We all deal a lot with words.

I thought I had written a lot of words in high school. But then I graduated and went to college, and then to seminary. Seminary was very writing heavy. I thought I had exhausted my energy for words. But then I graduated and started writing a blog, just for fun.

Then I wrote a book, Life After Art, which added up to 35,000 words. I probably wrote another 35,000 words in promotional materials.

And now I’m working on getting Plus or Minus to press. At about 55,000 words, it’s the most intensive collection of words I have ever shared.

I asked one of my high school seniors about their thesis papers, the pinnacle of their high school career. The word count on those is roughly 7,000 words. And to them, that seems insurmountable.

With Plus or Minus, I had to write and then discard 25,000 words. Equal to two-thirds of my first book, had to end up on the cutting room floor. And it has been painful. This weekend has been by far the biggest single cut, perhaps 10,000 words. I loved them all and put my heart into them.

It’s funny how when you are in high school, 7,000 seems like a big number. They spend all year crafting those words. But as I have grown as a person and a writer, I have stopped placing so much value on the number of my words as the worth of my words. We share careless little words all the time. We tweet and post little sentences that float to other peoples’ screen and then disappear. But how many of our words are truly important? How many of them are worthy?

I had to write 75,000 words in order to find 55,000 that I could keep.

In all creative pursuits, we cannot be married to everything we make. We cannot insist that everything we write be read. We have to hold our words lightly. We have to let some fall to the floor.

words

We do this so that the words we share will be truly worthy of being heard.

Ah, the end of another week.

Last week, I skipped this blog entry because of the Halloween holiday, in the hopes that an evening at home would give me some time to refresh and catch up on some reading. Instead, I answered the door for trick-or-treaters and watched Charlie Brown. 

This week has been a blur with work on Plus or Minus behind the scenes. We nailed down a launch event, and I’ll be in a local author fair here in my town, which is pretty exciting.

And so we come to the end of the week and the best things to grace my air space…

In My Blog Reader

This is the season of gratitude, a discipline often discussed, but maybe less understood, which is why I appreciated the words of Kristen at We Are That Family on the life-changing price of gratitude. This season is also the season of busy, a season when our to-do lists and calendars fill up so much that we might actually miss out on the holidays. Hannah Brencher discusses how to be less busy as we prepare for a notoriously busy season.

In general, if there is one persistent hashtag I hate, it is #blessed. It’s just so insipid and trite. But people like to be #blessed, right? Jamie the Very Worst Missionary takes on the meaning of the word blessedProbably the all around best thing I read this week for a culture that usually defines blessing as “getting what I want.”

If there is one word that has become pretty unpopular in much of Christian culture, I might have to pick repentance. Repentance pretty much sounds like the opposite of blessed. Lore Ferguson talks about this in the forgotten remnant of repentance. On a different note, Sammy Adebiyi discusses parenting and why he’s okay when his kids disrespect him (admittedly, I was ready to not like this one at all based on the title, but it’s not what you think.)

Finally, there has been a lot said about Brittany Maynard and most of it is, sadly, pretty predictable. Most of us live in the realm of the predictable and repeat the words and phrases that have already been circulated endlessly. Caleb Wilde brings some fresh thoughts and probably the most useful discussion to this event.

And that’s it for me. See you next week!

What makes a leader? 84c4cc353a9e4eb003711dd7957b854ed4fc0ab9a0ffe939eaa67554a4404ec9

What makes a pastor?

You’d think we would know the answer by now. There are endless books, websites, conferences and resources devoted to the subject. We are obsessed with leadership in the American church.

And yet…

We watch, yet again, the rise and fall of a prominent leader. Sooner or later, another leader will fall. Even in our churches (or maybe especially in our churches), bad behavior is tolerated at the highest levels. Egos are allowed to run wild. Maybe you are experiencing this in your own church. The fact is we have brought this on ourselves. We promote people with huge egos to places of leadership where they do not belong.

I have no doubt that most of our churches are led by humble, godly men and women. But I also have no doubt that the “Christian leadership industry” is trying to sell us something.

They are trying to sell us a new kind of leader. They are trying to sell us the kind of leader we do not need, and convince us that this is the kind of man we need at the helm. The definition of “leader” and “pastor” has radically changed in the American church. Anyone who says the American church at large is interested in creating biblical leaders must be joking.

Don’t believe me?

Think about what our idea of “leadership qualities” is.

Then go to your Bible.

Continue Reading…

Last Friday was a day of pretending.

I don’t think Halloween is a day of evil. Not when I have a kid dressed as a whoopie cushion show up to my door. No, Halloween is a day when we celebrate the power of the human mind to make believe.

There were ninjas and princesses who came to my door. Cheri dressed up as Marge Gunderson and practiced saying “I’m not a hundred percent with you on your police work there, Lou.”

Of course, we’ve all noticed that Halloween has become a lot more of an adult holiday over the last twenty years. It’s no longer confined to just kids getting treats. Lots of adults want to take part in the pretending.

Kids are great at pretending, and they do not need a holiday to tell them to pretend, though. Every day can be a pretend day for them. But for adults, we’ve kind of lost that ability. We live in the world of bills and responsibilities and pretending seems like maybe its a waste of time and money. We look at kids pretending and we wish we could go back to a time when it came much easier to us.

But I have come to believe that pretending is not just a children’s pastime. It’s an essential human skill. It is the pretenders who imagine a world that does not yet exist. It is the pretenders who pursue “silly” ideas and change the world. It is often the pretenders who make other lives better. Pretending is not an avoidance strategy (though it can be). It is the human imagine getting lost in itself, making a new reality. Some of the most influential, creative people were simply the people who were the least afraid to pretend.

pretending

What if we did not just confine our pretending to one silly day each year? Would we be happier?

Would you do like Abraham did?

Worst Father-Son picnic ever.

Worst Father-Son picnic ever.

There has been a little conversation bubbling up over the last week, at least in my corner of social media, the question being would you do as Abraham did?

Meaning, would you pass the “test” that Abraham passed when he placed his promised son, Isaac on the altar?

Predictably, there are a lot of people who say “Surely I would!” They announce their confidence that they would absolutely be willing to murder their children if God told them to. They proclaim their willingness as a sign of their faith. It’s just a good thing that God does not tell them to do so.

And on the other side are the people who say, “Surely I would not!” And from this side, the “faithful” are prodded about what kind of God would really ask them to do such a thing. What is faith worth if God is so evil as to ask something like that?

Now Cheri and I have not waited nearly as long for our son as Abraham and Sarah did. But we have learned a couple of things about what it means to be long-waiting parents.

And one thing that we have learned is that while God may never ask us to place our child on a literal altar, the same test that Abraham faced, the rest of us also face, whether we know it or not.

Continue Reading…

I take a lot of things seriously.

When I was a kid, I took school seriously. From the time I was in kindergarten, I was serious about succeeding, being a good student, getting good marks. I don’t really know why. Maybe I was just a very compliant child. I believed my parents when they told me that being serious in school was important.

Later, I was serious about a lot of other things. I got serious about my relationship with my wife. I seriously pursued a career. And today, I’m serious about how I teach my students. Sure, I think creating things should be fun. But I’m serious about it too. I seriously want students to do their best work for me. And I try to do as much as possible to help them succeed.

That’s not to say I don’t have a sense of humor. I like to laugh a lot. But my sense of serious has often done me as much harm as it has good. My sense of serious has often translated into a sense of stressfulness. Everything seems serious when you make it serious.

These days, Cheri and I are serious about preparing for the little one. We talk seriously about the things we want to teach him, the kind of home we want to create, the kind of relationships we want to have with him. We have had a long time to think about these things, and we consider that an advantage of infertility. Sure, we know the kid is going to come and make fools of us. But we want to try to accomplish a few things, you know?

But I think what I am looking forward to most is a healthy injection of unseriousness in my life. The last few years have been exceedingly serious, stressful, even unhealthy. I am looking forward to having a person around who wasn’t there for any of that, whose main concerns are not serious.

Here, I’ve got a photo of our toy and bookshelf that we’ve put together. Most of that stuff is new gifts given to us. But the “Hobbes” tiger on the left (of course there is no real Hobbes) we picked up years ago. We imagined that he would be just perfect for a child to own on some faraway day.

nonsense

And now that the day is inching closer, I am looking forward to having a little nonsense being brought back into my life.