How I’m Becoming a Battery

One of my favorite words is “vitriol;” not because I am a fan of what it is but because to me, it sounds exactly like what it is. It contorts my tongue and makes my upper lip want to lift into an asymmetrical wince. The word is perfect. What it is, is not.

 

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like a sponge, soaking up the vitriol of others no matter where I turn; roadside signs, overheard conversations, social media, television and print advertisements, 24-hour news channels. According to my dictionary, in “archaic literature” vitriol was the word used for sulfuric acid. Perhaps if I continue to soak up all this vitriol like a sponge, you will be able to use me as a battery.

 

My parents and I don’t see eye to eye very much on politics and some lifestyle choices. We debate our points of view and their merits and contrast them against the other’s point of view. Sometimes, we get passionate about our point of view. Sometimes, we get frustrated with each other’s point of view. What we never do is get cruel and bitter. If we are bitter about anything, it is the people with whom we agree that use vitriol, whose main goal as far as we can tell is to be divisive.

 

It seems the current political landscape is one where rather than striving to have more people FOR you or your candidate, you are more interested in turning more people AGAINST your opponent or their candidate. Political talk, advertisements, social media postings and so on and so forth seem more interested in pointing out the “evil” in their opponent (especially if their personal life can be brought to bear) rather than explaining how the evil perceived in themselves by their opponent is actually better for the country, state, town. Candidates seem content to be the lessor of two evils, so vilifying their opponent is just as effective (perhaps more?) than proving their own worth. And as far as I can tell on the news and on social media, proponents of those candidates believe likewise.

 

Do you know what’s great about the debates I have with my mom and dad? Freedom and the assumption of best intentions. I don’t agree that my parents’ way or their political beliefs are always the best way, but you know what? They are free to have that opinion, and I believe that in their minds, they DO believe it is the best way. I can point out problems and solutions, and sometimes, perhaps I may sway them, but if I don’t, I still love them. You know what is even better than that? THEY STILL LOVE ME!

 

I wonder what would happen if we moved beyond vitriol. I’m not suggesting we become less passionate about what we believe. Perhaps, I am suggesting we become more passionate about what we believe and the good we believe that would result and a less concerned with vilifying our neighbors.

 

I wonder what would happen if we rejoiced in our freedom to disagree and were able to shake hands with people who disagree with us. Could we view them as misguided from our perspective but from their own perspective focused on what they believe is the best way?  If we could, could we still love them?

 

Could we be a community? Could we have real, sustainable diversity?

 

Could we view everyone as made in the image of God and worthy of love regardless of who they are voting for?

 

Please, by all means debate, discuss, criticize. Just maybe think about being less cruel, less bitter.

vit-ri-ol noun – 1. Cruel and bitter criticism 2. (archaic literary) sulfuric acid

I’m afraid WE are widening the divide.

I’m writing this tired. I didn’t sleep well last night. But I have to write something down, now. It cannot wait for me to be more coherent, more thoughtful.

 

First off: I’m a white guy. Most of my friends are white. I went to a college where like 25 of the nearly 4,000 students weren’t white.

 

I sat in my bed this morning unable to sleep, so I browsed the news and my social media feeds. I sunk deeper into frustration, anger, disappointment, despair and regret…and maybe a little bit of rage. Over the last two years, I’ve mostly shared my thoughts on the current divides in our country in person, but I can’t stay quiet anymore.

 

There is a problem when non-lethal options are available, but the lethal option is implemented. This makes me sad. Life is precious. It makes me incredibly sad how many people are content to live in a country where it is okay in their opinion that a sizeable portion of the population has a certain degree of trepidation when it comes to interacting with law enforcement. It makes me incredibly sad when white people I know try to downplay the divide that exists in the country by mocking or twisting rally cries; cries meant to draw attention to a problem and bring about positive change. Is it really that much easier to believe there isn’t a problem?

 

It makes me sad that I’ve probably been part of the problem by not speaking up sooner.

 

It makes me said that it is easier for so many people to be divisive. It is sad that people aren’t eager to find ways toward unity. It makes me especially sad to see Christians fail to see the Imago Dei in faces colored different than their own. Too often, we try to justify violence. When did Jesus justify violence? When he was reattaching the ear of a soldier out to arrest him?

 

It makes me sad to see so few people asking themselves, “Is what I’m about to say going to draw people together or push them apart? Does what I’m about to say tell people I love them? Is my perspective the appropriate one through which to view this tension?”

 

Perception is reality. It doesn’t matter what you think about policemen. If people who should have no reason to fear or distrust policemen, do (which is the case for many of my few black friends), then that is the reality because that is their perception. Even if you think someone’s perception is wrong and unjustified, you can’t just tell them they are wrong and they need to change it. You have to walk BESIDE them. You have to look through their eyes. You can’t push them, chastise them or shame them into changing their perception. It just doesn’t work that way.

 

In this case, I personally don’t think the perception my friends have is off. Given the news these days, I think it is founded. Their perceived reality of a threat and the reality of a threat coincide. So now, we are faced with changing both reality and the perception of reality. Is your post going to help with those?

 

I have laughed at Dave Chappelle’s jokes about the difference between the expectations black men and white men have when they are pulled over by the police in his standup special “Killin Them Softly.” When I was 14, I memorized Ice Cube’s verse from F*** Tha Police. I still know most of the words to 911 is a Joke by Public Enemy.

 

This problem isn’t new. It’s older than me. It is as old as this country, and sometimes I wonder if rather than things getting better, the racial divide has just evolved. I’m not sure how many people are going to have to be shot before people open their eyes. Is it really so much easier to maintain the status quo?

 

Look, to reiterate my first paragraph. I haven’t done a good job of walking with anyone in this, but I want to. God, I want to. I suck at making friends, but I want to figure it out. I want to hang out in places where people of different races intersect and help shape a new reality and help paint a new perception, a new future. Those of you who haven’t been as complacent as me, help me find those places.
I do believe we all were created in God’s image, and we all are worthy of love as God’s creations. I want to share that. I want to be a part of the solution.

 

A post that hurt to read today:

 

@Lecrae: We were not made to be hashtags.

 

 

 

Christianese, Leadership, Self-Pity

When you first start attending a church, you occasionally hear long-time attenders make jokes about a second language many churchgoers across the nation apparently speak: Christianese.

I’ve always been a part of a church that is on a keen lookout for these words and works to eradicate them from our vocabulary so as to be more inviting to people. Having a secret language is probably one of the least inviting things in any social environment, and if we are not inviting at church, then what’s the point? Back-patting and encouraging one another is great, but if we really believe what we say we believe, we need to be sharing our faith and if we aren’t creating an inviting environment, how can we share?

Whoa. Getting fired up. I digress. Back to the  point… I have only recently become fluent in Christianese as my role in ministry has changed and I interact with all sorts of churches.

Part of Christianese is when you use a word that means something in secular society for something totally different inside the church. Christianese is also a set of vocabulary that isn’t used outside the church.

Here are two examples:

Fellowship (n) – This means to camaraderie or the status of being a “fellow” in a college or society. In church, it means being together with other people who believe in Jesus. Here’s the crazy thing about how its used in Christianese: it can be a verb! I can fellowship with someone or a group of people. It seems that “fellowshipping” only happens when groups of Christians are together. Maybe secular society (perhaps in some academic fellowships) uses the word as a verb, too, but I’ve never heard it.

Wreck (or more often wrecked) (v): This means to damage something so badly it cannot be repaired. In church, to wreck or be wrecked refers to being strongly convicted. I’m not a linguist, so providing definitions is tough. Here it is in a sentence: “God really wrecked me when I learned how many people live in extreme poverty and what the church could do about it.” The person saying this means that when they heard how the church could impact people in extreme poverty, they were really convicted to do something about it.

There are tons of examples of Christianese out there. Some are logical. Some are hysterical. Some are really hard to not get addicted to using.

Anyway, that was just a really long intro to what I really want to write about. This past weekend, I was at a, let’s say, more traditional Christian church. I wore khakis and a collared shirt as opposed to the jeans and black t-shirts I wear at Revolution (or The Foundry, etc. etc.). After church, I was in the Fellowship hall (the place in the church designated for fellowshipping). I was fellowshipping with some people at the church and got wrecked.

It didn’t really have anything to do with the fellowship. My brain’s almost always somewhere else a little bit (sorry) and something someone said triggered a John Maxwell quote in my mind along the lines of leadership being influence.

I love being a leader. I truly believe I was built, psychologically/emotionally, the way I am built so that I can be a leader. And yet, recently I haven’t felt like a leader because who am I leading?

When I stepped away from Revolution, I stepped away from a title and platform that gave me influence. Now, I don’t have that and I am building a new platform at Stadia.

I’ve been kind of feeling sorry for myself that I’m trying to lead, but it doesn’t feel like its working. I’ve been feeling envious of some friends who have been “fellowshipping” with other leaders learning how to be better leaders.

But this weekend, I realized that I just have to keep on keeping on. I have to keep building my platform at Stadia. I have to lean into the influence I do have and trust that God will grow it. I can waste time mourning the past, or I can take the lessons I learned there and implement them moving forward.

I’m going to try to do the latter. Later today, I’ll be leading a Local Group for Revolution. Self-pity and envy were preventing me from leading. They blinded me to the ways I am supposed to be leading.

What’s blinding you and preventing you from doing what you’re suppose to be doing?

What’s weighing on me? (my Must Do vol. 3)

I’m having a rough week. On Tuesday, I woke up wheezing and sick. Yesterday, Becky and I had to deal with issues at Rex’s Pre-K school regarding the use of his Epi-Pen. Today, I’m feeling frustrated that the church planters I met over the summer are pushing forward with their church plant, but if there were US partners behind them, their work would be exponentially accelerated. They would be able to reach and help more people, much, much, much more quickly. Today’s heartache blows my chest cold and yesterday’s first-world problems out of the water. It is the oppressive weight of an urgent need.

People ask me a lot about what I do, so here is a quick crash course. Most of my time is spent within the relationship between Stadia (my organization) and Compassion International. Stadia is an organization with a passion for and expertise in planting churches that focus on children. Compassion International is a global leader in releasing children from poverty, but they only create their programs in the context of a local church because having a church home is critical to the child’s spiritual development. Stadia and Compassion partner to identify indigenous church planters and church plant sites in Latin America, then in turn partner with American churches and individuals to secure funding that will accelerate the planting of a new church and opening of a new child development center. The new child development center then registers 150-200 kids, and Stadia works hard with the original funding partners, usually a church or churches, to hold an event and sponsor those children. For a year or more after the funding is sent, Stadia sends regular updates to the funding partner monitoring the progress of the new building, new church and new child development center. I manage all phases of this relationship on the Stadia side.

Okay, that’s out of the way. Here’s the thing about me, personally. I’m driven to excel. I want to be excellent and strive to be excellent. I believe that when we aren’t striving to be excellent, we are being dishonoring to whatever we are doing, and ultimately, dishonoring to God. I have no desire to dishonor anyone, especially God, so I strive to be excellent. This isn’t a bragging thing. I’m not always excellent. Sometimes, I’m not even often excellent. Sometimes, I’m like, “What the heck was that?” But I’m always trying to be excellent. My must-do is to maximize church planting by leading and bringing clarity to leaders I serve. I try to be excellent at that, and right now, that means telling the story of church planting in Latin America and securing partners to accelerate it.

I can’t handle knowing there are churches that could be effectively reaching hundreds of people this time next year with the right start-up assistance, but for now, they are reaching a dozen people and scraping together the funds that will equip them to reach more people from a population living in extreme poverty.

On that note, I can’t handle the generosity in a church launch team of 20 people making $150/month for their entire family who manage to sacrifice enough to buy $10,000 plots of land. Then on bare land, they do their best to reach their community until they block-by-block build a facility they can use over the course of years. With the resources we have, we could accelerate that change from 10 years to one year (or less)!

As an aside, giving at all when you only have $150 per month blows my mind. That is in the neighborhood of my family’s grocery bill…weekly! 

I want to honor the amazing planters I have met in Latin America and be excellent for them. Some days, like today, the weight is a lot, but then again, so is the hope. With or without me, these churches will persevere and poverty will be confronted head-on. Real, radical change will come to these neighborhoods, and I’ve been lucky (#blessed) to have been part of it 50 times so far. I should rejoice in that. But, on days like today, that’s just not enough. I wonder how many more people would be reached in the next ten years, if we accelerated the start-up timeframe.

AND I want you to be part of it, too. I want you to be able to tell people you helped transform a community.

Ask Becky, I often can’t truly, deeply love an album I listen to until others around me love it as well. In much the same way, I will feel this weight until everyone I know is a part of transforming communities and/or every child has a church (#Stadia). The battle for today is to let that weight drive me, not overwhelm me.

I want to be a part of planting churches for the rest of my life, and I can’t wait to tell you the stories of transformation I learn and see in Latin America, here in the States, and across the globe.

Get involved in these stories right now:

Support my run to raise money for a church plant in Ecuador: RUN 4 ECUADOR (see some funny incentives below)

Support Stadia: STADIA

Support Revolution: REVOLUTION

 

 

Incentives:

$5,000 total raised – Tattoo of your choice by popular vote (certain asterisks apply)
$10,000 total raised – Above plus shave my head into a design by popular vote for the race
$20,000 total raised – Additional tattoo selected by vote of top three givers (again, asterisks…also, Crockett Davidson, pastor of Vintage City and fellow runner is lobbying to have his name be selected for this tattoo)

 

(Special thanks to Josh Burnett and the STADIA leadership on giving me this opportunity to work on my Must Do.)

One Year (mostly) Without Caffeine

August 2015, I was in Brazil with a headache. I had been in Colombia prior to arriving in Brazil, and while both countries export a ton (actually, many tons) of coffee, the coffee in the hotels where I was staying was terrible. I could barely stomach it, so the early withdrawal symptoms of lack of caffeine were starting to set in. The flights to and from Brazil suck. They are overnight flights in crowded airplanes. On the flight home, I flew from Teresina, Brazil south to Sao Paolo, then north (over Teresina) to Miami for over eight hours. While on that flight, I contemplated my headache and decided that since I was already a couple days into withdrawal, I may as well give up on caffeine; something I’d been thinking about for a while.

 

I’m a pretty anxious person. My mind is always racing, chasing the branches in the decisions in front of me as far as I can. When I lay down to sleep, I’m thinking about the next morning, creating mental checklists, which sometimes make their way to paper I keep in my nightstand. I don’t need chemicals to enhance the racing. I need sleep. I need clarity. But I love coffee and Lapsang Souchong tea and Chai Lattes.

 

Since last August, I’ve had very, very few caffeinated beverages. I have probably had about 15 Chai Lattes and maybe one or two Diet Cokes. I’ve found a couple of teas I really like, but my favorite, Bengal Spice from Celestial Seasonings, still is not as satisfying as good coffee in the morning. I still drink decaf coffee a few times a week, which I know (stop reminding me) has a very small amount of caffeine in it.

 

I miss the caffeinated beverages I love, but I feel better. I have slept better this year than ever. It has been easier and easier to get up before dawn to go running. When I read at night, my mind focuses on what I’m reading instead of tomorrow. During the day, I’m always fighting A.D.D. but the battle is a little easier now.

 

Coffee and caffeine aren’t bad things. It just turned out that they were bad things for me. This realization has led me to question a lot of other things that I do that may help me feel better and perform better. I’ve radically increased my vegetable intake and reduced my cheese and bread consumption (though, tonight, I am having grilled cheese for dinner). I don’t bring my phone in the bedroom and I’ve taken social media and news apps off my iPad. Basically, the iPad has become a fancy Kindle that I can also read Marvel comics on.

 

What good things in your life aren’t good for you? Join me on a journey of self-evaluation.

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.