Humility [is necessary] Sucks

Welcome back to BenjaminConrad.Com

You’re probably thinking, “Welcome back yourself. Where’ve you been the last few months?”

A just question.

Beginning with my time in Connecticut in November with Peter Rollins and pals, my travel schedule turned into my crazy holiday schedule, turned back into a travel schedule for some R&R in the mountains of NC, and then Christianity 21 last week in Denver.  I wrote a brilliant post on the things I took away and left behind at C21… but then I broke my computer and delete it.  So imagine how great a post it would’ve been.

Rather than beginning 2014 with resolutions, with a committment to blogging weekly, twice or thrice weekly (regularly) as is highly recommended by successful bloggers.  I figured I’d begin with failure, with humility, with the places I am unresolved.

Let’s start here.

1) HUMILITY :: I already failed to blog the first two weeks of 2014 and I’m ok.  I don’t have enough of a following to monitor blog traffic or personal platform stats, and I’m ok with that.  Also, this frees me from living up to the crushing self-expectation of blogging every week.  I already have missed two weeks, so my perfect year is a wash, which means I can be a person who blogs rather than a lifeless blog machine. This is the easy one.

2) HUMILITY :: I stopped blogging for almost three months and the world turned, people survived, I managed to enjoy my family & work, even faith continued unimpeded by my lack of contribution.  I do think my voice is important.  I do think I have a platform and some unique ideas.  But let’s keep it all in perspective huh?  In three months I’ve had some of the most profound conversations, been asked the deepest, most vulnerable questions, helped and held people in grief, loved and celebrated with people in joy, spoken some of the most important words of my life in sermons and articles… and not once has anyone said, “We’re really missing the blog.  Get back on that.”  So, as important is this platform may be, my primary platform is place, time, conversations with people in my context.  This platform may grow, my voice may reach more people, but this reality humbles and reminds me where my most valuable voice originates… in my neighborhood.

3) HUMILITY :: Last Sunday I preached what was one of the most powerful and important sermons yet in the life of our young congregation (Listen here).  Plus, we had the largest crowd we’ve had since we began last Feb.  Plus we had the largest crowd of live-stream viewers joining us on-line.  I mean, seriously, I was on.  The content was dialed in, my energy was dead on, it was funny, well structured, powerful and challenging!  And I know because people told me, complimented me, reminded me of specific parts they liked best. At which point you’re thinking.

Wait, isn’t this a post about HUMILITY?

It is.  Here’s where it gets funny for you and painful for me.  As I was working the room afterward, being congratulated and self-congratulating on a job well done, I thought to myself, “We’re really doing it!”.  Ok, ok.  “I’m really doing it.  Creating something important, saying something incredibly unique and needed, progressive and transforming in this otherwise traditional, religious small town.”

Then one of my long-time friends who I love and respect came up and shook my hand,

“Great message”

Another one for the trophy bag, right? Pile that accolade atop the numerous others.  But he kept going.

“This is so surreal.  I went with my family this morning to “Baby boomer, conservative, evangelical modern worship band” Church (The names shall remain anonymous to protect the innocent), and it was a different text, but basically the same message…

THE SAME MESSAGE!!!?????

THE SAME MESSAGE!!!?????

NNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

How could my unique voice, unique style, my one of a kind boundary pushing, progressive leaning, edgy communicating message be replicated by anyone other than…..

Oh….

HUMILITY…

From time to time we need to be reminded that we are not God, nor are we the only or even favored voices, vessels or vehicles for grace and love to make their way into the world.  Part of my progressive platform is the proclamation that God is mystery, and is to be found in the people and places we least expect to find God (The unspoken implication is “Not like those exclusive conservative evangelicals who think they have a monopoly on God).  One of the most uncomfortable, recurring events of humility in my life is the reminder that God is to be found in the people and places we least expect… including in the people and places who don’t believe that.

From time to time I need to be reminded that I am one voice among many, but that many voices are needed.  In the same way that my unique voice is needed to speak to my specific context – people who aren’t into church or religion, there is a unique voice needed to reach the people in those other churches – even the people who are into church and religion.  Cuz hey, God is for everyone right?

I hope you are reminded often of how important your voice is, how important you are, but that this realization is tempered with an uncomfortable humility that reminds you of your place in the larger collection of voices.  I hope you take your voice seriously, take yourself seriously, but not too seriously.

Happy 2014 everyone.  Here’s to another great year of life, faith, self-reflection and uncomfortable self-awareness in the world of God’s dreams

By Benjamin Conrad Collins

Synchronicity From Breath To Breath

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My daughter June has tantrums, meltdowns, full-blown def-con orange heaving and tears to the point of exhausted collapse (pictured above).  She didn’t learn this from me.  But then, she didn’t have to.  She inherited it from me.  It must be in the genes.  More on that shortly.

I am one of those people who says cliché and annoying things like, “You never fully learn something till you teach it.”  I’ve been teaching june to address her tantrums for some time, but only recently did the learning gently make itself known in a couple of moments of revelation.  The first in an airport, then on a run, and finally during a June tantrum.  But it all started with Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (DTN).

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If you don’t have kids it probably sounds creepy.  It’s just the animated follow-up to Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood from when I was a kid.  It has all the same amazing ideals, friends family values, and fun music… like, stuck in my head all the time!!! Anyways, there was a DTN episode on handling frustration, anxiety, tantrums, etc.  The major take away for us was the way they taught June (taught us really), when she’s upset or anxious, to cross her arms across her chest, take a deep breath and count to four.  Why four?  I have no idea.  But they sold her so they sold me.  The idea is, by the time she gets to four, breathing deeply, she’s calmed down.

ASIDE: To confess and to clear Stacy and June’s names, as previously mentioned, the tantrum genes come from me and not my wife.  I had the flattering nick-name as a child, “Chief Thunder Cloud”.  I was known to ruin Saturday afternoons after lost soccer games, take out a single embarrassing moment on everyone for days, and generally over-react and melt down in what had to have been some overwhelming (but hilarious in hindsight) ways. Now, when June exhibits this clear genetic disposition to stormy skies and unwarranted tantrums, we tell her, “Hug yourself real tight.  Breathe with me.” And we take a long deep breath in, and we exhale.  “One”.  And we repeat till four.  Stacy and I were both skeptical of this working at first, but it’s been surprising how effective it is, and how the breathing can cut through some really traumatic moments that are threatening certain meltdown.

Then, a few weeks ago, I was on my way home from a speaking engagement in New Orleans.  I was in the airport trying to avoid the work I needed to finish on the material for another speaking engagement.  This one is a small gathering with one of the most influential thinkers and voices in my life and theology, and I’ll be presenting this talk to he and a hand full of others… in his house. I had been procrastinating because I knew how big a deal it was and couldn’t get my mind around it.  But the more I put it off the more stressed I got.

“Flight blah blah blah service to Orlando, your plane hasn’t yet departed from its point of origin.  Your flight has been delayed with a new estimated departure time…”

All of the sudden I was in the airport with tons of time on my hands and no excuses not to get to work.  But for some reason getting into this talk set me off.  My heart rate elevated, I started to sweat, I was not feeling well.  I even wondered if my body was physiologically producing an excuse for me to avoid this task once again.

I mentioned in a previous post that I have been working more recently on incorporating elements of silence and meditation into the rhythms of my days, and they’ve been welcome elements in the weekly practices at Collective.  I also have been practicing breathing. In an accidental moment of self-healing, I decided I’d go back to a breathing awareness exercise.  I breathed deeply, taking time to pay attention to the breath, to become mindful of the way it filled my chest, the way it almost felt like I was coming up for air, even though I was sitting an a massive room surrounded by air that I had already been breathing.  This was a whole different breathing. Not the disconnected automated breathe-to-survive sort, but a breathing that was fully alive and aware of itself.  I felt simultaneously heavy – like I was anchored to the seat, and light – like the burden of worry, stress and anxiety had begun to float just beyond where I was sitting.

I was running a few days ago – heat of the day, intervals, out of shape for the intensity level I was requiring of my body.  I got to the point where I could hear my heart rate in my ears, and it was way elevated.  I backed off a little began to focus on my breathing,

I would softly say “Breathe” as I exhaled.  Inhale, and then “Breathe” again with the exhale.

Then I added “Run from the belly”, focusing on my form.

Then it was “Cadence” tuning into the rate of turnover for my feet

And finally “Efficiency”.

I had slowed down considerably.  I continued repeating this mantra in an almost hypnotic meditation, one word per exhale, “Breathe, Belly, Cadence, Efficiency”.  As I did this my pace climbed, almost back up to my interval intensity, only now my breathing was deep and even, my heart rate was steady and sustainable, my muscles were getting the oxygen they needed and complaining less.  Somehow the mindful breathing and self-awareness had seemed to physically alter my body’s experience of work… let’s be honest, suffering.

That night it all came together.  I can’t even remember what it was.  Sometimes it’s that June doesn’t like us to take out her “P-tow” (Pony tail) before bath time.  Sometimes it’s just that she knows what’s going on in her head, she’s incredibly emotionally intelligent but her words haven’t yet caught up enough to express it.  So, she melts-down, it’s tantrum time.

I very calmly said, “June look at me, breathe, cross your arms, breathe, let’s count…”  As I knelt down to look her in the face and breathe with her, my sore legs reminded me of my experience earlier in the day, the way breathing had centered me and changed things, which reminded me of the experience in the airport the week before where breathing and mindfulness had seemed to ground me.  I just began to smile and laugh at myself.  We finished the breathing exercise and June was fine, even a bit silly because I had started laughing while trying to help her breathe.

Now, I’ve been studying religion for fifteen years, and I have to tell you, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is really onto something.

In all seriousness though, most world religions contain some appreciation of, or practice in, meditation, prayer, silence, etc.  And I think most of those recognize that a significant portion of that is connected to our breath.

In the biblical tradition we find the word breath to be synonymous with the word spirit. That is breath and God are somehow mysteriously connected.  If God is the ground of being, perhaps breathing – not just survival breathing, detached automated breathing, but intentional, mindful breathing – is the experience of being grounded, and the experience of being.  Maybe breathing is the first and most profoundly simple experience of God (literally, from the delivery room spanking that kicks our lungs into action).

I know that for me, in the chaos of busyness, stress, anxiety and suffering, complex theological ideas tend to center me very little.  Eloquent prayers that I create but don’t really mean leave me feeling less than grounded.  But somehow when I return to the simplicity of my breath, that primal experience of aspiration, the ebb and flow of life to and from, I find myself grounded – held fast to this life and the God who is the ground of being.  I find myself centered – focused, at peace, mindful and aware that each breath is a gift.

And unlike my childhood perception of mysticism and Eastern religion, this isn’t for monks in monasteries or dessert fathers or shaman on top of mountains… well, not only for them.  This is for procrastinators in airports, dads in kitchens, tigers in kids cartoons, runners in danger of collapse, and daughters in fragile moments.  It’s for all of us because we all, every one of us, live because we breathe and breathe because we live.

If you managed to make it through this post without slowing your breathing, I encourage you to make some time.  Breathe, pay attention, see what happens.

By Benjamin Conrad Collins

 

 

 

The Prophetic Voice – CollegeMedia13

I had the amazing opportunity to travel to New Orleans last week and deliver a series of lectures at College Media 13, the National Convention of College Media.  I was brought in to speak to the intersection of religion and college journalism.

This particular talk (audio below) takes the biblical prophets as a model for the awareness and activity of a college journalist.  The talk focuses on knowing your values, listening, and prophetic action.  As such, this kind of life transcends that of the college journalist and could be embraced by anyone who desires communities of integrity, wholeness and justice.

Knowing your values, drawing from the centrality of the covenant for the Hebrew prophets, asks all people to live with integrity from the beliefs or values around which they profess to shape their lives – those upon which the community has agreed.  Listening has to do with an elevated sense of awareness regarding the breakdown of these values.  Most often this awareness is peaked with issues of injustice.  Finally, prophetic action illustrates in extreme and shocking ways the breakdown between the professed and lived values.  Prophetic action is risky.  It’s the point at which we move beyond knowledge and analysis and engage the issues of our day.  I said in the lecture,

“At some point the prophetic voice transcends writing about, and you become a part of the story…”

So, for the prophetic voice to truly come alive in and through us, it must push us past ways of thinking and seeing, and call us to live as dangerously present to ourselves and communities.

The questions I asked those in my seminars I leave with you:

  • Who is your community? Do you know the agreed upon values of your community?
  • Who has the power, the money, and the religious authority?  How is it being used or abused?
  • Do you see points of breakdown?
  • What could you do or say that best illustrates, in an extreme and shocking way, the breakdown of the agreed upon values?
  • What imagery elicits visceral reactions?
  • What language provokes?

LOVING WHAT WE LOVE

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The past couple of weeks have been a blast!  Our daughter June has made me the happiest father.  I am seeing her come to love many of the things I love, in some of the most adorable ways (as you can see).

I am (or at least have been in the past) a runner.  As an endurance athlete, training and competing at the Ironman level, I have come to love running… once I get past hating it.

Over the last several months we’ve learned that June loves to run.  We first really saw this when we let her loose on the beach during vacation and realized that, unless we turned her back, she’d run the length of the east coast.  She took off north after some birds and just kept running (think Forrest Gump).  More recently we’ve transitioned from daddy pushing June in the running troller to June squirming out of the seat belt and shouting,

“Daddy I runnin’, me!”

Translation: Let me out of this contraption so I can run too!

June loves running.

I grew up playing the drums.  Starting at a young age I had rhythm, but in sixth grade we made it official with my first Remo practice pad, a six-inch piece of rubber that reacted like a drum head but with much less volume… and fun.   Over the years I’ve owned five drum kits, traveled the country playing in bands and fallen in love with writing music for drums, as well as listening to really great drummers.

We started seeing early on that June had natural rhythm. She would pound her hands on the table at meals in perfect time, clap along with the rhythm of songs in movies, and even show that she had some level of understanding of syncopation in more difficult songs with odd emphasis in interesting places.  It doesn’t hurt that one of her favorite books (or maybe the one I work into the night-time ritual as often as possible) is the rhythmic masterpiece, Hand Hand Fingers Thumb.

“Hand, hand, fingers, thumb, one thumb, one thumb, drumming on a drum!”

Try to get that out of your head.  You’re welcome.

This past Friday night at a friend’s house party / music jam session / drum circle jamboree, and then again on Sunday night at church, we really started to see how much June has come to love rhythm and drumming.  As soon as she came out of the childcare room and saw me behind the drum kit she shouted,

“Daddy I drummin’”

What happened next is evidenced in the photos above.

Just a couple of days ago when we loaded the car for school, I had forgotten to take my surf board out after a great day of surfing the day before.  When June got in the car she said,

“Sthat?”

Her way of asking , “what’s that?”

I told her matter-of-factly that it was a surf board.  I know I shouldn’t lend it such significance because any time she finds anything new she immediately claims it as hers, but something about the way she said,

“My surf board”

Made my heart melt.  She is going to be a surfer, if nowhere other than my daddy dream world.

Surfing. Drumming. Running.

What is it about affinity?  What is it about the way we feel when people like the things we like, or love the things we love?  What is it about shared interest, the affirmation that what we love is worth loving, that makes our affection toward others swell and cements bonds in ways we can’t explain.

If June never ran, drummed or surfed would I love her any less? Be any less proud of her? Encourage and support her dreams and ambitions any less?  Absolutely not.  In fact, I have little interest in dancing, but I already know she’ll probably be some kind of dancer, maybe balet since she loves to twirl and stand on her toes.

But, there’s something powerful about feeling a connection with someone based on a shared affinity.  This runs across the depth spectrum from our good friends with whom we share the TV show, The Walking Dead, to the group of guys with whom I appreciate chicken wings and a fine bourbon every other week, to the great friends with whom we shared a vacation to Hawaii, to the friends I’ve made as we suffered together through Ironman training, to this little girl who now loves to run, drum and maybe one day surf.

When the people we love love what we love, we love them even more…

It’s almost as if the joy we feel inside at a pleasurable experience can be seen for a moment in the face of our friends or family as they love what we love… and for a moment we get to see what that joy looks like.  It’s as if we’re validated again in loving the things we love; like, “this kid is gonna turn out ok if she just keeps running, drumming, and takes up surfing.”

More than anything though, I think what feels so good, so right, so alive, is that we’re experiencing what it means to share something with someone at the depths of who we are.  The things we love… the things we really love, open the deeper chambers of our hearts and create entry points to a vulnerability to which not everyone gains access.

When we share experiences we’re not just cognitively agreeing that we think a TV show, or hobby, or meal is above par.  We’re weaving social and relational fabric that allows our shared lives to become integrated and fused around our shared love.  In that process the love we share for that thing, that activity, that meal gets loose in the world. It ends up being given and received by the people who are sharing the experience.

Meaning: when we love something together, we love each other.

Part of what makes us feel loved is affinity.

Now, regardless of where you land with regards to religion, and even more so complex concepts like the doctrine of incarnation – that God could be expressed and thereby known in the life of a human person, you kinda have to admit, the idea is beautiful.

The hope that we could not only believe in God, be loved by God in some etherial way we don’t understand, love God back by being good, following rules, having faith, etc; but that we could have affinity with God… that we could have shared experience with God… not in the God to us, or us to God sort of way, but the simplicity of a shared appreciation for life, for people, for joy, for goodness.  The ridiculous idea that we might feel loved by God, just by God loving the things that we love.  The idea that God might experience the love of people when we love the things God loves.

Is this overly simple?  You bet.  But is it beautiful and good and buoyant and hopeful?  I think so.

And whether it’s pertaining to God or people, to the unseen kind of faith or the material reality of the daily grind, I think this kind of love is crucial.  It is irreplaceable in the economy of human relationship and, in my opinion, the life of faith.  I also think this kind of love is not something that can be cultivated or experienced by clicking a “like” button on Facebook, retweeting a sweet tweet on twitter, or “heart-ing” it on Instagram.  We have to actually get out there and share experiences, remind ourselves of what we love and invite others to love it with us, or simply look around when we’re really loving something and see who is already standing there.

Get out there and start doing what you love.  Take note of who appreciates the things you appreciate.  Form or find an affinity group that bonds naturally around the things you care about.  I can promise you that without a whole lot of effort you’ll begin to feel loved and to feel love for others… maybe especially those with whom you might otherwise share very little, be very different, or never think to love.  Maybe you’ll even feel the love of God in the simple act of loving.

Go run.  Go Drum.  Go surf.  Go Love.

Surfing & Silence

Ben & Josh Surfboard

That’s me on the left.  Next to my younger brother (two-percent body fat on a heavy day), I was obviously not built for surfing.

I grew up active… but chunky.  I played a lot of soccer, skateboarded (vert ramp), roller bladed (back when it was cool… think Airborne), and played a little basketball.  But, I also ate Chips Ahoy! by the sleeve, loved mom’s mac n’ cheese, and never met a second portion I didn’t love as much as the first.

So, I wasn’t built for surfing.  But, in middle school I fell in love with the ocean, the rhythm of the surf, and eventually surfing itself.  I became more active, surfing every day after school.  Eventually the body and endurance I needed to surf daily began to emerge.

In high school I began swimming competitively, eventually captained the swim team, and the aqua endurance only increased as I got in better shape.  But all of the body type, tan skin and sun-dyed hair were secondary to the love of being in the ocean, the peace I found when I got in the water, and the absolute joy I got from riding waves.

I may not have been built for it, but practicing surfing ended up changing my build, and I learned that even if I wasn’t built for it, I was made for it.

I say all of this because recently I’ve started surfing again.  A friend got me back into it. The early Saturday rides to the beach, conversation and coffee have been amazing.  Actually surfing again has been a dream.  We recently had two weekends in a row that were as much fun as I’ve had in as long as I can remember.

At the same time, this friend has introduced me to silence.  Yes, I mean the concept of not making noise or consuming noise.  Sitting in silence.  Novel huh?

I am a preacher, teacher, and avid social media consumer.  The concept of silence is as foreign to me now as the idea of an all day surf session was to my 12-year-old pudgy self. It’s not only when I’m preaching to my congregation, or lecturing to my university class, I can hardly ever shut up.  Not only the sound I make, but the noise I consume.  I am always checking my phone.  No emails? Check Facebook. No updates or messages? Check twitter.  No new tweets, no personal messages? Back to Facebook to see if anyone has RSVP’d to my events.  No? Check to see if anyone has added me back on google+.  If I get really desperate I’ll even check LinkedIn.   There have been times where I am playing with out two-year old daughter, June, and every ten seconds I swipe my Facebook screen down to re-load because I am so addicted to knowing if anyone has posted anything.

I need silence.  Not just to shut up, but to shut down.  I need to cease to be able to produce or consume anything.  Sometimes for 30 seconds: two deep breaths in and out.  Sometimes on Sunday night the congregation makes it five or six minutes and it feels like eternity (sometimes uncomfortable, but increasingly peaceful). Sometimes when I can meditate alone I make it past the threshold where it is uncomfortable, almost like a runner’s high, and I get lost in the silence.  It actually feels good, like it could go on forever.  And sometimes I wake up a few minutes later, realizing I lost the centered space and fell asleep.

What was true of my younger surfing body, I find to be true of my now young adult spirit regarding silence:  I feel I am not built for it.  But, like surfing, I am falling in love with silence, and am finding that practicing silence is changing the “build” of my spirit.  I am being re-shaped, re-oriented and finding a peace and centering I haven’t known for some time.  Maybe I never have.

The more I’ve reflected on this recent friendship, the re-introduction of silence and surfing into my life, the more I have realized that surfing is where I first learned about silence, and may indeed be the reason I first fell in love with the ocean and riding waves.

Often, the ocean will build the silence into the surf session.  The rhythm of a swell tends to send “sets” that fill the ocean with waves and fill you with energy, giving you lots to do – paddling, angling for a wave, scrambling to catch it, enjoying the ride, paddling back out, rinse  / repeat.  But in between the sets are lulls.  The sets stop coming and the ocean turns to glass.  Often, even when crowded, there will be moments, minutes, long periods of silence.  Statuesque figures sit on their boards, balanced, centered, staring at the horizon awaiting the next set. These moments were some of the most peaceful of my life growing up, and as much as I’ve enjoyed getting back to the actual surfing, I have equally enjoyed the silent moments on the beach at dawn, waiting for enough light to paddle out.  I’ve enjoyed the rhythm of silence and lull afforded me by the wisdom of the ocean.

I wasn’t built for surfing but I fell in love, found that path, and realized I was made for it. After many wayward years I’m finding my way back.  I don’t feel built for silence, but I’m learning I was made for it (Both of these thanks to a great new friend).

I don’t know if you have disciplines or rhythms of rest or silence, if life has built in some margin for you to unplug and make space for peace and centeredness.  If not, I encourage you to give this a shot.  You can’t mess it up, and you probably won’t feel like you’re doing it right.  That’s ok.  It may feel like you’re not built for it, but I promise, give it a little time and I think you’ll come to see you were made for it.

Drive-thru Influence Update :: Failing Publicly

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That’s right, it’s time to head back to the drive-thru.

I’ve had a lot of experience in drive-thrus in my life.I’ve managed to scrape paint off of company vehicles while running errands. I’ve managed to drop change, lose credit cards, offend bystanders by blaring Disney music, and scare my own daughter with my anger at the duration I am made to wait. Yes, I can be a bit dramatic at times.

But, until this week, I had never been pulled over in a drive-thru.

It happened back in that same Dunkin Donuts drive through I wrote about last week, anticipating that same divine iced espresso delight. As usual, the drive-thru was slammed while on my way to daycare and class at the University. Often, there’s a line of cars that extends from the drive-thru and out onto the street, causing me to pull onto the shoulder and wait.

I was minding my own business, finally in the drive-thru line, singing Disney songs to June (this day was “When Will My Life Begin” from Disney’s Tangled). Out of the corner of my eye, I notice a figure—a man—ominously close to my vehicle and walking up on my window.

“Who does this guy think he….” I trailed off as I took in the figure.”Oh my God, it’s a cop!”

I stopped singing, rolled down my window, and waited.

“License and registration.”

The line inches forward and I awkwardly wait for him to tell me to continue to advance so I don’t hold up the traffic.

“Do you know why I pulled you over?”

He couldn’t have taken that question seriously, and I had to keep from laughing. “Pulled me over” was a strong phrase for the turtle crawl of a pursuit that led to my apprehension and detainment in this now drive-thru prison.

“Yes, sir. It’s probably not okay for me to park on the shoulder until the drive-thru opens up.”

“That’s right. Go ahead through the line and I’ll meet you on the other side.”

The anticipation of sweet delicious coffee turned to ash in my mouth. There would be no enjoying this java, now sure that a ticket awaited at the drive-thru’s terminus.

Forgetting again that June was with me, lost in my shame and anger at being so stupid, I was jolted back into the present moment.

“Daddy trouble.”

Clear as a bell. No cute toddler-speak. No question mark. June was neither comforting me nor asking a question. She was making a statement. Perhaps she was passing judgment. Do toddlers even know you can’t park on the shoulder?

I tried to dismiss it.

“It’s okay, June. Daddy’s not in trouble. It’s ok. I was being silly. Daddy was just being silly.”

“Daddy trouble,” she said again.

This continued through the seeming eternity it took for the three cars ahead to get their orders –me explaining, June persisting. The more I tried to explain it away, the more insistent she became, at one point shouting, “No, Daddy. Trouble.”

It seemed I wasn’t getting out of this.

I pulled up to the officer.He handed me my license, registration and insurance card, and said, “Have a nice day.”

As I pulled away I shifted quickly into pastor mode, “See June, daddy isn’t in trouble. That man was kind and gracious. He forgave me for being silly.”

Silence.

“Daddy trouble.”

It hit me. She needed to see me fail. She needed to hear me admit it. She needed the affirmation that her two-year-old intuition was dead on. Regardless of how “silly” I think it is to be pulled over by a cop on foot for parking 30 seconds on a shoulder, she needed to know that there is right and wrong. I messed up. Daddy trouble.

As I said in the last Drive-thru Influence post, we are constantly trying to edit and spin what people see, hear and perceive. We’d love to take our disregard for the law, our flagrant denial of what is best, what is right (as big or small as it may be), and make ourselves look innocent. We dismiss, cover, spin, minimize and edit away the full force of our failure.

This minor failure reminded me how important failure is. Not only does June need to see it to learn that it’s a part of life, of an existence plagued with inconsistency and consequences for our decisions, but I need to fail for me. I need to be reminded that there are moments when no amount of editing, language or spin can conceal from my own heart that I’ve been wrong. And people need to see us fail. This one of the greatest forms of vulnerability. This is a major moment for social bonding. Failure removes our ability to hold ourselves above one another and drops us down a peg, reminds ourselves and others that we’re all human.

To fail in front of others, especially loved ones, and to be comforted, embraced or forgiven, is to be reminded that love does not depend on our ability always to be right, or always to be perceived as being right.

The Bible speaks of God’s power being made perfect in our weakness. When we are most vulnerable God is most present. Perhaps in our vulnerability our awareness of God is elevated.

Maybe also, the fullness of our humanity is made perfect in our failings. When we are most vulnerable in failure, our humanity is most present. When pretenses are dropped, the editing and spinning are allowed to fall away. We can admit to ourselves that we can’t always do right, be good, maintain our innocence and remain human. We are still good, we’re still loved and valued. We’re okay. Perhaps our vulnerability brings to the surface an awareness of our truest humanity. Not only do we need God, but we need others to see our failure and to go on loving us, to bear with our failings and go on forgiving us.

Failure opens us to ourselves and to our neighbors as our vulnerability is exposed, and in that we are often opened to God.

We must fail, and fail in front of others. It is only when we fail that we can be reminded that we are not defined by our worst moments. We are not defined by failure. Not that they didn’t happen, not that we should edit them away. We should fully face them, and allow others to see them. It is only in failing that we can truly know grace.

Open Your Eyes, The Future of Faith Is Here

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I had the privilage of writing for the Stetson University Reporter last week.  The article below came out last Friday and provides a very cursory glance at what I think is good news, at Stetson and beyond, regarding the state of faith as we move forward.

On the heels of the 2012 Pew Research on Religion and Public Life [http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/] some are wringing their hands, declaring “The sky is falling” for religion. Others are celebrating. The future of faith seems to lie somewhere in between. To be sure, religion as it has been is passing away. At the same time, though, something new and fresh, and frankly statistically interesting is happening.

Pew finds that though 20-percent of the US population are now unaffiliated with a particular religion, a full 14-percent still express interest in or connection to faith, spirituality, or meaning-making. Hence, the title “Spiritual” or the “Nones,” not “Religious,” has come to define this group. These are the 33 million people who have abandoned, or have never affiliated with a religion, organized faith or tradition in the first place.  Yet they remain tethered and engaged through “spirituality,” belief in God, a deep connection to nature, and even daily prayer. All this while remaining non-“religious.”

All of this sets up my observation that Stetson is already a part of a necessary conversation being had about the future of faith, and is in fact already an environment in which the future of faith is taking place. Not only because we are studying religion academically, but because we are in the process of reexamining what it means to have values, to live values, and to pursue an education that goes beyond the transmission of data—one that forms persons and transforms the world. We are seeing the future of faith at Stetson in curiosity, openness, and evolution.

As an alumni (’04) who participated in Stetson’s religious life, a former Director of a faith-based organization at Stetson (Baptist Collegiate Fellowship ’10-’12), current faculty member in Stetson’s religion department, and as a professional pastor for the past 10 years in DeLand, having worked with Stetson students, my take on the future of faith is as follows:

First, we’re seeing a revival of non-hostile curiosity. In my Introduction to Biblical Literature class, in Dr. Sitler’s Freshman Seminar conversation on Values and Faith, and across the board as I continue to engage students as a local pastor and presence on Stetson’s campus, we’re sensing a peaceful quest for understanding among and between faiths and faith traditions, and among those of no faith.

This curiosity is simultaneously respectful and inquisitive of the histories and traditions of faith. It is comfortable with the tension between an academic pursuit and personal spirituality seeking. Students seem to be fine—much more than I was as a conservative undergraduate—with the peaceful dialogue that takes place between those of diverse traditions and backgrounds. It seems as if there is a genuine sense that knowing about one another, our faiths, beliefs and practices, while continuing to hold one’s own beliefs and practice one’s own faith, will make us all more conscientious human beings, and will make for a more just and vibrant world.

So, whether in the classroom, through campus ministries, or through interfaith events and initiatives, it seems to me that positive steps are being taken to include, inform, and supplement the growing curiosity that is drawing many into growing awareness and interest in faith.

In many of these same settings, but also through the process of founding my congregation (found online at WeAreCollectiveChurch.Com) and the ongoing work we’re doing, I am increasingly convinced that a core tenant of the future of faith is openness. I don’t mean openness in the wishy-washy ambiguous sense, but rather in the willingness to experiment with new expressions of the faiths we’ve been given by past generations. There’s a significant group of Stetson students who participate with our congregation in deconstructing long held beliefs, stripping away doctrinal or traditional barriers and, in many cases, starting with a blank slate as we discover fresh expressions of faith for our generation.

Additionally, I was privileged to speak at TEDxStetsonU last Spring about the evolution of faith. I think this current class and generation is displaying an understanding of the evolution of faith more than ever. Beyond a momentary stimulus and demand for adaptation in faith, this generation seems to be embracing—through both curiosity and openness—a faith that is embracing ongoing evolution as an important expression of faith. There is a sense in which enacting the faith that’s come before us can no longer be claimed as our own with integrity. Instead, the future of faith seems keen on finding its own articulation, practice, and expression.

With Stetson encouraging and creating environments, supplementing curiosity about faith, openness to rethink faith, and participating in the ongoing formation of a faith not yet complete, I believe we are seeing the future of faith.

Author Benjamin Conrad Collins on Google+

https://plus.google.com/104540744907916457133/posts

(This article originally appeared in the September 19th Edition of The Stetson Reporter)

By Benjamin Conrad Collins