Someone Write This Script For Me

A new comedy movie. The idea is free to whomever wants to script it:

  • Fast-forward eight years from this fall.
  • After two terms of this president (yes, two), the country has jumped the shark.
  • There are walls around everything; reality TV stars run congress and the Supreme Court is stocked with NASCAR drivers, etc.
  • Americans are fed-up with the whole thing and want a do-over.
  • Democracy is blamed and a national vote makes the U.S. a monarchy.
  • The country wants a descendent of George Washington to be our new ruler.
  • There’s only one left: a millennial living in his mom’s basement who created a mustache phone app.
  • He takes over as king and hijinks ensue.
  • The lesson in the end is that failing democracy is better than no democracy at all.

Think an American version of King Ralph.
Casting is key here. Nick Cage has to provide some sagely wisdom.
I keep coming back to Shia LaBeouf as the lead character, but playing a version of himself.

It would work, people. Now go write it.

Something New

The older I get, the more I love the church. 

While some people get burned out on the negativity that happens when Christians congregate, I’m a glass-half-full guy; I’ve seen too many lives transformed by the church to dismiss it because it isn’t perfect. I believe strongly in the church and that's something I've modeled my whole life.

Last fall, I had the opportunity to reevaluate my career path. I started getting job inquiries from non-Christian organizations and I was truly intrigued. For a guy who’s spent his whole education/career in church-centered vocations, stepping away from this subculture was somewhat appealing. You don’t have to be paid by a church to be an effective minister. Examples are everywhere: we decided to stop getting paid by our church years ago and the experience has affirmed this. My idols are my parents, and though they are deeply involved in church, both worked in secular careers throughout their lives. And I’ve come to deeply appreciate my friends who have staked out ministries in their secular jobs.

It was during this time that Kelly and I talked about our marriage and family direction. What do we value? How do our vocations affect what we’re called to do pastorally? We determined that we held just two imperatives for our small family:

We’re called to live in Cincinnati. This is our mission field.
We’re called to serve with Echo Church. This is our family.

Beyond that, we’d do anything the Lord calls us to do.

And even this revealed something to me: I’m passionate for the work of the church—and not just Echo. My years at a small urban congregation and working at a ministry training school instilled in me a kingdom perspective that drives me today. No one church or one ministry can accomplish all that God needs to do. And I’m at my best when I’m equipping churches and church leaders to grow. 

This is why I have accepted a position as Vice President of Ministry Development with the Church Development Fund.

I’ve known about CDF for decades. With over six decades of experience, CDF’s mission is to help churches grow by helping them financially. They focus specifically on churches in the Restoration Movement, the (un)denomination with which Echo and CCU are affiliated. Since they’re headquartered in California, I never imagined I’d work for them. But my new position puts my responsible for the territory of Ohio/Kentucky (and some Pennsylvania). So we can stay in Cincinnati and continue with Echo.

I really believe this is the Lord opening a door for me. When I started interviewing, I kept waiting for something to dissuade me; I paid close attention to see if there was anything that would confirm this was a bad move. Instead the opposite happened: I found myself getting more and more excited. The work is custom-made for my current skill-set while providing opportunities for growth. And even when I showed my quirkiness (since I included it on my CV, we spent ten minutes in the interview discussing the Leadership Suplex and professional wrestling), they were still enthusiastic about me joining the team. And right now I’m in Las Vegas with the team, meeting at one of our Movement’s great churches, and learning more about our work.

I am beyond excited about growing professionally and contributing to the CDF family.

So about what I’m leaving behind: you already know how much I love CCU. I’m extremely proud of the work I’ve done there. Some of the best people I’ve ever met are the result of that place. But this doesn’t end the relationship: I’m going to continue to adjunct teach and will continue to support the university (especially financially). I’ll miss my colleagues, but they continue to great work. CCU existed before me and it’ll continue on when I’m gone.

I’m thrilled that I’m moving on to a company where I can continue to use my passions for the kingdom. 

A New Home?

So I'm not sure how you wandered across this site. Maybe you know me or maybe you're the IRS doing some preliminary audit research. No matter your path, you've stumbled on to the new website layout for the House of Carr.

For about eight years, I used Wordpress and rented server space from my friend Brian Coates; Brian has been a faithful friend and I could never repay all he's taught me about web development. But the exponential growth of website technology has brought costs down and provided easy-to-use content management systems. As a result, I pulled all my sites over to SquareSpace. Transferring over 11 years of content took some time, but it's all here and archived.

I'm devoted to keeping the content flowing so you'll have an excuse to check in from time to time. I hope you like the change.

And if you're with the IRS, I pay my taxes.

What Trump’s Rise Means to American Christianity

I’ve said before that I love national politics, but only as spectator sport. One thing that urban living has taught me is that local politics is much more influential and has a greater impact on daily life than anything that happens on a national stage.

I have to admit though: this presidential campaign has me glued to the edge of my seat.

If you’re reading this, you came for Trump, but give me just a second to dabble with the Democrats.

As they did in 2008, young people picked their inspirational outsider presidential candidate and are prepared to use all the social media resources at their disposal to see him elected. The establishment pushback against Bernie Sanders has less to do with him being a (democratic?) socialist but with DNC leadership trying to maintain their base of power. A few weeks ago, Dana Milbank of the Washington Post presented the clearest case as to why Hilary is the candidate of choice for the party, and it has little to do about winning the White House: Barack Obama’s election showed that it is no longer necessary to rely on the establishment. If Bernie were to win, it would cement the irrelevancy of the Democrat’s national leadership; they’d lose everything. It’s an era where grassroots has actual meaning, and the power players are running scared. After Super Tuesday, it appears Hillary has the path to the nomination, although Bernie has a lot of campaign money left to spend.

THE REPUBLICAN QUANDARY
In some ways, the rise of Donald Trump emerged from the same movement. Like Sanders, Trump is the anti-establishment candidate, making him popular among Republicans who visualize him as someone giving them a voice. The political death of Jeb Bush has signified that it’s a new day for the Republicans, but it’s the coalescing behind Trump that is truly baffling. Not since the early 19th century has a political candidate been able to speak so offensively (and, mind you, that was the era before the abolition of slavery) without having to face the consequences of his remarks. The Don will lie or insult someone, then laugh about it and offer a quick apology, expecting everyone to move on immediately. Despite the media doing everything in their power to discredit him, he continues to maintain his lead in national polling.

After Trump’s win in South Carolina, a steady stream of Evangelical Christian leaders and pastors spoke up against him. Quite a few people asked why they waited until now to confront him, and I think the answer is obvious: no one in their right mind could see this coming; why decry the madman who walks alone? There are too many ills in this world to waste your voice on insanity.

And yet tonight, after Trump’s dominance on Super Tuesday, what was once unthinkable appears to be inevitable. 

For pure spectacle, a possible Trump presidency has me chomping at the bit. And for those of you who think that this will hasten the end of the world, President Trump would not be able to get away with anywhere near the amount of ridiculousness that Candidate Trump has, thanks to the framers of our constitution. The balance of power within our national government is a type of accountability that Trump hasn’t had since his youth (assuming he had some there).

So don’t get sidetracked on what I think is the most important issue surrounding Trump’s ascendency. The greater issue surrounding this movement transcends politics and impacts the future of the church in America.

AUTHENTICITY WITHOUT MORALITY
Trump has said some egregious things over the past year (and if we go back to his life before a presidential candidate, there’s a veritable goldmine of other material), and his offensive statements have absolutely no Christian defense. Despite this, he is still the preference of a third of Republican voting Evangelicals. I know that optimists will note that two-thirds voted against him, but those numbers are still noteworthy. 

Since the advent of Jerry Falwell’s moral majority of the 1980’s, Evangelical Christians have voted with the G.O.P. After all those decades, still dismayed that the party has not made significant gains with their issues, they’ve decided to align with someone they thing can get it done, even if he lacks the moral fiber they claim they admire. Earlier this year, Falwell’s son (current president of the nation’s most influential Evangelical College) endorsed Trump, and I believe it was one of the most significant moves in this election season; the spawn of Jerry made it permissible for Evangelicals to swallow their religious reservations to get them to the promised land.They’ve fully embraced the trade-off: even though Trump is an abrasive bully with a questionable past and controversial thoughts, at least he’s honest about things and [they believe] will represent their interests. 

To be clear, this is a perfectly permissible choice when voting for a political candidate; as an American, you can vote for whomever you choose, whether it’s because you support their ideology or simply that they have a cool name (admit it: you’ve done it when voting for local judges). But when Christian leaders publicly advocate for a candidate that counters their core beliefs, it puts their faith in the cross hairs. This is why no one predicted Trump’s success: no one believed that Christians would actually make that choice. Apparently, we were all wrong.

OUR NEW REALITY
The Republican Party can no longer serve as the default political party of Evangelical Christianity.

In case you’re uncomfortable with that statement, know that the Democratic Party can’t either.

Friends, political Christianity has finally jumped the shark.

And regardless of what happens in this election season, the future will be dramatically different.

Politics will no longer unite American Christianity, and determining what Evangelicalism even looks like will become virtually impossible. It’s something that I’ve heralded for awhile but Trump’s success has clinched it. The chasm created between the factions of American believers will likely never be repaired.

My job puts me in the midst of the next generation of Christian leaders and they’re watching all of this very closely. At the evangelical Christian college where I work (featuring students from urban, rural, and suburban areas), there’s a general fatigue about political dialogue. These students identify more with the Democratic platform than that of Republicans. This allegiance has virtually nothing to do with economic or international policies but with social issues. They believe the Democrats are the more empathetic party. The party's response to the race issues of the past couple of years—specifically in response to the incidents of violence with Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice—is a stance Millenials admire. One of the reasons Bernie Sanders is so popular among young people is that he stood for civil rights during his youth, when he virtually nothing to gain; juxtaposed with Trump’s lack of compassion toward Muslims and immigrants, and this generation find Republican ideals unappealing.

And to be clear, this perception has less to do with changing theology than you might think. Even Evangelical Milennials who hold biblically orthodox positions (for example, with issues of abortion or homosexuality), will consistently choose the path of tolerance. They’d rather take a grace-based approach to people they disagree with than be the purveyors of justice.

[UN]CHARTED FUTURE
So what will all this mean to American Christianity?

Looking to the past, we see that these shifts have changed the country before. In the late 19th century, American Protestants began to battle over theological liberalism. The long held acceptance of the inspiration of the Bible was challenged, and battle lines were drawn (the university for which I work was started over one such battle). This conflict took several decades and, on the other side, American culture began to stake positions outside of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs. The progressiveness of the 1960’s/1970’s motivated many conservative Christian leaders to invest in politics, believing they could halt the culture change through legislation. The Moral Majority was designed to be the end game of this culture war. 

But the general public discovered something that we truly know too well: Christian leaders (like all of us Christians) are hypocritical.* In reality, political Christianity hastened the end of Evangelicalism and solidified our fully post-Christian trajectory.

To my Christian friends, I say don’t be afraid. 

When you read the New Testament, especially the growth of the church in the book of Acts, the gospel flourishes most brilliantly in cultures that conflict our beliefs. The culture wars were sold to us as being essential to our faith, but the early church made minimal impact among the broader Roman culture. Yet as a result of the faithfulness of those earliest believers, the world was changed because they stuck with their calling. So if we are, as I believe, fully heading to a post-Christian society, at least we can open up the Bible and see how others handled it.

SO WHO DO I VOTE FOR?
Yeah, I’m not getting into that. Yet this year (more than any other) should reinforce the fact that Christian leaders ought not bless these candidates. It's the complexity of the modern era. We’ve passed those more simple days, and should now accept national politics for what it truly is:

Compelling reality TV.

________________________
*Again, to my Christian friends, it might have offended some of you that I readily admitted that Christians are hypocritical. Personally, I don’t believe it to be offensive and, in reality, it’s an essential aspect of our faith. The gospel is that Jesus’ sacrifice redeems me despite my imperfections. And though the point of my journey with him is to aim for perfection, I’m constantly falling short of that goal. So if you’re offended when the world calls us Christians hypocrites, my advice is to move the other way and embrace it. Our ideal (Christ) was perfect, so we’ll never achieve that in this world, no matter how hard we try. Our ability to admit this is something that can free us.

 

Forty Things I’m Thankful For

I thought I’d end my series of “40" posts with a list of things for which I’m thankful (the proper grammatically way to express that, as opposed to that intentionally butchered title above).

Obviously, my thankfulness extends far beyond forty items but that's the theme of these musings so I'm sticking to it.

Moleskine notebooks I get so excited about them, I always buy a new one before I’ve finished filling the last one.

Running I never really enjoyed running, even when I started running marathons. It wasn’t until my third marathon that I started to consider it a fun discipline. Now the thought of ten mile runs in the fall make me smile. It’s kinda sadistic.

The Spoken Word The idea that people still endure so many speeches and sermons in an era of digital communication is amazing.

Old Houses We were blessed this year to buy an old house that was well-cared for. A bitterly cold winter might change my tune but so far, we’re in love.

Shoes I’m not a full-blown addict, but I probably own more shoes than a man should. It’s the one piece of fashion that always interests me.

Photography The advent of digital photography made me begin to appreciate what can be accomplished behind the camera lens. While I’m a better photo-editor than an actual photographer, it’s still a nice hobby.

Air conditioning My familial roots in HVAC installation and repair make me appreciate the blessing of a cool house on a sweltering summer day.

The Written Word I always think of myself more of a speaker than a writer, but some of the greatest influence I’ve had has come through things I’ve written.

Learning As evidenced by my time in the classroom, I'm a perpetual student. I’m confident that even though I’m finally finished going to school, I won’t stop my pursuit of knowledge.

Contact Lenses I started having vision problems at the end of elementary school. I didn’t start wearing contacts until I went to college. Maybe someday I’ll have laser surgery but until then, I’ll keep shoving those wonderful pieces of plastic on my eyeballs.

Diversity Monochromatic won't get it done. Variety is the spice of life.

Foggy mornings I’ve liked these more since I moved downtown. There’s nothing like seeing buildings peak out above the clouds.

Architecture Like George Costanza, I always wanted to be an architect. In the last decade, however, I actually started appreciate the art of building design. I like pretty buildings.

Whiteboards I’ve gone a little bit crazy in the past few years, installing whiteboards in all my offices. It’s gotten to the point that Kaelyn asked for one in her room (and I obliged). A dry erase marker and a sea of white allow for endless possibilities.

Tension I really don’t like tension. I prefer everything to just go the way I want. But constructive friction proves so helpful to arrive at the best direction.

Haircuts I’ve cut my own hair for almost twenty years. There’s nothing quite like that feeling of follicular freedom.

Air Travel My first plane ride was on our honeymoon. I’m thankful that I’ve had the chances to see parts of the world that I never would have if I lived a century ago.

Digital Music My early life consisted of toting around cassette/CD cases. I love that I can carry all my tunes (as well as podcasts) on my cell phone.

Topography Even though hills are horrible for running, the vistas that they afford are well worth the efforts. I’m blessed to live in a city of hills.

Clothes that fit Life in the 1990’s was OK, but I truly hope that baggy clothes never come back in style. I know there’s a certain level of comfort in oversized apparel, but I prefer shirt and pants that conform to my body.

Hot showers It’s the little things, right?

Watching Sports The Reds, The Bengals, The Bearcats, The Muskies, The Red Devils, and even my wife’s Wildcats provide endless entertainment throughout the year.

Harmony My parents love to sing and my mother’s alto harmonies taught me to appreciate how complimentary notes can create music that sounds even more robust.

Seasons As much as I’ve grown to hate January, the changing seasons create in my a sense of gratitude for changing times. No matter how difficult the winter is, spring is coming.

Shared wisdom I love living in an era with unlimited access to knowledge. With Youtube, I can fix almost anything.

Maps Ever since I manned the Rand McNally on family vacations, I’ve loved maps. Google Maps is my Shangri-La (even though I haven’t found it on a map yet).

Beverages My morning ritual is still grabbing a 44 ounce Diet Coke. I love drinking fluids all day long. And my bladder works just fine, thank you very much.

Local food Skyline Chili, LaRosa’s, Graeters all flow through my veins. And there’s always something new opening up in town now a days.

(East) Walnut Hills I knew of these communities when I was growing up. I never knew how much they would feel like home. We love living here.

Cincinnati Christian University The whole trajectory of my life can be traced back to where I get to work everyday. It’s been a crazy relationship, but my passion for this place is unquenchable.

My health The older the get, the more that I appreciate human frailty. I made it four decades with merely one surgery, so I’m counting myself grateful.

My forefathers (and foremothers) Everything I’ve accomplished in life has been the result of those who’ve walked before me. I’m grateful to build with supplies provided by others.

My friends I've got friends in all the right places. I’m blessed to have a countless number of folks who would help me at the drop of a hat.

My city I never planned on spending my entire life in one city, but Cincinnati has loved me more than I could imagine. I’m still thrilled to live in the midwestern paradise.

My family To my mother, father, brothers, and sisters, they made me who I am. My extended family, including those I acquired through marriage (especially my amazing mother-in-law and father-in-law), make my life even better.

My church We started a church to make a difference but that church made a huge difference to me. So thankful for my Echo family.

My daughter I cannot describe the pride I have to be Kaelyn’s father. She’s my favorite student and I know she’ll end up being my most important contribution to this earth. I can’t wait to see what God does through her life.

My wife Hands down the best thing I ever did was convince this woman to marry me. You all know that I am nothing without her. I still wake up every morning excited to see the love of my life.

My journey If you gave "teenage Steve" the opportunity to script out his life’s path, I would never have chosen this route. Yet I gladly accept all that the Lord has given me and allowed me to experience. If it all ends tomorrow, I have no room for regret.

My faith I know that many of my friends don’t share my beliefs but that doesn’t negatively affect our relationship. As we all travel through this world, it’s up to us to determine how we’ll see the world. I am who I am because of what God did 2,000 years ago as he lived among his creation. Jesus is everything to me. He defines me life. I pray that it’s transparent in all I do.

My faith in Christ is the basis for my gratitude. It makes all of this worthwhile.

Top 40 Books of My Life

Scanning through my previous top 40 lists, there isn’t much Christian content to be found. This is right-sized by my list of books that have influenced me the most. It's a rough list, to be sure, but it's subject to change from year to year. Note that I really don’t enjoy reading fiction (sue me), so that explains the lean toward non-fiction here.

Orbiting the Giant Hairball by Gordon MacKenzie Before creativity was a corporate buzzword, MacKenzie crafted a career in thinking outside the box in a business setting. It’s visually pleasing too.

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis Picking one Lewis book is difficult and this one is probably the one where his theology is most suspect. Still, his overall message grapples with eternal issues and it evokes the right emotion from me.

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton Nearly 100 years old, it still lends valuable insight on the basis of Christianity. Considering the era in which is was written, Chesterton's work is brilliantly ahead of its time.

Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon In this book, the authors take issue with the evangelical movement of the 1980’s, urging believers to focus more on spiritual matters than political issues.

Pete Rose: My Prison Without Bars by Pete Rose I readily admit: Pete’s an absolute mess. But he was my childhood idol. This book reveals Pete’s westside roots, so I feel like I understand my roots better through his recollection of history. It's sad he waited so long to admit to (only some of) his mistakes.

Soul Survivor by Philip Yancey I’ve always admired Yancey’s work. This is probably he most peculiar book but I appreciated his thoughts on voices that influenced his writings.

The Triumph of the City by Edward Glaeser I took the opportunity to hear Dr. Glaeser at UC last year because I so appreciated this book. It gives a robust but honest look at urban expansion the 21st century.

The Faith Once For All by Jack Cottrell I’ve known Dr. Cottrell most of my life; his wife taught me Sunday School. Although I don’t embrace all of his theological positions, there’s no more succinct systematic theology available. HIs work on the nature of God is most insightful.

Cincinnati Observed by John Clubbe There are endless books about Cincinnati that I love, but this one will give you the best overview of our city’s history and architecture.

Soul Tsunami by Leonard Sweet I’ll read practically anything that he writes. Sweet’s understanding of cultural shifts and how people of faith should grapple with them is unparalleled.

Game Six by Mark Frost Just months before my birth, the greatest baseball game ever played took place at Fenway Park. The Reds lost the battle but won the war.

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence An obscure monk discovered an eternal purpose in his every day tasks.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell There’s been a load of critique attempting to undercut Gladwell’s examples in this book, but it doesn’t negate his point: we overemphasize perceived brilliance in individuals; it’s about hard work.

The Source by James Michener I was told that this was a must-read novel before going to Israel. The novel is a fascinating journey of the coming and going of society in Palestine.

Confessions by Augustine “Thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

Center Church by Timothy Keller When I started my doctoral work, this is the book I thought I needed to write; fortunately, Keller did a much better job than I could have managed in ten lifetimes. I assign this as reading for many of my ministry classes even though they'll likely not read it all (even though they should).

God in Search of Man by Abraham Heschel This rabbi hits on a key concept that many Christians miss: we are more significant to God than many of us think.

Live From New York by Tom Shales I’m a big SNL fan and this book is the encyclopedia on the show. It’s influenced pop culture for four decades.

Dick Schaap as Told to Dick Schaap by Dick Schaap Really, this book is just OK. Still, the sports reporter’s opening quote is what makes it most memorable to me: “Often I am asked what my favorite sport is, and always I say, 'People.' I collect people.”

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee It's cool to hate, but it's still helped me as a young person to understand key issues of racism. I refuse to read Go Set A Watchman because I don’t want my Atticus to be a closet racist.

Why Cities Matter by Stephen Um and Justin Blizzard My doctoral adviser wrote this book, so I might be biased. By his view of city ministry has influenced my own.

Church in the Making by Ben Arment I’ve met Ben and truly appreciate his wisdom. People often come to me asking about starting their own church and I always recommend to them this tome.

Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki The Apple evangelist inspires you to pull up your bootstraps and get things going.

The Gospel in a Pluralist Society by Leslie Newbegin The Anglican missionary recognized the need for Christians to treat their homeland as a mission field.

World Book Encyclopedias This might be a cop out, but the most formative book(s) of my childhood were these encyclopedias that my mom got a great deal on. I will say that these encyclopedias set me on a course of lifelong learning.

Christ and Culture by Richard Niebuhr Over half a century later, it is the foundational work for all conversations on how believers should approach culture.

Tribes by Seth Godin I’m a Godin fanboy. This book on developing communities is his best work.

Leading: Learning From Life and My Years at Manchester United by Alex Ferguson OK, full disclosure: I just got this book for Christmas, so it’s a tad premature. Still, my passion for United and Sir Alex guarantees a slot on this list.

Return of the Prodigal by Henri Nouwen A simple message, a profound story, a gifted storyteller.

Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull The behind-the-scenes co-founder of Pixar discusses the company’s creative culture.

Refractions by Makoto Fujimura Heard him speak at a conference years back. This little tome speaks to God’s influence on creatives and the artist community.

As A Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg I was in a book reading group at Hebrew Union College that discussed this text. It’s fictional history, covering the era of the Bar Kochba revolt.

New Testament and the People of God by N.T. Wright He’s the Midas of the Christian world: every book he touches is gold. This is my personal fave as it’s so rich in content.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs Jacobs views aren’t perfect, but they’re profound. I wish I could have met this feisty lady.

Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton Regarded as the preeminent Luther biography, I’ve always been fascinated by this German monk.

Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell Even though Bell has become a lightning rod among evangelicals, this book does well to acknowledge the grey areas within the Christian lifestyle.

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer Bonhoeffer’s critique of cheap grace is all the more powerful when understanding his faith journey.

Night by Elie Wiesel Every person of every culture needs to grasp firmly the horrors of Holocaust. I pursue a faith that hopefully contends with the issues Wiesel raises here.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey It was a staple of personal development in the 1990’s, but it’s a primer on organizing your life.

The Bible It’s seriously not an obligatory answer. There is no other book that I’ve read that continues to challenge and convict me. I’ve spent the better part of my life studying this text and I continue to learn from it’s eternal wisdom. If I only get one book for the rest of my life, there’s no hesitation to my choice.

Top 40 Movies of My Life

Again, not sure there's any reason for this list except for my own entertainment, but this post reveals my favorite flicks. As you search through it you'll soon realize that I'm not a film snob; I just like good stories told well. Parental guidance is suggested. Again, no specific order.

Glory Matthew Broderick's acting leaves much to be desired but no matter. It's a powerful story. The soundtrack is like another character in the film.

Interstellar Saw it in the theater because of my belief in Christopher Nolan; he can do know wrong. I didn't care for it after that first viewing but now consider it one of his most brilliant works. Another amazing soundtrack.

The Truman Show Jim Carray in his career role. From concept to execution, it's an emotional ride.

The Empire Strikes Back Even though The Force Awakens is a great addition to the Star Wars universe, nothing will ever touch all that's packed into Episode V. It's by far the most quotable of any of the movies. Sequel supremacy.

Die Hard No sequel supremacy here, as the second was a farce. Yes, it ought to be considered a Christmas movie because, "Now I have a machine gun. Ho-ho-ho."

Tombstone Without Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday, I don't think this movie works. It's a movie quote goldmine.

Forrest Gump Saw this in the Covedale Theater on Glenway Avenue the summer I graduated high school. Maybe that's why I still rate it so highly.

Tommy Boy The best of Chris Farley's genius on display. And give it to David Spade who played a great straight man. Black Sheep, however, was a swing and a miss.

V for Vendetta Although it's disturbing and a rallying cry for anarchy, it's well done.. And I often forget that Natalie Portman isn't British.

Children Of Men Just an absolute masterpiece. Great concept. Compelling performances. Amazing camera work.

The Dark Knight Heath Ledger's final act is legendary. Batman has long been my favorite superhero and my Nolan fandom was cemented in how he spun this story. Sequel supremacy.

Field of Dreams It's an eighties movie that hasn't gone out of style. I'm really not a Kevin Costner fan but he excels as an "everyman" in this film. Back to the Future Part Two It's so meta—and almost picked the World Series champion a quarter-century in advance. Sequel supremacy.

Once As authentic as they come. There was no investment in production but it made me care much more than movies with much higher budgets. Another case of the soundtrack making the movie.

Spaceballs A nod to my childhood. Mel Brooks knew exactly what he was doing in this spoof. It's absurdly intelligent.

Lord of the Ring: The Two Towers The trilogy was masterfully made (although the Hobbit movies were almost unwatchable). Sequel supremacy.

Zombieland This movie is the epitome of today's witty movie storytelling. I think it's the only inclusion of Bill Murray on this list, but even how he's used here shows how smart this film is.

Gladiator Decided between this or Braveheart. Braveheart had the soundtrack and was more raw, but I think Joaquin Phoenix was the better villain. I was entertained.

Inception It takes a couple of viewings to determine what's going on (and you still might not figure it out), but Nolan found gold again.

Aliens "Game over, man! Game over!" Sequel supremacy. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off John Hughes understanding of teen angst transcended the decade in which this movie was made. Though not as serious as the Breakfast Club, it's precisely why it's my pick between the two.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Yeah, it's basically the 2010's version of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind, but the international scenery makes a good story into a visually stunning film. Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade Who knew the series needed a little Sean Connery? It great way to end the franchise (because I don't acknowledge that the fourth movie exists).

Oceans 11 (the 2001 version) Yeah, it's cotton candy with eye candy but that's why I like it.

Tree of Life The only movie on this list that I've only watched once. It was a hauntingly brilliant work. Maybe I should watch it again.

Jurassic Park Again, the soundtrack displayed the grandeur of the story. Watching it this year, I'm shocked how lifelike the dinosaurs looked in the infancy of CGI. Hot Fuzz The dark comedy could be declared sequel supremacy as it's a follow-up on Shawn of the Dead. It's all for the greater good (the greater good).

The Departed I'm not a huge Martin Scorsese fan (despite my Godfather homage below), but this makes a solid case for buy in. Amazing cast plus nerve-wracking plot earned that Oscar.

The Matrix Absolutely no sequel supremacy in this trilogy; in fact, the following two movies practically ruin the original story. I still find it mind-blowing.

Total Recall A thoughtful sci-fi action movie with Schwarzenegger as the lead. It's like a solar eclipse.

The Karate Kid We all think we're Daniel LaRusso's facing our Johnny Lawrence's. It's likely the movie in my top 40 with the worst acting, but the eighties were crazy like that.

Kingsman It's a late addition to the list but I've watched it a few times and am continually impressed by its creative storytelling. Plus, I like British stuff. As evidenced by . . .

Monty Python and the Holy Grail It's an ancient tale with a sketch comedy twist. I still laugh, even though I know all the jokes.

Dead Poet’s Society This is a nostalgic pick in honor of Robin William's range. His monologues this film still give me goosebumps.

Full Metal Jacket Yeah, it's insane. I saw this in junior high and Stanley Kubrick messed with my mind. As I got older, I realized the depth of the political statement it was, just a decade after the end of the war.

The Godfather Part Two I could entertain arguments with this pick, but this is the textbook case of sequel supremacy. The combo of Pacino AND DeNiro is why it surpasses the original.

O Brother Where Art Thou? The retelling of Odyssey has humor and harmonies. It'll never go out of style.

Wall-E It's a masterpiece. I emotionally invested in a digitally animated robot.

Top Gun This movie defined a decade. I'll watch it now with you if you'd like.

Fight Club I'm not a Fight Club fanatic, but the cult classic ushered in the new century of movie making.

Let's Build A House

I turn 40 this week. Exciting stuff, to be sure.

Though I didn’t create a bucket list of "40 things to do before 40” list, there’s one thing I’d like to see happen and maybe you could help see it through.

The picture above is of my friends Daniel, Buzi, and their family. They live in rural Myanmar (a country in southeast Asia). Daniel teaches at a local school and they minister to the residents of their village. We met Daniel when he was studying at CCU. Kelly was so moved by his work that she’s his forwarding agent (handles his finances in the U.S.) and we're both on the board of directors for his mission. Daniel and Buzi do amazing work. Myanmar is a country rather hostile to Christianity, but they fearlessly persist in helping people in the name of Jesus

Since the people in Daniel’s village know he’s been to America, they look to him for support even though he himself isn’t affluent. Still, Daniel and Buzi give generously, trusting that God will provide for them.

In this, my birthday week, I’d love for you to be used by the Lord to provide for them.

Daniel and Buzi are trying to build a house. This house would be key to expanding their ministry. Few in their village own their own homes so this would be a key asset for their outreach.

They already have a plot of land promised to them and a downpayment. All they need is to pay for the land and the supplies for the structure. Grand total: $30,000.

It might be far fetched to think we could do all of this in a few days; we’re working with our board to help find other donors to pay for this project. But I figure that there might be a few of you that feel called to give. Maybe I’ve helped you out somehow over the years. Maybe you were even thinking of getting me a birthday present. If you would, consider giving a gift to build Daniel and Buzi a home as a way of saying thanks. I’d love for the people I know to make a difference in this family’s work.

You can give online through a fund we have through Echo Church. Just click here and chose the option for “Christian Mission for Myanmar."

To read more about Daniel and Buzi's work, click here.

Top 40 Songs Of My Life

So I'm ready to complete my fourth decade of life on planet earth and thought I'd offer some reflections on my time here. Today, it's about music. I have somewhat diverse tastes so this list is all over the place, but it's what I like. No real order here, so appreciate it for what it is. Here's the soundtrack of my life:

· Young Folks by Peter, Bjorn, and John This was the ringtone on my last flip phone. Catchy tune that I find myself whistling nine years later.

· Say It To Me Now by Glen Hansard Kelly and I caught The Swell Season at the Brown Theater in Louisville and Glen opened with this song with no amplification. The best from a brilliant songwriter.

· Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End by the Beatles If I have to pick something from the Fab Four, it's gotta be the end arrangement from Abbey Road.

· Ghosts by the Head and the Heart "One day we'll all be ghosts, trippin' around in someone else's home."

· In the Middle by Mat Kearney Mat's first album had a unique sound. I listened to it non-stop right before fatherhood so I have pleasant memories when I hear it.

· Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros More whistling. Played it for Kaelyn when I'd take her to Kindergarten.

· That’s Life by Frank Sinatra Like the Beatles, too many choices but this is my favorite Frank. "I pick myself up and get back in the race."

· Never Tear Us Apart by INXS Came out when I was in grade school. It's still epic almost 30 years later.

· November Rain by Guns N’ Roses I was a huge GNR fan. I taught myself how to play the keys for this song.

· I’ve Got Friends by Manchester Orchestra I've seen this band live five times and this is still my favorite track.

· Northern Sky by Nick Drake I was a late-comer to Nick, especially considering he died a year before I was born. Stands the test of time.

· Living on A Prayer by Bon Jovi My go-to karaoke choice. The epitome of late eighties rock.

· Like A Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan Saw him in concert a few years back and he was a shell of his former self. It still couldn't extinguish my respect of his talent

· Points of Authority/99 Problems Linkin Park & Jay-Z Mash-up of two of my favorite performers of the 2000's. It still stands up.

· Walk by Foo Fighters The best the Foo have ever produced.

· Guerrilla Radio by Rage Against the Machine They were ahead of their time.

· Where the Streets Have No Name by U2 While their latest offerings have been unimpressive, their contributions are unparalleled.

· Wake Up by Arcade Fire Not a huge fan, but they're great at producing anthems. This is their greatest.

· Lose Yourself by Eminem For some reason, I saw Eight Mile in the theater. This song redeemed his acting ability.

· Lady by Styx It's my ringtone for Kelly. My favorite 1980's big-hair band.

· Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole Possibly one of the best cover songs in history.

· Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers The vocals and lyrics combine to make a hauntingly painful song.

· Seven Nation Army by the White Stripes Finally caught Jack White in concert last year. That guitar riff will likely be popular fifty years from now.

· Tiny Dancer by Elton John I got into Sir Elton at the end of high school. He was one of a kind.

· It’s A Long Way To The Top by AC/DC Again, there's a lot of great songs to chose from but I go with the underdog anthem.

· Love Me Tender by Elvis Not a huge Elvis fan, but the wife is and this was playing during our first kiss. And, thus, it makes the list.

· Started From the Bottom by Drake I like this. Degrassi and stuff.

· Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash The quintessential performance by the Man in Black.

· Kashmir by Led Zeppelin "I am a traveler of both time and space, to be where I have been."

· Start Wearing Purple by Gogol Bordello To quote Willy Wonka, "a little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest man."

· One by Metallica THIS SONG SHREDS SO HARD.

· We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions by Queen When I was in elementary school, I thought this was the most awesome song. And I still listen to it decades later.

· Even Flow by Pearl Jam True story: we want on vacation one summer in high school and the Ten album was the only cassette I took. It was that good.

· Gimme Shelter by the Rolling Stones Love the Stones. The passion in this song still gives me chills.

· The Boxer by Simon & Garfunkel This duo's harmonies are some of the best I've ever heard. While this song doesn't display it as well as others, it's my favorite S&G work.

· Buddy Holly by Weezer You can't listen to this song without smiling.

· California Love by Tupac Shakur Tupac and Dre and Englewood . . . always up to no good.

· Danny’s Song by Kenny Loggins Hearing this song is one of my earliest memories (it came out in the early 70's). It would play on WWEZ in Cincinnati, the only secular music deemed acceptable for me and my siblings.

· All These Things That I Have Done by The Killers "I've got soul but I'm not a soldier."

· It is Well With My Soul by Horatio Spafford I didn't include any worship songs in this list. It's not that I don't appreciate "church music," it's just that I love it sung by congregations; it's more powerful when sung by the family of God. The story behind the hymn is as powerful as they come. I believe Christianity is proven true not only in times of joy but in those moments of deepest sorrow. Spafford's words have always touched my heart. It'll be played at my funeral.

Perfect Endings

I attended the funeral visitation of my friend Anna over the weekend. We met because she was a leader at the church in Walnut Hills where Echo originally started; we rented their building for services on Sunday nights. Though in her eighties at the time, she was still a spirited woman. In fact, she was likely the most passionate member of the congregation. When she was ill, I would check on her, yet I always left feeling like she was the one encouraging me. As her church struggled to stay afloat (and as we tried to get the building for Echo), she was supportive. Whenever we talked about it, should would tell me, “my only wish is to have my funeral in this church.”

She never got her wish.

For years now, I thought of writing about the pain of losing that building but never did. Saying goodbye to Anna today finally moved me to do so.

Echo Church met in that building for nearly six years. It was serendipity that we even ended up meeting there. When Aaron and I finally decided on a neighborhood in which to start the church, we immediately went for a drive to look for a meeting place. A wrong turn brought us to that church’s parking lot. After knocking at the door to no response, we started to leave when one of the church’s leaders was arriving. Within six weeks, we had secured an agreement to rent there.

The building was constructed just two years after Anna was born. It shared roots with Echo/CCU’s lineage. After peaking in the early 1950’s, the congregation struggled for decades to maintain shifting ground. By the time we showed up they had a mere twenty-five members, but still had sizable investments in bank. The endowment took major hits in the recession of the late 2,000’s, and with little offering income, the aging building became the church’s burden. They were struggling to stay afloat.

I worked closely with those church leaders throughout the time to try to preserve the building for ministry. We continually invested in renovations to improve it. Twice, our church wrote checks when their bills were getting tight. We assured them that, if they gifted us the building, we would be faithful stewards. There was an ebb and flow to those conversations; at times, the church was ready to shut it down and hand us the keys. Then, they’d commit to persevering and keeping the doors open. This lasted a few years. During this time, the church struggled to remain civil with each other. Decades of struggle left them angry with each other. Not Anna, though. This is one of the reasons I loved her. She was nothing but positive and faithful. But even though she had invested more of herself than any other person in the church, they never truly listened to her opinion.

Ultimately, they decided to close and asked us to put in an offer on the building.

The idea that they wanted us to buy their building, all while they were closing, was a little ridiculous. They claimed they needed the money to do ministry, yet our goal was to maintain the building for that very purpose. We submitted a humble but respectful offer, letting them know that we’d have to raise considerable money to keep the building functional. I had a fundraising plan and budget ready to go when they handed us the keys.

I remember the exact moment when they told me that a realtor offered to list the building at seven-times what we offered. I was frustrated, but optimistic; I was doubtful anyone would want a church building in the midst of a residential neighborhood. I never suspected someone would not only pay asking price but choose to flip it into a house.

The church building was sold after a divisive vote by the remaining members. It was purchased in cash by an affluent man who remodeled it into his personal mansion. Anna ended up attending a wonderful church in a neighboring community and that's where her funeral was held on Saturday.

We had a mere three weeks to move. We stripped out everything that we could that we contributed to the building. I asked the church if I could take the pulpit, and it now sits in my house.

Fortunately, God provided us a place to meet within those three weeks. But it was a difficult transition. The years following this move were tough for our church. We were growing, but after the move the growth ceased. We lost some beloved people over the years—from moving, disagreements, and even death. After being on the brink of owning our own place, our church was relegated to nomadic status until just this year.

I harbored bitterness about the whole situation for years. You see, I truly believed that this was part of our community’s story. Ten years ago, when we felt called to start a church in the city, I didn’t view us as missionaries breaking new ground. Instead, I felt like we were tilling soil that had at one time been fertile; that we were just building on foundations that others had built. I had studied the history of that church and we shared the vision of their earliest founders. If we could get that building for Echo, (in my mind), it would have been the perfect redemption arc. Our church’s story would have been intricately woven into the history of this 100+ year old church. For a guy who loves stories, this was gold. It would be the perfect narrative.

But it never happened for us.

And, sadly, it never happened for Anna either.

But in talking to her family and new church friends at her funeral, it was refreshing to see that she moved on with her life. Sure, Anna wanted her wish to have her funeral in that building to come true, but when it didn’t, she moved on with life. Hearing the testimonies of her new church family about her contributions there moved me. “She was the most passionate person in our church,” her pastor told me.

And that’s the last thing Anna did for me: she helped me move on.

It’s a lesson I know full well but struggle to display in my life. Sometimes the story doesn’t go how it ought to, but there’s still another story out there for you.

In the months (even years) after not getting that building, I was disappointed for our church and our ministry. But here, years down the road, I’ve seen what God has done because that didn’t happen. He brought us through the other side. Sure, we could have done some amazing things in that other building, but we now have a rental space with a long term lease in a community with few meeting options. It’s an immense blessing to see where the Lord took us.

The story’s still being written. Just not as I planned.

Since we moved this summer, we now live a mere three blocks from that original church building, I pass it often when I’m out running. It look at it now with a curious eye, but my bitterness is gone.

So when your story doesn’t go the way you planned, trust that God’s doing something, even if you can’t see it at the time.

That’s what Anna did. That’s what I’m trying to do.

_______________________

*I photographed all the stained glass of that building before we left. It was magnificent. You can view it by clicking here.

Something Far Greater

Fear is a persuasive emotion. It can derail our journey, spawning a search for safety It can paralyze our positivity, distorting our view of the world. It can lead loving people to say hurtful things. It can even compel us to put our faith in powerless gods.

Yet it is possible for fear to inspire something far greater.

Fear can lead to hope.

Hope that the path ahead leads to lands more prosperous. Hope that our world is far better than we give it credit for. Hope that our compassion will yield harvests of promise Hope in One that holds close not only the needs of our present, but our eternity as well.

Don’t let fear own you.

Hold tightly to hope.

Returning

I enjoy a good plot twist. The most popular post in the eleven-year history of this blog was my most recent one. Thousands of people stopped by to read about my love for CCU, my sadness for no longer being employed there, and my sincere hope for its future. I have been overwhelmed by the sentiments of support. Even people I’ve never met sent me encouraging messages. It’s been a rough road, but I finally came to grips with moving on.

And then the Board of Trustees offered me my job back.

In a conversation with a board member, I was assured that my layoff was a business decision. This rather honest discussion spawned several other conversations surrounding my work, my credentials, and my abilities. There's an ebb and flow to restructuring, with much more fluidity than I previously understood. Ultimately, I was asked to return and accept an expanded, hybrid role that would include my overseeing fundraising, teaching a few classes and covering some other responsibilities at the university.

Yet despite my previously expressed desire to cross the Jordan, I never imagined that Mount Nebo could feel so hospitable.

You see, I received a few job offers over the past couple of weeks. I’ve networked with half a dozen of people who sent job connections my way. Despite spending most of my vocational life in the church/Christian non-profit sector, I learned my skill-set had merits in the broader professional world. It was flattering to see that there was life for me beyond CCU.

And despite my best efforts, I am still a little hurt by what went down. Even though I actually accept the rationale behind my termination, I still feel like a grade school boy who was friend-zoned by his long-time crush. I’m also still devastated for my other colleagues who haven’t been offered the same path to return that I’ve received.

So I asked some trusted individuals what I should do. Kelly was fully supportive regardless of what I decided. Kaelyn was less objective; even though she was OK when I said I was leaving CCU, she cried when I said I might not return after being asked to stay.

Yet one of the most compelling conversations about my future came from an unlikely place: from CCU’s new football coach. I grew up watching David Fulcher when he played for the Cincinnati Bengals. A solid man of God, he caught me in the hallway and asked me how I was getting along. I admitted to him my current predicament, and that led to this exchange:

FULCHER: “Oh, you’re coming back all right.” ME: “Really? You can tell?” FULCHER: “Oh yeah. You’re like me. You’re too loyal to walk away.”

I proceeded to ask him how it felt when the Bengals, a team with which he spent seven seasons, suddenly cut him. He said it hurt very badly, but he still loved the franchise despite the decision. He said he even would have worked for far less money if they had asked. The Bengals were his family and he couldn’t turn his back on them even when they caused him great pain. He's since been a two decade ambassador of the franchise and hardly anyone even remembers that small asterisk in his story.

Too bad David's better at practicing what I often preach.

In the pulpit, I continually speak for the value of sustained community. It’s often challenging to remain in a church for a long time because you get to know too much about your fellow parishioners; the longer you live life with people, the more comfortable everyone becomes, which increases the likelihood that they’ll eventually cause you pain. The easy thing to do when conflict arises is to simply move on for greener pastures. That’s why I urge people to hang on through these times because you will often learn valuable lessons when persisting with people despite their (and your) flaws.

God has taught me much in these last weeks. I have much left to learn and this undulation just affirms it. One thing I know: this is my family.

So I’m staying at CCU.

Thank you for praying for me. Continue to pray for my colleagues who lost their jobs. And pray for this school that I love.

The Other Side of the Jordan: Leaving CCU

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last sermon always gets to me. I listen to it at least once a year. It’s almost as if he knew he was delivering his final public remarks before facing his death. The line that always resonates with me is from the end of the sermon: “I have been to the mountaintop.” The mountain, of which he speaks in metaphor, is based on an actual location half a world away from Memphis, Tennessee, where Dr. King was assassinated the very next day.

One of the best vistas in the Holy Land is Mount Nebo. (I took the above picture when we were there in 2005.) Although the view is breathtaking, its place in biblical history is rather minimal; it’s best known as Moses’ final resting place. As detailed in Deuteronomy 34, on this obscure mountain in modern day Jordan, Moses’ life came to an end. You know well the story of Moses: God called him to return to the place of his birth (where he was known as a murderer) to lead an ungrateful people to their freedom. His faithfulness was continually tested by the Israelites’ grumblings, but he persevered flawlessly.

Well, not quite. There was this one incident.

One day, when the Israelites were thirsty and were grumbling for the umpteenth time, Moses lost it and took his frustration out on God’s commands. Rather than simply speaking to a rock to provide water (as God commanded), he struck it in anger. That small act had a massive consequence: it prevented Moses from stepping foot in Canaan, the destination of the Israelites’ journey.

Mount Nebo, in my opinion, is the setting of one of the worst endings in the Bible. You see, the best conclusion to Moses’ narrative would be for him to lead the Israelites across the dried ground of the Jordan River (replicating what he did at the Red Sea) into Canaan. Instead, Joshua took them there while Moses’ life of service ended without him ever setting foot in the Promised Land. His last vision in life was a hazy view of the land from a mountain, unable to clearly depict the goodness that lied just ahead.

And this is why MLK used the metaphor to close out his speech. He would spend his life combating racial inequality yet never get the opportunity to experience the joy of completed work.

SO CLOSE, BUT MILES AWAY Understand that by opening with this anecdote, I’m in no way comparing myself to either Moses or Dr. King. (I’m a little frazzled, but I’m not completely out of touch with reality.) I just have been thinking about that mountaintop for the past 48 hours.

Last Friday, I was notified that I will be laid off at Cincinnati Christian University at the end of this year. I wasn’t alone; more than two dozen of my colleagues lost their jobs as well. After a decade of work (split up by a five-year break), I’ll be leaving the place where I’ve invested myself fully. I’ve detailed before how much the school means to me and my family, so I’ll steer clear from rehashing that now. While dismayed, I’m confident in my family’s future; I know I can find a job doing something. Instead, I’m heartbroken for all those affected and concerned about what is at stake for future generations.

CCU is critically important to the success of the kingdom of God.

This is something I believed last Friday morning and I still believe now. I believe in what we were trying to do and still believe in our (notice I’m still using the first person plural here) future. With all the concern about our Restoration Movement schools struggling to succeed (see here, here, and here), CCU is attempting to establish a bold model to ensure its future. I still believe it is the best possible plan for a school like CCU to succeed without being able to rely on a hefty endowment to supplement our expenses:

  • Keep the operational costs as manageable as possible through efficiency
  • Listen to the churches hiring ministry students and provide immersive hands-on education
  • Diversify academic offerings for students who want a Christ-centered career preparation for non-church vocation
  • Use athletics as a vehicle to enroll students who might not consider CCU otherwise
  • Take advantage of our urban setting to provide networking/job opportunities

This strategy behind the moves was developed to ensure that CCU can operate on firm financial footing. Many other small colleges are going to face these kind of decisions in the years to come. So whereas Friday’s staffing moves were brutal, they make long-term financial sense. While it’s easy to fixate on individual moves, it still remains that CCU is dedicated to quality ministry education; the new teaching church program will involve local church practitioners in our education model. And with nearly 40% of our traditional undergrads as student athletes, it’s proving to be a successful initiative bringing some great students to campus (although there were considerable cuts in this department as well). More important than providing employment, the university exists to train up future generations of Christian leaders.

So while the events from the past few weeks definitely hurt, but it’s part of a plan, and CCU needed a plan.

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE JORDAN I choose to endure the pain if it contributes to the long-term success of CCU.

Being on social media exhausted me this weekend. (side note: I discovered that, if there’s a job out there answering Facebook messages and texts, I have a bright future.) As much as I was mourning for my colleagues and their families, I was burdened by the vitriol directed toward CCU. Listen, friends, I’ve been around this school for nearly all my life and there have always been moves that people don’t understand. When business decisions are made about beloved followers of Christ, there is going to be widespread anger. And there’s no way CCU can win that PR battle. People always take priority over institutions.

My termination was a business decision. I do not enjoy it, but I get it.

Yet what I can’t do is let my frustration take away from how important this school is. We all need to remember why we’re so passionate about CCU in the first place:

  • Did you meet your spouse here? And do you have kids? If so, I shouldn’t have to convince you further.
  • Did you discover your life’s calling here? Isn’t that life change worth something?
  • Did you develop lifelong friendships here? How have those CCU connections blessed you?
  • Did you learn something from a staff or faculty member that changed your life? Maybe it was a lesson from Tom Friskney or RJ Kidwell in class. Or perhaps it was something that Jon Weatherly taught you in a hallway conversation. Maybe Evelyn Taylor mentored you or Dan Dyke wove the story of the gospel into a discussion on firearms.

These are experiences that all CCU alumni share but are easily forgotten in times like these. And while you’re free to still be angry, nothing beautiful emerges from negativity. I have to get over it and I’m hoping that you (eventually) will too. The kids on campus are trying to be positive and they’ll be those most affected. Hopefully we can follow their lead.

CCU is going to make it to the other side of the Jordan, but it needs us now more than ever. Unless we who believe in it fervently take ownership of what we can control (as opposed to worrying about the things we cannot), it won’t happen.

TWO CALLS TO ACTION So if you are part of the CCU family, and if you even remotely respect me, I’m hoping you join me doing two things in response to what happened last week:

1. This week I’m asking you to pray. It’s what we do best. When challenges come, we pray. Pray every day for CCU. There’s even a student-led prayer service Monday night at 9:30pm if you’re a local and would like to attend. Take one day this week and fast.

If you have enough time to Facebook about it, you have enough time to pray about it. In prayer, we gain perspective. I’ll try to encourage and remind you on social media throughout the week to do so.

But make no mistake. I want one more thing from you.

2. I want you to make a financial gift to CCU. Yes, you need to give to CCU.

The trustees believe that I can continue to do my job for the next ten weeks and I value this trust. My job at CCU is to raise funds. Even in this difficult time, I still believe that this school has blessed us so much that we should be compelled to give back. During the next two months, we’re going to be asking all of our CCU family to make their mark on the school’s future. This week, as you’re praying, I not only want you to think about what this school means to you, but I want you to prayerfully consider a financial gift reflective of how God has used CCU to bless you.

There’s just too much good that happens here to ignore:

  • Later this week I’ll be attending our missionary convention in Virginia. I’ll get to connect with dozens of missionaries throughout the world who were trained on our campus.
  • Our alumni serve in industries across the spectrum, earning livings from “secular” jobs while using their talents to bless the local church.
  • And current students have some audacious, God-sized plans that will not happen without this place. Their passion for committing their lives to kingdom work is something that inspired me daily.

Know this: I would never, never ask someone to put their money to a lost cause. If I ever had wanted to turn my back on the school, now would be the time. But I can’t.

I still believe in CCU. I am asking you to believe with me.

And I’m not asking you to do what I won’t do myself. Even though I have no idea about my future employment, and the thought of personal finances is in the back of my mind, our family is going to write a check to CCU. And my small church is still committed to remain a Partner Church (a greater amount than churches with much larger budgets).

This is our school. And that means we need to contribute more than words and be willing to commit our resources to its future. Your excuse might be, “I gave them years of tuition; that should be enough.” This charitable giving permits you an even stronger voice of accountability while signifying your belief in the cause.

I sign every gift receipt that comes through the school so I’ll know if you’re really with this. So start praying now and seriously consider a financial gift. I’ll look forward to signing a personal note to you.

I’m not going to lie: I wanted desperately to set foot in the Promised Land. That’s how I always thought my story would end. But sometimes we’re not permitted to cross the Jordan. I like to think it’s so we remember that it’s the Lord who brought us here while we’re merely blessed to be along for the ride.

Love you all, steve

A Decade of Urban Living

We shape the city, then it shapes us.-John Reader

I had to go back through the blog archives to confirm, but this week marks ten years since we moved down to the city.

Adding our most recent move this summer (I haven't even written about that yet), Kelly and I have made five moves in our lives. Undoubtedly, that move from the suburbs to the inner-city has been the most transformational in our marriage. I'm not sure I could've anticipated how it changed everything—the trajectory of our family, my view of ministry, and my anthropological views. It's surely been an enlightening ride.

Today, both Kelly and I were working at home and we decided to walk downtown. It's not that far of a trek (a little more than two miles from our new place) but it was an absolutely gorgeous day. We ate in OTR, did a little shopping, and worked out of a coffee shop. Throughout the day, we cohabited public spaces with all sorts of people. It's these little experiences that I've truly cherished over the past ten years and it's all been facilitated because we moved here.

The city we moved to continues to change rapidly. Even though we anticipated the transformation, but it's remarkable how the Cincinnati of 2015 is unrecognizable compared to that of 2005. Despite our town's noticeable shortcomings (specifically issues of equality across the socioeconomic and racial spectrum), I'm encouraged by a civic pride that has blossomed since we arrived. I used to feel like I was one of the only ones banging the drum of the Queen City. Now, we're part of a movement.

Our family is fully woven into the urban fabric. I'm not sure we could even imagine leaving.

I have no idea what this place will look like a decade from now. But I can't wait to find out.

Chaos and Justice

My run last night was altered by gunshots.

That’s called a hook. That’s what I use to keep you reading the less interesting material to get to that story. Hopefully it's enough to keep you hanging with me.

I enjoy running through the city, even at night.

Especially at night.

I’ve never felt fear out late but, then again, I usually don’t run where I shouldn’t be. I stick to major roads and I'm always aware of my surroundings. That awareness keeps me jumpy though: one day I was running downtown (in broad daylight) and someone surprised me by grabbing my arm. It was an old friend. I started to throw a punch but halted when I recognized them.

But being aware isn’t just for my own protection. It draws me closer to my city. I’ve given directions to countless numbers of people. Twice I've changed the tires of ladies unable to do so themselves. One of the reasons I’ve learned to love running is it allows me to see the beauty of this place. You see things differently when you traverse the sidewalks.

Last night was the first time I ran an old route since we moved to the new house. Our street is much quieter than the bustle of our previous place, which was located on a main drag. I’m still in the habit of watching cars for potential drug deals but I’m constantly relieved when I realize it's just people hauling groceries out of their trunks.

Heroine dealers don't use large Kroger bags.

Even though we moved just blocks away, it the side street moves a little slower. Still, as I ran toward a car on the side of the road with the hood up, I immediately thought it was dealing. In the dark, I noticed a couple of people mulling around the vehicle so I reactively clenched my fists. When I was finally next to the car, I discovered the scene was truly innocuous: the car was broken down. Those were older kids waiting impatiently outside. I asked if I could help and they said a tow truck was on the way. We had a brief conversation and I continued on.

For the next mile, I couldn’t help but laugh at myself for being so suspicious. I was guilty of the same paranoia I often mock. With this situation fresh in my mind, I saw a figure moving briskly down the sidewalk toward me. He was walking erratically so my instincts caused me to tense up. Then I noticed he was walking AT me and trying to get my attention. I’ve had this happen many times before; you’d be surprised how many times I get asked for bus money when I’m running. But as this guy motioned at me so intensely and continuously that I stopped. I took out my earbuds and it was then that I could understand the reason for his urgency.

“You need to turn around! They’re shooting up there!”

It took me a second to process what he was saying.

I then glanced at the other side of the street to see quite a few people running away from the scene—not participants, mind you—bystanders seeking safety. Although I don’t fear walking these streets, and have run by this place dozens of times, I don’t go searching for danger. I took the man’s advice. As we moved swiftly down the street, away from the area, we started talking.

“I’m kind of mad,” I said. “I’ve never had to change my path because of gunshots.”

“I have,” he admitted. “Lots of times. It gets crazy in the summer.”

I thanked the man for looking out for me and took a longer way home.

Now I want to make a transition here that could be perceived as forced, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about throughout the summer.

I love my community because of its diversity; it’s home to a spectrum of people along the racial, economic, and ideological scale. Living here either solidifies your prejudices or expands your tolerance. The more you rub shoulders with others different than you, the more you appreciate the unique challenges that each of us face.

This summer, the topic of race continues to be thrust to the forefront of the American psyche. What happened in Ferguson continues to pulse through situations like Charleston and last week in Houston and even what happened this week here in Cincinnati.* The Charleston situation excluded, many of the recent race stories intersect with law enforcement. Unfortunately, these incidents are most polarizing; they solidify prejudices. It's as if we question why these things happen, we’re attacking law enforcement. Hence . . .

“If they had just obeyed the law, they wouldn’t be dead."

Look, I have friends that serve and protect. They’re some of the finest people I know. Some are white, some are black. But when we dismiss these situation as mere issues of law and order, we’re guilty of over-simplifying this issue. It’s about much more than just obeying a police officer.

You see, even though we’ve made major advancements in race relations over the past couple decades, we’re just not there yet. Nor should we expect to be there yet, as one of the largest sins of our fathers was the economic handcuffing of the African American community. Crime will always follow poverty. So don’t pay sole attention to the fruit of the tree when it’s an orchard planted by the the white affluent.

Which is chaos and which is justice? Sometimes it's difficult to tell.

Hear me, friends: just because people cry out for justice doesn’t mean they're endorsing chaos.

There are systemic issues behind all of this. And if you can’t see that, you’re just solidifying prejudices.

This morning's news didn't report on the shooting I apparently narrowly avoided last night. Either no one got hurt or, if they did, they didn't go to the hospital. Too often, when someone sees one of these reports, they chalk it up to more of the same in a ghetto neighborhood. But what's never reported is the kindness of people like the African American man who thought enough of a skinny white guy to warn him of the danger just ahead.

I’m thankful he wasn’t apprehensive of me.

"But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Amos 5:24

------------ *By the way, the shooting in Cincinnati this week was predicated by a traffic stop made for a missing front license plate. I’ve been driving without my front plate on the same streets for five years now and have never been pulled over.

Invest In Others

Today I lost a mentor. Bill Bravard started investing in me when I was a young boy. I clearly remember a sermon he preached when I was ten and telling my mom, "that was good. I'd like to do that some day."

He and his wife Betty always supported me, showing up to hear me preach in high school, college, and even at small country churches in recent years. When we decided to start Echo Church, I immediately sought his insight and he continually delivered. He'd call me at random times just to see how the ministry was going. We even had the opportunity to team teach a class at CCU a few years ago. He was the most relevant elderly person I've ever known.

I'll always remember him but I'd do better to emulate him. I pray that during my remaining years on earth I can pour into those who need the encouragement just like I did. His life surely made a massive difference in the kingdom.

I Resign

Taking a stand can be fun. In the midst of this crazy global news cycle, people have used the interwebs to broadcast bold statements about a variety of political issues. Tonight I take a stand of my own. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not very controversial. But it’s kinda a big deal to me.

I changed my Linkedin profile. I officially ended my employment at Echo Church.

My church won’t be shocked, even though I handed in no official resignation letter; I didn’t announce it from the pulpit last week because I’m not going anywhere. I haven’t taken a paycheck in over a year now. Even when I was “paid staff,” I was bi-vocational (working another job in addition to my pastoral gig to make a living). It’s basically been like that since I started the church. I still continue to serve just as passionately and preach nearly every week at our church. I’ll continue in my role as an elder at the church.

The only thing really changing is my view of my relationship with my community. It’s been heading this way for years now. I just finally recognized it.

When we started Echo ten years ago, I was bi-vocational out of necessity. We wanted to start a church our way and raising funds would have meant having to live up to a donor’s expectations. Also, we knew of too many awesome works around the kingdom of God with which we had no desire to compete. So I did what I had to do to manage our costs and kept some side jobs: I started out working at a Panera, performed weddings and funerals, led worship, filled pulpits, and taught college classes all to make ends meet. Even when I originally took a job at Cincinnati Christian University years ago, I secretly desired to grow the church to the size necessary for me to be a full-time minister.

Like most things in my life, I found a way to mess up that plan.

Along the way, while aiming for that next level, I discovered something about my bi-vocationality: my role gave me a more prophetic voice. This wasn’t a “filled-with-the-spirit” kind of prophesying, rather an opportunity to speak the truth plainly. This is difficult to find in American pulpits. Many full-time ministers are forced to temper their messages so as not to blatantly offend others. But my position permitted me a blank check to be bold. When the fear of termination isn’t there, you say what needs to be said. The past decade has changed the way I view the pulpit. It might not be a great template for building a large congregation, but I believe it’s helped us build genuine community at Echo.

And our church has been the key to this. They’ve accepted this model and made it their own. They don’t treat me like some random employee but as a close friend. My leadership in the church is just as strong (if not stronger) because I can lead with total confidence. And the smaller staffing budget has allowed us to be generous with our missions support. In short, we’re a healthier church because of our pastoral relationship.

Honestly, the only thing it hasn’t been good for is my psyche. I always self-identified as a minister. I was fearful that if I strayed too far away from this goal, it would change who I was destined to be. Yet this journey brought me to new levels of acceptance. I’ve now come to the realization that I’ll likely never be a full-time minister again. And I’m totally OK with that. And I don’t feel any different about my role in leading our church. God still uses me, regardless of whatever title I put on my email signature.

When we started Echo, my desire was for us to create new models for ministry. I know of many amazing works sprouting up around American cities, but the money necessary to fund all these endeavors continues to decrease. I believe the future American church will be comprised of two kinds of congregations: megachurches with multiple staff people, each holding their own specializations, and smaller churches with bi-vocational (or volunteer ministers) that have modest budgets. My hope is that people facing this conundrum will see our path and realize it’s possible to go this way while doing some amazing ministry. The digital era has made the world smaller and has expanded the opportunities for effectiveness.

I feel more effective than I’ve ever been.

Not quitting. Just throwing away my business cards.

Prayer for Education

I was asked to give a prayer for this year's Hamilton County National Day of Prayer Event on behalf of Cincinnati Christian University. My topic was education. Below is what I prayed. O God:

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached that the true goal of education is to teach students to think intensively and to think critically, to instill in students both intelligence and character.

So Lord, for the hundreds of institutions throughout the Greater Cincinnati area that devote themselves to guiding students through their studies, we ask that you guide them students to think intensively. We today are the beneficiaries of the generations of Cincinnatians who invested in institutions of education that were created to increase the knowledge of our youth. Those places of learning transcend brick and mortal but serve as bastions of hope for the future of our society and we pray their devotion to the greater good be met through our young people.

We ask your blessing on our schools

And for the thousands of educators in our region that serve tirelessly to ensure that the next generation have access to the opportunities of tomorrow, we ask that you work through them to move our students to think critically. An ever-evolving world demands a diverse minds yet our differences and strong opinions often keep us from considering the perspectives of others. Be with our teachers who must traverse these lines so that our children may be truly analytical. And we acknowledge, Lord, those not at the front of the classroom who also make the difference. For without staff administrators, bus drivers, crossing guards, lunchroom staff, janitors, and many others, our kids would not have this opportunity.

We ask your blessing on our educators

For the thousands of students who, even now as we pray, are in their desks learning, we ask that they may grow in intelligence. For them, O God, we pray mightily as children are precious in your sight. We ask forgiveness for our failures in not helping them all that we should. Despite well-intentioned efforts there are far too many children in our city who live in poverty, whose learning is relegated in exchange for their mere survival. The obstacles that many of these kids have to overcome seem insurmountable, but we ask that you work through our societal intellect so that theirs may be nurtured.

We ask your blessing on our students

And for all those previously mentioned as well as all of us who remain that play a part in education: parents, guardians, family members, volunteers, clergy, community organizers, and taxpayers—we ask that you increase our character. Inspire us to invest in who our children will become, acknowledging that even though they might never share our personal ideology, they will still grow to become our brothers and sisters. Allow us to set-aside our differences: differences of denominations, differences of religion, and even differences from those of us with no religion, to recognize that wisdom is not just ours alone.

We ask your blessing on us all. Amen.

Be +

I tire of negativity. The social medias make it so easy for us to express our dismay at anything. And there's no lag time; if I'm miserable now, you can find out about it in milliseconds.

Optomism is a scarce commodity now adays. Why be enthusiastic when snark is so fun? Even though the beauty of spring is ready to emerge, I find myself worn down by those who'd prefer to lob snowballs at strawmen.

If you're reading this, do me a favor: be positive now. Think about something that makes you smile and mention it to someone. Heck, post it on the Facebooks. Just make it known that you're not content to live life mired in a sea of cynicism.