Lent 2015: “The Long Quiett

So, Lent starts Wednesday.

(We’ve been through this before.)

The Basics: 

  • “Lent” is a season of the church; it starts 40 days before Easter.
  • Historically, this time was set aside for people to prepare join (or, in many cases, rejoin) the church, which they would do on Easter Sunday.
  • To prepare for that really, really joyous day (membership/baptism or restoration), people would take the season of Lent to reflect on the areas of their lives that are in some way “sideways” or somehow out of whack.
  • To address these areas (or in many cases, to help identify them in the first place), it’s helpful to quiet down, to give up some parts of our lives (called “fasting”). Sometimes these things are luxuries (chocolate was always popular in my house growing up), but sometimes we give up—or at least significantly limit—every day parts of our lives too:
    • Coffee
    • Meat
    • Alcohol
    • Television
  • Another way to “surrender” during Lent is to just drastically reduce the amount of food we eat. The idea is to “waken” our spiritual senses by heightening our hunger (literal or otherwise). Sundays are considered “feast days”, meaning you can have the thing or activity on that day, but during the week, you should strive to keep your fast.

This isn’t about a performance. In fact, the most effect Lenten practices are kept secret.

It’s about shaking (or shocking?) ourselves out of our comfortable, anesthesized existence to face (and maybe begin to deal with) things that are wrecking our lives. We fast because most of the time these things are hidden from our face, and we need something to wake us up.

Like being hungry.

Or not watching TV (including Netflix, etc.).

A Few Suggestions:

  • Try it. Prayerfully consider giving something for 40 days and just see what happens. 
  • Share it, but not with everyone. Talk some members of your small community, but don’t necessarily broadcast it on Facebook. “Public Fasting” can feed our egos just as easily as a selfie can.
  • Feast. On Sundays, reengage as an act of worship and celebration.
  • Journal it. Note what God reveals to you during this time. (Note: this does not necessarily mean “blog it” (see above).

May your Lenten journey be rich.

Tough Questions, Tough Answers

What has the power to break you?

What could sink you, or grind up your life?

For some of us, the answer (or answers) to those questions are easy: we point to addictions, to alcohol or drugs or sex or food.

But for others, it’s tempting to draw a blank; to shrug our shoulders and believe that all of the threats are “out there”, maybe in the form of job changes, or terrorist threats, or car accidents, or disease.

Although external threats can certainly be serious, I’m not so sure.

Lately, I’ve been blessed to be hanging around some people who have seen their lives almost destroyed by brokenness. They know the destructive power of sin, and are unafraid (and mostly uninterested) in beating around the bush, or wearing masks to pretend that everything is okay.

On the other hand, it pains me sometimes to see the masks that we wear in our communities of faith, and the lack of awareness (or lack of willingness) to acknowledge the threat that sin has for our lives.

We fail to see selfishness, arrogance, fear, pride or self-centeredness as real issues.

However, surely if we took a few minutes to think about how our lives would play out if they were governed by these qualities we could see what they would do to us:

How well would our marriages survive if we were governed by selfishness?

How well could we parent our children if they grew up in a house that was run by fear and pride?

How long would our friends stay around if they sensed that we are only in relationships for what we want?

I know it’s a heavy question, but how much sin are you willing to tolerate in your life? Not from a “holier-than-thou-I-don’t-drink-or-do-anything-“bad” perspective but from an acknowledgement simply that “sin”—in the form of selfishness, self-centeredness, pride, fear, and arrogance—is not interested in making your life better. From the acknowledge that sin wants to kill you. 

The question that follows is simply: what are you going to do about it?

Why not take off the mask and acknowledge your struggle?

(Because the thing is, once you take off the mask, you find that underneath it you’re only human, and what’s more is that you discover there’s a whole bunch of other human beings around you who are struggling in just the same way.)

Let’s be human together.

Productivity/Creative “Contultants” v “Practitioners” 

So, about 4 years ago I discovered this whole genre of life and learning called, “Productivity.” Among many others, the field includes books like Getting Things Done, along with authors and podcasters like Merlin Mann, Todd Henry, and Scott Belsky. You can learn about it on websites like Lifehack.org and 99U.com Essentially the field is about efficiency and creativity: getting your best work out to people with consistency, excellence, and a degree of interest.

However, more recently I’ve noticed an interesting trend: basically I think the field is dividing into two types of thought leaders: those who write about creativity and productivity, and (2) those who have actually done something creative. 

I don’t want to name names, but I was listening to a productivity/creativity podcast months ago when it occurred to me that the person was basically a productivity expert because, well, he was a productivity expert. 

In other words, he hadn’t really created anything, except more information about being productive.

There were no stories about being “in the trenches” of productivity: He hadn’t written a screenplay, completed a record, led a company or team that was constructing (and delivering) a tangible product.

He was a creative/productivity “consultant”.

… And frankly, I wasn’t that interested.

For this current season of my life, I find myself drawn to people who are practicing creativity and productivity, not merely writing about it. To my mind, they have more to say about the blood and guts part of “getting things done”, like:

* inspiring people over the long-term

* creating a signature style in the midst of a corporate culture

* navigating the scarcity of resources (human and otherwise)

* the pressure of constantly having to come up with “the next big idea”

The list of productivity voices gets a lot shorter when you look for people who are actually getting work done, rather than merely posting about creative theory and interesting life hacks.

In fact, I’m going to recommend starting with a list of three people. These folks have done the work over the long haul, therefore (in my opinion) they have an authority and wisdom that comes from a slightly deeper place.

  1. James Victore is a NYC-based artist/designer who has been creating posters and visual art since the 90s. His work is provocative and engaging. His YouTube series, “Burning Questions“, answers some of the basic levels of creativity, and does it from the perspective of a guy who has actually done it (he does a year-end reading list, which I love). I’d encourage you to subscribe. (He’s also quite funny.)
  2. I’ve written about Twyla Tharp before: she is an award-winning, acclaimed choreographer and dancer (who also lives in New York City). Her book The Creative Habit is simply one of the most interesting and thorough works on how to be creative “in the real world”. It is full of lists and suggests (yay!), as well as stories of how this stuff has born itself out in Tharp’s life. She’s done it for a long time, and she speaks with the voice who has seen it all. If you do any type of vital work in the world—leading people, creating, or simply envisioning change and a future that may or may not exist yet—and haven’t read The Creative Habit, you really owe it to yourself to pick it up and read it. Quickly.
  3. The last name is this list is also a heavy weight. Steven Pressfield is an author and screenwriter, most notable (perhaps) for The Legend of Bagger Vance, starring Matt Damon, Will Smith and Charlize Theron. He’s also published more than half-a-dozen works of historical fiction. However, in 2002 he published a little (relatively) book called The War of Art that has proven to be a game-changing work for many of us artists, creatives, and folks that just need to get stuff done. Pressfield writes with a directness, vulnerability, and authority that is seldom seen. It’s both practical and conceptual, and is worth reading repeatedly (once a year maybe?)

In my opinion, these three people are great places to start if you want to be challenged about productivity and creativity from people who are actually doing it. They are not consultants; they have seen the battles, and slogged through the frustrations and disappointments of trying to bring something to the world that is new, refreshing and effective.

The “DTR” Conversation

So, as I’ve been doing my annual “re-evaluate and re-assess time”, it occurred to me that I need to seriously take a look at my iPhone: how I use it and (more specifically) how I allow it to interrupt and intervene in my daily life.

I thought the best way to do it would be to write a DTR note to it.

Hey …

So look: I have to talk to you…

I know I’ve been really busy lately; not as busy as some people, but busy in my own right: Christmas, gigs, meetings, reading, recording, writing, etc.

I really want to thank you for tagging along for all of that, and for doing it without complaining (though I know you get really run down during all of the running around: like 80% run down).

But I’ve been thinking a lot about, well, you and me.

I think we need to talk.

You need to know this is about me, not you. Even though you’re only a 4s, you’ve been more than reliable, holding all of my music (well, iTunes Match does, anyway) and all the apps I could ever need or use. You tell me when I need to be somewhere, plus help me get there (well, mostly; can we talk about Apple Maps?). You help me maintain some level of effectiveness and organization (OmniFocus, Evernote). For all of this I am really and truly grateful…

But I’m changing.

I’ll just be blunt: I need you to be little more quiet during the day.

I hope it doesn’t hurt you too much to hear that.

It’s not that I don’t like or appreciate your great colors; your functionality; your cute alerts and badges and notifications. They’re really great.

It’s just that, well, I realize that a lot of what you have to say can wait. 

Recently I’ve become aware that you don’t have much of a filter: whether I’m in a meeting or doing research, meditating or having dinner, you have this way of demanding my attention: “Look at me! There’s something important happening on Twitter!

… and in your email!

… and on Facebook!

… and in the NFL!

… and English Premier League and German Bundesliga!”

… and on and on and on.

Understand that I’m not saying our relationship is over. I’m in this for the long haul (or until my next upgrade, but shhhhhhhhhhh baby it’s okay…).

But things have to change: For one, I’m silencing a lot of your notifications. I just really don’t need to know all these things RIGHT THIS MINUTE. I’ll keep the info apps on the phone, and just launch them when I have a few minutes and want to know what’s going on.

But also, you’ll have to become content with not being present at all my meetings. Sometimes, you’ll be left in the car or at home. Not because I’m ashamed of you in some way, but simply because a lot of what you have to say can wait. It’s actually not really urgent or an emergency, in the grand scheme of things, and frankly there are things happening in my life that I simply want and need to pay attention to in the moment. I want to be be  able to give more of me to the events, people, and activities that deserve them.

And sometimes you just simply distract me.

I don’t blame you; you don’t really know any better.

But it’s time that I take a little bit of control back in this relationship.

Just Something…

There was a a news piece today: roughly 140 children were murdered by the Taliban in Pakistan.

One hundred-forty lives robbed. In the name of religion.

I honestly don’t know what to do with this information: I can’t pretend empathy or remote understanding.

But I want to just say something briefly:

Largely because of violence of ISIS/ISIL, I’ve been doing some reading on Islam lately (I even bought a copy of the Qur’an). I’ve also been doing some reflecting on my own religous tradition (Christianity), and I think I just want to put this out there:

God does not want your (or our) fanaticism.

Whatever revelation you claim—Judaism, Islam, or Christian—the God of Abraham does not want your violence, or your extremism.

I think there is just plenty of evidence that what God offers us—when we really LISTEN and are willing to be humble before Him and His people—is TRANSFORMATION, not fanaticism.

Love, not hate.

Understanding, not close-mindedness.

Love, by nature, EXPANDS, not contracts.

We should be bigger people, not smaller.

Whether your fundamentalism comes in Jewish, Muslim, or Christian forms, it only causes destruction. And I just don’t think God is a god of destruction. He comes to give life and shalom. 

From my own tradition, this—I believe, is why Jesus came—to call us into this wide-open kingdom of grace.

(But then again, they killed him, didn’t they?)

This Just In: I’m Not Perfect

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s already been an interesting Thanksgiving/Advent season. I’ve experienced two losses in my world: one in my extended family and one in my community here in Tallahassee. Maybe I’ll write more on that later, but suffice it to say for now that my journey towards Christmas 2014 is, for now, marked with a certain sobriety and even somber-ness.

My family spent the holiday weekend in Memphis; on Saturday night we decided to go to church together (since, because of my vocation, we rarely get to sit in a whole gathering as a family).

So we jumped in our car and drove to a United Methodist Church in Memphis that had a Saturday evening gathering. Because it was (a) the south, and (b) rivalry weekend (the gathering was pretty much overlapping the end of the Florida/Florida State game and the beginning of Auburn/Alabama) there really weren’t many people there.

The worship team did their job (sort of, but more on that later), and the preacher got up to speak.

Frankly, I heard some pretty profound things, but it really didn’t have much to do with him.

At one point, the preacher read from one of my all-time most influential authors, Brennan Manning. Here’s what he read:

“I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (see Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me that she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last ‘trick’, whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school.

‘But how?’ we ask.

Then the voice says, ‘They have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’

There they are. There *we* are – the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life’s tribulations, but through it all clung to faith.

My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.” (Ragamuffin Gospel)

In that quote, something got triggered inside of me, particularly in the “insecure clergyman addicted to being liked” part.

Because, in so many ways, that’s me.

I am addicted to being liked, and to being perfect (at least in my own mind), and that addiction—and the fear behind it—has been holding me back. 

It’s been holding me back from things that God wants to do in me and, I believe, through me. 

In that moment, I sensed God saying to me, “You’ll never be perfect, Eric, and I don’t expect you to. In fact, I have never expected you to be perfect; that’s something from inside you, not me. Set yourself free from this expectation, and just move forward with the realization that you will be simply who you will be. Imperfect and broken, but trying; it will be okay.” 

Now, lightning didn’t strike or anything, but this was pretty profound, and it happened in an instant. It was certainly food for thought, and I am still working out the implications.

But that’s a good thing to hear, and also a good thing for all of us to remember: God is not surprised by our imperfections or our brokenness. We can/will never be perfect parents,

or children,

or pastors,

or spouses,

or friends,

or Christians.

I guess that just means we are left with being human: which is the beginning of something pretty special.

——————–

Hurry Up… and Stop

Advent starts tomorrow.

Maybe your “Christmas season” started at 4:30am on Friday morning; maybe it started online on Thursday night.

Maybe you are already running at 150 miles and hour.

Maybe you are already stressed out due to family tensions and too-many-parties.

But maybe it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here’s a reminder: Advent is about waiting. 

If you don’t come from a liturgical background (I don’t, by the way), you may not realize that Christmas actually begins on December 25 and lasts for 12 days (hence the annoying song). The season that leads up to December 25 is called “Advent”, which literally means “the coming into being.”

If you follow the Christian calendar, Advent is a period of time reflect on the significance of the arrival of Jesus Christ into the world.

(Which is kind of a big deal…)

So maybe your holiday season has already begun with a frenetic—even pathological—tone. However, it does not need to remain that way.

After all, it doesn’t take a ton of effort to engage in some moments of reflection and thoughtful contemplation this season.

So here’s my question/challenge: What will you do over the next 25 days to slow down, to reflect, to rise above (or stay below, as the case may be) the Christmas (not Advent) madness? 

What if you set aside 10-20 minutes in the morning to reflect and stay silent (or maybe even begin a practice of centering prayer)?

What if you lit a candle each evening at dinner to remind yourself of this light that is “coming into the world”? (see John 1)?

What if you went through a book of Advent reflections?

What if you chose to read through a Gospel (or 2 even) during this season?

Christians are fond of saying, “Jesus is the reason for the season”, but most of us really don’t do anything to actually act like it. We tend to go about our business in much the same way as the rest of the world.

Could this December be different?