When Forward Motion Prevents Forward Motion.

I move forward. Quickly. And in the wake of that motion, sometimes, things get messy. Literally and metaphorically.

And eventually, the chaos created by the swirling air in my wake wears me out. I wake up with an uncertain, imprecise feeling of dread like I’m missing something, forgetting something, failing at something but unable to put my finger on what it is. I can look around and look back and count the good things, but that feeling remains.

I’m not made for looking backwards. I have a very good memory (which drives my wife crazy). I love to tell stories, which pull from past experience. I love learning, which pulls from past experience. But I’m not particularly nostalgic. I move forward. I think I’m above average at at evaluating situations, envisioning potential outcomes and developing a path from where I am toward the best outcome. Instead of nostalgia, I am focused on and excited for what’s next.

And I am starting to think (or maybe remember) that my imprecise feeling of dread occurs when I can’t focus on what’s next because of the chaos left in the wake of my forward motion.

Last night, instead of soaking in the pleasure of playing music with the Revolution band, I felt distracted. Last night, I had a trying night (thanks dogs and Rex). This morning I woke up with that tension in my heart, that dread. But I don’t have the time to let it work itself out on it’s own, so as usual, I’m moving forward.

Between Zoom calls, strategic planning for Stadia bookkeeping, building relationships for Stadia’s marketing team, I’ve been self-evaluating and cleaning up the chaos of the last few weeks of forward motion and arrhythmic calendars.

before
Before (the rest of the room is super messy, too)

My office is also my dressing room, rehearsal space, luggage storage location, Stadia supply room, and so on and so forth…. And dude, those spaces have become a disaster. Some small, non-vital tasks have been put off, ballooning my inbox. As I sat down this morning, I realized I could not see the short-term pathway forward. Dread.

Today, I cleaned my desk, organized my calendar, reviewed my notes (just finished the last page of my Moleskine), finished all but one of the non-vital tasks (my inbox is at 7…no, 10…no, 12). That sense of dread is fading.

after
After (the rest of the room is now organized, too)

Time to move forward.

What do you need to clean up in your physical and mental space in the next couple days so you can move forward?

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A New View of “Retreats:” A Shared Mission With My Wife

I love to laugh and make others laugh. Many of my best memories of the last couple years involve sitting around a table with friends with variations of giggling, chortling, and guffawing. These are the moments that I crave; the moments that encourage me even when I’m burdened; the moments that strengthen me in times of weariness; the moments that make me feel connected; the moments that propel me forward.

Becky and I are passionate about encouraging couples in ministry, especially lead couples and double-especially (is that a thing?) church planting lead couples. Yes, we both have jobs in church planting that we get joy and fulfillment from, but it is the moments we can encourage and engage and connect ministry couples that we feel most like we are doing what we are supposed to be doing as a couple. We have been eyewitnesses to the damage that can be done in a marriage, a family, a ministry when ministry couples’ fall apart. We’ve seen the damages of infidelity, burn-out, depression, boredom…

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And we’ve developed a dream to create retreats for ministry couples and a philosophy for “retreats” that are much more about laughing around a table than they are about teaching, like your typical Christian “retreat.” Let’s face it, we have world-class teaching at our finger tips at any moment via YouTube, Netflix, various podcasts and many other sources. Becky and I believe that what ministry couples need most is connection and community. They are already accomplished learners, but so many couples we talk to are feeling lonely.

I’ve been experimenting with this “around-a-table” retreat idea with men I’m connected with for almost two years, and Becky and I are now getting ready to pilot our first gathering of couples for a retreat. There are timing and funding issues that we need to figure out, but we are passionate about this, and we feel that it is important. We feel we have a gift for gathering people, and we have a sense that people want this.

It’s time to evolve in our thinking of what constitutes a “retreat” (and a conference for that matter, but that is a different blog). We need to start addressing the needs people have that they can’t get on their own instead of just retreading the same pathways of teaching, small group, planned itinerary. In our hyper-connected social media world, we’re actually not all that connected, actually. Almost everything we “connect” about on social media has already happened (read more of my thoughts on that), and what Becky and I are craving and perceive our friends are craving is real-time connection that encourages, strengthens and propels us forward.

What are you and your spouse passionate about? What is your shared mission?

Who wants to gather around a table and laugh with Becky and me?

What I learned about Customer Relationship Management from Bartenders…

In my travels over the last several years, I have dined alone on a regular basis. Eating dinner alone is a weird thing but something I’ve come to find an unexpected amount of peace in doing. My top favorite way to eat alone is to find a nice grocery store (like Wegman’s or Whole Foods) and make a large plate, grab a cold bottle of beer, then return to my hotel room to enjoy, usually while watching the Travel Channel or the Food Network.

My second choice when a fine grocery store isn’t available is to sit at the bar of a local, ideally non-chain restaurant. I love watching how bartenders work, and when the place isn’t busy, I love talking with them.

While I eat my buffalo chicken sandwich (wishing it was grilled instead of fried and covered with 31% more buffalo sauce and had cucumbers instead of lettuce), they serve dozens and dozens of drinks (all but one or two to other people) without any obvious system for knowing who is next but almost always getting it right.

It’s amazing.

All the while, they listen to stories from those of us sitting at the bar, bringing them back up and remembering many details when our turn comes to have our drink status checked. This has been my experience as the norm. Crappy bartenders have (thankfully) been the exception.

It makes you feel special.

When I’m doing my job, I’ve discovered I’m pretty good at making clients, customers, partners, and colleagues feel important and special while prioritizing them, reprioritizing them, and checking in on the ones that seem to be good just to try to anticipate coming needs. I’m not perfect at this. I miss people “at the bar” occasionally, but mostly I’m good. When I do miss someone, I go out of my way to make it up to them.

Unfortunately, in my workplace experiences, the bartender mindset and craft has not been the norm. The people made to feel special are often the squeakiest wheels or the biggest wallets. I get the tension in that, but I believe the best “bartenders” deal with those customers in a special, deft way that doesn’t take away from the experience of the rest of their “customers.”

How often do you ask yourself, “I wonder what the people I’m in relationship with at or through work are feeling?” If it’s not often or the only faces that come to mind are squeaky wheels and big wallets, may I humbly suggest that you are not doing it right.

Be a good bartender not a typical cube dweller.

They call me Mr. Know-It-All

“Know-it-alls don’t like being told what to do; they avoid the company of wise men and women.” Proverbs 15:12 (MSG)

Almost every morning, as I brew a half pot of decaffeinated Maxwell House coffee (delicious!), I say, “Alexa, play Jeopardy.” I then get six answers for which I have to come up with he corresponding question like on the show. My favorite board game is Trivial Pursuit. Going to trivia nights with my friends are moments of great joy.

Know-it-all, one-upper. These are stinging adjectives that others have used to describe me. I like being right, and I’m right a lot. I like telling stories and sharing what I know and have experienced (especially if I think it will get some laughs). But do I have to be so pushy about it?

Probably not. I’m trying not to be a “know-it-all” or a “one-upper.” It isn’t easy because a crucial element for avoiding becoming one of those is listening. And listening can be hard when there are so many distractions.

I try not to avoid the company of wise men and women, and when I am in their company, I try to listen. I want to be perceptive and intelligent, not a know-it-all. I’m lucky to work with and be friends with several very, very wise people who are generous with their time and wisdom.

“An intelligent person is always eager to take in more truth; fools feed on fast-food fads and fancies.” Proverbs 15:14 (MSG)

“The empty-headed treat life as a plaything; the perceptive grasp its meaning and make a go of it.” Proverbs 15:21 (MSG)

“Listen to good advice if you want to live well, an honored guest among wise men and women.” Proverbs 15:31 (MSG)

“Try” is a pretty important word in this blog. I am not always (often?) very good at listening, but gosh darn it, I’m trying. I’m sorry to everyone I’ve been a know-it-all toward. I’m sorry for the times I have attempted to one-up your story rather than celebrating your story with you. I’m sure I’ll do it again, but I’m trying to be better. Feel free to encourage me to listen and keep my mouth shut…just don’t be a jerk about it, ok?

In what areas of your life are you TRYING to get better?

 

Lies Suck. Especially when you’re talking to yourself.

I spend a lot of time lying to myself and mostly it starts with, “You suck…”
When I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed to say something “sucks” or “sucked.” “Suck” and its various conjugations were up there in the minor swear words like crap, fart and Uranus. Now, of course, I say all those words around my kids. On the way back from an Orioles’ game last week, Ariella told me she didn’t like the word “sucks.” My first thought was that I suck as a dad.
By many measures, I’ve been pretty #blessed. I’m 36 and working at a high level in an industry I’m passionate about. I’m doing things I never thought I would be able to do. Today, I had a meeting with an on-air personality from the NFL network about how we can work together in our industry, and next week we have a follow-up meeting. Seriously?
But every time I think about it (which is often), I think about how little I deserve to be here. I work with some of my heroes, and some of them treat me like a peer. Seriously?
I didn’t go to school for this. I don’t study hard enough. I don’t come from an associated lineage. I have an above average memory and a penchant (gift? curse?) for making decisions quickly. I’m good at faking that I know what I’m talking about while I figure out what I’m talking about. I have a strong intuition. And that’s it.
That’s all.
Or at least that’s how I feel a lot of the time. That’s my inner monologue.
And that’s why I’m thankful for God.
When I tell myself that I suck, He says, “So what?” And thank God for that.
Thank you, God, for reminding me that my insecurity is an unreliable mentor. Thank you for reminding me that in the areas that I do actually suck, you can use me anyway. Thank you for grace. Thank you for connecting me with the amazing people I’m connected with.

What lies do you tell yourself? How is the Holy Spirit speaking to you?

Our best defense?

“Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?”

 

What if our greatest defense is our eagerness to do good? What if we were a people known for doing good without strings attached for anyone and everyone regardless of who they were, what they believed in, who they loved, where they were from?

 

If we were a people known for reaching out and putting the wellbeing of others before our own, I believe we would have fewer conversations about defense. If we looked at our neighbors and saw their needs and met them without them having to ask and without them having to pay us back, our charity would be a safeguard. If we chose to love even those people we don’t like, even those people who don’t like us, what new message would they hear?

 

I grow tired of protectionism. I weary of hearing about threats to my way of life. It isn’t that I don’t take them seriously, but I don’t think that building a fortress around ourselves and our families is the best way to eliminate those threats in the long-term. Maybe if my way of life is so threatened, then I need to look closely at my way of life and find out what I’m doing that is so baneful. I’m probably not loving enough. I’m probably not gracious enough. I’m probably selfish.

 

I’m definitely selfish.

 

But what if I wasn’t? What if as a group of friends, we became known for our charity? What if as a church, we were known for our love? What if our families, our friend-groups, our churches were so integral to our community in the love that they provide without strings attached that even those who disagree with our beliefs would be heartbroken to see us disappear.

 

What if we looked at the stereotypes of our communities, of our families, of our churches and decided they didn’t matter and that we were going to love anyway?

 

What if our country provided the tools for development that eradicates poverty, slavery, curable disease not with tanks and bombs but with educators, engineers, counselors who honor the existing culture and have no agenda other than seeing that no more people die from hunger or curable diseases? I’m not naïve enough to believe that the threat of force can just disappear overnight, but I do believe that if we don’t figure out a way to show love without bias, without strings attached, the threat of violence will become more and more a part of our narrative. Let’s start in our communities.

 

Who do you know that needs your love? What’s stopping you?

 

“But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened. But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” *All italics are from 1 Peter 3:13-15

 

 

Punk Rock and Church Planting

In the mid to late 1990s, I fell in love with punk rock. I had first been captivated by bands like Nirvana and Metallica in the earliest days of the 90s, which probably opened the door for the harder, faster, irreverence of punk rock. What I loved about some of the punk rock I first discovered was that they took the discontent of the grunge and metal bands I loved and added an action step. And they packaged it into three minutes or less. Punk bands taught me to question the media, question the government, question my parents, question the priests at the Catholic church I grew up in, question my friends and even question the band singing to me. Punk bands told me it was okay to have an opinion that differs. Punk bands gave a voice to things I was thinking but didn’t know how to say. Punk bands put a spotlight on the marginalized and left out and reached out a hand. Punk bands showed me that if you have a message you believe in, you should shout it out because others probably believe it, too, and they’ll become some of your best friends.

 

Some punk bands didn’t do any of those meaningful things and just made me laugh or want jump around, and that’s okay, too.

 

All that questioning punk rockers have encouraged in me has led me to some answers that I believe in strongly. Thanks to Chip & Bryan Holt and John Daubert for enduring a lot of my questions. In the searching and questioning, I’ve come to a faith in Jesus that I believe is worth shouting about. Some of you reading this are like Fat Mike in NOFX’s “Happy Guy” and don’t understand how I could come to that conclusion, but that’s okay with me. You see, part of being into punk rock is understanding that you aren’t always part of the majority. We can still be friends; you just have to understand that this is part of who I am.

 

Punk rock probably laid the foundation for why I love church planting and why my must do is to maximize church planting by leading and bringing clarity to leaders I serve. Church planters see the missing sheep and go in search of it. They take Jesus’ words and apply action steps. They see the marginalized and left out and work to find ways to include them. Church planters believe they have a message so important that they can’t help but shout it out and when people don’t want to hear it, they get that, but they say it anyway. Church planters encourage you to ask questions. How many times have I heard Josh Burnett say, “[Revolution] is a safe place to ask the hard questions about God and faith,” and how many times have I seen him drop other plans to make that a reality by spending hours answering hard questions. I’m not saying other church leaders don’t do these things because I’m sure lots of them do. But when it comes to being a church planter, this punk rock attitude has to be a part of your DNA. It’s a part of every moment. It’s tattooed on your neck and hands. It is every day, every moment. Church planting remains the most effective way to reach people far from God with the Gospel, and I think it is effective because like punk rock, it is discontent with the status quo, unwilling to just complain and committed to voicing a different option.

 

So today, I’ll be listening to punk rock and bringing clarity to church planters and other leaders so more churches get planted and more lives change.

Some of my soundtrack while thinking about and writing this (just a note that some of these songs have bad words):

If the Kids are United – Sham 69

Salvation – Rancid

A New Kind of Army – Anti-Flag

Prayer of  the Refugee – Rise Against

All the Young Punks – The Clash

We Called it America – NOFX

Responsibility – MxPx

Fight the System – Squad Five-O

High School Rock – The Huntingtons

I’ll Fly Away – Flatfoot 56