I’ve taken a few years off from writing anything substantial – mainly because I found myself to be saying very little of what I would consider to be anything of value.  I’m not sure that I’ve turned some magical corner and found the fountain of profundity, but there have been a few times when I’ve had the urge to share my thoughts.  I’m not sure if that means anyone reading this would be inspired or drawn to read more and I think I’m ok with that.  Spoiler alert – this is really more for me… 

I’m not sure where Off QUEUE will take me this time, but I’m thinking it’s going to be more broad than in the past.  When I started Off QUEUE, I was knee deep in all things “church”.  Sitting where I now sit, I’m thankful for that time, but also recognize that I am not there any more.  In saying that, I kind of laugh inwardly, as my family is happily, once again helping with a new church plant that is meeting in a school.  Likewise, the thing that I pour a lot of my energy into is a service that helps churches do what they do better.  I may have progressed to waist deep in “church” stuff again, but with a much more healthy view of how that involvement intertwines with my gifts, my beliefs and my willingness to play a role in His plan.  

Over the past six months I’ve made a change in my physical health that has opened a door for me to enjoy God’s presence as I push my physical limits.  This has been extremely refreshing to me as it’s been a new experience – or at least a return to a place I haven’t been in a long time.  I’ve recently logged my 800th mile cycling and am loving everything about spending time on the open road – even those goofy shorts that make a huge difference when spending two hours on a tiny bike seat.  Don’t judge… Oh, go ahead and judge, it’s ok.  But I’m currently shopping for a winter pair of cycling tights that will help me look goofy in a colder climate.

Also, since the last time I was posting anything on Off QUEUE, I’ve taken on a more significant leadership role with Ascension Worship.  With Jamie and the rest of the leadership team, we’ve taken a problem, an idea and a bunch of resources and found that together we can change what a worship experience looks like in a church of any size or flavor.  That is exciting!  I’ve been able to watch small churches grow, old churches become young, young leaders gain seasoning and old leaders loosen their grip on how they’ve always done things.  No, it’s not always easy.  No, it’s not always been successful.  And no, it’s not always going to be…  But it is working more than it’s not and the majority of those involved with us are seeing great benefits as we grow.  

Over the years I’ve not been able to let Off QUEUE go.  Its idea of not becoming so entrenched within a culture that you’re operating out of habit and not a clear direction is just a relevant to the leader that has grown up in an environment as one that is brand new and discovering the intricacies around every obstacle.  I believe this becomes even more relevant as we join together and journey with each other down these paths that God ordains.  I hope that as I start putting my thoughts in print again, that I’ll gain a clearer understanding of what God is teaching me.  And maybe, just maybe, we’ll find some common ground to journey together as well.  

much love,
– mark

 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Andy Stanley

Andy Stanley’s retelling of Esau and Jacob and trading a birthright for a bowl of stew began the conference.  He pointed out that we each have an eternal tension that we carry because of our appetites.  And our appetites want “more”.

Progress                      Growth                               \

Responsibility           Fame                                        \These are a reflection of God

Respect                        Achievement                          /and we are made in His image.

Win                              To Be Envied                      /

God created these appetites and sin distorted them.

They are never fully and finally satisfied.

They always whisper “now” and never “later”.

But my response to them will define the rest of my life…

Genesis 25:29-32 (TNIV) tells the story of Esau and Jacob with v. 33 ending in Esau despised his brother.  We could have read God described as the god of Abraham, Isaac and Esau, had it not been for an appetite that created two issues:

–      Impact Bias :: simple appetite that is magnified out of proportion

–      Focalism :: focuses mind on one thing and blurs out everything else

Posing the question then to me:

“What is my bowl of stew?”  For what am I willing to sell out my dreams and future?

Andy left us with one task, create an actual list completing the statement; Ten years from now…  I’ll share my response to that in a few days.

Scott Harrison

Scott Harrison, founder of charity: water (www.charitywater.org), sharing the idea to trade our birthday for clean drinking water.  If you’re like me, you’re constantly having to remind yourself that the last thing you need is one more thing…  And birthdays are a time when people like to give you more things.  So this year, I’m going to jump on board with charity: water and give my birthday away.  Expect to see more about this in May.

Daniel Pink

Daniel caught my attention when he pointed out that we’re all artists trying to give the world something they didn’t know they needed.  He talked about how every great person has a sentence that defines them.  For instance, Abraham Lincoln’s sentence would be something like; “I held the union together and abolished slavery.”  He posed the question to us, what is our sentence?  And he then went on to suggest that we ask ourselves each day; “Was I better than yesterday?”  There will definitely be days when that answer is no, but if we’re always asking that question, we’re not likely to answer no two days in a row.

Christine Caine

Christine’s poignant comment was, ‘’Let’s not just do church. Let’s be church. Let’s find darkness in the world and illuminate it.”  She’s founder of the A21 Campaign and you can learn more about her and it at http://equipandempower.org/.

Rani Hong

As we learned of the treacheries of human trafficking, we see more than ever that there is evil in the world. There are 27 million victims of sex trafficking, but it doesn’t become real until you hear the story of just one.  It was amazing to hear about how much of this goes on within our own cities in the states.  Check out troniefoundation.org to find out more.  Watch for a new film “The Candy Shop” and learn more about it at stopthecandyshop.org.

Seth Godin

Creativity, originality and innovation have become a necessity. No longer is competence enough. Through collaboration and freedom, we find motivation. As we have seen the power of tribes in our culture, we see that we cannot do anything of significance alone, and it doesn’t really matter who gets the credit.

**I had several “ah-ha” moments during Seth’s session, but I didn’t write them down, so I’ll have to default to the comment above from someone else as to what he talked about.

Beth Moore

Beth challenged us about the insecurities we have in our own lives.  And she pointed out that insecurity is just as self-centered as pride.  We live in a culture that allows for instant criticism and scrutiny.  But God’s desire is that we find our identity in Him.  That we not sell out to ourselves, but fully surrender to His will no matter what it looks like.  She posed the observation that we are too quick to share or tweet something that we hear before we have given it a chance to be absorbed into who we are.

She used Proverbs 3:21-26 (NLT) as her main text and then later referenced Ecclesiastes 7:25 and Job 8:14-15.

And I wrote down a few quotes from her:

“Know who we are and know who we are NOT!”

“Don’t just know we have the spirit to start, but also the spirit to stay.”

“Know what we want to be when it ends.”

Francis Chan

Intermixed with a fantastic night of worship with Aaron Keyes, Francis opened up about where he’s at in his faith journey.  He used Jeremiah 9:23 (ESV) to begin and then walked through many other scriptures that I’ll list below.

He posed two thoughts that I wrote down:

–      If his story, as strange as it might seem to us today with selling his stuff and resigning his position, were recorded in Acts; it would seem normal and insignificant.  We would likely pass over it and get back to the “real” stories being told.

–      When we look back at history, we see many things done around the world in the name of Christ (crusades, witch hunts, slavery).  What will people hundreds of years from now look back at from our times and find “weird” that we are doing for God?

James 5:17, 1 John 3:16-18, Ezekiel 16:49, Jeremiah 22:16, Proverbs 19:17, Proverbs 28:27, 1 John 2:6, Matthew 25:44-46, Luke 12:33, Luke 14:13-14, Romans 12:13, Psalms 37:25, Proverbs 21:13, James 1:27 (all ESV)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Tad Agoglia

And upon hearing the extraordinary story of Tad Agoglia, founder of Disaster Recovery Solutions’ First Response Team, we learned that it is impossible to love people and avoid tension at the same time.  A huge shout out to Tad for getting our friend, Chance Craven (itsChance.org) involved at Catalyst this year.  If you’ve wondered what itsChance looks like in a few years, look at Disaster Recovery Solutions’ First Response Team (http://firstresponseteam.org/).

Perry Noble

Perry Noble followed with a story of hope. Though we can be dismayed by current circumstances and often will question why God has called us to this place, if we could only see a chapter ahead, we would see His provision is just ahead. Just as God told Elijah to go by the brook and the brook dried up, so often we face obstacles that feel hopeless. God wants our dependence not in big donors, but in Him alone. A chapter later in 1 Kings 18, God leads Elijah to the top of a mountain calling fire down from heaven. Don’t give up on God.

Some quotes from Perry:

“After invitation often comes desperation.”

“God often leads you places you aren’t sure you want to follow.  But once you’re there, you’re sure glad you went.”

And on a side note, we had the seats right in front of the crew from Perry’s church.  I’m sure I would have been excited if my pastor was speaking to 13000 people and would want to support him.  And I’m sure that if I were that pastor, I would want to feel supported by my people as well.  But, if I’m ever that pastor and you’re there to support me, please know that I don’t need you to yell out, “Get it Mark!” or “Preach it M!” or anything of that sort for me to know that you’re there to support me.  It might just distract someone from actually hearing what God had to say…

Gabe Lyons

As the morning progressed, Gabe Lyons, author of The NEXT Christians, brought a cultural understanding to the church and how to embrace the full picture of the gospel, instead of simply being cultural Christians or isolating ourselves from society.  In going back over my notes, I think Gabe was the speaker that spoke to where I’m at right now on my faith journey.

Gabe defined four pieces to the Gospel message as being creation, fall, redemption and restoration.  He then diagramed Christians as falling into three groups, those that separate, those that restore and those that blend in.  Those that separate from the rest of culture tend to focus their faith existence on the fall and redemption of man.  Those that blend into the culture tend to focus on creation and restoration.  But those that whose focus is to restore lost people focus on all four pieces of the Gospel message.   He used 2 Corinthians 5:17 & 18 as his primary text with verse 18 being the key for restorers.  He also cited Isaiah 58:9.  His book The Next Christians delves into this topic in much greater detail.

Craig Groeschel

We all see and feel the tensions that exist generationally. To the older generation, Craig Groeschel encouraged leaders not to resent, fear or judge the next generation, but to believe in and invest in them: they are the church of today. To the younger generation, Craig warned against entitlement and challenged leaders to recognize their need for those who have paved the way. If you want to lead, you must serve under the very people you want to lead. We didn’t choose God. He chose us!

Craig’s voice is one that you should have on your radar!  His openness and honesty amaze me.  He had two great quotes that are going to seem quite lame on paper and outside the context of his session, but they are significant to everyone that heard him speak.  “If you’re not dead, then you’re not done!”  This one made me think of my Dad.  Stuck on the backside of nowhere, in a church that is dying and holding onto what has always been.  Dad, if you read this – you’re not dead, so you’re not done!  Be the difference!

Craig spent a bunch of time emphasizing the honor that is due to those that paved the way for us to be where we are.  Being the fourth generation from my family that has served the church in a ministerial capacity, this struck a cord in me.  I fully believe that because of the choices my Great Grandfather made, his kids clung to the church and shaped it during their time.  And because of their choices, my Dad and his cousins have done the same.  And now, as I stand in the gap between my Dad and my son, I have a sense of responsibility that resonates with what the Kings from the O.T. must have (or should have) felt.  My family has been blessed, we’ve seen the hand of God upon us and just as easily as many of the Kings of Israel chose, I could be the one that forgets that it’s because of God that all things are possible and convince myself that I can get this done on my own.  And while that might be a tragedy for my life, it’s my kids and grandkids that would feel the impact of that.  So, I do honor those that paved this path that makes it so easy for me to walk, but not lightly as it’s my turn now to smooth the road and prepare for those behind me to glide where I’ve walked.

And the second quote was “Leading up is because honor is given to those above you.”  For everyone that has sat across the desk from one of those older and wiser people that thought you were crazy, but allowed you to chase a dream and change the direction of what was being done, you only got the chance because they trusted you with what they held dear.  And for those of you that are ready to give your dream a chance and are looking for someone to buy into it, you’re only going to get that chance if you honor those above you.

Craig used Mark 6:4-6 as his text.

Bishop T.D. Jakes

With probably the hardest act to follow of them all, Bishop T.D. Jakes took the stage after a guy was shot out of a cannon. He went on to share Jesus’ vision and ultimate call to go into ALL the world. It’s not safe to be a leader, but until we’re willing to be uncomfortable, we cannot grow. “When you go, go nervous. Go praying. But for God’s sake, go.”

This was the first time I’ve ever been in a room with T.D. Jakes speaking.  He wasn’t the militaristic guy that I’ve seen on the tv.  He had a simple message to hear, but one that is hard every time you’re in the situation.  His point was to speak to all people and share your story in all areas.  That sounds easy, until you’re faced with that person that intimidates you.  That person that makes you feel insignificant, inferior or just plain scared.  But his point is that God has given us our story to share with the people he puts in our community, not just the people we choose to hang out with.

He made an analogy that if you do a great job in your little fishtank of existence, but you were called to an ocean, it’s insignificant, because it’s not what you were made for.  He compared our influence to that of the size of a fish.  They are limited in growth by the size of the body of water in which they are contained.  Until you’re willing to move beyond your tank, you’re going to be limited in growth based on its size.  He went on to challenge us to do a cell phone test.  Look at your contacts in your phone.  If they’re all like you, then you’re contained within a tank and need to expand your boundaries.

Andy Stanley

So how do we wrestle with these tensions? As Andy Stanley closed out the final session, we have to realize that the role of leadership is to manage and leverage tension for the benefit of the organization. The difference between problems that need solving and tensions that need managing is that the latter are constant. And those very tensions are necessary for any organization that is making progress.  Like Andy’s final session at all Catalyst’s, this one was like all the others, VERY practical.

1)    Every organization has problems that shouldn’t be solved and tensions that shouldn’t be resolved.

  1. For example:  What’s more important?
  2. If you “resolve” any of those tensions, you will create new tension.
  3. If you resolve any of those tensions, you will create a barrier to progress.
  4. Progress depends not on the resolution of those tensions, but on the successful management of those tensions.

2)    To distinguish between problems to solve and tensions to manage, ask the following:

  1. Does this problem or tension keep resurfacing?
  2. Are there mature advocates for both sides?
  3. Are the two sides really interdependent?

3)    The role of leadership is to leverage the tension to the benefit of the organization.

  1. Identify the tensions to be managed in your organization.
  2. Create terminology.
  3. Inform your core.
  4. Continually give value to both sides.
  5. Don’t weigh in too heavily based on your personal bias.
  6. Don’t allow strong personalities to win the day.
  7. Don’t think in terms of balance.  Think rhythm.

Andy cites a book and website on Polarity Management for further references on this point.  He also made two suggestions in making this work:

1)    Understand the upside of their side and understand the downside of my side.

2)    Need passionate people that champion their side and mature people that understand this dynamic.

Project7

I was also introduced to a new organization that captured my attention.  It could be because Chance, a friend of mine and Ascension’s, spent his week working with them and took a few minutes to tell me about what they were doing.  If you’re like me, you’re willing to spend a little more or be a bit inconvenienced if you can purchase something that you were going to buy anyway and in turn help someone else.  For instance, I’m willing to buy shoes from TOMS because I know I’m also providing a pair to a child in need at the same time.  I’m willing to buy Ethos water at Starbucks because 5% of their profits go to helping people gain clean water where there is none.  Project7 (project7.com) has taken a similar stance, but instead of focusing on a single problem or using a small percentage of their profits to accomplish their mission, they are using 50% of their profits to address seven needs (healing the sick, saving the earth, housing the homeless, feeding the hungry, quenching the thirsty, teaching them well, and hoping for peace).  They are doing this through the sales of water through Caribou Coffee shops, a new coffee program for your home, office, or church and the sale of gum and mints that will hopefully be available in your neighborhood WalMart.  I was thoroughly impressed with what they are doing and would encourage you to spend a few minutes looking at their website.  When the main page comes up, stay on it long enough to watch the video of what they are doing.  It’ll play after a few moments and might be one of the best “commercials” that I’ve seen in a long time.

I can’t recommend this conference enough!  I’ve gone for the past 4 years and each year I walk away having been challenged in my faith, my leadership and my character.  There are very few things that are on my must do each year, but this is one of them.  If you’ve never been, I implore you to consider going next year.  It’s worth it!  I promise!

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recognizing an alternate temptation

This chapter has been a tough one for me to write about or comment on.  At first I wanted to attribute that to a hectic schedule of too many things going on and not having the focus to delve into what Tim is conveying.  But after having read this chapter four times, I think my delay in commenting is due to this chapter being too real for where I find myself right now.

Tim talks about a second response to extreme changes in our surroundings as one of doing nothing or simply reverting to what has happened before or the “anti-experiment”.  I think this is where I find myself right now.  Much like the Israelites in 1 Samuel, I’ve spent the past several years asking questions in my discontent, but as I’ve regained my lost security within the local church, I’ve failed to answer those questions that I asked.  Or maybe a better way to say that;  I’ve failed to acknowledge the answer to those questions in spite of my move from discontentedness.

I remember during the time when I was immersed within the emergent movement and arrived at a place where I knew that it was time to rebuild and not reside within deconstructionism.  There were dozens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of questions that haunted my search for meaningful existence as part of the church.  Some of those questions were answered during that time, others have become apparent since then and others have been placed on the shelf to be forgotten.  I’m not sure I’m going to get an answer on all of them – or maybe I’m not willing to accept the answer that I’ve been given.  Either way, I don’t want to return to that place of discontent and deconstructionism.  So, I’m going to try to pull together a list of those questions that haven’t been answered and spend some time trying to find the answers and not just let them fade as unimportant details from a painful time.

I feel like I took the path of the Philistines.  I went to great detail to find my place – and the place of God – outside the community of faith.  And I became very comfortable in that place until I had to acknowledge having a role and responsibility within the church as well as within the community – as if they are separate.  I’m not going to quote Tim’s entire paragraph on page 97, “We are all living…”, but this paragraph offers a tremendous amount of hope for one feeling like they’re the only one that thinks there’s something wrong with what has always been done a certain way.  It was this realization back in the late 90s when I encountered Tim and others within emergent that, in my mind, gave me the freedom to be honest with my discontentment with the organized church and opened my eyes to not being isolated in my feelings.

I find the recognition of God working through youth and present leaders resisting change and attempting to silence the youth a sobering reality when looking around the landscape of the organized church.  I have the pleasure of getting to know leaders from many different churches and denominations and recognize the same plight in a more passive-aggressive manner today.  How many dying churches are still trying to get “them” to become “us” while they creep towards extinction?  That used to frustrate me, but I’m reaching a place where I think that may just be part of the process God uses when the tides of change are too drastic or rapid for a generation that has been faithful in following, but have become a culture of their own instead of being entwined with the greater culture of their surroundings.    I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

much love,
– mark

“interpretation and experimentation”

As I read and re-read this chapter, I can honestly say that this recalled many of the doubts and fears I encountered during the period of my journey when I felt like there was something wrong with me and maybe I was the only one that wasn’t content with the organized church in Jacksonville, FL.  I mean clearly, there were groups and churches around the US and the rest of the world that seemed to be doing things differently, but in my neck of the woods, it seemed to be status quo at best.  This chapter was not a fun one for me as I remember the loneliness and abandonment I felt during this time.

This chapter starts with a quote from Richard Rohr’s article that says “If much of the old church has to die (and I think it will, even without our pushing), then maybe it is because we have neither criticized the bad nor practiced the better with any social vigor.”  Looking back, this quote might have been my mantra during that period of my life, had it ever been introduced to me.  I became quite vocal with my criticism of what I perceived as bad.  And while I’m not nearly as certain that the old church will die, I remain steadfast in my belief that the old will not usher in the next revival and neither will it be the venue that allows the postmodern generation to discover the wonderfulness that is Jesus.

Please don’t misread my intentions in the previous paragraph.  When I say the “old church”, I’m referring to the Christian ghetto that requires the visitor to assimilate into the sub-culture before they can become part of the family.  Maybe that’s hitting a little too close to home for some of you.  Maybe when you look around during one of your community gatherings, everyone dresses the same, talks the same, lives the same types of lives, all agree with one another – or at least with the pastor, and would generally say you’re a community – – BUT, you don’t have any idea what anyone is really struggling with because no one is willing to be transparent enough to admit they don’t have it all together and honest enough to say they don’t fit into the expected mold of your community – – then sorry, but you’re part of that old church.

I remember leaving a meeting with one of my pastors after going over some of my questions and concerns for what I was seeing.  While he agreed that our church wasn’t on the leading edge of reaching the postmodern generation and that there really wasn’t another church doing so in our area, his reply back to me was “But where are you going to go that is?”  That question, while valid as far as I could tell from his point of view, set one thing crystal clear in my mind.  I didn’t know where I was going to go, but it wasn’t going to be back to the place from where I just left.  I knew there was more to this church thing, and if there wasn’t any vision to find more then I had to move on and find it myself.

The part that I don’t think I would have been able to say I was doing was the second part of that quote “…practiced the better with any social vigor”.  I didn’t recognize doing this at the time, and I don’t think I did it very well, but in an elementary way, I believe it was my practicing that helped me transition from that lonely place to one where I began to find community within the church again.  I had pretty much given up on finding community within the church and poured my efforts into a community organization here locally.  I was introduced to a family of people that shared a common goal and worked with abandon to see it through.  It was uncanny how God was showing me what community should look like or how it could look when people are real.  And in that I began practicing the better.

I look back at that and see that our common ground was not our theological beliefs or brand of church to which we subscribed, and I’m not sure that the common ground really mattered that much.  It was more the time we spent together, learning each other’s stories and becoming real with each other.  I spent three years with these people and continue to connect with them online today.  But as strangely as God led me into that place, He guided me out and put me back into the church, but with a different viewpoint.  And as I began to find my place again, amongst the brokenness that I still recognized, there seemed to be hope for this institution.

A point that I’m continuing to struggle with now is how and where we form community.  It seems to me that community finds you when you open your door and invite people in.  But I also know that there are a limited number of people that one person can actually engage on the level to which I speak.  I mean I may be sharing my story and learning others with dozens of people, but it’s going to be with a smaller number that I share my deeper fears and struggles and probably just one or two that I really open up and become accountable with.  I believe this is modeled in scripture with Jesus and the Disciples.  The part that becomes the struggle for me is at what point is my story for someone else and my role in the community isn’t about me letting someone into the smaller circle or even the inner circle, but simply about being present in the larger circle?  I don’t have an answer or even a proposed theory on this one, just the recognition that while my community seems to be revolving around me, it’s really not.

From the middle to the end of this chapter, as Tim recounted his story, I am reminded of what drew me to his teaching when I first listened to him describe community through the language of an artist “a landscape of color and creativity under God”.  Oh how I longed for a setting like this when I entered back into the organized church.  And I found it in a little church in crisis on the northside of Jacksonville.  It was there that I found a renewed hope for what church could look like.

I’m fairly certain that the coming chapters will provide many opportunities to discuss the fault line between the modern and postmodern and the effects each side imposes on the other, so I’m not going to dwell on these right now.

Have you been down this road?  Are you on it now?  If so, you’re not alone – and you’re not crazy.  How do you interpret your story?  How have you experimented with where it’s going or gone?

much love,
– mark

journeying toward a new story

“The process of growth is brutal.”  That may be the single most honest quote in this book.  Part of the realization that comes with seeing that this story is not about me and it’s all about Him, is that as I learn and grow and play my role in His story, it may come through great accomplishments or great pain.  

Tim states on page 48:  “When a person decides to embark on a journey, he or she begins an undertaking whose destination and outcome is often as unpredictable as it is unseen.  In fact, not only do we often not know where we are going, we do not know who we will become or whether we will even recognize ourselves at the end of our paths.”  While I’m not at the end of my journey, nor am I any sort of expert on where I am in the journey, I can attest that 15 years ago, I can’t imagine the path that I’ve traveled or where I now sit.  I’ve drifted from a conservative denominational stance to one that might not even be considered genuine from that same point of view.  

This journey has come at great cost.  Having founded my faith in a conservative upbringing, it was very similar to the realization that Neo encountered in The Matrix when he chose the pill that opened his eyes to what else was really going on around him.  No longer was I able to continue on that same path.  No longer was I content to ignore the rest of the story.  And that left me understanding how Moses must have felt as he headed for the desert – a nomad, that doesn’t fully understand where he’s going, but insisting on being faithful even if that means not having a home to which he was accustomed.  

Much like Tim’s description of finding a few people that found themselves on this same path, I was fortunate enough not to journey by myself.  I couldn’t find a church that was willing to embrace this honest journey, but my friend Art had discovered this conversation that was beginning and was willing to let me catch up so we could walk part of our paths together.  While much of that time is remembered as painful for me, I’m forever thankful for having a friend that understood and didn’t think I was any crazier than he or this group of people scattered across the world that were experiencing the flaws in the systems in which we led.  

For me, the transition from a place of discontentment began with a community outside of the church that was simply organic.  There was not intentional goals set to bring us together, but it happened none the less.  There weren’t pre-planned lessons or opportunities to share our stories and forge a bond, it just happened as we spent time together.  Our community grew out of spending time together.  This group of people reminded me of what the church does right – when we don’t screw it up.  It allows us to share our lives with each other.  It allows us to cry together, and laugh together and everything in between.  

I never once felt like I was distanced from God during that time in my life, but I wasn’t sure I’d ever be content to sit in a church again.  And for a guy that knew he was called to a leadership position within the church since he was nine, made for a confusing time.  Much like Tim’s account of crying out to God, “surely, this can’t be all that you intend”, my path changed directions.  Or at least I began gaining a clarity that had escaped me.  And I began looking for a place in a church again.  And as he states on page 62:  “I was tired of the via negativa, the negative way whereby you determine what something is, or what you believe about something, by what that something is not, I wanted to be for something, not just against something.”  

At this point, my story and my wife’s story flip-flopped.  While my journey began out of an intellectual search, her’s was triggered by a series of emotional losses.  Because I would tell her story from a second-person viewpoint, I’m going to leave it at saying we agreed to give the organized church one last chance and try a small gathering of people that seemed to be sharing life more than building programs.  This group, at a point of their own pain and vulnerability, changed my life.  

It was my time at Mosaic Jacksonville that brought on my kairos.  It didn’t happen on a given Sunday when a certain message was shared.  It didn’t happen through one of the worship sets that flipped a switch in me.  It just happened along the way as I began to share my life with a few guys.  That has taken me through an ordination process that I had all but given up on, allowed me to minister in dozens of churches and denominations around NE Florida and SE Georgia with a group of people that are more concerned with a healthy church that seeks God than a budget or program, and led me back to a congregational experience on Sunday morning.  

Fifteen years ago, I thought I knew where I was going.  Looking at how differently that portion of my journey has gone, I have no idea where God is going to lead.  As I finish this particular portion, I’m left realizing that most of what I’ve written remains from a first-person viewpoint and thus suggesting that my journey has been about me.  To me, it’s very real and has had a profound effect on me.  But what I must also recognize is that my path may be to intersect yours.  And that may be the plan He has.  Because no matter how much it feels real to me, there really is this bigger story going on where my name won’t even merit recognition in the credits at the end. 

What story are you telling?  Is it the same one you’ve always told or are you on a path to something new?  

much love,
– mark

“rediscovering the power of story”

I need to begin by letting you in on how I’m going to proceed with this.  Each book that I read drops thoughts in my lap that make me consider who I am, where I am and how I am.  Sometimes it’s easy to gloss over those questions, but it’s those questions that I’m going to seek out and try to get you to consider and ponder as well.  I confess; I’m happy to ignore the answers to these and simply keep on doing what’s in front of me.  But I believe there’s more to these questions and more to this story that we’re engaged in when we allow ourselves to recognize the roll we are playing.  My hope is that together, we’ll engage our story, however similar or different it may be and become better at what we do.

I met Tim Keel several years ago in Atlanta at a weekend gathering where we sat in conversation with Walter Brueggemann.  Tim’s approach to leadership and openness to admit that he didn’t have it all figured out appealed to me and put him on my radar of people that I could learn from.  This book has been out for three years, and in terms of what some of this book talks about, may make some of the modernity and postmodernity discussion sound like history.  Whether it’s old news or brand new, I’m confident that it remains contextually relevant to the story in which we’re engaged.  And I trust, having not read the book prior to inviting you to journey with me, that Tim’s insight will provide us with opportunities to examine who we are as leaders and people.

Like Tim, I grew up in a story-telling family.  I remember the best parts of family gatherings being the time around the table talking.  My grandparents had two full living rooms full of furniture, but more often than not, the stories were told face-to-face around the dining room table.  And what stands out to me about that is that they were stories that were lived and re-lived from a first-person point of view.  I remember thinking as a kid that some day, I might have a story to tell at that table.  Early on I was drawn to recognize that we are engaged in big and little stories where we might play an insignificant role or might be center stage with all eyes on us.  But whether we acknowledge it or not, we were, and are, engaged in a story.

I also grew up in the church and by my own direction now find myself a mutt of theology and doctrine.  Having taught and lead for much of my adult life, it wasn’t many years ago that I recognized that I too, like Tim suggests on page 36 have gone “to the Scriptures in search of certainty… systematically, seeking to extract principles from them.”  It’s not that I wasn’t looking for the story, but the story was secondary to the information that was buried and trying to be understood.  I know there were lessons to be learned around the dining room table at my grandparent’s house, but it was the story that engaged me (and still instilled the lesson).  How had I missed the story that the Scriptures were telling?  Why hadn’t I engaged that part of my faith?

Along with that recognition came my realization that my faith was based out of what I knew and not who I knew.  I knew my God, at one point in history, became so distraught with His creation that He decided to nearly start again.  So He picked a Godly man, put him though public ridicule while he built this huge boat in a desert.  Then He flooded the earth and started over with just what was on the boat.  There’s a few lessons to be taught from that story.  What I had missed was the rest of that story.  When the water’s subsided, that Godly man got off the boat stripped down and got publicly naked and drunk.  That part kinda hits home – makes it a little more real and engaging – let’s me in on the imperfect status of a man that God might choose to use.  But that part of the story gets left out and doesn’t fit nicely on a flannel graph in Sunday School or in the sermon notes on Sunday.  But it’s part of the story and deserves to be told.

It was my own struggle with modernity and postmodernity that led me to be in Atlanta and have the opportunity to meet Tim.  When he talks about modernity’s story on page 41 as being “the one we are struggling to live in today. We are independent, autonomous knowers, objectively encountering and engaging the world rationally as we progress toward a good future and away from a past clouded by ignorance and superstition” – this is where I struggle to exist.  I’m comfortable thinking that I’m in my own personal bubble with my own little God journey going on.  But I know that’s such an insignificant portion of the story in which God has me.  It overlaps with so many other subplots.  And unfortunately, I know that my role may have points that don’t work out the way that I would hope or expect.

That lesson has taken on a life of its own before my eyes.  I’ve had the benefit of having Godly people live out their pain openly and honestly before me.  When Quincy and Jennifer’s baby Ransom was delivered without the typically expected sound of a baby’s cry, they didn’t hide their story from us.  They allowed me to deliver their story at the only funeral that I’ve officiated.  Thankfully I didn’t have to try to put their story in my words – they gave me their words.  Their embrace of a God who had taken them through a time that didn’t make sense – but was still His plan and done for His glory.  They lived that out over and over and became a story that I’ll never forget.  Not because of something that was said or a child that I missed, but because of a faith that withstood a story that from my point of view sucked.

Tim has two more lines in this first chapter that I can’t blow past.  Both on page 43.  The first speaks to why I believe my faith to be in the shallow state that it is – “Thus, our faith became domesticated, made in our own image, deprived of its wildness.”  And secondly, with the realization that I don’t have it together, but living in a church culture that likes to tell their story as if they do have it all together:  “It is a story about living in tension, not trying to resolve it.”  The past five years, I’ve been learning to live in the tension between man and God, church and world, here and there, us and them, me and you.  I don’t expect to always land on common ground or to find that happy medium – nor do I always want to.  But I do hope to be faithful to the role God has for me in the tension.

I invite you to share what stood out to you in this first chapter.  Each week, I’ll cover another chapter and give my own commentary.  Feel free to comment on my thoughts and/or state your own.

much love,
– mark