You Aren’t Extraordinary

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My generation is inundated with living an extraordinary life. Books, blogs, and films are based on the premise of how to get an individual to live a life that defies normalcy. I’ve read and seen many of these things. I operated under the belief that if I follow these certain steps, then I could, too, live an extraordinary life.

But I think it is all a lie.

Recently, I have been reflecting upon how many of us want to live someone else’s life. Or how many of us want to live a life that is worthy of a film adaptation. There is an imaginary set of standards that we must meet in order to live that kind of life. Be innovative. Be creative. Be a risk-taker. Be spontaneous. Be more.

We are obsessed with this idea and believe that unless we live this kind of life, then life is meaningless. Everyone wants to make their mark in the world. I wanted to make my mark in the world. I wanted to live an extraordinary life.

But I’ve stopped wanting that.

pippin_615x400This past weekend, I went and watched the musical Pippin. I knew nothing of the show going into it. Part of me thought it was a show about what happened to Pippin after Lord of the Rings. It wasn’t. Instead, it was this beautiful and yet depressing look at an existential crisis. The show is set up as if we are watching a group of players tell a story. They do amazing acrobatics and all play a role in helping Pippin find his meaning. He goes to war, he fills his life with sexual pleasures, he becomes a revolutionist, he becomes powerful, and he seeks love. Each thing he does still leaves him feeling empty or trapped. [Spoiler — as if I need to do this…most of you probably don’t want to watch it] It ends with the lead player coming out and telling Pippin that if he wants to live an extraordinary life, then he needs to have an extraordinary death. Suddenly, everything makes sense. The group of players mentioned at the beginning that they needed a new protagonist for their production. You realize that this group of players isn’t a group that puts on a show. It is a group that lives in each of us, urging us to live an extraordinary life. Pippin contemplates life and almost kills himself but decides to spend the rest of his days with a love interest and her son. The lead player asks Pippin how he feels about his decision and his response is, “Trapped…but happy.”

It gets more depressing after that, but I’ll spare you the heartache I endured (don’t get me wrong — it was a great show). Pippin wanted anything but an ordinary life; but when faced with death, an ordinary life is all he wanted.

For me, the ordinary isn’t extraordinary so I constantly long for something more. I look to people who are living extraordinary lives and try to figure out what I can imitate so I can achieve the same level of happiness. Our search for extraordinary is rooted in our desire for happiness.

More and more, I am learning that God does work through the ordinary. The ordinary isn’t something to be looked down upon. God does His work through the ordinary fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes, and the like. Many of us are trying to live extraordinary lives and God is calling us to let Him work through our ordinary lives.

I will admit that sometimes I feel life is bland because I’m not living my best story or whatever else is trendy right now. I live in a suburb…not in Chicago. I travel periodically…but not a lot because I’m frugal. I haven’t written a best-seller (although, I have one on parenting that I’m certain will become a runaway hit). I am not the leading innovator in youth ministry…I’m probably not even an innovator in youth ministry. I look around and I wonder, “Is this it? What happened to my best life? What happened to accomplishing great things? What happened to being amazing at living?”

I’m not extraordinary. I’m ordinary. And I have to be okay with that. You aren’t extraordinary. You’re ordinary. And you have to be okay with that.

Everyone is not going to become president. Everyone is not going to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Everyone is not going to end world hunger. Everyone is not going to be a NYT best-seller. Everyone is not going to be an Academy Award winner. Everyone is not going to be an NFL, NBA, MLB, or NHL star. Everyone is not going to win a Tony.

But those things don’t make them extraordinary. We do not have to achieve this to live a deep and meaningful life. God works through the ordinary and to me, that’s pretty extraordinary. It seems like He could accomplish more if He worked through those who are in the public spotlight or who have accomplished a lot. But He works through the ordinary.

Our search for an extraordinary life may be one of the most prime example of our selfish attempts at happiness. What we have isn’t good enough. The community around us isn’t good enough. Our families aren’t good enough. The people God has placed in our lives aren’t good enough. The job that God has given us isn’t good enough. In reality, many of us think that God hasn’t given us a good enough life.

I don’t know how to make sense with all of that. But I am learning to be content in the ordinary. I may never be extraordinary but I  am learning that I can live a pretty fulfilling life letting God use my ordinary.

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Why I Must Confess

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Confession is good for the soul. Some people live their lives with a hidden secret that will go to the grave with them. Not only will they live with that secret, but they will also live with shame, regret, and fear.

I love that the Roman Catholic Church has confessionals. It provides an opportunity to confess what is hidden in that darkness. This not only acts as an opportunity to confess that which is hidden, but also the day to day sins of which so many are guilty.

If you are anything like me, you walk through life without paying much attention to sins. Because we live in an age of grace, sometimes we forget to go through the discipline of asking God for forgiveness for things we have done and for things we have left undone. There is something healing in confessing. Sin begins to lose its power in our life when we give words to it.

Grace is a beautiful thing. Without it, we would all be lost. I fear, however, that even with it, we are still somewhat lost. We assume grace. We assume that God will forgive. We assume that our sin will no longer be counted against us.

There is a stark difference between having assurance and assuming. Having assurance is trust. Assuming is not giving much thought to something.

We can have assurance in God’s forgiveness and grace but we cannot assume God’s forgiveness and grace.

One of the things the Book of Common Prayer has in its service is a time of confession. This is not a time for each person to go around saying their sins of the week. It is a time of silent confession before God. Then, they end with this prayer said together:

“Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.”

This is one of my favorite prayers to pray. I pray it often. Each time I come back to it, the words become more powerful.

Christ taught us to pray each time for God to forgive us our trespasses. Have we forgotten to keep doing that? Some of us will ask for forgiveness for what we consider to be “bigger” sins…but we don’t confess sins of omission, being greedy with our money, lying, or other things that are considered culturally normal. When we remind ourselves of daily sins, we remind ourselves how much grace we actually need. Then we become all the more grateful for the grace of God.

Knowing that God’s grace covers each and every inch of our lives can easily become an assumption.

Confession makes me all the more grateful for God’s forgiveness and grace. It reminds me just how much I need it. And it helps me not to take it for granted. It helps me not to cheapen it.

Sometimes I wish that the American Evangelical Church had a place in the service for confession. How powerful would it be for us to weekly pray a prayer of forgiveness and corporately remembering how much we need God’s grace? It’s amazing to me that so many things in culture point to people desiring confession. There are numerous websites that people can confess on. There are multiple opportunities to anonymously confess your darkest secrets. People want to speak. People want to say what is weighing them down. Shouldn’t we be providing them with that opportunity?

Confession might scare us. Confession might make us uncomfortable. Confession might frustrate us. But confession also reminds us. And we need to be reminded. Daily. Just how much we need God’s grace. We need to be reminded how much we have cheapened it. We need to be reminded how thankful we should be for it. Confession paves the way for that. It’s a discipline that we neglect…but it’s a discipline that should be a daily practice.

Vulgar Worship

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It’s been a few years since the whole “sloppy wet kiss” debate began happening. Most churches have safely landed on the phrase “unforeseen kiss” as opposed to the original “sloppy wet kiss.” To them, “unforeseen kiss” seems less vulgar (even though by using the phrase “unforeseen kiss,” I get the image of a surprise and I don’t like surprises). Churches want to sing “How He Loves” without the image of messiness as portrayed in the original version of the song.

This piece is not meant to bring up the whole debate again. There’s no use beating a dead horse. I use it as a reference because it shows a greater truth about modern worship music in the evangelical church: we don’t like vulgar worship.

The word vulgar was originally used to describe the language of common people. Today, it is generally used to describe something lacking good taste or referring to coarse and rude language. When I use the word, I’m talking about the language of common people.

Modern worship seems plagued by “Stepford Wife” theology. We say to people that even in the darkest of moments, they should still praise God. To, basically, put on a mask and sing words to God that you don’t mean. In doing this, we have robbed songs and hearts of authenticity. In the evangelical church, songs are sung each week that deal with God’s love, Christ’s love, God’s power and strength, grace, etc. Anytime we deal with dark themes, the song will inevitably redeem that darkness. It is uncomfortable for us to sing songs that do not resolve. But the Psalms seem to paint a completely different picture. For instance:

Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem. We put away our harps, hanging them on the branches of poplar trees. For our captors demanded a song from us. Our tormentors insisted on a joyful hymn: “Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!” But how can we sing the songs of the lord while in a pagan land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget how to play the harp. May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I fail to remember you, if I don’t make Jerusalem my greatest joy. lord, remember what the Edomites did on the day the armies of Babylon captured Jerusalem. “Destroy it!” they yelled. “Level it to the ground!” O Babylon, you will be destroyed. Happy is the one who pays you back for what you have done to us. Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks! – Psalm 137

I love this psalm. It portrays such depth and anguish. Even when they talk about rejoicing, we shudder at the thought of babies being smashed against rocks.
Psalm 22 is another psalm that is dark and yet still manages to worship God. It aptly describes the feelings of the author:
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief.
And then is able to worship God in those feelings:
Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. Our ancestors trusted in you, and you rescued them. They cried out to you and were saved. They trusted in you and were never disgraced.
I am not advocating that our songs become morbid and depressing. I am advocating, however, that songs begin to echo the feelings of the common people. This is one of the things that I love about the Episcopal church. It is able to capture all of these emotions in one service through liturgy. There is nothing more humbling and beautiful than to say “Lord, have mercy” over and over.
There are several Sundays I do not want to sing about God’s grace because I feel like I have abused it and have lost the privilege to sing those words.
There are several Sundays I do not want to sing about God’s strength because I do not see it in the atrocities happening around me.
There are several Sundays I do not want to sing at all. I just want to sit in silence and repeat, “Lord, have mercy.”
Evangelical services carry with them a component of happiness. We want people leaving feeling energized and ready to take on the world. But as I have been rereading the Psalms, I see something different being sung.
I understand that worship isn’t about me and that it is about God. But you cannot say that all of these forced songs of happiness are about God. They are about us feeling better. They are about us escaping troubles. They are about us trying to assimilate the people into thinking/feeling the same way about God.
If worship is truly about God, then one will understand that there are several different words that need to be said. Not just words that point to happiness and satisfaction. Words that point to discord, words that point to anger, words that point to sin, words that point to abandonment, etc. These words need to be said because they are all part of the human experience with God.
Through these vulgar words, we will discover the greatness of God.

The Downside of Being Truly Honest

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For the past several months, I have been thoroughly enjoying looking for ministry positions. I have gone through several interviews, visited a few different places, and have said more about myself than I ever cared. Unfortunately, I have not found a position. So now, I am looking at going to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC. Hopefully, I will be continuing my M.Div. there. I am hoping that this does not sound like I am going to Grad School because I am not hirable. Sometimes I fear that may be the perception. Perhaps I am not the ideal candidate, however.

One of the questions that a candidate is always asked is: “Can you tell us about some of your weaknesses?” This is a fun question. I love this question. It gives me a chance to be honest with them on what I see as a possible problem. However, I have learned that there is an art to answering this question. This art is one that I refuse to put into practice, though.

I usually come right out and say what my weaknesses are: stubbornness, anger, temper, misunderstood sense of humor, appearing nonchalant, pride, etc. I am sure most of you can point out my weaknesses (an addiction to coffee is not one of them). So I come right out and say those things. This has not been beneficial in the job search.

I have learned that there are different ways of saying these things. For instance, instead of saying “I am pretty stubborn when it comes to what I want to do.” You should say, “I am a little too driven to accomplish my ideas.”

Do not say: “I have an anger issue.” Say, “Sometimes I am overwhelmed with righteous anger.”
Do not say: “I have a short temper.” Say, “There are worldly annoyances that cause me to get upset rather quickly.”
Do not say: “Some people do not understand my sense of humor because I joke about things that should not be joked about.” Say, “I love laughter…a little too much sometimes.”
Do not say: “Sometimes it appears that I do not care about people or their situation.” Say, “I sometimes zone out when people are talking to me because I am busy thinking about things that need to be done.”
Do not say: “I am very prideful.” Say, “I do not struggle with pride.” (That is just another way of saying you are prideful…but it makes it seem like you aren’t)

It seems like some places I have interviewed would rather me say: “I care too much,” or “I devote all of my free time to my ministry,” or “I do not read the Bible enough,” or “I am not as spiritually mature as I would like to be.” We would rather our weaknesses be portrayed in a good light. However, “I care too much,” is just another way of saying, “I do not know how to let go of things. I worry about many problems that I should not be worrying about.” “I devote all of my free time to my ministry,” is just another way of saying, “I am not good at time management and will probably burn out quickly.” “I do not read the Bible enough,” is just another way of saying, “I do not read the Bible at all,” or “I have set too high of expectations upon myself and cannot live up to them. This means that I do not know how to set realistic goals.” “I am not as spiritually mature as I would like to be,” … well let’s not even go there.

The point is this. I would rather be brutally honest than try and portray my weaknesses in a good light. The only good thing about my weaknesses are that in them, God is strong. I am stubborn; but God continually shows that He can break me down. I have a short temper; God still uses me despite the fact that I’ll get mad. I have a borderline inappropriate sense of humor; God still uses me to help lighten moods and situations.

I will never cover up who I truly am to get hired at a church. There is nothing I despise more than inauthenticity. I know, I am not hirable. I have a bachelor’s degree, limited experience (by most churches’ standards), and weaknesses that are shown for what they are. I know there is probably more that goes into it than just that. However, as I continue looking for positions, it seems more and more like I should change who I am to try and impress the church. That is something I will never do. I will never try and impress. I will be me. 100% me. If it is not something that is desired, that’s okay. It is better to hire me because of me, than to hire me because of I put on a good show.

Be authentic.