the true-life story of my SFO TSA encounter
Tuesday May 31st 2005, 12:16 pm
Filed under: personal

ok, this true story got told a handful of times at the emergent convention, and a few asked me to post it. so here goes. this is word-for-word true (it is so emblazened on my psyche), and still leaves me with a combo-platter-feeling of uncomfortable wigglies and incredulous laughter. (oh, and btw, the “glasses” referred to in this story are not the ones in the photo on my blog — those are my old, less seductive glasses, apparently.)

march 3, 2005. location: San Fransisco International Airport, premiere security check-point, next to United counter. absolutely no one in line; so it’s just me and the very large employee of the US government — one of the high-caliber employees of the transportation safety administration…

TSA guy [as i’m taking off my shoes, unloading my laptop, emptying my pockets]: hey, those are really nice glasses… i LIKE those glasses a lot… tell me about them!

me [awkwardly]: well, thanks. i just got them a week ago.

TSA guy: i mean, i really like them. tell me more about them. what brand are they? where did you get them?

me [still awkwardly, still unpacking my junk]: um, well, they’re prada’s, but i just got them at lenscrafters…

TSA guy [leaning across table to get about 6 inches from my face, only slightly lowering voice]: they’re makin’ my d*** hard! [grin]

me [nervous and highly awkward, leaning backward]: ha! [at this point, i also — perhaps foolishly — playfully smacked him on the arm, implying, “well, aren’t you oddly silly and highly inappropriate”]

TSA guy: so, what would you do if i tried to take those from you? would ya run? i bet you’d run, wouldn’t you? are you fast? do you think i could catch you?

me [trying to remain calm, almost finished with the unpacking and shoving into the x-ray machine]: i’m not very fast, and you’d probably catch me. but, um, i guess that’s when i’d be glad this is a very crowded place with lots of security.

TSA guy [leaning in again, this time about 3 inches from my face, with a reasonably wicked smile]: i am security.

at this point, i pretty-much bolted through the screener. it went off. i had to go back and take off my belt. once “cleared”, i was so wigged-out, i threw my stuff together and almost ran away (i suppose it could be called a “pep-step”). as i was high-steppin’ away, i heard a voice calling to me: sir, sir, you forgot your belt!

a bad minimalist poem of my holiday weekend
Tuesday May 31st 2005, 11:36 am
Filed under: personal

in car
i drive
there and back

on seat
i watch
lyrical and folkloric

in shoes
i walk
downtown and disney

in pools
i swim
hotels and home

by grins
i play
liesl and max

by the fire pit
i chat
jeannie and montecristo

endless stream of 5 year-olds in false eye-lashes
Sunday May 29th 2005, 11:23 pm
Filed under: personal

this holiday weekend i’m in anaheim. my daughter liesl (11) is in a dance competition at the disneyland hotel. i’ve been here many times before for the same purpose (she’s been in competitive dance for years). so i know the drill. i know where the coffee shops are, and how to get my parking for free.

there are literally thousands of dancers here — all 5 to 18 years old. three large stages in ballrooms have a constant flow of performances in front of a judging panel, and the whole thing runs for three days. mindnumbing is truly the best word i can think of for the experience. one can only sit through so many groups of 7 year-olds dancing to a rockabilly song (apologies to dan kimball) before glazing over. and i know too much about this now: i know about lyrical and ballet and tap and jazz and hip-hop and production and, even, folkloric. sorry — i know this is cold — but two or three girls in what can only be described as a costume from “cats”, rolling around on the stage in a “lyrical” routine to “send in the clowns” must — absolutely must — kill off brain cells.

a tiny number of dads shuffle around, toting props and pink-and-black-zebra-striped dance bags, not making eye contact with anyone, afraid that doing so might somehow imply that they are either: a) a dancer themselves, or b) some sicko who enjoys watching endless streams of 5 year-olds do what can only be called “tap” since god invented the word “grace”. or even worse, as a sicko who enjoys watching the 16 year-old girls.

yes, kids — this is how the president of youth specialties spent his memorial day weekend: watching pre-teen girls dance, by the hundreds.

oddly enough, we are 1/2 mile from the “it’s a small world” attraction at disneyland, which has the same effect.

but my daughter loves it. and i get all choked up watching her, because she loves it so much. she rocked this morning in her trio (it was a “small group” of 4, until one of the girls rolled out of her bunk-bed this week and broke both wrists) danced a wicked-fast tap to a fun song called “supersonic”, and tied for 2nd place overall in her age category.

ys is shutting down
Friday May 27th 2005, 7:13 pm
Filed under: youth specialties

more on that subject line in a second…

i got back in the office today after a most-of-a-week-long exec team retreat. great stuff. tuesday was all about strategic planning (for lack of a better term — i don’t really like the traditional concept of SP, and don’t think it makes sense in this day — maybe i’ll post about that sometime). wednesday was a very emotional update on how the five of us have changed in the past year. thursday was work — decisions, plans, stuff like that.

one of the things we addressed was the weariness of our staff right now. here’s part of an email i sent to our staff an hour ago, summarizing an all staff meeting we’d just had:

On our exec retreat this week, we talked about lots of stuff, which I won’t go into today. But one of the things we spent some time on was the general weariness of our staff right now. We identified that we’re at a unique spot in history, with these elements coming together:
· A year into our change process - lots (TONS!) accomplished; but a lot of staff who are tired
· Out in the middle of the river of change (as we talked about at our all staff meeting two weeks ago). I mentioned that I was surprised that, when I mentioned that I was starting to “see the far shore”, some of you responded that you couldn’t see it at all. That was a good wake up call for me - that we all have to step it up on talking about it.
· We’re experiencing sadness at our friends leaving (anca, andy, Susie, sarah)
· Yet, there’s this wad of new stuff about to kick into high gear. On one hand, that’s exciting; but for people who are already drained, that can seem daunting and disheartening.

[Pause - sidebar - story…]
Two weeks ago, my son Max and I went on a cub scout campout on Fiesta Island (a small island in the middle of mission bay). We camped on the beach, along with a handful of other scout families. The campground was right next to the San Diego Youth Aquatics Center (or something like that) - a place where scouting troups and schools and youth groups can come to learn things like canoeing, sailing and kayaking. That Saturday morning, as I was nursing a cup of coffee (that I’d driven to purchase!), sitting in a camping chair on the beach, I watched a group of about 20 asian teenagers (likely a church youth group) gather on the beach for some instruction, then get into a HUGE LONG canoe. They sat two-across, with about 10 or 12 rows. It reminded my somewhat of Olympic rowing, but was really a canoe (and they just had regular paddles). There was a woman from the aquatic center standing backward on the bow, somehow perfectly maintaining her balance. And there was a guy in the back at the TILLER (no, not a rudder - those are underwater, and controlled by linkage to a wheel or other steering device).

After shoving off, they paddled around the inlet - sometimes in unison, sometimes with a random spaziness. They learned how to turn, how to speed up and slow down. Eventually, after about 30 minutes, they were at the far end of the inlet, and the woman on the bow told them to stop (I could just barely hear her). She told them to rest for a few minutes, because they were about to “sprint” across the inlet. She told them to breathe deep and shake their already tired arms out. I saw them rolling their heads around on their necks, trying to loosen up their tensed muscles.

Then the bow-lady said, “ok - get ready. Everyone? Paddles up! On the count of three, I want you to DIG in unison on my call. Are you ready? ONE… TWO… THREE: DIG! DIG! DIG! DIG!”

The massive canoe literally jumped forward. They flew across the inlet (it was kinda breathtaking) in about 45 seconds.

[Unpause - end sidebar - back to us…]
we’re going to do that — all of it. We’re a bit weary and tired; and we have an all-out sprint coming up: NEW THINGS — new events, a possible significant partnership, fall CORE, Alter; and ONGOING NORMAL THINGS - three youth workers conventions just around the corner, all the same publishing work as usual, building the CORE for next year. We’re going to need an all-out unison push from everyone, in every department, in every role.

But we need the pause - the rest before the sprint. So… we’re shutting down YS for a week. We’ll close down at the end of the day, Tuesday, June 7, and remain closed until Wednesday morning, June 15. This will not require “vacation time”. This is personal and corporate rest, in preparation for the sprint. Basically, you’ll have a 7 day weekend (Wednesday, June 8, through Tuesday, June 14). A few people are traveling on business on the 8th. sorry. You still get a 6-day weekend. Use this time however you want - but please make it restorative and rejuvenative and restful. If that means laying at the beach, so be it. If that means heading out of town, go for it. If it means sleeping in and trying a new kind of wine every day, uncork it, baby. Just - please - don’t come back more worn out! I’m going to ask Beth Slev (our spiritual director) to prepare some suggested short reading and reflections for us for each of those 7 days - so anyone who chooses can reflect on the same passage of scripture or practice the same prayer on the same day as your fellow paddlers.

so, there you have it. we’re closing the doors of ys for a week to rest in preparation for a sprint of reinvention. pray for us!

a vision that came to me today
Thursday May 26th 2005, 4:43 pm
Filed under: youth specialties

i’m not normally one for prophetic visions. but today, as our consultant asked our exec team what picture comes to mind when we think of the role YS should be playing in the future, an extremely clear picture instantly popped into my mind. this is it:

large stadium field, giant rigging with black gauzy segmenting drapes – on top and dividing sections of the field. Inside each, in various sizes of groupings, are different segments of youth workers in the church – mainliners in a section on one end of the field, fundies on the other; a large square section of evangelicals in the middle somewhere (huddling closer and closer together, afraid by the outlines of “beings” they can barely see through the gauze). A catholic section, and a tiny 7th day Adventist section, and, and, and. Oh, and a “used to be” section with people who’ve crawled away under the gauze, somehow, from a section, but not figured out where to go. All groups can see forms and shapes through the gauze, and make varying conclusions (mostly wrong) about what they see. YS has a huge rope that we connect to the top of all these sections, and we yank it in one unveiling swoosh (think: a sheet being pulled off a statue at an unveiling). Momentarily, people stand blinking and semi-blinded by the sunlight; they even feel a momentary panic of the expansiveness of the field. But, slowly, a good murmur starts to bubble up as people start talking and connecting, and dropping assumptions, and, and….

So, where’s it go from here? If they stand around for an afternoon digging this and learning a ton, where do they go next?

on getting fired
Wednesday May 25th 2005, 4:00 pm
Filed under: church, personal

no, i haven’t been fired from ys (yet).

but i mentioned in my birthday post, yesterday, that i did get fired from a church once (and was asked to resign from another). and brian asked me to tell the story — so here it is. i used to think this experience was, at least, nominally unique. but since coming to ys and hearing youth workers stories every day, i’ve found this kind of story is hideously common (including stories way-worse than mine).


i got hired at a church in omaha, nebraska, as their first-ever junior high pastor. and it was my first full-time junior high pastor. and (surprise), it went fantastic. in many ways, as i look over my decade and a half of “professional” ministry to young teens, i often think of these three years as my glory days. i had larger ministries elsewhere. i certainly had bigger budgets and more support and more paid staff elsewhere. but this was the only time i was ONLY a junior high pastor. in subsequent churches, i was always “junior high +” (student minstries, or family ministries, or whatever). the ministry grew in every way — we developed a passionate and equipped volunteer team, a multi-level missions trip program (yes, for young teens), amazing connections with local public schools, and other great things.

but a parallel thread was developing…

three “power elders” were quietly building a case against me. this wasn’t a formal process for them — it was taking place in their minds. two of them really ran the church, and had done so for decades. they even had a by-law that stated that an elder could be elected for two terms (3 years each, or something like that), then had to take some time off before being eligible for re-election; unless that elder was part of the exec team (or whatever it was called — chair, vice-chair, recording secretary, treasurer) — those roles never had to take a year off: “to provide continuity”. all this meant that these guys had been in the roles of board chair, treasurer and secretary or vice-chair, for decades, literally. does anyone know how to spell dysfunctional? (sidebar: these same guys, the year after i got booted, convinced the rest of the board to pass a motion that all elders and pastors had to submit their completed tax return to the treasurer, so he could verify that they were giving 10% to the church; anyone not giving 10%, or not willing to submit their tax returns, was not considered fit for the role).

it all started to spiral downhill the day i bought a jeep.

when they hired me, they expressed that they really didn’t want my wife to work. (ok, i’m embarrassed by this next part now) we didn’t have a problem with that, conceptually; but we couldn’t afford it on what they were offering, as we had a good bit of college debt. they “approved” jeannie working based on her income going to pay off our debt. most of it did — but we never understood this to be an “every penny after taxes” kind of thing. they did. after the jeep purchase (which they also considered a highly irresponsible vehicle for a youth pastor), i got called into a meeting. they accused me of violating our agreement. i was baffled. once we got our two perspectives cleared up, they demanded i provide an accounting of all my income and how i was spending it (a personal budget is what they actually said), as well as a plan for when the college debt would be paid off (so jeannie could stop working).

this is where i blew it. i was too young and naive to realize that i either needed to walk, or get political. instead, i did nothing. i thought their request was absurd, and pretended (to myself) that it would go away.

9 mos later i got called into an emergency meeting, and told to bring my personal budget. i quickly pulled one together that showed the basics of what they were asking for. it wasn’t enough, and it was way too late. suddenly, the problem was much bigger than the budget thing. they now had a list of character accusations about me, including: you are a liar, a manipulator, deceitful (and a bunch of other things).

two weeks of scrambling on both sides ensued. i sat in the senior pastor’s home and cried like a baby (heaving, can’t speak — you know the kind), begging for him to intervene. he never said he refused to do so, but in essence that’s what he did. at the end of those two weeks, they told me to clear out my office that night, not to show up at any junior high group functions (i was allowed to write a statement, which they read to the students and volunteers). and they said they would generously give me two weeks severance pay. geez. it was a good thing my wife was working, or we would have been jacked!

i asked a handful of older guys i trusted (actually, other elders at the church) to meet with me and pry into the character stuff. i wanted to know if there was any truth to the accusations. and i wanted someone else to tell me if i was still ok for ministry or not. their eventual stamp-of-approval was the green-light that began a tiny bit of restoring my soul and calling.

i’ve had a reasonably easy life. so this was one of the two most difficult things i’ve ever gone through (the second being yaconelli’s death 18 months ago). it left me extremely wounded for years (none of these people, including the senior pastor, ever followed up with me after the day i was let go).

i don’t share this now to ask for sympathy — this is really old stuff, and now seems very clearly a place god has taken evil and used it for good in my life. i wouldn’t trade that experience for anything — it is part of who i am today, and essential. i share this story for those of you in tough church situations. yours might be very different. but you’re not alone. there are those of us out here (many, many more than me!) who know. we understand.

hippo birdies two meece
Tuesday May 24th 2005, 6:31 pm
Filed under: personal

42 years ago today, i came kicking and screaming into the world. the first decade and a half were reasonably normal (great family, great church, all that). but it’s been a wild ride since then, including a path to ys that involved four churches, a painful resignation and a more painful firing, a few successes and countless failures. i honestly feel like i’m not quite hitting my stride, but i can see it from here. it’s truly baffling to me that god has me in this place — there are so many who could do a better job than me. but i am more confident than ever that god does have me here, which gives me the confidence to lean into it and enjoy the ride.

i’m writing from a beach house in oceanside, california (45 minutes north of san diego), where the ys management team is working through a dozen strategic questions about our future. and it’s good. ooh, it’s good.

experiencing freedom in a new way
Monday May 23rd 2005, 11:41 am
Filed under: personal

i got to my office this morning, and there in the mail, was one of the two utilikilts i’d ordered. i am know proudly wearing a man-skirt (it’s extremely manly, so shut up). i got the olive twill in the original design (large cargo pockets on both sides, one back wallet pocket). it is quite clear to me why utilikilt’s slogan is: we sell freedom.

home sweet home
Sunday May 22nd 2005, 11:24 pm
Filed under: personal

flew home from the emergent convention today (still waiting for my luggage!), and reconnected with my kids. my wife, jeannie, was with me in nashville, so we had good family time this afternoon. in fact, i just got out of the pool. recalibrating…

mark dowds is here also, as he’s leading our ys exec team on a retreat this week. always love hanging with him.

thanks to all who attended the nashville event, and to all who gave of themselves to be a part of it — too many to name now, since it’s time to go get my kids in bed! what rich friendships we are blessed with, what meaningful conversations, what brilliant questions and possible path suggestions. in the words of ben harper: i am blessed, i am blessed, i am blessed to be a witness.

12 minutes of rage
Saturday May 21st 2005, 1:55 pm
Filed under: church, personal, emerging church

didn’t have even a tiny dot of rage this week, until 20 minutes into the closing session of the convention. it’s been such a perfect week for me, such a gift from god to end our run at the convention with a week like this. the last session has a surprisingly good turn-out, and the time of singing-worship (lead by troy and alex - i’m so proud of alex for how brilliant he was this week in every way) was great. i wasn’t thinking about running an event or the fact that we have to tear all this equipment down in an hour or the loneliness of the empty hotel tonite or any of that. i was just enjoying the breath of god on my face. beautiful jeanne stevens takes the stage to introduce brian, and asks us to turn and bless someone next to us by sharing a highlight of the week. i turned to the guy sitting next to me (didn’t know him), and said, “wow, that’s a big question — i have to think!” he said:

“while i have your ear for a minute, i would like to share with you that ‘we couldn’t find them’ is never an acceptable excuse when you don’t have 50% female speakers.”

what the…?


momentarily, i thought of trying to explain to him, with a smile on my face, how i think he was misunderstanding the situation; that he was missing the fact that 3 of 4 general sessions here had a female speaker; that he was missing that exactly 50% of the learning community tour guides were female, and that the “lead” tour guide is female; that he was missing the fact that some large percentage (frankly, i haven’t stopped to do the math, but, then, it seems he hadn’t either) of the seminars were taught by female speakers; that he was missing the fact that the main-stage emcee (one of three) who had the clearest role in terms of spiritual leadership is female; and that he was missing the fact that we put a stake in the ground by having an 8-hour intensive focused on women in leadership, and a ys-paid-for lunch on the subject, and made space for an smaller gathering of influencers to discuss the subject; and that while we only had one female of the four practioners in the learning communities, and no female theologians, out of four of them, this only happened after inviting about two-dozen women to those roles (who all wanted to come, but were otherwise committed).

but i didn’t say that.

and i didn’t smile.

i said, “do you have any idea how inappropriate it is to say that to me in the middle of this time of worship?” i was almost crying, but i was a bit too angry to cry. i turned away. when i glanced back a minute later, he was gone.

the whole interchange took about 2 minutes, and it took me about 10 more to convince myself that a-holes are everywhere, and that i needed to get back to that “breath of god on my face” stuff that was intended for me (and everyone else, including that guy) during this closing session.

and the breath was still there, waiting for me.