Book Review: White Awake by Daniel Hill

White AwakeWhite Awake by Daniel Hill. InterVarsity Press (September 2017, 206 pp).

In the past decade of working with college students, one of the most common resources I’ve scoured the internet trying to find is a simple guide for white students desiring to better understand their ethnic identity and their role in the work of justice. There are lots of great resources out there but many are either too dated to be relevant to the Trump era or too academic to be immediately actionable.

I’m happy to report that I have finally found a book to buy in bulk for intrepid students and friends for the next decade. Pastor Daniel Hill’s book, White Awake, engages academia while remaining approachable, acknowledges deeper spiritual realities while remaining practical, and roots itself in the Gospel and in Scripture while pressing us beyond the walls of the church building. It is the whole package given to us in under 200 pages – exactly what I am looking for.

Following a few introductory chapters to lay some necessary groundwork, Hill’s book is structured around seven clearly defined stages of white identity. You might think of them as signposts along the way, letting you know the lay of the land at each stage and giving the necessary guidance to make it through the next leg of the journey. At each stop, he engages with Scripture, relevant social science theory, and compelling personal narratives to guide the reader into understanding. The book wraps with well-written discussion questions that make me itch to get a group of friends together to discuss it.

The Good & The Quotable:

Beyond the personal challenge that this book was for me (the chapter on Self-Righteousness is heavily underlined in my copy – ouch), one of my favorite things about this book is its pacing. That may sound strange but Hill manages to avoid several tropes of the “popular ministry handbook” genre that left me feeling pleasantly surprised at the end of each chapter by its clarity and sharpness.

Here is one brief example to illustrate my point: it’s common in books like these to introduce a theoretical framework or ministry model (“Seven Stages of White Identity”) and then brazenly attempt to overlay that concept onto a biblical narrative, suggesting that there is a character or story in the Bible that perfectly embodies the journey you desire your readers to take.

It would not have been hard to imagine Hill finding a character with cultural power (Peter in Acts 10, Moses in Exodus, Esther) and then attempting to mine these seven stages out of their story. Trust me – I have read dozens of books like this and the hermeneutical gymnastics eat up so much page space and attention capital that whatever point the authors gets easily lost in the shuffle for a critical reader.

Mercifully, Hill’s book engages with Scripture responsibly and appropriately for each stage. Instead of beating up a passage of the Bible to justify his eloquent theory, Hill saves some of his most poignant writing for his unpacking of the biblical narrative. I promise you will never read the stories of Matthew and Nicodemus, among others, in the same way again.

I could go on but let me just share from the author’s own voice a few of my favorite quotes:

“The theology passed on to us from white forefathers is considered to be the normal, default standard for theology. It is the assumed cultural norm. Everyone else’s theology is defined in relation to whiteness.” (33)

“We are traumatized, and we are therefore in denial. Acknowledging that all our land was stolen from Native people feels like too great a burden, so we create an alternative reality that allows us to disengage emotionally from the truth” (73)

“Why does God ask traumatized people to look at the trauma they initiated through their sin and rebellion? For the same reason God asks us to: it is the truth and we are free only when we lift up the truth” (77)

“A good way to think of it is that conversion gives us the ability to begin divesting ourselves from the grips of white superiority” (97)

“That’s why I’ve come to believe that a white person’s reaction to the term white supremacy is the most tangible sign to his or her being awake or not” (148)

“We come to terms with the fact that we were steered as young people toward ‘good’ school districts, ‘good’ neighborhoods, ‘good’ universities, and ‘good’ jobs. We didn’t have the eyes to see it then, and we now realize that ‘good’ was the politically safe way to say ‘white.’ This normalization of the goodness of whiteness has led to a lack of diverse experience and we realize it has shaped us as white people in a very specific and unique way.” (150)

“To be a white person in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a state of lament almost all the time.” (158)

“It may not seem like the most enticing work, but engaging with the white people in our extended community is one of the most concrete ways to make a difference” (175)

The Transferable:

There are a number of easily transferable tools for leaders and practitioners that Hill gives throughout the book. The seven stage framework itself is a goldmine for those of us in the business of discipling white people through their identity development. However, perhaps the most impactful tool for me, personally, was the first one mentioned.

Hill notes that he was challenged early on in his journey by a older leader of color to inventory four groups of voices in his life:

  1. His closest friends
  2. The mentors he looked to for guidance
  3. The preachers/teachers/theologians he relied on for spiritual guidance
  4. The authors of the books he was reading

The exercise was simply to list them and then take note of the cultural backgrounds they represented. I believe this exercise would be provocative and convicting enough for 90% of white folks to decide they need to take greater ownership over their journey toward awakening and active participation in God’s shalom in the world.

Who Should Read This:

I legitimately believe every white Christian should own, read, and discuss this book in 2018. In fact, for any of my local friends who are reading this, I will put my money where my mouth is. If you promise to read this book in 2018, I will buy and deliver a copy for the first five people to comment either here or on my Instagram feed. I hope this leads to some great conversations and real change for all of us.

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10 Books I Loved in 2017

Every year I set a goal related to reading. This year, my goal was to read for thirty minutes every day. It went…okay. I think if you averaged out the time across the year, I probably got to or near the finish line. Let’s say B+ for effort.

For 2018, my goal is to only allow myself to start a new book once I’ve journaled or blogged about the book just finished and can point to one practical step I’m taking in my life as a response to what I read.

I am learning as I get older that I often love to finish a book just for the sake of finishing and moving on to the next one. My hope is that this habit will push what I’m reading toward actual growth in my life.

When I look back over my reading list from this year, I can tell that the main question I was processing was “How does my vocation as a follower of Jesus move from my working hours as a career missionary down into the everyday life of my family in our neighborhood?”

I started off 2017 with a good sense that I was about to leave the missionary agency I had been with for nine years. One of the goals my wife and I had in that transition was to get a better sense of what our family’s mission is in the world. We are certainly still trying to understand that but I can tell that themes like vocation and calling were central for me in 2017.

And now, with no further ado, here are 10 Books I Loved in 2017:

Roadmap to ReconciliationRoadmap to Reconciliation by Brenda Salter-McNeil

I first heard the term “racial reconciliation” in college and, as the author herself laments, the hardest thing about reconciliation is not explaining it; it is practicing it. How do you actually work toward reconciliation as a community? This is the closest thing to a handbook on reconciliation that I have read and I would heartily recommend it to you if you are looking for a community resource. You can read my full review here.

visionsofvocationVisions of Vocation by Steven Garber

This book would also win my 2017 Award for Most Boring Cover. I have owned Visions of Vocation for at least a few years and never thought to open it until I read about Garber in Jena Nardella’s book, One Thousand Wells. Garber is the principal of the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture and is a consummate mentor even across the medium of a book. If you want to learn more about vocation in 2018, check this one out.

techwise

The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch

I have already decided to buy every book Andy Crouch writes so this wasn’t a shocker for me. However, if you’ve found yourself daunted by his 10,000 foot thinking before, I would recommend giving this book a chance. It is an immensely practical treatment of the role of technology in our lives. I genuinely believe every new parent should be issued this book as they leave the hospital. You can read my full review here.

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Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith

I heard about Smith, a philosophy professor at Calvin College, from listening to podcasts featuring Sandra McCracken and Andrew Peterson. When two of my favorite songwriters recommend a book, it goes on my Amazon Wish List. Smith argues prophetically that humans are not primarily thinking creatures in need of better worldviews; we are instead, desiring creatures in need of better liturgies to shape our hearts. Timely and beautifully written – don’t miss it.

Faithful Presence by David Fitchfaithfulpresence

As someone engaged in “mission work,” for the past decade, I have read roughly one billion books on being missional. There is an entire industry that exists to convince you that your church or ministry is wildly old-fashioned and irrelevant and, if you only buy a certain book and attend the $500 annual conferences designed around it, you too can be missional and actually love Jesus. If I could recommend one mission-centric book that you could buy today and then unsubscribe from all of that silliness, this is it.

embraceEmbrace by Leroy Barber

Having worked with college students for my entire adult life, I know that it is usually around this age that many develop a heart for justice in the world based on their exposure to perspectives beyond their home experience. If you are opening your eyes to injustice in the world and looking for a great first book to accompany your journey toward active engagement, I found Embrace to be a wonderful, simple introduction into the Christian movements for justice.

failure_of_nerveA Failure of Nerve by Edwin Friedman

Hot take: This may be the most prophetic and necessary book on leadership for our generation and it was written twenty years ago.

Friedman’s key point is that organizational leadership in our time is crippled by interpersonal relational anxiety and using all of the wrong tools to address the problem. It is dense and challenging and bypasses many of the “ten simple steps” and other bland tropes of the genre. I’m still chewing on it months later.

slowchurchSlow Church by C. Christopher Smith & John Pattison

Drawing inspiration from the Slow Food movement, this book is structured around the themes of Ecology, Economics, and Ethics. It pushes back against the “mcdonaldization” of the church, particularly in the urban core of cities in which so many white millennials, in particular, find themselves living and attending church. If you, like me, find yourself in that demographic, I would highly recommend this book.

eastofedenEast of Eden by John Steinbeck

Our family devoured this book in 2017. When we could have been watching TV or going to bed, my wife would instead choose to read Steinbeck. I had to see what all the fuss was about and I was not disappointed. Between the highly readable prose, the cavernous depth of characters developed, and the fascinating biblical narrative parallels and theological conversations, I got hooked on it too. Timshel!

duncowThe Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin, Jr.

This was another book highly recommended by a handful of songwriters that I admire and I am glad I finally crossed it off my list. It’s a little bit Orwell, a little bit Chaucer, and a little bit The Hobbit – all wrapped around an epic good versus evil story where even the good characters have to come to terms with the evils within. It’s an easy read with a beautifully sad and heroic ending that is wonderfully satisfying.

How about you? What did you read and love in 2017? What were some major themes from that reading for you? Any recommendations for my 2018 list?

On Thirty-Something Male Friendship

PodcastsI like to think of myself as a refined and intelligent consumer and I want my listening to reflect that in case I need to impress someone riding in the car with me. My podcast subscriptions fall mostly in the categories of news, cultural commentary, interviews with interesting people, and deep dives into topics that intrigue me (most recently, theoretical physics – impressive, right?). But, one podcast icon stands out from among the rest. It’s one I probably wouldn’t play to impress someone in the car and the one I most look forward to each week.

A few years ago, I was watching a video on YouTube when a video on the recommendation sidebar caught my eye. It was about the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m not a huge comic book fan, but I was intrigued so I clicked on the video.

What followed was a conversation between two guys who were clearly good friends, speculating over upcoming Marvel movies, punctuated by frequent tangents and, occasionally, actual quotes from Marvel Studios. I wasn’t sure why at the time but I loved it. At the end of the video, there was a link to the podcast from which this conversation had apparently been clipped – The Weekly Planet. I subscribed that day and, more than two hundred episodes later, I am still listening.

I have often wondered why I like this show so much. It bills itself as the official podcast of comicbookmovie.com, a website I never visit, and is mostly either a breakdown of movies and TV shows I haven’t seen yet or an large-scale overview of themes from movies in the past few decades, some I have seen and some I haven’t (e.g. “Biggest/Most Insane Movie Feuds,” “Biggest Box Office Bombs,” “Best/Worst Comic Book Movie Directors”). Yet, every Monday morning I download the next episode and look forward to the drive home when I get to indulge in my weekly fix.

Recently, the primary host (James) was on another podcast talking about the creation of The Weekly Planet and he said something that gave me a clue into my habit. He explained that he had wanted the podcast to be simply the conversations that he and his friend (co-host Nick) were already having, just recorded and organized around various topics. He didn’t start the podcast with much direction but he knew he wanted his friendship with Nick to be at the center of it.

Whether you listen to the very first episode or the most recent one, it is basically the same experience – two guys talking about their mutual fascination with comic book-based (and other fantasy-based) entertainment, which often includes a lot of sarcasm, tangents, and inside jokes.

Weekly Planet

I realized that I love this podcast because these two guys have a friendship that reminds me of my closest guy friends. Like James and Nick, we bonded over shared interests and experiences. Like them, our conversations are sprinkled with inside jokes and quotes from our collection of shared obsessions from 15+ years of friendship (Arrested Development, the Halo games, Star Wars, Strong Bad emails, etc.).

The Weekly Planet might be about comic book movies on its surface, but I would argue it is (at least indirectly) a podcast about male friendship. It is a weekly display of the hidden depths that come only from relationships that make up half a lifetime and transition through stages of life into something deeper than affinity.

When I listen to the podcast every week, it awakens the longing I have to reconnect with my own friends. Like a lot of men in their thirties, I have experienced the thinning of relationships that comes with marriage, kids, relocating, job shifts, and the other transitions that happen to many people in their mid-to-late twenties. Friendships that were forged in the fires of late-night Taco Bell runs three nights per week cool to monthly family hangouts when schedules allow. Planning happens weeks ahead of time or else we never see each other. I understand why this is necessary but, still, I lament. Why is it so hard to keep old friendships thriving, much less make new ones, as we get older?

A friend posted this Boston Globe article a few months ago that highlights the health risks for people who live in isolation and, specifically, the challenges for men to stay connected as they age. One of its many illuminating insights is that men seem to need an activity to do together in order to build and keep a friendship. He says that though women seem to be able to connect more easily via a pure relational interface like talking on the phone, if men aren’t doing something side-by-side, they lose connectivity quickly.

As I was reading, I remembered a conversation I had with my dad when I was a teenager. He confided in me that he constantly felt lonely. He looked around at his world and, though he loved his family and had a successful business, he didn’t feel like he had any friends. I wondered while reading this article how much this contributed to the health issues that took him on such a rapid decline in the later years of his life. I am still haunted by the fear that I will one day say the same thing to my own children.

Perhaps the thing that draws me the most to The Weekly Planet is the mere fact that it is The Weekly Planet, as opposed to the Monthly or Quarterly or Whenever We Can Find a Babysitter Planet. James and Nick get together every week just to hit record and talk together about something they both love. Their friendship is continually stoked by the discipline of doing something together. They were doing it before the podcast was making any money and I hope they keep doing it long after podcasts are profitable.

When the show hit 200 episodes a few weeks back, Nick surprised James with a cake to celebrate. The cake was decorated with the number 198, a reference to (and small jab at) the fact that though Nick has been present every week, James has actually missed two of the 200+ episodes of the podcast. Obviously this was a joke, but something about those numbers moved me on a deeper level.

Two hundred weekly podcast episodes represent roughly four years of time. I wondered to myself what might happen in my own life, in my family’s life, and in the broader community of which I am a part if our commitment to one another was so strong that it was a tease-worthy “offense” to have missed two weekly gatherings in four years. Who knows what depths we might plumb together and what riches we might find there? I wonder what I need to rearrange in my own life to reach old age with a group of guys that still jokes about TV shows from our twenties but also exudes the warmth of years spent in each other’s regular presence.

For a podcast whose theme song includes only the lyrics “red-hot comic book movie news shooting up your butthole,” I am surprisingly challenged every week, maybe even more so than from all my other, more refined listens.

Thanks James and Nick,
Kale

Book Review: The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch

techwiseThe Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch. Baker Books (April 2017, 221 pp).

When it comes to being a fan of art, I have two different modes: casual and obsessive. As a casual fan of artists like Anne Lamott or Coldplay, I have no problem picking and choosing the bits and pieces of their catalog that I like and forgetting about the rest. I don’t feel an urgent need to catch up on what I have missed and I am perfectly fine to not pick up the next album or book if it doesn’t strike me.

On the other hand, there are a few artists about whom I obsess. I will buy every Andrew Peterson album that ever comes out. I will pre-order the craziest package with the behind-the-scenes photos and videos and recipes for the cookies they ate in the studio. I will read the liner notes and memorize who is singing background vocals or playing the guitar solo on each song. Artists like Andrew are the reason why I have to have a very specific line item for personal spending in our monthly budget.

I am an obsessive Andy Crouch fan. I devoured his three previous books (Culture Making, Playing God, Strong and Weak) and plan to read everything else he puts out from here until Jesus comes back. That being said, even if you don’t find yourself in this camp, I would highly recommend giving his new book, The Tech-Wise Family, a read, particularly if you are a parent or ever desire to be one.

The Good and the Quotable:

Generally speaking, I would call Crouch a framework thinker. He is interested in organizing the large ideas that govern our everyday lives into a simple framework of understanding that helps us understand how concepts like power, injustice, idolatry, vulnerability, and now, technology, interact and shape the way we view and act in the world.

That being said, The Tech-wise Family is also an immensely practical book. In the preface, Crouch identifies the core problem:

“…the pace of technological change has surpassed anyone’s capacity to develop enough wisdom to handle it. We are stuffing our lives with technology’s new promises, with no clear sense of whether technology will help us keep the promises we’ve already made” (17).

After a thoughtful introduction setting up the need for families to address the elephant in the room that is our collective addiction to technology and a helpful explanation of nudges and disciplines as tools that can help us wean off our devices, the rest of the book is structured around what Crouch calls “Ten Tech-Wise Commitments” that his family keeps to maintain a healthy relationship with each other and with technology.

barnaSprinkled throughout the book are findings from a recent massive Barna survey of parents and kids about the use of technology in the home. At the end of each chapter, Crouch gives a “Reality Check,” where he shares where his own family has succeeded and struggled (often both) with each of the ten commitments. Between Crouch’s heartfelt stories, the practicality of each of the ten steps, and the large-scale findings of the Barna survey, this fast-reading book feels like the exact right tool to give to parents, would-be parents, and anyone else who fears their devices are beginning to (or long ago managed to) encroach upon their relationships.

As always, here are a few of my favorite quotes to entice you to buy this book:

“But if there’s one thing our children need to hear from us, over and over again, it’s this: ‘Our family is different.’” (19)

“Technology is in its proper place when it helps us bond with the real people we have been given to love. It’s out of its proper place when we end up bonding with people at a distance, like celebrities, whom we will never meet” (20)

“Our homes aren’t meant to be just refueling stations…They are meant to be places where the very best of life happens” (29)

“Build your life around not having a TV, and when you finally do have a TV, almost nothing will change” (31)

“Family is about the forming of persons…But while in one sense a person is simply what we are as human beings, we are also able to become – to grow in capacities that are only potentially present within us at first” (52)

“Fill the center of your life together – the literal center, the heart of your home, the place where you spend the most time together – with the things that reward creativity, relationship, and engagement. Push technology and cheap thrills to the edges; move deeper and more lasting things to the core.” (71)

“The more you entertain children, the more bored they will get” (141)

The home is the place where worship of the true God starts: the place where we remember and recite God’s Word, and where we learn to respond to God with our heart, soul, strength, and – as Jesus added when he called this the greatest commandment – with our mind as well” (190)

The Transferable:

This book was written to be immediately applicable so much of it could be quickly transferred into the life of the reader. Personally, I found the stories of how Crouch’s family had incorporated the commitments in their home to be some of the most stirring transferable elements. In the chapter on Sabbath-keeping, he shares that their family has a Sunday afternoon tea tradition in which they (kids too!) prepare a simple meal that is easily shared with friends and neighbors allowing their community to fully rest after church on Sundays and share time together without worrying about the work going in or coming out of the meal. I love this idea and could easily imagine implementing it in our family as my daughter gets older.

Who Should Read This:

This is one of few books that I would recommend to absolutely everyone. It might be most meaningful to parents but Crouch does a wonderful job of not making it feel alienating to those without kids. It really is an immensely practical and insightful book and one that I feel everyone should read.

Book Review: 5Q by Alan Hirsch

5Q5Q:  Reactivating the Original Intelligence and Capacity of the Body of Christ by Alan Hirsch. 100M (April 2017, 216 pp).

Confession: I am an Alan Hirsch fan. This is the second of his books that I’ve reviewed and the fourth that I’ve read, following in the footsteps of The Forgotten Ways, The Permanent Revolution (with Tim Catchim), and Untamed (with Debra Hirsch). I have also had the pleasure of hearing him speak at a few different conferences and I find him to be an enjoyable and stimulating speaker and thinker. He is undoubtedly brilliant and has spent years studying social and spiritual movements to unearth wisdom and insight for the Church today.

Probably his most significant contribution to the missional conversation for the past 10-15 years has been to recenter the Fivefold giftings (Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, Teacher – collectively known as APEST) found in Ephesians 4 and give church leaders handholds for incorporating these giftings into the practices and organizational systems of their churches. If you have heard the term “apostolic” thrown around by a pastor or church leader in your circle, I would wager that they have been influenced by Hirsch or someone from his various tribes (Forge, 100 Movements, etc.). His books have offered me great personal encouragement and rebuke as I wrestle with some of my own hangups as a church member and ministry leader and I have used his tools and insights to train others as well.

That being said, my primary critique with any Alan Hirsch book is that they are normally 25-30% longer than they need to be. Alan is a framework thinker and paradigm shifter and he seems to find it irresistible to make sure the reader sees as many threads of connectivity as possible between his new paradigm and the worlds of sociology, art, history, and, in this book, even in the patterns of creation itself.

The first sixty pages of this book are pretty tedious both in the retreading of other material from his previous books (some of which, admittedly, is probably helpful to a new Hirsch reader) and in the amount of time spent at the 10,000 foot view without ever getting to even a single anecdote or practical application. I can very easily imagine a 150 page version of this book that would be equally if not more effective. As a practical example (so as not to be hypocritical), I am a heavy outliner when I read but I outlined only one memorable concept for the first 77 pages of this book and it was a block quote from another book.

The Good & The Quotable:

Hirsch

Alan Hirsch, author of 5Q

A stronger editing hand notwithstanding, the core theme of this book is a sharp and necessary challenge to the Church in our time. With 5Q, Hirsch is making the central argument that the fivefold giftings are essentially archetypes that have been hardwired into creation and fully embodied in the life, ministry, and teachings of Jesus. Given then that the Church is to be the embodiment of Christ (“the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” – from Ephesians 1), any local church should be marked by the full manifestation of these five callings.

It may sound simple but this “If A, then B and if B, then C” style of argument is actually pretty revolutionary, particularly in Western evangelical culture which is constantly wringing its hands over what the “marks” of a true church should be, particularly over and against parachurch models and fear regarding theological/doctrinal error. Into this conversation, which sadly often devolves into power-grabbing and scarcity outlooks on ministry, Hirsch injects a much-needed and well-developed paradigm shift.

I say “shift,” but like all great missional “innovations,” its biggest strength is in its ability to “shift” us back to our centerpoint of the life of Jesus as revealed in the Scriptures. Hirsch is essentially saying that you can identify a “church” by the degree to which any community embodies the five central functions of Jesus’ own ministry. Like IQ or EQ which seek to describe an individual’s intellectual or emotional capacities, Hirsch imagines 5Q as a paradigm by which to measure and describe a given church’s capacity to image and embody Christ’s continued ministry in the world.

If this material were to be taken up, studied, and applied by a local community, I can certainly imagine some dramatic and helpful changes occurring that would likely lead to at least a broader recognition of giftedness in the community and a balancing away from certain gifts that tend to be more celebrated, like Teaching. Though there are a few helpful assessment prompts and visuals, the book stops just short of practical while pointing the reader to a workbook that can also be purchased separately for those wishing to implement the material (a common theme with Hirsch’s books) and a website that has a few free resources, options to pursue deeper consulting and paid assessment tools, and promises of more to come. For my own personal benefit, I would have loved even a handful of brief anecdotes of churches and organizations that have used 5Q successfully but they were sadly absent from this book.

As always, here are a few of my favorite quotes to give you a taste of the material:

“He [Jesus] is not some detached lecturer. He is himself ‘the Way,’ and he shows us what a lifestyle based on truth looks like (John 1:17, 14:6). In Jesus, ethics becomes ethos – a way to live. He discipled his followers by actually living life with them – he was their Master and Rabbi, and they lived under his word and authority.” (77)

The church carries out the work that Jesus started and it does it in a way that is consistent with who Jesus was and how he went about his own ministry.” (80)

“We do not merely represent Jesus – in some real way we are meant to actually embody/incarnate him.” (81)

“By insisting on the priesthood of all believers the Reformation rejected the ‘priestcraft’ of Catholic sacramentalist tradition only to create another form of Protestant clericalism and religious sacramentalism every bit as elitist and entrenched as the Catholic ones.” (131)

“The organizational bias of the inherited form of church organization is in a real sense a reflection of the consciousness of the people who designed it in the first place.” (131)

“Where the marks are recognizably present i.e., the defining presence on Jesus, missional impact, covenant faithfulness, gospel proclamation, reconciled community, and deep wisdom – there you have a real authentic church.” (135)

pentagonThe Transferable:

Again, I want to reiterate that this book is primarily the communication of a paradigm by which to conceptualize the Church. There are very few stories and even fewer tools, per se, given that could be immediately used in a practical sense. That being said, there is a helpful diagnostic exercise (p. 140) that Hirsch encourages the reader to use to “score” their community’s 5Q from 0-5 in each of the five functions. The scoring is done on a concentric pentagon (see image) with each point representing one of five such that you’re left with a visual representation of your community’s 5Q. Combined with a robust communal understanding of the five gifts, I think this diagnostic could be a powerful tool for assessment and strategic planning for leaders to use as they consider their community’s strengths and shore up its weaknesses.

Who Should Read This:

This is a book for leaders who enjoy conceptual/framework thinking, don’t need a lot of practical handholds in order to implement what they read, and are looking for a fresh take on injecting APEST-style leadership into their community wholesale. If you’re new to Hirsch/APEST, I would actually recommend starting with The Forgotten Ways, which for me is his most practical work, and then decide if you want to keep going from there. The middle ⅓ of this book is wonderful and a great jumping off point from TFW but the first and last ⅓ are pretty tough if you don’t enjoy Hirsch’s communication style.

To InterVarsity, With Love

visionstatement-rect2A few weeks before I turned 22 years old, I drove to Westport Plaza, a business park just northwest of Saint Louis, to interview for a full-time position with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. I had spent the previous year as an intern with the organization, which included a six-week stint living with Sudanese refugees in Cairo, Egypt. I had led a freshmen Bible study, run some leadership meetings, and spent every Sunday night with other interns and young staff in Saint Louis, learning how to be an adult and fighting to survive the first year of ministry together.

On the drive, I thought about a phrase that my staff partner, Esther, had mentioned to me in passing as a teaching from her undergrad days in InterVarsity. A speaker at her large group meeting had used the phrase “tithe your twenties” as a challenge to students to dedicate the decade, including the final two years of undergrad, toward sowing intentionally and deeply in the work of the Kingdom, regardless of their vocation.

As I made the half-hour drive in my best “business casual on a missionary budget” attire, this phrase – “tithe your twenties” – popped up in my mind and refused to be ignored. I wondered to myself, what would it be like to tithe my twenties to InterVarsity, to the vision of seeing students and faculty transformed, campuses renewed, and world-changers developed?

Four months ago, I turned thirty. After today, I will no longer be working for InterVarsity.

Both of these realities are strange and bittersweet. They fill my heart with a mix of nostalgia, hopefulness, and gratitude that in no way feels fully processed. I suppose this blog is a first step along the way toward understanding just how much this community has meant to me.

In the end, my exit from InterVarsity was much like my entrance: an unforeseen doorway that opened on my way to something else. I originally thought joining the organization would simply be a one-year stop on the way to seminary and church work. The decision to leave nine years later came together quite quickly after pursuing and then being offered a promotion. Both decisions caught me off guard; both looking back now seem drenched in the leadership of the Spirit.

A year ago, I was excited about the prospect of taking a promotion within InterVarsity and moving our family across the country to North Carolina to become an Area Director in the Research Triangle area encompassing Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. We flew out to prayer walk on the big campuses in the area, interviewed for the position, and were eventually offered the job. Along the way, as we were discerning with our community, two big realities begin to come to the surface:

  1. We love Saint Louis – the neighborhoods, the schools, the people, the churches, the campuses – investigating a new place mostly just reminded us of all the things we loved about home.
  2. I felt a deep longing to do everything in my limited power to get the local church more involved in the Kingdom work that needed to be done on local university campuses, particularly those with deep city roots, like our state and community colleges.

We ended up turning down the promotion. Somewhere in there, I met with a good friend who works for the city office of our denomination (Southern Baptists). I shared with him my heart to see college students establish a firm foundation in a local congregation long before graduation and to see church pastors and planters find unique ways to engage students more holistically in the life of the church starting their first Sunday freshman year. I wondered aloud if there might be space for a bridge-builder type position in his office. We prayed and brainstormed and made a few calls and waited to see if God was in it.

Five months later, I’m happy to announce that God met us in a thousand ways since that first conversation and a job came together that feels like a linear next step from my time with InterVarsity. Starting tomorrow, I will be taking the role of Director of Campus and Community Engagement with the Saint Louis Metro Baptist Association.

This new position has two parts, both of which fascinate and excite me:

  1. My main job is to be that very bridge-builder person as I originally pitched to my friend in the denominational office. I long to see the churches of Saint Louis reach the students of Saint Louis more effectively and build lifelong connections on our university campuses. I long to see college students reach their friends on campus while thriving in their development as followers of Jesus in our local churches. I’ll be spending the bulk of my time strategizing with students and church leaders to see these two dreams come to fruition.
  2. The other piece of my job is to develop a growing partnership between our association office and Mission: St. Louis, a local non-profit with which my family has deep connections. I’ll be spending some time each week working to connect students and churches in our network from all over the city and country to serving alongside Mission: St. Louis as they work to empower low-income communities through job training, housing repair, and a number of other impactful programs.

As I look excitedly toward the future, I want to say thank you to the organization that gave me a shot nine years ago to reach and empower students in this city that I love.

To InterVarsity,

Thank you for teaching me to love Jesus and his Word above all other things. Your insistence on communal discovery, manuscript study, asking important questions, and hearing from a plurality of voices has illuminated the Bible like no other guiding voice in my life. The Bible mystifies and delights me and that is in no small part thanks to your investment in me.

Thank you for showing me that leadership in the Kingdom is not about professional people with particular personalities and skill sets; it is about empowering every person from every corner and walk of life to use the gifts given by Jesus to do their part in seeing every inch of Creation brought back under the Lordship and Renewal of Jesus.

Thank you for exposing me to the global voices of the Church beyond my borders. From the main stage at Urbana to the refugees in my neighborhood, you taught me that the U.S. is not the keeper of the keys to the Kingdom and you awakened in me a longing to worship as part of the multi-cultural, multi-national, multi-lingual Bride that Jesus came to save.

Thank you for opening my eyes to issues of injustice and the calling that all followers of Jesus have to pursue reconciliation and justice, not as a side-bar passion for a few, but as the main outworking of our surrender to Jesus. When Mike Brown was killed in Ferguson, just a few miles from my campus, it was your leadership and your networks that led myself and so many others into responding with open eyes and hearts to the cries for justice coming out of our communities. I fail in this pursuit every single day but you continually called me to show up and listen as a learner in spaces where I don’t have the answers.

Thank you for teaching me how to rest and care for my soul. I have a lot of friends in ministry and I know of no other organization that prioritizes spiritual formation like you do. I feel nostalgic about different pieces of my job every week but most recently I find myself realizing more and more how challenging it will be to find the spaces for silence and solitude that you have written into my work calendar for so many years. Thank you not seeing me as an organizational tool, but as a fully human person who needs to be cared for in order to care well for others.

I could continue on like this indefinitely. Trying to parce out to what exact degree InterVarsity has shaped my life is impossible. All I can say with any fairness is that I have no doubt that I will spend the next decade unpacking and re-applying what you have given me in this one. Thank you for making the return on my investment much more than I could have ever imagined.

“I thank my God every time I remember you…”
Philippians 1:3

Curiosity: The Wonder-Ful Worldview

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
– Luke 24:28-29

 There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
– Hamlet

IMG_20170329_095533448My seven-month-old daughter has recently begun her foray into eating solid foods. As a bit of a foodie myself, this is both exhilarating and maddening. I love imagining the incredible lifelong journey she has in front of her: the first lick of ice cream, the first slurp of spaghetti, the first bite of a juicy peach in summer or a crispy apple in the fall. Food is magical in so many ways and I am mesmerized by the possibility of curating her culinary experience. At the same time, introducing a kid who can barely keep herself from toppling over at any given moment to the messy goodness of a banana is enough to make you pull your hair out. This morning, she managed to wipe more on our Labrador’s ears than made it in her mouth.

What I do appreciate about her early attempts at self-sustenance is her sheer willingness to immediately put whatever I set on her tray directly in her mouth. Whether it’s a white glob of Greek yogurt or a bright yellow roasted pepper or a big red strawberry, her little pincer skills do everything in their power to bring that strange object to her lips. She does not hesitate; she says yes to every opportunity. Nine times out of ten her curiosity is met with shock and disgust as she squints her blue eyes, puckers her little mouth, and shakes her head until the offending substance falls out. A few minutes in, however, she begins to find a liking and her adventurous spirit pays off with a new food to add to her acceptable meals list.

I am reminded of her intrepid curiosity as I reflect on this passage in Luke 24 where two unnamed disciples encounter the hidden Jesus on Resurrection Sunday, as they walk the seven-mile stretch of road between Jerusalem and Emmaus. When they realize their mysterious companion is seemingly unaware of the momentous events of the past few days in the city, they begin to tell him the story. Two things become clear as they share: first, they are quite well-informed about Jesus and his ministry; and, second, despite their abundance of knowledge, they have been disappointed by him. The text says their faces were “downcast” and that they “had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel,” implying that this hope has been dashed by the weekend’s trial and execution. Though they have heard word of perplexing details surrounding his empty tomb, they have decided not to stick around to see for themselves. Their hoped-for messiah is dead and they are returning home.

But, something happens at this point in the story that arrests their disappointment. This supposedly ignorant stranger begins to unpack the Scriptures for them, adding layer upon layer of context to help them interpret differently the death of their would-be Savior. As Sally Lloyd-Jones puts it, it was suddenly as if the stories of the Hebrew Bible were a giant jigsaw puzzle and the death of Jesus the missing piece that made all the other pieces fit together (“Were not our hearts burning within us while he…opened the Scriptures to us?”). Could it be that this crucifixion and the whispered rumors of an empty tomb were not merely the inevitable demise of another unfulfilled messiah fantasy but actually the inevitable climax of God’s plan to rescue the world?

This question awakens something powerful in these weary travelers. It is not yet hope or faith; it is something else, something that precludes these virtues. It is the same animating spirit that focuses my baby girl’s attention on yellow scrambled eggs that contrast sharply with her green plastic tray: Curiosity. Curiosity is searching for reason to hope; it is a way of looking at the world and assuming that more is happening than can be seen on the surface. It stands in stark opposition to cynicism, which maintains that less is happening than appears on the surface. Curiosity is akin to wonder, which blends seeking with admiration; it is the place where mind and heart co-mingle, where truth and beauty are one and to truly know a tree or a book or a person is to love them as well. Curiosity is the open door out of the mundane and into the wide world of adventures as small as a strawberry and as vast as planetary exploration.

Road to Emmaus.pngConsider how easily they could have missed it. The point in the story is so small that you could easily pass by it and I often have. The travelers listen with rapt attention to their strange companion until they approach their journey’s end. The man seems to have further business up the road and they easily could have let him continue. No doubt they were tired after the events of the weekend and their seven-mile walk. Are we not often eager to disengage following intense emotional moments or intellectual conversations and find a quiet place to escape? Perhaps later they could have even published a scroll or two and amassed quite a following based on the insights they had gathered from him. Yet, they lingered in wonder. Curiosity overcame them and they cried out three simple words that mark a true disciple; three words that Jesus earlier in the Gospel narratives called “the secret of the Kingdom of God” and rewarded with deeper understanding: “Stay with us!”

These three simple words separate “knowers” from “doers;” they delineate between the Greek (and American millennial) desire to simply acquire boundless information and the Hebrew understanding that wisdom only comes from knowledge that is lived out in real world. These men choose to believe that more is happening than appears on the surface and, though they do not fully understand, they know that to be with this man is to be on the path to understanding. “Stay with us!” is the cry of the curious heart; it is the desire to be where the Master is, to find oneself covered in the dust of the Rabbi as we follow in his footsteps. It is walking around with your eyes and heart open, believing that God is at work all around you and desiring with every breath to join him in his work.

And so the mystery man becomes their welcome guest. Like my daughter lighting up at her first gummy bite of a Gala apple, their eyes are opened and they recognized him in the breaking of the bread at dinner. Just like that he’s gone. Wonder upon wonders – they have encountered the Risen Jesus and, like all whose curiosity leads to great discovery, they rush back to tell the tale. May my own life be marked by such wonder at the world and the Maker who gave us bananas and black holes and everything in between all so that we would “seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27).

Book Review: Roadmap to Reconciliation by Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter-McNeil

Roadmap to ReconciliationThis is the third of Dr. Brenda Salter-McNeil’s books that I have read, including The Heart of Racial Justice and A Credible Witness.  These works generally specialize in motivating followers of Jesus to pursue racial reconciliation, motivated by her beautiful retelling of familiar Gospel narratives (e.g. The Woman at the Well from John 4 in A Credible Witness) and clarion call to recognize the deeper spiritual realities at work in the social and racial inequities we see in our world (The Heart of Racial Justice).  Her storytelling is excellent and often deeply personal, admitting her own failures along the way and making space for reconciliation novices and experts alike to engage fully in the text.  My only critique of her writing is the one that apparently became the impetus for this new book.  Namely, what is the actual process communities should undertake if they wish to become reconciled?  I have found it hard to practically apply much of what I’ve read from her beyond my own individual life. Thankfully, this critique has been soundly answered with this book.

The Good & The Quotable:

reconciliation roadmapThe long and short of it is that this is the most accessible and practical book on reconciliation that I have ever read.  Dr. Salter-McNeil’s roadmap (see image) is an indispensable resource for churches and other organizations who are wondering where to begin after the catalytic events (to borrow her language) we see happening on the news seemingly every week involving racial injustice in our country and abroad.  One of my favorite elements of the book is that she takes great pains to give the reader access to brief bits of the academic research that went into her model, summarizing complex sociological theories and seamlessly weaving them into the popular level insight she means to impart. You can certainly check the endnotes for further personal research and this section of the book alone is worth the price of admission.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes to give you a taste of her insight:

“Reconciliation is an ongoing spiritual process involving forgiveness, repentance, and justice that restores broken relationships and systems to reflect God’s original intention for all creation to flourish” (22)

“Transformation requires disruption and a degree of chaos to increase the sense of urgency that change must happen. However there must also be enough psychological safety that the chaos does not completely overwhelm our ability to reflect and reorganize ourselves.” (52)

“If an organization wants to shift its cultural identity, it is crucial that it have an internal team of diverse leaders who model the diversity change initiative.” (69)

The Transferable:
On a practical level, this book is written to be immediately applied in a leadership team or small group setting; almost everything can be transferred.  In my own life and ministry, I found the rules she gives for facilitating dialogue between different groups (racial groups, congregations, political sides, etc.) to be incredibly practical and I will almost certainly use them at the next opportunity.  Near the end of the book, she also passes along “Eight Habits of Interculturally Competent Leaders, providing a quick self-assessment that I can also imagine using in a staff meeting quite easily.

Who Should Read This:
I think every Christian leader responsible for interpreting Scripture alongside the events happening in our world should own and reference this book.  I think it would be an incredible resource to go through with a leadership or staff team that is serious about making serious and significant organizational change to pursue reconciliation and justice together.  If you’re looking for a book with more personal application, I would try one of her other books listed above.

The Clothes of Jesus

soldiers_jesus_clothes

And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out…and they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.” – Mark 15:20, 24

I’ve been reading through Russ Ramsey’s beautiful and helpful overview of Holy Week each day this week, trying my best to be present in each moment of the season. In reading the corresponding Scriptures in Mark this morning, I was struck today by this tiny phrase in verse 20 – “his own clothes.”

It struck me because of its possessive phrasing – his own clothes. I realize it is written to contrast these clothes with the purple robe that was not his but the contrast works a second way that I find sobering and fascinating as I reflect this morning. We don’t often see Jesus in the Gospels as owning anything. As Rich Mullins wrote, “The hope of the whole world rests on the shoulders of a homeless man.” Jesus himself said, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” The King of Glory emptied himself fully of his heavenly riches and position and took on not simply flesh, but the fleshly existence of a poor day-laborer and, for three years, a homeless, itinerant rabbi.  These are the plain facts we see presented in the Gospels. I can’t think of anywhere in the text where it tells us that Jesus possessed something.

Yet, here he is, in his own clothes.  I cannot help but wonder where he attained these particular garments.  Perhaps one of the wealthy women that traveled with the disciples purchased them for him in a favorite shop while he preached or fed the multitudes. Maybe his sweet mother or his dear friend Martha from Bethany sewed them for him after he wore previous ones down in his three years of walking through the hot, dusty paths of Palestine. Maybe they still smelled like the house he grew up in or the perfume of a close companion.

Now, at the end of his journeys, his own clothes are covered in another of the simple belongings to be ripped from his body – his own blood.  For the first time this morning, I find myself acutely aware of the frailty of Jesus. This poor laborer-turned-teacher, wrapped in his last and final earthly possession – his own clothes – beaten, bloodied, mocked, spit upon, humiliated. And, at the end, they strip him of even his own clothes. To add insult to a long list of injuries, his own clothes become some cheap trophy, won in perhaps the most dehumanizing game of chance ever played. Perhaps they laid on some soldier’s shelf alongside the spoils of other victims of the Empire’s domination, quickly lost to history.

And so the Author and Perfecter of Life died on that first Good Friday. Falsely accused by those with religious power, denied by his closest disciples, killed by the very people he came to save, bereft of every earthly possession, even his own clothes.

A Few of My Favorite Things: 2016

The year 2016 is rapidly approaching its end and, like everyone else with a blog, I wanted to end the year (and my writing drought) with a simple recap to look back and remember some of my favorite things in a few different categories.

Before I begin, let me add a quick disclaimer. I am not an expert in any of these fields nor do I have the credentials to critically analyze any of them with any depth of insight. This is not a “best-of-2016” list; it is simply a “these are a few of my favorite things I consumed from January to December” list. A second disclaimer: not all of these things came out in 2016. I am in accord with C.S. Lewis who notes that we often need “the old books” as a helpful corrective to the errors of our age. I believe he would grant me the liberal application of that idea to “old” music or even podcasts as well.

With that in mind, on with the list-making!

Books: Fiction

north_wind
Winner:
At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald

Honorable Mention: Nathan Coulter by Wendell Berry

At the Back of the North Wind is one of the stranger pieces of fiction I have read since G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday. Similar to my feelings about Chesterton’s book, this book requires a bit of perseverance to make it through but the payoff is worth it. I found myself at times hating this book and nearly giving up on it and then I would find myself sobbing through some beautiful paragraph. This book is a lovely reflection on suffering and theodicy told around the perspective of a sweet young boy named Diamond and his fantastical adventures with Lady North Wind. I have always wanted to read something by George MacDonald, knowing his influence on C.S. Lewis, and this book did not disappoint.

Books: Non-Fiction

just-mercyWinner: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Honorable Mentions: Strong and Weak by Andy Crouch and Where Did We Get the Bible? By Timothy P. Jones

One of my favorite books from last year was Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy is the perfect narrative complement to Alexander’s book and I firmly believe they should be read as closely together as possible. Among many other roles, Stevenson is most famously a public interest lawyer working to exonerate wrongly condemned death row inmates. His book contains much of the research and a bit of the historical analysis of The New Jim Crow but weaves it in alongside the compelling story of his own journey into working alongside the poor and incarcerated. Again, I cried my way through much of this book and at least two of the inmate stories he tells will be with me forever.

Music

coloring-bookWinner: Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper

Honorable Mentions: Lemonade by Beyonce, The Dark Before the Dawn by Andrew Peterson, and You Wouldn’t Believe What Privilege Costs by Civilian

In my opinion, the best kinds of albums are the ones in which every song feels inextricably connected to all the others. Each song is great on its own but listening to any one particular song makes you want to sit down and hear the whole album in the order it was put together. For me, there is often a mood or vibe that you could capture in a single word like “melancholy” or “joy” that permeates the whole record and each song captures it without erring into redundancy. A few albums that exemplify that for me: Coldplay’s Parachutes, Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak, and now Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book. From the opening line (“This ain’t no intro, it’s the entrée”) to the final hook of “Blessings,” this was my favorite record of the year by a longshot. Chance is brutally honest and thoughtfully complex yet the album maintains this infectious redemptive arc that kept it playing in my house from May until now. I wish I could tell you to go buy this album but in the typical way that Chance is five years ahead of and ten times cooler than everyone else, this album was released streaming only so just open Spotify and click repeat.

Podcasts

gladwellWinner: Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell

Honorable Mentions: NPR Politics, Quick to Listen (Christianity Today), Pass the Mic (RAAN)

I originally wanted to include some TV shows and movies on this list but honestly, all pretentiousness aside, my wife and I just don’t watch enough cool movies or shows to do those lists any justice. I think I saw maybe four movies that came out in 2016 of all the incredible ones that did and the only TV that plays in our house is Gilmore Girls on repeat and occasionally an episode of 30 Rock or Arrow when my daughter’s taking a nap. However, one medium I consume like hotcakes is podcasts and I am happy to give my take on it. There are so many fantastic podcasts out there on so many subjects that comparing them is pretty challenging but this is my list based on sheer subjective enjoyment of the content. Malcolm Gladwell is a brilliant narrator and dives into ten diverse subjects in a way that makes you suddenly fascinated by what the quality of food at a private university says about the kind of students they value or whether or not a $1 billion Toyota recall was actually the results of simultaneous human error on the part of hundreds of individual drivers. I literally cannot wait until the next episode.

What about you? What were you loving in 2016? What are you excited to read/listen to in 2017?