A New American Dream?

“What is ‘an American’? Do we have something important in common, as Americans, or is it just that we all happen to live inside the same boundaries?… We talk a lot about our special rights and freedoms, but are there also special responsibilities that come with being an American? If so, responsibilities to whom?” – David Foster Wallace in Consider the Lobster and Other Essays

As Americans, we put a lot of emphasis on personal freedom. Living in Arizona for 11 months has made me realize this all the more. They love their freedom down here. They don’t want any constraint. People want the freedom to do whatever they damn well please, regardless of the consequences to everyone else. For instance: It is legal for anyone over 21 to carry a concealed weapon without a permit — that’s just the freedoms we’re entitled to as Americans!

It’s gotten to the point where anything that hinders the dominant culture’s freedom in any kind of way is an affront to their American citizenship. I say dominant culture because this freedom does not extend to the GLBT community to marry or really any other minority culture. As long as your white and male and have never been accused of being anything else, you’re free to pursue your highest ambition — and carry a concealed 9mm without a permit to boot! Here’s what we need to realize.

When we are “free” to join the rat race of ambition in America, we’re not really free at all. It’s at that very point when we’re most enslaved.

I think we would be better served to create spaces where people can exist outside of the rat race. Where your material possessions, job title, or social status doesn’t matter, but you’re freed to just be a person, to be you.

Mother Teresa used to say that the physical poverty of the East was nothing compared to the psychological poverty of the West. 

Physical poverty can be addressed. It can be seen. Psychological poverty, spiritual poverty, is much more slippery.

When we put our freedom above the freedom of our neighbor, we’re in deep psychological poverty. But what if we had spaces where we could be free of that? Where we could be free from our relentless pursuit of the “American dream” — or our highest ambition? What if we had spaces and times during our week where we could give all of that up and enjoy a glass of wine with friends? Or what if we could go out into nature and enjoy the beauty of a lake, forest, ocean,or  mountain?

It’s in the beauty around us that we find the grace to survive. And it’s in that grace we live. That’s my vision for a faith community: a group of people that doesn’t exist for the pursuit of some higher pleasure — be it heaven, eternal life, an experience of ecstasy, or an escape from the weekday rat race.

But what if a faith community — or what if a renewed America — was the place where we could check that crap at the door and learn how to be happy living in the moment with the people we love?

That’s a freedom worth fighting for.

Cheers,
Eric 

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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.

Cheers,
Eric

3 Things I Learned From “Where the Wild Things Are”

“I said anything I wanted because I don’t believe in children.
I don’t believe in childhood. I don’t believe that there’s a demarcation.
‘Oh you mustn’t tell them that. You mustn’t tell them that.’
You tell them anything you want. Just tell them if it’s true.
If it’s true you tell them.”  – Maurice Sendak

I woke up this morning to Steve Inskeep on NPR’s Morning Edition telling me that Maurice Sendak had passed away. Immediately I felt an unexpected, and perhaps unwarranted, bit of sadness. Where the Wild Things Are was, hands down, my favorite book growing up. I wanted it read every night. I learned to read with that book only because I had it memorized and could see what the different words looked like on a page.

As I’ve spent the morning thinking about it, I think I felt so sad because the person who created something so sacred and meaningful for me is gone. And that sucks. But, luckily for everyone who will ever live and read from now to eternity, the books survive even though the author does not.

So here are three of the many lessons I learned from Maurice Sendak, via Max and the Wild Things.

1) A good imagination is one of the most important things in the world.

This is one I still think about on at least a weekly basis. The importance of imagination cannot be overlooked. All of these events — the island, the wild things, the rumpus — took place within Max’s imagination. That kind of imagination can move mountains. Imagination is the source of all invention and innovation. I’m typing this on my Macbook, which wouldn’t exist, if not for an incredible imagination. Imagination is the power that enables us to empathize with humans — or wild things — whose experiences we have never shared. Imagination is essential for our survival.

2) Even the brave and courageous need love too.

I remember thinking how awesome it was when Max looked the Wild Things straight in their eyes and didn’t blink once. That’s the kind of guy I wanted to be. One who didn’t need anyone, but could stare monsters in the face and not blink. But then, when I was reading this to a pre-schooler while I was in college, a different part stuck out to me. “And Max, the king of all wild things, was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.” Even though I fell into the trap of thinking I could be an island, there’s still something missing if you are a king, but have no one with whom you can give and receive love.

3) At the bridge between childhood and adulthood, the best thing you can say is, “Let the wild rumpus start!”

My mom used to always let me say this part when we were reading this through as a kid. When I heard the page leading up to it I would stand up on my bed in anxious anticipation. (Keep in mind this was when I was around 4. This wasn’t last year or anything.) And when those words “‘And now’, cried Max” came out, I would throw both hands in the air and look at the ceiling and yell “Let the wild rumpus start!” Believe me, it was awesome.

When I was standing with my brother getting ready to walk down the aisle at my wedding last summer, we looked at each other and I said, “Well, let the wild rumpus start,” and headed down the aisle. I think it’s one of the best attitudes you can have. Yeah, things will always be a little crazy and won’t be 100% controllable. Some things will go well and some things won’t. But jumping in with both feet is the only way to go.

So, even though it’s with a bit of sadness that I write this today, the news that Maurice Sendak has died is eclipsed by better news than we could ever want: Maurice Sendak lived.

Cheers,
Eric

Small Efforts and Big Results

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world;
indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

There’s a great video I caught at a great blog that I’ve been reading more and more lately. I think it speaks to the power of small efforts to produce a greater picture. In this case, it’s with a piece of art, but I think it can be true with anything we do, really.

It really speaks to those of us who value creativity in our fields. A lot of times it can feel like we don’t get a lot done, the to-do pile is always growing higher, and we’ll never cross that last thing off of the list. But this speaks to the value of small calculated efforts to help create a wonderful bigger picture.

The video is only a couple minutes long. It blew me away the first time I saw it. Check it out!

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/33091687]

 

So what small step are you going to do today to impact your life? Vocation? Ministry?

It’s those small things really do wind up mattering most.

Cheers,
Eric

Two Questions for Millennials & Gen X-ers

The only thing that limits us is our imagination…

At the church I’m at in Arizona, I’ve been put in charge of creating a new worship service to attract “all the young people”. That being said, I’m in the brainstorming stages right now and I want to crowd-source some of this brainstorming. That being said, I’d love to get your input on 2 questions.

1. What made you leave (or consider leaving) the church? (Or if you stayed in church, what made you stay?)

2. What kinds of things would be important for you to find in a church, if you were to go back?

Any input you’d be willing to give would be GREATLY appreciated!

Cheers,
Eric

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