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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Let’s Just Forget Communion

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Once upon a time, I worked as a part-time worship pastor at my home church. I probably wasn’t great at it, but I enjoyed doing it. As a part-time worship pastor, one of my duties was to help with the organization of service. Now this usually doesn’t require much because everything is set in stone; but every now and then, I got to change some things around.

It’s crazy for me to reflect on my life since this only happened 3 years ago. 3 years ago, I thought I knew everything. Today, I really know everything…or so I like to tell myself.

I used to try and cut the time spent on communion down.

Could we get more servers to speed the process along?
Can we shorten the long-winded meditation?
How about we cut communion this week?

I grew up in a church where we took communion each and every week. For the longest of time, I thought it was the worst snack possible. It’s unfortunate how the evangelical movement misses the pinnacle of why we gather.

I thought we gathered for worship.
I thought we gathered for a sermon.
I thought we gathered for a really cool element that would bring all the unchurched people to church.
I thought we gathered so we could discuss the potluck next week.
I thought we gathered so that we could go to heaven.

I was wrong.

Communion. That is why we gather. Communion is the pinnacle of every gathering, and yet we try and shorten it each week because it makes us uncomfortable and we don’t know how to approach it. In her book, Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans writes some of the most beautiful and challenging thoughts on communion (I would love to quote it, but I’ve lent the book out). She understands the importance of communion and also understands how the evangelical church abandons communion each and every week for things like…

a longer sermon.
extra songs.
cool elements.
announcements (I remember someone asking me once if they could have a longer time for announcements to discuss some important things).

But why would that bother us? Most of us aren’t bothered by how communion is continuously pushed to the fringe of many evangelical services.

Most of us don’t care that communion reminds us that Jesus ate His final meal with His friends…and His enemies.

Most of us don’t care that communion shows us how to serve one another.

Most of us don’t care that communion gives us hope for the return of Christ as we recite, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”

Most of us don’t care that communion is a reminder of what the Kingdom will be like.

It is disheartening to see this. What is even more disheartening, however, is how we have turned communion into a personal time with Jesus to thank Him for everything He did for us. Doesn’t this thought go completely against the word communion?

I grew up in a tradition where we passed the tray. This was a terrifying experience. I always felt like I was holding up the body and blood of Christ from others…or worse yet, that I may spill the body and blood of Christ all over the floor.

31827fee3d937112330f6a7067007ee6Sometimes, I go to the Episcopal Church. Each time I go, I approach the altar with several other strangers and kneel down to receive the body and blood of Christ. In these moments, I truly feel like I am in communion with Christ and with others. It is no longer an individualized moment.

My tradition takes a memorialist view of communion (that it is purely a time to remember what Christ has done). I believe this has a lot to do with why we don’t really care about it. We can remember what Christ has done through other ways, right?

The Orthodox view is The Divine Mystery. Christ is present in communion. We don’t know how. But He is. It is mysterious. If we all treated communion in this way, that Christ was present, wouldn’t we pay a bit more attention to it?

I fear that when we push communion to a 5-minute time slot where we rush people to hurry up and take the body and blood, we forget the reason why we gather.

We don’t gather to make church cool.
We don’t gather to make the unchurched feel welcomed.
We don’t gather for an awesome worship experience.
We don’t gather for a sermon that makes us think.
We don’t gather to spend time with our friends.

We gather for communion. Because in communion, everything begins to make sense. In communion, friends and enemies come together. In communion, Christ’s Kingdom is experienced. In communion, the church finds its hope. In communion, Christ is present and exalted.

It is time to bring into focus this sacrament. May we never push it into a 5-minute time slot. May we never individualize it. May we never think lightly about it. May we never stop someone from partaking in it. Jesus didn’t stop Peter or Judas…so why do we stop others?

In our attempts to be culturally relevant, we have lost all respect for the sacredness of communion. It is time that we repent of our behavior and return to this act that is the focal point the church needs.

Sabbath For Yourself

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IMG_3159I usually know when I need to sabbath (or rest). My personality is usually a bit more cynical and I am easily angered. Stress seems to be all around me. It becomes difficult to remember my daily schedule. God is likely a distant thought for me.

Unfortunately, when I know I need a sabbath, it is usually too little too late. When your body tells you to rest, it’s usually because you should’ve rested long ago and now you are running on fumes. Is it any wonder why we see so many health issues among people who are young? They feel like if they stop, then they will fail.

For those in the church world, we tend to ignore the Sabbath because we are “doing God’s work and God never takes a break.” This thought is utter nonsense. Of course God takes a break.

Some equate their love for God with how much work they do for Him. This is disheartening because it loses sight of the Gospel message.

Some believe that the eternity of mankind rests on their shoulders. It must be hard to play God like that…which is why it is probably better that we let God play God.

Most that I know in ministry will say, “I rely on God.” However, that statement proves false unless sabbath happens. Our reliance on God is directly connected to how we sabbath.

We need to get rid of the image that working late from home is a good thing.

We need to get rid of the mindset that turning off our phones could be disastrous.

We need to stop fostering a culture that enables people to become solely dependent upon someone other than God.

We need to stop thinking that the eternal fate of humanity lies on the shoulders of those who work in a church.

We need to learn that it is okay to say no.

We need to learn that the same email will be there tomorrow.

We need to learn that work was never meant to destroy.

We need to learn that martyrdom is not spending all your time working in a church.

We need to know that we aren’t God.

I say that phrase a lot because I have to remind myself of that frequently. This is why I believe it is so important to sabbath for yourself. As a pastor, I can easily succumb to the thought that I am God. Of course, I wouldn’t come right out and say that; otherwise, I would be a heretic. But it is easy to think to yourself: “If I don’t meet with this person, what will he/she do?” Or “If I am not at every single thing this person does, then I am failing as a pastor.” Or “The more I do, the further God’s Kingdom is advanced.” Or “People need to know and I’m the only one who can say it.” Or “I am in charge of their discipleship and I have to be there for them at all times.”

When I begin to think those things, I realize that I think I am God.

If Jesus needed to get away every now and then, why do you think you don’t need it?

If God, after creating the world, decided to rest, then why do you see resting as weakness?

I fear sabbath because I fear the truth about my motivations.

Clear away all of the religious phrasing (doing it all for the Kingdom, running on Jesus, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, etc.), and I find that I refuse to rest because I fear my motivations. Pastors, just like everyone else, want to leave their mark. They want to be remembered. They want to be the next Billy Graham, Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther, John Calvin, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer. We can say that we want to impact our community for Christ…but that can often transform into, “Caleb impacted the community for Christ,” or “Caleb’s church impacted the community for Christ.”

Sabbath puts us in our place. Sabbath humbles us. Sabbath reminds us that we are not the most important person in the world. Sabbath forces us to admit that our motivations are not pure. Sabbath tells us that God does not desire a martyr who died because he/she refused to take a break. Sabbath is the truth that in my weakness, Christ is strong. Sabbath points us to community. Sabbath is part of the Kingdom. Sabbath lets God be God.

How about you?

Do you really work as hard as you do to provide a good life for your family? Or are you working as hard as you do because you want to be remembered? Because you want to be successful?

Did you really take that second job to make ends meet? Or did you take that second job because of greed?

Do you refuse to rest because you don’t have time? Or do you refuse to make time because you are fearful of what you might hear from God?

If you take a break, I’m sure the world won’t come crashing down…but if it does, at least you’ll be reminded that God is God and you are not.

Women

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689a88267369f5e5c2d3360d618479e4Last year, I read (or rather, listened) to Tina Fey’s Bossypants. It was an autobiographical book dealing primarily with her years before and after Saturday Night Live. There was a part in the book where she mentioned that Lorne Michaels (creator and executive producer) was excited about her becoming part of the writing staff because he was looking to diversify. Fey was startled by the comment because she was a female and didn’t seem to think that being a female meant diversity. As the first female head writer of Saturday Night Live, it was interesting to read about her time there and about the changes she was able to make.

The 2012 election gave Congress 20 female senators, which is the most in US history.

In 2010, Kathryn Bigelow became the first female to win Best Director at the Oscars.

In 2013, General Motors named their first female CEO and it was also the first female CEO of a major automaker.

In 2008, Sarah Palin was the first female VP nominee. (**I have since been notified by my father, Tony Trimble, that Geraldine Ferraro was actually the first VP nominee for a major American party. Palin was just the first female VP candidate for the Republican party.**)

This year, the Golden Globes and the Oscars were hosted by females.

One would have to be ignorant to not see the strides that women have made in the past few years. From the entertainment industry to politics to business, women are being recognized and rewarded for their talent. They have been fighting an uphill battle for quite some time and with each accomplishment, they see how the fight has been worth it all.

But it’s far from over. Within the Church, there still seems to be a vast number of people who are against women in leadership roles. Most of the time, there are at least two passages that are brought up, sometimes 3, in regards to why this should be the case: I Corinthians 14.34 and I Timothy 2.12 (sometimes, they will also mention I Timothy 3.1-13).

What has always been intriguing to me about those passages is how we choose an extremely literal interoperation of them. But we do not use that same hermeneutic on other Pauline texts. For instance:

I Corinthians 11.4-6 (NLT) says this:

A man dishonors his head if he covers his head while praying or prophesying. But a woman dishonors her head if she prays or prophesies without a covering on her head, for this is the same as shaving her head. Yes, if she refuses to wear a head covering, she should cut off all her hair! But since it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut or her head shaved, she should wear a covering.

I have seen men praying with caps on before. But Paul says it is dishonorable. I guess that means a majority of the Pope’s prayers have been dishonorable. Women no longer wear head coverings to church. Why do we no longer make them do this?

I Timothy 2.8-9 (NLT) says this:

In every place of worship, I want men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God, free from anger and controversy. And I want women to be modest in their appearance. They should wear decent and appropriate clothing and not draw attention to themselves by the way they fix their hair or by wearing gold or pearls or expensive clothes.

It’s been a long time since I went to church and saw men praying with holy hands lifted up to God. And I have seen numerous pieces of jewelry on women in church, as well. We will allow all of these changes.

But women must still remain silent and should not have any position of leadership over a man.

I think we sometimes forget that God appointed Deborah a judge, had Anna the prophet be the first to proclaim that Jesus is the redemption, applauded Priscilla for her faith and how she spread the good news, and had a group of women tell the disciples that the Christ had been resurrected. Women haven’t always been silent. On the contrary, they have spoken powerful messages concerning the movements of God and His Church.

I don’t think that Paul was against women in leadership in the church. I think he was against anything that stood in the way of the Gospel being preached and in that church, several women were doing just that. But Christ liberated women through His teachings and I don’t think that Paul went back on that at all.

One of my favorite parts of Christ’s life is how a woman prophesied His redemptive nature and how women proclaimed the truth of His redemptive nature in the end. In the end, Christ commanded the women to go and tell the other disciples about what they had just seen. I think Christ is still commanding women to go and proclaim the good news. I think Christ is still calling women to serve in the church in leadership positions.

And who knows, maybe if they did, each Sunday would begin to look a little bit more like Resurrection Sunday.

I Just Don’t Understand Anymore…

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“Why is there so much suffering in the world?”

“Why do bad things happen to good people?”

“Why did my child die?”

“If you commit suicide, do you go to hell?”

“Why is there only one way to God?”

“Why doesn’t God speak?”

If you’ve been in the church long enough, you’ve probably heard most of these questions. Or, if you’re like me, you’ve probably asked some of these questions. The church is a pro at coming up with answers for them:

There is suffering because of the fallen nature of man.

Bad things happen to good people because God is testing them.

Your child died because it was her/his time. God has a lesson in all of this.

Suicide is outside of God’s will.

There is only one way to God because Jesus said so.

God doesn’t speak because we aren’t listening.

Great answers. Right? Anytime I am asked one of these questions, I freeze up. Part of me wants to give the typical cliché answer. But a huge part of me doesn’t. A huge part of me wants to simply say, “I don’t understand.” Most of today’s evangelical pastors have been taught to empathize with people. While empathizing, I fear that we seek a quick fix for ourselves. Giving an empty answer, such as the ones above, leaves us, as evangelical pastors, feeling comforted. We get severely discomforted if we begin to believe that we truly don’t understand.

In “Pub Theology,” author Bryan Berghoef writes, “As Christians, it seems we have an innate need to control the flow of information to ensure desired outcomes.” 2 things about this quote. 1) Buy this book. Click here. You won’t regret it. 2) How true is this? How many times have you come up with an answer so that you can have the desired outcomes?

We seek to comfort so that someone will not leave God.

We shift what could be assumed as God being unjust to God working out His plan.

We say that we aren’t listening so that people will believe that God is still speaking today.

Within the world of Christianity, we take comfort in bad answers and tremble at the terrifying possible truth. I believe that if we sit back and think about our cliché answers, we would be extremely dissatisfied. We would begin to see how our answers were not really comforting, nor were they really answers. Instead, they were empty phrases, muttered by the empathizer to help him/her feel better.

If we begin to admit that we don’t understand, people will leave the faith. Because faith is about having all the right answers. Faith is about knowing the right words to say at any given moment. Faith is about remaining confident. Faith is about hiding your doubts. Right?

I believe that we are scared. Humanity seeks answers but none of the answers are satisfying. In our effort to come up with answers, I believe we have given God attributes that don’t describe Him. We try to describe the intangible with tangible terms. In doing so, we have done an injustice not only to God, but to the world.

So the next time someone comes up with a hard question, instead of giving the cliché answer, maybe it would be better to say, “I just don’t understand anymore. Perhaps I never will. But it is better having someone who doesn’t understand with you than to be by yourself.” I think that is what faith is: being together and not understanding.

Jesus is Unemployable

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A church of 500 wants a new music minister. Qualifications desired? 12 years of music experience and a Masters in Music.

A church of 150 wants an associate pastor. Qualifications desired? Masters in Bible, proven success in a previous church, and correct answers to several questions about the relationship with your wife.

A church of 150 wants a senior pastor. Qualifications desired? Experienced preacher.

A church of 50 wants a senior pastor. Qualifications desired? A wife with musical abilities.

A church of 500 wants a youth minister. Qualifications desired? 7 years of experience in a church of 500 or more and a Master of Divinity.

A church of 200 wants a preacher. Qualifications desired? 5 years experience.

A church of 150 wants a youth minister. Qualifications required? 5-7 years of experience. Musical abilities. Bachelor’s Degree.

I think you get the point. As I began looking for churches to serve in while pursuing my M.Div., this is what I ran into. It seemed like every church I looked at had high qualifications desired. Some were as ridiculous as 12 years of experience for a church of 100!

My favorite out of the examples given had to be the one that said: “Qualifications desired? A wife with musical abilities.” How is that a qualification?! I guess that’s an easy way to narrow down the playing field.

As I was looking through all of these churches and what they were looking for in a candidate, I began to laugh. I thought to myself, “Jesus couldn’t even get hired at this church!” Wait. Does that sound right? Jesus couldn’t get hired at a church?

Was he married? No…
Did he have musical abilities? According to “Jesus Christ, Superstar” he did…
How many years of experience? Well…3 years of ministry…
How about education? He had it…we can assume…
Did his wife have musical abilities? Refer to the top…

It is quite startling. Isn’t it? Somewhere in the history of the church, we began placing higher and higher qualifications on ministers. Part of me is not opposed to this. I value education. I believe that we should educate ourselves as much as possible.

But as for the ridiculous years of experience…that is a little out of hand. There used to be a time when churches gave chances. That is one thing I love about my home church. They desire to hire someone without experience. They want to be able to give those years of experience to someone.

Churches seem to no longer want to take chances. Perhaps that is because they have been burnt. Perhaps it is because they are concerned about numbers. Perhaps it is because they think they are at a level where they deserve the best.

I want to work at a church one day that takes chances. I want to work at a church that looks at experience on paper and says, “So you don’t have a lot. But tell me what you think you can do.” The church needs to begin taking chances again. Not just within hiring pastors; but chances in general (another topic for another time).

So, if you are a church and you are reading this, give someone a chance. Take a risk. Isn’t there some sense of ego in desiring someone with 7 years of experience? Have we, as a church, begun to think of ourselves as advanced as needing that? Do we think we “deserve” that? It is rightfully ours? Is it okay to desire that because we are so big? The answer to all of these questions: yes. Because one person can destroy the Church. Christ’s bride is doomed if you hire someone inexperienced. Because those ministers involved in the affairs, embezzlement scams, and porn searching were all inexperienced ministers….weren’t they? Or were they ministers who worked on gaining years of experience and neglected integrity.

I’m happy that God looks at the heart and not at anything else. It gives me comfort. Whenever I read Hebrews 11, I am reminded that God does not desire 7 years of experience, a M.Div., and a wife with musical abilities. He desires us to want to be used.

So how is this doable? This sounds pretty, but it is not realistic. This would take too much time. We would have to call all these candidates. We would actually have to carry on conversations with them. We would have to treat them like people rather than numbers. In reality, we would have to give more attention to who we are hiring. And who knows…if we stopped looking at the years of experience a typical workplace desires, maybe we would hire Jesus (figuratively, of course…I’m not being literal. You see how this all connects to the beginning. It makes sense, right? I hope so.).Image