My Priestess

It’s a season of unexpected motion, of movement. Amber, my wife of nearly 18 years, has reached the end of a sort of wrestling down her identity, or maybe it’s just the beginning. She’s been my girl, my beauty, my prophetess for all these years. She’s been the thing that’s brought me to salvation again and again, even in the bleakest seasons. What is a lover but a type and shadow of divine love? Lover–I could use this could be a sort of holistic nomenclature, but is this who she is?

She’s been my lover, yes. She’s been the mother to my children, too. There were years of sippy cups, diaper changes, and late-night feedings. The years that followed have been filled with other things–comforting hugs, words of discipline (perhaps frustration), gut laughs. What is a mother but a shepherd? Mother–this is also a facet of who she is, but it hardly names the gem.

She’s been a friend, a giver, an encourager. She’s been faithful to minister Word and sacrament to her people, I suppose. Maybe more, she’s been faithful to the ministry of flowers, one of the unsung ministries of friendship. What is a friend but the embodiment of Word and sacrament? What is a friend but the gift of flowers. Yes, a flower knows a flower; a friend knows a friend, but even these are not taxonomy enough for my lady.

She’s lived into all these roles, roles that fit in her skin like a soul. Even still, she’s wrestled down her Who Am I? over these last 18 years, and she’s come to know this for sure: she is a chosen, a royal priestess, a peculiar woman. In this, she’s found a new sort of calling, one that’s taking her to seminary, to training, to stepping into the thing that so many have said she can’t, woman as she is. She’s walking into holy orders, maybe, and in that, she’ll preside over so much life and death, weddings and funerals alike. She’s accepting the role of shepherd, teacher, perhaps evangelist and prophet, and wearing these roles like some brilliant stole. And here’s the humbling beauty lacing it all–there may come a day when others come to see her as my shepherd, teacher, evangelist, and prophet. (This is what happens when your wife is a minister.) They’ll ask me how I feel about that, I suppose. I’ll smile, wink, knowing this isn’t the whole of who she is, and I’ll tell them this: “She’s always been all of this and so much more.”

 

 

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The Wedding of Weddings

There are things you hear at every Christian wedding:  the two shall become one flesh; what God has joined let no man put asunder; Christ will come for his bride.

The coming of Christ for the bride–this is a cosmic wonder. See him, the groom, waiting for the woman in white, composed of all of us, saints and sinners alike. See the witnesses, the stars and moon, the sister planets, the grasses of the field standing at attention. “Here it comes,” they whisper, “the end of all that groaning.” Hear the scriptures as they lead the ceremony, the vows, the pronouncement.

He leans in for the hot-mouthed kiss. We receive it. (Isn’t it passion that purifies?)

There is a delicate oneness, the bride and the Christ becoming one in that apocalyptic moment. And this is the moment you understand–this is why Christ left his father in the first place; isn’t it? Didn’t he come to make a way for our cleaving, the oneness that is the fulfillment of all things? Didn’t he try to tell us this the first time? And there, in that delicate understanding, he spins us. There, we all dance.

The great Christ leans in and whispers something saved for us from the beginning of all time, then releases us to his Father, our Father–hallowed be his name. He takes our hand.

There is the full-throated laughter we know, though we’ve never heard it. It’s the laughter that comes only at the end of one life and the beginning of another. It’s the joy of perfection throwing its head back with unbridled joy. Love has woken us from the long and dark winter of longing.

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Cultivating Contentment

Life has loops. Recurring dreams. Déjà vu. The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.(1) The record player needle hits the dust spot and skips back a second; it happens again and again and again. Loops, loops, and more loops—this is the way of conversation for me these days.

In the last two weeks, I’ve had a recurring conversation, a conversation on repeat. I’ve had this looped conversation with a businessmen, a housewife, a part-time spiritual director, and a few folks on social media, and each time, it started with the same way; they asked this question: How did you give up your day-to-day job to pursue something you love? (In my case, the day-to-day job was lawyering and the thing I love is writing, editing, and working with words.) They lean in after asking the question as if I might whisper the same secret life whispered to me just before I left my 12-year career. The question behind the question, the one they weren’t asking, was more akin to this: How did you get the gumption to leave the daily grind, the nine-to-five, The Man?

The question kept coming, and coming, and coming, until I could almost predict where it would come next. Recurring. Recurring. Recurring. And each time, I fumbled out some incomplete, perhaps incoherent answer about guts, or open doors, or courage. Each time, my answer rang hollow as an echo.

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7 Leadership Principles Guaranteed to Ruin Your Career but Save Your Soul

This week, I shared the story of a friend–a decent, hard-working, upstanding friend of faith–who’s asking the hard questions of vocation.

Why is integrating vocation and faith so difficult? 

How do you ‘maximize profit’ while staying true to the message of scripture? 

How can I give everything to The Company and feel good about the scraps of time I throw to my children, my wife? 

What about time for prayer, for spiritual connection and formation?

The Market, though, refuses to answer these questions (even the “Christian Market,” whatever that is (feel free to read between the lines)). Instead, it pulls a sleight of hand, shirks those questions in favor of others.

How can you be a better leader? 

How can you take your team to the next level?

How can you succeed, succeed, succeed and by that success, prove yourself as a worth [leader, worker, Christian, whatever].

“The sign of success,” they tell my friend, and you, and me, “is leading others with excellence.” They syncretize the message of The Market and The Message of faith until we feel guilty about our inability to leverage everything we have for the economic well-being of… what? The Kingdom?

Leadership principles are all the rage in the Christian faith and have been for several years. But is every follower in Jesus’ way called to be a leader? Is the sign of a successful follower success in the Market?

Let me be clear: your success as a follower of Christ has nothing to do with your ability to lead in the workplace. Your success as a follower of Jesus’s way has nothing to do with market performance, in fact. Instead, the leadership of a Christian is marked by being a good follower. And so, today, let’s look at the 7 Christian Leadership Principles Guaranteed to Ruin Your Career (But Save Your Soul).

1. Don’t Center Yourself. I’m sure Jesus had a good chuckle about the leaders of his day, the ones who imagined themselves as so critical to the plan of God. He shot the hard-chargers straight. “The last will be first and the first will be last,” he said to the people who imagined themselves central characters in society’s pageant.

2. Become A Child. Jesus didn’t take much stock of adults doing important adult things. Instead, he took stock of the children, of those with simple faith who wanted nothing more than to be near him for the sake of being near him. Maximize profit? Maximize leadership potential? Children don’t care about those things. Children want nothing more than a good story, perhaps a laugh or two.

3. Serve The Least. Serving the rich, those with means, the participants in The Market is all fine and good, but success in that service meant very little to Jesus. “When have you visited the prisoner?” he asked. “When have you given the thirsty a cold cup of water or done the unseen thing for the down and out?”

4. Sell Everything. Didn’t Jesus say this to the rich young man? Go ahead. Explain it away; I know I’ll try to.

5. Save Somewhere Else. “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,” he said, “not in your 401k.”

6. Kill Your Self-Interests For The Sake of Others. Take the fall, the consequences, the death for another. Sure, you’ll lose the whole world, but isn’t it worth it to gain your soul?

7. Believe the Irrational. Jesus told Thomas, “blessed are those who have not seen me and still believe.” And what does it mean to believe but to put his words into action, to live them out in our families, our vocations, our social lives?

*

I thought I’d written my last piece on vocation a week ago. Alas, sometimes fortune, fate, or the Spirit comes calling. Feel free to invite others along as we continue this exploration.  I know I’m not alone in my questions on this topic, and I’d love to hear how you and your people are processing your own questions.

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The Only Leadership Principle You Need

Thought leader.

Business leader.

Leadership principles.

Leader, leader, leader.

Leaders—we’re eaten up with them, maybe even obsessed.

This morning I sat in the local coffee shop and spoke with a fella I know to be good-and-decent. He’s smart, competent, a hard worker. He’s a man of faith, too, and as we talked about life, church, and business, he shared his workday struggle.

Why was integrating vocation and faith so difficult?

How could you chase a buck and stay true to the message of scripture (a message to which he gave intellectual assent)?

How could you sell twelve hours to The Company and feel good about the scraps of time you reserved for the girls, the wife?

What about time for prayer, for spiritual connection when you’re always chasing the rent, the mortgage, the next client payment, the next development opportunity, your own tail, whatever?

These were honest questions, questions that The Company, The Men’s Group, The Christian Business Gurus shirked. “These are the wrong questions,” they said (and say ad nauseum). “Instead, ask yourself this: What are you doing to be a more effective workplace leader?”

They were answering questions that were unasked (as tends to be their way).

Be more of a leader. Lead by example. Set the goals. Set the course. Stay the course. Ask others to follow you on the course. Achieve, achieve, achieve.

“Aside from it being unhelpful in answering any of my questions,” my friend said. “What does any of it mean? I’ve pondered my friend’s quandary, and here’s what I think. Leadership principles are easier to teach than principles of integrating faith, career, and family. But becoming a better leader in the workplace cannot help him (or you or me or any of us) solve our disintegrated compartmentalization. Perhaps increasing your leadership capacity can help you feel important, maybe even indispensable. It’s a good ego drug, one that helps numb the conscious when burning the midnight oil. Being a leader can help you earn an extra buck, can pad the retirement account or help you buy the extra toy for your daughter, your wife, yourself. Leadership (as defined by the current business milieu (even the current Christian business milieu)) is good for some things, but it cannot teach you the way of Christ, unless, of course, leadership is redefined as this:

Asking others to follow you on a mad mission of certain death for the sake of others.

This, I think, is the Key Leadership Principle, the model embodied by Christ himself. This, I think, is the only leadership principle the person of faith needs.

Don’t get me wrong, we need good leaders. Some are born leaders; others are made. But as painful as this may be to read, know this: not everyone can be a leader. (Those peddling these models are selling snake oil; trust me.) Here’s where the life is: everyone can die for the sake of another.

This week, I’d like to kill the leadership model of vocation. It’s overdone, outmoded. In its place, I’d like to build a model that keeps us connected to the larger purpose. What is that purpose?

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

If this was our filter, would it help us better integrate our faith into all aspects of our lives, vocation and family included?

*

I thought I’d written my last piece on vocation a week ago. Alas, sometimes fortune, fate, or the Spirit comes calling. Feel free to invite others along as we continue this exploration.  I know I’m not alone in my questions on this topic, and I’d love to hear how you and your people are processing your own questions.

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The content here takes hours (and no small amount of spare change) to produce. If you enjoy reading my content, whether here, in the bi-monthly Tiny Letter, or in any of my free email campaigns, would you consider SUPPORTING THE WORK? (It’ll only set you back a cup of coffee a month.) And, if you enjoy this website and haven’t yet signed up for the bi-monthly Tiny Letter newsletter, sign up to receive it straight to your inbox.

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