Friday, May 30, 2014

May 2014 Pop Culture Roundup

1. We watched American Hustle this month, which I've been wanting to do since it was in theaters. Christian Bale and Amy Adams play con artists who are busted in an undercover op by an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) and forced into helping him work to take down a New Jersey politician (Jeremy Renner). Jennifer Lawrence is also involved as Bale's manipulative and dysfunctional wife. There's actually plenty of manipulation to go around, and I often wasn't sure who was conning who, which made for some extra fun. There was also an underlying theme that we often con ourselves into seeing what we want to see, whether it's actually true or not, which various characters play to their advantage as well. The film is well-acted with great performances all around: Bale and Adams as old pros trying to survive, Cooper as the agent increasingly desperate to make his operation work, Lawrence as the wife who refuses to be left behind or left out but also not very self-aware. I still wish I'd seen this sooner, but I was also rewarded for my patience.

2. I read Barbara Brown Taylor's newest book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, this month. Taylor explores our traditional notions of darkness and how we associate it with fear, evil, and despair, preferring light instead, which we associate with safety, goodness, and joy. She challenges this binary, suggesting instead that a "solar spirituality"--one that seeks easy paths and may deal in simple answers--should be complemented by a "lunar spirituality:" one that ventures into the darkness rather than avoids it, as that is where depth and growth may occur. She incorporates biology while discussing bodily rhythms and their need for night and darkness, as well as astronomy, particularly in her final chapter written as an ode to the moon. If you're looking for some kind of how-to book about entering into darkness, you'll be disappointed. Taylor writes this more as an invitation to reflect with her on these themes and think about how they may play out in one's own life.

3. The Black Keys' newest album Turn Blue was released a few weeks ago. As with their past few albums, they worked with producer Danger Mouse here, continuing their evolution from stomp-rock into something more soulful and funky while retaining that base sensibility. The opening track "Weight of Love" is a bit spacey and reminiscent of Pink Floyd at their peak, the title track is a great soul-inspired ballad, and the first single "Fever" keeps things moving. The Keys have really become one of my favorites lately, and their latest has only helped with that. Here's the video for "Fever:"



4. We saw X-Men: Days of Future Past this past weekend, which combines the casts of the first three X-Men films and X-Men: First Class. Set in the future, government-commissioned robots known as sentinels are hunting and killing mutants, as well as human sympathizers. A small band of survivors including Professor Xavier, Magneto, Wolverine, Storm, Iceman, and Kitty Pryde come up with a plan to send Wolverine back in time to work help stop the sentinels from ever being created. To do so, he has to find younger versions of Xavier and Magneto, as well as Mystique, who is the lynchpin of the whole thing. It would have been really easy to screw this up with so many moving parts, but I think this movie hit the right mix of character formation and story, sticking with the main task at hand. It is a little darker, but conveying the desperate, bleak situation of the future mutants entailed that. The past reality into which Wolverine is cast--the nation just coming to grips with the end of the Vietnam war--comes with its own challenges and uncertainties. All in all, this was a very well-told story with excellent performances from all involved.

5. The first half of Mad Men's final season just concluded on Sunday, during which we meet up with Don Draper as a bit adrift since being put on leave from the agency. Even though he took major strides at the end of last season toward being more truthful with others, we find he's not exactly being forthcoming about his employment status with wife Megan, which he eventually needs to reckon. While his journey back toward the agency is a big part of this season, the other side of it is his coping with the changing times and the threat of becoming obsolete in an evolving world. Meanwhile, if Don is finding resistance in the form of change, Peggy is finding resistance from those elements that want to remain the same as she continues to try to make her mark. The two first bump up against one another and then help each other by the end, finding that they are dependent on the other for what they need. And now we get to wait another year for no good reason to see how that plays out.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sometimes I Don't Want the Church to Change, Either

Years ago, when I was pastor of a smallish, "pastor-sized" church, it became clear that our chancel choir was not going to last very much longer.

By the point I had arrived, it was down to a half dozen older women and a director who hadn't meant to be in that role for as long as she was. So when she announced that she was stepping down, there began some conversation first about a replacement, which then became a conversation about whether the choir was a viable ministry at this point in the church's life. We did, after all, have a second musical ensemble that sang more "contemporary" music and that had much higher participation and energy, so we wouldn't be without vocal music. Between that and the clear signs that the choir had neither much participation nor energy, maybe it was time to give thanks for what it had been for the church for so long, and let it go.

Unsurprisingly, this move came not without some measure of grief. We always had a choir, after all. Lots of churches have them. That other vocal group, which sat with their families rather than in the choir loft and refused to wear robes wasn't the "real choir."* For the rest of my tenure at that church, even so many years after that group disbanded, I occasionally heard about this grief; a yearning for something that had been around for so long and that was still going strong in so many other places. But it wasn't viable in that setting, and we had to move ahead as we did.

I understood that grief. I understood the desire to keep things the way that they were; to remain like other churches. I understood that this group had been a beloved mainstay for decades. Whenever something longstanding like that ends, it's hard to see it go and to give it up.

But there's another side to change: it involves not just the loss of something, but the need to live into something else.

And let me tell you, implementing new ideas is hard freaking work. It includes, but is not limited to:
  • Discerning what new ministry or direction the church needs to begin with, including reading the people and surrounding culture,
  • Coming up with a logistical plan for said new ministry or direction,
  • Convincing the right people that it's worth doing,
  • Getting certain committees or individual volunteers to help implement it,
  • Actually implementing it,
  • Adjusting to hiccups and roadblocks,
  • Responding to concerns, criticisms, and misunderstandings,
  • A ton of patience in the face of the possibility that the new thing might take a while to start working,
  • A certain amount of loin-girding for the possibility that the new thing won't work out.
Ministry is a lot easier when the stuff that has been around seemingly forever keeps working, because then you can avoid having to do all of this. But everything has a season, and new ways of responding to church needs and cultural changes is inevitable and necessary.

On top of that, sometimes I really like the stuff that has to go away. I have many treasured memories of my hometown church and its more "traditional" style, but have discovered in the past decade that some of what I remember and loved no longer works, or at least no longer works where I've ended up since becoming a pastor myself. Recognizing that hasn't come easily, but I understand and accept it now. Mostly.

Between grieving the loss and the difficulty of developing the new, there just isn't much that is easy about change. But the world calls for new forms of faithfulness and the church calls for new expressions of what it is meant to be at its heart. We may not always want to do it, but we pretty much have to.

Like it or not.

*It would come out later that many members of the choir wanted to start sitting with their families and found the robes unbearable, so this was going to happen one way or another.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Almost a Spiritual Director

A single sheet awaited each of us, as had been the custom for the past two years. Rembrandt's "Woman of Samaria," printed in color, served as our greeter with the story from John 4 underneath.

"I'm going to read through this twice. After the first time, we will each say a phrase that speaks to us. After the second, I will guide you through a meditation." It was as she said: the reading was slow, deliberate, quietly spoken as if to invite us to savor each word.

It had been some two and a half years since I'd begun the 19th Annotation version of Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises. It had been one and a half since the opening retreat of the program. And it had been nine months since I'd begun seeing my own directees for my practicum. Here tonight, a phrase near the beginning, "he had to pass through," spoke to me. Jesus had to pass through Samaria. I had had to pass through each of these beginnings and phases, and now we were here, at our final time of lecture and discussion.

The first reading concluded, she announced a change of course: "I've decided not to read it again. We'll just move on to the meditation." And with that, we were invited to a time of imagining a conversation with Jesus, a practice that might have been foreign to my earlier self but that now had become natural and even needed. We were invited to listen to what he'd say, and to answer back.

I clearly heard, "Feed my sheep."

My response: "How?"

Feeding the sheep itself was never a problem. Mission and service have always been near the top of my ministry priority list. I've always made time for people seeking a listening ear in troubled moments. When the resources were available and I could make it work, I never had much of an issue sharing them with those in need.

But in more recent times, even since beginning this program, I'd become more aware that my wish to feed the sheep could at times come with little discernment, self-respect, or boundaries. It's the Christian thing, the churchy thing, the emergent thing, the discipleship thing, to just give and give and give and feed and feed and feed. Or so I thought.

I know better now. Or I think I do. So to hear those words again, at this point, invited the only word that came to mind. How best to feed your sheep, Jesus? How best as a pastor or as your follower, let alone in this new additional role?

A week prior, I had finished Barbara Brown Taylor's Learning to Walk in the Dark, a revisitation of the language and concept of darkness that people of faith traditionally hold. She shares an experience of  being guided on a cave exploration, an exercise that due to the darkness, the tight spaces, the unknown, was not very appealing for many, as facing one's spiritual darkness would be. Near the end of her account, she reflects, "Maybe that's the difference between pastoral counselors and spiritual directors. We go to counselors when we want help getting out of caves. We go to directors when we are ready to be led farther in."

If I have learned anything over the course of this program, it's that I don't need to lead everyone out of their caves. It used to be my default setting to find for others the easiest, least demanding way possible back into the light. But that rush isn't always what people need. Sometimes people need help naming the nature of the darkness. At other times one needs a companion to walk or even just sit with them for a while. At still other times, the darkness brings lessons and insights that wouldn't be revealed otherwise.

Sometimes going further into the cave is what's best. Sometimes the best way to feed the sheep is to walk together to find what will provide real sustenance rather than just eat whatever's handy.

"Feed my sheep." I still don't really know how, but so close to the end of this leg of the journey, I at least have a better idea.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Small Sips Is An Adult

We're adults, just not adults like you're adults. Rev. Mindi writes about the challenges that younger adults face when trying to be heard in their churches. A prominent problem is how they are viewed to begin with:
Look at your church board. Is there anyone under 40 on it? Anyone under 30? 
I have seen this happen in the churches I have served. As a young pastor, I’ve been called “kid” many times. Ironically, when my hairdresser recently asked me about coloring my hair I said no. I need my grays that are streaking in. However, the larger issue is that regularly, people in their 30’s and 40’s in the churches I have served and known are referred to as kids (because everyone probably remembers when they were kids and their parents probably still attend that church), but what’s worse, they are often treated like kids. I have seen adults in their 70’s and 80's scold the 40-year-olds in the church over various things—their attire, their tattoos, the way they teach Sunday School—and we wonder why even younger adults are not there. 
We have to stop this symptom. We have to change our attitudes. We have to treat millennials and Gen-Xers as adults. Gen-Xers are middle-aged. Millennials vote and work. We are adults. We have a vested interest—perhaps even more than others—in the future of the church and if we are not included right now, treated with equal value and respect—then why in the world would we want to stay in an institution that doesn’t treat us this way?
It's been my experience that this is a mentality that can run pretty deep, usually beneath the surface until some issue arises that causes a more overt expression. The more typical covert version is some of what Mindi describes above: happening to never consider younger people for the church board, still viewing the 30-year-old son of the church as the infant one remembers, relegating younger people to helping with Christian Education--their children are the ones participating, after all--and nothing else.

The outbursts happen when one of them brings Starbucks into the sanctuary, or tries to calm a crying baby during the sermon, or is eventually tapped for the church board but starts forgetting about meetings because they're so busy otherwise (and nobody approaches them to remind them or ask if everything is okay, assuming that their age is the cause).

The not-so-secret secret is that younger generations have a different way of doing and viewing things. They have different needs and different experiences of the world. All of this needs to be engaged and taken seriously rather than belittled or brushed aside. It'll be inconvenient and it'll probably require some changes in the status quo. The choice the church makes between these will reveal what it values, and it will get corresponding results.

From the "Things Seminary Didn't Adequately Prepare Me For" Department. Jan reflects on the effect that mental illness can have in congregations:
Our spiritual communities are comprised of people with addictions, schizophrenia, depression, phobias, and combinations of all the above. They serve alongside us as elders and deacons, teachers and choir members, office volunteers and nursery workers. [To be fair, some pastors also suffer with serious mental disabilities, but the hope is that they will be removed from professional ministry - at least temporarily - to ensure healthier congregations. It's hard to shepherd God's people if the shepherd is lost and sick.] 
Do we prepare future pastors how to spot behavior that can perpetuate dysfunction and create havoc in a church system? I haven’t seen such classes, but maybe you have. 
I know from experience that the best laid plans for mission and ministry can be sabotaged by just one person who wrestles with serious insecurities much less demons. And small congregations with limited members seem especially susceptible. If small churches are struggling to keep members, they will tolerate unhealthy behaviors for a long time.
One of the most helpful and impactful books that I read in seminary was this little gem, which helped me become better aware of what might be present in congregations and how to minister to people struggling with one form of mental illness or another. Of course, it's one thing to read about it and it's another thing to actually do it, and I haven't always (often) done it well.

Regardless, those who struggle are a part of our churches, and as Jan notes it's the tendency of congregations to ignore it or downplay in response to the anxiety that it may cause (speaking specifically of when one's struggle is clearly playing out in the midst of the church's life…there are just as many cases when that struggle may be much more private, which calls for a different type of care). As one who has seen both the public and private struggles at work, each comes with its own needs and challenges.

Getting parenthood wrong. Brant re-posts one of my all-time favorite entries that he's ever written:
Your wife is expecting. "This is going to be pretty exciting," you say. 
They say, "You just wait."  
"You just wait, because you won't be getting any sleep anymore, once that baby's born. It's all over. It gets harder. It gets worse."
No longer quote, no commentary. Just go read the rest.

Getting parenthood right. Jamie reflects on how her "preacher's kids" aren't exactly all turning out to be Christian:
We are so incredibly proud of the bright, thoughtful, courageous heathens we're raising. And while, as Christian parents, we cling to certain hopes and dreams for our children's faith and future, we trust that the God we believe in is near to them, fully present, and doing His thing. El Chupacabra and I are honestly very cool with the whole situation. 
Some people want to be shocked and appalled by our utter lack of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. They think our kids need a good old-fashioned Bible thumping, and that we are driving them straight to the gates of hell with our nonchalance and free-wheelin' lifestyle. ...Meh. We're cool with that, too. You go ahead and be scandalized over something that is none of your damn business. We'll just be over here, loving our kids.
As you might imagine, I think about this sort of issue quite a bit. I don't know the best way to handle it if one or both of my kids end up deciding that they don't believe in God, or don't believe in the Christian God, or believe in God but have no use for the church, or one of a hundred other scenarios.

Above all else, I know that I need to do at least two things: 1) love them regardless, and 2) recognize that my path is not going to be theirs. I have no illusion that any of this will always be easy, but if I go in with these resolutions, maybe it'll be a little better. Maybe.

Misc. PeaceBang on speaking clearly. Gordon Atkinson with a slightly different, more honest version of the Nicene Creed. Rachel Held Evans with a guest post from Aric Clark, one of the authors of a new book called Never Pray Again. Interesting premise, but definitely not the only way to think about prayer, either. Looks like I'll need to get a copy so I can argue with it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Vintage CC: What I Would Say at a Seminary Commencement

Today marks 10 years since I graduated from my seminary alma mater, which brought to mind this post from September 2011. After seeing so many pastors experience one or more of the things described below, it made sense to give voice to it and to encourage people no matter where they end up.

I fondly remember sitting where you are right now. After years of study and planning and dreaming, I sat in a church pew having just received my degree, the apex of my educational life, and I clearly remember opening the cover and just staring at it. This anticipated moment finally made real, I actually had to convince myself that it was so. I had spent so many years first in undergrad and then in this Masters program wrestling with eternal truths, using the best Biblical and theological scholarship available to me. Aside from that, I had spent three years immersed in a culture of liturgical experimentation and of justice preached to us by prophets ancient and modern. They were years of envisioning what the church could be as we explored the full gamut of worship experience and visualized what God's kingdom made proper and full would look like.

I imagine that this is what your seminary journey has been as well. You have spent this time steeping yourselves in such wonderful energizing work in classroom, chapel, and contextual placements, and now you will follow your calling to next steps of ministry, whatever that may look like. And I, along with your professors and peers prayerfully send you into these next steps with joy.

But I have to warn you about something, and it may not be easy for you to hear. In fact, I consider it strange and burdensome that I have to tell you this, but tell it I must.

Not all of you are going to make it.

I know. I didn't want to say that. Most think that this isn't the right time to speak of dark and depressing things, but I can think of no better time for you to hear this than right now. So you might as well hear it from me.

Basically, it's been my observation that you with whom we celebrate today--particularly you who are planning on entering the local church--eventually will fall into at least three different categories. You won't know which one fits you best until it happens, and it probably won't be for at least a few years. Allow me a few minutes to describe each one. They start out the same, but eventually diverge in the vocational wood.

First, there will be those of you who can conceive of nothing different than the past few years of pursuing justice and creativity in all things. The church at its best embodies what you've experienced here, and thus it must always be so. As a result, your first few years in a local church may be as far as you get. You'll want to claw out your eyeballs the first time you have to mediate an argument about how often to polish the pews. You'll quickly tire of the same hymns sung week after week and year after year. You may not know what to do with yourself the first time you realize that not everybody wants to follow you headfirst into a half dozen Really Important Causes. You'll wonder why council meetings are dominated by conversations about where to hang a painting rather than how best to serve the poor.

You'll experience all this, and you may end up wondering whether your call to ministry was ever a real thing. After all, this wasn't what you thought you were signing up for, was it? Surely you were going to come in and sing cutting-edge music and fight the good fight for all who are oppressed until a big river of righteousness began flowing down your center aisle, right? But instead, the church and its mixture of people are anxious about other things, some or most of which will seem inconsequential to you.

The good news for you who are in this first category is that yes, you probably won't spend more than a couple years in an established church, but you may seek out the necessary avenues through your denomination to start something brand new. You can't see yourself slogging through the caked-up muddy mix of issues that a church decades or centuries old is dealing with, but you could see yourself creating something out of nothing, something fresh and different and that fits your vision of what the church should be about. There's nothing wrong with that. If that's how you can best fulfill your calling, then God be with you.

The second group experiences everything the first group experiences, but decides to stick around. Unfortunately for both your congregation and yourself, you've decided that you're destined to be miserable because you can't be bothered to figure out something else to do with your life. You've just spent thousands of dollars on an education, so this is what you have to put up with as some sort of penance. So you'll spend week after week, month after month, year after year, rolling your eyes every time the phone rings, sniping at your parishioners every time they offer a suggestion or critique or whenever they focus on some "unimportant" thing, and generally hating everything that you do every day. You'll keep telling yourself that your talents are being wasted with these people and that some ideal church exists out there just for you, and every few years you'll probably circulate your profile and start fresh somewhere else that seems like it would be more liberating. Basically, you'll have a career of short and unhappy pastorates that will cause increments of emotional and spiritual death for you and every church you serve, and you'll never admit that you'd be better off working out your calling with fear and trembling at St. Arbucks than in a real church context. Seriously, if you end up falling into this group, get out and work at a coffeehouse or a mattress store for a few years to chill out and regroup, then maybe someday you can try again.

And you who will fall into the third group? You'll probably start off with many of the same realizations about the church as the first two. To be honest, every seminary graduate does. The difference is that you'll decide to stick around, all the while praying for patience, but also determined not to spend part of every day praying for a speedy road to retirement. Instead, you'll accept that arguments about paintings and pews happen, but you'll also decide that you aren't going to let people only be concerned with those things. Sure, you'll trudge through moments that seem ridiculous to you, but you'll also be listening to the issues underneath, trying to draw them out and minister to them as best you can. You'll find ways to introduce new worship elements and cultivate passion for service, but only after you realize that you'll probably have to be at this with the same group of people for a while before it even begins to happen.

Basically, Third Groupers (and First Groupers as well...and maybe eventually even you Second Groupers): you need to love your church. Whether it's a congregation that's been around since a group of German immigrants plopped down in the middle of a field 200 years ago or the brand new group of urbanites you've gathered in your living room, you need to learn to love these people including all of their flaws and hang-ups and treasure their gifts and ideas. You need to accept that the ideal vision of the church that you've been refining in your head the past few years may never come to fruition; that instead you've been sent to these people, and they to you, in a particular time and place. There will be the occasional bad match and moments where it seems you've come as far as you can together, but it takes time to figure that out, too. In the meantime, the world of ministry into which you have stepped involves being vulnerable enough to fall in love with actual people rather than your own ideas about people.

This calling is not for the weak of heart. I don't know how often you've heard that during your seminary years, but it's the truth. You'll be frustrated, you'll doubt yourself and others, you'll be tempted to leave, and you'll have illusions demolished. You'll also learn how to navigate relationships, build trust, and move toward something together, albeit imperfectly. And to do that, you'll have to love what you're doing and those with whom you're doing it.

There really is no other way. It's better if you hear it now so that you can be more fully prepared. Those who don't prepare are the ones who won't make it. So may God bless your journey wherever it takes you next, and may you allow the Spirit to empower you with love, no matter what.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

"We Dwell With You" - A Prayer for Mother's Day

Based on Psalm 23

Some welcome today
bounding into bedrooms with cards decked in crayon and glitter;
favorite meals shared with smiles;
appreciation shown and leisure encouraged;
a day reflecting joy and love and care.

Some observe today in other ways:
awaiting a phone call that won't come;
clearing freshly cut grass from a headstone;
grieving biology's betrayal;
wishing the past could be forgotten or changed.

Today our prayer might be one of gratitude or regret,
adoration or anger,
fulfillment or emptiness,
celebrated affection or lamented absence.

For those who have been motherly to us,
those guides along right paths;
those who joined our weeping in dark places;
those whose pursuit was constant even if not desired,
we give thanks.

For those bonds unformed or broken,
those sources of comfort no longer present;
those dark places created rather than companioned;
those still waters desolate and dry;
we seek mercy.

Whatever our household has been for us,
gather us into yours
where souls are restored,
and oil is poured on wounds.

We dwell with you,
lying down in peace,
lacking nothing.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Summer Reading

This past week I finished both my last paper and my last verbatim for my spiritual direction program. All that's left to do is attend two more classes and finish up the two individual prayer retreats I'm guiding, and I'll be ready for certification as a spiritual director. Woo!

I plan to write something more about that later, but in the meantime, no more classwork means that I can finally start reading for fun again. And over the course of the past few months, I've been building up the stack on my nightstand in anticipation. Here's what it looks like as of this morning:

Dark March by Colin Fleming

Finding God in All Things by William Barry, SJ

Another Country by Mary Pipher

Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor

Speak to Me That I May Speak by W. Dow Edgerton

Hustling God by M. Craig Barnes

The Walking Dead comics, volumes 8 & 9

The Inexplicables by Cherie Priest

Yeah, a couple spirituality/ministry books. But also zombies. And steampunk. And caring for the elderly. And short stories. I try to keep things mixed up.

I don't anticipate getting through all of these  this summer, but I'm sure going to try. Hooray free time!

What's on your summer reading list?

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Three Types of Church Reformers

Regular readers are aware that I'm training to be a spiritual director through the Ignatian Spirituality Institute. As the name implies, I've been spending a lot of time with Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises and all that they entail.

The Exercises are centered on the life of Jesus and feature quite a bit of meditation on Gospel texts to that effect. In addition to scriptural contemplation, however, Ignatius also included a few other meditations meant to help those journeying through the Exercises consider Christ's call in their lives.

One of these additional meditations is known as the Three Classes, or the Three Types of People. The basic setup, or first prelude, is to envision three people who have been given a large sum of money. They find this gift an obstacle to their growing closer to God, so they consider ways to remove the burden.

Each does so in a different way, and to varying effect. The first thinks and talks over what to do, but ultimately never acts. The second knows he or she should really get rid of the money, but comes up with ways to justify keeping it or working around having it. The third is truly indifferent to whether he or she has the money or not and can let it go because he or she is focused on more important divine things; if God wills that he/she keeps it, great, and if not, okay. Truly, whatever God wants, he or she will do.

To lift out Ignatius' points from the meditation, we end up with these three types of people: the procrastinators, the compromisers, and the indifferent.

The more I have considered this meditation over the past few months, the more I hear it being analogous to various types of people who want to reform the church. At different points, depending on circumstances and specific scenarios, I have been each of these. In a sense, I still am each of these. And I've seen them at work elsewhere in the church as well as we collectively attempt to move the church into the future in faithful response to new cultural norms, technology, generational shifts, and all the rest.

Here, then, are the three types of church reformers, with apologies to Ignatius:

1. The procrastinators love to think and talk. They think big things about what the church can be; big radical amazing ways that the church can be faithful in the world if we just get out of our own way, leave behind a bunch of old and tired practices and mindsets and theology. They talk about this new grand vision just as often, whether on social media or during church meetings. "If only," they say over and over, "if only the church could just act on these tremendous thoughts and words, how much could we transform the world!"

There's just one problem: these reformers never get beyond those thoughts and words. They'll share Big Ideas all day, talk a big game about what the church should be, max out their allotted posts on Twitter...but that's where their hard work ends. Actually testing these ideas out? I'll do it eventually. But man, once I do, the church is going to be so different, you guys!

2. The compromisers are a pretty sizable group. In fact, I'll fess up to being in this category most of the time if I manage to get beyond procrastination. The church in its institutional form is a mixed bag of anxiety, hopefulness, self-interest, and occasional forays into trying new things. Big Ideas can make it out of the Big Idea stage, but perhaps in smaller, slower, and more frustrating increments than some may desire due to the complicated mix of factors and dynamics at play in any typical congregation.

So the compromiser works within this system, perhaps attaining small victories and at some level accepting the limitations placed on those Big Ideas by available resources, systemic anxiety, wanting to maintain some semblance of peace in the community, and, if one is a church professional, the desire to keep doing things like "eating food" and "supporting one's family." The compromiser learns to live in between the here and the not yet, for better or worse, and not without some degree of disappointment and shame.

3. Wouldn't we all love to be like the indifferent? The ones who just venture forth disregarding everything but what awesome and radical things God is calling them to do and be? The ones who have declared a moratorium on procrastination and compromise; that the time is NOW to embody God's kingdom regardless of what society and church bureaucracies say? This, after all, is what Ignatius implies in his original meditation we should all be striving to be. It is perhaps no different for we dreaming Big Ideas for the church.

The truly indifferent are probably the smallest group. Most who manage to live in this way are most likely not connected to a formal church (and in my experience, just as many formerly affiliated seem to be in the procrastinator group). Maybe they once were, and maybe they've found a different collective that is more efficient at following God's call. Or maybe they're a part of newer church plants that don't feel the burden of keeping with established and embedded traditions and practices.

Whatever the case, being truly indifferent is likely a common aspiration across all three groups, but life circumstances, rationalization, and the imperfect nature of existence itself may hold us back from achieving it.

I think it's worth being honest with ourselves about where we really are across these three categories. All of them mean well and envision the church doing incredible things for God's kingdom, but whether consciously or unconsciously, we have different ways of spending what we've been given, so to speak.

What could each of us do, wherever we find ourselves, to truly move the church forward, paying closer attention to God's call and less to our own interests?