personal reflection

Lead By Position or Through Influence?

I recently wrote an article chronicling some of the key tensions I faced while working in the formal position of Youth Pastor.  It was published on the Youth Specialties site today.  Can you relate or have you experienced this tension?

It was my first day working in the local public high school.  The teenagers walk into my classroom, 70% listening to their iPods while the other 30% are busy texting.  They turn the chairs from their desks and face them towards their friends so they can carry on the conversation they were having on the bus.  Trying not to show my inner panic, I calmly walk around the room and keep a stern face while thinking, “I’m sure they will all focus once the final bell rings for class to start.”  One minute later the bell rings.  It might as well have been their mom asking them to take out the trash…no response.  I think, “What have I gotten myself into?”

I had worked at churches and been in youth ministry my whole adult life.  I owned the title of “youth pastor” and was pretty good at it.  Most little boys want to be baseball players or astronauts when they are little.  I wanted to be a youth pastor.  Weird?  Maybe, but there was some truth to that dream and aspiration.  I loved teenagers and being a youth pastor was a great context to serve them.

My time as a youth pastor was full of authentic relationships, generally; the teenagers came to me and I was the guy that was supposed to have all the answers and create a good time.  Everything was going smoothly until I started asking myself some hard questions…Read Complete Article Here

My Terrifying (yet thrilling) Vision

I live and serve among a missional church community in the neighborhood of Golden Hill.  It is just miles from the heart of the “American Dream” where reputation and financial status are the measuring sticks of success. As I look out my second story apartment window, I can see downtown with the Merrill Lynch sky scraper owning the skyline.

Just a few miles to the south there is a whole different world.  Drug trade, illegal immigration and gang activity are the symptoms of a much deeper dysfunction.  Amidst their oppressive state, there is a people who will risk their lives, reputation and tradition in order to experience the glamorous “American Dream” of their neighboring country.

Between these two worlds there is a multi-billion dollar wall that is supposed to keep out anything or anyone that may compromise such Dream.  Ironically, it is the thousands that cross from south to north of the border each day that keep the American Dream alive.  As janitors, field workers and dishwashers they often go unseen, while I gladly accept the smokescreen of my comfortable reality.

As a community of Jesus followers who desire to walk closely in the footsteps of our Rabbi, we have spent the past four months discerning each of our unique roles within the bigger story of God’s redemptive work in the world. We focused on two realities:

  1. True North: What God has done, is doing and hopes to do in the world as revealed through Scripture and the redemptive work of Jesus.
  2. Personal Vision: Discerning (through testing, counsel, prayer, reflection on earlier parts of our story) each of our unique roles within God’s unfolding mission/vision for Creation

At the end of this process, we all were challenged to write a personal vision statement based on how God has wired us in our gifts, passions, values, skills, etc…

This is my vision statement:

What’s unique about a vision statement like this is that it isn’t some far out ideal.  No, it is a calling to begin stepping into right now.  I could blow this off and wait until something a bit more comfortable and convenient pops up, but I believe I would be disobedient.

Central to this vision is honesty.  Not honesty to be offensive or arrogant, but honesty in telling the stories of those who’s otherwise might not be told.

This is both a terrifying and enlivening challenge for a guy who often defaults to topics that are more comfortable and socially agreeable.  If I am to be true to how God is calling me into his Story, I guess I can no longer hide behind such insecurities.

P.S. This is a picture I took this past summer while driving in the West Bank/Palestine.  Ironic how just miles from the epicenter of faith/religion there is world where humans created in God’s image struggle to find a job making $1 an hour.

Theology of Reflection: part 2

I recently took Harry for a walk around our neighborhood of Golden Hill.  Ending up at a park where Harry proceeded to pee on roughly 96 different bushes, I had a perfect view overlooking downtown San Diego.  There were lights everywhere, the highways were packed full of cars speeding to their next event…everyone seemed to be moving so fast, as though they were on their last mission in life.

I think YHWH may have felt that way when he looked over his people scurrying about their everyday business after he had faithfully rescued them from exile in Egypt.  They had become so quickly taken up with the mundane of the everyday that they had neglected to reflect on the extraordinary of their past and present. As you read the earlier books of the Hebrew Scriptures YHWH’s reminder to his people almost sounds redundant, “I am the LORD, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God.” (Lev. 11:45)

But…it is not redundant.  It is necessary.  They needed to remember and reflect on their story in order to fully embrace their identity.

So, YHWH has them party.  These festivals are scattered throughout the year as a reminder to reflect and celebrate his provision (Lev. 23).  They create a rhythm of reflection and remembrance in the midst of chaos. A reminder that the God that worked in history is still at work today.

Today, the Jewish tradition slows down to celebrate holidays like Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).  Times to reflect on their story and realign themselves as individuals within it.

Christians celebrate holidays like Easter and Christmas to remember the central figure in our faith, Jesus.

These festivals on our modern calendar have the potential to create space for reflection and examination.  With that said, I believe we often experience more chaos than peace in those times.  Whether it is shopping, family drama or endless travel, we haven’t created a sustainable space to remember.

I believe there may be one exception; New Years.  This is the season full of reflection on the past year (discerning what we do and don’t want to carry on into our next year) and resolutions for the year to come.  We actually slow down long enough to take some personal inventory and realign ourselves with the Story we long to be participants in.  We choose to remember that the God that worked in history is still at work today.

It is great that we reflect on New Year’s, but that doesn’t cut it.  My life gets swept back up into the expectations, responsibilities and culture of chaos that surrounds me and I have the potential to become an empty shell of a man (see Part 1).

What would it look like for us to slow down between running from one meeting to the next and create sustainable rhythms of introspection throughout our year?

Ultimately, if I’m not rooted in God’s Story and receiving a divine breath from YHWH, I have nothing to say.

Walking on the streets of London a couple months after my chaos detox in Costa Rica, my friend Darren Prince encouraged me to check out St. Ignatius’ Prayer of Examen (click for worksheet).  It creates a place to reflect on our past 24 hours and identify areas where we have aligned or separated from the Story of God.

It creates a place to reflect and remember that the God that worked in history is still at work today.

Theology of Reflection: part 1

I love Costa Rica. It could be the perfect chest high surf or the tropical rains or the endless wild fruits that you can pull from trees and eat as breakfast on the go.  It is all of those things (and much more!).  But in order to fully appreciate all those brilliant realities, one must embrace the most important reality that Costa Rica has to offer, “Pura Vida.”  Pura vida is Spanish for pure life.  It is not a tangible reality, it is mental state.  It is the mental state that gives all the other life-giving realities the context to come to life.

What is Pura Vida?

  • It is putting a sign on your business door that says, “Closed due to good surf.”
  • Waking up to coffee and reading, while the iguanas run around you looking for left overs
  • Having a BBQ with your neighbors simply because it is a good day to have a BBQ with your neighbors
  • Leaving the last 3 items on your “To Do” list for tomorrow, so you can catch the sunset with your wife

Sounds amazing, right?   Well, it is…unless you’re a product of a culture and personality with a whole different value system.

Jan and I were able to spend 5 weeks down there at the beginning of 2008 to take a sabbatical of sorts, while I worked on writing a book. I didn’t realize that this trip was going to be more about me de-toxing from an unsustainable lifestyle than it was a time of writing.

Honestly, this “Pura Vida” culture was really difficult to embrace.  It took me three weeks of frustration, stress and anxiety to finally release my unhealthy expectations and embrace a way of life that offered way more room for introspection, conversation and reflection.  Left unchecked, my life was being overrun by self induced chaos, unrealistic deadlines, a pursuit of a mythical definition of “success,” and on and on.

I was headed down a road of empty destruction.  One that lacked the space for rich relationships, personal reflection and a listening ear for God’s divine breath.

How did I get to this point?  Where did these lies of false success find their way into my confused value system?  What cultural paradigm had I bought into that could breed such a life of chaos?

Launching into a new year, it is important that I re-trace my steps of a few years ago and take some inventory of where I land today.  Interestingly, the Biblical Story and the voices of the Early Church Fathers cast a serious indictment on the life I was living, while offering a sustainable way forward.

More tomorrow.

Top 3 Highlights and Challenges of 2010

Janny and I were able to get away for a couple hours yesterday and reflect on 2010.  It was a sweet process and reminded us what a huge year this has been in our lives.  We reflected separately initially, yet we came up with the same top 3 events/experiences.  Here they are:

Highlights

1. Pregnancy/Welcoming Baby Ruby to Our Family

From seeing Janny’s belly grow with Ruby’s development; to taking Ruby’s on her first international adventure (Jan was 7 months along while we studied/traveled in Israel and Palestine); to the shared anticipation of her arrival (2 weeks late!) with our new community down in Golden Hill; to God’s profound provision in allowing us to experience the richness of natural labor/childbirth; to waking up to her smiling face every morning; our lives have forever been swept into the mystery of a parents’ unconditional love.

2. Going to Israel/Palestine

As a guy who is captivated by the ways in which context and story are central to the Biblical narrative, our time was an incredibly academic and historically insightful experience.  More than anything, we were captivated by the way God’s Story is still being told today through the lives of his people, specifically the Palestinian Christians in the West Bank.  It opened our eyes to the brutal tensions on both sides of the tragic Separation Wall and instilled in me a deep conviction to tell the story of those who are often forgotten by those of us in the West.

3. Moving to Golden Hill as Missionaries

Landing in a place where our desire to embody and develop the Church has become an everyday reality/practice, while being surrounded by other like minded and gifted leaders has been a dream come true.  There is something profound about being in a place and living a life that brings a peace and conviction that isn’t best described in words.  I haven’t experienced that in years.  (Check out of our Family/Ministry Blog)

Here is the crazy part of our reflection time.  Our greatest highlights were exactly the same as our greatest challenges.  There is a message in that, but I will have to wait and unpack that later…

Challenges

1. Getting pregnant

It was terrifying to even try to get pregnant again after losing our first child at 5 months into our pregnancy.  We had given our heart to that child and didn’t end up even getting to meet him/her.  While we were still grieving, we had become parents and although we had been burned the first go round, through tears and small slices of hope we tried again.  Also, Ruby didn’t make for an easy pregnancy as she clearly came in her own time! (Check out some of our labor inducing strategies).

2. Going to Israel/Palestine

In a culture that promotes an “I’ll do that adventure someday” mentality, going to live/study in Israel/Palestine for 5 weeks was a bold move.  Not only was it a financial commitment, Janny was 7 months pregnant and we knew we would be coming home to a quick transition from Santa Cruz to San Diego for our new role with NieuCommunities.  We don’t regret that experience for one second.

3. Moving to Golden Hill as Missionaries

“You’re going to do what?!” was a common question once we made the decision to go on board with NieuCommunities as missionaries.  Setting aside financial security, committing to trust the financial provision/support of people who believed in this new mission and leaving the area we had lived nearly three decades was a terrifying but thrilling endeavor.

Honorable Mentions: Completing and getting my first book published and knocking out another year of my Master’s work @ Fuller Theological Seminary.  Oh, and of course the Giants winning the World Series!!

It is for all of these reasons that 2010 was the best year of my life.  And after 2009, I needed it. (Read: Last year’s depression and losing Baby H)

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