Blog Fragment #4 – Things That Aren’t Good But We’re Good At

Nanowrimo is not happening for me this year, but I’m trying to write everyday in November. I’ll be posting fragments of what I write here daily, edited very lightly for clarity and grammar. Here’s post #4.

That’s the thing about Egypt, we know that it’s worse, but we also know it. Sometimes, it seems easier to turn and head back for the way things used to be, then spend another day wandering the trackless arid wastes, waiting for an as-yet hypothetical Promised Land….

The Promised Land is threatening. We often do not want to grow, because growth exposes us. Our old ways may be bad ways, but at least we are competent in them. We always start as toddling beginners when we learn a new way to be human, we always make mistakes, we will always have our fundamental incompetence exposed when we start over, yet again.

So often, we cannot find people who will hold our vulnerability with us, who will honor and cultivate our deepest meant, yet still-uncompleted intentions, and, every time we look to turn back to the Things that Aren’t Good But We’re Good At, to remind us to keep turning, one more step at a time, back into the wilderness.

Blog Fragment #3: Learning the Skill of Suffering

Nanowrimo is not happening for me this year, but I’m trying to write everyday in November. I’ll be posting fragments of what I write here daily, edited very lightly for clarity and grammar. Here’s post #3.

I could go into the list, but I think it might be more important to ask: why, if we have it better than we have at any point we ever have, (at least in this country), do we think the exact opposite?

The answer is really quite simple. For the first time in human history, we are immediately aware of all the suffering of the world in real-time.

At the same time, we have lost the communal and spiritual skills to process it well. We think that suffering (for ourselves or for others) means that something has gone wrong in the Way Life Should Be. A minor tragedy, (say, an appliance that breaks at an inconvenient moment or a latte gone terribly wrong at Starbucks), creates a sense of injustice and general hand-wringing. A major tragedy: the untimely death of a family member, an act of cruel and senseless violence in our community, a horrid natural disaster, goes so far beyond our capacity that we almost always run away, start fighting, or just check out.

When I was working as an on-call chaplain at a funeral home in Haverhill, I met hundreds of people in the aftermath of losing their loved ones. For many, it was clear that they were honestly facing death for the first time and simply had no resources to do so well, beyond a few bromides they had heard on television, and a conviction that they had to keep it all together. I spent most of my time trying to listen them into more honest grieving, but oftentimes, ended up with short, socially awkward times of remembrance, where every person was a saint, heaven always got a new angel, and it was somehow all in God’s plan.

Blog Fragment #2: The Ways Progressive Protestants Keep God at Arm’s Length

 

Nanowrimo is not happening for me this year, but I’m trying to write everyday in November. I’ll be posting fragments of what I write here daily. Here’s post #2

There are a thousand ways that people of my particular religious tribe (progressive mainline Protestants) have found to keep God at safe’s arms distance, especially in worship.

1) The almost exclusive use of communal language when singing or doing liturgy.

Often, communal language experientially includes everyone except the person singing it. In other words, yes, I know that God loves us, but do you that God loves you?

2) Fixation on always using theologically correct terms for God.

Yes, it is important for us to de-centralize exclusively masculine language for God. However, this over-fixation leads us to treating God as a term to be correctly defined, rather than a being to have a relationship with . (That first line in the Lord’s Prayer? It’s not really “Our Father”, it’s our “Abba” or our “Daddy”. All relational language is particularized.)

3) Publicly Praying for Everyone But Oneself

Prayer begins with our personal encounter, face to face with God, one that we are frequently afraid of naming publicly (or privately.) Prayer times can devolve into a laundry list of prayers for others or places in the world that need God’s help; because asking God for strength to personally get through a week, or to help us forgive someone we don’t like, or to help us overcome a particular personal failing requires far more vulnerability that we’re comfortable with.

4) A maniacal focus on theological and thematical correctness over embodied experience in worship.

Which hymn do you pick? The one with a slightly clunky text or not-so-great melody that connects better with that *one* line from the scripture you’re reading or the one that engages people’s bodies and emotions ? The former wins out almost every time. In seminary, I remembered noting that while we often sung songs *about* God, we really sang songs to God; each hymn a theological creed rather than a love song.

Blog Fragment #1 from “A Roll of Pictures”

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For most of us idealistic dreamers, there simply will not be enough energy to carry a beautiful, God-given dream into reality, unless we can look at the people we are learning to love and  affirm their goodness completely aside from any professional ambitions that we have for them. God will not let us love our wish-dreams projected onto other people, but only the people themselves. If we use those people as a tool to further our own schemes of spiritual and professional self-making, God will burn our dreams down again and again, until we have no choice but to quit or to love.

Transformational Engagement is Hard Work

None of us have an infinite capacity to absorb the suffering of the world (and each other.) The process of transformationally engaging with the people around us is exhausting, inch-by-inch work, and unless we carefully tend our own well-being, we *will* burn out before we manage to make much of a difference.

With that in mind, take care of yourself people. (And if in your hearts of hearts, you know you’ve really been putting your best energy into Netflix and hanging out with people of your own ethnic/ideological enclave, then for heaven’s sake, come out and join us in the work.)

Need a place to start? Here’s what I (and a few of my wise friends) suggested as starting points:

1) Pray. I’m pretty sure I’d be twice the asshole I am currently without the Spirit’s help.
2) Get off social media, at least for a few hours, at regular intervals.
3) Intentionally enjoy being a dad. (It’s easy when you have a son like mine.)
4) Un-selfconsciously embrace stupid things. I have a 3DS that I play constantly, delicious epic fantasy books I can sink hours into, an increasingly fanatic attachment to basketball (I literally listen to more basketball podcasts than any other form of audio media), and a large liquor cabinet.”

Listen to novels. This helps me both during the day to disengage mentally from the work of always processing (even when I’m not engaging) AND also to distract me from my own thoughts when I am trying to fall asleep at bedtime or when I am awake in the middle of the night.”

“For myself, I try to balance the talking with the listening. Really listening, and if I can’t hear it anymore to say our loud, “This is important and I want to keep going, but I might need a break to process more.” Since the election, with difficult topics, I try to give myself and the other person that time to “digest” what we’ve been learning. I try to read as much as I can stomach to really know what I’m talking about (or hearing about) to reinforce anything I need to know. And then I play. Games, movies, songs. I try to get out of “headspace” and just be.”

Read
Say thank you a lot
Take a walk in nature
Get some exercise
Laugh”

“Yogalates, walks in the woods, Netflix, essential oils, drinking water.”

“Sleep!! Even a nap midday if you can manage it (not everyone naps well or has time). A couple of hours, or a good night’s sleep always resets my stress levels. Even if stress or anxiety returns as it is bound to do, the rest can adjust your perspective.”

“Time in nature is my balm, I find it very easy to stay present during my time there. The ritual of making a pot of tea and hunkering down with a great book is so comforting.”

 

How Do You Stay in the Game?

I’m discovering that the work of genuine encounter and authentic dialogue is really exhausting.

If you’re actively engaged with that work, either on social media or in-person, please make sure you’re being kind to yourself. (I’ve added a few things I do below and would love to hear what you do as well.)

And, if you’re not actively engaged with that work, and have a little extra energy, would you please share the load with us?

Here are a few things I do:

1) Pray. I’m pretty sure I’d be twice the asshole I am currently without the Spirit’s help.

2) Get off social media, at least for a few hours, at regular intervals.
3) Intentionally enjoy being a dad. (It’s easy when you have a son like mine.)

4) Un-selfconsciously embrace stupid things. I have a 3DS that I play constantly, delicious epic fantasy books I can sink hours into, an increasingly fanatic attachment to basketball (I literally listen to more basketball podcasts than any other form of audio media), and a large liquor cabinet.

5 Reason Why Your Ministry Should Podcast

My Podcast Set I

1)      Podcasting is a big deal, especially with young people.

From their start in 2003, podcasts have become the fastest growing media in the United States. In 2016, 40% of all Americans had listened to a podcast, 25% listen to a podcast at least monthly, and half of all those listeners are between the ages of 12-34.

2)      Podcasting build relationships faster than print does.

I talked with an author who told me that for publishers, 5000 monthly listeners are worth the same as 50,000 monthly readers on a blog. The average listener hears five podcast episodes in part or in their entirety every week. That level of engagement allows you to quickly build community with whomever you reach.

3)      Podcasting is effortlessly versatile.

Want to post sermons? Conduct interviews with religious leaders or ordinary church people? Highlight community-created poetry or music? Share your own thoughts on current events? Anything that can be recorded can be posted easily, depending on your goals.

4)      Podcasting is cheaper than you think.

My near-professional setup cost about $150 for a microphone, studio headphones, and the world’s tiniest sound booth, plus $12 a month for a podcast hosting service that connects it to Itunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and my website.  You can edit on any average laptop and there is powerful free sound editing software that provides easy post-production polish.

5)      Podcasting is easier that you think.

Yes, there is absolutely a learning curve at the beginning. However, if you are willing to pay attention to how you setup your recording space, getting an acceptable sounding podcast doesn’t take much time, especially if you don’t need a lot of bells and whistles. My podcast, which involves theme music, separately recorded intros and credits, mixing, and editing, takes me about two hours of editing time per episode.

Want hands-on help setting up a successful podcast for your church, ministry, or creative work? I’m teaching an eight-week, hands-on apprenticeship that will take you from the basics of sound editing, to learning how to conduct interviews, to launching your own podcast, starting in September. It’s called “Podcasting and the Art of Sacred Listening”, and if you register before Labor Day, you can get a $50 discount by entering the code “PODCAST2” when you check out.

Register at https://www.academymwf.com/browse/journey/courses/podcast