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

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Living the Questions: Why Are You Angry?

“The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 
but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.
So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. 
The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry,
and why has your countenance fallen?'” – Genesis 4:4-6

Of all the questions to live, this one is probably the hardest for me. Anger lives in a very dark place. But if we look at the story of Cain and Abel, it’s a pattern we know a little too well.

Proceeding any of this is an offering. Cain makes an offering to God — something that he gave his life to. His brother’s offering was met by God’s approval and satisfaction, his was not. We come with offerings everyday. In a very real way, Cain and Abel were offering their livelihoods. Looking for their worth. In essence, Cain’s livelihood was met with rejection, while his brother’s to satisfaction.

After Cain’s rejection comes anger. But the anger is just what’s on the surface — as is so often the way. Anger is all the deep-seeded emotions that we have boiled to the surface, but it’s not what’s so deep down. Anger is a surface emotion.

Behind anger is often where jealousy is found. 

A lot of times jealousy can rear its ugly head and take us off course faster than we even realize. With Cain and Abel, the jealousy isn’t too far from the surface. Abel’s sacrifice was excepted. Cain’s was not. BAM! Jealousy. Where does jealousy creep into your life? A lot of times we don’t even become aware of it until it’s already taken hold. We don’t even notice it sneaking into our thoughts until its already firmly planted there.

The grass is always greener

One of the things we have to realize, but is so faulty with our thinking, is that no matter what we do, if we get that thing we’re jealous of, if we get our neighbor’s new Porsche, or the promotion or whatever, we’re still going to be jealous. It just moves on to something new. So behind anger is often jealousy — with Cain it certainly is the case.

Behind jealousy is pride.

Pride is one of the things I fall victim to a lot. With Cain, he had pride in his crop. I have pride in my ideas. I want my ideas to be found the best among all others. That’s where my pride comes in. And it can be awfully hard to have so much stake in such fluid objects as “ideas”. But there it is.

A lot of times we take pride in our work — and that’s okay, “I’m not saying don’t take pride in your work.” But when it becomes a barrier between you and other people, that’s when it’s a problem. For Cain, pride lead to jealousy, anger, and ultimately killing his brother. I’m going to go ahead and say that was not the “good” kind of pride.

Be proud of your hard work.

Be proud of projects that have taken you a long time.

Be proud of overcoming things that have been difficult for you.

BUT

Don’t let it become a barrier to you. Because when it becomes a barrier, you do things like killing your brother. Not good. But even at pride, we’re still not at the root of the problem. We’re not at the very core of what the issue is in Genesis 4, the question that God asks of Cain.

So we have anger ==> jealousy ==> pride. And now we have one more dimension to add on.

Behind pride is selfishness.

This is where Genesis ultimately leads us — back to selfishness. Cain’s parents (Adam and Eve) went against the command of God because they were selfish and put their own curiosity above living with God. God’s only rule was “Don’t eat the fruit from that tree over there.” That was the only rule.

But then, when someone tells you there’s only thing you can’t do — every bit of you longs to do that one thing. It doesn’t matter how little sense it makes at the time. When someone prohibits, our desire is to test that rule. To push it just a little bit further. Because we’re selfish. Because we look out for numero uno — ourselves.

This is how it’s always been. And until we can break out of this mold, or at least acknowledge there are people outside of ourselves — we will always be a culture steeped in anger. But when we move beyond our anger to name and acknowledge the jealousy, pride, and selfishness behind our anger, it can do a lot to really get us to acknowledge the things we have in common — our humanity.

A little acknowledgement was all Cain ever wanted anyways.

So what are the things that make you angry? What gets you really pissed off? And what experiences could you share about how God works in those times of anger?

Cheers,
Eric

Living the Questions: Where Are You?

Don’t search for answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

This is the first post in the “Living the Questions” series. These are some reflections on the first 5 questions that God asks in the book of Genesis. For the first question, we turn back to Genesis 3: “The man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But God called to them, and said, ‘Where are you?’” (Genesis 3:8-9)

When I was doing my chaplaincy internship at Good Samaritan in Minneapolis, we had a particularly intense time for our group where we’d work through a lot of our emotional past and talk about things that are extremely difficult to talk about. As an introvert, the beginnings of this exercise were a certain form of Hell. Every afternoon would start out with my supervisor going around the room and checking in. She’d come around to me and ask “Where’s Eric today?”

This was a question of location, though not geographical. A lot of times we think the question of “where” is simply a question of physical placement. But, like Adam and Eve, we often hide ourselves. We don’t want to be found out, exposed, embarrassed, or discovered. So we hide. And when we hide, it can be awful hard to establish exactly where we are.

So where am I right now?

Tough to say. One of the frustrating parts of seminary, is that it prepares you to be leaders of the “church of tomorrow”. But then we are sent out into the church of today. Things that we talked about in seminary simply aren’t factors in the parish — at least in mine. Even something as foundational as biblical interpretation isn’t discussed because the assumption is that we all read the Bible the same — after all, we are Christians, aren’t we? (that last bit should be read with mild sarcasm).

Also, when you’re in school preparing to be a pastor, no one tells you how absolutely lonely it is. It has been a really lonely first year in the parish. This is speaking as a newlywed and so I can only assume that being a single person in ministry can be just as difficult, if not more so. It’s terribly lonely.

So if I’m living this question of “Where am I?”, it’s a little depressing to analyze it. Sent out to a brand new place where we know next to no one, to lead the church of today after spending 3 years (and how much money?) learning how to lead the church of tomorrow.

BUT

In all of this, I have to remember who is asking the question and who is doing the seeking. When we don’t know where we are, when we may be more lost than found, there is One who refuses to let us stay lost. We have to trust, no matter what vocation you are currently serving — whether you’re a teacher, banker, or candlestick maker — there is a spirit that quiets our unease. Our discontent won’t stop tomorrow. But like the poet, Rilke, says, the point is to live the questions, not answer them.

Cheers,
Eric

The #1 Problem in Youth Ministry

When I was working as a volunteer with senior high youth at a church back in Fargo, one of the young people pulled me aside one night at a lock-in and asked if he could talk. As we started talking, he told me about all kinds of bad stuff happening with his friends at school and with some family stuff at home. There was a girl he liked, but she didn’t like him back. This guy had a lot on his mind.  I could see that he was really struggling with these things, and that he wasn’t able to have a good time because of all of his worrying. I kept listening to him and as he finished his story, he looked up at me and said, “That’s why I started coming to church. I heard you guys can fix these things.”

Ummm… What?

I’m not going to tell you what I said to him, because it frankly sucked too much to remember. There were a lot of uneasy pauses and me saying “yeah, that’s hard”. But I had no idea what to say to this kid who had heard from someone that I had the quick fix to all of these really hard things that were going on in his life. I think this is the main problem with youth ministry as it’s viewed by the wider church. A lot of times, we can be so quick to diminish or explain away the very real challenges and difficulties of young people, because we’re afraid to exist in that space of darkness. We can’t deal with that darkness, because that means that we don’t have the answers. This is where some pretty lame platitudes can come into play. We can say things like “Everything happens for a reason”, but that gets us nowhere fast.

There’s a really great video that talks about a solution to this problem. What would our ministry be like if it was primarily characterized as a group of people who aren’t afraid to sit in the darkness with other people? We don’t have to have easy answers. We don’t have to give cheap platitudes to escape dealing with the pain of the person next to us, but rather we can take that pain into ourselves. Check out the video. I think it’s truly inspiring. Shout out to Mike Friesen for introducing me to the video. Check it out!

What did you think of the video? Was it helpful? What bits in there caught your attention?

Cheers,
Eric

Incredible Story of NFL Success

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is in his 2nd year playing professional football. For only playing a season and a half so far, he’s already having an incredible impact on his team. He’s a favorite of the fans and a top-notch leader and influence in the locker room. If you watch him on Sunday afternoons, he may look like all the other guys on the field, but his story is anything but ordinary. ESPN report Rachel Nichols did a story a couple weeks back on him and his journey to success playing football. It’s an incredibly sad story that has a hopeful ending. The way he tells his story, you would never guess that he’s the product of such a tough upbringing. Check out the interview. It’s a pretty amazing story.

What’s so hard about this is that hundreds of kids who have similar stories to this, but they don’t have this ending. They never get their story told. They never get out of the destructive cycles that keep them down. Hopefully this can be a message off hope and encouragement for everyone, whether they are directly involved or know someone who is.

What stuck out to you as you watched the interview? Did anything inspire you? What kind of message did you take away from this?

Cheers,
Eric

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