What’s up everyone? The end of another week. I’m actually starting to get excited about getting back to school. I spent quite a bit of time reviewing and retooling my art curriculum (an annual tradition.) You know, those math teachers can teach the same problems every year, and that’s fine with everyone, but if I did the exact same thing every year, people would start to think I’m being lazy!

Anyway, some pretty cool stuff came up which kept me fueled this week.

In My Blog Reader

You know, we talk a lot about shame in blog-land, ending shame, releasing shame, but I haven’t seen a whole lot of posts that actually deal with healing shame. Tyler Braun takes on healing shame in this post.

Meanwhile, I loved Stephanie Spencer’s take on authenticityanother hyped up, overused word. I think that perhaps authenticity is about as worshipped as story, but it falls short, as Stephanie points out.

Many of us love mountains for the opportunity to conquer them, climb to the peak and survey everything below. Lore Ferguson enjoys mountains most by sitting at their feet.

It’s ironic that I’d point out a blog post about not blogging, but Micha Boyett says some things (as a temporary blog farewell) that some bloggers need to read. Everything she says is absolutely true. It is so easy for our blogs to take over our lives. Maybe we shouldn’t be bloggers, but people who do things and have blogs.

Finally, I have discussed this topic with many people, the importance of space, how our environment affects our mood and productivity. Try doing your best work in a space that is crowded, ugly or messy. It probably won’t happen. But there are a lot of churches that are suffering from a big fat case of ugly. And it’s completely curable, not about having a lot of money.

On My Calendar

You may have already seen my Facebook post. Cheri and I went to the doctor’s this week to see our little sprout. We had decided that we would not call our parents with the news. We got big bunches of appropriately colored balloons to put in their yard and delivered them at four in the morning. Its fun being sneaky.

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And that was my week. How about yours?

You know, for all of the free market competition we have here in America, we have a real tendency toward conglomeration. Depositors Waiting for Bank to Open

You knew that already, I bet.

Of course, you know that scads of retailers have gone out of business, while just a couple have risen to the top and consolidated the market. Amazon dominates online retail because they are dog gone good at what they do, better than anyone else.

The food we buy at the supermarket has the appearance of variety, but really the vast majority of foods that we buy come from just a handful of conglomerates. Think you’re sticking it to Starbucks by purchasing the cheaper Seattle’s Best? Think again, sucker. Seattle’s Best is a secret Starbuck’s brand to trick all of their haters.

The vast majority of the news and information we are exposed to comes from just about half a dozen conglomerates a far cry from the thirty or so media outlets of a few decades ago.

And most of our nation’s money goes into the vaults of just a few banks. We saw all of the benefits of that in 2008 and beyond.

So what does all of this conglomer-ization have to do anything?

It has everything to do with the economy of the American church, which just might be situated for economic disaster.

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Everything takes practice, right?

It takes practice to learn how to ride a bike. We have to practice to learn how to play a musical instrument or a backyard sport. We had to practice in order to be able to recite our math facts, or eat an ice cream cone without wearing it.

Practically everything in life, we struggle and wrestle with because we are not born with a natural talent for it.

For some reason, though, faith has escaped that fundamental idea, that it takes practice. 

I think we assume that a bolt of spiritual lightning hits our brains and we then have faith. We believe. And we can be tested to see if we are true believers.

Maybe that was true when we were children. We believed what the adults told us.We believed in Santa and the Tooth Fairy. Maybe most awesomely, we believed in ourselves. We believed that we were awesome at everything. There are no three year olds who have body image issues (compared to something like 90% of grown women). There are no three year olds who do not believe that they can “do it themselves.”

But the older we got, the harder everything else became. It was not enough to clumsily throw objects across the room. We had to sharpen and hone our bodies in order to throw accurately. And we could no longer take everything the adults said at face value. We had to learn how to discern important things…like sarcasm. And maybe the hardest of all, we were confronted by this contradiction that God seems to love us, but on the other hand we know what we are. It became harder and harder for us to believe in ourselves, believe we are lovable, acceptable or worthy. Belief in ourselves is like some reflex that we are born with, but lose as we grow up.

One of my favorite departed Christians, Madeline L’Engle wrote in A Wrinkle In Time that believing was like anything else. It takes practice. And I wonder how many times in my life I have avoided stretching and straining my “belief” muscles, either by exercising my cynicism, or just by taking things at face value and forgetting them.

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This week, I think I’m gonna stretch my belief muscles. I’m going to try to believe that I’m good enough. I’m gonna try to believe that God has made me good enough. I’m gonna try to believe that God finds me worthy.

Because if I can’t practice believing those things, then the rest is all up for grabs.

What’s up everyone? Another week down of summer. With the punishing heat, I retreated back to my classroom and stayed inside when I could. That’s a good thing, because there was a lot on my reading docket this week!

In My Blog Reader

Two posts that caught my eye this week dealt with poverty in very different ways. Of course, we all know that we live in a land of plenty and it can be hard to figure out why Providence has declared that we should be born in a place with much while so many have little. This story from Kenya from Kristen Welch is a great answer to that question. On the other hand, though we have much, it can still be easy for all that we have to be wiped out with just a medical crisis or loss of employment. I had never considered this, but the stigma of the “new poor” is a terrible, humiliating thing. Take a read of How Poor Could They Be? from Caryn Rivadeneira.

Are you a lover or a fighter? It’s hard for me to say. But it sure seems like we have become a nation of fighters. The problem that Sarah Markley points out is that there are few situations in life where the choice is either/or. And maybe accepting that is the key to reconciliation.

I especially enjoyed this post No Wonder We Hate Buying Cars from Tim Challies just because my wife and I just bought a car, the first time we purchased a car together, with an eerily similar experience. After we were grilled on the extended warranty, we retreated to a quiet corner to whisper to each other “This is where they get you!”

Two final posts caught my attention. Paul Angone Why I Hope We Never Make It is a refreshing take on the lifelong ambition to “coast.” I don’t know where my fabled “plateau” is that I am searching for, but maybe it’s better that I don’t find it. And finally, Micah Murray writes a kind of open letter To the One Losing Her Faith. Remember that there are many things in life worth questioning and letting go of. Jesus constantly tried to get his disciples to shed their assumptions about faith in order that they would have new growth.

That’s it for me! I’m gonna huddle in the basement while this heat wave passes. I might emerge again next week in time for the next cold front.

 

What did you want to be when you grew up?sandlot-01

When I was in school, I was fascinated with outer space. I thought I wanted to be a scientist and work for NASA. Over time, I discovered more about my natural gifts and inclinations, not to mention limitations and so I quietly gave up this ambition without any real fanfare.

I was unusual in my boyhood ambitions. Many boys do not dream about going to work for NASA. On the contrary, it is no secret that many boys, a majority, harbor hopes and dreams of being professional athletes. I know this because I am a teacher and talk regularly to children about what they want to be when they grow up.

A teacher.

A veterinarian.

A doctor.

Those youthful ambitions are almost exclusively held by the female students. The boys on the other hand, by a wide margin, tell me that they want to play for a living. They want to be soccer players, baseball or basketball players. They want to be stars. They don’t dream of being writers or artists (though there are plenty of males in both of those fields.) The one widely acceptable career goal for boys is to throw, catch and hit a ball for a living.

I did not always think this was a big deal. Who cares, they are just silly childhood dreams, right? But the more I think about it, especially now that I’m going to be a dad, I have to wonder why so many boys dream of lives of athletic conquest, if we as adults are encouraging this fantasy, and if it is even a healthy dream to begin with.

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You know, we might have been wrong in how we pegged the millennial generation.

It’s now a known cliche that every generation complains about young people, calling them selfish, rude, lazy, and all the other adjectives that otherwise illustrate how young folks don’t measure up.

I’m on the front edge of the millennial generation, and from what I can see, there is certainly a lot of ambition. There is a lot of passion and energy to not just live or survive, but to do great work. In many ways, people today are just as driven and ambitious as people have always been.

You might know that last week, Elaine Stritch passed away at age 89. She was about as far from a “millennial” as anyone can be, from a completely different generation. She spent her life on the stage and screen with her brassy, even caustic sense of humor. Of course, people my age probably only know her from 30 Rock. 

Sure, Stritch had plenty of struggles and none of them were ever hidden. But by any measure, she had a very long and successful career, something that would make any young millennial happy to dream about.

Yet, at the end of her life, when she could look back on all of her achievements and all of the laughs and ovations she received, she did not think much of it. She loved her work, but her success never made her feel secure. Her stage work never gave her any self esteem. She was eternally tied to her work. But at the end of her life, she seemed to know something that many of us do not: that success is not nearly what we imagine it to be.

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When we are old and looking back on our lives, I wonder if we will fondly reminisce about the hours we spent trying to be successful. I wonder if we will realize that there is more to our lives than making our names known and our careers great. I wonder if we will realize that our security and self-worth is not necessarily defined by our success.