Monday, August 7, 2017

Questions and Answers from the Hot Seat

During the Engaging Hour at our weekly Sunday morning services, we have invited people to sit on the "Hot Seat." It provides an opportunity to field anonymous questions--on past experience, present struggles, future dreams, and personality quirks--from fellow church members. The Hot Seat lets us peer into one another's lives. It is a safe place to share stories, practice introspection, and laugh together. Deeper awareness of self and others is the goal.

These are the rules:

  • No one is coerced to sit on the Hot Seat. 
  • Questions may provoke thought, but not pry.
  • You have 18 minutes. Go!


Yesterday I sat on the Hot Seat, but it barely warmed up before the timer went off. So I decided to answer the remaining questions here on my blog. I'll try to keep it shorter than 18 minutes. Go!

How did I ask Liz to marry me? 
Following a romantic dinner of Subway and viewing of It's a Wonderful Life, I convinced Liz to walk with me in the snow. We bundled up and followed a predetermined path to the Winona Lake Hillside. We arrived to the glow of luminaries lighting the aisle to the stage. A giant snowman that I built earlier in the day awaited us; the diamond ring, set on his carrot nose by Liz's younger sister-in-law shined in the dark. Like a gentleman, I bent my knee, took her hand, and proposed marriage. She agreed, tearfully, and we celebrated by making snow angels on the hill.

What practices help you in your prayer life?
I am an unfocused pray-er. My mind twists and turns in the silence, often ending in a rehearsal of my sermon that God doesn't need to hear. So I require the aid of some routine. I spend a minute or two in silence, meditating on an attribute of God or simply presenting myself to Him (Here I am.). I journal some prayers, always noting specific points of gratitude. I often read a Psalm to guide my thoughts. Occasionally, I will open my prayer notebook, which lists people and areas I talk to God about (e.g., family, church, personal goals). Finally, I often fall alsleep reciting the Lord's Prayer.

Who influenced my salvation?
My dad took us to church for a year during my childhood and every Christmas and Easter thereafter. These services planted a seed. A neighborhood family invited me to VBS in fourth or fifth grade. By middle school, I started to attend youth group and church regularly with the Beall/Gillespie family. It was then I encountered Jesus personally. I continue to work out my salvation with fear and trembling with the help of God's Spirit, family, friends, church, podcasts, and many good books.

If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
I want to live in the Here-and-Now until I reach the New Heavens and New Earth, and I'm not just being romantic or complacent. I love the lot God has given me. My wife envisions us growing old and dying in our current home. I envision it happening after a steak dinner on a Friday while we sleep holding hands.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In the same house, but not dead. At the same church, and it's still alive, too. I'll be approaching fifty, so I expect to be offering as-needed care to my adult children and aging parents. Sensi speaks is full sentences and can read Garfield books to himself, but remains in our home. Liz and I will love each other even more deeply. Several aspects of my ministry will have shifted. I will have finished a D.Min. program, preached through most of the Bible, developed younger leaders to share more of the responsibilities at Leesburg Grace (whose name will officially be Leesburg Grace by then). I will focus more of my time on writing and equipping others; I will better accept my weaknesses. My facial hair will pass the creepy stage. A Boston Marathon medal will hang on my shelf.

What is your 10 year vision for Leesburg Grace?
In the past month I've heard this phrase a hundred times: The mission does not change, but our methods must. I concur. The desire to see every follower of Jesus in our congregation becoming full in Christ, united in love, and strong is service remains constant. I will continue to refine and focus on the nineteen markers of spiritual maturity. Our culture of loving welcome (showing care to show Christ) will persist. A decade from now I will continue to pastor our church; however, by then, a committed, creative core team of others will lead with me. We will begin to see some of the slow-and-steady maturation spill into life transformation, especially for those who have never walked with Jesus. Moreover, we will have deployed a few full-time kingdom workers and partnered in a church-plant. Additional staff, updates to our music stage, and a freshly-paved parking lot would also be nice.

What do you enjoy most about being a pastor at Leesburg Grace?
I love to preach, teach, and let thoughts of God fill my mind. I love the variety and flexibility pastoral ministry allows me both with my schedule and weekly duties. I love to create new things and the freedom afforded to do so by our beloved congregation. And, of course, I love the motley band of Jesus' followers we call Leesburg Grace.

Why is Michigan better than Ohio State?
It is not. (And whoever said there are no bad questions was wrong. This question proves it.)

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Lost Art of Lingering

I have developed the spiritual discipline of lingering as an essential part of pastoral ministry. I linger in the sanctuary, hospital room, coffee shop, front porch, and family room. Some would even say I linger in my sermons: they can get long!

Lingering is the ability to draw out, extend, and prolong a connection or conversation. People I linger with are not always comfortable with it. Truth be told, neither am I.

Sitting for eight hours in a car with someone else, I can endure. I accept my context and do not dream of jumping out of a moving vehicle (most of the time). But when I go beyond an hour at the table with someone, my skill in lingering is tested. My focus wanes, eyes gloss over, and body begins to pulse with nervous energy. I look for lulls, escape pods, and excuses to move to the next thing. How sad, and yet, not unusual.

Just the other week, I struck up a conversation with a neighbor while walking my dog. His daughter (whom I mistook for a son...oops!) sat quietly in the stroller. I greeted him before he set out on a jog. It was clear he did not want to linger.

Two blocks away, I spoke with another neighbor. Back and forth we discussed the weather, local produce, and rapid growth of my children. "Well, I shouldn't keep you," he said. He repeated the line twice before I took the hint and stopped lingering.

If it is not our busy schedules, boredom with conversation, buzzes and beeps from our ubiquitous phones that forestall lingering, it's our general dis-ease with silence. Lulls make us feel awkward. Pauses are pregnant with our insecurities. So we distract or excuse ourselves from lingering.

In her book, Reclaiming Conversation, Sherry Turkle addresses our reluctance to linger with "The Seven-Minute Rule," learned from a college-aged student. It takes seven minutes for a conversation to morph into something meaningful. Rather than go to the phone when a conversation sputters, "Let it be." Turkle explains, "Conversation, like life, has silence and boring bits. This bears repeating: It is often in the moments when we stumble and hesitate and fall silent that we reveal ourselves to each other. Digital communication can lead us to an edited life. We should not forget that an unedited life is also worth living" (pg. 323).
Cover art
Life, edited or not, rushes by. Lingering forces us to slow enough to enjoy it. Lingering allows us to pace ourselves so we can draw out, extend, and prolong our time with people. God made us for relationship. Lingering makes our relationships richer.

(NOTE: If you skimmed this post, you should go back and linger over it.)