Options, Sabbath, and Saying NO

The more I work with students the more overwhelmed I become at the number of options they have to choose from. Literally, everything (class, living situations, activities, what to eat for dinner) is a decision from among multiple options.

Most students don’t struggle with filling up their schedules, they struggle with saying yes and no to the right things.

If I’m being honest, I have the same struggle. Amy and I could be involved in a churchy opportunity (to quote Nacho Libre) every day and/or night of the week (and some weeks we are).

The question is almost never one of finding a good options, it’s trying to figure out, to discern, what is the best option. Many of us solve this problem by saying yes to everything.

Or maybe (if it’s a Facebook event). We all struggle with saying no. Maybe that’s why Jesus said this.

Saying no is important, even vital, for life.

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My friend has been telling about his teenage daughter and the struggle with being “on” all the time. Thanks to phones, Facebook, etc the only time she is ever “off” is when she is asleep.

As a result, the burden of carrying a constant emotional weight can be crushing. They’ve instituted a “no-phone-or-computer-after-8-pm” policy (it’s voluntary but appreciated). I’m trying to do a similar thing. It’s hard.

But it’s a no that opens up the possibility of saying yes to some really good things.

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Sabbath is a Christian practice in saying yes and no. Often, though, it is framed as saying no to work.

It’s more layered than that, though. It’s saying no to finding our identity in work, in production, in achievement, in connection. Walking away from work (or the phone, or the blog, or the inbox) for a time frees us from slavery to those things.

Which is beautiful. But even one more layer down, it is a reminder that the world goes round without me pushing it. People will be ok without me. God is in control.

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I stink at saying no. I would much rather just say yes to everything. Have all the experiences I can have. Keep everyone happy. Not miss out on anything.

But I distort my own importance and tell myself (and others) that the world revolves around me if I don’t say no, even to good things.

What do you need to say no to?

“Busy is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal…not of devotion but of defection.” – Eugene Peterson

On the Entrepreneurial Spirit

I’m reading a fascinating book called My Korean Deli. It’s the story of a convenience store in Brooklyn (and it is quite the story). Anyone who has lived in the city has seen, and been in, one of these ubiquitous establishments at some point (if not every day).

It’s a fascinating read for a number of reasons: race and immigrant issues, inter-racial marriage dynamics, neighborhoods in transition…it’s got a little bit of everything.

In ministry, especially start-up campus ministry and church planting you have to embrace the entrepreneurial spirit at some level or else you are in trouble. Ben Howe, the author, perfectly captures the difficulty of the entrepreneur:

“The thing about business is that, like anything else, it takes a while to figure out how you’re really doing. You’re like a pilot whose dashboard instruments don’t function until the plane has reached cruising altitude–you don’t know how fast you’re going, how high you are, or how close you are to stalling and dropping out of the sky. There just isn’t enough information, and what there is you don’t know how to interpret…beginner’s errors distort the picture…ballpark guesses often turn out to be rosy-picture guesses.”

And then this:

“No matter how mixed the evidence, to a fledgling entrepreneur the future always looks shiny and bright, doesn’t it? You’re in business, you have a store, and it has customers, which might seem like modest accomplishments, but it’s the beginning and it’s hard not to succumb to the delusion that things can only get better.”

That is good stuff, especially in ministry when defining the “bottom line” can get tricky. Doing something, does not always equate with quality. A good reminder, for me, that clarity in big goals brings clarity in smaller things.

An ode to the 49ers

Last Saturday, when Beth was here, we headed out with some friends to McGreevy’s to watch the 49ers take on the Saints. I have become a full on 49er cynic over the past decade, so I had no hopes of a victory…just wishing for a good game. My non-expert opinion about the 49ers on January 14th was that they were a nice story with some good players, a great defense, a coach who was leading them in the right direction, but a likely inflated 13-3 record. No way they beat a “real” team with a “real” quarterback like the Saints and Drew Brees.

But they won and they won in epic fashion and suddenly I was swept into full on nostalgia mode.

Here’s the deal: I love baseball. If I could only take one professional sport with me to a deserted island I would take baseball. But the thing I’ve realized with the 49ers here recently is how deeply the niners (and football) are ingrained in my sporting memory. I don’t know that I enjoy sports as much as I do today without the 49ers.

The first sporting event that I really remember in great detail is the 49ers-Bengals super bowl with “the drive” (49ers won 20-16 on a last second Montana to Taylor touchdown pass). I literally remember almost everything about that game.

I also remember in great detail the next season (89/90), when the Niners dominated professional football and capped the year off with a 55-10 pounding of the Broncos in the Super Bowl.

And I remember the next season as well (90/91)…I remember going to the Monday night game that pitted the 10-1 49ers vs. the 10-1 NY Giants. I remember being freezing cold and the Niners winning a brutal 7-3 slugfest. That game was huge because it gave the 49ers the inside track to home field advantage for the playoffs.

And I remember the rematch in the NFC Championship game when the Giants won 15-13 on five field goals. In 8 quarters the Giants never scored a touchdown against the 49ers that season. I remember watching that last second field goal go through the uprights and thinking it was a mistake. In my 10-year-old world, the 49ers DID NOT lose. It couldn’t be real.

That game was the first time I had ever felt utterly devastated after a loss. I was too young to remember the SF Giants meltdown against the Cardinals in 1987 NLCS. And while losing the 1989 World Series to the A’s was a bummer, that whole experience was defined by the Loma-Prieta¬†earthquake. Even as a nine-year old I knew bigger and more important things were going on. Plus the 49ers were well on their way to winning another Super Bowl.

That 1990 team, the team that certainly could have/should have become the only team to win 3 straight super bowls, was my first genuine sports heartbreak. It prepared me thoroughly for what the Giants would do to me over the next 20 years. And it tought me to cherish championships because they do not come every year, even though it felt that way as 10-year-old 49er fan.

Furthermore, the Niners were a family tradition. My grandfather loved them , my dad loved them, his brothers loved them. Stories were told of trecks to old Kezar Stadium. We watched plenty of games at my grandparents house back in the day. Those are some of my most vivid extended family memories.

The 49ers played on Sunday and we had a lot to do on Sunday as a pastor’s family, so there was something beautiful about listening to the first couple of drives on the radio on the way home from church and then the fam crashing in the family room around the TV to cheer on the team that would win almost every week.

So, watching Alex Smith lead the team to a last-minute victory, watching Candlestick Park explode with euphoria…those images unlocked some deep memories and powerful waves of nostalgia.

But here’s the other thing I’ve learned. I’m a baseball guy. I’m bummed the Niners lost on Sunday and won’t be going for their 6th Super Bowl in my life time. I’m kind of relieved though…I live in Boston. I’d have to hear about this thing from the Patriots perspective for two weeks. That might have been unbearable.

Nothing feels as bad as when the Giants lose in the playoffs…when the baseball season is over. And nothing in my sports watching life has been as satisfying as when the Giants won the World Series.

Love the Niners, yeah, but man, I really love baseball!

Spring Break (Flash Forward)

It’s official: everyone is back and the spring semester is on. UMASS-Boston starts today, BU’s first official gathering is tomorrow night, leadership community is going down on Friday, and yesterday we had the first of 3 Spring Break prep meetings. Excited for the trip this year (two trips actually) and for the ways it is connected to a place (Joplin, MO) that supports us and cares about what we do in Boston. It’ll be great to serve folks there.

Snow and Sisters…

Last week my sister, Beth, was in town…this week Stacey, Amy’s sister, is here and here for good. Super exciting to have family in town on a permanent basis. We celebrated this new reality by going to Angela’s, because Angela’s!

And now today it is snowing…as in our first real snow fall of the year. We’ve had a couple of flirtings with snow but this one is the real deal. I guess it is finally winter.

Last, but not least, go Niners!

Quote of the Week (from Moneyball)

I have numerous opinions about the film adaptation of the book Moneyball. I won’t bore you with that 5000 word treatise (check out the links tomorrow for an article that articulates my opinions well), but there is a gem of a line in the film and it goes like this:

“The first guy through the wall always gets bloody.”

If that isn’t leadership in 9 words…

It’s so much easier to be the second, third, or tenth person through the wall…you avoid the wounds, and the pain, and the blood.

But you never get to be the first one through the wall. And, more importantly, if you don’t break that wall down, there’s a chance no one goes through.

Go bust some walls down!