Friday, January 31, 2014


Sometimes I get really confused.

A perfect example showed up in this month's copy of Christianity Today, in the 2014 Book Awards.  Under the category "Spirituality," there are two winners and at first glance, they couldn't be more different.

The first is entitled Death By Living and the second is called An Unhurried Life. Death By Living is based on the carpe diem premise that "life is meant to be spent" and is described as "sweaty with urgency."   Meanwhile, An Unhurried Life is about living more by doing less and finding balance between work and rest.

These two books reflect a growing dichotomy in the Christian world I live in.  On the one side, we have those who call us to live radically, to leave it all on the field, to pour it all out.  They quote Jesus and his call to sacrifice everything for the Kingdom. We need to do more, more, more because the need is great and the urgency is overwhelming.  They roll their eyes when there is talk about finding balance or when mission is defined as staying in your own ordinary life and being more loving on a small scale.  "There is a world to save!" they cry.  (I've noticed that the books, at least, are mostly written by men.)

On the other side, we have those who want us to do less and be more.  Their books often have tea cups or flowers on the covers.  They remind us that our pace is insane and that we need to slow down, that more is not always more and that the spiritual life is about reflection and prayer and love in ordinary life.  They point to Jesus and what they call his unhurried life but they also tend to quote Mother Teresa and her idea that we can do no great things for God, that we can only do small things with great love.  They roll their eyes when there is talk about big initiatives and kingdom building and robust discipleship.  It seems that these books are often written by women.

Most of you have already started to wave your hands in the air, ready to interject:  "But can't it be both/and?"  Well, sure.  I mean, we all know that's the right answer.  But how exactly do you pull that off?  I can't figure out how to do both more and less without losing my mind.

Or maybe it's more true to say that every time I find a balance that works for me, I hear the voices that say that I'm foolish for pursuing balance, that God doesn't ever tell us to live balanced lives but rather to live our lives full of passion and radical sacrifice.  And then, when I find a productive pace that feels energizing but also leaves little time for friendships and reading, someone warns me to slow down, to reflect more, to have more margin.

It makes me a little crazy that at my age, this is still so hard.  I'm still trying to find my own path among the voices, a path I can live with somewhere between Death by Living and The Unhurried Life.

Chick prayers

I was on the teaching team for a regional leadership development initiative and we were meeting for one of our week-long retreats.  Because most of the participants were evangelical pastors, my friend KC and I were the only women at the retreat.  One evening at dinner, the worship leader asked me if I would pray the closing prayer at that night's worship service.  I said sure, that I'd be happy to.  He smiled big.  "Thanks!  We need a chick prayer."

Um, what?  All these years later, I still don't know what that means.  Was he feeling some kind of pressure to include women in the service?  Was it a novelty addition to the order of worship?  What stayed with me was the uneasy awareness that when I prayed in that setting, I was not offering a prayer but a "chick prayer."

This month is Martha Stearns Marshall "Invite a Woman to Preach" month and so I'll be preaching this Sunday in a Baptist church.  I said yes to the invitation because I support the intentionality of putting women in the pulpit but I long for the day when a woman in the pulpit is a preacher and not a "woman preacher."

Along those same lines, a blog post is circulating challenging us to read more female authors.    For too many of us, men and women, men write books and women write books for women.  The most encouraging sign of change that I've seen lately is the way that so many men in my evangelical world have embraced the work of Brene Brown and, to a lesser degree, Rachel Held Evans, although I think that in both cases, men are more likely to watch BB's TED talks and read RHE's blog than they are to read their books.

I'll try not to be tedious but since this is my personal blog and I can write about what I want to and since these issues are on my mind a lot lately, I'll be pondering them here, I think.  I would love to hear your comments and experiences.  Let's have a conversation . . .

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Past and present

I had been 18 for just about 6 weeks when, as a new freshman at Baylor, I went by the student center to look at the job board.  There on the board was a job opening, written in pen on a piece of notebook paper and fastened to the board with duct tape, for a youth director position at a small church about 45 minutes from Waco.  I immediately called the number with unwarranted hope and set up an interview.  When it turned out that no one else applied, I got the job.

That week--my first week in ministry--I met a little boy named Bubba.  Ten years old, sandy-haired and wide-eyed, Bubba came from a loving and difficult home and I think church was sometimes a refuge for him.  He was full of faith and hope and love for God and love for our little church and the church loved him right back.  I loved and discipled all those kids but Bubba was special.  Three years later, just before I graduated, Bubba preached the youth sermon at my going-away service.

I thought of Bubba so often and wondered what happened to him.  We stayed in touch by letters for a few years and then his family started moving around and we lost touch.  I would check about once a year but never could find him on Google or Facebook.  Then this week, I got the email I had hoped for with the subject line:  Thornton.  He asked if I was the TT who had been the youth director at that little church.  He said he'd like to talk to me.  I smiled so big.

We talked for about 45 minutes.  Life has been both good and hard for Bubba.  He changed his name and also moved around constantly as a teenager.  He became a country musician, which isn't an easy life.  His marriage broke down but he has several beautiful children.  Not too long ago, he went back to college and got a degree.  He's now working on a master's degree in counseling.

Life kind of hammered down the hopeful faith of his childhood but lately, he found God again and another little church that he could love and that can love him.  The pastor of this little church asked him, "Do you happen to play any instruments?  We have some instruments but no one who knows how to play them."  And that's how the former country musician became the new guitarist/drummer/singer at the little charismatic church in a little west Texas town.  

Friday, January 3, 2014

Good Reads Part 2

I'm sure no one's surprised to know that my favorite book of the year was Brene Brown's newest, Daring Greatly.  If you haven't read it yet, what are you waiting for?  I have two copies--I'll loan you one.  More research and more inspiration to live with courage, compassion and connection in the face of vulnerability and shame--I loved it and I've seen the difference it has made in my friends and clients.

This was my second favorite read this year:

Yes, I know it has bad words in it.  Yes, I know the art isn't very good.  Yes, I know it has a lot of stories about dogs and I'm not really a dog person.  This book is so funny that I could only read one story at a time (and also, I didn't want it to end).  Allie Brosh writes one of my favorite blogs (by the same name) and it was fun to have some of her stories in book form.  I needed this book.

This was my favorite professional read this year.  Brief solution-focused therapy is a lot harder to do than it sounds and it's never going to be my primary approach but this book was a great reminder to pursue solutions over insight and to keep things as brief as possible.  The stories in the book mostly fall into the too-good-to-be-completely-true category but they're inspiring as well and I use the techniques and some of the underlying philosophy on a daily basis.  I recommend this book especially for pastors who do counseling and for coaches.  The approach won't be a perfect fit but the skills and the perspectives will all apply.

All the hospitals in New Orleans experienced chaos in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  At only one, however, were patients euthanized or left to die.  This book is written by a journalist and gets a little bogged down in the details of who said what when.  However, it's a fascinating study of systems theory and especially the effects of chronic anxiety on a system during a crisis.  For all of you who have heard me teach on how anxiety makes us stupid, this is exhibit A.  This is also a cautionary tale about leadership.  Toward the end of the book, the author compares the horrific experience at Memorial with the stories of two other inner-city New Orleans hospitals who also went through the Katrina crisis.  With a different history, different systems and especially very different leadership, the other two hospitals didn't experience the level of dysfunction that Memorial did and one of the hospitals actually thrived, recording its finest hour.  The effect of anxiety and the power of leadership . . . that's not what this book is about but that's what I got from this book.

This is the book from 2013 that I'm already rereading because I'm sure I didn't get it all the first time.  The story is pretty familiar--girl grows up in church, girl rejects everything and goes off into life of drugs and promiscuity, girl meets boy and ends up in seminary and becoming a Lutheran pastor.  If you like Sara Miles and Rachel Held Evans, you'll like this one. The stories of redemption are great but the part that really got to me was the way she puts them in the context of resurrection, which is my life-word for 2014, partly because of reading this book.  It's not a masterpiece but it meant a lot to me this year.

Other good nonfiction this year:

  • The Tell-Tale Brain:  A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human by V. S. Ramachandran is a really fascinating study of odd stories of brain damage and repair that tell us about how the brain works and sometimes how to heal it.
  • The Art of Neighboring by Dave Runyon, et. al.  It's sad that we need a book to teach us how to be good neighbors but this is a good book to teach us that.  It was very inspiring during our move.
  • Union with Christ:  Reframing Theology and Ministry for the Church by Todd Billings is a little book that is hard to read because every single sentence requires me to stop and think.  I picked this up when a friend recommended it in response to my request for a good book on Reformed theology and I would recommend it to others.

I guess this is a point for an important disclaimer . . . although that's not really the right word because I don't want to distance myself from what I've written here.  Anytime I review books, I hear from people (sometimes second-hand) that they are disappointed in my choices because there was bad language or the author "doesn't believe like we do."  Right.  I like a wide variety of books, I like to be exposed to different points of view, I'm not offended by cursing, especially if it's well-used and sometimes I just read a book because I want to.  So this list hasn't been "sanitized for your protection," and you'll just have to take a chance or not.  Getting to know books is a lot like getting to know people that way.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Good Reads from 2013

When I stopped keeping up with this blog, the one thing I heard from several of you was, "At least update the book list!"  So I did and I'm coming back this year with a few faves and raves.  Not quite as much detail as years past, but I hope it helps you get a sense of some good books.

I read a lot less this year than usual--moving to a new city and starting a new business will do that to a girl.  And I didn't read any bad books this year, not because I chose so well but because when I got bored, I just quit reading instead of reading to the bitter end, thinking "It's got to get better."  Ain't got no time for that.

So here are a few of the best:

In the fiction category, everything I read was worth reading and I recommend them all.

Silence by Shusaku Endo had been on my list for a long time and when Mowgli challenged me to read some Asian writers, I accepted the challenge.  Deeply profound, this book explores the silence of God in the face of suffering in subtle and surprising ways.  Because it is translated from the Japanese, it's not an easy read and doesn't have the feel of western fiction but I'm so glad I read it.  It's the kind of book that stays with you and visits you in your dreams.

I didn't read much fiction this year because it took me awhile to get a library card and I don't usually buy fiction.  These books were all really good reads with the right balance of sad and inspiring and characters you care about and want to keep up with:

  • The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
  • Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
  • And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
What was really fun was rereading (for at least the tenth time) the Harmony series by Philip Gulley:

If you've lived the church life like I have, these books (all 9 or 10 of them) are hilarious and touching.  They follow the life of a Quaker pastor in a small town and really capture the blessing, the grace and the discouragement of  ministry life but with a very, very light touch.  Each character is someone I know in real life and they have always made me laugh out loud, even though I know them by heart.  I think I enjoyed rereading them so much because we left the pastorate this year and because this was such a stressful year from beginning to end and because reading them felt like sinking into a grandmother's hug.  They're not great literature but they are dear old friends and I really needed them this year.  Also, I read them by the pool--which is literally NEXT DOOR to my new house--and that didn't hurt.

Tomorrow:  some good nonfiction reads