StartUp Church Planting

Since its first season, I’ve been a listener of StartUp podcast. As an entrepreneurial type, I’m always fascinated with the why and how of starting new projects. What began as an insider view of Cincinnati native Alex Blumbergs quest to start his own podcast company has expanded to a nontraditional media empire. ABC even tried to make a sitcom out of the story.

So when they announced that this season’s edition of StartUp would focus on church planting, I was pleasantly surprised—especially since they were covering an urban church plant by one of our Movement's organizations. I was curious how this would be portrayed; StartUp is not a religious podcast, so their observations of church planting from an outside (and even skeptical) perspective could have been awkward. Ultimately, I commend producers and journalists for a fair look at the modern state of church planting through the origins of Restoration Church. AJ, the lead minister at Restoration, reflected on the entire podcast experience in a two-part blog post at Christianity Today.

Since I helped start an urban church thirteen years ago, and since I think the content of this series has broader interest, I want to highlight three things I’m still chewing on from the podcast:

1. Identity
AJ was one of those guys who fell into church planting. He didn’t necessarily pursue it but took the mantle when the previous church planter left. What he soon discovered was something that all church planters (and nearly all lead ministers) realize: the lead person becomes the visible identity of the whole church. Even though newer church plants tend to emphasize the team approach to ministry (I find this much healthier), it doesn’t eliminate this identity issue.

While listening to the podcast, I empathized with AJ as he expressed this. It definitely gets in your head, as you feel compelled to “always be on.” Even though I’m an extrovert, there are times when I need to recharge; oftentimes there isn’t space for church leaders to do so without being perceived as being unwelcoming. Now that I am a church elder leading from the pews, I feel that one of my shepherding obligations is to create opportunities for our staff to breathe and be themselves. Ministers need to believe that the entire organization won’t collapse if they’re not superhuman.

2. Finance
Since I advise churches on financial strategy, I was keenly interested in the podcast’s revealing discussion concerning Restoration Church’s cash flow. StartUp used the church’s need for growth as a plot point in their storytelling—they explained that the church needed to grow in attendance in order to get enough offering to stay in business. This is perhaps the greatest source of discomfort for church planters: their desire to create new styles of ministry is directly connected to their ability to structure a fiscally sound organization. My impression is—the vast majority of new churches that fail do so because they never reach financial viability.

We started Echo Church on a shoestring budget; we were self-supporting week one, but we used a credit card to get there. Ours was a low-overhead approach that required my family to take responsibility for covering salary expenses. While I thrived in a bi-vocational setting, I can see, years later, that it was likely a hindrance to our church’s growth. While Echo still has bi-vocational ministers, we’re in a multi-year process of shifting our model. It will force us to talk about money more than many people will be comfortable, but I’ve grown to see this topic interlinked with discipleship. I’ve been processing this for years now and hope to formulate a more complete overview of discipleship and ministry finance in 2019.
3. Tension
The reason I resonated so much with AJ and Restoration Church is because urban church planting is a much different animal than suburban or rural planting. An entire episode of the podcast covered theology, and I’m sure it was the most controversial installment of the entire series. Generally churches in the city are the object of critique from those nestled on both sides of the theological spectrum. One of the most difficult things I’ve done pastorally is to maintain relationships with people on both sides of the spectrum while continuing to cling to a biblical theology.

Even though I’m a quasi-theologian, I don’t think I’m biased when I suggest that theology will become the most important issue in new church work in the decades to come. Our church planting organizations have done an excellent job of understanding entrepreneurialism and organizational growth, but this has often relied on marketing techniques. As culture continues to become more progressive, marketing efforts will be perceived with skepticism until “consumers” can determine exactly what a church believes. It’s a minefield, and the church is wading into it. This is another topic I’ve been thinking about that I’ll likely expound upon later.

Suffice to say, this past season of StartUp is compelling. Whether or not you’re a person of faith, I highly recommend giving this a listen.

Euthanasia, Life Plans, and the Stories We Tell Ourselves

Last week a world-famous scientist made a major decision: to willingly end his life. Dr. David Goodall, who was 104 years old, left his homeland of Australia to travel to Switzerland to take part in state-sanctioned assisted suicide. 

While not terminally ill, he repeatedly declared that his quality of life had declined to the point that he no longer wanted to live. Since euthanasia is illegal in Australia, Goodall used this final act to advocate for his government to reverse their policy. 

In the midst of a busy news cycle, I was somewhat surprised that the general response to this move was either enthusiasm or indifference. In the United States, we had some passionate conversations about assisted suicide in the 1990’s, but it now seems that most people no longer care. But there’s something tangible here for us to explore. 

While chewing on this topic, I couldn’t help but consider another trend I’ve seen increase in recent years: life planning. I know people in the coaching/consultative realm that get paid to help people craft a “life plan," a written, strategic program to guide their lives. The thinking is that knowing WHY you’re here on earth, should be used to determine your PURPOSE, so you can be fully effective. So generally, if you want a life plan, you employ a coach who spends a couple of days with you crafting a plan upon which you can base your future efforts. 

While these two topics seem disconnected, I’d suggest that both euthanasia and life plans share a commonality—namely, our desire is to define our lives by certain narratives. 

The Stories We Tell Ourselves
Comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell identified a narrative he called “the hero’s journey.” Campbell felt that many of the world’s best stories adhered to this pattern. From the story of Jesus in the Gospels, to Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, Campbell believed that the hero's journey loomed large in the human psyche. which is why stories modeled after it are so compelling. While I don’t accept all of his assertions (specifically, that Jesus was merely a mythology), he rightly identified the immense influence of well-told stories. Economist Robert Shiller explains that, “there is a narrative basis for much of the human thought process, that the human mind stores facts around narratives, stories with a beginning and an end that have an emotional resonance.”

Shiller would say that we humans don't just enjoy stories, we structure our entire lives around them. When I declare myself an animal-lover, a bike-enthusiast, or a musician, I’m choosing to align my existince to a certain narrative and that will impact my values and decisions. A personal example: I love to view myself as a gritty underdog so, whenever challenges come my way, I perceive it as just another unfair obstacle I’m forced to overcome. And while I could outline a life’s story that confirms my underdog-ness, I’m not sure it would be as impressive when compared to an impoverished refugee from a first-world country. Story is in the eye of the beholder.

It’s not that these narratives are evil. But sacrificing influence to story can negatively impact our lives. And, from a theological perspective, it can actually be idolatrous.

When Stories Fail Us
Stories aren’t supposed to change; they’re expected to remain consistent. But while stories should be static, our tastes, desires, and aspirations are not. Four decades of living has confirmed that I change my mind far more than I ever care to admit. Things I once enjoyed, I now find repugnant and that which I once despised, I now embrace. This is true for both major and minor beliefs I’ve held at various points of my life. 

I used to hate all things avocado. Now I'm a guacamole connoisseur.

An individual organizing a life plan and a person considering assisted suicide are both evaluating their lives by the measurement of stories they’ve sold to themselves. And while they might be true, the could very well be false. 

At 104 years-old, Dr. Goodall was convinced that his best was firmly behind him. And I believe the reason he wasn’t critiqued for such an analysis is that he made it to triple-digits. Since so very few of us can relate to the life of a 100 year-old, we just assume that Goodall must have been right. But later last week, the American media featured the story of a 111 year old veteran that is loving his life. If Dr Goodall would’ve lived naturally to 120, he very well could have discovered a passion that he never knew existed. But he was so certain of his story that he felt living was no longer worth it.

The question that must be addressed is at what age can one realistically determine that the best is behind them? 100? 90? 80? 30? Despite what you’ve heard, this isn’t about dignity—a subjective term that is a lazy defense for a false story. If I claim I need to die with dignity, what implications does it thrust upon those around the globe who live lesser lives? 

Similarly, if I seek to craft a life plan—a blueprint by which I’ll structure my professional and private life—my starting point will be self-defined story. Sure, I might get some colleagues and friends to chime in on who they think I am, but chances are that those people have adopted the story I already crafted for myself. The life-plan itself yields to my story. At its most confrontational, a life plan will challenge me to better account for my time but rarely would it tell me to hit reset on my entire career. 

Controlling Our Story
So why do we celebrate Goodall and why do we invest in life plans? Because of the most alluring false narrative: that we are in control over our lives. It’s all about control. We're too perspectival to acknowledge that we have no control and that there are two parts to our story that truly defines them:

1. God’s story
For my non-Christian friends, you might not see this as compelling, but I offer it because I see many people of faith falling for this trap. Trace our story of control back to the Garden of Eden. We discover that humans continually long to control the knowledge and the power of God. We chase after the tree but even after sampling its fruit, we realize that it never filled us. Instead of living under God’s story, we create our own and ask God to bless them, regardless of whether they're kingdom-minded. 

2. Our collective story
We never pause to consider if there's such a thing as "my story." The Lin Manuel Miranda line from Hamilton rings true: "you have no control . . . who tells your story.” We minimize or eliminate the role of others in our narratives. I want my life plan to work for me, but is that how life really unfolds? I want to die with dignity, but how does that impact those around me? It’s egocentric for me to seek control over my story when I actually share it with others.

What Now?
I’m not entirely sure. This post is sorely underdeveloped, so there's plenty of room for critique . I posted this anyway because I think it’s worth some thought. Our digitized, highly-personalized society is becoming more and more fascinated with life-hacking; we have the science (knowledge) so we want the control that accompanies it. Living in such an era means we will either lean into this desire or rebel against it. 

Until I revisit this, I’d simply encourage you to contemplate how much control you expect over your life. What stories are you telling yourself? Are they true? Are you leaving space to submit to God and others?

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash



Silence or Shouting? Listening to Kids

When I was younger, my father would continually repeat the proverb that, “children should be seen, not heard.” In today’s world, where kids are held in higher regard, this could be interpreted as cruelty. The statement isn’t a reflection on the value of children, but rather about the contributions of a child’s voice. 

I’ve been thinking about this in light of the tragic event in Parkland, Florida. The very high school students who witnessed the shooting are making their voices heard like never before. These kids are engaging with senators and being invited to talk shows to discuss their views. Their reaction has brought forth a fascinating conversation: should we listen to kids when determining policy? 

In this context, people seem to be choosing their side of the argument based upon their view of the second amendment. Gun control proponents seem to be for empowering the kids while opponents seem to view the children as disrespectful.

When it comes to kids, should we silence them or let them shout?

First, I think we need to develop an appreciation for what children can teach adults. 

One of the reasons that adults tend to worship children and/or childhood is because they are the purest version of humanity. Generally, if a child commits an evil or senseless act, they don’t have the capacity to fully comprehend their transgression; we immediately look for an adult to blame. If we adults, then, can continually adopt the innocence of children, the world would be a better place.

The older I get, the more I view the world (and the people within it) with skepticism. This response is learned, developed because I’ve lived long enough to witness virtually every conceivable way that humans can be manipulative. I wish I could unlearn my suspicion and trust more. Yes, a little naïveté is helpful in life.

Potential is the seed of optimism, and kids overflow with potential. I’m a generally optimistic guy, but I constantly fight the urge to deconstruct the half-brained ideas of others. Again, since we adults know that the world isn’t fair, we’re always waiting for the bottom to fall out. Pessimism can prohibit us from imagining how the world could be if we only dared to believe things can change. 

But let’s balance this out. Before we go full Lord of the Flies and let kids run society, we need to admit that there are plenty of reasons why we must be careful to heed the counsel of children.

It’s easy for kids to plead for a changed world, but they generally live in an idyllic world that isn’t the real world. Teenagers rarely cover the costs for their food and lodging. Similarly, few teens bear the burden of supporting people other than themselves. Adult responsibilities impact the way we view life.

The older I get, the more I realize how little I knew when I was younger. In this digital society, with so much information at our fingertips, we confuse knowledge with wisdom. I can think of no better illustration of this fact than the pond conversation from Good Will Hunting. Society has long let youth be served, but there are still some things that can only be learned through time.

This final shortcoming is the outcome of independence and experience. The world is complex, and this requires us to see it through the lenses of others. It’s my belief that very few kids have the ability to see beyond themselves. If I’m asked to consider making a change based on someone’s opinion, I want to make sure they can at least try seeing the world as others might.

So where does this lead us? I had an experience recently that, for me, encapsulates the issue.

Last week I attended a talent show at my daughter’s elementary school. Kids as young as six years old sang and rapped and danced to the glee of the adults in the audience. I don’t remember having a talent show at my grade school, but even if we did, I guarantee we couldn’t hold a candle to many of these kids. Their stage presence was marvelous. They delivered amazing renditions of famous songs and verse.

But as I sat I slowly became less impressed. I began to notice that these performances were just knock-offs; the children merely figured out how to be just like whatever artist they emulated. They mastered the art of mimicry. 

It should be no surprise: this is really what kids have done throughout the ages (see this scene from Jaws as Exhibit A). The key difference today, with access to the world wide web, kids are exponentially better at it. Example: there’s a little girl who has a massive social media following (I’ll refrain from linking it here) just because her mother videotapes her saying lines that a desperate housewife might say. 

As much as these kids might sound like adults, they’re mostly repeating things they’ve heard said by others. And while it’s true that many adults do the very same thing, they’re held to higher levels of accountability than children for doing so.

We tend to confuse mimicry with maturity. They’re not the same thing.

And when we adults laud kids for mimicry, we’re actually limiting their ability to become truly profound. 

So I’m not sure that the proverb that, "children should be seen not heard" holds up to the test of time.  But neither ought we afford children praise for merely repeating what they've heard from adults. I'm not suggesting that this is the response to the kids from Parkland, as they've had a highly traumatic experience, but we must weigh their words carefully. Regardless, we must listen and listen well.

I don’t think this is the opinion of a bitter old man. But we should be leery of a future where we disrespect the wisdom of the ages in favor of the attractiveness of youth.

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

Explaining the Impossible

I'm not a huge Olympics guy. If I'm channel surfing, I'll give it a go. But the Summer Olympics is by far my preference; I just don't enjoy the winter weather. I do, however, love me some curling.

In every Games there's always a story that demands our attention. Sometimes it's the Tongan flag bearer (no hyperlink provided), but often it's an unbelievable result from one of the competitions. Over the weekend I identified my most memorable moment from these Olympics.

Until I searched Wikipedia, I had no idea why they called one of the downhill skiing events the Super G. The only thing I knew about it from the either the men's or women's side was that American sweetheart, Lindsey Vonn, was competing. But Vonn had nothing to do with the unbelievable outcome from the women's event. 

After a dominating performance by defending champion Anna Veith of Austria, everyone assumed the competition was over. Apparently, in the Super G, the first 20 attempts are taken by the sport's top 20 competitors. After that, the also rans—those with no real chance for victory—take their shot. Hence, when Anna saw that all the serious competitors had finished, she assumed she had won, even though there were still a dozen or so skiers to go. Anna's competition had already admitted as much; they were giving her congratulatory hugs. Heck, even NBC stopped covering the event, declaring the Austrian to be the gold medalist.

When Czech snowboarder Ester Ledecká, ranked 43rd in the world, stood at the top of the hill, even she didn't think she had a chance. 

You didn't misread that. Ester is a snowboarder who just started to compete competitively in skiing a couple of years ago. The commonality between skiing and snowboarding is minimal: beyond the fact that they both take place on snow-covered mountains, there's very little overlap. Ester isn't a horrible skier, but she had never placed in the top 25 of any Super G event. Yet because she qualified to compete in the event at Pyeongchang, she was determined to give it her best. 

She gave her best and then some. At the end of Ester's nearly flawless run, she looked up at her time and couldn't believe it: she was in first place. I love her reaction at the bottom of the hill as she tried to process what happened.


Ester just couldn't believe her time was accurate, but it was. She won the gold medal. And, adding to the legend, she used borrowed skis for her winning run.

These are the kinds of stories that make the Olympics compelling television. But it's more than pure entertainment. When expert pundits are blown away by a result, you must examine why and how they couldn't see this coming. If the Super G was a subjective sport—like those where judges can arbitrarily skew outcomes—the outcome wouldn't demand such serious reflection. So even though I've clearly established here that I know nothing about skiing, my research into this event leaves me with three reasons as to why Ester took gold.

1. She had competitive experience.
Ester's success as a snowboarder didn't help her skiing technique, but it prepared her for stiff competition. You know those people that, whether it's an athletic contest or a board game, refuse to lose? That's how Ester viewed this opportunity. Ultimately, this is a small component of the Czech's victory, but it cannot be ignored. You always need to show up ready to play.

2. She was mentally prepared.
There's an improvisational element to the Super G, as competitors are not permitted to ski the course ahead of time. As a result, all the skiers are getting their first look at the track during their first (and only) run. This, then, rewards those athletes who can quickly adjust and process new information on the fly. All the commentators noted that Ester took the most aggressive line down the hill of any of the competitors. Even though her experience/skill was not as robust as Anna's, she didn't know what she didn't know and was prepared to risk it all. Her quick thinking and reaction put her in a position to succeed.

3. She checked her ego at the door.
. . . or at the top of the hill . . . or however this metaphor works. I hold that this is THE reason that Ester won gold: she wasn't afraid to fail. In today's culture of perfectionism, few people are willing to try things new, especially those who have already tasted success in another field. Ester knew she wasn't going to be as successful in skiing as she had in snowboarding, but she decided to try anyway. It's why I absolutely adore this story: she could have made a fool out of herself, but she gave it a go and now has a gold medal to show for it. 

There's so much conversation in the pop-business world about disrupters, but those who actually disrupt never start with the intention to do so. It starts organically—just like when a snowboarder decides she'll try her hand at skiing.

Olympic Photo by Jean-Christophe Bott

The Limits of My Patience

At the end of the year, I held my arms high in the air, as if in victory.

At the beginning of the year, I had embarked upon a spiritual pursuit of patience. Throughout 2017, I spent a retreat day in contemplation of the practice and revisited it throughout this year. I've never been the most patient individual, likely because my belief in the Protestant Work Ethic pushed me to value progression more than pause. 

While I definitely wouldn't claim to have mastered patience this year, I certainly made some headway. This past year was the first time as an adult where I wasn't in full pursuit of a larger professional goal; of course, I dedicated myself to my job, but I wasn't looking beyond it. Rather than creating an arbitrary target to fill the void, I used this journey of patience as an opportunity to recalibrate my perspective. What difference does it make if I'm moving someplace as long as I'm focused on using my talents for the kingdom of God? It doesn't mean I've become complacent. I'm simply inching closer to living as the apostle Paul advocated.

So I couldn't help but laugh as I spent some of the last hours of my years with my arms extended high . . . not in victory, but in defeat . . . with a hairdryer in my hand . . . painstakingly trying to de-thaw a frozen drain line.

Owning an old house is a perpetual lesson in patience. Subzero temperatures and our absence during Christmas led to our kitchen sink/dishwasher drain to freeze up. I know enough about plumbing that I knew I could solve the issue; I just vastly underestimated how long it would take me. I first tried reaming it out with a plumbing snake, and later pumping hot water into the drain for a couple of hours. It took me a day and a half to finally accept that my best course of action was to grab a hairdryer and warm up the uninsulated part of our crawlspace. 

As I stood there monitoring the slow drip from the drain gradually increase, I couldn't help but smile thinking this was the most apropos way for me to wrap up my year. I had no idea how long it would take for this hairdryer trick to work. And it just so happened that this mini-crisis took place on my vacation, so the intermittent dripping were a constant reminder of my plans placed on the back-burner. I was forced to be patient.

It took an hour for my efforts to be rewarded. The ice finally melted. If I had taken my medicine and devoted myself to an hour of patience at the beginning of the ordeal, I might have saved myself a full day of time.

I have no idea what 2018 holds for me, but I'll remember this past year fondly. My patience has its limit, but at least its borders are expanding.

A Better Rule for Christian Men

A Better Rule for Christian Men

With barrage of men-behaving-badly stories hitting the press, a lot of attention is being paid to the Mike Pence rule—the vow for a married man to avoid being alone with a woman other than his wife. When I was in seminary, it was better known as the Billy Graham rule (and that’s how it’s listed on Wikipedia). The origins of this rule can be traced back to one of the oldest stories in human history. 

FC Cincinnati, Stadia, and the Sunk Cost Fallacy

fcc stadium.jpg

The interwebs are full of hot takes, but I wanted to add one more concerning yesterday’s Hamilton County commissioners meeting. The commissioners, in deciding whether or not to contribute to infrastructure dollars to a potential FC Cincinnati stadium (likely to be built in Oakley), responded by a) suggesting Paul Brown Stadium as a preferred venue and b) offering to pay for one parking garage in Oakley, provided that it is guaranteed to pay for itself.

This led to a couple of polarizing reactions from the general public.

1. The perspective of most FCC fans
They’re flummoxed that the a certain commissioner is hellbent on suggesting our aging NFL stadium when the MLS has stated this won't work. The main reason the Detroit bid will fail (despite being one of the largest media markets in the U.S.) is that they recently tweaked their proposal to use Ford Field as their home. Even though the stadium of the NFL’s Detroit Lions is far superior to Paul Brown, the MLS will likely pass as they’ve continually reiterated that they want a soccer-specific stadium (primarily due to revenue control but also ambiance). All things considered, FCC could continue to thrive at Nippert if this was permitted but, according to the MLS expansion guidelines, this would doom the bid. Cincinnati isn’t competing against the MLS here, but against cities like Sacramento, Nashville, and Tampa willing to do what the league asks. 

An additional (and in my opinion, legitimate) source of consternation is that the Lindner ownership group is bringing so much money to the table. No other MLS expansion candidate has ownership willing to contribute so much to the stadium cost. Why would the county balk at a group offering so much private money? Well, it’s because . . . 

2. The perspective of most Hamilton County taxpayers
They were fooled once on this already before. The Bengals deal was one of the worst in U.S. history (yay us?) and rivals our failed subway system and as one of the greatest mistakes in Cincinnati history. While this perspective might have changed had the Bengals won a Super Bowl, the general public is so sickened by the misstep, it’s poisoned any future considerations. Add the fact that many taxpayers just don’t get/like soccer (despite its massive popularity among millennials) that there’s no way they’d forgive elected politicians for repeating past mistakes. 

As with any issue, there are some nuances here that force broader perspectives. But what I really want to hone in on in this debate is why the county commissioners would double down on the Paul Brown Stadium issue here. In fact, invoking PBS at all makes it nearly impossible for the public to have an unemotional conversation about public money. And an aside: the most perplexing thing about yesterday’s press conference was that the Bengals, who by contract control nearly all revenue from the stadium, were never even consulted about the commissioners suggesting that FCC play there.

So why this irrational insistence on offering Paul Brown Stadium an option if it's untenable both from a revenue and MLS perspective?

The county commissioners, particularly Commissioner Portune, are struggling with the popular sunk cost fallacy. 

Working in finance, I continually observe people and institutions that are not rational with their money. In fact, none of us really are. Nearly all of our spending habits are emotionally driven, and this is often influenced by past mistakes. Nobel prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman outlines this well in his book Thinking Fast and Slow. If an individual or organization has already invested time/resources into a failing endeavor, they’ll most likely continue to invest additional time/resources in an attempt to rectify previous mistakes. Research has proven that this is rarely successful and often leads to further losses. Quite simply, once the mistake is made, you can’t spend your way out of it.

When listening to yesterday’s news conference, I couldn’t listen to Mr. Portune without hearing sunk costs. He referenced the fear (a legitimate one even) that the Bengals will leave Cincinnati in 2026 when their lease expires. His thinking, then, is why build another stadium now when we have a perfectly good one that could be empty in less than a decade? Portune and the other commissioners' thoughts on this current opportunity are being formed by a previous financial mistake that shares little similarity to the current opportunity. The inability to discern this opportunity apart from the boondoggle is driven by emotion. 

Don't misinterpret me: this isn’t to say that the county SHOULD allocate funds on stadium infrastructure. What I am saying, however, is that continually suggesting a non-solution like Paul Brown Stadium does not make a compelling case of sound fiscal strategy. A simple “no way” with no explanation would have made more rational sense.

While it’s anyone’s guess what will happen in the following weeks, I still predict they'll cut a deal. And, ironically, the concerns over Paul Brown Stadium might be what actually gets it done. FCC’s ownership group have massive investments along Cincinnati’s riverfront. If the Bengals do leave, we’d never get another NFL team again, so there’d be a limited pool of potential tenants. If America’s passion for soccer continues along its current trajectory, maybe FCC takes possession of Paul Brown Stadium in a decade or so. I’m not sure that alienating one of the few local entities that could afford such an expenditure is the best tact in salvaging that great mistake.

And while the [futbol] club has continually mentioned that they’re ready to go in Newport, the desire to keep the franchise in city limits—both by ownership and local politicians—will likely see them cut a deal. How taxpayers feel about it might come down to spin, and maybe yesterday’s press conference was step one in that process.

I’m just irked when an emotional position is framed as rational thought.

How I Manage My Digital Life

With all the opinions flying around the internets right now, I know you're not looking for another one. Oh, I have them. Trust me, I have plenty of them. 

Yet in this volatile political climate, I can't even find the benefit of posting an opinion. It's just not worth it. I keep diverse networks—from conservatives to progressives, from moderates to the apathetic. Chances are I'll offend someone regardless of how innocent my comments are. A few weeks ago, I made a joke post about Fiona the hippo (a.k.a. Cincinnati's Li'l Sebastian). Somehow that social media conversation turned into an abortion debate. 

So in this time of great tension, is it possible to be prophetic and speak boldly? I still say it is, but it's not as simple as most of us want it to be. More than ever, we're living out Warhol's fifteen minutes of fame concept and people want their voices to be heard (and a quick tweet or post scratches that itch). But in order to gain the right to be heard, it's important to first focus on three key practices.

1. Invest in relationships. The older I get, I've discovered that my list of discernible skills pales in comparison to the company I keep. If I want my opinions to be respected, it's important that people understand the heart behind them. My digital persona is defined by my real-world relationships. So if I commit to being a person of character in my day-to-day life, I'll earn some respect that will hedge the benefit of doubt if I offer an opinion that might be controversial. 

2. Listen more intently. At the beginning of our marriage, when my wife was wrapping up her college work, she took a listening course. It was painful as a newlywed (and a male) to be constantly reminded of how poor I listen; I tend to be more excited about crafting my response than truly hearing what other's say. I'm not fully reformed, but I'm a better listener today than I've ever been, and this permits more opportunities to observe the lay of the land. The better I listen, the less I offend. But perhaps most importantly . . .

3. Be positive. I hit on this in a recent vlog, but it bears repeating: it's not worth it to be known for what you're against. This doesn't mean that I shouldn't stand against atrocities, but the way I present these should motivate rather than decry. Before I hit "post" on a critique of an individual or organization, I ask myself if I'll be viewed as building up rather than tearing down. 

So I simply think twice before I post. While our country's diversity is finally being recognized, it's also exposing the fact that we've never fully dealt with our checkered past. We're still grappling with the sin of Babel—trying to share this world while speaking different languages. Applying a little patience to the process can do nothing but help. 

How are you managing?

Compassion Fatigue

There are times I get frustrated with our local newspaper, but every once in awhile they get something right. As much as we lament the heroin epidemic, my heart goes out to those whose very professions make it impossible to escape. Here's the link to the Enquirer article about first responders and heroin.

I want to offer a few thoughts on what the article terms "compassion fatigue," as it’s very real. We’ve nearly completed 12 years living in the urban core, in addition to the first 22 years of my life spent in an urban church. With every passing year, my heart unfortunately hardens. I’ve neither lost faith in the gospel, nor have I abandoned the mission. Still, I’m increasingly disillusioned when ministering to the down-and-out (this applies to the up-and-out as well, but that’s a different topic altogether). 

Even the best among us can become jaded when constantly exposed to exaggeration and half-truths. 

  • I’ve witnessed a man briskly scale two flights of stairs, only to be leaning on crutches while panhandling just hours later.
  • I interacted with a woman who invented a dead child in an attempt to scam our church for funeral expenses.
  • I had to kick a guy out of church who created a diversion and stole money from the offering plate. 

Ask urban workers about the lies they’ve been told and story-time will go on for hours. I’ve known dozens of vibrant servants who fully invested time to city ministry, only to burn out years later. When you’re viewed for your provision, it’s natural insulate yourself from that exposure.

Dwelling among those in need has the potential to negatively impact one’s walk in faith. When my Christian friend joined the Peace Corps, I encouraged him to use the opportunity to focus on spiritual growth. In the third world country where he worked, however, he was unable to connect with any indigenous church there; whenever he visited a new church, they saw he was American and treated him less as a brother and more as a financial resource.

I struggle to bring up these negative issues, as they can be used to defend our disconnect. Instead, we must view our compassion fatigue as yet another spiritual hurdle to be cleared. It's happened to me, friends. And if I don’t overcome it, it has the potential to lead me to sin.

Rather than offering three solutions to combating our cynicism (be slow to judge, be honest in your conversations with those in need, pray more), I want to lean into one that has helped me the most: surround yourselves with the hopeful. 

Right now, I’m incredibly thankful that our church has young leaders who are passionate about serving the least of these. Even though I want to gently dampen their passion with a dose of reality, I try to shut my mouth. I’m giving them space to try things that turned out poorly for me. I don’t want them to experience pain (although she is a good teacher), but I’m reminding myself that every situation is different. Just because someone I attempted to help lied to me doesn’t mean that everyone in need is pushing a scam. I’m letting this generation chart their own path while soaking up their enthusiasm. And then, years down the road, when they experience the fatigue I now feel, I’ll trust that the Lord provides them with the inspiration to persevere.

The apostle Paul advised us, "as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience" (Colossians 3:12). He added no caveat here. I’m trying to live up to this.

Be compassionate. Encourage others to persevere as well.

Photo by Roland Denes on Unsplash

Day One Ish

It's time to get back on the horse and aim my sights a second time on Boston qualifying. I rested the last three weeks after the Flying Pig marathon, ate virtually anything I wanted, and healed up from the leg injury that kept me from qualifying. I woke up this morning and headed out on my first training run.

It just wasn't easy. As I started out, I felt I was at a crawling pace. I had to constantly remind myself that it's difficult to pick up training again and that I'd feel differently by the end of the summer. Yet even though I felt like slow motion, my pace this morning was faster than anything I did in my first three weeks of training this year; and that was in the humidity of the summer. 

Not sure if I'll document this charge as much as my previous one, but I'm focused and ready to roll.

'Bout Dem Bengals

*In my effort to continue writing more, here's a post I wrote last fall but never published. For some closure, we are now FC Cincinnati season ticket holders.

I think I’m finally over the NFL. 

A four-decade Bengals fan, I have memories of watching Super Bowl XVI on television and crying when Joe Montana crushed our dreams in Super Bowl XXIII. I wasn’t just watching in the good times: I endured the Shula Era, a quarterback carousel, and our inability to select a first-round pick who wouldn’t get injured. 

I used to live and die with the Bengals, but I haven't watched an entire game this year; frankly, I didn’t even know the Bengals had a bye week until about 2pm on Sunday. And I’m not alone. Last week with friends that always talk football, we all said that we’re less engaged with the pro game. And since my Twitter feed is filled with NFL advertisements telling me how exciting the game is, I’m thinking it’s an epidemic. 

I know there’s a myriad of reasons that NFL viewership is down, from an overexposed product to traumatic head injuries. For me, however, I trace it all back to last year’s playoff game against Pittsburgh. It wasn’t just losing to the Steelers again, but it was HOW we lost. I could stomach Jeremy Hill’s fumble, but I found the penalty against Burfict, when earlier in the game Bernard was mauled without a flag, insulting. And when Joey Porter baited PacMan into a flag that clinched the game after a Steelers coach pulled Reggie’s hair, I surrendered. And I don’t think I’ve ever recovered. 

It wasn’t just losing but the feeling that the game just wasn't fair. It was the subjectivity. Referees make judgement calls nullifying the accomplishments of the athletes on the field. Football is a violent game and to hear the national media decree that the Bengals deserved to lose that playoff game because they couldn’t control themselves seemed disingenuous. In the end, if officials are merely going to make decisions instead of controlling the game, how can I trust the product?

With all the entertainment options at my disposal, and my home team seemingly so far away from success, why am I still watching this game?

Tomorrow I’m talking with the FC Cincinnati season ticket rep. I’m much more excited about that than anything the NFL is selling me now.


I was not successful in qualifying for the Boston Marathon. 

I had no idea whether I was even healthy enough to give it a go. Treating my soleus injury led me to rest, stretch, ice, and rub multiple lotions on my right leg. Even though it didn’t feel normal in the days before the race, I wasn’t going to conclude my strongest training season without at least trying to run. Additionally, the conditions for 2017's Flying Pig Marathon were likely the best there will ever be, so I sold myself that it was meant to be.

At the starting line, I worked my way to the front of my corral, beginning just seconds behind the leaders. I felt fine and quickly found my pace group. I’ve never stuck with a pace group for entire race but I decided this would be the best strategy to keep on track. A couple of miles in and the pace felt comfortable. My leg was tight, but not really painful. I was even handling the early hills with ease.

Then right at mile three I felt a stabbing pain. I quickly realized I wasn’t BQ’ing in this race.

Since I was still near the front of a 20,000 person pack, I pulled off onto the sidewalk and slowed down to a crawl. I didn’t walk, but there was shooting pain in nearly every step; I couldn’t imagine another 23 miles of this. I figured I could limp my way another five miles to my house and call it a day. 

After leaving downtown, I started up the infamous Gilbert Hill. At this point, the pain was less stabbing and more a consistent discomfort. “Maybe you can do the half marathon,” I told myself. "At least then you’d have something to show for it.” As I worked through my inner dialogue, something happened. I’m not sure what it was—if it was the hill stretching out my leg or my pure stubbornness—but at the top of Eden Park, I felt like I could finish this race. Even though the leg was still painful, and I couldn’t run at optimal speed, I knew I could finish. My brother-in-law was at our house with Kaelyn and my niece (my sister and her twins ran the half). I told them that I was hobbled but to look for me to finish around 4:30. Just up the street, as the half and the full routes split, I turned right to run my 26.2. 

I continued to tolerate the pain and even picked up speed over the next few miles. Again, I wasn’t running well, evidenced by the unusual blisters on my feet; I was striking the ground differently to compensate for the injury and my feet paid a toll. But I was still running it out. Just surviving helped me deal with the BQ depression. My adjusted goal was to finish well. And without noticing, I was making decent time.

Side note: There are always marathon moments that people don’t discuss—incidents that are not at all glamorous and quite disgusting. About sixteen miles in, my innards rebelled against me. I found a porto-potty and thought I was good until five minutes later. Not sure if it was a reaction to my pain or not. Regardless, despite bathing in hand wash, I always feel guilty when the kids want a high five. 

After mile twenty, my coping left me with tired legs, but I still had my fitness. I never walked during the race, partly because it’s my but mantra but mostly because it wouldn’t have solved the pain in my leg. And I know the course so well that I was able to maintain a solid mental state. I wasn’t even looking at my time. At mile 25, I finally realized that I would finish just under four hours. It was a nice little bonus, knowing that the pain was worth it. Without my intense training, I doubt I could’ve finished under five hours. 

At the finish line I just stopped without emotion. I took my medal. I found my family. 

It’s a day later and I’m in terrible shape. Thankfully I didn’t have to leave the house today (working at home has it’s privileges) because I’m not sure I could have walked more than ten yards at a time; I haven’t felt this bad after a marathon in years. I won’t be able to even think about running for a few weeks and recovery could take up to a month. 

You see, I didn’t know how I’d react to not qualifying. Because I was able to persevere yesterday, I’m OK with it because I know it still hasn’t gotten my best shot. At the very least, the past few months of training helped my discover what it will take for me to get there. And there are countless ways where I can improve: I can better monitor my fitness, work on my diet, and maybe even integrate some stretching to prevent injury. Even though I didn’t fail because of lack of preparation, I’m not going to become complacent.

Failure provides opportunities for reflection. And even though I’m tough on myself, I don’t regret anything I did. I could chalk this defeat up to the fact that I’m not athletic enough to BQ, but I just can’t admit that. I’m not going to give up. I’m going to try again.

This morning I signed up for my next marathon. 


I’m always processing. While I mostly tend to do this verbally, I’ve discovered writing is another medium to do so. Since I’ve catalogued many aspects of my BQ journey here on this site, I might as well open up about my race week neuroses as well.

My leg injury has not improved at all. I rested and iced it well over the weekend. Monday afternoon, I volunteered to chaperone Kaelyn’s running club at school, figuring it would be a good opportunity to test it out. I started well, but just half a mile in, I felt emerging tightness and discomfort. Even though the pain increased, I continued on since I was supervising the children. It’s no fluke: this injury just isn't going away quickly.

At first, I was thinking it was an achilles, as I’ve had issues with it before in this leg. But yesterday I pinpointed it a little higher on the leg—the soleus muscle—which ties the achilles to the calf muscles. Of course, there’ s no easy fix for it. Time is usually the best medicine, but I have a mere five days to go until the marathon.

It’s demoralizing because I haven’t had a significant running injury in a few years. I’ve learned not to increase my mileage too dramatically and adopted a consistent posture and that’s kept me relatively free from injury. And my fitness is as high as it’s ever been; if I had run the marathon just three weeks ago, I probably could have BQ’d with time to spare. Now, I’m trying to keep from being depressed while contemplating race strategies. 

I’m not convinced that, even if I take a few Advil and use some heat ointment, that I could perform optimally at 26.2 miles on a less-than-optimal leg; I won’t really know until I start the race, and would have to readjust my goal on the course. If I can’t reach the BQ time, I’d still like to finish; I’ve never DNF’d a race so that’s looming in the back of my mind. But whereas years ago my goal was merely to finish marathons, it’s now all about peak performance. I could still take a shot at a BQ this fall in Indianapolis but, if I further injure myself on Sunday trying to finish the race, this goal could evaporate for another year.

I’m not right in the head, hence writing an entire post about it.

As I think about this injury, I get both extremely sad and angry. I continually start to utter the phrase, “this isn’t fair . . .” but I cut myself off in mid-sentence. One of the blessings of a career teaching people how to function in a universe that God created is that I know that “fair” is a deceptive concept; seeing wonderful people die far too early reminds me that this fallen world lacks the eternal perfection we’re longing to experience. This knowledge is countered by one of the curses of being a theologian: when you actually have to live out what you teach. 

While preaching this past Sunday, I highlighted a often forgotten phrase written by the apostle Paul in Philippians 1:18: “But what does it matter?” In the scheme of things, we take things in life that lack an eternal resonance far too seriously. This isn’t to say we can’t be frustrated at the little inconveniences of life. I mean, getting a leg injury just days before a race absolutely sucks. But then again, I also shouldn’t get too worked up about it. Some things are just outside of my control. There’s not anything I can imagine I could have done differently here (it’s why I’m an emotional head case right now). So I just need to keep a good perspective with this.

It’s yet another opportunity to see if I can actually live out the faith that I tell people I have.

Again, I didn't need to post this, but I felt compelled to do so. On Sunday afternoon, when the marathon is over, maybe these words will help me. Or maybe in a year from now, this post will remind me how my feelings in this moment were unnecessary. I have no idea. 

I’ll be patient. I’ll keep the faith. And I’ll trust it will all work out.

Last Push

For the sake of documentation, I needed one more post about the lead-up to my quest to Boston qualify. 

In the spring I learned that the wife and some friends were looking to run the Flying Pig marathon relay (splitting up the 26.2 between four runners). Since I love this race, I signed up to pace them. Sure, turning around two marathons in eight days would be a challenge, but at a slower pace I was sure I could do it. In the back of my head, I also knew I'd have a back-up race in case something happened at Louisville. 

So something happened at Louisville.

I had been monitoring the weather from two weeks out. Those forecasts are highly inconsistent, but at least it paints a good picture of what to expect. From that first forecast to the days before, everything pointed to marathon temperatures above 80 degrees. This isn't good at all for marathon runners. I ran a race in that kind of heat, and despite your best efforts, it's impossible to keep your body cool enough to get maximum results (it was the only race I ever had to walk through, and I'm still proud of finishing it). If those race day temps would hold, there was no way I could BQ. 

A few days before, with the radar also calling for thunderstorms, I had a choice to make. The forecast for the Flying Pig looked much better, with a high in the mid-sixties, so my meteorological data was compelling. Still, the reason so few attempt to BQ in Cincinnati is because of the challenging topography. I had to pick my poison: heat or hills.

I made the strategic decision to not run the Derby Festival Marathon. I'll try to conquer the Flying Pig Marathon and its hills this Sunday.

My decision was affirmed when I tracked the race day weather in Louisville: they had to delay the start of the race 90 minutes because of thunderstorms. Additionally, about half-an-hour after the start, it rained hard and soaked the runners. The heat wasn't quite as high as earlier predicted because of the cloud cover, but it still would've been highly difficult to nail my goal.

And it all might have been serendipitous as I picked up a minor injury. About nine days ago, I did some yard work involving some heavy shoveling. The repeated action of pressing into the soil with the shovel strained my calf (the same leg where I've suffered from achilles problems). My most recent run was so awkward that I stopped altogether. Obviously, this impacts the mind more than anything. I can chalk up my rest to a good taper, but I'm icing and treating this thing as best as possible. I'm feeling good that, with a few Advil and some heat rub, I can make it through just fine.

If there are lessons here, it's gotta be that you just have to be prepared for anything in this process. I have to trust that I did my training and that will carry me through. My attitude is fairly strong, even though the goal has become even more challenging. I think the home field advantage will serve me well. I'm not afraid of hills (it's a necessity of training where I live) but I'm hoping I have enough left in the tank for a strong finish.

Mind Games

I'm a mere ten days away from my Boston Qualifying attempt. There's been some peaks and valleys along the way (both literally and metaphorically), but I'm incredibly pleased with the training I've put in. Even though I had some doubts early on, I've slimmed down to my lowest weight since high school and my times have continued to decrease (despite my earlier concerns). I've put in more 18+ mile runs than any point in my training and have logged far more miles than I ever had in preparation for a race. I was even able to match part of the Boston Marathon on Monday to help cement a visual of what I'm working toward. 

But it's still doesn't mean that I'm without fear. I'm still afraid to fail.

This is somewhat silly because virtually everything I've accomplished in life has been the result of taking risk in the shadow of failure. Yet I'm coming to believe that this risk actually carries more weight than nearly all the others I've ever attempted.

That's a bold statement but hear me out: it's not that I believe that attempting to BQ is the most monumental task I've ever tried to accomplish. It's just that few have ever had such a defined measure of success or failure. Even more, fewer have rested on a particular moment as this one does

A couple of examples of previous risks I've taken to put this in context: first, undertaking my doctoral program. I invested a lot of time and money in that process. And I put forth an immense amount of effort to get the work done. But even if I hadn't met my original deadlines, I could have merely paid an extension and taken another stab at it the following semester. And I knew that, if I put in the effort, I had the aptitude to complete the program. 

A second example: starting Echo. We risked much when my pregnant wife and I moved to the city, me forgoing a consistent paycheck, to start our fellowship. I didn't see it that way at the time (maybe my arrogance hid the fears), but it wasn't quite as risky as I imagined. Even though I visualized this jump as one without a parachute, asserting our unwavering commitment to the cause, I knew I could always find work in some industry if it fell through. As long as I had a realistic view of success (the church still exists almost twelve years later), I knew we could win on this risk.

In contrast, attempting to Boston Qualify is a once (or at the most twice) a year deal. And it could be much less if some sort of injury comes my way. I've committed four solid months (in addition to the past nine years of running) to this goal. If I don't meet it this Saturday, then I'm back at square one. I'd have to put in the time again, still with no guarantee of success.

That's the source of my fear . . . or perhaps more accurately, my anxiousness. 

I'll still run in the following days, but my body is as prepped as can be; in fact, gains in running usually take six weeks to kick in, so any work I do now will have little affect on my performance (research tapering before a marathon, and you'll get a better idea of what I'm talking about). Over the next week and a half, it's about me getting right between my ears. I need to be confident that I've done the work and mentally prepared to give it all during the race. 

And, as I've occasionally considered throughout this time, I might need to grapple with failure to reach my ultimate goal. If that's the result, I'm sure I'll have gleaned numerous lessons throughout the process, but I'm still grateful that I'm taking the risk. And I'm thankful to have the space to articulate these fears so I can remember them after the fact. 

Until then, it's all about positive thinking.

United and You: Beyond the Meme

The internets were a wonderful place last week. With United Airlines staffers messing up in a grandiose way, true artists leaned in on the movie Airplane to create quality social media fodder. 

We're almost forced to laugh, aren't we? Dragging a paying customer off an airplane is so unbelievable that you'd question their ability to stay in business. You might be surprised, however, that the day after the story went viral, the stock actually traded at a one month high (yes, before dropping again). So even in this major PR crisis is don't bet against United. They're in an industry with limited (and highly regulated) competition, and even though people talk a big game, they're still going to choose price when it comes to air travel. United will promise changes, drop some fares, and weather the controversy just fine.

So if their corporation won't suffer long-term repercussions from this snafu, we might as well co-opt it as a teachable moment. Few of us have a job or a business as insulated as the airline industry. Instead of obsessing over holding a monolith accountable, maybe we should scrutinize how WE can be more un-United.

When those dudes drug that doctor off the plane, do you think they had any idea that it would define their professional careers and their lives? Of course not. In fact, they were just doing what they were told to do, ordered by other people who also had S.O.P.'s telling them what to do. In the end, everyone was just doing their job . . . or what they perceived was their job. 

And that's the problem for the majority of us: we misunderstand the foundational principle of our employment. Regardless of what your industry is, your job is people. Get this wrong and you may achieve some level of success, but eventually you'll fail. 

You're likely racking your brain right now, trying to think of a job that doesn't involve people but you'll be hard pressed to do so. Even the best veterinarian in the business needs to work on her human interaction to maximize success. In this era that keeps many of us toiling behind a keyboard for hours a day, we forget that our most precious work is interaction with human beings. Whether it's your customer or your colleague, you have to manage those relationships. 

There were many failings behind the United fiasco, the chief among them is an organizational culture views customers as mere numbers in an equation. So rather than rendering that Raging Bull meme, use the time to consider how you can treat those around you with the dignity they deserve.


A little bit of an update about my marathon training. Again, this is really just an opportunity for me to capture what I'm feeling through this process, so I apologize if it comes across as I'm too self-involved.

My training went really well in January and February. I'm charting my runs and there's a definitive trend of my gaining speed. The mild winter permitted me to get outside much more than I normally would. Even though I'm a workhorse on a treadmill, there is that point in March when you're about done with it so banking those early days outside helps your mentality.

My work travel schedule has been intense the past seven weeks or so, so maintaining my training schedule required deliberate planning: if I fly out in the morning, I need to allow treadmill time that night, or if I fly out late, I need to run early at home. Still, what was once laborious has now become a habit. I've never trained this hard for a race. Through this week, I had run every day, compiling a 72-day streak. 

On day 72, however, I started feeling ill. I just returned from a road trip and I picked up a cold. I'm trying to assume some of the blame as I neglected to take my regular dosage of Vitamin C. More likely, I'd say it was the combination of an intense schedule, being in confined spaces in the winter months, and disrupted sleep that made me susceptible to getting sick.

Then on Tuesday I faced a conundrum: do I press through while sick, keep the streak alive and put some mileage in on the treadmill or rest? As much as I wasn't feeling well, I was fighting visions of running every day in 2017 and basking in its glow on December 31st. I loved the idea of a year long streak. I even mentioned it multiple times to Kelly that day, as if maybe she would tell me to stop being a wimp and go for a run. She intelligently chose to listen and empathize instead.

The streak came to an end on Tuesday. In fact, I felt so bad that I didn't run the past three days. 

I was reading blogs and web-forums about people who run everyday and I stopped doing so on Tuesday; I don't feel worthy anymore. Even though I'm doing well and have developed this habit, I'm wrestling with feelings of failure. But I still chose not to run.

I think what made me comfortable with abandoning the streak was that it wasn't my true goal. As much as I enjoyed the feeling of running every day, I'm still laser focused on a specific finish time on April 29th. I always tell new marathoners that taking a few days off isn't a bad thing (it's why the most difficult thing dedicated runners do is taper). It was key that I keep the big picture in mind while pressing through those feels to swap out a goal at the last minute.

If you've read this far, you're either a runner looking for info (I see ya) or someone just peering into my soul. I don't want to have brought you this far without a lesson, so it's gotta be to steer clear from distractions, even when they're justified. Sure, I could have pressed through instead of resting, but I very easily could have prolonged that illness. I feel like I'm getting over it. The mind is a powerful thing and it will sometimes turn on you if you don't stay focused. That's really why I wanted to write this: to remind my own brain who's in charge.

I ran seven miles on the treadmill this morning. Felt good. New streak started.

Bites of Patience

This is a series of posts surrounding my goal of focusing on patience in 2017, specifically my retreat day of patience on January 5th. To read more in the series, click on the "patience" tag at the bottom of this post.

One could argue that fasting could be a poetic way to learn patience. Today, I’m not inclined to believe it. I’m hungry. I want to sit for awhile and contemplate so more. This would be the ideal time to search for an international restaurant, where the meal is served in courses over a few hours.

I opt for a chain sandwich shop.

Once again, the snow has kept people from going out and it’s empty. But people are still hungry and the staff is buzzing along filling a full slate of carry out orders. Even though I’m the only person in line, I’m forced to wait—to place my order, to select my condiments, to pay for my meal. I grin because I cherish the added irony. The manager apologies for the slowness and asks if I’m doing OK. “Just fine,” I respond. “Thanks for asking."

When I sit down, it’s just me in the dining room. Well, it’s me AND the live lunchtime performer in the corner. He’s not playing yet, but he’s tuning his guitar, so I know it’s coming. I’m still convicted not to put my headphones in, so I know I’ll be forced to listen to whatever folk music he produces. But he leads out the gate with Simon and Garfunkle’s the Boxer. I’m a sucker for it; it’s one of my favorite songs of all time. The musical interlude will act as a metronome forcing me to slow my pace.

I eat fast.

I chalk it up to my childhood. Mealtime in a big family is all about pace. If you don’t eat quickly, you may not get enough of the food you want; no kid wants to be stuck with a second helping of vegetables. I’ve continued the habit for, as much as I love eating, it’s something I need to do for sustenance, so even when it’s enjoyable, it’s about utility. This is heightened when I’m eating along. I could always sit and read my Twitter feed, but I’d rather get in and out. At the very least, over the years, I’ve tried to stop eating in my car. Again, though, that decision wasn’t about patience; I was tired of losing lettuce between my car cushions.

For the day of patience, I’ve convinced myself to eat slowly. I take little bites, trying to savor my not-so-fast food. My soup is a willing participant. The steam continues to rise from my bowl for a good fifteen minutes. If I eat any faster, I’ll lose a year’s worth of tastebuds. As the lunch crowd begins to stream in, I can finally recognize that I indeed slowed down a bit. People who hit the dining room after me are leaving while I’m still nursing my sandwich. The performer in the corner is working his deeper cuts of folk music (chasing Bob Dylan with the Counting Crows); I actually drop him a tip, which is something I rarely do for musicians. The pause to listen makes me appreciate the craft more.

I’m not sure I’ll eat more patiently in the future. But at the very least, I’ll try to digest forgettable moments more deliberately in the future. 

The Slow of Snow

This is a series of posts surrounding my goal of focusing on patience in 2017, specifically my retreat day of patience on January 5th. To read more in the series, click on the "patience" tag at the top of this post.

 “We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.” Psalm 33:20,22

The city is an enemy of patience. It’s always moving and part of its success demands that it must continue on quickly. There is no time for idleness, for movement is the key to urban prosperity.

All that changes on a snow day, however. The city comes to a crawl. It projects a peacefulness that is rarely seen. The roads are less traveled on. While the traffic lights continue to change, sometimes no one is there to notice.

Up the street from our house, there’s a little coffee shop on the corner of the major road. It’s only a ten-minute drive from my house, but I’ve never been there. I decided that it would serve as the first stop on my day of patience.

This isn’t your typical hipster, third-wave kind of coffee place. It sits on the corner of an economically distressed community. This storefront sat vacant for decades until recently revived by a grant. It employs local residents. I felt a little bad because, for over an hour, I was the only person sitting there. 

Normally at a coffee shop, I make sure my headphones are at the ready to hide the noise around me. But on this day, as I grapple with what it means to wait, I’m trying to listen a little more intently than I normally do. And even though the hum of the ancient Gatorade drink cooler next to my chair is loud, it’s not significant enough to mute the noise of the adjacent interstate. 

The employees sit at a table by the door and chitchat about life. They look out the window and make occasional comments about a passing pedestrian or the make of a vehicle driving by. Their conversation meanders from one place to the next with absolutely no direction. They are fully content to talk about absolutely nothing.

Every few minutes one of them gets up to perform a simple task around the coffee shop but they’ve already accomplished virtually everything they can think of. I know this because they talk about it and make a list of everything they’ve done so far that morning. Again, the conversation continues to go everywhere but nowhere. And it bothers me a little bit.

Don’t get me wrong: I love to grab a cup of coffee and chat with a friend for an hour. But my framework of time and productivity leave me wanting conversations to “go” someplace—to produce some sort of take-away that makes it all worthwhile. This doesn’t mean I don’t love and value the people with whom I’m talking, but I want things to be further down the road since the last time we talked.

I know very well that life doesn’t work like this. But I secretly want it do.

And even though one of my greatest strengths is building deep relationships with people, my lack of patience negatively affects it in some instances. The lesson learned is continue to work on what I did in 2016: I need to continue to listen better. Rather than to use my silent time in conversation to craft my next comment, I’d still do better to ruminate on the words of the person across from me.

The Road to Patience

This is a series of posts surrounding my goal of focusing on patience in 2017, specifically my retreat day of patience on January 5th. To read more in the series, click on the "patience" tag at the top of this post.

“Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.”
Proverbs 14:29

A few years ago, when I was working for the university, I bought a scooter. It wasn’t about making a statement; it was about utility. My work commute was minimal—a mere four miles each way through city streets. The scooter’s 90mpg was extremely attractive when I owned an insatiable gas-guzzling SUV and petrol prices were out of control.

Driving the scooter actually helped me become more patient: the bike maxed out at 65 miles per hour and it wasn’t robust enough to drive on the interstate. It was slow and steady transportation, a drastic change from my default posture while on the road. 

I drive fast.

I value my time and driving fast permits me the opportunity to save time. So I speed. I hang in the fast lane on the interstate. I race to make it through a changing traffic light. I weave back and forth between lanes to gain the spatial advantage. In my current job, I drive all over the tri-state. When trying to make three to four appointments a day, spanning hundreds of miles, you tend to drive aggressive and at a considerable rate of speed. 

In the past months, any good driving habits formed during my scooter days have fallen to the wayside.

Unfortunately, this makes me a different person when I’m behind the wheel. I’m angrier. I talk about other motorists. I saw uncouth words. My rage is greatest when I observe drivers that pay no attention to their surroundings and show no courtesy to other motorists around them. It’s crazy because I’d normally give the benefit of the doubt to obliviousness if it takes place elsewhere, but it sets me off when I’m driving. The only explanation I can provide for this is that the car obscures the human behind the wheel so I’m less gracious.

Yes, if I’m truly to improve in my spiritual walk and my patience, I need focus on the way that I drive.

On my day of patience, I really have no other option but to drive slow. The snowfall of that day dictated a slower pace. I was immediately aware of this when I left my house and reached the top of my street. While the major roads were plowed decently, the side streets hadn’t been touched. I hit the breaks and skidded an additional five yards. When driving in the snow, I’m forced to keep my attention focused just 100 yards ahead of me lest I get in an accident. I stopped looking farther head to the pattern of traffic lights and I just focused on driving deliberately.

And it’s a good thing.

On my day of patience, I catch nearly every red light. I even get stuck at a train crossing (I had no idea that they still ran trains on those tracks). While tempted to switch lanes to pass the slower driver in front of me, I held back. I even paused to allow some people in crosswalks to cross the street. This kind of driving is against my nature but I’m embracing it.

It’s another lesson for me on this day of patience: there’s no massive benefit for me to drive fast. I waste enough time in my day and eliminating those distractions would be a much better timesaver than ten additional miles per hour.

I’m going to drive a little less quickly moving forward. It’s a good thing to do. And I was just pulled over for speeding last week. 

Nobody’s perfect.