Dear Donald

I don’t typically write “open letters” to other Christians, but your recent blog post made me want to reach out to you. Your follow up post offers a lot of clarity to your first thoughts. I especially love your thoughts on the “not about you” section. This quote was amazing,

But this is a much larger issue. The subtext of these comments seemed to insinuate that God wants us to suffer for Him. But not suffer by reaching the poor or by being outcast, suffer, literally, by standing in a church service singing songs you don’t find catchy. Really?

Thanks for pointing that out. You have no idea how often I’ve had the same thought.

Your first post resonated with me, largely because the reasons why you don’t often attend a “traditional” church service are the same reasons why I don’t often attend conferences. I find sitting in large rooms for hours on end, while an endless litany of people tell me how excited they are, to be emotionally traumatic. The fact that conferences typically break up the endless litany of speakers by putting on faux rock concerts doesn’t do anything to make them more palatable. Like you, I’m an introvert. Noise followed by louder noise does produce fond feelings in me. One of my most common thoughts during a conference is, “Make the bad man stop.”

Unlike you singing does produce an emotional connection with me, but in a much different setting. Also unlike you, I enjoy a good lecture – provide I both know beforehand I’m attending a lecture and I know there is a clear ending time to the lecture1. We have different tastes. I’m pretty much ok with that and I’m sure you are as well.

Other than to tell you how much I resonate with your thinking I wanted to reach out for some other reasons.

First, as a pastor, I wanted to apologize for all the righteous bloggers who read2 your blog and attacked. When people who depend on a particular institution see the institution questioned, the questioning voice needs to be silenced or discredited. I wish it were otherwise, but it is what it is. I’ve experience similar attacks in my lifetime. They are rarely direct, and hurt deeply. For the wounds inflicted by fellow Christians, I apologize.

Second, I wanted to encourage you. Run away from “traditional” Evangelical worship as fast as you can. If it just leaves you exhausted, numb, or even hostile – it doesn’t matter what the production value is, the spiritual damage it can do is just not worth it. “Traditional” Evangelical worship has turned worshippers into audience members. They are there to give emotional energy to the band, sit quietly when appropriate, and provide the audience track for the sermon. In fact, a lot of the same people who reminded you that worship is “not about you” need to be reminded of the same thing3.

You wrote this in your first piece,

I connect with God by working. I literally feel an intimacy with God when I build my company. I know it sounds crazy, but I believe God gave me my mission and my team and I feel closest to him when I’ve got my hand on the plow.

That is simply amazing, and it explains why the “traditional” Evangelical worship-service leaves you feeling blah. The audience model of worship turns you into a combination recipient/emotional-prop. You want to work, which is exactly what worship is supposed to be – service to God. The “weekly fill-up” mentality of Evangelical Christianity has got it backward, worship isn’t a service station for congregants and leaders. It’s a temple through which we render service to our Savior4.

I do hope you find, however, a community which deliberately and regularly gathers to serve Jesus. Filled with people who have the same conviction to serve, but who experience God in a way which is different from you. These folks help us see our own blind-spots, help protect our weaknesses, and give us space for our strengths to bless them as well. Being regular isn’t only good for the physical realm5.

Third, I wanted to invite you to come and worship with the little church I pastor if you happen to find yourself in the Philly area. We are in South Jersey, not too far from Center City. You don’t have to announce you’re coming, you don’t even have to let me know you’re there6. I don’t offer this as an, “this will convince him he’s completely wrong about going to church” un-vitation. We probably do a lot of things that would leave you banging your head on the wall. On the other hand, I think you’ll appreciate the eclectic nature of the group. Folks are goofy, fun, and think it’s funny when people take themselves seriously. I think you’d have fun.

  1. Also, lectures aren’t usually filled with people telling you how absolutely wonderful the event is – over, and over, and over, and over. I’m sure these people want to get out of there as much as I do, but they are contractually obligated to sell the product. 
  2. Or at least read other blogs which quoted your blog and wanted to chime-in. 
  3. I also need this same reminder, just in case you were wondering. 
  4. I’m a mystic, so it’s pretty easy for me to embrace this idea. Worship, as far as I can tell, is the act of stepping into the throne-room scene in Revelation. 
  5. Yup, potty humor. I went there. 
  6. We’re small, so we’ll all know a visitor has joined us, but I won’t recognize you, trust me (if that hurt your feelings feel free to borrow my metaphorical wiffle-ball bat of doom and give me a good wallup). Heck, even go by your middle name if you want (don’t give a false name, lying is a sin and then you’d have to confess and give your real name and it would kinda defeat the whole purpose). 

Our Town

This past week, I found myself linked in a post from one of my old LMH acting compatriots. When I followed it to see why I was linked in the post I was delighted to discover our alma mater was launching a production of Our Town — which they had not performed in 23 years. This was important to both my self and my friend because in that 1991 production we played the lead couple of George Gibbs and Emily Webb.

our townstsge

Set in a 3/4 round the intimate environment was perfect for the play

When word spread about the current production on FaceBook many of the old cast and crew connected and reminisced about the time we had with the play. For all the wonderful simplicity of the Our Town's set-design, our production was a monumental undertaking. At the time Lancaster Mennonite High School had no stage on which to perform a drama, the current fine arts center was still months away from opening. So, the cast and crew had to come together and help build a stage in the school's old chapel space (currently the cafeteria). It was probably the combination of the hours spent preparing the production space and the depth of Wilder's script which cemented the Our Town experience into our collective psyche. Personally, I can say the memories of that production are among the most vivid of all my moments on stage. In fact, I still display our cast and crew photo in my office, 23 years later. This photo has became a wonderful point of connection between past and current productions. I scanned the image and emailed it to the current director, but my little gesture got trumped. In a moment of inspiration, our “Emily” printed out a copy of the photo and delivered it to the current cast and crew, along with a congratulatory card and some snacks.

Along with the reminiscing came a compulsion to see the current production for myself. In some ways I'm sure the ache of nostalgia played a role in this desire, but I also felt the need to witness this current cast and crew enter into a joy similar to the one our 1991 group experienced. Last night I was able to travel out to Lancaster along the same path I drove on Monday mornings for two years. I was accompanied by my daughter and my parents. It was especially gratifying to have my daughter along for the experience, as she had never been to LMH before. Her response after the play was, “This place is amazing.”

Aside from being treated to a phenomenal performance, I was also able to several connections. One of my old teachers, who happens to be the father of one of my dearest friends, was at the performance with his wife. I hadn't seen them in over a decade, but I was reminded again last night of what special people they both are. The current Assistant Superintendent of the wider Lancaster Mennonite School remembered me from my time at LMH and we had a wonderful chat (he also tried to recruit my daughter, to which I am not adverse). As a special bonus I got to meet the current director and take a picture with the current “George” (who graciously chatted with a guy who played his role seven years before he was born).

It was a beautiful evening, reminding me how special my alma mater is.

1991 cast and crew

The 1991 cast and crew


Snow Bowl

Yesterday it felt like our Philadelphia fate was going to happen again. Everything about the game seemed to be stacked in our favor.

  1. We were playing at home.
  2. It was SNOWING.
  3. We were playing a dome team.

Any Philly fan could tell you, “Of course we'd be losing that game. Don't you remember the NFC Championship game against Tampa?”

So when we were down eight points, and amassed a whopping -2 yards in the first half it just seemed as though it was “business as usual” for Philly sports. When the Lions returned a punt for a touchdown and went up 14 points it seemed certain the day would not end well.

Then “business as usual” took the day off. I actually think it must have gotten buried in the 8 inches of snow which dropped on the field.

  • Our warm weather quarterback figured out how to throw in the snow.
  • Our offensive line invaded the Lion's trenches and evicted their front four from the game.
  • Shady McCoy ran for more yards in one quarter than most backs run in a game.

Having grown up here, seeing the Eagles win a game like this boggles my mind. They can keep boggling it all they want.

Advent Annual

"It's not Christmas" - caption, "Even knowing he will be misunderstood, Wezlo still highlights the importance of Advent"

This is becoming somewhat of a yearly offering, but I feel compelled to once more defend the importance of Advent. This liturgical season is a pause filled with expectant hope. It exists in contrast to the “Christmas Shopping Season,” which is filled with stress and constant movement.

I know people love this season because it is so busy, and that challenging it makes me look like a Grinch. Still, I urge people that the celebration of Christmas isn't hear yet. Find some time to enjoy the pause Advent offers us.


Mobile OS Shuffle


Android or iOS?

Last year I picked up a Google Nexus 7 so I could try out Android. I really like my Nexus 7, and as used it I began to wonder if Android could actually become my Mobile OS of choice. The portability of the Nexus 7 remains a compelling feature, and there are features on Android which iOS simply doesn't have (why can't I command-tab to switch apps, Apple?).

For the first half of the year I threw myself into using the Nexus as a primary device. I used it to write my sermons. I got a usb-to-go cable and played games with an Xbox 360 controller. I even purchased a season pass for a TV show. It was a lot of fun.

Eventually, however, I moved back to using my iPad 2 more and more. The screen wasn't nearly as good, and the keyboard support wasn't a full-featured, but when I used the iPad I didn't feel as though I was fighting my device as much. Each app I was in was used for one task, and that was it. The iPad helped me focus.

So, after nearly a year with my Nexus I've now settled whether or not I want to use it as my Tablet OS. While I think it's certainly capable, it's just not what I want to be using. For me, a tablet is a more focused computing experience than the way Android is designed. Apps in iOS feel more polished and integrated – they get out of my way and allow me to “just work.” This month I upgraded my tablet to an iPad Air and couldn't be happier with the device. The screen is stunning, and the speed of the new processor is absurd. I continue to enjoy my Nexus, and have no problem recommending the second generation Nexus 7 for anyone looking at a 7 inch tablet (and who doesn't want an iPad).

While I don't think Android is good to be used as my tablet OS, however, I may have found another use for Android in my work-flow. My Nexus 7 experience as made me think I would probably be very happy with Android as a phone OS. Android is very polished, and I don't use a lot of apps on my phone. Android's eMail, contacts, and calendar apps are stellar – and the other apps I use on my phone have nice Android counterparts. Google Now is an incredible feature, and on-screen keyboard in Android is heads and tails above the iOS one. Additionally, as my near-vision weakens (my 40's are doing a number on my eye-sight) the larger screens available on an Android device are becoming compelling. I actually would consider either a Galaxy Note or Nexus 5 as it would merge my small tablet and phone into one device (probably the Nexus, stock Android is the way to go).

In fact, Android is so good at this moment I have only two points which give me pause. First is iMessage. My son still doesn't have a phone (though that will change this year) and it's nice that he can use his iDevices to message me at will. Second is the camera. Every since I got my first iPhone my point and shoot camera has been collecting dust in a cabinet. Every comparison I've seen between the cameras in the iPhone and Android devices has had iOS coming out on top. Also, photostream has been a wonderful way to get my images on to my mobile device. Even images I load into Aperture through my DSLR are uploaded into it – it's something I would truly miss in an Android switch.

So, in the next year I will have see if I take my Android experiment to the next phase. We shall have to see.


Geek Depression

I just got over a serious case of “geek depression.” It’s a state of mind/life which tends to come about when I’m posed with a tech problem for which I know there is answer, but can’t find it. Usually this happens when I hit a wall in my areas of understanding, and bounce off.

“Geek depression,” at least for me, includes an almost obsessive relationship with a given obstacle. I know it’s there, I know what I need to do to get around it, but I can’t make it happen. Until the problem is solved, it takes up more and more of my time and energy.

My typical progression in the malady is consistent. At first, I’m challenged and excited to see how the problem can be overcome. Next I get frustrated that the solutions which people have found elsewhere don’t work for me. Finally, I slink towards mental exhaustion as I attempt to overcome the obstacle again and again and again to no avail. That’s the low-point, where I just want to toss the offending device, project, system out the window so it won’t bother me any more.

Geek depression is no fun, but it does have some interesting side-effects. First, I inevitably learn a lot while I pour over a problem again and again and again. This leads to the creation of new skills, and a deeper understanding of the project which caused the offense. In the past, I emerged from bouts of geek depression understanding Samba, MySQL, PHP, Apache, Linux, and Video editing – just to name a few. After this current bout I found out much about running a VPN, and I’m beginning to get a (seriously) rudimentary grasp of iptables. I gained this knowledge as I hit the wall and bounced off – again, and again, and again, and again. The frustration of an unsolved problem seems to be the crucible through which I delve deep into a topic.

I begin to rebound once I hit the state of mental exhaustion. Invariably, I end up seeing an alternate path by which I can achieve my desired goal, and I begin to explore. By the time I discover this new path, though, I’ve learned. A lot of what I’ve learned is the language and syntax needed to accomplish my task, and this makes all the difference. These new paths tend to lead me to my desired outcome. Even if they do not I don’t usually slip back into geek depression. Instead, I allow myself to walk away and try new things.

Is geek depression my ideal way to be spurred to deep-learning?  Not in the slightest – but sometimes its stress leads to something awesome.

Note: Yup. I’m aware “geek depression” is really just “depression.”  Geek is just a modifier to describe the particular trigger for my affliction.

Rethinking Roger Williams

This morning I finished reading Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul. It took me a while to work through the story as I gorged on fiction during a stressful late-summer and fall, but the book itself is an engaging read.

My sentiments towards Roger Williams have not been generally positive in the past, mostly because I get frustrated with how people use Williams concept of “soul liberty” [1] After reading The Creation of the American Soul I have come to have deep appreciation of Roger Williams. He was a fascinating man, living in a tumultuous time, who felt compelled to follow evidence wherever it led him. His propensity to come to uncomfortable conclusions got him into trouble frequently throughout his life – first in England, then in Massachusetts, and even in Rhode Island. Through it all, most who encountered him found an honest, engaging, and thoroughly Christian man. Of all the points made in the book, I found that to be the most interesting. Many contemporary people, both friendly and hostile towards Williams' memory, tend to assume that his own Christian convictions faded as he moved from Puritan, to Baptist (for a moment, anyway), and then to being part of no Church. This was not the case, he remain convinced of Christ and the Gospel his entire life. He continued to preach in his later years, and even felt compelled to publicly debate Quakers on their errors as they began to spread in the colonies. It's important do note that Williams debated Quakers while simultaneously affirming their right to worship as they would and live unmolested lives. Williams was more complex then I've ever given him credit, which is a shame.

His convictions regarding religion and state-craft came both through deep examination and great suffering. He'd witnessed, first hand, the abuses of civil authority and the toxic mix of religion and politics. He always affirmed the need for government, but he also believed it's realm of authority was the physical world alone. To Williams, government should not aspire to compel a set of beliefs upon it's citizens and violate their consciences. The mind and soul were God's responsibility – and liberty of the soul from human authority was non-negotiable for him.

The cruelties inflicted on people when religion and state mixed were toxins with which Williams had personal experience. They'd broken friendships, chased him out of his home, and nearly led to his death. This is what led him, as a deeply devout Christian, to champion a wall of separation between church and state. He knew the results if such a wall were not kept up.

As I said, Creation of the American Soul has changed my opinion of Roger Williams, though I do believe John M. Barry may have overstated his case a bit. In the afterword Mr. Barry attempts, briefly, to make a connection between Williams and Jefferson. It's an intriguing picture, but Jefferson and Williams sprang from differing motivations. Williams was concerned about the pollution of religion by the state. Jefferson was more concerned with the corruption of the state by religion. In the Early Republic, Madison seems to have had a more of a kinship with Williams' thoughts.

This is a book worth-reading, and a complex person worth discovering.

  1. The concept that no human authority, civil or religious, could impose a belief upon a person's conscience. It was radical for the time, and a sentiment with which I agree, but it's been morphed over time to mean, “I can do whatever I want.” For this reason I've often advocated dropping the language entirely. return.