With Trembling Hands

Yesterday at church my hands were trembling as I stood up to teach.

I’m not a nervous speaker. When I used to pastor at a megachurch, standing in front of large crowds didn’t unnerve me in the least. And while putting on a microphone and talking about the mysteries of God and the universe, doubts, and abstract ideas like love, justice and forgiveness would freak most people out, it’s just the thing I do. No big deal.

Except for yesterday.

We’ve been having a tense conversation in our church for the last couple of months. We’ve been having a conversation about what the church should say to our LGBT brothers and sisters. And really it has been a conversation as we wrestle with the Bible, tradition, reason and our own experiences. (We’re not Wesleyans, per se, but we’ve always found the Wesleyan Quadrilateral useful in our deliberations.)

And so, since the beginning of the year, we’ve collapsed our two morning services into one service during which I teach, and we’ve set aside the second service time for conversation. We’ve welcomed people to ask questions and make comments, and every week during this series, I’ve walked away feeling so in love with these brave midwesterners wrestling with big issues.

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As the pastor, I probably think about these things differently than most. As pastor, it’s not about theoretical ideas about morality, but rather about relationships. And it’s not just about my own story and experiences, but rather the collective story and experiences of everyone in the church. Ken Wilson, in his excellent book A Letter to My Congregation describes it this way:

“The members of a congregation have a commonly held conscience on many, but not all, matters. A pastor stands at the crossroads of a congregation’s conflicted conscience. It’s a congested intersection, this place. Standing in the middle of it can be dizzying, frightening, awful, especially under the intense scrutiny that comes with religious controversy.”

And so, yesterday, as I prepared to stand up and say things that would challenge nearly every one of us, my hands shook in nervousness and anxiety.

Help me, Lord Jesus, to be faithful to the pathway you seem to be leading me down. Help me to say what I say with grace, humility and kindness.

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I’m a lucky guy. I sometimes hear stories of pastors who come into conflict with their congregation and lose their jobs. Or I hear stories of how parishioners leave a church angrily, “telling off” the pastor as they go. Yes, we’ve had a few of those, but not very many. The church I pastor is filled with kind, lovely people who, I believe, really believe Jesus when he says that everything hangs on how we love. Again, my experience is reflected in Wilson,

“Strangely, very few of you have actually asked me this question directly. Congregations learn to read their pastors. And many of you sense that I’ve been wrestling with this one for a long time. You’ve heard sermons that indicate a certain lean away from the traditional consensus, perhaps. I suspect that some of you haven’t asked me where I draw the line because you haven’t wanted to put me on the spot. Others haven’t wanted to situate me, your pastor, on what you may regard as the wrong side of an important moral issue. Or you may just be nervous for me, for us. In any case, I want to say: thank you.”

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I’m writing this on Monday morning. I feel emotionally spent. I could have spent the day in bed, which is why so many pastors take Mondays off. (They also tell us to never write our resignations on a Monday. Good advice!)

I actually don’t remember much of what I said. I don’t know if it’s this way for everyone, but there are times when I’m so “in it,” so focused on what I’m doing, that afterward I don’t remember the specifics. I’ve thought about listening to the podcast, but that sometimes leads to self-loathing. (Oh do I hate the sound of my own voice!) We’ll see how I feel in a couple days.

What I do know is that when I preach that kind of sermon, with that kind of emotion and intensity, I feel super-vulnerable afterwards. (I know from talking to pastors, musicians and other artists this is common.) I feel vulnerable because it’s not just a task I performed but, rather, I feel like I’ve given a part of myself to a whole bunch of people at once. And so, my tendency is to want to run and hide – to find any excuse to get to my office and close the door as fast as possible.

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In my younger years, I needed a lot of praise in these fragile moments just after the sermon to satisfy my fragile ego-self. But I’m learning that what my ego wants almost always leaves my soul feeling hollow. So I’m trying to learn to pay attention to my soul. My honorary-big-sister-even-if-she-doesn’t-know-who-I-am Liz Gilbert says,

“I know that I am not only an ego; I am also a soul. And I know that my soul doesn’t care a whit about reward or failure. My soul is not guided by dreams of praise or fears of criticism. My soul doesn’t even have language for such notions. My soul, when I tend to it, is a far more expansive and fascinating source of guidance than my ego will ever be, because my soul desires only one thing: wonder.”

I would add, in addition to wonder, my soul also longs for intimacy. In that moment, I need connection with my wife, boys and friends. I need my most intimate friends to tell me, “You are loved.”

[This by the way, is the greatest gift a church can give to their pastor: the freedom to have their own intimate circle of friends, even if those friends don’t attend your church. Yes, your pastor should be friends with everyone at some level, but your pastor also needs an intimate space of people who can authentically say, “We will love you regardless of anything about you that is ‘pastor.’” Let your pastor have a circle of people to whom they can say, “I need something from you,” so they don’t need it from the congregation.]

After the service, my wife grabbed me in the center aisle and hugged me, and my good friend sought me out as I was trying to escape into my office and gave me a hug and reminded me that I’m loved. And my closest circle – the ones who know that I need them – tended to my fragile self throughout the day with texts and love. That’s what my soul needed.

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My hands were trembling yesterday before I got up to speak to these beautiful people that I get to lead. But there’s goodness here. I think I said some things to challenge all of us. And, to the best of my knowledge, I’m leading our church down the pathway that is right for us. It’s not easy. And there will be sadness and tears to come.

But we’re together in this.

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A (Kind Of) Book Review: Beginnings

First, let me confess that this is not an “objective” book review. Not by any means. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t accurate or that I’m making stuff up.  It’s just that if you read my blog, you should already know that Steve Wiens is a good friend whom I’ve talked to about this book throughout the process. So, yes, those facts will color my perceptions. I won’t post this on Amazon or Goodreads or anything like that. But let me tell you about this book.

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After I spent a couple days in California with Steve in California in May – rising early in the morning to run the coastline, attending a conference together, eating and drinking at great restaurants in Laguna Beach along with another friend of mine and even taking a surfing lesson together, he sent me a .pdf of the manuscript.

At the time, I was struggling with my own “stuckness,” the kind that Steve described here when he guest-posted on Monday:

“I was stuck, but I was only beginning to realize it, and it was a sickening kind of feeling when I finally did. My life seemed to be drifting away from me, like someone was using a pair of bellows all wrong, extracting breath from me instead of adding it.”

I read the first chapter, called “Light.” And when I got to the last paragraph I sighed, closed the file on my computer and didn’t look at it again until I got an advanced copy in December.  Even though the writing was as beautiful as I’d expect it to be, in my “stuckness” I just couldn’t read anymore.

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The book is called Beginnings because it’s about the creation story. But it’s not just about the creation story recorded as a poem in the Hebrew Scriptures. (Because, in my experience, that makes a rather boring book!) Rather it’s about how creation is always happening, it’s about how God is always inviting us into starting over, and it’s about what that looks like in each of us.

Steve uses the seven days of the creation poem as a template for exploring our transitions by exploring his own with vulnerability and humor. Okay, that sentence sounded too much like a real book review. Here’s the lowdown: Steve is a great storyteller both in real life and in his writing. He writes beautifully, and I would think – even if you don’t know Steve like I do – his earnestness, vulnerability and warmth all come through his writing.  

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Here is the paragraph that made me put down the book in early June:

“What new beginning is dawning in your life these days? What darkness is blinding you? Can you see it and name it? Can you hear the Ruach whispering in your ear, calling you into a new beginning?

Welcome to Day One. Let there be Light.”

At the time, my own darkness was at about a 3 a.m. level. And while I could feel it oozing out of my pores in nearly every conversation and every interaction and churning in my head every moment my mind wasn’t otherwise occupied, I couldn’t name it. I couldn’t even bear to face it. So I was just going, going, going, refusing to stop lest it catch up to me.

And a promise of a new beginning even from a good and trusted friend felt too-good-to-be-true, too much hope at 3 a.m., when the sunrise seems so far away.

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On the last day of 2015, I got my second tattoo. It’s a sunrise with the words “Do it Again” in a banner underneath. Originally, I got the idea for it from this quotation about wonder, joy and living in the now, by G.K. Chesterton,

IMG_5537-1It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that
makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

But as the day got closer, it became even more significant to me, because I’ve come to believe in sunrises. No matter how dark the night, the sun always rises again. (I wrote about this idea in my NYE post.)

To say it Steve’s way: there is always a new beginning. There’s always an invitation to look towards the sunrise, even when the night feels dark. Don’t they say it’s always darkest before the dawn?

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When I picked up the book this time around, I was in a different place, it feels like there’s movement in my life again. I don’t feel stuck like I did for much of 2015, and conversations about light breaking in (chapter one), an expanse being created in us (chapter two) and seeds (chapter three) all resonated with the conversations I’m having with myself and with those whom I talk about these kinds of things.

And through this book Steve is challenging me to “create the future simply by being who we are and bringing forth what is within us.” This is what I’m about, trying to authentically be who am I and offering my gifts to the world. It’s energizing and good.

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Here’s what I think about Steve’s book: Steve is a great writer. But this book will be best if you read it with friends. If you read it and think about your own beginnings, your own transitions, your own journey and then share those ideas in safe, vulnerable places, with the kinds of people who love the prickliest parts of you.

As for me, next Sunday night, I’ll begin discussing this book with my closest people, hearing their journey, sharing my own, as much as I dare. I can’t wait. It’s Steve’s hope that this book is a midwife, that “this book helps to give birth to what needs to emerge from deep within you.” And I think it will, if you let it, and even more so, if you do so in community.

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Two last notes: Steve will be in Peoria at Imago Dei Church on Sunday morning, January 24th. And if you want more interaction with Steve, there will be a limited, ticket-required event on Saturday night where he will perhaps do a little reading, talk about his book, answer questions and sign. Details will be coming soon; check my Facebook.

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Beginnings. A guest post by Steve Wiens.

As far as friendships go, I haven’t known Steve all that long. But, over the last couple of years, he’s become one of my most important people – one of the people I seek out when I need guidance and especially encouragement. It’s been fun to listen to his journey of writing his first book. Later in the week, I’ll post my thoughts about the book, and later in the month, Steve will be at Imago Dei Church. But first, I’m super-happy to turn this space over today to my friend Steve Wiens…

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I suppose it might be considered a cliché to say that my first book discovered me; that it fluttered down to me in a bright burst of color and flame, beckoning and irresistible. But it did.

It came to me as a question, but one with a smirk and a wink. It was a delicious question, the kind that invites you to leave Bag End with only a walking stick and a stomach hungry for adventure.

I was stuck, but I was only beginning to realize it, and it was a sickening kind of feeling when I finally did. My life seemed to be drifting away from me, like someone was using a pair of bellows all wrong, extracting breath from me instead of adding it.

The question thundered around me, accompanied by random flashes of lightning, and I was dazzled enough to turn aside to see what it was before it rolled by.

What if the creative act of God described so richly in the Genesis poem was not simply an event in time, but a process that is reflected in all beginnings that follow? 

What if new beginnings were lurking around every corner, inside every whisper, and even stitched into every ending? What if they hovered above us, and filled in the fault lines beneath us? What if being stuck wasn’t the inevitable destination?

What if the world, right here and now, is crying out once again, and what if the God who hears is responding, and sending, and moving, and acting?

So I wrote and wrote and wrote, and with three boys under the age of six, it was mostly done by magic tricks and stopping time. The more I wrote, the more I believed. It came in torrents, flooding me, until it didn’t. Then it trickled in: a paragraph, a sentence, a word. But it came all the way out, and I’m about to let it go into the world.

Beginnings is my manifesto of hope, that the creative activity of God is not finished, not even close. Beginnings is my defiant shout that even when we are lost in the inky blackness, there can emerge out of that swampland something glorious, something eternal, something covered in the goodness of God.

What follows are the first words I used to translate the fluttering reality in which I now am grounded. I hope it leaves you hungry for more.

“THE ACHE HAD probably been creeping up on me, but I didn’t notice it until that night, sitting on the deck behind my sub- urban house looking out onto my suburban life. Isaac was two, and the twins were six months old. I was a pastor at a large church, I had been married for fourteen years, and my twenty-year high school reunion had come and gone.

I didn’t go to that reunion. I didn’t have the energy for the awkwardness, the sizing up, and the plastic cups of stale beer to chase down our stale memories.

But the ache that had been whispering through my body rattled to a clumsy stop on that night, in those suburbs, on that deck.

I had been looking at pictures of my friends who went to the reunion: my old girlfriend, the guys I used to go all night skiing with on those blisteringly cold nights in Minnesota, my soccer team. And I remembered all the beginnings.

I remembered moving from Southern California to Belgium the summer before seventh grade. I remembered the sour, un-American body odor of the team of men who moved our old furniture into our new house. That smell was the baptism of our new life in Europe.

I remembered my friend Colin who lived across the street in a two-story white brick house in Waterloo with black shutters, like they all were. I remembered the in-ground trampoline in his back yard, on which we spent hours and hours, jumping our way into adolescence. I remembered his mother’s unbearably loud voice, as it boomed around their house like a grenade and made us run for cover.

I remembered falling treacherously in love with Tammi the moment I saw her, coming down those stairs in the fall of my ninth grade year. She liked me back, and then she didn’t like me. I was devastated. That’s when I started listening to the Cure and Depeche Mode, bands who were created for teenagers like me who don’t know how to express the frightening chaos brewing beneath our skin, bubbling and boiling.

I remembered Mr. Tobin, my tenth grade English teacher. Every student should have a Mr. Tobin. He got to know each of us and selected books based on what he thought we’d like. The first book he gave me was Trinity, by Leon Uris. I remember staying up late into the night reading about Conor Larkin, the main character, who was everything I wanted to be but feared I wasn’t: brave and passionate and rough edged. Almost thirty years have passed since I met Mr. Tobin, and I credit my deep love for reading to his deep love for teaching.

I remembered kissing Angie under a starry summer night on that dock that jutted out into Lake Como, the thrill of that moment reflecting off the lake and making everything luminous that summer before our senior year. I can still see the picture of us at the homecoming game: she was beautiful, holding my hand under the dark October sky. I had a ridiculous acid-washed denim jacket on, with only the bottom button fastened in the chilly air. There was a grin on my face and my eyes were sparkling. I was seventeen.

I remembered driving around in Matt’s Bronco for hours, finishing off the beer that Carl’s older brother bought us. We must have burned hundreds of gallons of gas on those cold winter nights; we were irresponsible, irrepressible and immortal.

I remembered deciding to go to college in a sleepy little town in southern Minnesota, instead of up north, where most of my closest friends from high school had chosen to go. I remembered trying to explain it to them, in the awkward way that high school guys do. I don’t remember much of that summer before college. I only remember the familiar sensation that comes with every new beginning: the thrill of reinventing yourself running parallel with the fear of the unknown—the twin tracks that lead to everything else.

But on that night, on that deck, in those suburbs, the continual forward movement seemed to have stopped. The tracks had run out. I used to be in motion, rattling forward toward a destination that kept morphing. But on that stationary deck, I had become solid and stable, and stuck.

There would be no new beginnings.

My life should have felt full and rich, but instead it felt empty and dark. There was only the slow work of playing out the reality of the decisions that had already come and gone. I was a pastor. I was a father. I was a husband. I didn’t regret any of those things. I loved my kids and my wife and my job. But the finality of it all was a relentless crashing—wave after wave, under those stars, in those suburbs, on that night. It felt vacant, like staring into nothingness.

It was empty and full at the same time. Empty of beginnings, full of endings.

As I sat there motionless with the emptiness closing in around me, there was something else hovering above me in the darkness, but I couldn’t see it.

If I could have seen it, it would have looked like a beginning.”

* * *

Steve Wiens lives near Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife Mary and their three young boys. Steve blogs at www.stevewiens.com and he publishes a weekly podcast called This Good Word. You can order Beginnings here: Amazon | Books-A-Million | IndieBound | Barnes and Noble.

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Wednesday Book Conversation: Rising Strong: Brave and Brokenhearted

Welcome to the weekly book discussion. My hope is that it starts a conversation, as if we were sitting in a coffee shop discussing over lattes. As such, it’s not intended to be a review or critique. So, please read, share, and join the discussion! This week is our seventh week reading Brené Brown’s most recent book Rising Strong.

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This chapter is grab-bag of sorts. The title gives it all away: “The Brave and Brokenhearted: Rumbling with expectations, disappointment, resentment, heartbreak, connection, grief, forgiveness, compassion and empathy. Whew! That’s a lot of stuff to rumble with.  Probably, depending on the season of your life, one or more of these jump out at you while others, not so much. Here are some of the thoughts and ideas that got my attention:

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“I’ve never met a single person who hasn’t had to rumble with expectations, disappointment, and resentment. It’s a standing rumble for most of us.” (loc. 2105)

I’ve said before how important this book has been to me, right? It’s what’s I’ve needed at this particular season of my life, and mostly because of that sentence. Expectations, disappointment and resentment are my daily sparring partners.

If you ask me about my mental health, I’ll tell you that I actively try to curb my expectations of myself, my family, my friends, my church, the Cubs, nearly everything, but the truth is, I don’t really know how to do it. I’m a driven dreamer, so I can easily dream up expectations for every moment, every encounter. But as Anne Lamott said, “Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.” (By the way, in case you’re wondering, my estimate is that more than 1/2 of the arguments in most marriages have to do with unspoken, unmet expectations.)

So this really hit home. Trying to devoid myself of expectations in any given situation is a battle. You can’t even imagine how much this is true. If you have ideas for how to empty expectations, please, let’s have coffee. Seriously.

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When I hear “heartbreak,” I immediately picture a teen girl pining for the “love of her life,” who got away. Cue eye roll.

But I’m so on board with the concept as Brené describes it here. My most significant heartbreaks haven’t been about romantic relationships (one advantage of marrying your high school sweetheart). My most significant heartbreaks have been about unfulfilled dreams, lost friendships, broken lives and death.

Brene says it so well, I don’t know what else to add:

“There are two reasons why most of us are slow to acknowledge that what we’re feeling is heartbreak. The first is that we normally associate heartbreak with romantic love. This limiting idea keeps us from fully owning our stories. The greatest heartbreaks of my life include the loss of what I knew as my family after my parents’ divorce, watching my mom’s pain after my uncle was killed, loving someone struggling with trauma and addiction issues, and losing my grandmother – first to Alzheimer’s and then to death. The second reason we don’t acknowledge heartbreak is its association with one of the most difficult emotions in the human experience: grief. If what I’m experiencing is heartbreak, then grieving is inevitable.

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On to forgiveness. Brené says lots of good things about forgiveness, but this one was particularly thought-provoking: she says that part of forgiveness means putting something to death in us. (For example, to forgive we have to kill our desire for revenge). In her own story, Brene talks about how, in her journey of forgiving her own parents, she had to kill her idealized versions of her parents that she had created in her own mind.

“The death of the idealized versions of our parents, teachers, and mentors – a stage in the hero’s journey – is always scary because it means that we’re now responsible for our own learning and growth. That death is also beautiful because it makes room for new relationships – more honest connections between authentic adults who are doing the best they can.” (loc. 2311)

I think this is a thought-provoking rumble for many of us: what do I need to kill in myself in order to move towards forgiveness?

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So many good things in this chapter; I hope at least some of you are still reading at this point! HA! I’ll end where Brene ends, with a quotation from C.S. Lewis:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

 

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Wednesday Book Conversation: Rising Strong: Sewer Rats

Welcome to the weekly book discussion. My hope is that it starts a conversation, as if we were sitting in a coffee shop discussing over lattes. As such, it’s not intended to be a review or critique. So, please read, share, and join the discussion! This week is our sixth week reading Brené Brown’s most recent book Rising Strong.

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In this chapter – and the next few, if I remember correctly – Brené is going to talk about some specific things we need to rumble with. The title of chapter six is “Sewer Rats and Scoflaws: Rumbling with boundaries, integrity and generosity,” so you have a pretty clear idea of where she’s going. If I wrote about each of those things individually, this post would go over 1,000 words, and really, if you’re going to read that much, your time would be better invested reading the actual book!

Instead, I want to ask you a question that she raises in this chapter that has had me thinking for about a month. Brené tells a long story about a conference she spoke at pro bono and, on top of that, she had to share a room with a woman who turned out to be a horrible roommate. Afterwards, she was working out her frustrations with her therapist, and her therapist asked her this question:

“Do you think it’s possible that your roommate was doing the best she could that weekend?”

After Brené answered in the negative, she turned the question on Diana, the therapist. “Do you believe she was doing her best?”

“You know, I’m not sure. I do, however, think that in general people are doing the best they can.”

Here’s my truth: like Brené, I’m cynical that people are doing their best. Sometimes it feels, in fact, like people are barely trying and sometimes – especially in traffic, or long lines at the grocery store or at the DMV, and especially in the comments section on YouTube – people seem to be trying to do their worst.

So, I’m not going to write much more about this. I hoped this series would spark a conversation, so here it is: in your life, as you interact with people – spouse, children, friends, coworkers, neighbors, whomever – do you believe people are doing their best with the tools they have?”

Go.

(I do have another quotation that I want to share that expresses my answer to this question, after having reflected on it a couple weeks, but I’ll share in the comments after a couple days!)

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Book Conversation: Rising Strong: The Rumble

Welcome to the weekly book discussion. My hope is that it starts a conversation, as if we were sitting in a coffee shop discussing over lattes. As such, it’s not intended to be a review or critique. So, please read, share, and join the discussion! This week is our fourth week reading Brené Brown’s most recent book Rising Strong.

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“The reckoning is how we walk into our story; the rumble is where we own it. The goal of the rumble is to get honest about the stories we’re making up about our struggles, to revisit, challenge, and reality-check these narratives as we dig into topics such as boundaries, shame, blame, resentment, heartbreak, generosity, and forgiveness. Rumbling with these topics and moving from our first responses to a deeper understanding of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors gives birth to key learnings about who we are and how we engage with others. The rumble is where wholeheartedness is cultivated and change begins.” (loc. 1290)

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In the moment, when hurt comes, I’m mostly good at masking my hurt. It wasn’t always this way. By nature I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I had an older-than-me pastor once tell me, earlier in my career, “You’ve got to develop more of a poker face in meetings. Everyone in the room knows exactly what you’re thinking all the time.” And so, I’ve learned.

So, I’m in a conversation, and someone says something that hurts. Maybe they mean it to – I’ve had a couple of those over the last year, where the person intended their words to hurt. But I’ve also had conversations where it was unintended, the person was just saying their version of the truth, or expressing their own reality, which it conflicted with mine.  It hurts nevertheless, and probably even more than the intentional hurts. In the moment, though, I stuff it down. Then later, when the replays roll in my head, the hurt comes.

The rumble Brené is talking about comes after we own our stories and acknowledge our emotions. It’s the deeper work of trying to understand oneself. It means digging up the skeletons that we may have buried a long time ago. Journaling is a helpful exercise here, as is a spiritual director, a therapist, or someone who will ask hard questions and patiently await our response. (Because the deeper we go, the more elusive the answers.)

It starts with writing a shitty first draft (SFD), in which we simply spew out on paper exactly what we think – no refinements, no editing – but which serves as the baseline for exploration. This is kicking curiosity into overdrive, and it can take YEARS to rumble on something and get to a place of “settled.”

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About a week ago, I was going through the back of my closet and discovered an orange Denver Broncos – Peyton Manning jersey. I was pretty excited, but I didn’t know where it had come from. Jennifer reminded me that she and the boys gave it to me for my birthday last year. I can’t for the life of me remember anything about my birthday last year. I don’t remember where I was, who I spent the day with. Nothing. My birthday rolled around right about the time that I was in my darkest hole, (I wrote a bit about it here.) and it’s just not in my memory.

In that time, about 9 months ago, there was a lot of stuff swirling around: a house I was building, church stuff, personal stuff, and in my utter exhaustion and feeling completely overwhelmed, the worst parts of my psyche were steering the ship for a good long time. And in the process I stuffed things. I just pushed on, moved forward, kept walking.

This 3-month sabbatical came at just the right time. I didn’t take this sabbatical because I was burned out. The conversations about it started long before that. But when, on September 2, it actually started, I was broken down. Jennifer describes it as there being a heaviness about me that isn’t usually part of me.

“The Rumble” is how I’m finding my way out. Yes, I probably should have seen a therapist – it would probably have moved faster – but funds are always an issue. But, as I’ve gotten deeply curious about myself and the stories I’m making up, as I’ve given myself space to probe for answers as to why I act and think the way I do, I’m finding peace.

A lot of it comes in the time I spend running. Running gets me away from distractions and gives me the space to rumble. And the kinds of podcasts I listen to while I run –  The Robcast, This Good Word, Magic Lessons – are the kinds of podcasts that help me rumble.

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So, what do you need to rumble with right now? And how do you rumble? Journaling is one good way, talking is another (but be careful rumbling with the person you’re rumbling about … because it’s likely not them, it’s you and you can cause harm). I’ll end with a list of questions Brené suggests for rumbling:

  1. What more do I need to learn and understand about the situation? (What do I know objectively? What assumptions am I making?)
  2. What more do I need to learn and understand about the other people in the story? (What additional information do I need? What questions or clarifications might help?)
  3. What more do I need to learn and understand about myself? (What’s underneath my response? What am I really feeling? What part did I play?)

Okay, now I want to hear how you rumble!  Talk to me, Goose!

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Book Conversation: Rising Strong: The Reckoning

Welcome to the weekly book discussion. My hope is that it starts a conversation, as if we were sitting in a coffee shop discussing over lattes. As such, it’s not intended to be a review or critique. So, please read, share, and join the discussion! This week is our fourth week reading Brené Brown’s most recent book Rising Strong.

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This week, I want to start with a couple quotations from the book in order to set the framework for what I’m thinking, especially for those of you who aren’t reading the book. (My location references are for the Kindle version.) We’re in chapter 4, titled “The Reckoning,” which is full of good things to talk about. I’ll be staying at the “meta” level, however, so here goes:

“You may not have signed up for a hero’s journey, but the second you fell down, got your butt kicked, suffered a disappointment, screwed up, or felt your heart break, it started. It doesn’t matter whether we are ready for an emotional adventure – hurt happens. And it happens to every single one of us. Without exception. The only decision we get to make is what role we’ll play in our own lives: Do we want to write the story or do we want to hand that power over to someone else?” (loc. 843)

“You either walk into your story and own your truth, or you live outside of your story, hustling for your worthiness.” (loc. 853)

“The rising strong reckoning has two deceptively simple parts: (1) engaging with our feelings, and (2) getting curious about the story behind the feelings — what emotions we’re experiencing and how they are connected to our thoughts and behaviors.” (loc. 861)

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I know what it is to hustle for worthiness. For those of you that are Enneagram junkies, I’m a classic type-3, which means that I’m an (over)achiever. I dream big and get it done. The dark side of the 3 is that I tend to define myself by my accomplishments. And, the even darker part is that I tend not to see the accomplishments, but instead focus on the failures. So much of the time, I feel a lot of shame. And when I feel bad about myself, I try to accomplish more stuff, so I can feel good again. This is my hustle.

But really, we all hustle for love (or what Brené calls worthiness). You have your own ways of behaving to get the ego strokes you need, but which are ultimately empty because you know you hustled for them. This chapter is all about shutting down the hustle. Once we’ve identified our story (last week’s post), we need to dig a little deeper into it. We need to get curious, and instead of hustling, we need to first own our stories, and then own our emotions.

“In this stage of the rising strong process – the reckoning – we need to get curious. We need to be brave enough to want to know more.” (loc. 958)

I think there’s this narrative in our culture (I probably hear it more from guys, but it’s certainly not gender-specific) that to get curious about one’s feelings, motivations, failures, insecurities, etc., is somehow weak. “No regrets, keep looking forward, move on, there’s no use wallowing in our past failures,” says this particular train of thought. And I agree to a point. Wallowing in failure and disappointment isn’t useful. But running away from it, refusing to get curious about it isn’t healthy either. We can’t learn from what we refuse to face.

What Brené is asking of us, in this chapter, is to own our emotions and then ask “why do I feel this way?” I think I’m a fairly emotional guy, but in my experience the reasons for my emotions aren’t always easily apparent. I know I feel hurt, disappointed, angry, etc. and sometimes I can even point to the precipitating event. But it takes an effort to get curious and sit with my emotions long enough to get to the fine point of why I feel the way I do.

It often takes a long time for me to get to the truth of my emotions. And, because humans (and ogres) are like onions, there are layers and it takes time to get to the core. And so, part of the Sabbatical journey, which I’m still on for the next month, has been sitting with some difficult emotions: loss, disappointment, shame, etc., and getting curious and getting down to the core.

Of course, there are alternatives to this work. Our culture specializes in helping us numb our emotional pain (one avoidance technique among several that Brené explores). We’re proficient at keeping things light and breezy, keeping ourselves slightly inebriated (just enough to not deal with our stuff), overfed and shopping our way out of our pain.

“And just so we don’t miss it in this long list of all the ways we can numb ourselves, there’s always staying busy; living so hard and fast that the truths of our lives can’t catch up with us. We fill every ounce of white space with something so there’s no room or time for emotion to make itself known.” (loc. 1105)  – (OUCH)

I know this sounds heavy on a Wednesday morning. But here’s what I also know: when I get curious and give myself some white space to get curious with my emotions, and I refuse to stuff or numb them, and I finally get to the core, there’s freedom, there’s a lightness that comes to the soul, to the psyche because now I know what I’m dealing with, and now I can finally start moving forward.

I’ve heard people say – when they’ve been struggling with an unknown illness, one the doctors can’t seem to figure out – “I just want to know, so we can start dealing with it.” And what’s true of physical ailments is also true of our insides; knowing is the first step toward healing.

And so, today, or at least some time in the next couple of days,I challenge you to set aside some quiet space, turn off your phone, turn off the music/television, refuse yourself the alcohol or food that serves as your method of choice and get curious about your emotions. And then, if you feel courageous, I challenge you to share what you learn with someone you trust. You just might start feeling better. At least I know that’s the beginning of wholeness for me.

Thanks for reading along! I’ll be out of town next week, but I’ve already written two posts for next week, they will publish on Monday and Wednesda

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Wednesday Book Conversation: Rising Strong: Owning our Stories

Welcome to the weekly book discussion. My hope is that it starts a conversation, as if we were sitting in a coffee shop discussing over lattes. As such, it’s not intended to be a review or critique. So, please read, share, and join the discussion! This week is our third week reading Brené Brown’s most recent book Rising Strong.

In reality, chapter 3 of Rising Strong is a short chapter outlining the rest of the book. It introduces ideas like the reckoning, the rumble and the revolution, ideas that we will explore together in time. So, this week I’m going to riff a bit on this idea of owning our stories because it really is at the heart of this book.

In chapter 2 she introduced an idea I didn’t talk about because for me, it’s been the most important idea that I’ve gleaned from this book thus far (at the time of writing, I’m through the 8th chapter) and I wanted to give it more breathing room.

So here’s a peek inside my head (and probably yours too).

Stuff happens. People say stuff, people do stuff, things come up, plans change, we succeed, we fail, and when stuff happens, our brains interpret events. We assign meaning to what people say and how they act. So, in our brains we have trains of thought that might go something like this:

  • My coworker is a real bitch today because she hates working for me.
  • My kid is being a brat this evening because he enjoys making his little sister cry.
  • The reason she hasn’t called or texted recently is because she isn’t interested in my friendship anymore.
  • The reason he didn’t hug me when he walked in the door from work is because he doesn’t love me like he used to.

Here’s the tricky part. Sometimes, we’re right. Sometimes the reason we assign to stuff that happens is correct, or at least in the ballpark, particularly if we know the person really well. But, all too often, we’re only guessing. And, guess what? We’re often wrong. Our coworker actually had a fight with her husband this morning, our kid is struggling with a friendship at school, the friend hasn’t texted us because they think we gave up on the friendship and the reason he didn’t hug you when he walked in from work was because it had been a really hard day and he was preoccupied.

The hard part is figuring out what is true or false about the story we are telling ourselves – which we will explore more in chapter five when we talk about “the Rumble.”

But for now, it’s enough to simply acknowledge that we all tell ourselves stories about ourselves, about the world and about each other.

    • I have stories I tell myself about myself. Some of them are true, some are false, some are actually hopes and dreams, some are exaggerations, some are bolstered by bravado and some are shaped by my insecurities.
    • I also have stories I tell myself about you. Again, some are true, some are false, some are simple misunderstandings, and some are buried deep under years of interactions.
    • You have stories you tell yourself about me. Some of you only know me through my writing, some of you know me through my speaking, some of you know me in social circles and a few of you know me in more intimate ways. And through our interactions you’ve developed a narrative about me, as I have about you.

Owning our stories is about acknowledging that we all create a story to make sense of the stuff that happens and then we live according to that story. Our actions and interactions are driven by what we’ve made up in our head.

We’re going to talk more about curiosity next week, but part of this owning of our stories is being curious about them. It’s about asking ourselves, “what is the story I’m telling myself about…”

As silly as it may sound, I’ve begun to use this language in exactly this way. Since I read this chapter a couple weeks ago, I’ve tried to say, in a couple different conversations, “the story I’m telling myself about this event/conversation is…” The beauty of this kind of language is that I own that I might be wrong. I acknowledge up front that I’ve interpreted events – because we all interpret events – but I’m remaining open to the possibility that my interpretation of events is skewed.

(And, by the way, they are nearly always skewed in some way. All of us, whether the stories we tell ourselves are positive or negative, are generally overconfident in our ability to know what’s really going on at any given time. In fact, part of the training of a counselor/therapist is learning to be wary and curious about how working with someone brings up your own “stuff” – your own stories and how your “stuff” clouds your ability to hear accurately. In technical terms its called countertransference. If I remember correctly, Brené talks about this in Daring Greatly where she talks about how parenting tends to bring up our own unresolved, adolescent “stuff” and how we’ve got to deal with it if we want to parent in a wholehearted way.)

I know this post is going long. (I told you, this was impactful to me!) So, here’s what I’m suggesting. This week, when stuff happens, when you’re upset by your spouse, child, coworker, someone you care about, instead of assigning a reason for why they treated you the way they treated you, try saying to them, “the story I’m making up about this is…”

  • “The story I’m making up about how you’ve shunned me all evening is that you are pissed at me for something I did or didn’t do.”
  • “The story I’m making up about why you forgot to tell me Happy Birthday is that you don’t care about me.”

And if you really want to go the extra mile, here’s a second, more intimate exercise. In a more intimate relationship, one where you really care about the person, and the relationship is safe, maybe you might try asking them, “what is the story you’re making up about me, about us, right now?”

I surely don’t need to know the intimate details, but I’d love to hear if you’ve tried this and how it’s worked out for you.

Thanks for reading along!

 

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Wednesday Book Conversation: Rising Strong: Civilization Stops at the Waterline

Welcome to the weekly book discussion. My hope is that it starts a conversation, as if we were sitting in a coffee shop discussing over lattes. I don’t aim to point out the parts I agree or disagree with, but rather to reflect on whatever the book caused me to start thinking about. So, please read, share, and join the discussion! This week is our second week reading Brené Brown’s new book Rising Strong.

There was a moment last winter when I hit my rock bottom. It was a hard season in my life for a whole bunch of reasons, and I’ve recounted the details to some of my closest friends about the day that I hit rock bottom. I’ll spare you all the details but this one: at 10:00 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, I crawled back into my bed and pulled the covers over my head and cried.

It was “day two” for me. I was in that dark space between when you set off on a journey and when you see the finish line. Brené describes it like this:

“Day two – or whatever that middle space is for your own process, is when you’re ‘in the dark’ – the door has closed behind you. You’re too far in to turn around and not close enough to the end to see the light.”

Every hero’s story, every adventure has a day two. In a marathon, it’s after the half-marathoners have split off toward the finish, the course is now much more empty, and you still have double-digit miles to go. It’s when your newborn isn’t a newborn anymore and getting out of diapers seems to be an impossible dream. It’s when you’ve started your own business and the newness of doing something you love has worn off but long-term profitability isn’t assured. It’s seven years into a marriage when the romance of the wedding day is long gone, and you’re not even sure if he loves you anymore.

But, Brené notes, after her interaction with the Pixar team, where she learned about the essential elements of a good story and recalling her reading of Joseph Campbell’s A Hero with a Thousand Faces,* that every story has a middle. And it’s in the middle that the hero learns the lessons that she needs to learn about herself. Yes, the middle of the story is difficult. Yes, you feel like you’re drowning. Yes, victory isn’t certain, but it’s in this space when you ask hard questions and deal with your stuff. What you learn in this space will give you the tools you need to get through.

“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

I know we just want the middle to be over with. We just want to get to the other side and win. The flaw in our thinking is that we won’t become what we need to become if we set out on an adventure and then immediately win. Star Wars would be a really short movie. Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru die, Luke shoots down the Death Star, roll credits. Rocky agrees to fight Apollo, next day he wins, movie over. Bo-ring.

It’s so clear when we see it in others, isn’t it? We see how the people we love grow and become something more as they work through their own “day two.” We root for them and encourage them and tell them, “I see such growth in you.” It’s just really hard to accept it when it’s our own “day two.”

So, here’s to our “day twos.” 

Here’s to times and spaces when we don’t have anything figured out, when everything is dark, when we feel like we’re fighting for our lives, when we’re too far in to quit but the end is nowhere in sight. Here’s to the things we need to learn about ourselves and the world. And here is to becoming what was already in us, but which will only come to the surface in the dark “day two.”

Here’s two exercises, one for those of you currently in your own “day two,” and one for those of you who are rooting for and with someone in their “day two.”

If you are currently in a “day two” season of life: take some time to write down the things you’re learning right now. How have you grown? What do you think now that you didn’t think when you set out on the journey? How do you act now? What new muscles do you feel that you didn’t feel before? What are you becoming?

If you are currently rooting on someone in a “day two” season of their life: same thing as above, but tell them. Affirm what they are becoming. Write them a note, an email, look them in the eye and say, “I know this is hard and it’s dark for you, but this is the good I see.” Warning: this isn’t cheerleading, and you shouldn’t minimize the darkness they feel. You may have a vantage point where you see the ending, but they don’t and that’s okay. Just encourage.

Again, thanks for reading along! I’m going off the grid for a couple days right after this posts, but start the conversation without me! I’ll catch up when I get back.

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* I just started reading this book because it keeps coming up in conversations, the books I read, and the podcasts I listen to, but it’s tough reading in the prologue. Anyone have any encouragement?

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Wednesday Book Conversation: Rising Strong: The Physics of Vulnerability

Welcome to the weekly book discussion. I’m going to be using this space on Wednesdays to reflect on book that I’ve read recently. My hope is that it starts a conversation, as if we were sitting in a coffee shop discussing over lattes. I don’t aim to point out the parts I agree or disagree with, but rather to reflect on whatever the book caused me to start thinking about. So, please read, share, and join the discussion! This week is our first week reading Brené Brown’s new book Rising Strong.

There was a time, early in my career, when I was asked a direct question about the church I worked for and my place in it. And because I had grown up in a home where my parents practiced vulnerability and because I generally believed in the goodness of people and because I (incorrectly) assessed that I was safe, I told the truth.

And I lost my job. And it hurt. Lesson learned.

Thanks largely to Brené’s work (can we just call her Brené, as if we’re friends?), vulnerability has become a buzzword. It seems like everyone is talking about vulnerability these days. But, until you’ve actually put yourself out there and fallen flat on your face, it’s just that – a buzzword.

A couple weeks ago, I was sitting in my friends’ living room while we were talking about our Enneagram Types, and the question at hand was: “Name what is difficult to know about yourself.” I was the last to share, and so while others were sharing, I was fighting an internal battle about how much to say. Part of me wanted to say just enough to appear vulnerable without actually being vulnerable. I’ll call this “socially acceptable vulnerability.” For me, this is the stuff I’d share with just about anyone, if they asked and gave any indication that they would listen, the stuff I would share in a talk or a blog post.

But this group of people is different. I have lots of friends, but this is my safest place. If I don’t tell these people, then it’s likely going to stay locked inside. And so, I said my truth. And there were tears. And then, I didn’t want to talk anymore (which is really saying something, because I talk a lot.) And even though I struggled a little bit with vulnerability hangover the next day, I know it was good for me to speak the truest thing about myself to the people who are safest to me. I fully believe Brené that this is the pathway to wholeheartedness.

But sometimes, you put yourself out there – like I did in my first church – and you get your ass handed to you. That’s what Rising Strong is about. It’s about getting back up after you’ve put yourself out there – you said the hard thing, you created something, you took a risk – and you fell flat on your face and now you’re embarrassed or hurt or just broken, and you want to run and hide and never be vulnerable again.

This first chapter of Rising Strong is a list of the “ten rules of engagement for rising strong,” i.e., “the basic tenets about being brave, risking vulnerability, and overcoming adversity that are useful to understand before we get started.” If you’ve read The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly, some of these ideas will feel familiar. Each could probably warrant a post, but I’ll just point to the one that captured my attention (feel free to tell us yours in the comments!). Mine was number six:

Rising Strong is the same process whether you’re navigating personal or professional struggles.

Earlier in the post I told a story about vulnerability in my work and then I told a story about vulnerability in my personal life. I know there are differences between the two – and for some of us the degree of difference will vary – but I believe we are whole persons. We practice appropriate vulnerability in our lives or we don’t. We either pay attention to what’s happening inside of us or we don’t. We can’t claim wholeheartedness and then completely bifurcate ourselves between a “self at work” and a “self at home,” or a “self with one group of people,” and “self with a different group.”

As I’ve thought about vulnerability over the last couple years – and, concurrently, thought of the spiritual journey of moving from false self to true self – the characteristic that is becoming most significant to me is curiosity. There will be more to say about curiosity in chapter 4, but for now, let me quote Brené at length. She’s talking about the link between personal and professional struggles and she identifies strong curiosity as a common thread between the two worlds. She writes:

The most transformative and resilient leaders that I’ve worked with over the course of my career have three things in common: First, they recognize the central role that relationships and story play in culture and strategy, and they stay curious about their own emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Second, they understand and stay curious about how emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are connected in the people they lead, and how those factors affect relationships and perception. And, third, they have the ability and willingness to lean into discomfort and vulnerability.

So, maybe a good place to wrap up this post would be to ask ourselves this question: “What are the emotions, thoughts and behaviors I need to get curious about?” Here are couple that might ignite some curiosity for you:

Every time this person walks into the room I get agitated and annoyed. What’s going on in me that makes me feel that way?

I find myself disagreeing with this person all the time. Is it really an ideas thing, or is it something else in me?

I find myself withdrawing from a particular relationship. What’s going on there?

I’m often restless/anxious/worried/angry/disappointed/sad (pick one)… Where is this feeling coming from?

And maybe, if we really want to walk down the vulnerability road, as we get curious, it will lead to healing insights and maybe even conversations – in both our professional and personal lives. But it starts with curiousity.

Okay, this post has been long, the latte has gone cold by now. Please share or comment – or you can always email me directly.  Next Wednesday, we’ll work through chapter two.

Thanks for journeying through this book with me!

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