Frequently I am asked to do a Pastor's Recommendation for people from our Pierced community who are are applying for graduate school, a missions program, seminary or job that needs personal references.
I don't mind doing things...in fact, I really like doing them and honestly bragging about individuals from our community of faith who lead with confidence, humility and compassion.
Recently I was filling out a reference form for someone who is applying to a reputable seminary. The forms are fairly standard, containing questions with boxes to check that range poor/fair/good/above average/superior/uncertain. The questions are almost always the same from application to application, but one question really jumped out at me on this form:
"Is the applicant neat and appropriately dressed?"
Now, I am not sure how to take that. Are they asking if this female applicant is walking around in a bikini around church or if she wears cut-off jeans that drag at the ankle. Are they asking if they shop at Abercrombie or Old Navy or even the Thrift Store? Do they want to know if they have a nose ring or bleached hair? Is it the difference between wearing a suit and tie everyday versus a t-shirt, jeans and a hat backwards?
What if I checked every box "above average" or "superior" for issues such as character, leadership, servant's heart, walk with God and relationships with others but checked "poor" or "fair" with the neatly dressed question Would that keep them from being accepted to this seminary?Should it keep them from being accepted?
I am not trying to make a mountain out of a molehill here, but I guess what I deciphered from the question on the seminary application is that appearance does matter. As I read 1 Samuel 16:7 what do I do with that question?
What if they aren't dressed 'appropriately' (a petty subjective adverb) because that's their style? Or what if they are unable to purchase clothes from any other place but from the Thrift Store? Are we wanting the pastors and spiritual leaders of the future to look preppy?
Is that an 'appropriate' question for a seminary reference form? Does that question reveal values or am I reading into this too much?
More musings on community (or the lack thereof in contemporary America)...
When we say that we are building or creating community I wonder if that comes off as arrogant to God Almighty.
Can we really 'create' community?
Are we capable of doing such a thing among other believers?
To me, it makes it sound as though it is completely up to us -- If we fail, community fails.
But where is the Holy Spirit's role in community?
Can healthy God-honoring community be built without dependence upon the Holy Spirit's guidance?
Certainly, we can put ourselves in a posture of willingness to see community happen. A willingness to be transparent (I tell you my junk) and vulnerable (I invite you into my junk) and a commitment to be honest and to be a good listener to others, etc) are all good postures for community to occur. Honestly, I can't expect community to occur if I am arrogant, dishonest, holding back and disrespectful to others.
But can we really create it?
It's like a garden. I can plant the seed, till the ground, make sure the seed is protected from predators and water it regularly (all things I can control) but I still can't make it grow.
We do our part, the Spirit does His. We are partnering together to see that come to fruition.
Okay, I've made my case: What are your thoughts: it is possible to 'create' community on our own or is it the Spirit's doing? What is each person's role?
In a postmodern context, we know that language is important. And language loses its meaning and significance when it is abused, overused, misinterpreted or used out of context. It is cheapened, it becomes diluted. I believe this is one of the reasons why one of the Ten Mandates for how we are to live, given to Moses on Sinai, is that we are not to take the Lord's name in vain.
I've been pondering how we use the word 'community' a lot lately. Of course, I am not referring to the communities that we live and work in (our local geographical context, but what God is calling us to in sacrificial, ongoing, God-honoring, others-minded agape love for one another).
We've heard the word community so much in the past few years I sometimes wonder if we're abusing it...or not understanding the significance of its meaning. Talking with some other individuals who are pastors (who I don't know very well other than on a surface level) we began to talk about some deeper issues. After about five minutes one of the pastors interrupted and said, "Isn't this great...we're building community here..."
His comment startled me and jostled me and I wasn't sure why. I think it's because of the language issue. I hope he didn't think I was just trying to be a jerk, but I simply said, "No, we're not." He was taken aback and asked me to explain.
I went on to say that I didn't believe that one deep conversation for five minutes builds community. Sure, it's only when we're vulnerable that we grow, but I can sit down next to some guy sitting in 13B on our flight to Chicago and pour my heart out to him enough to make him grab the Kleenex box, but that doesn't mean we are building community, does it? It's a great thing and all, but it doesn't merit the label 'community' being slapped on to the conversation.
Community happens when we are willing to sacrifice deeply for other individuals and where we remain in an ongoing accountable relationship with one another. It means we sacrifice the 'me' for the 'we.' Most churches aren't communities.
I think community is like beauty. We can certainly spot it when it walks in the room even though we may not be able to explain it entirely.
So, let's be careful with our language. Just because we're healthily sharing our hearts with one another doesn't mean we're building community.
God may be honored, but let's just call it 'God honoring conversation' then...
Truth, it is said, is stranger than fiction. But what happens when Truth becomes fiction?
This is the question revolving around the controversy of James Frey's runaway bestseller memoir A Million Little Pieces (made famous by being a top pick for Oprah's book club). It's sold over 3.5 million copies. Frey claims everything in it was true.
However, when investigative reporters checked into details in the book that detail the life of the author they found that it was untrue. Lots of it was made up. Memoir, as we know, is a genre of true, non-fiction, first-person telling of life. Some are claiming it should be called a novel, not a memoir.
Frey appeared on Larry King Live to talk about the controversy. In that interview he admitted to 18 pages of "embellishments," which he justified as "less than five percent of the total book."
He said something that has rubbed me wrong: "The important aspect of a memoir is getting at the essential truth. I stand by the essential truth of my book...I don't think I'd change anything."
Doubleday Publishers shrugged off the accusations of dishonesty essentially saying, so what...it's sold a ton of books. Oprah basically did the same thing. While she complained about the controversy she said that whether it was true or not, it didn't matter because it impacted her deeply.
It reminds me of someone I knew who claimed to always tell the truth...plus or minus ten percent...sounds like he and Frey would get along well.
As Christ followers committed to Truth, how are we to respond to this? This wreaks of relativity and subjectivity. If I could have called in to Larry King I would have asked Frey "You talk about essential truth. What is non-essential truth and who determines if truth is essential or non-essential?"
These are important questions we must deal with, ponder and address. This isn't a literary issue limited to the far-reaching, often unvisited back corners of your public library. This is the tip of the iceberg illuminating an important moral and spiritual issue in our lives.
Truth is Truth and we are called to be beacons of that Truth.
Some good news and bad news on the writing front for me...
We'll start with the bad news.
It's not terrible news, but it would have been fun if it worked out.
As many of you know, Eugene Peterson (pastor for thirty years, former professor, writer and translator of The Message Bible) is one of my mentors. He and I have written letters back and forth to one another for a few years now. Usually the letters include questions about ministry, life, balance, faith, relationships, church life, etc. Each letter back from him is like a gift under the Christmas tree. I tear the envelope open with great fervor to read his advice and precious wisdom from the life of a seasoned pastor.
Several months ago NavPress proposed a joint writing project with Eugene Peterson and myself, publishing letters that we've written back and forth to one another over the past few years in a 'letters to a young pastor' type project. I was excited about the potential of this project, but knew that it would be up to NavPress to convince Eugene of the project. After a few months thinking about the possibility, Eugene came back and said, "No, thanks." I wasn't completely surprised, knowing that he has a five-book contact deadline that he is working under. He also said that he didn't want the project to jeopardize our already existing writing relationship. I can respect that. In fact, I appreciate the fact that he considered our writing relationship was important enough to not want to jeopardize it. It would have been an honor to work on a project with him, but, oh well... We shall just keep up the writing relationship between the two of us and not publish it for all the world to see.
Now for the good news...
In another potential writing project, several weeks ago NavPress announced they would be publishing a Contemplative Bible in 2007, which would help readers participate in the ancient contemplative Bible reading practice of lectio divina ("holy readings" in Latin) as they read Scripture.
They were looking for contributors to the project and I was approached, along with several other potential contributors, and asked to submit a few lectio divina devotional samples. From these potential contributors NavPress would pick two or three for this project. A few weeks ago I submitted my sample devotionals and have been waiting to hear back.
This morning I received an email from the publisher informing me that I had been selected to be one of three contributors to this project, which will be releasing in early 2007. I'll be responsible for writing a little over 100 devotionals that use lectio divina. I'm a bit freaked out that I will be helping to contribute to a 'study Bible'-type format, but I am so excited to begin writing project #3.
Yesterday Megan and I saw the highly acclaimed independent film End of the Spear which is playing in select theatres. It's the story of Jim Elliot (made famous by his wife Elizabeth) and his four missionary friends who were killed in the jungle of Ecuador.
My thoughts of the film...
The theatre was packed and the movie was gripping.
The acting, production and cinematography weren't the highest of quality (no big surprise for Christian movies, I guess) but, to my relief, it wasn't 'churchy' and overly Christian. The gospel message was there, but it was fleshed out more than told. I really appreciated the thoughtfulness of how Christ was presented throughout the film.
However, the plot was stirring. You truly get lost in the story. Though I had read the books and was very familiar with the story of these missionaries I learned a ton more and found myself swept up into the story. The story is told through the eyes of Steve Saint, the young son of one of the missionaries Nate Saint who was killed. I found it impossible to not get a little misty-eyed as I watched it and I would venture to say it is almost impossible for you as well, should you choose to watch it. It is one of the most powerful displays of grace and forgiveness on the big screen I have ever seen.
I recommend you go and see it...it's inspiring and challenging.
I've been pondering this a bit over the last few days. Who leaders choose to surround themselves with will determine a lot about their ability to lead. Think about the 'A' leaders you know (I understand this may be difficult...there are not very many 'A' leaders in our world). Then think about the other people they have around them. They're pretty sharp leaders, too, aren't they? And think about good ('B') leaders you know. They have attracted other leaders, but there is an understanding, a pecking order, a heirarchy of "who's in charge." Big difference.
Before coming on staff with Pierced, Megan and I took a week away in the mountains to read, pray, sleep and relax. I read a book on the leadership style of Teddy Roosevelt and it was incredibly insightful. TR was confident enough in his leadership ability that he surrounded himself with men on his cabinet who he claimed to be better than he was. And because of his willingness to pick a team that was better that he was, he attributed this as the reason why he is seen as such a great leader.
The new national bestseller, Team of Rivals, is a look at Abraham Lincoln's leadership and his willingness to surround himself with great leaders, even if they were on opposite ends of the political spectrum. That takes guts.
To be an A leader that attracts other leaders who are just as good as them (and sometimes better) means that that A leader must be pretty confident; willing to swallow their pride. They must see the greater cause to be more important than the advancement of their own personal agendas.
That takes a lot of courage and self-confidence to do such a thing...but it's worth it.
Any other thoughts hitting you on this concept of 'A' leadership?