Why I Wrestle…

There’s a wonderful scene in The Devil Wears Prada, where Miranda Priestly, played by the amazing Meryl Streep addresses her new assistant’s (played by Anne Hathaway) indifference — even disdain — for the world of high fashion that the fictional Runway magazine reports on. (watch the scene here; I’ll wait.)

I was thinking about this recently while wrestling through a book on the relationship between Paul and 1st century rabbinic Judaism (fascinating, I know). Streep’s character points out the relationship between the frontiers of “high fashion” and the seemingly mindless, instinctive choices that Hathaway’s character makes in shopping and picking out clothes each day.

“You think this has nothing to do with you,” she says. “What you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise, it’s not lapis, it’s cerulean. And you’re also unaware of the fact that in 2002 Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns … and then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of 8 different designers; and then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down to some tragic casual corner where you no doubt fished it out of some clearance rack … It’s sort of comical how think you’ve made a choice that somehow exempts you from the fashion industry when in fact you’re wearing a sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room.”

Chilly elitism aside, I think this is important. Theology — thoughts and study about God – is always growing and changing. Archaeology is revealing more about Jesus and Paul and their context. It’s easy to think that theology is irrelevant to our daily lives, but I think that wrestling with “deep things” is like high fashion – as folks think through the really big issues, it will work its way through the seminaries, colleges and churches and eventually into our daily lives. The problem is that I’m afraid many of us are wrestling with the equivalent of acid washed jeans and polyester shirts. The truth is, God is doing new things, always. Are we (as pastors and leaders) willing to wrestle with the “high fashion” theological questions — not so we can be faddish or “cool” but so we can keep in step with what we are coming to know about God, Jesus, and their message and mission for the world?

I believe we will walk out our theology; we will speak it into others’ lives; we will proclaim it from the platform.

I want to know why we pick the Cerulean sweater.

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What I Learned in 2010…

Last year was a pretty cool year, all in all. I preached a lot, served as the interim pastor at my church, recorded a pretty amazing record (just you wait!), and feel like I grew a ton, albeit in ways that few people may actually see. Boiling the year down to some key learnings, it looks a bit like this…

  1. Musically, I am an “outlier”. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell does an extended examination of what it takes to master a craft or skill. Using examples of Mozart, Bill Gates and the Beatles (among others), he concludes that, rather than some kind of strange, random “anointing”, expertise actually comes from hard work and time spent learning a craft, skill, or instrument. As I prepared for a message this year, I realized (some shockingly) that I had probably put my “10,000 Hours” in on guitar around 2003/2004. While it may sound arrogant, it was liberating to me to realize that I could probably claim some level of “mastery” of guitar. (Let me clear: this does not mean that I’m somehow the best guitar player in the world — or even on my block. What it does mean that I have little trouble making wood, metal, and electricity do and say exactly what I want it to.)

    The results of this revelation has freed me to actually look at music as something that I can give to others, rather than something I consume all the time.

  2. “The success of my organization is my success”. I wrote this in my journal sometime in 2010, and it really impacted me. Sometimes, the organization you are in — work, church, etc. — makes choices that you may not agree with personally. At that point, it’s easy to choose to rebel or withdraw because there appears to be a less than 100% “alignment” with your personal values and goals. However, rebellion and withdrawal is not a productive “strategy”. Furthermore, believing that an organization’s goals and values somehow limit your own is thinking that is governed by scarcity. You are not reduced by your organization’s success. By contributing to your job’s success, you have the opportunity to grow more, live more, understand more.
  3. Growth is always an option. In 2010 I turned 42. I’ve struggled all my life with fear, frustration, and — to a certain degree — resentment. And yet, I saw more growth in these areas in my life last year than probably in the previous 5. No matter where you are in life; no matter how “old” (or young) you are, you can always choose to grow, and it’s always an option.

    Relatedly…

  4. God’s power is limitless. That’s the only way I can put it, really. We may know this God as someone who does these physically impossible miracles (dead back to life, seas being parted, walking on water, etc., etc.), but the daily miracles — someone receiving peace when they usually get angry; of someone being able to experience emotional maturity after decades of stunted growth — are just as earth-shaking. His power is always available to help us follow Him, to mature us into fruit-bearing trees.

    Relatedly…

  5. To access that power, you have to make yourself available. The thing that changed in 2010 was my commitment to private practices of prayer, solitude and study. To date, my prayers have been sporadic and reactionary, offered up after “Prayer Requests” or before some special event (or when I felt especially guilty). As I began to regularly practice a form of prayer, I can definitely say that God’s Spirit-inside-of-me began to dwell more actively, and my life began to change.

    To often, we live our lives with the expectation that God will “just do” something supernatural when He wants to, and we are largely the passive recipients in this life.  While He is always the prime–as well as the primary–mover and actor, we are meant to be co-participants with Him in this life. Most of us sit around hoping that God will heal us or change us. History tells us otherwise: that men and women who have seen God’s power move in their lives have been devoted to prayer and other disciplines in order to “make room” for the Spirit of God to move in our lives.

    Relatedly…

  6. The “slower frequencies” have the most impact. I’m still unpacking this metaphor for myself, but it works like this: in music, the bass (lowest frequency) drum hits less frequently than the high hat (highest frequency), but sonically it carries the longest and furthest (ever heard a car drive by with some really massive speakers? you get the point).

    Our culture lives life in the high frequencies — statuses and technology pulling us into ever tighter spirals of interaction. Update after update, conversation after conversation. Life lived in moments. While these “high frequency” moments are necessary and even fun, the slow, low frequency of prayer and meditation can have the longest and deepest impact. The “unsexy” traditions of sitting before God in prayer, devotion and meditation are like ripples that spread out through the day of a believer (like me), and they allow you to move through the high frequency interactions of our day with a stillness and peace that is necessary to have a deep life.

  7. Scripture is endlessly fascinating. We are a “people of the book” (along with our Muslims and Jewish cousins), and so we must constantly wrestle with what scripture is and what God is trying to tell us. I find that a lot of what I’ve been taught scripturally isn’t quite correct, or that it’s only skimmed the surface of what God was trying to get through. There are so many resources, so many threads to follow. Jesus was ten times more radical and provocative than you’d ever think, but so much of that has been lost due to the emphasis on faith (and therefore, the Bible) as being all about getting you, as an individual, into Heaven. As deep and amazing as that is, it’s just the surface. Jesus’ (and God’s) agenda is so much bigger than that. It was (and is) “creation-sized.”

 

So that’s really it. That was my 2010. It was an amazing year, all told. Saw God move in pretty amazing ways. Saw “miracles” of the every day variety. Saw a little boy cling to life for weeks in July. Saw faith spring up in people who didn’t expect it. Saw people embrace new calls on their life, to wake up to new visions of their lives. Experienced contentment, peace, and a little freedom.

Let’s see what happens in 2011.