Answers to 5 multi-site objections

I stumbled across a post by Jonathan Leeman at 9Marks offering a critique of multi-site churches. You can read the post here. He offers twenty-two objections to a multi-site approach. Some of his objections are reasonable, others fail. In many respects the validity of his argument depends on factors that are not established in the post itself and widely vary from church to church (more on this in a minute).

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Here are his top five and my responses beneath:

1. There’s no clear example of a multi-site church in the New Testament, only supposition. “Well, surely, the Christians in a city could not have all met…” (but see Acts 2:465:126:2).

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the verses Leeman cites establish that the New Testament practice was for all of the believers in a city to gather for worship at a single location. I don’t think this requires a one-to-one correspondence in our practice today (i.e., its not a sin to gather in congregations). I’d suggest that these verses suggest more about the value of worshipping community (since our faith is covenantal, worship is first communal then individual) than it does about the internal organizational structure of the fellowship. 

2. If a church is constituted by the preaching of the Word and the distribution of the ordinances under the binding authority of the keys, every “campus” where those activities transpire is actually a church. “Multi-site church” is a misnomer. It’s a collection of churches under one administration.

At the risk of seeming pedantic, church and congregation are not the same thing. Here Leeman writes out of his baptist tradition with its emphasis on the autonomy of primacy of the individual congregation. For presbyterians these marks of the church are no less true. However, in presbyterian practice a congregation needs to be self-governing under the rule of a session (a council of elders). As long as an individual site has some degree of appropriate representation on the session of the sponsoring church, I see no problem. With Leeman I do see a second congregation (in function if not in polity), but I don’t see a problem with that.

3. For every additional multi-site campus out there, there’s one less preaching pastor being raised up for the next generation.

This is a concern, but not necessarily. At least, the same can be said of large individual churches–multi-site or not. It’s a generous preaching pastor who will share her pulpit with a junior colleague so that he can develop as a preacher-teacher.

4. What effectively unites the churches (campuses) of a multi-site church are a budget, a pastor’s charisma, and brand identity. Nowhere does the Bible speak of building church unity in budgets, charisma, and brand.

Here Leeman assumes that these factors–budget, pastor charisma, and brand identity–are the only things uniting a multi-site. I disagree. What unites a multi-site congregation is its theological vision and ministry expression. The other things are factors, but they’d be factors in a single-site church too.

5. To say that the unity of the church (i.e. the unity of the campuses) depends on the leaders is to say that that the life and work of the church depends that much more on the leaders. Members, in comparison to a single-site model, are demoted.

Leeman would need to say more in order for me to believe that this is more of a problem at a multi-site church than in a single-site. 

What do you think?

 

How gay Christians are changing the church

gays_churchEve Tushnet writes at The American Conservative about how the experience of Gay Christians is changing the church. “Coming Out Christian” is worth your time, even if you find yourself not wholly agreeing with it. The article demonstrates how faithful gay Christians are changing the way in which the church thinks about same-sex attraction.

As the gay movement has enjoyed remarkable success, a new kind of coming out is occurring, in which gay or same-sex attracted Christians openly discuss both our sexual orientation and our desire to live according to the historic teaching of the Christian church, which bars sexual activity outside marriage of one man and one woman. As gay Christians—an unavoidably reductive term—come out, our presence is changing the culture of our churches.

Fyodor Dostoevsky famously wrote in The Brothers Karamazov, “I love mankind, he said, “but I find to my amazement that the more I love mankind as a whole, the less I love man in particular.” The Christian community is a concrete, particular reality. And part of the reality that is the church is Christians who are wrestling with desires that lead to sin–avarice, lust, gluttony, you name it. We’re a band of ragamuffins united by the love of a gracious God who sees and loves us as we are and works in us to bring us into healing and wholeness. Coming out is part of the particularity of the church:

In July, Christianity magazine profiled three British “evangelical church leaders who experience same-sex attraction,” all of whom used real names and photos. Over the summer, in an uncoordinated movement that reflects a rapidly changing culture, several bloggers who had used pseudonyms began to use their real names instead. Homosexuality is being transformed from a faceless, shadowy problem “out there” to an umbrella term for a wide range of experiences that affect ordinary people you might pass on the street or pass the peace to in church.

One of our broader cultural problems is the narrow way in which we understand categories of relationship. Marriage is front and central in Christian subculture. As a culture we’ve doubled-down on marriage, asking this God-ordained relationship to bear the entire weight of our human need for relationship. Same sex friendships have become questionable, confused with a gay dalliance. The New Testament offers a way to honor and strengthen marriage by setting it within the broader context of the covenant community of the church:

In order to help answer these urgent questions, some churches and individual Christians are rediscovering a broader understanding of “kinship” that goes against a culture in which marriage is the only chosen form of adult kinship we recognize. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus promises that those who lose their homes or families for His sake will receive new homes and families, “a hundred times more now.”

At the end of the day, we Americans are loathed to admit that we suffer other than in the most superficial of ways. Its common place to whimper and moan about not having enough money for this or that. Less common is the admission that life is tough:

We’re often ashamed to admit that we suffer. It’s humiliating and it makes us feel like we’re not good enough Christians. This is bizarre since there are very few aspects of Jesus’ own internal life that we know as much about as His suffering. Jesus—unmarried, marginalized, misunderstood, a son and a friend but not a father or spouse—is the preeminent model for gay Christians. In this, as in so many things, we are just like everybody else.

Something to consider.

The frozen chosen?

While in college I did an internship at a Church of England parish in London. Every Sunday evening we met for prayer in a room in the church building. What little central heating there was came from radiators that seemed positively perturbed at being asked to radiate much of anything. As a result we prayed huddled around an electric space heater. 79-Holy%20Spirit%20Coming

Heating building–generally–is a rather less efficient business than cooling them. It costs a lot of money, especially in buildings designed prior to the advent of modern central heating. This is problem that evangelicals in North America have little experience with, at least where I live. Our buildings are custom-designed for the maximum comfort of parishioners–climate controlled, theater seating, you name it. Elsewhere, it’s a real challenge.

The BBC reports that a diocese of the Church of England will introduce heated cushions to two of its churches in an attempt both to keep parishioners warm and to reduce heating costs:

One hundred cushions are being trialled in Broadclyst and South Tawton’s Anglican churches for three months.

Designed for use by sports fans, the cushions are part of a campaign to cut carbon emissions and look at new heating systems for church buildings.

If the scheme works, the cushions could be rolled out across the county.

Sounds like it’s worth a try, except, how do you heat all of those cushions? In a microwave in the vestry?

The virtue of self-acceptance

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It is often said today…that we must love ourselves before we can be set free to love others. This is certainly the release we must seek to give our people. But no realistic human beings find it easy to love or to forgive themselves, and hence their self-acceptance must be grounded in their awareness that God accepts them in Christ. There is a sense in which the strongest self-love that we can have, in the sense of agape, is merely the mirror image of the lively conviction we have that God loves us. There is endless talk about this in the church, but little apparent belief in it among Christians, although they may have a conscious complacency which conceals the subconscious despair which Kierkegaard calls ‘the sickness unto death.’

Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal

 

I wonder how effective we are at helping people to experience the deep love God has toward them in Christ?

If Tim Keller is right that flourishing and effective congregational ministry can only happen where people repeatedly encounter and experience the love of God in the gospel, then surely this has to be at the heart of the church’s ministry.

Moreover, this communication of God’s love for us has to be married with the Christian virtue of self-acceptance. Self-acceptance isn’t a virtue in our society. We favor self-improvement–you can make yourself into anything you want to be if you only try hard enough, buy and use the right product, and surround yourself with the right people.

Self-acceptance means coming to the place where you’re able to accept yourself as you are. You can only get there through coming to accept God’s unconditional electing love that chose you just as you are not on the basis of your idealized self or even your future self. No. God saved you because he loves you. And he loves you because he saved you. File that under the category of “mystery.”

The unlived life

Everyone has dreams. Some abandon them. Others embrace them. Some try and fail. Others fail to try. Many find a new success in their failures. It wasn’t the success they thought they’d experience. It was a peculiar success whose genesis lay in the failure of their first dream.

Entrepreneurs know this. They try ten things, eight of them fail. They re-invest in the two that don’t.

Stephen Pressfield’s book The War of Art is a must-read for anyone seriously committed to taking any sort of risk in life, not just for the creatives for whom the book was written. He writes, “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands resistance.”

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It’s resistance that makes us put down the book proposal we’ve almost completed. It’s resistance that smacks us in the face when we sit at the computer to write our sermon. It’s resistance that gently whispers that we could never do what we’ve always dreamed of doing and what others say they can see us doing.

Our society is ordered around distraction: “we live in a consumer culture that’s acutely aware of [our] unhappiness and has massed all its profit-seeking artillery to exploit it. By selling us a product, a drug, a distraction” (War of Art, 31). What’s easier: two hundred words or two hours on Facebook? What’s more important?

Spend some time today thinking about what you really want to do with your life. 

Making a life or making a living?

News reports regularly give statistics about the rise or decline in new applications for unemployment benefits. Each of us probably knows at least one person who has been unemployed for more than a year. We likely know many more who have been without work for a shorter period of time. Our society has generally embraced the model of work for wages–we exchange our knowledge and/or manpower for cash. Most of us can’t think of any other way in which to order our lives. The question is, however, does this arrangement really work all that well? Does making a living require us to sacrifice our lives?

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Frederick Buechner has written:

We must be careful with our lives, because it would seem that they are the only lives we are going to have in this puzzling and perilous world, and so they are very precious and what we do with them matters enormously.

Given the premium our culture puts on comfort (the ‘good life’), it’s ironic how little we intentionally our lives to see if we are treating them as precious or as simply a means to an end. Are we simply doing more and more meaningless things with ever greater efficiency?

What does making a life really look like? In a recent post Scott Martin notes:

Those focusing on making a living see wealth solely in the context of the cash nexus: the opportunities, possessions, luxuries and leisure that money affords. Those focusing on making a life see wealth in terms of the depth and quality of their relationships, the strength of their home, the memories they make, the moments they share, the lives they touch. In fact, the people I most respect who have made lives worth emulating rarely focus on money at all. There have been times when they have had plenty and times when they have struggled, but the constant is in how deeply they have loved.

Imagine sitting down with a financial planner and in addition to totaling your bank accounts and mapping your investments, you also mapped your significant relationships and explored your relationship to your home.

Martin continues quoting Buechner:

Buechner writes that the world is full of people who “seem to have listened to the wrong voice” and are doing work that “seems simply irrelevant not only to the great human needs and issues of our time but also to their own need to grow and develop as humans.”

It’s ironic that some of the vocations that directly seek to meet the greatest human needs are the least esteemed (and rewarded) in our culture: teacher, care-giver, social worker, priest. Could it be that our value system is inverted?

Ask yourself: am I making a living or making a life? What two things could I most easily change in order to improve the quality of my life (in terms of relationships)? Resolve to start making those changes.

Watch your life and your doctrine closely…

There are some also who investigate spiritual precepts with cunning care, but what they penetrate with their understanding they trample on in their lives: all at once they teach the things which not by practice but by study they have learnt; and what in words they preach by their manners they impugn.

 

Whence it comes to pass that when the shepherd walks through steep places, the flock follows to the precipice. Hence it is that the Lord through the prophet complains of the contemptible knowledge of shepherds, saying, When ye yourselves had drunk most pure water, ye fouled the residue with your feet; and My sheep fed on that which had been trodden by your feet, and drank that which your feet had fouled (Ezek. xxxiv. 18, 19).

 

For indeed the shepherds drink most pure water, when with a right under- standing they imbibe the streams of truth. But to foul the same water with their feet is to corrupt the studies of holy meditation by evil living. And verily the sheep drink the water fouled by their feet, when any of those subject to them follow not the words which they hear, but only imitate the bad examples which they see. Thirsting for the things said, but perverted by the works observed, they take in mud with their draughts, as from polluted fountains.

Hence also it is written through the prophet, A snare for the downfall of my people are evil priests (Hos.v.1;ix.8). Hence again the Lord through the prophet says of the priests, They are made to be for a stumbling-block of iniquity to the house of Israel. For certainly no one does more harm in the Church than one who has the name and rank of sanctity, while he acts perversely.

 

Gregory, Pastoral Rule, Ch. 2

Jesus, the church, and non-violence (Part 1)

I recently saw a movie that was powerful in the way it dealt with some of these issues. Steven Spielberg’s Munich is a retelling of the events of the 1972 Olympic Games held in Munich, Germany. It was during these games that members of Black September, a Palestinian terrorist organization, took hostage members of the Jewish Olympic team. One or two were killed during the initial hostage-taking when they resisted the terrorists.

Within 24 hours all of the hostages and all save three of the terrorists would be dead. Long story short, the German police attempted a rescue, which went badly wrong largely because it was poorly planned. When the hijackers realized the trap, they killed the hostages.

Within a month, the remaining captured terrorists were released after other members of Black September hijacked a Lufthansa airliner and demanded their release. They were released to Libya where they were treated like celebrities.

The movie itself deals with the Israeli response to the attacks. Golda Meir, the Israeli Prime Minister decided that the response ought to be swift and large enough in scope to serve as a deterrent to future attacks. Over the next several years Israeli assassination units killed dozens of high profile Palestinians and Arabs across Europe.

The movie follows the leader of one of these squads. It chronicles the toll that on-going vengeance took on one person. One man who killed to avenge the deaths of his fellow Israelis. By the end of the movie he is barely functioning in normal life as a result of the on-going stress and pressure of functioning covertly in a high stakes games of assassinations.

Interestingly, one scene frames the underlying conflict. The Mossad bomb-maker finally gives expression to his feeling that all of this killing is somehow in conflic with the values of Judaism. He notes that Jews are called to be holy and righteous. “We are not like the other nations.” Their actions as warriors seem to be in stark contrast with their values of Torah. A couple of scenes later, he is killed presumably by Palestinian terrorists who are now seeking the Israeli assassins. As Jesus said, “Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword.”

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The role of the Christian church in the world is to be a counter-culture, a new society that is based on the values of the kingdom and shaped by the teaching of Scripture and headed by Christ himself, a new Israel. It’s important to note that the role of the church and of the state is not the same. The function of the state is to restrain evil and to promote good.

Nowhere is the vision of this new counter-culture more compellingly communicated than in the Sermon on the Mount.

This is especially true when it comes to enemies and war. I’d like for us to explore these topics by looking at two passages of scripture from The Sermon on the Mount.

In Matthew 5:38-42 Jesus talks about retribution. Since Jesus doesn’t talk that much about war and since our enemies are mostly enemies since they’ve done something to us that we think is unjust, we’ll use this passage to think a little about how we respond to people who wrong us.

We will also look at Matthew 5:43-48 where Jesus talks about how we relate to our enemies. 

War and Violence: When to resist (Matthew 5:38-42)

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (TNIV)

Jesus offers a response to the culture of the day (part 1). An “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (v. 38) was a principle of limiting retribution to what is a just amount (the punishment must fit the crime). The purpose was to avoid the sort of blood feud that could embroil multiple communities in generations of senseless violence.[1] By the time Jesus spoke these words, it was common practice to impose financial sanctions rather than physical punishment.[2]

Jesus is speaking to Jews who have come to view him as Messiah. It seems that his words are aimed at reforming and renewing Jewish society through this new movement of Christ-followers. They are a grass-roots source of influence that will bring change about outside of the normal structures of power and influence.

Jesus was not opposing brutality or physical retribution since these weren’t the common responses to injustices in the ancient world of Jesus’ time. Instead, it seems that He is opposing the principle of insisting on legitimate retribution, specifically using legal means to settle a score with another individual.[3]

Jesus says, “do not resist…” (v. 39). This is wider, however, than simply insisting on not getting even. It is really, in the affirmative, a willingness to accept ill treatment and even to participate in it (by turning the other cheek, or giving your coat away, or walking a second mile). And it is not limited to simply physical nonviolence. Instead, what is said here also refers to the use of legal means to “resist” an unjust action.[4]

The cases in point are all cases in which an individual comes into contact with another individual who does something wrong or unjust. Jesus is not outlining responses to evil in the abstract. These are concrete responses to concrete examples of wrongdoing. As a result, they’re not really verses that are meant to be applied to society as a collective. Many Christians have traditionally made a distinction between the actions of individuals and the actions of the state. Elsewhere in the NT we are told that the state has the power of the sword. That power, however, is never vested in individuals.

Jesus was not attempting to reform the legal code, but is suggesting an attitude that is loose on rights and entitlements. As I mentioned before, it is an attempt at changing attitudes and subverting the dominant values of a society.

Concrete examples:

  1.  “…turn the other cheek” (v. 39b) A backhanded slap to the face was an expression of contempt and extreme abuse…punishable by a fine.[5] Jesus’ disciples are asked to accept the contempt and abuse without recourse to their legal rights in the situation.
  2. “…hand over your coat as well” (v. 40) The OT Law forbade the confiscation of the coat on humanitarian grounds (Ex 22:25-7). If it was taken as collateral, it had to be returned by sundown so its owner could sleep in it.
  3. “…go two miles” (v. 41) The reference is specifically to the practice of Roman soldiers commandeering local citizens to serve as porters to carry cargo, etc. Instead of telling his disciples to resist members of an occupying force, he tells them to do more than required. This would have been very controversial and set Jesus apart from the Zealots who attempted to drive Rome out of Israel.
  4. “…give to those who ask…” (v. 42) Matthew’s retelling has in mind a specific instance. The verb he uses refers to a single act. The principle is that we ought to place the needs of others before our own convenience or our own rights.

R. T. France notes, “A willingness to forgo ones personal rights, and to allow oneself to be insulted and imposed upon, is not incompatible with a firm stand for matters of principle and for the rights of others. Indeed the principle of just retribution is not so much abrogated here as bypassed, in favor of an attitude which refuses to insist on one’s rights, however legitimate.”[6]

There will be times when we as followers of Christ are entitled to use legal means to compel someone else to stop doing something to us that is wrong. However, Christ here suggests that we shouldn’t consider our entitlements and our legal rights as supreme. There will be times when we are called on essentially give up our rights in an instance and give to the other person something they don’t deserve. 

 


[1] R. T. France. Matthew. TNTC. 125

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid, 126.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Jonas, NTT, 239.

[6] Ibid.

10 Evangelical Distinctives

I recently wrote a post asking whether–and if so, how–the Presbyterian Church (USA) is evangelical. This generated some interesting conversations about what the word evangelical really means. In light of these conversations, I thought it worth exploring the variety of perspectives on the evangelical movement.

One of the most significant leaders of modern evangelicalism was Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Lloyd-Jones, a Welshman, served for many years as Pastor of Westminster Chapel in London.

ImageIn 1971, Lloyd-Jones preached a series of messages at the Conference of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES). He had, for many years, been involved with the British Inter-Varsity Fellowship, itself associated with IFES. Note: my employer, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, is the American arm of IFES.

During this time Lloyd-Jones had grown concerned with what he perceived as a watering down of the gospel message. He took the opportunity to address this when spoke.

Years later his messages were published by Banner of Truth as What is an Evangelical? 

Lloyd-Jones argued that there are ten distinctives that provide definition to the notoriously fuzzy word, “evangelical.”

Here they are with my commentary added in italics. Note: Lloyd-Jones represents a conservative, separationist evangelicalism. On the other hand, John R W Stott (whom we’ll look at later) represented a more moderate evangelicalism that was able to survive and thrive in a mixed (broad) church.

  1. Entirely subservient to the Bible. The evangelical attempts to live his life in submission to Scripture as thoroughly as possible. He is, as John Wesley put it, ‘A man of one book.’ 
  2. Evangelical before all else. The evangelical has a great loyalty to the evangelical way of following Christ than to the denomination of which she may be a part. If forced to choose, the evangelical will always follow his convictions.
  3. Watchful. The evangelical is aware that she has to evaluate, discern, and measure all teachings in the church against the rule of faith, the Word of God. 
  4. Distrustful of reason. The evangelical places a higher value on revelation than reason. He sees the work of the philosopher as necessarily limited since it does not have access to the revelation of God in Holy Scripture.
  5. Always takes a low view of the sacraments. Evangelicals recognize only two sacraments, not allowing things like marriage or ordination to become sacraments.
  6. Takes a critical view of history and tradition. Lloyd-Jones writes, “The evangelical believes in the principle of discontinuity.” In other words, the church has a tendency to fossilize spirituality and many of the divisions are the result of evangelicals removing themselves from bodies who life and practice was no longer compatible with evangelical belief and practice.
  7. Always ready to act on his beliefs. The evangelical finds it impossible to compromise or to remain in a place that requires him to compromise his beliefs.
  8. Always simplifies everything. Lloyd-Jones contrasts the evangelical with the Catholic. The reformed belief in the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture holds that the Bible can be read and understood by the ordinary reader. There’s no requirement to read the Bible through the church’s magisterium or through some other interpretive lens. There is, according to Lloyd-Jones, a “plain meaning” rooted in historical context and authorial intent.
  9. Always concerned with the doctrine of the church. The chief purpose of the evangelical is finding a denominational body that is theologically pure: “His idea of the Church is that it consists of the gathered saints.”
  10. Emphasis on re-birth, personal holiness, and the Christian life. “He is not interested in dead orthodoxy, he is not interested in Protestant scholasticism.” Instead, he cares about being re-born of the Spirit and following Christ as his disciple.

Lloyd-Jones’s list is longer than mine would be. However, I think it is helpful to consider that his position is representative of many evangelicals today. This can be helpful in understanding why some evangelicals find leaving a denomination that appears to them to be corrupt, a no-brainer.

Three lessons from Brené Brown at Leadership Summit

One of the highlights of last week’s Global Leadership Summit was hearing Brené Brown speak. Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work and a TED Talk sensation since her 2010 talk went viral (more than 8 million views). That talk is embedded at the bottom of the page. Her research has focused on the interplay between vulnerability and empathy, encouraging people to experience “whole-hearted” living.

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Here are three lessons I learned from Brené Brown:

  1. When you judge yourself for requesting help, you invariably judge others when they ask.How many of you feel shame when you ask for help? Just yesterday I tried to figure out to run a report on a database at work. I had a call scheduled with my boss and part of our agenda was to create and discuss this report. I wanted to know how to do it before I got on the call–to save time. I’ll be honest, I tried for about 15 minutes and never did figure it out.

    Once on the phone I admitted that I hadn’t been able to figure out how to run the report. As I did, I noticed within myself a twinge of shame. Not much, just a little shame. After all, I use a computer all day long. I blog, use social media, etc. I should–I reasoned–have been able to figure this out.

  2. We lose people in the gap between profession and practice.Professing love (in all its forms) is fairly easy. What is not easy, not simply, what is incontrovertibly complex is practicing love.

    How many of us make vows at our wedding–a profession–only to find it require intention, effort, humility, and sacrifice to remain true to the words that so easily dripped from our lips?

    How many of us take vows when we join our church and in fairly short order recoil from a significant decision made and once more experience the difficulty of keeping vows?

    When the gap between what we say and what we do becomes too immense, we loose people. Marriages collapse. Church fellowships rupture. Friendships end.

  3. Courage and comfort are mutually exclusive.By its very definition courage requires that we confront something that is difficult or that causes us to experience fear. When comfort becomes our objective in life, we cannot be courageous for we will always turn away from anything that causes us to be uncomfortable–it could be making a phone call, following a dream, initiating a difficult conversation, restoring a broken relationship. Interestingly, we may claim that we’re not satisfied with our life, but as long as comfort is our chief value our life will never change and we’ll settle into a begrudging comfort.

I’ll be reflecting on these lessons for a while. What stands out to you from Brené’s talk?