Stranger Things & My Fears

Becky and I, like much of America, have been watching Stranger Things on Netflix. We love it. We love the story, the depth of the characters, the cast, the music, the opening credits and the nods to other movies and shows we love. As the boys and Eleven made their way down a train track and the camera panned up from between the metal tracks to focus on the troupe, Becky and I turned to each other and said, “Stand By Me.”

I have to tell you, though, that it is also causing me stress. I don’t deal well with a few things that this show has tons of. First, I don’t deal well with fear. When Nancy gets to the Upside Down through the tree, I nearly gnawed a hole in the knuckle of my right index finger. Just before that, during the deer scene, I jumped about a mile and may have said a less formal version of “Devine Excrement!” Second, I don’t deal well with kids having to grow up too fast and/or suffer. I am a champion for letting kids retain their innocence for as long as possible. As Eleven’s past unfolds through flashbacks, I find myself near to tears and bursting with rage at the same time. When Mike is willing to sacrifice himself for Dustin at the quarry’s edge, I am overwhelmed and inspired but also bristling with indignation at what bullying leads to. Mostly, though, I sit on the edge of my seat, eagerly awaiting what will come next but also wracked with fear and dread at what it might be.

I’m going to be super, uncomfortably (for me) vulnerable for a second. Fear is a pretty big deal for me. I have a lot of pretty extreme fears that I fight constantly with varying degrees of success.

I’m terrified of talking to people I don’t know. I don’t even like making pizza orders on the phone. The root of the fear is some sort of fear of being judged and I am fully aware of how irrational it is. Yet, there it is. Becky knows this fear in me, and most of the time, she shows me grace and handles a lot of stranger interactions for me. Sometimes, she is an encourager and pushes me out of my comfort zone to have the conversations myself…even though it doesn’t always feel encouraging in the moment. It’s funny that I have had several jobs in a row where talking to people I don’t know is critical for success. I screw up my nerves every day at work and get it done. The problem is that it often leaves me drained of the energy to continue fighting my fear after work.

It’s not a phobia-level, but I have a certain fear of the dark. I don’t like not knowing what is at the extremes of the space I occupy. I rarely turn lights on at home, but my eyes are pretty good in the dark and don’t require much light. That said, if I am in a room where there isn’t enough light to see the extent of the room, my pulse will accelerate and my adrenaline will kick up some. Last night, after watching three episodes of Stranger Things, I made my way through my in-laws’ pitch black living room with fists clenched.

Like the dark, I have a mild fear of heights. I try my best to overcome this fear whenever possible. I often head into the catwalk at church to test myself (and to get cool unique angles for pictures of our services). Sometimes, while I’m up there, I’ll start to feel overwhelmed and have to escape quickly. Most recently, this happened when I was escorting an out-of-town guest, Casey Fulgenzi, through the catwalk to get pictures of The Calendar Years (featuring his wife, Lindsey). I just split, got to solid footing, caught my breath and went back out to show Casey how to get back.

There are other fears, too, that I don’t really want to write about right now.

Ariella is irrationally afraid of a lot of things: loud sounds, small waves, heights, going fast, etc. Sometimes, I get really upset with her for being irrationally afraid. More than once, Becky has had to tell me to cool down. I love Ariella more than words can even describe, and I don’t want her to have to think about fear as she moves through the day like I do. I want her to be free to experience God’s creation in an adventurous, wild way. In the moment, I’m sometimes so concerned with managing my fear that I don’t realize I’ve had fun or been awed until later.

As for me, I will continue to face my fears when I can and ask for the help of my friends and family when I feel like I cannot.

Do you have fears that interfere with your joy?

 

“Fear is the mindkiller. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.” – Dune

 

“Fear stifles our thinking and actions. It creates indecisiveness that results in stagnation. I have known talented people who procrastinate indefinitely rather than risk failure. Lost opportunities cause erosion of confidence, and the downward spiral begins.” – Charles Stanley

 

“There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them.” – Andre Gide

 

“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement and acceptance…all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.” – John Lennon

 

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela

 

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7

 

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18

Black Shirts & Skull Stuff

I’m not a morose person, I don’t think. I’m definitely not goth. That said, my favorite color is black. My favorite motif is skulls. When I’m on frequent video calls, directly behind me is wall-sized, tattoo inspired print of a ship being attacked by a kraken. To my left and just barely visible is a wall-sized print of a sugar skull inspired Jolly Roger. I’m a big fan of bands with names like Megadeth, Suicide Machines, Iron Maiden… The  majority of the music I listen to is metal and punk. I am a big fan of psychobilly, which is a mix of punk rock and rockabilly that often explores horror themes.

Interestingly, I’m not a huge fan of horror movies.

I don’t really know why I like dark imagery. I’m a pretty happy guy. I’m an ENTJ (maybe transitioning to an INTJ), so I’m not a huge fan of when plans I’ve laid get interfered with, but in general, I’m chill. I think I’m an encourager. I believe I am a good dad and good with kids in general. On Monday, I watched my own kids and three other kids without Becky, and we totally had a great time…everyone ate a healthy dinner and no one was injured. Sometimes at Target, moms (and more often grandmas) look at my kids with pitying looks that they have a dad that looks like me. I’m a Christian, and I cling hard to the theme of love that is prominent in Jesus’ teaching. It drives out darkness. It drives out fear. It drives out hate and division and hopelessness. It drives me forward.

I guess you can’t judge a book by its cover. Hmm.

Last night I watched Straight Outta Compton and then dozens of interviews about what it is like to grow up black in a poor neighborhood. I thought about Nike’s commercial with a transgender athlete. I thought about the lady at Roland’s in Chesapeake Beach that didn’t seem to be able to speak English but stopped to help an older lady pick up groceries she had dropped. I thought about all the things behind their black shirts, tattoos and metal records, and I realized that while I don’t judge their outfit, I don’t really do anything about the people I see dishonoring them because of it.

I said nothing while I listened to a Baltimore Police officer braggingly describe how he roughly handled a teen in West Baltimore but had to let him go afterward because there wasn’t anything to hold him on. I simply didn’t finish my beer and left the bar. I don’t speak up when people say awful, hateful, ignorant things about people with different sexual or gender experiences. I just grit my teeth and vent later to Becky. I have this vast experience of what poverty in South America is like, and I am starting to understand why people come here. Despite that, I don’t tell many people about it very regularly and I don’t say much when political candidates say inflammatory, hateful things about the motivations of people who come here.

I’m going to continue to wear black and try to get a lot better at speaking up and helping people see past other peoples black shirts.

 

 

 

Staying Focused (With friends and funny stuff)

For the last three years I have been working full-time in ministry, focused on my must-do: Maximize church planting through leadership and bring clarity to leaders I serve. For four years before that, I worked part-time for Revolution. For three years before that I spent more hours doing things for Common Ground than I spent at the job I was being paid for.

Working in ministry is hard. It can be immensely emotionally taxing. I have walked with people through failing marriages, infidelity, addiction, hopelessness, sickness, death and many, many other things. I have skated the edges of “burn-out” more times than I can count. My wife, Becky, has pulled me out of it, and I have pulled her out of it so many times. People have left my church because of decisions I have made. Most of them have moved on to other churches, but some haven’t and for them, my heart aches.

I believe that faith isn’t just about going to heaven. I believe that being a Christian means committing to being a part of restoring the broken things that are a part of this Earth, now. It means replacing war with love. It means replacing greed with generosity. It means replacing lust with honor. It means not being satisfied with or complacent about classism, sexism, racism, ageism, etc. Sometimes, the emotional toll of being up close to what’s broken makes it hard to see how to restore it.

Despite the toll this job sometimes takes, there are a two things that help me stay focused on what Jesus has called me to do:

  • First, and perhaps most importantly, I have awesome people around me who are my friends and who I look up to. Here is a really incomplete list in chronological order: Bryan Holt, John Daubert, Kevin Brungard, Chip Holt, Sean McCarthy, Alan Ivey, David Holt, Paige Mathews, Jeff Jackson, Gregg Jennings, Donnie Reynolds, Joel Pazmino, Josh Burnett, Scott Ancarrow, Jody Giles, Greg Hubbard, Brent Storms, Bert Crabbe, Brent Foulke, Tom Jones, Greg Nettle.
  • I love laughing, and THANK GOD there are ample opportunities to laugh when you are living this closely with people. I’m thinking about starting a podcast about funny stories that happen at church. Sometimes we will have some poignant truth to pull from the stories, but sometimes we will just laugh together. Would you listen to that?

Here are some sample stories:

  • One time I drank blended, raw salted herring for a Common Ground video
  • At Revolution’s beginning, the band practiced in a room that would get brutally hot in the summer. One rehearsal, I forgot I had invited a new singer, Sarah, our first female member, to join us. When she got to the space, half the guys in the band were shirtless and the rest of us were pouring sweat. I can’t imagine what was going through her head.
  • I’ve seen a few different preachers get halfway through their sermon before they realized their fly was down
  • One time a friend of Scott’s was nearly killed when I stopped paying attention and a folding stage piece collapsed on his head (trust me it was funny…to me)
  • One time a guy came into Revolution drunk and ticked off and intending to make a scene. He marched up to the front of the room and threw a stack of gibberish writings at Scott’s feet. He was thwarted because almost no one saw it happen because Scott was going through a prayer and nearly everyone had their head bowed with eyes closed.
  • During a Christmas Eve service, Tim Captain frantically tried to put out candles that were threatening to catch the stage on fire without messing up Josh’s sermon flow
  • Last Easter, Josh used a mirror for a visual and at a certain point of the service, he hit it with a hammer to break it. While rehearsing, he tried to break the mirror about 10 times unsuccessfully. We were dying laughing, but it was even worse when our sound guy, Adam, took one swing and shattered the mirror. Then, we all (including Josh) were literally rolling on the floor holding our bellies laughing so hard.

I have hundreds more.

What are the hardest parts of your job? What keeps you focused on your must do?

“Must Do” and Changing Jobs

This is a blog I wrote when I was thinking about leaving Revolution’s staff and joining Stadia full time. I was cleaning up my computer and found it yesterday. I apologize for not posting it earlier: 

 

“With each step, it felt like a huge risk.  For me, these included leaving a budding career as a chemical engineer, then exiting my executive experience in a marketing and advertising firm, and ultimately stepping out of an incredible opportunity I had as a pastor…today I see my must do for God as bringing clarity to the leaders I serve.”  That is a quote from Church Unique by Will Mancini.  I was on an American Airlines flight from Quito, Ecuador to Miami when I read it, and I stopped to read it three or four times.  I wasn’t a chemical engineer or an advertising executive, but I have taken some huge risks.  I was offered a potentially cool job in Charlotte after the company I worked for was bought out but chose to change industries altogether.  I was being offered more and more responsibility in a healthcare corporation and left to become a pastor.  When I read Mancini’s quote, I had been made an offer to work for Stadia full-time and was really on the fence.  I love my job at Revolution, truly.

 

However, the way Mancini phrased his unique calling, his “must do,” pierced right through me.  My must do is maximize church planting by leading and “bringing clarity to leaders I serve” in that arena.  I’ve known with crystal clarity that this is my must do since 2006.  A few months before I came on full-time with Revolution, while at the Exponential East conference in April 2013, I told the president of a church planting organization that I wanted his job one day…it was the first thing I ever said to him.  I didn’t mean it to be threatening, though I was (and still am) appropriately teased about this, but in many senses, it remains true.

 

I believe that church planting is a powerful engine driving change in this world.  Church plants by and large reach communities with a message of peace, grace, love, hope, community, joy, perseverance (in a word, the message of Jesus) that other churches are not reaching or in places where there are not churches.  I believe it could be the most powerful engine for change.

 

At Revolution, I have participated in church planting.  I was a part of the launch team for Revolution.  We have supported church planters as a church.  Josh Burnett (Revolution’s lead pastor) is one of the loudest advocates for church planting in our region and suits action to words.  I have been given the freedom to share ideas and knowledge with churches in New York, Miami, Maine and more on Revolution time.

 

Then, last July, I started working part-time for Stadia.  It was a way to shore up some financial stuff for my family while also continuing to interact with church planters and thought-leaders in church planting.  In October, I switched from my mid-Atlantic focused role to a globally-focused role and made my first trip to South America and encountered abject poverty for the first time.  I met church planters who weren’t focused on anything other than reaching people and helping them not just survive but, to the best extent possible, to thrive.  My entire perspective on church planting changed, but my passion for it was only further ignited.

 

Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to serve leaders in cool ways through my job with Revolution, my job with Stadia and in my personal endeavors.  In July 2015, I organized an informal retreat for 7 pastors that was rewarding, refreshing and worth repeating.  I’ve now been to Mexico, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and Brazil and met more than a dozen church planters and movement leaders.  I’ve heard so many stories from churches in the US.  I’ve helped prepare a church planter in residence at Revolution for when he plants his own church.  My “must do” remains maximizing church planting by bringing clarity to the leaders I serve.

 

Maximize.  Plant Churches. Clarify.  SERVE. While several miles above the Caribbean Sea en route to Miami, I felt that the driver for my decision to take or not take the Stadia job couldn’t be my deep friendship with Josh or my valuable friendships with people in other church planting organizations who I probably won’t see as much if I’m not on Revolution’s staff.  The driver for my decision couldn’t be about money or time.  Becky and I have made it this far with a small ration of both.  The driver for my decision had to be my must do.  Would this job allow me to maximize the planting of churches by bringing clarity to the leaders I serve?

 

I am stepping away from Revolution’s staff on October 31 and starting full-time with Stadia on November 1.  This position with Stadia allows me to interact with, influence and SERVE more leaders than I have ever had the opportunity to interface with before.  Stadia is planting more churches than they ever have in their history, and they are committed to continuous improvement in the how of planting churches and caring for planters.  Their Bloom division is one awesome and innovative example (look it up).  I don’t know if I’ll always be on the global side, but I do know that any decision will be filtered through the must do.  I am excited to dive in full-time.

 

It is not without sadness that I leave Revolution’s staff.  Josh is one of the best leaders I know because he is one of the most willing to take radical, faith-fueled risks to see people in a revolutionary relationship with Jesus.  His drive to obey Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:18-20 has been unrelenting in the time I’ve known him; even at the times he did not feel at his best.  He is also one of my very best friends.  Not being on Revolution’s staff means not spending as much time brainstorming, laughing, Nerf gun fighting and dreaming together.  Beyond my relationship with Josh, not being on Revolution’s staff means not attending some retreats and events with thought-leaders in other church planting organizations that have been key growth points for me personally (I have been reading “Seeking God’s Face” every morning for a year because of one of those retreats and it has been deeply impactful.  I have been reading “Titan” about John D. Rockefeller on and off for a year and loving it based on the suggestion of one of those thought-leaders.  That doesn’t even get into the shared joys/trials.)

 

Alas, onward.

 

When you are making next steps, what are you filtering it through?  If it isn’t your “must do” or a clear step toward it or a facilitator for it, then are you stepping the right direction?

 

 

 

 

Memorial Day Thoughts

Yesterday was Memorial Day. I spent it doing chores around the house, eating comfort food and generally lounging about. I did not visit a cemetery, see a parade or fly an American flag. I don’t even own an American flag. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad I am an American. Life is hard enough – imagine growing up in any number of countries where some of the basic things we take for granted (amenities, freedoms, opportunities) are luxuries at best and often completely unavailable. I wouldn’t say I’m proud to be an American. Pride is so universal, so while I am proud of some things Americans do and have done, there are other things I would rather not be associated with.

My dad is a veteran. My grandfathers were both veterans. My mom’s dad was a POW in Germany. I respect their service. My dad was drafted, and I am proud of him for fulfilling his obligation as an American male. Had I been drafted, I would have done the same.

I don’t believe we should be rid of the military. John the Baptist doesn’t tell the soldiers in Luke 3 that to repent, they must leave the military. This leaves some assumption you can live a godly life and be in the military. In Romans 13, Paul seems to grant that governments can use force to restrain or punish evil and that by doing so, they are a minister of God.

That said, I don’t at all believe that participating in war will lead to peace. I believe the only freedom it secures is tenuous and limited to a narrow point of view.

In spite of some propaganda to the contrary, I don’t believe there is any Christian agenda left in the American government, so defining “evil” gets complicated when we go to restrain or punish it. I fear that some of the agendas existing in the American government have made us and will continue to make us the perpetrators of evil (but that is for a whole different blog post for another day).

I just don’t know how to appropriately celebrate a day that is set aside to remember the deaths of (mostly) young men far from home. Celebrate seems like a terrible word when we are talking about the loss of fathers, brothers, sons, husbands, friends.

I long for a time when Memorial Day is unnecessary. I long for time when there is no war. I long for there to be no necessity to restrain or punish evil.

I long for a time where individually and institutionally, we view others as image bearers of God, even those who oppose us.

Next year, and throughout the year, I will be praying for those who have lost people to war and doing my best to love and comfort them in their grief. I will be praying for those who perpetrate evil that they would know what love is and turn away from evil. When or if I encounter someone set on evil, I will do my best to show them and tell them what grace is.

I will continue to be unprepared for violence. I will continue to turn my cheek, walk an extra mile and give away my coat.

I will continue to long for the day when there is no violence, no evil, no war, and no Memorial Day. I await the day when every tear is wiped away and there is no more death, mourning, crying or pain.

Information Idol

I have been struggling to find a fiction book to read lately, which means my falling asleep routine has been mostly the consumption of Marvel comics, most recently the Dark Reign era. Then, all of a sudden, I had an a-ha moment. Right before Ariella was born, I started reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time novels. Shortly after finishing the eighth book, I moved to Maryland and my life got crazy trying to find new rhythms. So, I recently started reading book nine of the Wheel of Time, Winter’s Heart. 

The problem is seven years have elapsed since I last explored this universe. Within the first five pages, I found myself switching from the Kindle app on my iPad to the Wikipedia and Safari apps. I’m now 10% of the way through the book and have read more pages on Wikipedia and the WOT Wiki websites than I have read of the book itself. It is wonderful. Consuming information and refreshing old memories is exhilarating…it is intoxicating.

I sometimes get made fun of for being a know-it-all. My memory is pretty good and I love reading. I consume information, but I rarely go very deep into a subject…other than comic books, church leadership or rock music history. Therefore, I end up knowing a little bit about a whole, whole lot, and my desire to know about more grows. It is an appetite.

At it’s worst, it is an idol. The attainment of information is a god I find myself worshiping. I keep my phone in the kitchen when I get home from work so as not to be drawn to the worship of information that comes from shared articles on social media or via the random e-mails I receive. My wife and I have an agreement that I can check IMDB while watching shows because if I don’t, I will drive her crazy with theories of where I have seen a certain actor. To do that, I use her phone or my iPad, which is devoid of social media, e-mail, and iMessage.

I try to set aside this addiction, this submission to the god of knowledge, when I approach God. I try to listen to what God wants me to hear from Him when I read the Bible in the morning. I read to know how I can better love God, love my family, love my community, etc. I don’t read to know more about God. I set aside that goal, which tempts me so, and rather, I learn more about God so that I can grow closer to Him.

Knowledge is not the goal. It is a means to the goal.

Knowledge is important. I am not ashamed of the information I have been able to retain. When I get teased about it, I don’t feel shame. I’m trying not to feel pride. I’m trying to be helpful, not haughty. Likewise, in my pursuit of God, I’m trying to discover intimacy, not intellect. I’m trying to be a man of deeds that demonstrate my faith. I need to know God in order to be that man, so I learn about him…but I don’t want knowing about Him to be enough. I want that to be a step. I want to know Him.

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3

 

 

 

Epilogue: This is NOT a license to not read the Bible, listen to wise sermons, read books, do Bible studies or small groups, etc. All of those things are important. All of those things help you learn about God, which allows you to discern how you can serve Him, love Him more, love your family and community more and discover “life to the fullest.”

Don’t Be Inhuman

Thank God you can love someone you don’t agree with, right? That’s possible, right? Man, I hope so because if not, then a lot of my relationships are in peril.

 

I love social media, like really love it. After a recent earthquake in Ecuador, I was able to turn to Facebook and Twitter for immediate information about my friends who live there. I was able to see damage and pass it on to people seeking information. I was able to make pleas for help. In just two weeks, more than $200,000 had been donated through Stadia and a lot of the news and information we used to cast vision came from social media.

 

There are a lot of polarizing things out there in the world. There is a temptation to believe this is a new situation, but it isn’t. What’s changed is the way we take in information about it. My news feeds are full of information about bathrooms, politicians, breastfeeding, professional sports teams’ names, and so on and so forth. It is awesome that we have such a free, open forum to share our beliefs. It is amazing the reach a single person is able to have. Before social media, it is very unlikely an average individuals’ thoughts or opinions could reach a fraction of the people they reach through social media. That is awesome.

 

What isn’t awesome is the way we treat people online. We say things that are inhuman…and not in the Marvel Comics way where we get superpowers. We reduce one another to one-dimensional caricatures at best and prejudicial stereotypes at worst.

 

I’m not suggesting we should not react. I think healthy debate is an amazing exercise, when we stay on topic. So often, we abandon the topic and attack the person. I’m not suggesting we don’t get frustrated or even angry about how things are going. I’m suggesting that instead of being vitriolic or insulting, we get up, go outside and do something about it. I’m suggesting we share our own opinions rather than becoming personal or attacking.

 

Most of all, and craziest of all, we should find ways to love those we disagree with.

 

I believe each one of us is made in the image of God. We should treat one another like we are all the image bearers of God. Genesis 1:27

 

I believe that we are called to love one another and serve one another, even our enemies. Matthew 5:38-42

 

I believe that loving those we see as enemies helps our cause. Proverbs 25:21-21