Weapons of Mass Production, Pt 1

Something different today…

As a pastor, I have to balance my life between efficiency and love.

This is not easy, because these two concepts are nearly mutually exclusive.

But that’s my reality.

I have to cultivate efficiency because I’m a part of an organization, I lead a team of busy people, and we try to accomplish various things.

I have to “get things done.”

I have to cultivate love because as a pastor I’m charged ultimately with trying to help people cultivate the Spirit of God in their lives.

Most of the time it involves long conversations, sometimes sitting in silence with people as they cry.

This is seldom “efficient.”

Looking at the efficiency side of things first, I thought I’d list some of my most helpful tools. I’m not naturally organized and linear; I’m actually rather distracted, and can be more than a little spacey. I need tools and techniques in my life to help me “ship” and to be present—physically, emotionally, spiritually—when I need to be present.

I need efficiency in order to love.

So here are a few:

  • Getting Things Done. This book forms the backbone of how I organize my life. In a very concise nutshell, everything that you have to do in your life—pick up groceries, finish the TPS report, learn songs for band practice, etc.—is taking up mental energy that you need for the most important/creative work that you have to do. So you get it out; you write everything down in a brain dump, and then you organize it and begin to tackle it. If you’re just getting started in productivity, or looking for a new way to organize your life, take a look at it.
  • OmniFocus. This app is my primary day-to-day task manager, and integrates well with Getting Things Done (GTD). They make it an iPad and iPhone version, as well as a desktop version as well. It syncs—fairly seamlessly—in the cloud and so my tasks are always with me. Very, very powerful, but very helpful (and also pretty beautiful, especially on the iPad and iPhone). The Omni Group make very, very good software. Everything I have to do goes in here, from writing exercises, to meetings, to events, to weekly worship planning.
  • Evernote. Evernote is critical to grabbing ideas, storing pdfs, sermon ideas, meeting agendas, even songwriting ideas. I use Evernote for anything that I want to have readily available. It’s powerful and simple. A great, great tool; make sure you get the mobile version(s).
  • Merlin Mann’s “Inbox Zero” Talk at Google. Merlin is passionate about productivity; he is also irreverently funny and brilliant. This talk (it’s almost an hour long, btw, so set aside enough time) has the capacity to radically change your approach to email. I’m still struggling to get to “Inbox Zero” myself, but it definitely woke me up to some of the pitfalls of email, and how I’d been using.
  • Moleskine notebooks. Part of the GTD system is capturing all the ideas that have the potential to drain your creative energy and distract your and writing them down so you don’t have to think about them. In order to do that, keeping various notebooks on hand is important. My primary notebook is 8×5 1/2 (alternating between squared and blank pages), but I also use 8×5 1/2 cahiers for various bible studies and class notes, a reporters notebook for my car, and finally an extra large notebook that I use as a sketchbook for larger-scale creative brainstorming.
  • Moleskine year calendar. Though I use iCal for my day-to-day calendar, when things get really crazy I reach for a paper calendar. I find that my relationship between me and my calendar changes when I actually have to write things down: I remember more things, but I also get more critical about what I’m doing. I’m somehow more emotionally present to a paper calendar, and that forces me to examine what I’m doing, and why I’m doing it. The large calendar also allows me to see my week at a glance and to easily identify blocks of time that are either being used or are “unseized.”

There are so many tools out there, but these are the ones I keep in my box. These are my efficiency tools.

Do you have any that you share?

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The Scandalous God

In Luke 14, Jesus describes a great feast.

15 Hearing this, a man sitting at the table with Jesus exclaimed, “What a blessing it will be to attend a banquet in the Kingdom of God!”

16 Jesus replied with this story: “A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. 17 When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come, the banquet is ready.’ 18 But they all began making excuses. One said, ‘I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.’ 19 Another said, ‘I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me.’ 20 Another said, ‘I now have a wife, so I can’t come.’

21 “The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22 After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ 23 So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. 24 For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.’”

About 4 years ago, my understanding of Jesus began to be radically rebuilt; I came to realize that most of what I’d been taught Jesus, salvation and faith was not necessarily wrong, but just incomplete. Ever since then I’ve carried a key assumption with me to the text of the bible:

there is probably something going on in the text beyond the obvious. 

It’s easy to carry our 21st century assumptions into the Bible, and that can surely illuminate some of the stories and message, but it’s also easy to miss the original (and often explosive) agenda of Jesus and writers of both Testaments.

So two quick, related observations. First, the parable takes place in the context of a discussion on humility. In fact, the man’s comment in verse 15 is a reaction to this previous exchange:

When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, he gave them this advice: “When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? The host will come and say, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table!

10 “Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. 11 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

12 Then he turned to his host. “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. 13 Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.”

Jesus is talking about humility and how critical it is to a “resurrection life.”

In Jesus’ context—1st century Palestine, a conquered Roman territory—this is a scandalous notion, and Jesus’ pushes the point even further with his banquet story.

This other meaning of Jesus’ story here begins to be revealed when we understand two things:

  1. In the first century, honor and reputation were of absolutely paramount importance. People made decisions based on how it might enhance their public honor and/or reputation.
  2. One of the ways that you could enhance your honor and reputation was by hosting a party and inviting the right” people to it. 

To restate this, if people wanted to know how awesome you were, how “honorable” you were, they would look at comes to your table. If “the best folks” came to your house for a party, it made you look good; really good.

And this mattered to you.

A lot.

So Jesus is talking here about God’s reputation, and how it plays into the Kingdom.

God starts out by inviting “the usual suspects”, but they reject his invitation (essentially, by the way, this a comment about the rejection Jesus is experiencing during his ministry). So God, in this culture, does the unthinkable.

He throws the concern for his reputation aside and invites “the riff raff.”

He forsakes his honor, his reputation, and essentially says, “Bring them on.”

What do you do with a God like that?

What do you do with a God who lays aside His honor and status in order to welcome everyone in?

What do you do with this God who …

… sets aside His status?

… embraces humility?

… even embraces death as a criminal? as a rebel?

The truly radical and explosive nature of this parable is that Jesus is saying, “You need to sit at the lowest seat at a wedding banquet; you need to embrace humility, because that’s what God does.

Getting Back to Our Roots

First Council of Nicea via Wikipedia

In the year 325 a bunch of Christian leaders gathered to decide some really critical theological issues. It was an amazing event, for a few reasons.

First, this had essentially never happened before. These men (let’s be honest) had only perhaps HEARD of each other; they had never met, or looked in each other’s eyes.

Relatedly, this was coming at the end of a season of (albeit sporadic) persecution for the church. Many of these leaders could show, in their bodies, the physical costs of following Jesus.

It must have been mind-blowing.

Someone recorded it:

There were gathered the most distinguished ministers of God, from the many churches in Europe, Libya (Africa) and Asia. A single house of prayer, as if enlarged by God, sheltered Syrians and Cilicians, Phoenicians and Arabs, delegates from Palestine and from Egypt, Thebans and Libyans, together with those from Mesopotamia. There was also a Persian bishop, and a Scythian was not lacking. Pontus, Galatia, Pamphylia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Phrygia sent their most outstanding bishops, jointhly with those from the remotest areas of Thrace, Macadonia, Achaia, and Epirus. Even from Spain, there was a man of great fame…

What an amazing moment in the life of the Church. But something stood out to me; check that list again:

Syrians
Cilicians
Phoenicians
Arabs
Palestine
Egypt
Thebes
Libya
Mesopotamia
Persia
Scythia
Pontus
Galatia
Pamphylia
Cappadocia
Asia
Phrygia
Thrae
Macedonia
Achaia

… Spain

You know what stood out to me?

Though the writer lists ministers from Europe, look at that list of countries.

Not really a western European among them.

Sometimes I think that we are so predisposed to think of Christianity as a western European—actually an AMERICAN—phenomenon that we forget that it’s legacy really isn’t.

As the saying goes, we stand on the shoulders of giants, and in our case those shoulders are black or olive-skinned.

European culture brings great strengths to the table, but we don’t bring everything (and some of what we bring is less than helpful, but that goes for all cultures).

How Euro-centric is your faith? Have you ever attended a worship gathering from a different ethnic background?

Have you ever read something that challenged the cultural perspective of your faith?

For my Caucasian brothers and sisters, I’d lay a gentle challenge at your feet: find a worship gathering to go to where you’d be the minority, where you could see “distinguished ministers” from a different culture.

If you want to read an introduction to the multi-cultural phenomenon of our faith, check out Soon-Chan Rah’s book on how the face of evangelical faith in America is changing.

A Somewhat Random Music Mantra

Over the past few days, I started thinking about the essentials of the way I approach music. It’s probably not complete, and it’s probably not the last time I’ll do something like that, but here ya go…

  • There is no such thing as “simple” music
  • If you think that a genre of music is “easy” you’ve already lost
  • The point is not to get great gear; the point is to make great art
  • There’s a fine line between “ambient” guitar playing and simply not knowing the music
  • Training your ear makes you dangerous
  • Learning music theory makes you lethal
  • A great amp makes an average guitar sound amazing
  • Rhythm guitar is a lost art; go rediscover it

Anything you’d add or take away? 

Random Thoughts on Prodigals…

“Why did he let me leave in the first place?”

I wonder if the son who fled—we know him as the Prodigal—ever thought that?

Though I know this story from Luke 15 is (a) a parable, and (b) more about the radical behavior of the Father than it is about the son, nevertheless I found myself thinking about the son this morning.

Maybe it’s because I’m such a good prodigal.

Maybe the best there ever was…

Regardless, two things struck me this morning.

Question #1: Why did the Father let the son leave in the first place? 

Surely He knew better; the Father knew the son’s character better than anyone else. He knew what was going to happen. Do you think the gambling, the women, the lavish spending (probably on the ancient near east’s equivalent of Beats headphones and bad car lease agreements) just happened over night?

The Father knew what was up with His son.

And yet He let him go. Why?

Why not protect everybody from the pain—the hell—that was just around the corner. It would’ve spared so many people so much pain.

I think the Father let him go because He loved him; I think He let him go because He knew that maturity largely comes from making choices and experiencing consequences, as painful as that can be. 

And that, ultimately, only mature, free-choosing people can love. 

Love hurts (yes, Gram/Emmylou/Nazareth/Norah/Keith).

But in order to produce, loving mature human beings, a parent has to risk disobedience. That’s what the Father does, even though it costs everyone something.

But could the son ever learn to love without growth?

Question #2: What About Shame? 

If you remember the story, you know the basics: a son asks his father for his inheritance “early” (“Dad, can you go ahead and die? Yeah that would be great…”), and then takes off spending pretty much everything on those things—the same things that most of us would spend free money on if we were eighteen. He winds up broke, alone, and far away from home, eventually ending up working as a servant, feeding pigs and hungry for their food.

Assume, for just a moment, that in an ancient culture like this one, “honor” and “reputation” are paramount concepts…

“Our Father who lives in the heavens, may Your name be kept holy…”

Assume, for just a moment, that this honor and reputation were visibly represented by a family’s father; it’s his job to guard that honor and defend it…

“Our Father who lives in the heavens, may Your name be kept holy…”

Assume, for just a moment, that this son has succeeded in bringing down shame and dishonor to his family, in particular his father. 

“Our Father who lives in the heavens, may Your name be kept holy…”

Assume, for just a moment, that—rather than keeping his father’s name “special” (“holy”, anyone?)—he has actually succeeded in associating that name with the worst of what humanity can offer…

… cheap, humanity destroying sex

… conspicuous and wasteful consumption

… immoral (or worse yet?) amoral living

… narcissism that doesn’t give a crap about anyone

What does the son do when he hasn’t kept his father’s name holy?

What does he do with that shame? 

But there’s something about the father…

I think shame is cyclical: we shame others out of the shame we feel.

We cast guilt onto others because of the hidden guilt we carry around in us.

But what if you feel no shame? 

Or rather, what if you’ve decided to break the cycle of shame inside you forever by experiencing the most shameful thing you can imagine?

How about a public death?

… an execution?

… as an innocent?

… as a terrorist?

When you know the worst of what shame and guilt can do, and you embrace it, it has lost its power. 

And you’ve broken the cycle.

This Father knows suffering; He will know shame; He will know rejection and death…

… and He’s not afraid to embrace it.

Thus, He destroys its power.

It’s no longer part of the equation.

Ultimately, He is not ashamed of the son, because His name cannot be shamed by the son. The son can freely forgive without shame or condemnation because he has broken that perpetual cycle. It’s over, and all that’s left are tears of welcome, hugs, and a big celebration.

That is all…

Well, almost all…

Like it or not, this was the first version that I heard of that song… ah the summer of 76

(p.s. how does that guy sing so high? maybe a combination of the leather pants and facial hair)