Archives For 7 Things I’m Thankful For

Isolation is a term coined by the late Fuller Professor Robert Clinton.  It refers to an experience where a leader is removed from a number of things, such as their position of leadership, a sense of God’s presence, a knowledge of calling or direction.  Isolation can be chosen, like taking a sabbatical or returning to seminary.  It can also be forced on you, like a health problem, imprisonment or getting fired.  It can last for weeks, or for years.

My major Isolation experience began when my position on a staff at a megachurch in San Antonio ended.  I was out of work for over six months.  I was unable to find a suitable ministry position, and eventually ended up in retail.  I went from having a place of positional leadership and what seemed like a career track to being alone, with no sense of direction and very little hope.

In studying Isolation as part of the MAGL, I read something from Dr. Clinton that basically went like this:

“Don’t try to be finished with your Isolation until you’ve gotten everything out of it that God wants you to get out of it.”

This floored me, because for two years, I’ve been trying to be getting out Isolation.  Unable to find direction, I tried to dive further into spiritual practices.  When I felt adrift in depression, I sought to distract myself, and eventually got into counseling to “fix it.”  I’ve had to learn what it is to do ministry when it’s not my job.  Worst of all, my sense of failure and lack of direction left me unable to even answer the question “what do you want to do?”

But this comment about “getting everything out of Isolation” forced me to reevaluate why I was in such a hurry.  If the perfect opportunity fell in my lap tomorrow, would I know what to do with it?  Am I mature enough to keep from repeating the mistakes I’ve made in the past?  Am I even the kind of person who should be trusted with leadership?

For the first time in almost three years, I am beginning to sense some “movement.”  It may be that some new opportunities are on the horizon.  But what’s the rush?  Maybe I still have something to learn from Isolation.

Every once and awhile I hear people complaining about the lousy christian music that they were force fed when they were kids.  I smile and nod, but honestly I don’t really have any idea what they were talking about.  The tribe of churches I came from were skeptical of anything from other tribes, so we shunned the books, movies and music that was being peddled by evangelicalism.  We had our way of doing things, and much of our energy was spent justifying ourselves…to ourselves.  In other words, we were an echo chamber.

The danger of an echo chamber is that the only voice you hear is your own.  The inevitability of the political echo chamber began with cable TV and exploded with the internet.  Now, you can completely cater your media experience to consist only of things that you already agree with.  You’ve met people who only listen to radio, read blogs, and communicate with others who share their politics.  Some days, all I want is to hear a few jokes from John Stewart, a story from Ira Glass and an episode of Doctor Who.  The internet makes this customization not only possible, but normal.

I find this sad.  I’m a full believer in a classic “liberal arts” education. I believe that, even if I don’t like it, having an understanding of algebra, art history and biology will make us better human beings.  It breaks my heart to meet someone who doesn’t know what Tale of Two Cities or a quadratic equation is.

When it comes to theology, an echo chamber isn’t just sad, it’s dangerous. A key tennant of the Christian faith, which the western church struggles to articulate, is that everything we believe is rooted in mystery.  We believe in a God-Man and a wind-like Spirit and a living lifestyle rooted in a future we have yet to see.  Everything we do is rooted in mystery.  This is not to say that there are not key, identifiable marks of orthodoxy.  But the fact is there’s a lot we can’t know, and a lot of room to disagree.

Theological echo chambers allow you to create systematic theologies and take them to logical yet dangerous theological and practical extremes.  This creates Reformers  more calvinistic than Calvin, Wesleyans who become universalists and Anabaptist that withdraw to farms where no one can bother them.  Practically, this creates religious arrogance.  The tradition I come from (like many) is often mocked for assuming everyone else is going to hell.  There might be some truth to that.

I believe in humbly seeking to hear from a multiplicity of voices.  This means more than being open to hearing the arguments of the people that you disagree with.  It means finding approaching life with a learning posture, assuming that even those that there are thing you can respect and emulate in everyone. And while you may come away believing what you always have, you’ll know better than ever why you believe it.

Here’s how I practice this:  I attend seminary with people who have some elements of theology I disagree with.  I work with a parachurch organization that trains leaders from a diversity of denominations.  I listen to podcasts from Tim Keller (reformed/presbyterian) and Bruxy Cavey (anabaptist/wesleyan), Catalyst (seeker sensitive/event driven) and Iconocast (Christian anarchist).  Don’t get me wrong, I have my favorites and I definitely have my opinions.  But I’m better off because I learn to love and respect others.

Have you broken out of the echo chamber?  Why or Why not?

7 Things I’m Thankful For: MAGL

Chris —  November 23, 2011

As I approached the end of my undergraduate experience, I was faced with two realities: my degree hadn’t set me up for a job, and my heart was really in “ministry.”  So I moved to my school’s seminary, where I was promptly miserable.  I learned a lot from my year with that school (primarily, a music degree does not prepare you to write academic papers), however I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being prepared to lead churches that only existed in the Bible Belt of the 1950s.

Then I had the opportunity to take an internship with a church in Atlanta, Georgia, and continue to take classes by making occassional pilgrimages to campus.  This allowed me to do two things that I could not in when you live and breath academia: being deeply involved in the life of a local church, and deeply committed to relationships with non-Christians. Now this is sad, because I love the classroom, it’s a place where I come alive.  But I couldn’t shake the feeling that none of what I was learning had any meaning if I left it relegated to an ivory tower.

So I’ve tried to integrate the seminary into my life.  This has been difficult.  It’s taken me years to get to the point I am at, and I am a ways from finishing.  It’s also been a lonely task.  That’s why I’m grateful I found the MAGL.

Fuller Seminary’s Master’s of Arts of Global Leadership has provided a practical way to continue my education in the manner that I feel is best.  The program is based on doing everything in a cohort, made up of like minded practioners from around the world.  Our course work covers issues like Adult Education, Globalism, Missiology and Self Understanding.  All of these are viewed through the lense of helping us develop as leaders, and apply them to our local churches.

The cohort program also offers something that I was unable to find in my previous experiences, a sense of academic and missional cameraderie that my other experiences had lacked.  Through the MAGL, I have been reunited with a childhood friend, met a local youth pastor, made friends with missionaries to China, heard first hand accounts of the civil unrest in Liberia and stories of life in undeveloped corners Senegal.  As diverse as are cohort is, we find things to laugh and pray about everyday.

But most important, the MAGL has forced us to rethink what God’s really up to in this world.  Knowing people scattered across the globe, and wrestling together with them through these issues has a way of making God bigger, and my struggles and pet issues much, much smaller.

That is very difficult.  But I’m thankful for it.

7 Things I’m Thankful For: AC

Chris —  November 23, 2011

What’s the hottest you’ve ever felt?

For me, it was the two weeks I spent in Delhi a few summers back.  It was about 120 degrees everyday.  Dipping down into the high nineties at night.  In that heat we would eat curry, play cricket, and draw henna.

The second hottest I’ve ever been was this summer, where days hovered around 108º.  One day, fearing my commute to work had given me a case of heat stroke, I broke down and threw my entire savings into purchasing a car.

The last few weeks our AC at work went off.  This would be uncomfortable anywhere, but considering that our tiny little store services thousands of people a day, the body heat alone made it feel (and smell) like a locker room.

I have this weird struggle.  Almost daily I find myself nostalgic for a world I do not know.  A world where you harvest your vegetables, kill your meat, and go to bed when the sun goes down.  I often think about the damage our technology is doing to us, and how it’s driving us further from each other, and making it harder to be still and know our God.

But never, not for even a moment, have I doubted the blessing of AC.  In Delhi, I wondered what such heat could do to a person’s soul.  This summer the heat helped trigger a dark night of the soul that ruled my life for months.  The fact is that we’re not built to live in extremes.  So as simple as it sounds, this holiday season, I’m thankful for AC.

7 Things I’m Thankful For: Retail

Chris —  November 21, 2011

Recently a friend of mine left what some might consider a “dream job” to sell stuff in a mall.  This person pursued the job passionately, and changed the lives entire families.  In a city full of artists and bleeding hearts looking for a meaningful career, my friend was living the dream.  But after awhile my friend was overwhelmed and burned out.  One time my friend said that an ideal job would include spreadsheets or growing vegetables-just not dealing with people!  My friend is thrilled with the new job.

I understand this well.  A few years ago, I found myself working at a well known megachurch, making decent money “doing ministry.”  Yet after time my ministry devolved into a job, that many days  consisted of sitting alone in a dark room, in an empty building, sending emails that would be ignored.

It took me over six months to get a job.  I couldn’t find a new church or a non-profit that seemed to fit. I couldn’t even get work flipping burgers.  Finally, I heard back from the world’s most successful retail store, and I began two (and counting) very different, engaging and stretching years.

There’s a lot of things that I could say about my retail experience, but they’d probably get me fired for violating some non-disclosure agreement.  Instead, I’ll share some great thoughts from a blogpost by Penelope Trunk entitled “The New Post-College Prestige Job is Retail”:

One of the most jarring aspects of emerging adulthood is that in college we are surrounded by friends, and after college, our friends disperse. This means that at the time in life where we are separating from our parents, learning to support ourselves, and trying to figure out where we fit in the world, we’re doing it alone. This is why depression is such a huge risk for people in their twenties, and why a support system is so important.

For everyone in the workforce, having two friends in the office can save a worker and a job. But this is especially true for people in their 20s because while other people probably go home to a significant other and maybe even kids, many people in their twenties go home to no one. In an office full of people in their 20s – which is most retail and not most offices – the shift from college to adult life is not so drastic and lonely.

I’m excited for my friend.  Selling stuff in the mall is not the same as starting the next Teach for America or rescuing kids with International Justice Mission.  And at some point, I hope to find myself involved in such great works.  But for now, I’m in retail.  I’m not alone in a dark office.  And for that, I’m grateful.