Faith, Writing, and Insane Amounts of Coffee

FFWgr

Listening to Tara Isabella Burton’s presentation at #FFWgr

I have to tell you all about the incredible time I had last week. Every two years, Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan hosts the Festival of Faith + Writing — a conference where readers, writers, and language enthusiasts of all stripes gather to talk about all things faith and writing. There are keynote speakers, panel discussions, poetry readings, and an exhibit hall that will make any bibliophile beam with equal parts excitement and envy. There are just so. many. books.

I’d never been to Grand Rapids before so, naturally, I had to do some prior research on coffee shops to start my mornings. Madcap Coffee is the big name in town, but I loved Rowster and Lightfast Coffee + Art as well.

After being sufficiently caffeinated (and then some), I was so excited to learn and be amazed at the truth, grace, and creativity oozing from every corner of the Calvin College campus — a phrase that is admittedly odd for a Lutheran pastor to write, but I call it like I see it.

Highlights for me were getting to see, hear, and meet Zadie Smith and George Saunders. They are two of my favorite writers and to be able to hear them and learn from them was such a cool experience.

The other incredible highlights were the workshops — particularly my lineup on Friday. I started out with an early morning panel about writing/being prophetic with Drew Hart, Austin Channing, and Aiden Enns. I’ve been reading a lot about race, slavery, stand your ground culture, and have been wrestling with ways to use the space my privilege affords me to work for justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God and my sisters and brothers in Christ. This panel brought up so much for me around truth-telling, naming the lies our culture and privilege tell us, and practices for listening to and writing about these truths and lies in ways that are life-giving for people who are marginalized. I will be forever grateful.

On the drive home on Sunday, I realized that not only am I a better pastor for having been there, but I am a better reader, writer, and person for having shared that space for those days.

A huge blessing of these conferences is all of the conversations and stream of ideas that begin and extend into my everyday life back home. I’m excited to continue these conversations and deepen this learning for the sake of wholeness and life.

Any time you want to talk about this kind of stuff — faith, writing, race, privilege, gender, forgiveness, etc.  — let me know. I’m happy to listen and share in that conversation.

Oh man! I didn’t even get in to how Jeff Chu, Kelly Brown Douglas, and Shane McRae took me to SCHOOL about the nature of forgiveness and reconciliation. That’ll be up next. Until then… Be blessed. And let’s start the countdown until the Festival of Faith + Writing in 2018!

Cheers,
Eric

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In Which I Am an Unabashed Jesus Feminist

I love writing. And I love reading. But more than anything I love reading great writing. And Sarah Bessey is a flat-out GREAT writer.

I’d been following her blog for a couple years now and have always appreciated how she manages to simultaneously speak with such passion and grace. She has a way of teaching through storytelling that makes you forget how much you’re learning and simply enjoy the lesson. [As you read her blog, you’ll notice the “In Which” in this post’s title is entirely unoriginal to me.]

Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women (Howard Books, released on November 5, 2013) is her latest project and it is a wonderful contribution to the conversations surrounding faith, gender, church, and the Bible.

She starts [as the title probably implies] with Jesus. She weaves her own narrative of growing up in an incredibly faithful, yet by most standards “ordinary” family. One of the first lines to make me laugh out loud was when she described her dad. She says,

My dad is a true Canadian kid, deeply distrustful of religion, Toronto, politicians, and the Establishment.

She goes on to talk about life growing up in the church as one where women were constantly confined to certain parameters based on the fact that they were a woman, rather than where their gifts may lie. In many, though certainly not all, churches women are consistently put into boxes within the church. They’re told they can be involved in children’s ministry, hospitality ministry, the women’s Bible study ministry, the quilting and sewing ministry, the keep the coffee warm ministry, and on and on it goes. Regardless of their strengths and passions, women are confined to certain boxes, and those boxes limit their participation in the broader Church. And Bessey’s point is this: the Kingdom of God is missing out on some seriously talented and passionate people because of it!

A favorite part of mine [perhaps because of my love of lists-as-evidence] is in Chapter Six when she goes through the narrative of Scripture through the history of the church describing the incredibly significant roles women have played in the history of our faith. Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Jael, Ruth, Rahab, Esther, Hannah, Tamar were a few of the significant women of the Hebrew Bible. Moving through to the New Testament women like Priscilla, Lydia, Mary, Martha, the Samaritan woman, Mary Magdalene, Euodia, and Junia. She then considers women of modern church history like Florence Nightingale, Mother Teresa, and Harriet Tubman.

When we think about the impact that women have had throughout the history of the faith, it should be overwhelming evidence against trying to strictly define what women can or cannot do in the life of the body of Christ.

But so often it isn’t. And that’s where the feminist part of this book comes in.

I have to admit that I was ready and waiting for the unabashed feminism to come in with a hyper-aggressive, demanding approach. But:

1) That’s not Sarah Bessey’s style.

And

2) As Sarah points out, that’s not the way of the Jesus Feminist.

The wonder of this book is in its subtlety. I was barely aware that I was becoming a Jesus Feminist until I closed the book and I could feel the tension in my muscles when I considered the injustice of the Church telling women what they can or cannot do because of their womanhood.

It doesn’t necessarily matter where you fall on political lines or religious affiliations, this is an important book for everyone to read. The writing is both poetic and challenging, but espouses a kind of humility that is incredibly rare.

It’s available on Amazon or at your local bookstore. Even though I was given an advanced ebook copy, I still ordered my own copy. You should too. Buy it. Read it. Buy it for your friends to read. Buy it for your pastor to read. Then talk about it. These are the conversations that are worth having.

Cheers,
Eric

I received an advance copy of Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey from NetGalley in return for my review. There was nothing that stipulated that it had to be positive, only honest. No other compensation was provided.

The GOP & the Perils of Talking to Yourself

When I was in college, I was firmly convinced that the Dave Matthews Band was the greatest musical act of all-time and that Jack Kerouac’s On the Road should be canonized as the Great American Novel. Many of my friends agreed with me and we would spend countless nights into early mornings defending our position and expressing our incredulity that anyone would dare think otherwise. We’d whip ourselves up into passionate frenzies and then go out into classrooms where we were shocked and horrified to find that not everyone thought that way! (I’ve eased off my Kerouac claims, but I’ll still put up a lukewarm battle for pre-Everyday Dave Matthews Band.)

I was thinking about this the other day as I was scrolling through tweet after tweet of conservatives who are so passionate about defunding the Affordable Care Act. Just yesterday, Senator Ted Cruz ended his 21 hour filibuster which originated in an attempt to defund or at least delay the implementation of the law.

As I watch conservatives whip themselves in a frenzy over healthcare and liberals do the same over the [deplorable] cuts in SNAP benefits, I’m reminded of my friends and I sitting in a coffeehouse on campus late into the night debating the nuances of Kerouac and Dave Matthews. And here’s the thing that keeps coming up.

It is pointless to even attempt meaningful conversation when we remain staunchly opposed to what people who may think differently are saying.

This is true no matter what side of any debate we’re on. If our only conversation partners are people who agree with everything we say, then we become convinced that everyone thinks like that. They don’t. It’s why Karl Rove had that embarrassing election night meltdown over at Fox News. Everyone he was talking to thought that Obama would lose. So he refused to accept anything else.

But it’s not just with politics that this is the case. This happens all too often in the church as well. Within world religions or Christian denominations, we spend so much time talking to ourselves — or to people who think like we do — that we can become disconnected from the broader public conversation.

In these big conversations about things that impact public life, we need to make space for all people to express themselves and their opinions, and then wrestle through these issues together. Otherwise we become so entrenched on “our” side — which is almost always synonymous with the “good” side — that we not only lose touch with the broader conversation, but we lose touch with our neighbors, friends, and those in our community who may think differently.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t have this figured out. I’m just as guilty of this as anyone. My main sources of news are the Huffington Post and Jon Stewart. I need to remember this just as much as everyone else.

But in light of the big conversations that are happening in our culture right now — healthcare, government shutdowns, military intervention in Syria, how we fight poverty and hunger — we need to make space for everyone in these conversations.

Otherwise we risk whipping ourselves into a frenzy only to be disappointed by, and ultimately alienated from, the people in our lives who think differently than we do.

Instead of only talking to people who agree with us, or demonizing those who think differently, we need to turn our attention to positive, constructive work in our world. It no longer works to sit by and simply tear things down. It’s time build bridges across our diverse ideologies and opinions, so that ultimately we can spend our lives building a better world.

And not simply talking to ourselves.

Cheers,
Eric

On Dealing with Haters & Calling It a Comeback

Over the last couple months I’ve been all over the map. I went back to Fargo to be ordained — which was awesome. I went to Denver for a conference with some fellow pastors, which was a great time. Apart from the physical map, I’ve been all over the map in many other [more metaphorical] ways.

I have grown increasingly aware at how easy it has become to be a hater in an ever-growing digital world. People can spew venom and hate with surprising efficiency and with very little consequences, other than perhaps other people sending more hate back to them. In the past few weeks, I’ve started to see myself growing more cynical and buying into the notion that the best way to survive is to simply disengage.

But I’m done with that. It sucks. And, more importantly, it helps no one.

I was reading a blog by Tim Ferriss that had 5 great ways on dealing with haters, both church and secular. [Sidenote: it sucks that there are church haters.] And I think that these are essential for getting past negativity and into a much better headspace. In this case, I’m certain that these are just as much help to me as I hope they are to you.

1. It doesn’t matter how many people don’t get it. What matters is how many people do.

This is something I have to tell myself often. I also think this has some biblical basis as well. Only a few people really understood what Jesus was talking about or its meaning, and really the only did in light of his death. I think of this in terms of taking a different approach to a more “traditional”* way of doing things. In any new venture, the most important thing in dealing with haters, is not to focus on how many people are trying to detract from you, but to really focus on the people who see your vision and are enthusiastic about the future.

2. 10% of people will find a way to take anything personally. Expect it.

Ferriss says that “People are least productive in reactive mode,” And the church spends an awful lot of time in the reactive mode. This only multiplies the problem. You can’t respond to all criticism. And when you find this 10%, you’ll simultaneously realize that the bulk of their criticism doesn’t necessarily merit a response.

3. “Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity.” (Colin Powell)

It’s important to be tactical about how and when you respond to haters. Chip and Dan Heath in their book Switch talk about “bright spots”. These are certain people or groups that are doing good work toward which people are naturally gravitating. Rather than constantly trying to solve problems or get people who are always fighting you to like you, go toward the bright spot. Once you find this bright spot, try to see what makes it bright, and then clone it. Look at some of your church’s most successful programs. Why are they successful? What can you do to make that enthusiasm contagious into other ministries? It’s the same kind of thing with dealing with haters. Trying to please everyone or get everyone to like you will not allow you to focus as much attention on the bright spots.

4. “If you are really effective at what you do, 95% of the things said about you will be negative.” (Scott Boras)

And Scott Boras would know. The guy has more negative things said about him than almost anyone. But it speaks to a larger kind of ambition. When you introduce a big project, or an overhaul of an existing project, people will naturally be skeptical. They’ll say negative things about you to re-inforce the status quo. The bigger your impact and the larger the ambition and scale of your project, the more negativity you’ll encounter. It can be a hard thing to take, but the more heat you get, the more you’re onto something.

5. Keep calm and carry on.

This slogan has become a meme as of late, but it was originally produced by the British during World War II as a propaganda message to comfort people in the face the threat of Nazi invasion. The thing I like about Tim’s take on this is that he makes it clear. “Focus on impact, not approval.” It goes along with the previous 4. People will attack you. The important thing is what you do in the face of the attack. Keep calm and carry on.

That’s what I’ve learned and take forward from my time of succumbing to the cynicism that can [but doesn’t have to] go alongside dealing with haters. Now I just need to spend more time listening to these myself.

What kind of things do you do to deal with haters? What has worked? What hasn’t? Feel free to share some stories or tips of your own in the comments section below.

It’s good to be back.

Cheers,
Eric

* = I think the accepted definition of “tradition” actually borders more correctly on “nostalgia”. But I’ll write more about that later this week.

The One Where I Stress the Importance of Sabbath

What is without periods of rest will not endure.” – Ovid

I’ll be the first to hop on board and tell you that I suck at Sabbath. Sure, I mean, I’m good at occasionally not accomplishing anything for a period of time. I’m great at neglecting some work to catch up on Breaking Bad or surf around my Google reader. But I’m not sure I could tell you the last time I took an intentional retreat time away from work and just focused on being.

One of the most commonly used words around our house is “screen time”. Almost always used in the context of “Wow, I’ve had way too much screen time today.” Or we’re asking if we have any ibuprofen because our head hurts from the close proximity of a bright screen.

Sound familiar?

In this month’s Atlantic, the cover story is a great write-up on the work/family balance that haunt a lot of career women. The writer talked about how she yearned for a time away from her work — whether in law firms, the Pentagon, or Academia. But even when she took this family time, her family was still running ragged.

I wonder what it would look like if we took time to be with ourselves. Granted, as an introvert, this is a particularly appealing notion to me. But when we break down the notion of Sabbath early on in Genesis, what is it? God spent six days intensely working to create, and then the Sabbath was initiated as a way of resting in creation.

Not only is Sabbath about rest, but it’s about keeping a finger on the rhythm of our lives.

It’s about settling down into an awareness of who we are, why we’re here, and ultimately gets us in tune with the very essence of our nature as human beings. It’s not just about time off, vacation, or not doing any work. It’s about resting. It’s about taking care of ourselves in meaningful ways.

But I’d like to take it a step further, particularly in our connected, technological age. I think today’s equivalent of the Jewish Sabbath would be Sabbaths from technology. I need this encouragement as much as anyone else.

Take a day — one full day — and set it aside as a time to rest, read, spend time with family and friends, drink wine. But with this one caveat. Try for a full day with as little screen time as possible. 

I’m embarking on a vacation back to the Midwest (as I type this, I’m just over 33,000 feet in the air probably somewhere above Utah). One of the primary things I’m planning on doing during this vacation is greatly reducing my amount of screen time. Even though in my carry-on I currently have an iPod, an iPhone, an iPad, and my Macbook. (It’s actually kind of sad when you list them all out like that)

But for a bulk of my trip, I’m going to cut down as much as I can. But we were not created to worry about our Klout score. I have some posts ready to go and I’ll be checking in periodically, but if you don’t hear from me, just picture me in a hammock by a lake. You might not be too far off.

I hope that if you need a Sabbath — even if just for 30 minutes — you’ll treat yourself to some rest. We work hard. We deserve a break every once in awhile. And don’t worry. The internet will be here when you get back.

Cheers,
Eric

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