Soil, Spirit, and Permission to Leave the Hum

sabbath restShonda Rhimes has one of the most phenomenal TED talks I’ve heard in a long time. In it, she talks about “the hum.” This is that churning force that drives our constant attention to our work. It’s the energy that wakes me up at 2:00am because “THAT’S WHAT I SHOULD’VE PREACHED ON EASTER!” It’s the constant flow of always having to do, make, produce, write, plan, schedule, be better, do better, visit more, check, double check, triple check, be here, now be over there, now be both places simultaneously — anyone know what I’m talking about?

I got stressed out just writing that last sentence.

What if we stopped doing this? What if we refused to participate in the madness of the hustle — even just for a day? What if we put the iPhone down, closed the laptop, shut off the television, and talked with your spouse, your kids, a friend, your mom or dad, your brother(s) or sister(s), the mail carrier, whoever? What if for just a small period of time each week, we pretended like the work was done and we sat back to relax?

Rob Bell has a wonderful podcast about a command from the book of Leviticus, early on in the Hebrew scriptures where there was a command for farmers to work their land for six years and, on the seventh year, to “let the land lie fallow” — to let the land rest for a year. This year of not farming allows the soil to rebuild essential nutrients so that it can be fruitful and productive the next six years. The idea is that even the earth has a rhythm of work, then rest, work, then rest.

In the creation story in the book of Genesis it says that when God created human beings, we were formed out of the soil and dirt and clay. Then God breathed life into us.

We are a combination of soil and breath — soil and Spirit. So if the command from Leviticus is to let the land lie fallow every so often, then the same would hold true for us, as creatures made from soil and breath. It’s the reason that one of the 10 Commandments is about honoring the Sabbath, because by honoring the Sabbath, we’re honoring the gift of our life. We’re honoring the gift of our existence as creatures of soil and Spirit.

This can be a hard thing to initiate, to start from scratch. How do we do this? How do we let ourselves rest in a way that allows us to re-build essential nutrients in our body and soul?

It starts with giving yourself permission to do whatever you have to do to take yourself out of the hum, to let the soil and Spirit that make you who you are lie fallow for a time.

For those of you who would still like a little structure to this rest time, feel free to print out the follow permission slip, or copy/paste to a Word document and use whenever you can feel the hum start to overwhelm you.

Permission Slip

Name: _________________
Date: __________________

In defiant affirmation that my worth is not found in what I produce or accomplish, in
remembering that I am a human being, not a human doing, do hereby give myself
permission to __________________________________________.

Signed: ________________________

You can do this. It’s okay. Everything will be here when you get back.

Step out of the hum. Step out of the flow.

And rejoice that God created you to be a human being, not a human doing.


My Favorite TED Talk of All-Time

“I’m a storyteller. And I would like to tell you a few personal stories about
what I like to call ‘the danger of the single story.'” – Chimamanda Adichie

The power of telling stories is, perhaps, the most powerful cultural tool that exists in the world. We each tell stories about ourselves, often we tell stories to ourselves. Each of these stories shape our identity in small ways. Watch her TED Talk below.

What strikes me about this talk is Adichie’s addressing of what she calls the single story. The single story is something that separates us from what we believe to be lower than us, or different from us. These stereotypes can carry quite negative connotations and often serve to diminish the dignity of the person or people being judged. Adichie’s talk is peppered with examples of how this plagues so many different aspects of our lives. It really put things in perspective.

As she talked about her childhood experiences with reading something so literally foreign to her experience, it was clear just how impressionable we are as children. Our first encounter with something — whether it be literature, sports or a specific person — is so vital to how we interact with our surroundings. These first impressions become our stepping stones and from there we build our own opinions and thoughts on a particular subject. The books that Ms. Adichie wrote when she was younger, while I’m sure they were wonderfully written, were missing something: her. They were missing her vitally important experience.

These stories were missing the voice of her authentic experience as a human being. 

I’m so glad she brought up the question of who creates the single story. The ones with power are always the ones who control what story is being told. Ever since the expansion of accessibility to media, what once was black and white is now a peculiar shade of grey.

Once these singular stories are created they begin to define a culture and people. As she said, it’s not that stereotypes are untrue, but that they are incomplete. By not knowing the full extent of something we generalize, assume, and judge. Our minds become blinded forever by single stories. They manifest themselves within foreign cultures and in minds that are either too afraid or ignorant to find out the other side of a story. To create a single story is easy and, quite frankly, the church is awful good at it. To break down the walls is even harder.

One of my goals, as a pastor, is to question, push, and prod the single story of a purely benevolent view of the institution of Christianity. My hope is that we can move into a space where there are multiple stories and experiences that are all honored in the conversation, and aren’t cast aside in favor of the single, limited story.

Maybe our focus shouldn’t be to abolish these single stories, but to add to them. When we do, we allow them to blossom and flourish into the full story they truly contain.

Once we can do this, our own understanding of the world will be more complete and with this, as Adichie concludes, comes peace.


Living the Questions: Where is Your Brother?

Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’
He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’ – Genesis 4:9

When I was a kid, my younger brother went over to the neighbor’s house to play Sega Genesis (the cool, new, far-superior-to-our-Super-Nintendo video game system). My mom came up to me and asked if I had seen where my brother went and I — in my defiant 11-year-old wisdom — shot back with a “How am I supposed to know? I’m not his babysitter!” Defiance of the older brother at its best.

This defiance is the crux of Cain’s argument with God. Not only did he kill his brother because of the anger issues previously discussed. But then when God, knowing full well what Cain has done, asks him about it, he gives an indifferent I don’t know and then essentially says, “What am I, his babysitter?”

In 2010, there were just shy of 15,000 homicides in the United States. That’s 4.8 murders per 100,000 people. Most of the industrialized world has a murder rate somewhere around 1.3 murders per 100,000 people. For some reason, America has a pretty unhealthy obsession with killing each other. Here’s the astonishing thing… only 14% of those murder victims didn’t know the person who killed them.

That means that 86% of all murder victims know the person that killed them. It seems like we have a problem with being our brother’s keeper.

The story of Cain and Abel couldn’t have more to do with our modern situation. I don’t always appreciate the limitations of dualistic thinking, but it comes down to this, when God asks “Where is your brother?” what’s being probed is this very question: Do you practice a heart of protection or a heart of destruction? Are your actions merciful or hardhearted? Do they enhance or diminish another’s dignity? 

The community that we’re called to is beyond our family. For those of you who don’t have brothers, you may look at this and say “I don’t have a brother so my brother is nowhere.” If you’re thinking that, I hate to say it but you’re kind of missing the point.

The Gospel of Luke says that Jesus had a conversation with a lawyer about eternal life. Jesus affirmed the man’s answer that loving God completely and one’s neighbor were at the core of what it means to be truly alive. But the man wanted make sure that he was doing absolutely everything he had to do (he is a lawyer after all). So he asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells the lawyer a story of a crime victim in the ditch alongside the interstate. Two very respectable community leaders drive past him and do nothing. They are not evil or malicious people. But at that moment in time, they lack mercy. Then a third person comes by. She’s from another country. Maybe she was in that country illegally. It was this foreigner who stopped and showed compassion for the victim, binding his wounds, medicating them, and taking the man to an ER and paying the bill for him.

Jesus then turns the question back around on the lawyer and, like God to Cain, says, “Who is the neighbor?” The lawyer answers, “The one who shows mercy.” And Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.” 

“Where is your brother?”

“Who is my neighbor?”

These are both questions about how we relate to those around us. Do we act with grace and love or do we act with jealousy and anger?

Are we most often like the Good Samaritan? Or are we most often like Cain?

Where is your brother? Where is your sister? Where are those in need of protection? Where are those who need mercy? And what are you doing to protect them?

How to Water A Creative Drought

“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things” – Ray Bradbury

I can’t quite tell if it’s the warming of the weather, the time of the year, or something completely different, but I’ve had a really hard time being creative lately. The last few weeks have been full of false starts and frustrated crumpling of paper. Even my sermons these past few weeks have been nothing to write home about. It can get really discouraging. Part of being creative is experiencing the dry spells. They can be frequent and are always unwelcome, but they can also be beneficial in allowing us to re-focus.

Here are 5 things that can really help push through a creative drought.

1. Walk away – Step away from the computer, canvas, typewriter, piano, or whatever your creative medium is. If you’re spinning your wheels and not getting anywhere, walk away. Go do something else. Even if you’re on strict deadline, a 10 minute walk can clear your head and give you a fresh set of eyes to approach the task at hand.

2. Switch the routine – One of the things that was catching me up was I was trying to be creative in the afternoon. I would get my work done at the office in the morning and then come home and try to be creative. That was my routine and it was driving me into the ground. We’re all at our best in different parts of the day. For me, it’s mornings. So I’m trying something new: getting up early (before I go to work — novel idea, I know). I’ll let you know how it goes. Well… depending on how many posts come up in the next couple weeks, it’ll be fairly self-evident.

3. Change mediums – If you’re a writer, do something visual. Go visit an art museum. If you’re a painter, throw on some headphones and Coltrane and get lost. His album “A Love Supreme” is like seeing music in color. If you’re a musician, read some poetry — some Pablo Neruda or Adrienne Rich. Getting out of your familiar box can act as a reset button for your creativity. Plus it’s just fun.

4. Exercise – This goes along with the walking away. If you can walk, run, bike, or swim away, that’s all the better. When you get blood flowing and you get some new oxygen moving through your body, it is rejuvenating in a lot of ways — especially creativity. So if you have a creative block, get out and move a little.

5. Rest – Sometimes the best thing you can do for a creative block is to sleep. If you’re in creative work, odds are you don’t always get the sleep you need. So take a nap. Give yourself permission to go relax in a park. You can’t be on the go 24/7. There are some times when resting is just the best thing you can do.

What do you do to water your creative drought? What helps get your creative juices flowing? Leave a comment and let me know!


A New Way to Think About Vocation

Recently I’ve been watching quite a few of the videos from The Work of the People. They’re a wonderful community of artists, storytellers, people of faith who gather from all corners of the religious spectrum to share stories and communicate in very meaningful ways. You should definitely check them out when you get a chance. But there was one in particular that really stuck out to me.

Miroslav Volf always seems to have some good bits of wisdom or some interesting questions to reflect on. In the video that I found, he answers a critical question that I think we, as people of faith, must answer if we are still going to matter to future generations. That question is, “What breaks your heart?”


I think we could look at this question as a new and different way of defining vocation. Theologian Frederick Buechner said that vocation is where “your greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.” It’s not a bad definition. But what if we spoke of vocation by asking “What breaks your heart?” And then the ever-important follow up — “What can you do about it?”

So what breaks my heart? The idea that people can be treated as less-than-human, second or third class citizens, because of how they were born. It absolutely breaks my heart. Sickens me beyond all belief. Things like sex-trafficking, acts of racism, sexism, classism, and all the other “isms” out there are so far gone from how we ought to be treating each other that it absolutely breaks my heart. I can’t believe that some people have the opinion that it is their God-given entitlement to have more than everyone else. It sickens me.

So what can I do about it? Well. That’s what I’m trying to figure out. As of right now…

  • I’m a pastor in a church and seeking to lead a community in ways that try to identify injustice and disservice in our communities (and in Arizona, there are a lot), and then try to do what I/we can to right them.
  • I’ve been getting involved with Christians for Biblical Equality. They’re a great organization and there are many others out there that are doing some great things.
  • I’m reading all I can about peacemaking, justice, and things along those lines.
  • I’m always looking for more ways to be involved with people and organizations who are doing good things like this.

I always feel like my job will be addressing these kinds of inequalities and injustices wherever that is or whatever it looks like. I doubt it will always look like a pastor in a parish. Right now it does, but it might not always look like that.

So what breaks your heart? What kinds of stories infuriate you? What are you passionate about?

and the always-essential follow-up…

What are you doing about it? What can you do about it?

Leave a comment. I’d love to hear what you all are doing to make the world a better place. I know some of you who are doing some great work. What breaks your heart? Drop by and leave a comment. I’d love to hear about your passions.


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