Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Power and Control

I don't typically share my sermon's like this on the blog, but this is the one I preached two days ago in Chestertown, Maryland. It's timliness is obvious, I suppose. The only comment I'll make is that I'm aware of the position I'm in even addressing such things as a well-educated, straight, white male - that comes with its own problems and blind-spots. I apologize in advance for how that colors my response. I agonized over this, far longer and with more prayer than any other sermon I think I've ever preached - but at some point, you have to say what you have to say - and this is it. The sermon text is Romans 12.

I was asked to preach today the weekend of the violence in Charlottesville. I imagine I’ll associate that event with this passage for a while. The whole thing is troubling, obviously, for a number of reasons, but I’ve been haunted these last few weeks by one line I heard in an interview with one of the participants. The man said, “These people are worthless; they’re making the country worse and they should go back where they came from.”

I want to be careful here. I don’t want to get into the “both sides” game that’s become so problematic. However, I do think this quote is a good illustration of where this passage is going today. When it comes to the ideology of race – there is a clear right and wrong – it’s because this is an issue with such a clear distinction between opinions that I think it makes a good illustration.

You see, that quote above – “these worthless people should go back where they came from,” – is the kind of hate we might associate with racists and bigots, but it came from one of the leaders of the counter-protest, the defenders of equality.

Now, let’s be clear, being the subject of hate and scorn does not give any credence whatsoever to this “alt-right” movement or whatever they’re calling themselves. We are all human beings. There is just one race: the human race – and we should, collectively, be lamenting the thousands of years we’ve spent acting otherwise and the terrible toll it’s taken on people around the world. We, especially we, should be working to heal and repair that damage as much as we’re able.

But, as much as there is a right and wrong ideologically, it pains me to see how often those in the right have used hate to condemn hate. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I am a student of non-violence – many of my personal heroes are leaders of the civil rights movement, not just because of their cause, but because of their commitment to non-violence and the belief that love wins.

It’s troubling, mournful, to see how this generation – my generation – seems to be abandoning those ideals. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard language not just advocating the destruction of racism, but the racists as well. I’ve been seriously conflicted with how to affirm that the cause of justice and equality is righteous, while also rejecting the means by which it is so often delivered.

This is a timely and difficult example of a much larger problem. It might not be what you expected when we read that familiar verse from Romans – Be not conformed to the pattern of this world – but this is what I think of immediately, at least in our current context and reality. The pattern of this world so ingrained in us we don’t even know there’s an alternative, the pattern that we’ve largely come to think of it as part of our faith, when it is the exact opposite:

Power and control.

These are weapons of strength, rooted in fear. White supremacists fear the loss of power and privilege that’s long been the purview of white men. It’s a real and justified fear, even if it is completely lacking in perspective. White men do have less power, even if we’re still, by far, the most powerful group on the planet. But the fear is real. In fact, it’s basically the same fear that sparked the counter-protests: people with a real vision of justice and equality who are afraid that whatever progress has been made on those fronts will be turned back or snatched away. That’s a real fear, too.

When we are afraid, our first reaction is to recover control. That’s human nature. If someone is mugged on the street one night, they might respond by taking self-defense classes, or they might respond by never leaving home again – both responses are attempts to take back power they lost at the hand of another. They are fear reactions. It’s the pattern of this world.

It’s this notion that we should be in control that really gets us in trouble. And this is at the heart of Jesus’ gospel message: the actions of others are not your responsibility. That might sound strange, since Jesus didn’t say any of those actual words, but perhaps it’s more familiar this way:

Do not be afraid.

Our fear is entirely based on our inability to control other people. Even when we’re afraid we can’t do something – I’m not strong enough to be a good parent, I can’t do this assignment the boss just gave me, I don’t have enough money to make rent this month – the fear is not about our inability, but about how other people will respond. We’re afraid of being judged; we’re afraid of being fired; we’re afraid of being left alone and abandoned and exposed.

Even those existential fears, about food or money or shelter, are really fears that no one will provide for us if we can’t provide for ourselves. It’s not about our actions, but about how other people respond to them. We’re afraid of losing control.

So Jesus comes in and says, “You aren’t in control, and you never will be.” And that’s supposed to be our hallelujah moment for today, our good news. You aren’t in control and never will be; Praise the Lord! I know it sounds terrible, but that’s because we’ve spent so long being conformed to the patterns of this world. We’ve been so ingrained with the idea that we need to be in control of as much as possible as often as possible that we don’t see the good news when it’s right in front of our face.

We never look at it from the other side of the equation. Even if we control everything in our lives we could possibly conceive of controlling, it’ll never be enough. People will still die. We still argue with spouses and kids. Jobs are lost. Mistakes are made. Control is just an illusion.

When Paul says here, “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,” he’s saying, “stop trying to control everything – in fact, stop trying to control anything at all.”

Why are we challenged to give sacrificially? Most of the world, if they’re generous, is taught to make a budget, figure out what you need to live, and then spend a sizeable portion of the rest on others. That’s sort of the worldly principle of generosity. Christians are different, though – Jesus calls us to give everything, even, quite literally the shirt off our back, if need be. We’re called to give until it hurts and then give some more. We’re called to figure out what others need to live and then budget for ourselves with what’s leftover. Why? Why do we do this?

I’m sure there are a lot of reasons, but one big one is simply to remind ourselves that our bank balance does not equal control. No matter what’s in the investment fund, our future is more dependent on the grace of God than the sweat of our brow. We have a different motivating factor than mere survival or even personal happiness. And that is foolishness to the world around us.

We are living into the Kingdom of God and this vision of the world in which there is no fear. Attempting to shout down an angry, hateful mob does not eliminate fear, it heightens it. God has instilled within us a greater creativity than that – we have the ability to respond to hatred with love and to violence with peace, if we’re willing to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

I struggled for the longest time trying to figure out why verses three through eight are where they are in this chapter. If you skip from verse two to verse nine, it makes total sense with what I’ve been trying to say. “Honor one another above yourselves” is exactly the kind of outrageous thing Jesus calls us to. The world tells us to secure our oxygen mask before assisting others – because it makes sense – but Jesus has a different way of life in mind. “Be joyful in hope and patient in affliction. Bless those who persecute you. Be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not repay evil with evil. If your enemy is hungry, feed him.”

You can move from verse two to verse nine seamlessly, yet Paul puts this thing in between – something we’ve seen him write in many other letters as well – we are part of one body with many members; we’re all different, but important. He talks about spiritual gifts and contributing to the people of God through your strengths. But why is that here, in this position?

Well, after some time pondering, I think it’s about fear again. We’re afraid because we don’t know how other people will react to us. We’re afraid of what they’ll do – or not do –so we try to gain and maintain control. We try to wall ourselves off, if not from people, than from needing people. We love having friends, but we hate to depend on them.

This is precisely what Paul is telling us we have to do in verses three through eight. He says, You can’t do it all yourself. No matter how hard you try, how much you work, all the effort in the world, you do not have everything you need. We need each other. In fact, you’re not even ‘you’ without me.

We forget this sometimes, because in English “you” is both plural and singular, but 99% of the time we see “you” in scripture, it’s plural. “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice.” It’s something we do collectively. We’re in this together.

So ,what does that mean when it comes to Charlottesville? In that case, you’ve got a group of people saying exactly the opposite. “If you’re not white or male, we don’t need you.” It’s a message of hate spawned from fear – it might even be a universal fear, that we’re not needed, that we are worthless – and out of that fear, we attempt to grab power by making those around us worthless and lesser. Hate flows naturally from fear – that is the pattern of this world.

Too often our response to hatred and fear is doubling down, is meeting hatred and fear with more of the same. Christians are called to end that cycle – to be not afraid – and we show our trust, our lack of fear, not by acting powerful and in control, but by responding in love. When someone comes at us with hatred and violence, the Christian response just might be, “You may not need us, but we still need you.”

This doesn't mean we allow hatred and violence and evil to go unopposed, but we must not oppose them with power and control, but with love. It’s a dangerous position, for sure, but it’s not weak and it’s not backing down – it is the turning of our actual bodies into a quite literal living sacrifice. It is putting our money where our faith is, believing that sacrificial love, in imitation of Christ, can really change the world. It is showing, with our bodies, that we are not in control, and breaking the cycle of hatred and fear.

It sounds impossible, but it starts here, folks. We aren’t just transformed into living sacrifices at the drop of a hat. The whole purpose of the Church is to be a place where the Kingdom of God is lived out as an example to the world. We have to love each other, before we can love our enemies. We have to reach across whatever divides exist here – class, race, gender, income, age – as a means of training ourselves to take this good news to the world around us.

The people of Jesus Christ do life differently. We are not conformed to the pattern of this world. We remind ourselves of this every week as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. This is a small scale enactment of what Paul calls our true and proper worship, which is to live our lives like we really believe what we’re doing here today. We come to the table together, one body, one family, united – everyone is welcome and everyone is equal – then we have to live like it, even when it hurts.

Thursday, August 24, 2017


Around noon on Monday, we pulled into the parking lot of the public library in St. Stephen, South Carolina - it's a stately old building, occupying the corner of a public park, complete with walking paths, a pavilion, and a number of athletic facilities. The library was closed Monday, but soon after our arrival, more cars began to park. Eventually the lot was full, as were the surrounding streets. We gathered in the pavilion and unpacked our homemade lunches, folding chairs, table games, and glasses.

The first order of business was introductions. People had arrived from all over the eastern US - New York, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, you get the idea. In an instant we were friends. The excitement bubbled over as we anticipated 1:16, when the moon would begin its slow march across the face of the sun. As far as I can tell, no one there had ever seen a total eclipse before. Some were clearly weather nerds - one family, toting an infant, had searched through three other locations and a plethora of cloud cover maps to choose this location. Another guy seemed almost embarrassed to be happy to be there.

Eventually the time came, we all stood, necks craned, staring at the sun. Then the real wait. It took 88 minutes for the moon to fully block out the sun's rays. Things were pretty normal right up until the second we achieved totality. It got dim, of course, but barely noticeable if you weren't looking for it - then all of a sudden it was dark. I've never taken much time to marvel at the power of the sun, the source of life on this planet (and any others where life might be hiding, in our solar system, anyway), but it's incredible. Just the mere sliver was enough to light the planet and in the blink of an eye it was gone.

I've seen pretty skillfully captured photographs of a fully eclipsed sun (my wife took the one on this post) - the dark circle with a ring of light around it - and they're beautiful, but nothing could ever capture the experience of seeing it. Celestial bodies, the size and scope of which we can barely begin to fathom, moving in intricate orbits, at predictable times. More than just the aesthetic wonder of the moment, is the subconscious realization of the profound expanse of existence.

We were just people, I suspect people who might not otherwise get along all that well, sharing an experience we'll never really be able to explain. I recognize that it's just mechanics, no different than the sun rising and setting every day, but there really is something more. I won't say a "spiritual" experience, both because its cliche and because spirituality is sort of my field and this was different. It's almost the opposite of a spiritual experience - a profoundly physical one - the eclipse grounded us firmly within the universe. We might be small and insignificant, but we're a part of something majestic and beyond imagination, and that something is real, physical stuff. We can see and touch and observe it as easily as we can our own arms (well, technically, not AS easy, but you get the idea).

There's not really a point to all this. When the eclipse was over it was a race to pack up and hit the road, where at least 90 minutes of extra traffic were waiting on us. Along the way, roads were littered with cars, people still watching, through those silly little eclipse glasses,
as the moon made it's exit from the scene.

It really does seem a silly little thing - certainly not one worth driving with a five year old for 1200 miles in three days - but I am insanely glad we made the trip. I enjoyed connecting with strangers - fellow humans - for a few moments, in a shared experience that represents something important to those of us who got to see it.

The next one's April 8, 2024 - it'll be coming up from Mexico, through the middle of the US once again, through Michigan and northern New York and New England. Totality will be right over the part of Vermont I grew up in; I hope there's still a few familiar faces there with an extra bed and some hospitality, because I'm going. Absolutely. I wouldn't miss it for the world.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Hate, Conscience, History, and Ugly Truth

I'm floored by how effective these racist displays of violence and hate seem to be at accomplishing the exact opposite of their intentions. Granted, lots of hate-filled racists are being emboldened by these moves and the words of the President, but it's also become an impetus for the removal of statues all over the South, in the same way the Charleston shootings precipitated the removal of the confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse. While the Republican Party does still have a troubling racist element in its ranks, for the first time in my memory it's leaders are largely stepping up to the plate to denounce hatred, bigotry, and violence.

This all has to be said in the context of exasperation that we're in 2017 and this is what we're happy about. It shouldn't take 150 years to get to this point, but we are where we are. The words that people like Lindsay Graham, who's accent sounds like a caricature ripped from Django Unchained, use to condemn the President of the United States from his own party are pretty amazing. The critique that these words mean less than the votes these GOP leaders tend to cast in the opposite direction is entirely true, but the words aren't meaningless; it's progress, albeit small.

We like to think that the world which changes so quickly in some areas, should easily be transformed by truth and justice. It should. It really should, but it isn't. Love is patience; it takes time - painful, frustrating, unjust time. And despite the ease with which we see war and violence and hatred and racism rear its head around the world, there are plenty of signs that love does change people. It's not much, but it's something. Even if this show of conscience is, in its skeptical extreme, entirely politically motivated, the very fact that politics is playing in this direction is, sadly, progress for the United States.

For many white people, it seems like things are getting worse, but the reality is we've just largely isolated ourselves from the national racial tension, ignored it, and avoided the discussion that is now being thrust before us. The reality is, most of us haven't faced up to the prejudice that lives inside each of us because we just haven't had to do it.

That prejudice is real. The implicit bias test, conducted by Harvard researchers, shows that just about every person - black and white - has at least a subconscious bias against dark skin. We react differently to black people than to white people. The cliche shortening of breath, clutching of purse, walking to the other side of the road is not perception, but reality. Regardless of how we act, think, or speak, we should be able to say, "Sometimes, my first reaction is not one I'm proud of."

The difference between that - between you and me - and those lunatics rioting in Charlottesville is that they lean into it, they embrace it.
While I do believe the world is changing - and for the better - there is a reality with which we must deal before we can move on. There will always be prejudice; there will always be outsiders and "other," at least for the forseeable future - but the battle of prejudice doesn't have to be about race. That can change, but it's got to be dealt with.

Rarely, if ever, in the history of civilization, did the losing side get to keep its culture and identity relatively unchecked. There have been thousands of volumes written that analyze the aftermath of the Civil War, but the truth is, enforcing a culture change, resultant from war,
would've been a more difficult task than a still fledgling nation was willing to bear. The South got left with a don't ask/don't tell racial policy for generations as the can was kicked down the road.

Southern culture has made 150 years of gradual improvement - much as was expected (and hoped) when the nation left it to its own devices - but that underlying culture of racial superiority still exists in some measure and it's not just going to walk out the door on its own. I'm a student of history (literally - I've got a degree to prove it), more than anything I rue our current inability to understand historical context.
Well, I guess I thought I rued that more than anything - now it appears, even worse is the understanding of historical context poorly.

There might - and I say 'might' with the generosity possible understanding that this is merely hypothetical and not at all reflective of reality - be some case for statues or monuments erected in the 1860's, commemorating fallen loved ones with historically and culturally appropriate descriptors. That's an at least defensible use of historical context. When it comes to statues and memorials erected during the most intense periods of racial strife, celebrating "heroes" with incendiary and inaccurate descriptors, it's hard to make any sort of respectable defense. Real historical context, at least in the case of the vast majority of southern monuments, includes a lot of facts that don't appear on the plaques. That's reality, too.

Robert E Lee may have been a paragon of manners and civilized society, acting in accordance with a disciplined code of perceived honor, especially in contrast to many of the other less educated, less refined personalities we associate with the confederacy. That doesn't make him a saint. Maybe Lee really did fight for the South entirely because of his belief in States' Rights, and his association with those virulent racists was simply because of a common foe - that's best case scenario, right? Still, he didn't free his slaves to prove his position - and there's certainly evidence to the counter the long-held perception of the man that's worth looking at.

In the end, though, even Lee felt holding on to the culture and memory of the Confederacy was detrimental to the healing of a nation. He specifically spoke out against the kind of monuments so many towns would one day dedicate to and of him. The families of these "heroes" don't want the statues to remain, neither do the majority of the populations in most of the municipalities where they reside.

Some cities have changed the plaques to better represent the reality of the Civil War; sometimes they've added statues of civil rights heroes alongside to tell a more fleshed out story of our nation's history. There are ways to do this that really do keep history front and center, but which also avoid the whitewashing (now there's a word that's right on the nose, am I right?) or avoidance of the realities of race in the US.

I can't finish this overlong post, though, without at least mentioning the difficulties these kinds of considerations create for our future. People have gotten mad at Trump for asking if George Washington is next. I'm not sure why - it's a fair question. The man had no more forward-thinking or enlightened opinions about slavery than General Lee - he was a generally selfish and belligerent guy who was unfairly lionized due to some accidents of timing and his refusal to become king.

That doesn't make George Washington a "bad" guy - although I wouldn't want him as a role model to my kids. He's like just about everyone else in history: unfailingly human. We've got few true saints out there - and they'll be the first to argue there's none. We've got no real saints when it comes to people of power and influence - those things just don't go hand in hand.

I'll admit its difficult. Princeton has been dealing with the legacy of Woodrow Wilson for years now. The guy was smart - PhD, Ivy League President, Governor, President - he served through WWI and is generally listed among the 5 or 10 best Presidents we've ever had. He was also pretty darn racist, in overt and activist ways - an above-average racist at a time when average (or even below average) was still pretty darn racist. How do we deal with people who aren't just imperfect, but seriously flawed?

I suspect old George Washington gets a pass because we all agree on the value of the country he helped to found, we've all bought into the mythos well enough to leave things be. Would the mythos around Washington or Jefferson (or, God-forbid, Andrew Jackson) be any different than that surrounding Lee if Native Americans had survived in the same numbers and with the same voice as African Americans? Or if they'd simply lived a hundred years later?

I'm in total support of our difficult embrace of the racial problems in this country. Let's take down the statues and take a second look at the history books and the mythology and the stories we take for granted about who we are. We just can't stop when our liberal comfort is comfort is challenged or our white guilt starts to fade.

The world is a mess. Life is a mess. We are a mess. The solutions will not be easy or pretty or fun. We're gonna have to be okay with that and we're going to have to sacrifice as much, if not more, than what we're asking "those others" to sacrifice right now.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Charlottesville and Christian Counter-Culture

I'm against nationalism, not just white nationalism. Trump's statement that Americans of every color salute the same flag is just as dangerous as the hate-filled bigotry shouted by the Klansmen and Nazis in Charlottesville last week, even if its morally less-repugnant. I know it's important to state opposition to racism and violence, to call out specifically organized hate-groups by name and denounce their position, but I'm not sure we're doing it with much real thought to what we're saying and its effects.

I recently read this fantastic book called The Patient Ferment of the Early Church. It's essentially an otherwise stuffy religious history focusing on the first 200-300 years of Christianity, but the thesis is unique and powerful. Alan Kreider argues that the sole, key distinctive of early Christianity was patience. The first Christians were actively discouraged from what we might call evangelism today - they were convinced that faithful Christian witness was all that was needed. If they lived in the mode of Christ, people would be drawn to that lifestyle without the urgency or outcome oriented focus that's marked Christianity in the 1500 years since.

The moral quandry most prominent for Christians in this time was the exposure of infants. Unwanted children born in the Roman Empire of the time were simply left at the dump - exposed on the trash heaps. Christians took a stand against this moral outrage. They refused to expose their infants and they often wandered the trash heaps, rescuing and adopting those babies left to die. They did not make this a cause, protest, or fight. They simply lived differently.

I recognize that things are different 2,000 years later. We live in a world with free speech and the ability to share it widely and easily.
We live in a world with long traditions of activism. We live in a world where the established morality, at least in large part, aligns more closely with Christian morality than it did in Rome. Violent racists are now the minority and rejected by polite society. Things are different.

At the same time, listening to the rhetoric of opposition in Charlottesville, it was very difficult to differentiate the sides of the debate.
"These ideas aren't representative of the America I know and these people don't belong here." In our attempts to denounce racism, violence,
and hatred, we're exhibiting the same exclusionary ideas we're protesting (or at least, it's easy to do).

From a Christian perspective, protest and counter-culture means more than just choosing a different side; it means choosing a different means of fighting altogether. In general, it means being more creative with our words and actions. This has been a struggle for US Christians in most of the last century and probably the Church as whole over its entire existence. We protest consumerism, but end up with huge chains of "Christian"
stores, full of useless trinkets covered in crosses and music that's more worried about making money than facilitating real worship. The same goes for our approaches to violence, voting, and evangelism.

In Charlottesville, we're rightly outraged that so many people feel free to openly and publicly proclaim ideas and actions so entirely contrary to that of Christ - sometimes in the name of Jesus - but the response cannot be to isolate, condemn, and dismiss the people themselves. Showing up to protests with counter protest might be the right move, but it's got to be done differently. Opposing a mob with a mob - even one committed to non-violence, is still playing games of power - our numbers trump your numbers. It's an invitation to violence. Our voices don't need to be louder or angrier if we're embodying a counter-cultural presence. There is no point to spewing hate at the haters.

Saying, "I stand against racism" is better than saying nothing, I suppose, but it might not be if those of us with privilege aren't willing to sacrifice a bit of it to make our actions match our words. That's where much of the problem comes from. When the only times in which we white people interact with more than token members of the African-American community is when we drive 20 miles to volunteer somewhere for a few hours, we're not making much of a statement.

Early Christians change their entire lives, rejected respectability, often embraced poverty, simply to live out the counter-cultural gospel of Jesus Christ. Earlier this year I read the graphic-novel trilogy, March, that tells the story of John Lewis, one of American's Civil Rights heroes, as he engaged the movement and eventually participated in the famous march across Selma's Edmund Pettis Bridge. One of the things that struck me, was how much emphasis those books put on training for non-violence. It was not a movement where anyone could show up - they endured long periods of practice in non-violence and not everyone had the discipline to make the cut. It was a lifestyle change, a personality change - it was more than just falling in line.

Part of the reason the Early Church put so little emphasis on making converts was because the process was so long and arduous - catechumens endured years of training and observation before the Church deemed them worthy of baptism and the name of Christian. This wasn't so the movement could be exclusive, but because counter-culture is hard.

It's not enough for us to simply say, "Racism is bad. Violence is bad. Hatred is bad." We've got to understand what it means to live that out - not just in our safe little, privileged enclaves, but in the wider context of a very troubled world. We've got to work diligently to shape and form ourselves and our creativity to react differently than even those with whom we agree on some particular issue.

I've resisted giving specifics about ways in which Christians can faithfully engage in issues of immediate and ultimate importance in the world -
issues of race, violence, justice, life, and death - because I do think those ways exhaust and expand beyond my realm of vision. I do think,
though, that Christians must work to fully embody not just the emotion of the moment, but a truthful and fair representation of Christ. In this instance that includes the insanely difficult task of embodying true equality - not just in words or moments, but for the long haul.

Kreider recounts that Christianity lost its emphasis on patience when it adopted the mindset of ends justify the means. Instead of waiting for the truth to win out over time, heretics were persecuted, prosecuted, and executed. Politicans were brought in to use their power to favor one faction over another, to make decisions of right and wrong when it came to Christian thought and practice - this has been our habit ever since. We adopted the mode and means of the culture around us, but because we did so with a religious veneer, we've failed to see the compromising error of our ways.

I am continually troubled by the challenge to use my body, my lifestyle, to make statements of truth and justice, while also remembering the words of Paul, that I too, was once an enemy of God, and recognizing that my transformation was not wrought by violence, anger, or shame, but by the love of Jesus Christ. This is not a pushover faith, but it's also not a popular one; results are slow and it requires suffering - may I have the wisdom and creativity to make it my suffering before the suffering of others.

In the end, I don't have answers, but I pray that I'll have a gospel-infused patience that manifests itself in sacred, selfless action. Lord, have mercy.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

It's been a crazy summer for me. I made the last second decision to head out to Indianapolis for the Church of the Nazarene General Assembly, an every-four-years meeting of my brothers and sisters from (literally) around the world. A lot of important stuff happened, but perhaps the most lasting impact were the workshops I attended, each informative and important for my future life and ministry. I learned a lot.

I found help for the adult Sunday School class I often teach at the local United Methodist Church; I got some seemingly obvious tips about children's spirituality that I never would've figured out on my own - things that I think will definitely help me be a better parent. I was challenged to think and grow beyond some of the hyper-focused and segmented places in which my mind tends to live. I'm not sure exactly what it will mean going forward, but I'm really glad I went - even if it was just for two days.

Getting back, there were just a few weeks until our marathon vacation. I accidentally scheduled myself to be away from home for 23 out of 25 consecutive days. We did a week with my in-laws that was relaxing and enjoyable - the kind of thing that probably should've come at the end of the trip. Not that the ten days spent with my own family wasn't good, but with three small children involved, I'm not entirely sure "relaxing" is the right word. My wife and I did get to take a quick anniversary trip to New Mexico where, in about 36 hours, we visited the Georgia O'Keefe Museum and climbed a very steep 13,000 foot mountain with an awesome night at Taos Ski Valley sandwiched in between.

Between those two trips, I spent a week at Mid-Atlantic District Teen Camp with the Church of the Nazarene. This is my third year here and it's always an awesome experience. The camp's run so well and the staff and kids are great to be around. I truly enjoyed it. There weren't any radically life-changing moments for me, but I did have some dedicated time away from my normal life and schedule to think and pray about the future. I've really felt a draw to be speaking or teaching or preaching more than I do right now.

Early in our time in Middletown, I was filling in preaching A LOT. The Nazarene congregations in the area all seemed to be transitioning between pastors about the same time and I probably preached 20 times a year. The last couple years, though, those congregations have been more settled and it's been more like four or five times. I really feel like preaching is what I "do." It's a strange thing, even for me, but the process of researching and compiling and preaching a sermon is my true art. I do a lot of writing - and those skills are heavily involved in sermon preparation - but it's really the preaching that feels most "true" to me. I wrote about it in my 6th ever blog post (one that's been read all of seven times, which is probably a good thing; I can't even bring myself to go back and read it).

We're also at a point this fall, where my daughter is starting Kindergarten and she'll be on the same campus where my wife teaches. What that means is that this stay-at-home Dad will not have pick-up or drop-off responsibilities for the first time in five years. My schedule's going to change. We're not entirely sure what that means, but I'm thinking perhaps travel is more of an option.

So, what I'm saying is that I guess the big revelation of the summer is that I feel like I should put myself out there a bit for speaking and teaching opportunities. I've done it a few times, been invited to various places, and it's always been a great experience. I'm not sure if there's a lot more opportunity out there or if anyone cares much to hear what I might have to say, but if you need someone to bring his typically unique perspective on God and life and such to your group or congregation, maybe I'm the guy?

Typically summer is a time for me to check out, relax, and avoid deep thoughts - this year, in the midst of fun and busyness, there's been a lot of time for reflection and growth. And that's what I learned on my summer vacation.