Change How You Read the Bible

Have you ever attended a prayer meeting at church?  If you’ve never attended one, let me describe it.  Some time during the middle of the week, a group of church members get together for an hour or so at the church for what most people would consider a Bible study.  Church members come with Bibles in hand to sit around a table and listen as the pastor or one of the elders methodically goes into exegesis of a group of text or maybe a chapter from one of the books of the Bible.   The goal of midweek service is to provide another connection point with members and to help educate them on the Bible.  At one point in time prayer meeting was considered the thermometer to the health of a church.  Today however, it’s just one of many relics churches hold onto with steely grips as attendance drops and engagement disappears.

A few weeks ago I decided to go to our church’s midweek prayer meeting.  I’ll be honest, prayer meeting isn’t my thing.  It’s painful.  I always thought it was supposed to be like a small group, but it more closely resembles small church.  Our pastoral staff has been making a big push for people to attend so I thought “maybe it’s different”.  I came in with my youth group, which immediately set off a flurry of activity.  I assume if you walk into any church it would look about the same, a group of the church’s older members with their Bibles.  So my group of teens definitely was a shock to the system.  As we walked into the fellowship hall the tables were in a horseshoe with people sitting on all sides.  At the front of the room was one long table where whoever was leading that night would sit and face everyone else.  From where I sat it kind of looked like Di Vinci’s “The Last Supper”, pastor seated in the middle with those most comfortable sitting at the front on either side.

Like every prayer meeting I’ve ever attended, we started with prayer then the text for the week; taking turns going around the room reading one verse at a time until we were through the chapter.  Then the obligatory question “what stands out to you in this set of verses?”  That question was what I came for.  I was there to discuss and explore.  To say crazy things that jumped out to me about thoughts that I hadn’t had before.  After all that’s what theologians have been doing for centuries.  They read a text, start thinking, and get ideas.  They make assumptions about the tone, try to guess at the intent, and form a relationship with the events and characters.  After all, none of them were around when it was written.  Sure they do historical and archaeological research in an attempt to know what’s going on, but deep down no person responsible for “Christianity” was there.  Needless to say, my approach to the evening was not appreciated by anyone other than my youth group.

Christians need to stop coming to prayer meeting like students to calculus class and approach it like a book club.  For centuries we’ve indoctrinated Christians in the holy reverence of the scripture and eliminated any way to read it for the sheer joy of reading.    In doing so, we’ve made the Bible a chore.  We don’t appreciate the stories, the characters, and the odd set of circumstances they share.

Imagine reading The Hunger Games one paragraph at a time.  Then stopping and reminiscing and seeking out the meaning of that one paragraph before moving on to the next one.  How boring would the story be?  How arduous and painstaking would it be to get through to the end, and by the time you do it’s not a thrilling conclusion to an amazing story.  It’s a sigh of relief that you’ll never pick that book up again.  That is what we have done with the Bible.  No wonder Christians are among the least knowledgeable group of people on the Bible.

The Bible should be read like a book club book.  Whole stories and sections given to the group in advance and rather than coming together and reading it out loud, you sit and discuss the totality of the story so far.  You break down how it made you feel while reading it.  Which characters spoke to you?  How can you relate to the story?  What did all of it mean?

The problem with this approach however, is that we’ve been taught for millennia that we aren’t qualified to do that.   We insist that to properly educate ourselves on the Bible we must have it presented to us by a pastor.  We aren’t educated enough or connected with God enough to discern the truth of scripture.  It’s like saying I can’t read a book and enjoy it unless it’s through a class at the local community college.  Sure, many of us read the Scarlet Letter or MacBeth in high school literature class, but who would honestly say they enjoyed it (other than the students who became English teachers of course)?

Recently I’ve challenged myself to understand the Bible for the amazingly life changing book it is and not just required textbook material.  I’ve approached it as one continuous story, not a collection of quotes and sayings to throw at people.  As I’ve done that I’ve seen something I was never taught growing up.  I saw the story of God.  The Bible transformed from rules and guidelines and verses I needed to memorize for acceptance at church into an amazing story full of heroes and villains, love and hate, heartbreak and redemption.  I saw the characters as real people with real problems, not fairy tale stories so far removed that I couldn’t relate.  As I allowed myself to do that I felt my faith come alive in a new and earth shattering way.  I connected with the amazing story of a God so heartbroken at the rejection of his creation he does everything to recover it.

I’ve shared my new approach with others to take the chore out of Bible reading and it’s changed their lives.  They too become connected with a bigger story that’s still occurring today.  It makes the Bible alive and keeps God alive with it.  There’s nothing wrong with prayer meeting or old school Bible studies.  But, if you’ve been going to them for a while and feel like they’ve lost their luster.  I challenge you to start a book club.  The Bible can be your first book.  Start at the begining.  Read it with all the vigor and character as your favorite novel.  Give Abraham some skepticism and Jesus some sarcasm in their voice.  Do it and I guarantee you’ll be a better Christian for it.

The Worst Moment of Fatherhood

Being a father is full of highs and lows.  No one who has ever been a parent will disagree. If they do they need to write a book for the rest of us to learn from or check themselves in for psychiatric evaluation.  Eventually the highs outweigh the lows, but when you’re in the moment of a low it is the worst moment of your life. You know that moment you see in movies when the doctor looks up and says “congratulations it’s a boy”, then asks if you’d like to cut the cord before handing you this squirming, slimy alien looking thing to hold and love?  Yeah, I never got that experience.

The moment started at three o’clock in the morning on a cool October day.  My wife, who was 32 weeks pregnant rolled over to tell me she was in labor.  Even at 3am, my mental clock told me there was way too much time left in the pregnancy  for her to be in labor.  “It’s Braxton Hicks, go back to sleep” I said.  But ten minutes later when she said her water broke, I obliged to take her to the hospital. As we pulled up to the emergency entrance I still didn’t believe we were having a baby.  The nurse in registration shared in my skepticism when we went through the information.  Heck, we weren’t even far enough into the pregnancy that we had taken birthing classes yet.

The patient transporter took us up to a delivery room to get checked out.  I helped my wife into a gown and into bed as an OB nurse came in to see what was going on.  I guess a normal husband would have been timing contractions or something like that, but again I was in a mild state of denial.  The nurse’s smile left immediately as she lifted my wife’s gown.  “This baby’s coming, don’t move” she said as she quickly left the room.  Next thing I know the room is flooded with people.  Tech’s coming in and out with machines, nurses working with my wife telling her not to push, and everyone asking when the doctor would get there.

Meanwhile, I sat on the couch trying to stay out of the way and calmly filling out paperwork.  Everything was happening so fast the thought never crossed my mind that something was wrong.  “Honey, what’s your social security number?”  “When was your last check up?”  After all, giving birth is supposed to take hours so I had time.  However, we didn’t have hours.  The doctor barely made it.  As he came in I don’t remember him saying anything to us.  Someone said “push” and there was a newborn baby boy.  Start to finish my wife’s labor was under an hour.

Within minutes I was following this thing that looked like a french fry warmer from McDonald’s through back hallways to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.  I stood, still contemplating what was happening as I watched them place my son inside of the incubator and start attaching things to him.  Tubes and diodes connected to big, scary looking machines next to the bed came running out of and from our baby.  The nurse began to sound like the adults from a Peanut’s cartoon.  “Is he going to be okay?  Can I go check on my wife?” was my response.  In that moment I had to keep it all together and make sure everyone was okay.

With a healthy, normal delivery the mother and baby are typically discharged within 48 hours.  During that time nurses teach the new mom how to hold the baby, breastfeed, and do general care.  Afterwards mom and baby get rolled out to their cars by a volunteer, baby snug in mom’s arms, cart full of balloons and flowers.  It’s a beautiful moment to watch those new families head off to start a new chapter in life.   We didn’t get any of that either.

Despite the trauma, my wife was physically fine.  So instead of spending our 48 hours learning how to keep our new creation alive, we sat and watched through glass and did nothing.  We couldn’t hold him.  We could barely touch him.  And before we knew it we were being discharged to go home.  No balloons, no flowers, no baby.  He was staying for a while.  My wife went to say goodbye as I rounded up her things. When she came back our roles had changed.  I was sitting in the chair in the corner sobbing.  All my bravery getting her through the past two days was gone.  As the man of the house I was supposed to do two things: protect and provide.  I had failed.  I couldn’t protect either of them.  I couldn’t take care of my own son.  There was nothing I could do but watch, and now because hospitals aren’t hotels I had to do that from a distance.  We would have to come during visiting hours like common people.  Not as parents.  What if he needed me?  What if something happened while we were gone?  All of it beat me down as I wept, my wife trying to hold back tears of her own as she comforted me.

For any couple who has lost a baby during childbirth or left them in the NICU as we did, you know there is no greater pain you will experience than leaving the hospital empty handed.  You’re numb.  You’d rather cut off your own limb than do that.  As I write this I know there are people who have lost a child who will say “You can’t compare”.  And my heart aches for you because you’re right.  I’ve seen friends who have lost babies or who have had preemie’s and our hearts break every time.  Because we know just how lucky we got.

They were the longest 17 days of our lives.  Taking long lunch breaks from work to go to the hospital to visit our son in the NICU; praying he would get bigger, stronger, and healthier. But he came home.  It took my wife over six years to even look at baby photo’s of him lying in the incubator where we stood those first 48 hours and wondered if he would be okay. Now, over ten years later, I’m amazed as I sit across from him at the diner table and tell him to chew with his mouth closed and asking how soccer camp went. In no way will I say I’ve been a perfect parent.  Being a father is full of frustrations, complications, and heartbreaks.  But would I trade any of them?

I know our lives with my son will be full of broken bones, break-ups with girlfriends, and who knows what else that may befall us.  I also know that when you start off at a moment like that, where your fatherhood is at it’s lowest, that all the other events will be a welcomed challenge.  I spent my father’s day enjoying time with both of my boys.  Wondering where the time went and now worrying that it’s going by too fast.  To all the fathers out there who have had their worst moments, embrace them and grow.  They make us better men, better husbands, and better fathers.  If you’ve experienced loss, I’m sorry.  I would also encourage you to share you story.  Help those of us learn from your pain and wisdom as well.  And maybe together all of us can raise up good men together.

The Beginners Guide to Obstacle Course Racing

It’s summer time.  That wonderful time of year where people finally shake of the dust of winter and head outdoors for fun and sun.  For most people that means lounging by the pool/lake/beach, with a grill and a cooler where you’re body can soak up the vitamin D and relax.  But for a special group of people summer means one thing above all else: Obstacle Course Racing.  No doubt as you’ve scrolled through your social media you’ve seen a friend, coworker, sponsored ad, or crazy cousin Dan posting photos of themselves straining, grunting, smiling, or flexing as they carry their mud covered body over what looks like a medieval torture device.  You see names like Spartan Beast, Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, Bonefrog Challenge, or Savage Race and wonder if you need to be concerned for the mental health of your friend.  However perplexed you may be you find that you can’t just scroll past.  You have to look and as you do you think to yourself “Could I do that?”  The answer is “yes”, and here’s what you need to know to get started.

For those of us who have done them in the past we have a sick fascination with obstacle course races.  From the moment I did my first Warrior Dash with trash bags taped around my shoes (rookie move by the way, the bags never last the first 100 yards), I was hooked.  I’m by no means a what I would call a “pro”, but I’ve done my fair share of races and rarely fail to complete an obstacle.  Over the years I’ve learned a lot about myself and about how to be successful at obstacle course races.  As I’ve shared my pictures and race schedule to inspire and motivate others to race with me, I always come across the same group of questions.  So I thought I’d take a moment to answer a few of them.  If you’ve ever wanted to do it here are the top questions I answer of everyone who says “I want to do a race, but…”

Am I fit enough?

YES YOU ARE!  Obstacle course racing is like people who say the time isn’t right to have kids, buy a house, change jobs, etc.  “I’m not fit enough” is just an excuse.  I’ve seen every level of athlete on the obstacle courses and it doesn’t matter what race.  I’ve run with people among the fittest, fastest in the world and with those who have cerebral palsy, MS, ALS, amputees, etc.  Obstacle racing is about what the spirit is willing to do, not what the body is able.  What you need to know is understanding your physical limitations.  Not everyone can do a 14 mile race let alone an obstacle like “Funky Monkey”.  Look at the races and obstacles ahead of time.  You might not be ready for all of them yet, but don’t let that stop you.  At any race you can walk around it and as you do something will happen in your soul that says “I’m coming back next year to beat that”.  So, suck it up and do it and I guarantee you won’t regret it.

What should I expect?

Expect lots of mud, sweat, and tears.   You will get dirty, you will be sore the next day, and you will have some scrapes/bruises (and if I’m honest maybe a broken bone if you get reckless).  You can expect obstacles that will make you question your decision to cross the starting line.  Obstacles that challenge you physically (lots of monkey bars and climbing) and mentally (fear of heights, dark, water, or electrocution).  But even the most novice person is somewhat prepared for those things.  What you won’t expect and what I have come to love more than anything is the spirit of community that flows through the course.  OCR is a community of people looking to challenge themselves and encourage others to achieve something incredible.   The obstacles force you outside of your comfort zone and when those walls are broken down, so are walls between you and other people.  There’s no personal space on an obstacle course.  You will be cheered by every person you encounter.  They will push you and pull you emotionally and physically.  I will never forget one of my first races when a lady looked at me and yelled “hey, just grab something and push me over this thing”.

How should I train?

To be honest, an obstacle course race is not something you can buy a “Couch to 5K” book and be ready in 6 weeks.  Running on trails is vastly different from roads, but that’s not what you should be concerned about.  I’ve always considered myself an athlete and had done several half marathons before venturing into OCR.  What I was unprepared for was the work it would take my upper body.  It only took one race for me to realize a lot of pull ups were in my future.  But it doesn’t mean I needed to join a CrossFit gym.  It’s much simpler.  My recommendation is start your run/walk with some push-ups.  Plan your route so that you pass a playground; when you get there walk over to use the monkey bars.  Whether you can move across them, do pull ups, or just hang doesn’t matter, just use them.  When you finish your route, do some more push ups.  You’d be surprised how much that will do for your OCR prep.

What should I bring/wear?

OCR is no place to make a fashion statement, it’s form over function and no one is going to critique you.  What you want to remember is footwear is the most important thing.  You will slip and slide around, so have shoes that fit and lace up tight.  Those of us who do this regularly have special shoes with deep tread or cleats for traction.  Form fitted clothing is the best so it doesn’t get caught in barbed wire (yes, there’s barbed wire) and definitely NO COTTON.  You don’t want anything that will soak up mud or water and add weight to your journey.  Gloves are optional.  I personally don’t use them and don’t see many people on the course with them, but you won’t be alone if you do.  My experience is gloves get wet and slippery, so if all you care about is protecting your hands then use them.

Which race should I do?

This is the number one question I get asked.  Every race wants your business and is tempting in it’s own way.  But they are all different, so you should be aware of the differences no matter how subtle as you make your decision.   There are more and more races out there every year as demand increases.  What you need to be aware of though, is for your own safety stick to the mainstream races.  They have a reputation to uphold, so your safety is their priority even though you sign a waiver.  They don’t need an outbreak of e coli or an obstacle to collapse.  So I’ve listed the four most common below from easiest to most difficult beginners.

  1. Warrior Dash (5 km; 12-15 obstacles) – Warrior Dash holds a special place for me as my first obstacle course race and the gateway drug to my current OCR addiction.  Before the industry exploded Warrior Dash was the biggest and most well known race.  With a 5k distance and only 12-15 obstacles, I consider this the best race for true OCR beginners or anyone who just wants to dip their toe in the weekend mud run experience. The distance is just right and the terrain usually isn’t too tough.  The obstacles are a challenge, but nothing to fear and easily overcome with a little help.  It will test your will, but won’t break your spirit.
  2. Spartan Sprint (4-6 miles: 25 obstacles) – Spartan is the king of the OCR mountain right now partly because they have varying options for races.  So if you feel like the Warrior Dash was a cake walk, but don’t want to get too crazy, then the Spartan Sprint is right up your alley.  The distance varies based on the location so you won’t really know till you cross the finish line how far you go.  You will also be challenged physically more than any other race.  Particularly because Joe De Sena the president and creator, is an ultra-marathoner who believes in testing your limits.  So be prepared for monkey bars, sandbag carries, and climbing walls back to back.  Also, any obstacle you can’t complete gives you a penalty of 30 burpees.  (note: Spartan offers a 6-10 mile Super and 12+ mile Beast option for those who truly want to test their physical limits)
  3. Tough Mudder (10 miles; 25-30 obstacles) – Sure Tough Mudder is long and has a good number of obstacles, but the obstacles are designed with teamwork in mind so expect lots of helping hands.  What makes TM truly unique is how it will test you mentally.  First, unlike the other races, Tough Mudder is untimed meaning the only motivation moving you forward is your own willpower.  Next, many of the obstacles are designed around your fears.  Heights, electricity, dark, claustrophobia, freezing; honestly if they could find a way to make you crawl through spider webs or a pit of snakes they’d probably do it.  The nice thing is, any obstacle you don’t want to face will allow you to walk around it with no penalty. (note: Tough Mudder now offers a half and 5K option that would be excellent for beginners)
  4. Savage Race (6 miles; 25 obstacles) – Savage Race advertises itself as “the perfect distance and the best obstacles” and I’d agree, but that ad applies to those who spend regular time working out or running obstacle races.  This doesn’t mean you have to be super fit, but you need to understand what it takes to start and finish an obstacle course race before attempting it.  Compared with other races of similar distance like the Spartan Super or Bone Frog Challenge that will leave you exhausted, I’d say this is the porridge that’s just right.  It offers lot’s of challenging obstacles for hands, legs, arms, and back plus a distance that will make you feel accomplished but still able to walk the next day.

So there you have it.  No matter what level of fitness you’re at, there’s a race for you.  Try it once and I guarantee you’ll be hooked.  Share your questions or experiences in the comments.  Happy Racing.

How Can You Leave the Church

leave-church

“How can you leave the church.”   It’s not a question, it’s a heart wrenching plea.   It comes not from those looking for an exit strategy from their church or denomination, but from those staying behind and begging you to stay.  Like a child stuck in the middle of a divorce saying “Daddy don’t go”, it’s a cry of bewilderment, supplication, confusion, despair, and fear.  They don’t know what else to do.  They understand your pain.  They understand your hurt.  But at the same time they’re afraid that if you walk out the door you will never come back.  Your religiosity, your beliefs, your faith, and your spirituality will die.  It will never be the same again and you will be lost to them.

It’s amazing what happens when you write something like “Dear Church Leaders“.  I would never have guessed that it would have received the response it did.  Not just in total views, but also in the connection people had with it.  Of course there were those who agreed and those who disagreed, which is normal.  They quoted scripture and religious text as if the issue were a simple black and white issue.  They missed the point. It’s the third group, who are caught in the middle, who understand best.  They respond with earnestness and sincerity like Dr McGuire, Robin Williams’ character in Good Will Hunting, repeating over and over to Will “It’s not your fault”.  It’s the text I got from my grandma several days after posting the blog.

“I read your blog to our bible study group yesterday.  Everybody wants a copy.  It was oil on troubled waters.  We all have children and grandchildren we pray for.  We love them and young or old we women are traumatized by the church’s action.  It isn’t necessary to spook us like that continually.  Our lesson was on Acts 4.  We read verses 29 & 30 together and pray together for you.  Love you. Grateful for you.  Grandpa would be proud too.”

“Grandpa would be proud”.  A minister for over 40 years who read the bible cover to cover every year.  Who spent hours every day in prayer and bible study before eating breakfast.  And the man never missed a meal.  A man who embarrassingly sobbed like a baby every time he said goodbye to us because he loved us so much.  I hear him in my grandma’s message.  He comes again as my uncle (his son) emails a week later concluding with the words “don’t leave, your voice is too important”.   Those words are neither given nor taken lightly.  They are purposeful, heartfelt, and sincere.  Everything I feel the church is not.

The personal messages keep coming.  The emotions are raw as I read through the stories of disunity with the church.  One from a gay man said how much he loved his church and wishes to come back.  I hear the pain in his words as he longs for reconciliation and community with his church brothers and sisters.  But in the end he knows reconciliation is not possible with the way things are currently.  He is outcast.

Over and over the theme is the same.  “The church doesn’t want me”.  “I’m better off now that I left”.  “They’ve pushed me out”.  “I didn’t want to leave, but I can’t stay”.  As I reflect on my own place in the church and read through the stories it seems like the question shouldn’t be “how can you leave”, but rather “why did it take so long”.

Those standing on the outside looking in don’t understand.  To them the answer is clear.  You need to make a change.  But making that kind of change isn’t easy.  That’s the struggle for so many who are frustrated with the decisions of their church.  We love the church that we’ve been raised in.  We feel deep connection with how it’s shaped us.  So the pain is real as we anguish over the thought of leaving.  To leave is frightening and relieving.  “How can you leave” is the plea we make to ourselves.  Where do we go?  What is the right decision?  Stay and fight or move on to find healing and peace somewhere else.

Dear Church Leaders, I Don’t Want Your Unity.

Dear Church Leaders,

I’ve been following the recent events of the Seventh Day Adventist General Conference very closely; and I’m not talking about the great things happening in Adventist education, healthcare, or ADRA.  I’m referring directly to the issue of church unity that has come to the forefront of the debate on women’s ordination.  While I was frustrated with the GC decision regarding women’s ordination, I believe your current approach to maintaining “church unity” is what will finally push myself and every other gen-X and millennial away from the church.

First let me tell you at my core I’m an Adventist.  I’m a third generation Adventist with both my father and grandfather being Adventist ministers.  Most all of my family has attended Andrews University.  I personally chose Andrews over other private and public schools I was admitted to because finding a spouse who believed in Adventism as I did was most important.  This is why your actions regarding women’s ordination and church unity are so hurtful to me.  I don’t see any of those things as being a reason why I’m Adventist.

The issue of women’s ordination and the subsequent fall-out are cultural issues, not doctrinal or even salvific.  When you’ve got people from literally every country on the globe as part of your church there’s going to be disagreements like this.  Should church greeters kiss, bow, or shake hands?  Who cares?  Yet for some reason in 2016 we approach our differences like the Pilgrims telling Native Americans to put more clothes on.  Church unity means making everyone the same.  Why?  Whatever does that have to do with where I spend eternity?

See To me and almost all the people who are mad at the church and/or leaving the church, we care about two things.  The first is something Jesus said (go figure).  Jesus said to love God and love your brother.  That’s it.  How much does our church show love?  Love to people who are sick, hungry, ex-cons, single parents, divorcees, refugees, mentally ill, black, white, gay, lesbian, transgender, or have had abortions.  LOVE EVERYONE!!!  And second only to the love everybody thing is community.  Because you can’t have community without love and acceptance and tolerance for our differences.  Because in the messed up lives we live in we want to know our church will love us and accept us despite our flaws.  When you have love as Jesus asked then community falls right in place.  And notice what comes at the end of community.  UNITY!

Unity comes when we take a step back from pointing out each others differences and start appreciating them.  We then leave the judgement up to God.  After all, he’s going to do a lot better job at it than any of us.  When we lose sight of what Jesus actually told us to do, we put ourselves in his place. It’s almost like we don’t trust Jesus anymore.  It’s 2000 years later and we think we’re smarter and know what he was talking about better than he did.  After all He didn’t have the Ellen White Library or the Seminary to guide Him.  And if you don’t trust Jesus, you don’t trust the people in your church to follow his command.  You don’t believe that the Holy Spirit can talk through anyone but yourself and the people who agree with you.  But if you don’t trust people, you’ll never have unity.  And that’s not something you can bring about with a vote or board action.

Church unity is something every pastor and church leader has preached about since Paul.  It’s an annual staple right up there with the Christmas sermon and that year end sermon about giving.  If you listen to those sermons (and I’m sure you’ve preached a couple too), then you’ll remember every one of them references I Corinthians 12.  The body of Christ is made up of many different parts and you can’t expect them all to be the same.  Yes, I agree with unity in the church, but in the respect that we are all unified through Jesus who created each of us uniquely marvelous.  However, your approach to church unity more closely resembles to Torquemada and the inquisition than it does to Jesus and the woman at the well.  And that’s a big problem.

Unity isn’t everyone agreeing on the same thing.  Unity isn’t about drawing a line in the sand and telling everyone to choose.  Unity is letting the tide wash away the line and enjoying the beach together.  It’s about finding the common things we agree about not trying to eliminate each other’s differences.  It’s about living Jesus lives and trusting him to change the hearts of men and women so His kingdom can be built, not ours.

So I’m begging you right now to take a step back from what you’re doing.  You hired the Barna group to tell you all the numbers about the next generation leaving.  This thing you’re doing right now is one of the reasons why.   Look around and you’ll find members are literally on the edge of their pews right now ready to get up and walk out; never to return.  Even giving a “year of grace” to come in line and repent won’t work.  It will only delay the inevitable.  Instead, follow the advice of Gamaliel.  Let this go.  If it is of man it will fail.  But if it is of God you won’t be able to stop it.  You’ll simply wind up with a bunch more empty churches.

Sincerely,

Ben

Finding Your Dream Career

I’m in the business of stories.  I work for an organization called the Underground.  We believe that every person has a story, that their story matters, is worth telling, and is also part of a bigger story.  We’re in the business of creating stories and telling stories.  Because it’s only when you understand your story that you can truly find success and fulfillment in life.

So what’s my story? I grew up in an average home with my parents and brother.  For the first thirteen years of my life my dad was a pastor.  And he was a good one.  Every church he went to doubled and sometimes tripled in size.  When I hit middle school however, he left the ministry for the health and sanity of himself and our family.  Through middle school and high school I don’t know how many different companies my dad worked for as he tried to find something he was equally passionate about as ministry.  He understood the importance of a good career and also taught us how crucial that was to providing for our family.  So it shouldn’t have surprised me when we went for a walk my senior year in high school to talk about what I would study in college.

We were walking down the road as we often did since we lived in the country and could do those things.  High school was behind me and I had gone through quite of bit of career exploration.  I was seriously looking at Physical Therapy, had entertained law, dentistry, and was currently registered as pre-optometry at Andrews University where I was headed.  Walking with my dad I told him I wasn’t really interested in any of those options anymore.  At 18 years old I had made up my mind and was going to be an archaeologist.  Without stopping or missing a beat he answered “No you’re not.  You just want to be Indiana Jones and I’m not buying you a leather jacket and fedora.”  Unfortunately, that was exactly what I was thinking of doing so there was no arguing my dad’s point.

So I went to business school, because after all that’s the default degree for people who don’t know what they want to do when they grow up right?  After college I spent 13 years working in Human Resources, specifically in recruitment.  I thought I’d climb the ladder and retire an HR executive.  I was working for a great organization with stability and upward mobility, not to mention I was good at my job.  I thought I had found my career. And I did, but not the way most people would have thought.  What I discovered in my first job was something I didn’t know when I took that walk with my dad all those years before or understood as I looked for jobs after college.  It took me 13 years to figure out that in order to know your career must first have to know the definition of “Career”.  And it’s not what you think it is.

According to Oxford’s English Dictionary, career is defined as a person’s course or progress through life.  Think about that for a minute.  “A person’s course or progress through life”.  I like this definition a lot more than what we traditionally think of when we think of the word “career”.  Typically we will think of career as it relates to our job.  How to find the right job, the best job, the most successful job.  We think our career is tied to our education, how our education applies to our job, and how our job creates personal wealth and success.  But this definition puts the power of your career where it should be, in your hands.  It translates into the story of your life.  And only you can define your story – you are your career.

Your job is not your career.  Your employer is not your career.  Your degree is not your career.  So when we talk about you finding your dream career, that all starts with you.  It’s talking about finding out who you really are in your story.  It starts and ends with you.  You finding out who you are and exploring what makes you tick.  It doesn’t matter what you do. What matters is who you are.

It took me a while to realize that so my own career could bring me to where I am.  No college adviser, business mentor, or career coach ever told me that.  I had to do it.  As I discovered who I am I also found my story.  So what can I tell you to help you find your story, your career?

Whether you’re Frodo, Luke Skywalker, Katniss Everdeen, or Ron Burgundy all stories have one thing in common, and that is the hero is on a journey.  Those heroes are driven by their passion.  Yes, it’s cliche but it’s the most important piece that I realized was missing from what I was doing. I will always remember the conversation I had with a CFO one day as we talked about careers.  He said “Most of the time I can’t believe they pay me to do this.  I would do it for free. I love doing this”.  I was blown away.  He operated on 4 hours of sleep and worked unceasingly to drive the business.  But that didn’t matter because he was passionate about what he was doing.  It brought him joy and contentment.  It wasn’t a job.  It was his career, his story.

What is your passion?  Do you know yet?  If you don’t it’s okay.  That’s part of the journey. After college I found a job with a great organization with excellent job security.  To many people they would consider that a good career and call it quits.  I became an expert in my field.  However, I never really reached that point of “I can’t believe they pay me”. Some find their passion when they’re elementary students and others find it in their forties.   Looking back I didn’t understand my passion until the right moment.  As that passion took hold of me I looked is when I looked outside of the career path I had been on and saw found my story.

Next, as you find your passion, don’t let obstacles knock you off your journey.  You may have heard the statistic that 90 percent of business start ups fail in the first year correct?  But did you know that of those who fail, 90% never try again?  Yet of those who do, 80% have success the second time.   Too many people quit at the first sign of trouble.  They ignore their passion and redirect back to safety.  They look for the easy path where all the doors are open.  I can’t count how many jobs I have been rejected from.  Every single one hurt.  Every single rejection eroded my self esteem.  You get to a place where you just don’t want to try anymore.  However, every rejection made me rethink my purpose and my passion.  It refined my resolve and clarified my journey.  Eventually I reached far outside my comfort zone, testing the waters to what I formerly thought I was unqualified.  While I didn’t get that first job either, I did get a call back.  That told me I was onto something and led me to keep trying.

Finally, find your guide.  We all need a Yoda, but more often than not the people who want to be our guide aren’t who we need to guide us.  For most of my life I looked at people within my profession to guide me.  I heard all the cliche’s  “Bloom where you’re planted”, “Dress for the job you want”, you name it.  However well intentioned those coaches and mentors were when they said those things, they didn’t have any interest in my passion.  They were focused on their path and how you might follow or even aid them as they go by. Their definition of career and success didn’t match with mine.  I chased someone elses definition of career for far too long.  Whether it was my dad’s definition, what I perceived from others as career, what I saw from my peers, or advice I took from people I considered having successful careers.   Your guide needs to know you.  One of my guides (yes I have several and I encourage you to do the same) never looked at my resume or career.  He knew me.  He saw where I was engaged and listened to what I talked about outside of the office.  He pushed me and encouraged me to follow my heart despite what my head said.  Your guide should be part of YOUR journey, not the other way around.

Don’t be frustrated if you don’t know your career.  Many of the greatest heroes didn’t know what career path they were on when they started.  Luke Skywalker simply wanted to be a fighter pilot.  Frodo just wanted to explore outside the shire.  Derek Zoolander just wanted to be really really really ridiculously good looking.  According to a Penn State study, 20-50% of students enter college undecided and 75% will change their major at least once.  That’s huge.  And how many of us can say we matured enough in 4 years of college to say that final degree we got should define us for the next 40 years?  If it were that easy the Wall Street Journal wouldn’t have said in 2010 that the average person has 7 careers in their life.  Thirteen years ago I would have never guessed I would be working for a teen center booking concerts and planning after-school enrichment programs with public schools, and helping teens create and tell stories.

So, what’s the best career for you?  It might be the career you’re in right now.  It might be a career three jobs from now.  It might be a career you haven’t thought of yet.  What matters right now is, are you going to redefine your career by taking control of your story.  Once you find your story you can become passionate about it, overcome the obstacles that are in it, and find the guides that will help you find the career of your dreams.

Parenting Decisions You Can’t Prepare For

Father SonI don’t know if my boys have ever seen me cry, but they did this week.  And it wasn’t one of those manly tears that fall at the end of Braveheart.  No, this was full blown bumbling, snot dripping, tears running off your chin crying.  And for many people, including my wife, it was probably for a silly reason.  I returned a guinea pig to the pet store.  It was more than just a guinea pig moment though.  It was an adult decision, a parent decision, a father decision that I knew would leave a lifelong impression on both me and the boys.  A decision that I didn’t think would impact me the way it did and I could have lived without.

It all started about two months ago.  After having a rough couple of days with our oldest son, we decided to challenge him with some responsibility that would reward and motivate him.  Anyone who has or has had kids knows maturing wreaks havoc on their minds and emotions.  It’s really a cruel joke of nature on both kids and parents.  He had been asking for his own pet for a while and after some research decided guinea pigs would be a good fit.  As hoped, he responded remarkably to our challenge and we soon day came where we drove all over town to pick out the right two guinea pigs.  We had to get two because apparently they are extremely social animals and do best in pairs.  So each boy picked one out.

One of the reason’s we had to go to four different stores was to find two female guinea pigs, because they get along better than two males and obviously can’t breed.  The boys immediately fell in love with them and picked out perfect names, Squeakers (for my oldest) and Nibbles (for my youngest).  Every day when I came home there the boys were, sitting on the couch reading with a guinea pig on their shoulder.  Things were great as my oldest researched guinea pigs and taught us all about what they eat, trimming their nails, brushing them, and all kinds of random facts.  The guinea pigs thrived and grew.

Then came Tuesday night.  I had just got off work and called to check in as normal.  My wife was outside with the boys and the guinea pigs letting them get some fresh air and munch on grass (the guinea pigs, not our boys).  As we talked she said something was up with the guinea pigs.  One of them was humping the other. Now, this isn’t unusual even for same sex animals when they get older as one tries to establish dominance.  But just to be sure she flipped them over to double check.  Sure enough, what we were told were two females by the pet store was actually a male and female.  And they were old enough to start mating.  As with all decisions my immediate response was “What would you like me to do dear”.

There were several options at our disposal: neutering, separation, or see if the store will take the male back.  We agreed the easiest and most cost effective was to take the male back to the store.  When I got home I went directly to the cage.  They had been used to us now so he didn’t run away and was easy to catch.  I put him in a box and proceeded to the door, trying to get out before the boys got back from the park and hoping to avoid a scene.  It didn’t matter.  When I got to the door there was my youngest.  He saw the box and knew I was doing something with the guinea pigs.

“What are you doing dad?” came the simple, innocent question.

“Don’t worry about it, go have dinner with mom.  She’ll talk to you.” And I hopped in the car.

The pet store manager was amazing as I explained the situation and she let me pick out a new guinea pig without any charges.  As I concluded my business with the manager is when things changes.  Everything began to sink.  Up to that moment I had moved forward coldly and logically, walking through the decision without emotion.  Now I was on the way home to face my son.  I told myself this was what was best.  But that didn’t make the sick feeling that was building in my stomach go away.  Next came the hardest part.  The talk with my son.  I was choked up before I sat down.  He was braver than I gave him credit.  Braver than I was at the moment.  I set him on my lap and held him tight as we talked.

“Do you know what I did?” I asked, trying to compose myself.

“Yes, mom explained it and it makes sense.”  He replied.

Then I caved.  My wall was gone.  The weight of my parental decision attacking me from every side.  I separated two innocent animals who trusted me to take care of them and who had become attached to our family.  I had taken away my son’s pet.  No warning.  No discussion.  Not even a goodbye.  I explained everything.  Why we did it.  How hard it was on me and mom.  How important he was and how parents have to make hard decisions some times.  And if he wanted I would take him to the store to say goodbye.

Nothing can prepare you for those decisions.  No one writes books about things like this that hit you in parenting.  The life of a parent is filled with hundreds of thousands of decisions that you hope in the moment are the right one.  Decisions that you make with little to no previous experience or knowledge.  You pray that down the road you don’t regret it or that your kid doesn’t wind up in therapy because of it.  Sure, you can rationally and reasonably make decisions that are logically the best move for you and your family, but is that always the best way to go about making decisions?  No matter how rational a decision is and how reasonable it is, doesn’t there have to some heart that ultimately impacts it?  Is moving into a new house the best?  Is changing schools the best?  Is it piano lessons or violin?  Sports or science?  The list goes on and on and on.  It’s overwhelming and exhausting.

What amazes me is how you keep so many of those emotions at bay as you make decision after decision for your family and they hit you in the least expected moments. I didn’t even try to hide it from my boys.  Many fathers would have.  But I don’t want my boys to believe their dad has no emotions and doesn’t care.  I don’t want them to think what we do as parents is easy and we just had kids so we had slaves to do the dishes.

I think about how I worry about my boys every day.  Am I a good dad? Will they turn out okay because of how I’ve raised them and the decisions I’ve made?  I can only hope so.  I’m still beating myself up about it.  In the grand scheme of things I know guinea pigs are such a trivial part of us.  What I also know is my son rebounded without a blink.  He understood and loves his replacement guinea pig with the same gusto he loved the other one.  So, I guess I’m doing something okay.

I Took My Kids Away From My Wife for Mothers Day

This past weekend was mothers day.  I feel like mothers day has become a hallowed day of reverence towards mothers that no other minor holiday achieves.  Even fathers day barely registers as anything more than a good day to shop at Lowe’s.  But mother’s take up a difference space in our personal and national agendas.  Mom gave us life.  Mom kissed our owies and gave us baths.  Mom cleaned our rooms and our homes.  Mom cooked dinner and did our laundry.  Mom took care of the pets we got bored of.  Mom held us at 2am when we were scared or sick.  Mom got angry when we got bullied and cried with us when we got dumped by our first girlfriend.  Mom is undeniably important.  (I love you mom).  So it surprised our friends when I told them my mothers day gift to my wife was not flowers, breakfast in bed, and handmade cards from the boys.  No, it was to take her kids away from her for the day.

No one will deny that the vast majority of moms don’t get the credit they deserve.  Whether they are a stay at home mom juggling household duties with running kids around to practice, or a working mom trying to squeeze in a job along with the other stuff, moms are also typically running on empty by the time they get to sit down at the end of the day.  (note: if you’re a stay at home mom, don’t read too much into that last sentence.  You work just as hard, just differently than mothers with paying jobs).   So when it came time to figure out what to do for my wife, giving her a break from all of her male children (including myself) was a no brainer.  I got up early, got the boys ready and headed to visit my mom for the day, leaving my wife to do as she pleased.  Of course by the time I got out she had already started the laundry and been grocery shopping, but that also meant her schedule was clear.  When we got back and took her to dinner that evening, she told us how great her day was doing exactly what she wanted to without anyone elses input or interruption.  It was a perfect day.

But there’s a group of people out there who think that story is incredibly horrible and sad.  One of my wife’s co-workers was appalled that she didn’t spend the day with her boys.  (her co-worker also doesn’t have kids by the way).  No matter what explanation she gave, her co-worker didn’t get it.  The same thing happened to model Rachel Finch this week as she shared that she sends her kid away every weekend to get a break from them.  Apparently the full-time mom and model sends her two year old daughter to spend Saturdays with grandma so she can get some down time.  As usual, social media exploded with infuriated people condemning this act of parental neglect.  They couldn’t believe that a parent would be so calloused as to not want to spend every moment with their child.  But is that really such a good thing?

I’ve seen parents so burned out with their kids that the kids are borderline neglected.  There’s no relationship anymore as the kids and parents basically co-exist in the same household with the adults functioning more as living chaperons keeping the kids from killing themselves.  The parents are exhausted and the kids are in their own worlds with friends, toys, or electronics.  I’ve been there myself.  The stress and worry of work eating away at me to the point I didn’t want to come home.  I couldn’t handle what the family expected of me on top of what was already eating away at me.  I just needed some space.  I turned out to be not so great a parent as I snapped at my kids and did what I could to find “me time”.  I wasn’t happy with myself or proud of my parenting, but I didn’t know what else to do.

So taking weekends off sounds like a fantastic idea to me.  It’s not like the kids were going to foster care for the weekend either.  It’s grandma.  Growing up not really knowing or connecting with my own grandparents, making sure my kids have a strong relationship with my parents is extremely important for me.  The best mothers day gift I can give my mom is time with her grandkids.  And who is going to spoil them better than grandma anyway?

I have friends who have intentionally moved closer to family so that they have the additional support.  They can drop the kids off with the grandparents any time and get a much needed date night and time away.  However, for most of the world that’s not an option.  If you don’t live near family, have a close network of friends, or the disposable income to pay for a sitter, time away from the kids to catch your breath isn’t possible.  You take any moment you can.  Sleepover at a friends?  Can both kids go?  Summer Camp?  Do we get a discount if we send them for more than one week?  I know there are plenty of parents out there who agree.

Now none of this is to disparage having kids.  No parent who agrees they need more time away from kids would in any way trade those kids in or give up parenting.  Our world revolves around our boys and our family.  And it saddens us every day as we realize how fast they’re growing up and how much less they need us already.  But in a world self-absorbed in it’s own personal fulfillment, I don’t understand how people are outraged over parents wanting, needing, and deserving a break from their kids.  Think about it this way, even if you worked in your dream job with the worlds greatest boss and co-workers, would you want to go to work 365 days a year with no vacations?

Movie Review: Captain America Civil War (No Spoilers)

I went to see Captain America last night.  I admit, this wasn’t my number one film to see this year.  That spot was reserved for Batman v. Superman and I’ll get to comparing the two in a little bit.  Nonetheless, I was anxious to see the movie since I had read the Civil War comic series and loved it.  I wanted to see how the story was interpreted to the big screen in one film.  I went in with low expectations for screen adaptation but was very happy with how it turned out.  Obviously with it being Captain America’s movie the plot revolves around him, but as always Robert Downey Junior isn’t far away reminding you that he’s really the one in charge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  You have most of the holdovers from Avengers Age of Ultron – Cap, Ironman, Black Widow, Hawkeye, The Vision, War Machine, and Scarlet Witch.  I will admit though, that I missed Thor and Hulk, but the addition of Spiderman and Black Panther make up for it.  And whether you liked his movie or not, Paul Rudd as Antman will quickly become a favorite secondary character.   Continue reading

When Did Religion Start Holding Us Back?

inquisitionWhen did religion turn into a system that retards society and culture rather than a progressive force pushing it forward?  The thought occurred to me this week in a conversation about the lack of response from Christians to the atrocities committed by ISIS and Boko Haram towards women.  As 10 and 11 year old girls are kidnapped, raped, and sold as sex slaves it feels like most Christian’s are more concerned about Donald Trump “restoring our Christian nation” to drive out the gays and atheists.  Believers across the world and from across religious spectrums are seeking to bring society backwards to some golden era of belief.  They seemingly forget that religion is what has moved us forward more than it’s held us back. Continue reading