass. if you love stories, preaching the gospel of great reversal or remembering the horrors of adolescent pda, you must read this.

almost hesitate to admit it, but i've become a bigger fan of the national than i am of arcade fire. i am glad that i have tickets to see the latter in august and am devastated that i missed the former on june 1st and 2nd at the house of blues.

i'm starting to realize that effective christian discipleship differs little from healthy friendship. neal windham and a few others have taught me that discipleship is more about mutuality than hierarchy and more focused on intentional embodiment of the gospel than the transmission of theological content.

i'm almost embarrassed to admit how emotionally dependent i am upon the ups and downs of the cardinals. almost.

the boston and north shore cohorts are getting together on tuesday, july sixth to cookout at cindy bauer's place on chewbacco lake and hear a little bit about her work with kupenda. getting to know cindy and becoming involved in kupenda is one of the main reasons - and there are many - that i am grateful for the emergent conversation.

ok, this 'gansett is almost gone. gotta get some coffee.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

cataloging the evidence

yesterday a spring drenched tree stood in breathtaking contrast with a soot grey sky.

today a volunteer who i have grown to treasure hugged me like a friend and forever sundered the transactional nature of our relationship.

this evening lydian wasn't struggling with colic, but struggling not to laugh as i ruffled her hair, thumbed her nose and delighted in her smile time and again.

every day threatens an open and shut case for entropy. for that reason we have to be careful to listen for, observe and record the small signs of the redemption accomplished and the redemption promised that are colliding upon the earth.

Monday, June 07, 2010

a shaky confession

the first time was awkward. she didn't have the silhouette you speak about furtively with your friends and her intellect was crammed in some damn shoebox, assuming it was there at all. she was also from decatur, home to firestone, futile jesse jackson crusades and general squalor. so i dropped her at the first opportunity. other girls made the starbucks at o'hare. she wasn't so lucky.

the next girl was sexy. she sold authenticity, traded musty maranatha for dave matthews and, during that first song especially, her ass sure could swing. she was the party, bringing energy that could not help but compel. though she played it straight, i swear one time she almost offered me a drink. this girl wasn't cloistered but offered agnostics, reversed fundamentalists and strangely warmed ska kids the same mass appeal. as for me, she didn't flinch at mixed intentions or lapsed probation, but spoke lovingly, carefully crafting phrases, pointing me up in hopes that i would go out. but for all that, i never got comfortable. after a couple of years the cracks started to appear and the sounds became too saccharine and failed to cut where they should. though she only said it once, and then obliquely, she demanded that i reflect, never shape, her calculated barnes & noble charm.

so i left. but it was far more difficult. she was a life to live, an agenda to reckon, a what if resides.

now i'm with the girl who, with a question, called my game and who strangely intrigues like the lone saab on the lot. she isn't a hole to fill or a brick that'll build, but a woman simultaneously essential and stable as a water. at times we connect and current hums true, but more often it alternates between belief and betrayal. i can't possess her, can't seem to leave her and often fret this will end in a terminal fail.

some days my eyes still linger on that carefully crafted ingenue with her soft colors, wide eyes and, yes, ass unlike any in decatur. with her calculated authenticity and airbrush appeal, i cannot call her anything other than my porn.

so i'm fighting a battle that's broken better men, tangling with intrigue in hopes of escaping debasement by enhanced object.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

mary, full of grace

for the past three years i have wanted to hear more female voices from the pulpit at the gathering. for that reason i challenged, cajoled and manipulated several women to take a slot on the preaching schedule or at least speak more often.

to no avail.

fortunately, a couple of months ago, mary agreed to preach occasionally. mary is a graduate of harvard divinity school, dedicated incarnational minister in the goth community and aspiring novelist and poet. after setting her feet in her first couple of sermons, mary has started an amazing series on the beatitudes.

today, as mary wound her way through the passage about hungering and thirsting for righteousness you could almost sense the congregations' growing desperation for the living water of God. by the time mary concluded with the admonition to "hunger and thirst for God and he will pour blessings into your life and through you bless others," i was famished for the sustenance of the eucharist and desperate to seek God and participate in his transformational work in the world.

it is such a blessing to be a part of a collaborative church community where proclamation is a shared burden, worship is open source and the eucharist sustains and strings us, in all of our wackness, together.

thanks be to God for the grace he has given Mary to preach the Word and build up the church.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

screw the purpose statement

over the past couple of years i have researched foundation grants by looking up their purpose statements on their website and on sites like guidestar and then pulling the foundation's 990 records to determine the organizations and projects the foundations funded.

this afternoon, i finally had the opportunity to get my hands on the foundation center's* database, which is the fort knox of philanthropy, and a librarian gave me a short tutorial. instead of toying with the foundation's purpose statement, she encouraged me to pull the records of the foundation's awards in the past five years and then utilize foundation center's amazing distribution map to see where the dollars really went. unsurprisingly, i found that the actual giving patterns of many foundations deviates significantly from their stated giving patterns. 

although i hate to admit it, i see a similar pattern in many of our churches. we say that we are a missional people, but 90% of our dollars go to content deliverers and the context within which the content is delivered. we profess our longing for God, but we give short shrift to prayer in corporate and, i fear, in private. we proclaim the Kingdom while passionately buttressing the country we incorrectly believe was specially inspired by God.

from now on i'm going to define each foundation's purpose in strict accordance with their giving patterns. i think that many define our churches in the same way and we would do well to pay more attention to our actions than we do the pretty, stylized purpose statements we hang on our deep mustard and mocha creme walls.

* (unfortunately) foundation center did not compensate me for nor sponsor this post.

Monday, May 31, 2010

unexpected emergent provocateurs

last night kellie and i watched crazy heart which, somewhat sadly, reminded kellie of the life of bill mallonee. this morning i've been listening to tripp fuller's excellent podcast with uncle bill at homebrewed christianity and thinking about the unexpected provocateurs who prepared me for the emergent conversation.

here are a few of these provocateurs and truncated summaries of their influence. please share snippets of your list:

first, unsurprisingly, is bill mallonee. bill taught me, more effectively than any theologian short of st. paul, could, that sanctification is a struggle and all the scaffolds we scramble to build will never help us escape from the tomb. only the Spirit can do that.

second, philip yancey. in the Jesus i never knew and what's so amazing about grace philip showed me that God is big enough to handle my questions. he also introduced me to uncle henri and uncle freddy both of whom have shaped my faith and understanding of vocation in innumerable ways.

third, gary burlington. gary was a missions prof at soybean bible college. i never actually had a class with him, but in the few times we spoke i was inspired by his inquisitiveness and commitment to christian mission. in retrospect, gary was teaching me that deconstruction is not a threat, but an essential component of christian mission. due to unfortunate choices on all sides, gary left soybean some years ago. i need to catch up with him at some point.

fourth, rich mullins. sure, i was instructed and inspired by the music, but rich's musings left the deepest impression. according to some accounts, at one of his final concerts he stopped in mid-song to confess a sexual sin that he had to repent of before continuing. that simple act - even if it is shaded by mythology - has influenced my preaching at least as much as haddon's biblical preaching. he also taught me that being disregarded by your own tradition is not the end of the world and he helped fuel my love of st. frank.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

on vocation

on wednesday night i had the opportunity to hang with andrew at the pickled onion. since we couldn't see the celtics game because of endicott students with their popped tops (jesse - you were so right about the unfortunate shift in pickled clientele) our conversation turned to our vocations.

i've beat this topic to death on the blog and in personal conversation with many of you, so i won't bore you again. however, during the conversation i started to realize that my calling is not to a narrow practice or position in Christ's church, but rather, my calling (as i currently conceive of it anyway) is to be faithful to the health and the mission of the various networks and communities in which i am currently embedded.

by God's grace, i hope to be a blessing to the family/gathering/beverly/emergent/ccoc/triangle/kupenda/cardinals cluster of which i am a part. i still wish that my calling was less complex, but i trust (most of the time anyway) that God knows what he is doing and the Spirit has shaped me for such a time as this.