Friday, December 28, 2012

Living what you value

This is one of the most difficult questions that I face as both a parent and a pastor: How do I ensure that I am living what I say that I value? My life is flooded with countless decisions that need to be made on a daily basis. Some of these decisions have a direct impact on what I say my values are, while others are only indirectly related to my value system. The tension that I experience is with regards to consistency or balance in living from this value system. No, this post isn't going to turn into a broad spectrum confessional time, but I will share some thoughts about how this is beginning to reshape my thoughts around what it means to value something.

As a parent and a pastor, my hope and desire is that my own kids and those whom I lead become critical thinkers as they grow into adulthood. More specifically, I desire to see them develop great character...Christ-like character, that will allow them to become who they were created to be. Now the development of character isn't something that I can foster by words alone. I can't say to my kids that we value honesty and then struggle with telling the truth. But what I can do is create an environment where this character formation can either be enhanced or hindered. In my opinion, character development and spiritual formation are linked; they are two sides of the same coin. Where the development of Christ-like character occurs, spiritual formation is taking place, and this formation is stimulated by a combination of the environment in which kids are exposed to values and their willingness to be led by the Spirit of God in their process of decision making.

This may sound all fine and dandy, but here is how this idea is reshaping how I think about and approach living out my values.

1. How do I measure success? As a pastor I've been drawn to measure what is the most easily quantifiable...numbers. If the experiences that I offer are well attended, then that must mean that I am a success, right? Well the truth is that this isn't entirely true. While numerics do tell a portion of an unfolding story, they do not represent or define success entirely. Am I successful when I only see an increasing number of folks engaged in experiences or environments that I've created? Or am I successful when I allow this same Spirit of God that I hope and pray is developing character in those that I'm connected with is also leading me in the same way? Does my definition of success become more about living obediently as defined by the values that I embrace than the numerical proficiency of my ability as a father or a pastor?

2. It's all about relationship. Character development and spiritual formation are linked because of their relational intent. What I mean by suggesting this is that humans are relational beings...we exist for the purpose of connection. The relationships we form help to shape us (spiritual or otherwise), and it's through this formation process that our character is developed. As a father, I am only part of the formation process of my own kids. There are many other voices that are involved in the character development process. I cannot believe the lie that suggests that I am the only influence in the life of my child. I may in fact play a very important role, but it's not the only one. The same could be said of my role as a pastor. I may play a very important role in the life of those that I have the honor of journeying with, but I am not the sole influence and it should never be my goal to be. I must be confident enough in my ability as a parent and a pastor to allow others to be a part of the character development and spiritual formation process for those under my sphere of care. What this means is that I must radically rethink how I personally define myself as successful as either a parent or a pastor. Success is no longer a static, linear process but something that is much more collaborative and mobile in nature. I can no longer believe that the environments that I create are the only (and in some cases the most important) ones that those whom I care about should be connected to. I have to recognize that relationships cannot be and are not defined in linear terms.

3. It's not really about me. This is the most difficult realization for me as both a parent and a pastor. Yes, I do carry great influence in these roles that I serve in, but these positions of influence that provide me with a platform from which to influence are not only about me. The self-seeking, self-effacing tension that plagues every individual who desires to be great at what they do has to take a back seat to the formative process of being who we are. I know, I's sounds like I'm getting all philosophical here, but what I'm trying to embrace in this time of reorientation of my thinking and my practice is that what I do is linked to who I am...the values that I say I believe must influence every part of the life that I live. So while the process of character development of others doesn't really define me as successful, it is my own personal willingness to be formed myself that influences my ability to succeed.

Maybe it's time for us to be truly honest by what we value. We can't say we value spiritual formation and then elevate our preferred form of this process ahead of the process itself. Doing so speaks of a different value...compliance instead of formation. Maybe we need to just be honest about what we value. Honesty might just lead to less confusion, greater clarity and a greater opportunity to be developed and to develop the values we are hoping for.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

When Tragedy Strikes

Over the last 48 hours our world has experienced tragic events. Some of them occurred further from my home (China), others were somewhat close (Connecticut) and even others have occurred around our own city. These events are a humble reminder of how broken, hurt and distressed the world we live in really is. 

I'm reminded of the example of Christian brothers and sisters who responded to the outbreak of the black plague in England in the 1300s. Panic, fear and desperation motivated many English residents to flee from infected areas leaving the sick and dying to fend for themselves. A few brave souls, God-fearing, Jesus radicals, responding to the tragic invitation this pandemic inflicted upon their country by choosing to care for those who were in need. These individuals chose to "sit in the ashes" alongside of their hurting peers similar to the initial way Job's friends responding to his pain in the biblical account bearing his name.

Our world is different today than it was 48 hours ago. This difference has provided us with the opportunity to grieve with those who grieve, to fight for and pursue justice, and to demonstrate that God's grace is sufficient at all times and in all ways. As you, your family and your friends continue to process recent world events, here are three suggestions that may help you to do so:

1. Communication - It is absolutely vital that each of us take the time to share with others how these events have affected us. It's as critically important that we provide our peers, family and others a listening ear as well. In times of distress, it's often better to extend a listening ear to others while attempting to be present with them as they grieve. Create the space and the time to communicate with others about these recent world events. Don't pretend they don't affect you or that they didn't happen. Communicate with one another. There is great comfort found in a grieving and loving community.

2. Emotion - It's ok to feel. This might be a more natural response for most females, but it's also important for us males to be mindful of. We should feel different things as we are made aware of tragic events. Don't be afraid of what you feel, but take the time to share with others how you are processing what has happened. Feelings don't make us weak, they remind us that we are alive and that we have a voice we can lend to others in times of despair.

3. Courage - Find the courage to grieve, to feel and to communicate...but also find the courage to pursue change. Not all tragic events can be avoided, but there are times when our foolish choices inflict hurt and pain on others in our world. Courage invites us to make wise decisions with how we grieve, how we love and how we live. Ask God's Spirit to speak to you in this season. Perhaps there is a change He is inviting you towards as a result of becoming more aware of the brokenness that exists in all of humanity.

We are created to be interconnected with others. It's in times of tragedy that we realize how great our need for community truly is. May you find renewed hope, perspective and life amongst those whom you call friends and family in this season of life on planet earth.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Form or Function

Today I had the privilege of beginning a year long journey with a group of individuals who are as crazy as I am...people who appreciate, care about and genuinely love teenagers. As you may be able to imagine, whenever like-minded folks get together, much of the conversation is focused on what we are doing and how we are doing it. I'm not sure if this is a systemic issue, or a preoccupation that is a societal trend, but we as humans seem to be fascinated with form. 

Think about it for a moment. We celebrate (and even idolize) the human form in a variety of ways: athletic achievements, intellectual pursuits, spiritual habits and physical changes and/or developments. Somehow we seem to believe that the form is the pinacle of excellence...but perhaps the opposite might be true?

When I think of function, I think of purpose. I make a lot of different choices based on this principle. I use certain technology because of its' functionality. I wear certain clothing, not because of how it looks (ask my wife...I need much help with regards to fashion), but because of what it provides...a covering, or a function. I consume from specific venues due to the functionality or purpose they provide me with, not necessarily due to the form in which the function is provided.

But yet when it comes to something like ministry or parenting, we often seem drawn to the tendency to copy the form without giving greater concern to the function. For example, we may admire the way a certain family's children have turned out, and may then adopt their parenting style (form) in order to provide us with our desired function. Sports teams are notorious for this type of behaviour. If one team ends up with the grand prize for it's league, other teams begin attempting to copy the "blueprint" (form) of their success in order to replicate the function.

Yet I wonder if embracing form over function leads to a devaluing of the outcome the form provides and an elevation of the form itself? Instead of valuing the nutrition a meal provides, we may be more concerned with how it was prepared or developed. We may...heaven forbid...celebrate a certain style of music ahead of all others not because of the function that it provides, but because it is our preferred style or form.

Does embracing form over function really mean that we are making a statement of preference and that our preference becomes more important than its function? Or does the elevation of form over function erode much needed elements of creativity, flexibility and adaptability of the form itself?

Form or function. Both are important, but perhaps determining the desired function should be the starting point of the discussion instead of celebrating the function's form.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Being There

Lately it seems as though I'm learning more about sacrificial love. Perhaps it has something to do with being a father of 3 young kids, or a pastor of youth and families in a society where family is a polarizing and often negative term, but I find myself drawn into a journey of rediscovery of what it means to love.

I'm learning that I love selfishly...yep, you read that typo! It's true. I often extend love to others because I expect a pay-off; I expect something in return for my "freely" given affection. And as I've dug into this mentality a little further, I've discovered that in so many ways I've allowed my meager definition of love to be disillusioned and influenced by societal driven values instead of the deeply rooted values that I long for.

These moments of introspection have led me to what I hope will be a profound conclusion on a personal level: What if I simply focused on being there?

When we love selfishly, we "love" for manipulation.
When we love self-less-ly, we love because of motivation.
When we love selfishly, we "love" out of obligation.
When we love self-less-ly, we love without hesitation.

What if I filtered my loving to the simplistic expression of being there for and with people? Would I see greater growth in the friendships and connections I possess? Would I find myself being cared for as I intentionally and unbiasedly loved others?

Love. It's a movement, not a concept. Show love; give love; live love by being there.