Are you running beyond capacity?

Read in 2 mins

On Saturday afternoon, my computer had a nervous breakdown. One minute it was fine, the next the spinning beach ball of death sat suspended on my monitor. It had had enough. And since computers are more tactful than homo sapiens we all know that the beach ball is the computer’s way of giving us the middle finger. This is especially the case if you happen to be halfway through an episode of MI-5 on Netflix during nap time.

Like a desperate man threatening to throw himself off of a bridge, one by one parts of the system started to fail. The dock disappeared. The background went grey. I rebooted. Same thing. No icons. No signs of life just a vacant stare.

The problem and the solution were thankfully kind of simple. My Macbook has 120 GB of space and over the last three years I have owned it, I have slammed pictures, podcasts, videos, and audio into that little (yes, 120 GB seems small now–current MacBook Pros start with 250 GB) space. It was so full that there wasn’t sufficient space to run the normal functions like displaying icons and wallpaper. Thankfully I don’t have to buy a new computer, I just need to get rid of some of the 9,000 photos or hundreds of old podcasts cluttering up my hard drive.

Sometimes I feel like my computer–there is so much coming into my life that sometimes I think my eyes may be replaced with beach balls. Sorry, your input doesn’t commute.

In a digital world we still need space and time to be still and to be silent. In fact, we need it more than ever since silence and solitude were often part of life for ancient people–working the field, riding to town, all could be opportunities to practice the presence of God in the absence of our contemporary stimuli.

Do you ever feel like you’re over capacity? How do you make space of quiet?

Parents, remember when you used to sleep?

Read in 2 mins

Sleep is on my mind today.

I haven’t read it, but a friend tells me that James Bryan Smith (in The Good and Beautiful God) claims that sleep deprivation is one of today’s greatest inhibitors of spiritual formation. I’ve written about how technology enables our loss of sleep here.

Interestingly,  also came across this article about the health benefits of napping at Michael Hyatt’s blog. Hyatt quotes Winston Churchill on the benefits of a midday rest:

You must sleep sometime between lunch and dinner, and no halfway measures. Take off your clothes and get into bed. That’s what I always do. Don’t think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day. That’s a foolish notion held by people who have no imaginations. You will be able to accomplish more. You get two days in one—well, at least one and a half.

Rest and sleep are something of an ongoing challenge in the Gissing household at the moment.

As an infant our son Nathan (3 yo) slept very well. He began sleeping through the night quite early on, under six months. He has, however, always been an early riser. For a long time his regular waking time was about 6:00a. He’d also take a two hour nap during the day.

Then came the fateful day when we decided to get rid of the paci. Things have never been the same. He now no longer will nap in the day. If he does nap it is only because his level of exhaustion overpowers him–over the weekend he came out after quiet time (not quiet at all, by the way) and sat with me on the couch, he was literally nodding off sitting with me!

He will nap if I am at home and he lays with me on the couch (see left). It’s like in the absence of something and someone to keep him still and peaceful, he manages to keep himself awake doing all manner of things–even when he’s exhausted.

Napping together is a sweet thing, but it’s ultimately not sustainable.

I mentioned to a friend recently that getting married exposes a level of self-centeredness the we rarely know we have absent entering into that relationship. If that’s true, parenting takes us even deeper within our own hearts and exposes more of the issues we have. 

Writing about sleep and sleep problems, as well as parenting, is really about one thing–recognizing our limitations. Each of us has limitations of time, concentration, energy, etc. There is only so much that we can do to increase our capacity in order to meet the challenges of our day. We have to not only increase capacity where we can, but we have to focus and limit ourselves so we’re addressing on the right things.

Chief among those right things is rest and sleep–for big kids as well as little kids. The challenge this week is: what are you going to do to improve the quality and duration of your sleep?

A double-edged sword: Trauma-shaped leadership

Read in 3 mins
Leadership can be strengthened or compromised by personal trauma and crisis.
When trauma reminds us of our limitations and makes us more circumspect in our decision-making — when it causes us to rely more closely on God, Scripture, and the counsel of others — it is something that can enrich our leadership. When trauma becomes something that lingers in our present mind, haunting our every step, when every decision is taken in light of that trauma, it compromises our leadership and reduces our effectiveness. It becomes a bizarre sort of idol.
A case in point.
In 2004 U.S. Senator John Kerry ran for President of the United States. Kerry is a well-spoken, intelligent man. He had a commendable service record in the United States Navy. He had experience as a prosecutor as well as a considerable experience as legislator.
He lost the election to incumbent President George W. Bush, somewhat less well-spoken, with a less than stellar service record in the Air National Guard.  Why? I cannot read the nation’s collective mind, but I can point to at least one reason John Kerry failed in his bid for the presidency. During the campaign, Kerry’s leadership was perceived by many (including me) as having been shaped by the trauma of Vietnam and as much as he was committed to anything, he was committed to not repeating Vietnam. He came across as obsessed with it.
The nation was attempting, at least in part, to wrap its collective mind around what had become known as “the global war on terror” in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. To many, Kerry’s extreme caution seemed to be a liability — not the sort of leadership needed during a two-front offensive against radical Islam. The trauma of Vietnam had shaped, and was perceived as having compromised, Kerry’s leadership in foreign policy matters.

And now to something that is occupying my mind as I prepare for the Fellowship of Presbyterians meeting in Minneapolis this week. How is trauma shaping the leadership of senior figures in our church.

Many senior leaders (pastors and executives) in the Presbyterian Church USA have been shaped by at least two traumas: the Civil Rights era and the trauma of separation of the Presbyterian Church in America in the early 1970s.
Senior leaders of the Presbyterian Church USA were early in their pastoral formation or ministry when the Civil Rights movement occupied the center of the nation’s attention in the sixties. Many saw in the Christian churches a recalcitrance on this issue that compromised the integrity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They saw churches more willing to uphold the status quo ante than engage in Gospel-shaped culture change. They said — never again. 

In 1973 delegates from 260 the Presbyterian Church US (PCUS, basically the Southern Presbyterian Church) formed a new reformed body, the Presbyterian Church in America. They left the PCUS (one of the two denominations that together formed the Presbyterian Church USA in 1983) in order to form a church that they believed was more faithful to the Scriptures and the classical Reformed system of belief.
For many, this departure was more than simply an intellectual exercise it was a deeply traumatic rending of a church family. One pastor has described how his home church left the PCUS and never invited him to speak or come back  once he chose to remain in the PCUS/PCUSA — we’re talking 40 years here. That’s traumatic — the tearing apart of relationships. Even today many in the PCUSA consider the PCA a cult; many in the PCA consider the PCUSA apostate (or at least heretical). That’s a messy divorce.
As the Presbyterian Church USA comes to terms with the deep divisions that exist within it, there are many leaders whose responses to the current situation are being shaped by the trauma of these two events — Civil Rights and ecclesial separation. Can we, they ask, risk being wrong about GLBT people? The culture is growing in acceptance, why can’t we? Are we repeating our missteps during the Civil Rights movement?
As conversations about new ways forward develop, including ideas for forming a new reformed body, the specter of the PCA split is looming for some leaders. The thought of departure invokes a deeply-visceral negative response for many of those who lived through the formation of the PCA.
Again, leadership can be strengthened or compromised by personal trauma and crisis. To the extent that trauma reminds us of our limitations and makes us more circumspect in our decision-making — when it causes us to rely more closely on God, Scripture, and the counsel of others — it is something that can enrich our leadership. 
When trauma becomes something that lingers in our present mind, haunting our every step, when every decision is taken in light of that trauma, it compromises our leadership and reduces our effectiveness. It becomes a bizarre sort of idol. It causes paralysis.

It’s for this reason that I find myself relying on the Holy Spirit in praying for our church. I need deeper prayers than the ones I can form with my mind, heart, and lips. I need God’s prayers prayed through me for the Presbyterian Church USA. 

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Amen.

Never a bad day at the beach

Read in < 1 min

We’re on vacation with Anna’s family staying in a beautiful home on Perdido Bay, close the the Alabama-Florida border. Having grown up near the water — the English Channel — I have a theory: it’s never a bad time to be at the beach or bay. Every type of weather (except the types that will kill you) finds beautiful expression at the waterfront.

Today I awoke to the distant flashes of lightning and the sound of distant thunder. I took a cup of coffee onto the front porch (this house has an amazing wrap around porch) and planted myself in a rocking chair. As the sun crept higher in the sky its light revealed the sort of billowing clouds you can find only near water. They hung heavy overhead and slowly marched northward up from the gulf. The sun’s increasing light revealed more and more details of the soaring clouds. The thunder is moving closer and closer and in no time we’ll have a downpour.
Storms have their own beauty. We often associate the beach with sunny weather and sunbathing. In my experience there’s just as much beauty and almost as much fun in the gusts of a summer thunderstorm or the stillness of a winter morning with frost covering the ground.
There’s never a bad time to be at the beach. The waterfront always offers it’s consolation — the tranquility of a still or even choppy bay. So we’ll see what today will bring: sun and sailing or rain, puzzles, and conversation over cups of coffee. Either way: we can’t lose.

[Review] Tim Chester, Closing the Window

Read in 4 mins

In June I took three days to go on a retreat in the foothills of North Carolina. I took several books with me including Tim Chester’s Closing the Window (IVP 2011). It was one of several books dealing with pornography that I have received from InterVarsity over the last six or so months (we get periodic copies of new releases from IVP, our publishing division, that may prove useful in our ministry to students and faculty). I was not familiar with Tim Chester, but looking around his website it seems like he’s involved in some intriguing ministries.

 Closing the Door isn’t a remarkable book. There’s nothing in it that is revolutionary. Of course, it’s something of a mistake to believe that the only books worth reading are those that are revolutionary and remarkable. We’re shaped by all sorts of things we read, the mundane and the paradigm-busting.

Here’s an outline of the five stages or steps that Chester proposes as part of a continuum of Gospel change.

1abhorrence of porna hatred of porn (not just the shame it brings) and a longing for change
2adoration of Goda desire for God, arising from a confidence that he offers more than porn
3assurance of gracean assurance that you’re loved by God and right with God through faith in the work of Jesus
4avoidance of temptationa commitment to do all in your power to avoid temptation, starting with controls on your computer
5accountability to othersa community of Christians who are holding you accountable and supporting you in your struggle

In many ways the book started off with a section that was remarkable. Chester spent several pages discussing myths that surround the sex workers who make porn movies. The popular conception is that it is a highly glamorous life of sizzling sex. The reality, Chester notes, is quite the opposite.

Most sex workers are deeply wounded people who mask their brokenness (as many of us do) with drug use. Life of the set of an X-rated movie isn’t particularly glamorous either. Chester notes that the very fact of the presence of a film crew changes fundamentally alters the encounter between actor and actress such that it is really a performance and not love-making in any true sense of the word.

Further, the encounter itself is scripted and staged in such a way as to allow for maximum viewing for the audience. This means physically awkward (and apparently not particularly pleasurable) positions for the actors, which actually means that the work of a filming a porn movie is exhausting and un-pleasurable (is that a word?). I could go into more detail about suicides, drug abuse, STDs, but I think you get the picture. Pornography is a profoundly de-personalizing and de-humanizing endeavor. Many performers remain in the industry not by choice, but by necessity.

On a related note, pornography can be viewed as a form of trafficking. Catharine MacKinnon argues in The Michigan Journal of International Law (26 Mich. J. Int’l L. 993 2004-2005) that in order to make pornographic movies, “…real women and children, and some men, are rented out for commercial sex acts. In the resulting materials, these people are then conveyed and sold for a buyer’s sexual arousal” (993). 

 

Much Christian writing on fighting pornography starts with the individual who is consuming it. There’s something profoundly right, however, about beginning a discussion of porn with the way in which is warps and diminishes the souls of those who star in movies even before it extends to the souls of those who watch.

The other section of the book that’s particularly helpful is Chester’s discussion of grace. It’s easy for the person who is fighting pornography to be consumed with a sense of deep shame and a sense that God must hate him. Certainly, there can be little doubt that God’s anger burns against pornography because it is such a particularly insidious snare that debases our humanity. However, for those of us who are in Christ God looks upon us and sees us not as porn-consumers, but in the likeness of His Son Jesus.

There’s a passage in The Pilgrim’s Progress (part 2, section 4) where Christian comes upon a mirror. When viewed one way, the mirror shows the likeness of the face of the one holding it. When viewed from the other side it shows the image of “the Prince of Pilgrims” (that is, Jesus). This is a powerful image for to describe our situation in Christ – looking into a mirror we see Jesus. This is particularly important for those who wrestle with besetting sins (which is all of us).

In all, Closing the Door provides a helpful primer on the theology and practice of fighting temptation, particularly the temptation to consume porn. The church has been strangely silent on this issue — we write about it, but fail to talk about it in our small groups and in our sermons. It is this silence that has allowed the problem of porn to become one of the single biggest issues for Christian people today.

Note: I have written critically elsewhere of Mark Driscoll. Here I would like to offer a word of praise for the forthright way in which he has addressed pornography in the context of his congregation. We certainly need more pastors who will speak pastorally and Scripturally to the issue of pornography in the midst of their communities of faith. Take a look at this pamphlet published originally for use with Mars Hill Church: Porn-Again Christian.