Solutions and Problems

The fact that someone, somewhere has a solution doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a problem.  It may simply mean that someone, somewhere needs to sell you a solution so that he or she can feed his or her family.

They’re not bad people.  They’re just salesmen.  Selling us is their job.

Common Core is a fantastic solution.  Really.  It’s nice and shiny and elaborate and from the future!  But embracing a solution without understanding the problem is a formula for confusion and multiplying problems.

And the fact is, it’s a lot easier to throw a solution into the soup than it is to stop, analyze, debate, and come to a consensus as to what exactly the problem is.


Our National Anthem

It’s ours.  It belongs to all of us.  It’s our heritage, our birthright, our privilege to sing and our privilege to feel all warm and fuzzy when we do.

It’s not yours.  It’s not mine.  It’s ours.  If you are chosen to sing the national anthem before a crowd anywhere, keep in mind that you have only been given a microphone.

You have not been given the national anthem.  That is still ours.

The only reason you have a microphone in your hand is because someone, somehow thought that it would be nice to follow your leadership in singing the song.  Your job is to sing it in such a way that the people in the crowd can sing with you.

We already presume that you’re a good singer by virtue of the fact that you’re holding the microphone.  You don’t have to prove it.  In fact, the harder you work to prove it, the more I suspect that something’s amiss.

The question is, are you a good leader?  Can you sing a song in such a way that makes me want to sing with you?

Performance is one thing.  Leading people to sing a song is another thing altogether.

We Disagree

I disagree with you.  Is that ok?

I like you, I respect you.  I enjoy your company and I enjoy laughing with you when something funny happens.

I neither fear you nor do I hate you.

We just disagree.


I don’t know why we disagree, and I don’t need you to agree with me.

But I don’t like it when you say that we disagree because I’m bad.  Or motivated by hate.  Or fear.

It may just be that I think my position has more merit than yours.

Someday we will probably agree.  Both of us will change our minds and grow.

But while we disagree, I will respect you.  I will like you.  I will be your neighbor, colleague, and friend.

If you will let me.

Rehearsal and Ensemble

New learnings from this year:

  1. Any group of people can become a class.  All that’s required is a lecturer, a topic, and a roster.  The group doesn’t even need to assemble for the class to work.
  2. Classes are useful for measuring individual performance and for enforcing individual accountability to standards written for individuals.
  3. A group of people becomes an ensemble only when the individuals in the group subordinate their own needs and desires to those of the group.
  4. The only way people will forgo the pursuit of individual goals for the benefit of the group is if there is safety for the individual within the group environment.  Individuals must know that they will not be lost or rejected if they risk themselves for the group.  It’s counter-intuitive, but the group has to protect the individual so that the individual can risk himself or herself for the group.
  5. Creating, protecting, and maintaining a safe environment where an ensemble can emerge is the first and most important task of the group’s leader.  The leader must identify, confront, and if necessary remove individuals whose behavior is divisive.
  6. Leaders model and enable safe environments by risking the rejection of the group and surviving over and over again.  There is no safety in a group where the leader uses his position to protect himself.
  7. Ensemble does not just happen.  It is an accomplishment that goes against our natural impulses.  It must be modeled, it must be taught, it must be built, and it must be celebrated when it is achieved.
  8. The leader / director is the chief risk-taker in the group and has the most to lose if the group fails to create a safe environment and become an ensemble.
  9. Rehearsal is the privilege, joy, and reward of ensembles.

Rob Bell, Heaven and Hell

Evangelicals who pay attention are all abuzz about Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins, and particularly Rob’s rejection of the traditional view of hell.  He’s catching a lot of flak from evangelical heavy-hitters like Al Mohler and John Piper for his stance (see Brian McLaren’s defense of Bell here), and a lot of people I know and care for are lining up to get their licks in.

This post isn’t about Rob Bell and the controversy.  This post is a lament on why we’re all so upset about all this.

First of all, let me declare myself:  I am an evangelical with fundamentalist roots who isn’t nearly as sure about what he believes about heaven and hell as he once was.  What was certain and unassailable for me at one time no longer is so.  The older I get, the less I seem to know about these things and the more open I am to the idea that what I believe might be flat-out wrong.

But, at the end of the day, I just wish the whole heaven/hell thing would go away.

I’m not saying that I don’t believe in heaven and hell, even in the traditional sense of the words.  I’m not saying that the doctrine of heaven and hell has no place at the table.  I’m not saying that I’m going to stop picking out hymns that talk about heaven for our worship services at church.

I am saying that I wish the heaven/hell doctrine didn’t hold onto our imagination so, that it didn’t occupy so much of our energy and communication bandwidth.  I am saying that it grieves me to see the gospel so closely tied to and marketed alongside the heaven/hell doctrine.  I am saying that I wish the church would “sell” the gospel on its own merits, not having to rely on ultimate and cosmic benefits and punishments to make the case.

Here’s why I think everyone’s so upset:  sometime ago the gospel stopped being about the invitation to follow Jesus and join with his followers as they incarnate Christ in the world for the redemption of the world, and it started being about appeasing God and securing one’s place in heaven.  Hell-avoidance became the main selling point in the gospel presentation for many reasons, the chief one being its effectiveness in producing converts.

So now, any questioning of or deviation from the traditional view of hell is seen as a questioning of the gospel itself.  And that’s tragic.

Playing the heaven/hell card in the gospel presentation is  prima facie evidence that the temporal benefits of conversion are not sufficient to overcome skepticism about the church.  The presentation devolves from an invitation into an insurance pitch.  How I wish we could present the church to unbelievers and say, “Come join us where you will be loved and known, and where your life will be spent and poured out in God’s plan to redeem the world.”

Teaching, Preaching

Pastor Tim allowed me the privilege of teaching today at PUMC‘s traditional service while he’s taking a much deserved vacation with the family.  You can hear a recording of the message here.

I love Powell Church, period.  In so many ways the Lord has used these dear people to heal my heart and restore my hope in and for the church, but one of the chief ways by which the Lord is doing this is through Tim.  Pastors who will share their pulpits with the choir director are few, and even fewer when the choir director doesn’t have a seminary degree.  Thank you, Tim, for believing in me and for giving me room to grow and learn!  I am humbled by the trust you put in me.

Where the Lord is surprising me in all this is in how much I enjoy teaching when given the opportunity.  It feeds my soul in new and fresh ways to sift through a bible passage and craft a message around it.  I don’t know what it all means (if anything!), but I’m learning that this is a much-neglected plot of ground in my heart, ready for plowing and planting.  Who knows what God has in store?

What a Croc!

The Croc

The Croc

I love my Crocs.  The Lovely One hates them and thinks Crocs should only be worn by three categories of people:

  1. children who don’t know any better,
  2. adults within the 4 walls of their own house and not planning on seeing anyone for the day, and
  3. adults in mental or correctional institutions.

See why I love her so much?

Last week I popped a rivet on my right Croc while racing JP at the playground, and because I love my Crocs life got a little gloomy for a while.   The Lovely One smiled and said, “Oh, that’s too bad….”

But–oh, joy!–guess what?  The Croc people provide replacement rivets for free.  This thread at set me on the right path (click here for the form), and a dozen rivets are in the mail to me right now.

Sweetness.  I love my Crocs even more because the company takes care of business!  And because they gave me a reason to go to their website, I’m picking out my next pair already….

Tweet, tweet….

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