Month: June 2015

Be Boring. Please.

A recently-graduated friend of mine asked me if I’d write a post on how to successfully navigate life as an adult. So, here, fail-proof Crockpot recipes!

Totally just kidding. I could not write that post, because I’ve failed a few of those. (Fun fact: if you accidentally leave a Crockpot on all night, you can turn apple-glazed pork chops into faintly apple-scented charcoal briquettes.)

So instead, I thought I’d share one thing I’m currently working on. This is the single most important piece of advice I would give to myself, and to my generation: be boring.

Maybe when you're five. But probably not at twenty-five.

Maybe when you’re five. But probably not at twenty-five.

Why? Here are a few reasons.

One: Boring people don’t do things for attention.

When I was in high school, some of our youth leaders told us how they proposed to their wives. One of them advised the guys in the group to consider putting time and effort into their proposal to show their future wife how much they cared. Which immediately set my sixteen-year-old friends into a brainstorming session involving flamethrowers and grenade launchers.

The point being, there’s a difference between creating a meaningful proposal as an act of love, and creating an elaborate, impressive proposal for the sake of getting attention. (One of those differences might possibly be filming it and putting it on YouTube. I’m just saying.) (more…)

#LoveWins?

This weekend is Twin Cities Pride Weekend, a celebration of LGBT stories and rights in my home of Minneapolis, and one that will probably blast away past previous attendance records given the Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage. Pride I am not in Minneapolis this weekend.

Instead, I am in middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania, attending the world’s largest Christian music festival to work at the booth of one of our authors who writes biblical fiction and runs a men’s ministry.

It doesn’t get more stereotypical-Christian-culture than that.

On the way to the event, we passed four billboards in the King James Version, 69 American flags, and several dozen Christian radio stations playing very similar songs. Once inside the gates, we looked down on a sprawling temporary ghetto of 30,000 people camping on the muddy ground, sectioned off with dirt-and-gravel paths named “Hallelujah Highway” and “Rapture Road.” Creation But before that, we encountered the sign-holders. They had stationed themselves at the entrance to the campground, holding up double-decker cardboard signs with slogans like, “Turn From Your Sins” and a verse about hell. The woman wore a long jean skirt and a cheery smile. The man wore a handmade T-shirt that said, “Repent or Perish” in neat black and red letters.

They were waving energetically to all the cars that went past that morning, like some sort of ironic welcoming committee. Their spirits hadn’t flagged when my supervisor and I left again that night. (I hoped someone had at least brought them Chick-Fil-A and Scripture Mints at some point during the day.)

“I kind of want to talk to them,” I said as we drove by. And the whole way back to the hotel—an hour drive…I told you it was the middle of nowhere—I thought about what I would say. The one thing that kept coming to mind, over and over again, was, “I’m interested in hearing your point of view. We probably disagree on a lot of things, and chances are neither of us will change our minds after this conversation—but I think I can learn from your perspective.”

It struck me that this would be a great way for Christians to approach basically anyone they disagree with. (more…)

The Beauty of Unwitnessed Worship

Everyone else was a few dozen yards away, small against the lake on a breezy June day, and my footprints were the only ones on this stretch of beach. I picked up a stick and began to write in the wet sand, some pictures, but mostly words, thoughts, ideas.

It was time to go, and I thought about taking out my phone and snapping a picture. “Just to remember it by” I’d say…and then later I’d post it on Facebook, I knew I would. And I would caption it and add it to a blog post and feel good about myself when people liked it and acknowledged how deep and artsy I am.

Lake

Instead, I kept my phone in my pocket and walk away. If you went back to the lake today, the words would be gone. And I won’t tell you what they are.

Why? Because of something my Bible professor told me over coffee three years ago. I had asked him what to do about the fact that I had a hard time turning off my inner writer, that I saw every conversation or experience as material for a devotional or blog post instead of having value in itself.

He said a mentor of his had taught him this unusual practice: take a day of prayer and Bible study. Outline a sermon, write a song, journal, do whatever it is you often do in times of seeking God.

Then, don’t share any of it with anyone. Not one word, not one idea—kind of like fasting. All of it is dedicated to God alone. Not as a regular practice, of course, just as a discipline, once a year or so.

I kind of smiled and nodded, but everything in me said that was a bad idea. I am particularly talented at casting my flaws in a noble light, so I decided I wouldn’t try this because spiritual gifts are meant to build up the church, not build up just me.

But now, a few years later, I know the problem, because I see it in myself so often that it’s scary. I think there’s value in leaving some truth unspoken, between yourself and God, because otherwise you might idolize your own wisdom. (more…)

How to Tell a Better Love Story

The New York Times called their essay contest “Modern Love,” which suggests something about my generation in itself: that love looks different today, somehow, from what it has in the past.

According to the winning essay, “No Labels, No Drama, Right?”, it does. (You should go read it. Like, right now. I’ll still be here, I promise.)

labels drama

I love this essay because it is so honest, and there is a lyrical courage to it that reminds me of Ecclesiastes.

I hate it because it is so hopeless, even in its beauty. There are really great things in what the author has to say, and I even agree with some of her conclusions. But it breaks my heart, because the author and every man and woman who identify with her story are settling for something so much less than what they’re made for.

It’s not a matter of stuffing our hookup culture in a time machine and dialing it back to Mayberry days and values. There’s something deeper going on here. The author of the essay summarized the problem this way: “All the while, we avoid labels and try to bury our emotions. We aren’t supposed to want anything serious; not now, anyway. But a void is created when we refrain from telling it like it is, from allowing ourselves to feel how we feel.”

To me, that seems so close, but not quite it. Because I think, even if you allowed yourself to feel, if you admitted you wanted something more, would that be enough? And would it be enough even if you got that something more—a real relationship with boundaries and definitions?

I don’t think so. The void you’re feeling would not be filled with a define-the-relationship talk, a Facebook status change, even a wedding ring. I’ve seen people in my generation who thought all of those things would solve their discontent, only to be deeply disappointed when happiness didn’t come along with the events and accessories they always thought they wanted. It wasn’t enough.

No, I wanted to say to the author of this piece, your Jeremy does have a label. He is not your boyfriend. He is your god. And when we love anything besides God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength—a person, an idea, an emotion, a possible future—we find that it can’t bear that weight. Any relationship will crumple under the misplaced love of idolatry.

The main problem isn’t that you’re looking for love in commitment-free sex or wishful fantasies. It’s that you’re looking for love apart from God.

You won’t find it anywhere else.

Do you know what is beautiful about a Christian marriage? It’s not bragging rights for the number on the anniversary cake that the happy couple achieved by gritted-teeth legalism and old-fashioned values. It’s not the ordinary courage it takes to trade independence for a tied-down-but-stable existence. It’s not even families that can rely on everyone showing up at the dinner table every night until death do us part.

The beauty of a Christian marriage is this: two people who commit to each other as a picture of their relationship to a God who loves unconditionally, who will never fail us or leave us alone. Or, as 1 John 4:19 puts it, “We love because he first loved us.”

My dad used to say two things every night before my twin sister and I went to sleep: “I love you” and “The love of God never changes.” Every night. And we’d say them back.

It’s only recently that I realized they were not actually two separate ideas. One was built on the other. To this day, I remember Dad explaining it, sometime before I was old enough to really feel the weight of what it meant: “I can’t promise I’ll never let you down,” he said. “But I want you to know that God won’t, not ever.”

To the people I love and will love in the future, whatever your label—I can’t promise I’ll never let you down or hurt you. Oh, I would love to be able to promise that. But I am weak and quick to anger and deeply selfish, and I will fail. But this I can promise: I will do all I can to let God’s love influence my love for you.

This is my generation too, and I want to tell a better love story.

The Anti-Graduation Speech

Many of you probably sat through a graduation ceremony recently. There’s a chance that the commencement address was deeply profound and you walked away with new insight on how to live your life.

There’s also a chance that you heard a bunch of strung-together clichés that sounded great but didn’t mean much of anything.

Can we talk about the fact that the stars are *significantly* farther away from the moon? If you can't even hit the moon, you'll probably just burn up in Earth's atmosphere on the way back down.

Can we talk about the fact that the stars are *significantly* farther away than the moon? If you can’t even hit the moon, you’ll probably just burn up in Earth’s atmosphere on the way back down.

I was in choir during high school, which meant I showed up at three graduation ceremonies to sing the sappy graduation song. My junior year, here’s a snippet from the chosen anthem: (more…)

How to Believe Things or Have Opinions Without Being a Jerk

A few people have asked me to weigh in on some current events. So here goes. All in one blog post, because why not?

The Duggars and scandal! Bruce or Caitlyn Jenner depending on how soon you want to reveal your slant on transgenderism! The pope and global warming! Politics and gay marriage and every possible controversial thing I could possibly cram into the first paragraph!

We could also talk about Jon Stuart's facial expression in this photo. Good stuff.

We could also talk about Jon Stuart’s facial expression in this photo. Good stuff.

Okay, are you tired yet? I am.

Which is why I’m going to talk in a bit more general terms about Christians responding to controversy. (Most the principles apply to people in general, but I think Christians have a particular reason for taking care about these things because of how we want to represent Jesus.)

Before we move on to the general points, let’s take a look at both parts of this blog post title.

How to Believe Things or Have Opinions: This assumes that it is totally acceptable to have convictions, thoughts, and reactions to abstract questions, current events, and moral issues.

It’s fine to be 100% convinced you are right and think those who disagree with you are wrong. That’s kind of the nature of having a conviction about something. It does become a problem when you are 100% convinced that you are right and also convinced that everyone else in the entire world is stupid, or bigoted, or generally evil if they don’t agree with you.

(Depending on the issue, it’s also fine to be 50% sure you’re right about something, or 75%, or whatever arbitrary number you feel like assigning to your level of certainty. If you are 100% certain about everything…I really don’t know how that happens. You must just sit around all day researching, thinking about stuff, and being a genius expert on everything.)

Without Being a Jerk: This assumes that there is more to life than just being right about things. Being gracious takes a lot of effort, but I think we all instinctively know it’s worth it. Because if you really like listening to the angry, awkward silence after a family gathering explosion of opinion, if pointless Facebook wars are fun to you, if you live to see someone embarrassed or hurt or upset as long as you are declared the victor…there’s another conversation we need to have.

Wrong

(Actually, I don’t want to have it. If this is you, then please find another blog post full of angry people and start misrepresenting what they’re saying and throwing out baseless accusations. The rest of us will continue on.) (more…)

Storytime with Amy: Gender Roles

I meant to write about my view of gender roles and leadership today. Not for the blog, because it would be long, and probably boring. Just for myself, to sort out my scattered thoughts and interpretations and come to neat and tidy conclusions.

Then I started writing, and I found thoughts and interpretations, sure…key passages on women in the church, sermons on how to interpret them from both sides, definitions of “complementarian” and “egalitarian.” I did find my position on this issue.

But mostly, I found stories. Here are a few of them.

Amy is eleven, and her sixth grade teacher has just concluded a social experiment disguised as a unit on Ancient Greece. Sparta was full of athletes who dominated the mock Olympics, Megara was made up of quiet, shy girls who did great on the art projects but not the presentation, and Athens was represented by overachievers who spent most of their time trying to boss each other around. And her group, Corinth? Well, Amy isn’t sure what they had in common, but they surprised everyone by winning the competition.

 

Does the fact that this was Field Day and my team was yellow excuse those hideous shorts? No, no it doesn't. Sorry for hurting your eyes.

Does the fact that this was Field Day and my team was yellow excuse those hideous shorts? No, no it doesn’t. Sorry for hurting your eyes.

After parent-teacher conferences, her mom comes back with the report that Amy’s teacher had formed her group by putting the two oldest boys in the class with several girls who she thought were more the following, passive type. She wanted to give the boys encouragement to be leaders. “Except I didn’t count on one thing,” her teacher said. “Amy. She was clearly the group’s leader, and she knew it…but every other person in the group thought they were all leading together.” (more…)