In Memoriam – Durham Davis

This week is going to be a little off-brand. This week marks the one year anniversary of my grandfather’s death. I tried writing about him a year ago as I had memorialized others. With them it helped me to heal, with Grandaddy it just felt too raw to put it out into the world. And it still fears raw, and I feel like my words can never do justice to just how special he was and how much I loved him. Never the less, I write to honor him and the special spark he brought to the world.  fullsizeoutput_2bf

Whenever I am at a gas station and someone gets out talking on their cell phone while pumping their gas, I feel sad for them.  They did’t have a granddaddy who told them not to do that.  No one who told them it was dangerous. I’ve seen the myth busters episode that debunked the possibility of sparking a fire with your cell phone like this, but I still can’t bring myself to do it. Grandaddy warned me of the dangers literally every time I talked with him on the phone.

My Grandaddy always had advice to protect me.  Before most cars had auto lock it was always, “lock your doors.” For years, even in our last longer conversations, he would tell me I needed to wear a hat, like a truckers hat, when I was driving alone. He did not like that I drove long distances by myself and he told me if I wore a hat they would think I was a man and leave me alone.  Every time I would respond with, “Grandaddy, if all it takes for them to think that I am a man is to wear a hat, we have bigger problems,”  and every time he would offer the advice the next time we spoke.

Thirteen years ago I spent a month in Guadalajara, Mexico. The first two weeks I was in the city by myself. The sheer fact that I was alone in Mexico worried my Granddaddy to no end. Every time he would talk to my mother he would ask about me.  I decided to call him once to prove to him that I was fine, hoping he would calm down. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how busy the street would get as I called him from the pay phone. That only heightened his anxiety and for over a decade after that every time we would speak of where I was traveling to next, he would always add, “But you’re not going to Mexico again, right?”  We joked that if I ever went to Mexico again, I was going to have to take him with me.

Sharon BaptistMy granddaddy was always taking care of others. He had to drop out of school in the eighth grade to take care of the family farm to provide for his family. He took care of my nana for years as she suffered from migraines and later heart issues. He was such a strong man with these big hands but he was always tender with her as she depended on him for everything in her last years of life.

When I was a child I wasn’t so sure about my grandaddy. He would take those strong hands and grab my arm with a force he didn’t know he had and give me a loving shake. I would pick beans and potatoes from his garden with him when I came to visit for the summer. He would take me riding on his riding lawnmower and on really special visits, he would take me for a ride on his huge John Deere tractor. After Nana died in my junior year of college, Grandaddy and I became closer.lawnmower

He was a people person. He was famous for starting up a conversation with anyone that was near him. It would take just a few minutes before he knew their life story. He never met a stranger. Mom said that in his last few months as she was taking him to doctor’s appointments, he was always waving at other people in the cars at stoplights.

He had a rotation of clichés, most original to him, that he was fond of saying. One of his favorite sayings was, “It only takes a little more to go first class.” Mind you, this was a man who would brag about his socks that he bought from the dollar general but it has stuck as a family saying.

Perhaps the best thing about my granddaddy was his love for singing. He would break out into song almost every time I called him. His favorites were a rotation of “How Much is that Doggy in the Window,” “Chattanooga Choo-Choo, “One Day at a Time,” “I Bowed on my Knees and Cried Holy,” and “Que Sera, Sera.” He called me every year on my birthday to sing to me.running in dc

His last few months, he spent much of his time in doctors offices. One day when he had two appointments, he began feeling bad during the first visit. As he sat waiting with my mom at the second doctor’s office, he said, “You know, I was feeling really bad back there but I feel better now. I think I want to sing.” And so he did. He just serenaded the whole office. By this point, an infection had taken most of his hearing but he still had a song in his heart he wanted to share with others.

He was at my high school plays, college graduation, my commissioning service when I started divinity school, my divinity school graduation, my installation service when I became a pastor. I knew he was always there for me.Grandaddy and Daisy

What aches the most is knowing that now that he is gone, I will never be loved that way again. I will never be loved in the special way that only my Granddaddy could love me.

The world will never be the same now that he is gone. He brought a spark, a strength, a joy to life where ever he went.  I feel challenged to live my life as joyfully, committed to those I love and strangers I meet and to always carry a song in my heart that spills out of my mouth.

W.A.L. Weekly #3

Happy Thursday everyone-

What are you reading these days? I’m working through Canoeing the Mountains and Brene Brown’s new book, Braving the Wilderness. I look forward to writing some reviews and take aways in upcoming blog posts.

1. Skip The Small Talk
     This is an interesting organization out of Boston that I have recently become aware of. I follow them on social media and have enjoyed the articles they post and reading about upcoming events. I think there is much we can learn from this group! Here is their description of themselves: “You know when you’re talking to someone late at night and for some reason, you feel like you can talk about the things that actually matter? We think those conversations are a pretty good way to make genuine connection happen. We use insights from psychology research to design interactions that help you get closer to having access to those connection-building conversations in any situation, at any time, with anyone.”

2. The Art of the Awkward 1:1
The 1:1 is a sacred space. It’s intimate. It’s dedicated to just you and the other person. It’s super high bandwidth for complex and uncertain content, especially emotions, hopes, and fears. It’s also the most inefficient way you can devise to disseminate non-controversial info.

Very often, people waste most of the 1:1s potential. You might make a little agenda, and then give some updates, some light feedback, and share some complaints. It’s helpful and valuable and nice. But, ask yourself: is the conversation hard? Are you a little nervous or unsure how to get out what you’re trying to say? Is it awkward?

3. We Should Expect To Work Much Longer
“The notion that you’re born, go to school, get a job, retire, die — that’s gone,” he said. “You’re not going to do that anymore.” He said technology will likely keep humans healthier longer, enabling us to live decades beyond our current lifespans — “meaning you may very well live to 110 or 120.”

He continued: “You’re going to work until you’re 75, 85, 95, 105. And don’t worry about it. It’s not as horrific as it sounds, because you’re going to want to do that.”

4. How To Be Heard When Talking With a Chronic Interrupter
From Kanye to cable-news pundits to Senators, we live in a culture where interrupting is both common and commonly accepted. Being interrupted is frustrating for anyone, but if you’re a shy, soft-spoken, or introverted person, it can make it especially difficult to communicate.

That’s because, whether the interrupter realizes it or not, cutting in while someone else is speaking can be a way of asserting dominance over them. “Interrupting is a way to demonstrate power in interpersonal situations,” explains Dr. Joel Minden, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor at California State University, Chico.

What You Cannot Not Do

Years ago, a colleague quoted from a little book that came to change my life, Let Your Life Speak. If you’ve spent any time around me you’ve heard me quote it, preach from it, coach from it and I may have even given you a copy of it. Let Your Life Speak is authored by Parker Palmer and it details his journey of self discovery.  It is a guide to learning who you are created and called to be in the world.

We use the language of “called” in the church but usually only in reference to those called to full time ministry or called to take a leadership position within the church. I have talked about being called into ministry. Straight out of college, I served two years as an eighth grade middle school teacher, I was good at it, but knew that I was created for something different. It was a voice, a calling deep inside me. I was lucky that I was teaching with a team of incredible, award winning teachers who were called to be teachers. But how do you know what that voice is saying? How do you listen to the deep parts of your soul that are speaking?

I grew up hearing the phrase, “Be careful what you tell God you don’t want to do because that is exactly what God will call you to do.” After years of fighting what I felt most deeply within my heart, I grew to believe this is terrible theology. All work has it sacrifices, or as a former coach said, all jobs have a rent you have to pay to do the work you really want to do. But this kind of thinking, this fear of God, keeps many from surrendering completely, living a life that really matters.

The important piece in surrendering to the life you were created for is having a heart to change the world. It is believing this world can be a better place and knowing you are created to do something about it. For those of us in the church, our first imperative is that we take seriously Jesus’ words about the kingdom of Earth that he ushered in. Your heart was given to you for a reason. You see the world with unique eyes, only you see the world the way you do.

Parker Palmer’s book is based on an old Quaker saying, “Let your life speak.” He says that sometimes he finds himself asking whether “the life I am living is not the same as the life that wants to live in me.” Palmer says that our lives are filled with voices telling us what we are supposed to be and after living a life trying to live up to every one else’s opinions, suggestions, and pressures, he was weary. He says, “Vocation does not come from a voice ‘out there’ calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice ‘in here’ calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God…We arrive in this world with birthright gifts-then we spend the first half of our lives abandoning them or letting others disabuse us of them.” He says, “The deepest vocational question is not ‘What ought I to do with my life?’ It is the more elemental and demanding ‘Who am I? What is my nature?'”

Vocation then becomes the thing that will manifest itself in whatever job or volunteer role that you serve in. Your vocation is the thing that you cannot not do. Vocation is your calling in this world, the reason you are here. Vocation transcends a job description, it is bigger, and sometimes very different, from your career.

What breaks your heart? What makes your heart sing? When you look back over the years of your paid work and your volunteer work, what were the pieces you brought to each place? What is the work that you could do forever, even if you didn’t get paid? What are the things that you could do for hours and still feel energized? What are the things you cannot not do?

“Now I become myself.
It’s taken time, many years and places.
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces……”
– May Sarton, “Now I Become Myself,” in Collected Poems, 1930-1973 

W.A.L. Weekly

Happy Friday-

You made it through another week! Here is this week’s round up of resources.

Sitting down and setting your life goals can be exciting and motivating. It gives us purpose, sets clear intention, makes us feel productive and creates the feeling of moving forward.

But have you ever started out making a mental or physical list of your goals only to end up with quite a few? Then when you start acting on them, they either end up cast aside or only half achieved? Having goals has been drummed into us from an early age but are having all these goals actually hindering us?

Warren Buffett, one of the most successful businessmen in the world today, questions the need for having so many goals. Instead he puts his success down to eliminating, sometimes important goals, in order to focus on the few that will bring the success we desire.

The Enquirer [a news outlet in Cincinati] sent more than 60 reporters, photographers and videographers into their communities to chronicle an ordinary week in this extraordinary time.

It’s a little after sunrise on the first day of another week, and Cincinnati is waking up again with a heroin problem. So is Covington. And Middletown. And Norwood. And Hamilton. And West Chester Township. And countless other cities and towns across Ohio and Kentucky.

This particular week, July 10 through 16, will turn out to be unexceptional by the dreary standards of what has become the region’s greatest health crisis.

This is normal now, a week like any other. But a terrible week is no less terrible because it is typical. When heroin and synthetic opiates kill one American every 16 minutes, there is little comfort in the routine.

When I arrived at my church seven years ago, I knew that the gospel was about risk. I knew that if the American church was ever going to be born again in the 21st century, it would need people willing to risk everything for kingdom ideas that were worth their very blood, sweat and tears. The church needed to start swinging for the fences.

So I started a social enterprise, first, because I wanted to attempt something great — something risky — for God.

The gospel is, at its core, a risky proposition by God in behalf of human beings. It promises no security, despite our best attempts to deify security and regularity in our worshipping communities.

I wanted to find a way to give myself more fully to the gospel and justice of Jesus Christ — something more than doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. I wanted something bolder than the staid mainline missions efforts I had grown up with.

Some people think it’s morbid to consider your demise, but I think it’s helpful. We should remember that we all have an expiration date; that our days here are finite, and that we all have far less time than we want. We should give ourselves the gift of doing the math of our remaining existence.

If you’re reading this, chances are you have at best, eight or so decades left here (but likely far less than that.) There is a number that exists that you can’t see, and that number represents the sunrises you have remaining.

And the question I asked myself as I left the hospital, is the same one I’ll ask you:

What do you want to do with the time you have left here?


The Larger Lessons of Boundaries

In last week’s Worth a Life weekly resources, I included a podcast about the concept of “deep work.” This idea of deep work says that we are more productive, more engaged, more creative when we are able to do work with no interruptions. Every time the email pings, our phone vibrates for a text, etc., we lose that deep work. Every time we think, “I’m just going to google that really quick” or “I’m just going to reply to this message really quick” we lose the benefits of  deep work.

Deep work is what allows you to see the vision. It can enable you to soar above your situation and catch a thirty thousand foot view of what needs to happen, where the organization needs to go, how to really create change. It may allow you to dive deep into the specifics, think about the steps that need to be taken. Whatever deep work looks like for you in this season, it is what allows you to do the work that really matters.

Many years ago I stumbled on a book that continues to shape and challenge me, “Running on Empty: Contemplative Spirituality for Overachievers” by Fil Anderson. He says that so many of us are afraid to slow down, afraid to not be available to everyone, afraid to say “no” to people. We are afraid that the work will get done by someone else and they will do it better. We are afraid that if we are not always available, always present, no one will really miss us being gone. We are afraid that if we are not always “on,” we will learn that the world can go on without us, which leads us to believe that we do not really matter and others will learn it to. So, we go on proving our worth with every “yes,” every boundary plowed down, every over worked and worn out hour.

I believe it is this struggle that keeps many of us from doing deep work. In order to do deep work we have to set very intentional boundaries that so many are uncomfortable setting. Many who live out of a place of calling and passion have a strong personality trait that allows us to see injustice, see anger, see the hard or horrible things of the world, see when people are disappointed. It is the things we are able to see that move us to do something. If we are not careful though, it can also lead us to burn out as we try to take care of everyone and everything. We tend to carry the weight of the world, of our organizations, or our people, on our shoulders. If we never set that burden down, we are never able to really move forward.

It also is an important lesson for others when we hold to boundaries. We teach others that they can do hard things themselves. They are self-sufficient. We teach others that it is Ok to rest, to say no. We teach others how to have boundaries in their own lives. I find that the same people who want to walk all over your boundaries are the same people who are desperately crying out, “Please teach me how to say no. Please show me that I am more than the sum of everyone else’s opinion. Please show me that I am enough.”

You are enough. You are created for a purpose in this world and until you say no to the things that keeping you from deep work, holding you in one place, you will never move forward. You will never be able to say yes to the things that really matter.

“God will never love you any more or less because of anything you manage, or fail, to achieve…..In his kindness and mercy, God has shown me that I am here to play, to dream and to drift as much as to do the hard work I’ve been given. I believe God recognizes there’s holiness to my play that’s as sacred and real as the holiness of my prayer. I believe God knows that without playing there will eventually be no praying. God knows the constant noise, endless activity, and dreadfully hurried pace that permeate our culture will misdirect your life and mine…” Fil Anderson

Worth a Life Weekly #1

At the end of every week I will include links to three to five resources that I think will help in your journey of living into your calling. These will be resources to print out and pass along to others. They will be great discussion starts for a staff or leadership team. They may help open your eyes to see a different side of culture. They will encourage you….or let’s be honest, you may not connect to every resource shared. We are all busy and finding helpful resources through technology can be overwhelming. The hope is that these weekly emails will help you weed through and find meaningful resources.

In your 30s and 40s, plenty of new people enter your life, through work, children’s play dates and, of course, Facebook. But actual close friends — the kind you make in college, the kind you call in a crisis — those are in shorter supply.

As people approach midlife, the days of youthful exploration, when life felt like one big blind date, are fading. Schedules compress, priorities change and people often become pickier in what they want in their friends.

No matter how many friends you make, a sense of fatalism can creep in: the period for making B.F.F.’s, the way you did in your teens or early 20s, is pretty much over. It’s time to resign yourself to situational friends: K.O.F.’s (kind of friends) — for now.

But often, people realize how much they have neglected to restock their pool of friends only when they encounter a big life event, like a move, say, or a divorce.

The world seems to be getting more empathetic. Americans donate to charity at record rates. People feel the pain of suffering in geographically distant countries brought to our attention by advances in communications and transportation. Violence, seen on historical timescales, is decreasing.

The great modern humanitarian project of expanding the scope of our empathy to include the entire human race seems to be working. Our in-group (those we choose to include in our inner circle and to spend our energies on) is growing, and our out-group (everybody else) shrinking. But there’s a wrinkle in this perfect picture: Our instinctive tendency to categorize the world into “us” and “them” is difficult to overcome. It is in our nature to favor helping in-group members like friends, family, or fellow citizens, and to neglect or even punish out-group members. Even as some moral circles expand, others remain stubbornly fixed, or even contract: Just think of Democrats and Republicans, Sunnis and Shiites, Duke and North Carolina basketball fans.

How much proper brainwork – not zoning out in meetings, or reorganizing the stationery cupboard, but work that involves really thinking – should you aim to get done in one day? It sounds like a trick question. We think of creativity as fundamentally mysterious, and of humans as extremely varied. Plus there are so many kinds of white-collar work: why assume the same answer for lawyers, academics, investment bankers and engineers? But the answer isn’t some sophisticated version of: “It depends.” The answer is four hours.

Last night, 25 friends gathered in my home for dinner. This dinner had a mission. Over the last 24 hours, these amazing folks gathered hundreds of supplies for a “First Responders Packing Party.” First responders get limited sleep or breaks as rescue efforts take top priority. Phone calls from those in law enforcement were updating us about the supplies that were most in demand. Items were purchased, donated, sorted, counted and packed in waterproof plastic bags.

Hidden Brain is one of the most fascinating podcasts I have found. I listened to this episode yesterday and it still has me thinking.

What would it look like for you to create space for deep work?

Worth a Life

Something has been going inside of me. I’ve been feeling like I was missing something, missing a piece of my calling. There was this need out in the world, this place where my gifts fit but I couldn’t put a finger on it. Couldn’t figure out just what that was. Over these summer months, I’ve given myself some space in my schedule to study, reflect, be more intentional with my own life and calling, listen to the leanings of my heart.

I work with a lot of ministers, people who have said that serving in the local church is something that is “worth a life.” To put another way, it is something worth giving their lifetimes for.

We only get to live each day once. In the past year I was reminded time and again that this life will end. There is a ending date and we all have one. We choose what is “worth a life.” The things that matter the most to us, the things in the world that stir our hearts to the place we must do something, the things that bring us joy and the things that cause us pain.

And I’m more and more aware that there are more and more people who are changing the world outside of what we have defined as full-time ministry positions.

I heard an author say recently, “God is not religious.” And as my heresy antenna went up, he said, “At the beginning of time, the trinity wasn’t just hanging around saying, ‘We need to have a church service.'” He went on to say that he believes that humans created the ‘church’ and God knew they needed it and so because God loved these humans so much, he honored it, crawled into it with them. I’m not sure that I fully believe that church is just a human creation because while I don’t think the trinity was trying to plan a worship service or a youth lock-in, the trinity is God in commune with God. There was community at the beginning. Church should be community that reveals God.

I know there is much more in the history of how church got to be church as we know it but we’ve taken this posture that the church has a special possession of God. I have heard people say, “If people would just get right with God, our pews would be filled on Sunday morning.” But the problem is that while God is present in our church in very real ways, God has always been bigger than our churches. The church today became what it is because people responded to the needs they saw in the world.

Over and over again, even in scripture, we have a problem with making this nimble and spirit led response to the needs of the world into a program and then the program becomes the thing we worship. Our natural response when we experience our communal God is to want community, but too often the community becomes more important than God. Rather than listening to where the Lord is leading now, how God is speaking to us, the program or leadership position becomes the way we show faithfulness to God. If we let something go, end a program, get rid of a leadership/servant position in the church it somehow becomes a failure to God.

The story of Pentecost shows the spirit moving in the temple courts in new ways. The old temple structures no longer fit, God was doing a new thing. God will continue to move in fresh and new ways whether we are ready for it or not. The spirit will continue to call out and speak through those that are willing, even if it is not the established church leaders.

Let me be clear, I love the local church. I am a product of a local church. I love that God loved us enough to know that we needed tangible ways to experience God, to learn about God and have human community to serve the world with. I believe there are lots of ways that God still speaks through local congregations and ministry leaders. There are lots of churches giving room for the spirit to speak.

I just don’t believe that the church is the only way that God is working in the world. I know a lot of people who work each and every day for something they feel called to, something to make the world a better place, something really worth a life and only a portion of those folks are doing it on church staff. This number is only going to continue to grow as the landscape of the local church changes.

My doctoral work focused on calling, giving women space to explore what calling meant for them. As we studied the history of the church, theology, read about the future needs of the church, a portion of the women knew they were called into local church ministry or denominational ministry. Others said, “That’s not for me. I know I’m called to make a difference in the world but not through the local church.” One of my final reflections was that the church needed to continue “calling” adults at all ages, it needed to be part of our natural message. We needed to start thinking of “calling” in bigger terms than just serving full time on a ministry staff.

This is the same philosophy that drove my time in campus ministry. I saw that as an incubator for training people to be healthy, competent, world-changing leaders in their homes, communities, businesses, schools and in the world. We didn’t do leadership training just so that we could make our campus ministry better, though that happened. This was about launching them into the world and blessing them.

I have long seen my calling to equip, support, train and coach those working into their God given purposes through full-time ministry in the local church. That calling is not changing, it is just expanding.

I feel called to equip, support, train, coach and draw together those discovering their God given purposes in the world outside the walls of the church. These may be people who are actively connected to the church as members, or they may not have found their place in a local congregation.

I’m not quite sure what this looks like yet but it starts here. It starts by creating a tribe through social media of people who are looking for something that is “worth a life.”

At the first part of every week I will write a blog post that is designed to encourage, challenge and help you grow into your own calling. These will be book take aways, personality assessment learnings, interviews with people living a called life, coaching questions to ponder and more.

At the end of every week I will write a blog post that includes links to three to five resources that I believe will be helpful to live your calling. These will include cultural observation articles, leadership articles, podcasts, ted talks, videos, faith articles, and more. If you subscribed to ELM weekly, this will be something like that. These should help open your eyes, give a new perspective, be used to have great conversations with people you serve with and do life with.

If you know that you want to do something with this lifetime that is worth a life, this is the tribe and place for you. Whatever your calling looks like, I hope this will be a place that supports you, encourages you, challenges you and gives you something for the journey of living a life that really is worth a life.