Accidental Wisdom

I accidentally said something wise at work.

Co-worker Elaine had asked me about Ragnar because her husband and some of his friends were getting a team together and she wasn’t sure if she should run or not, and I have a bunch of Ragnar stickers on my car.

Of course, I told her Ragnar is the best. I told her that it’s my favorite race, and that she is totally capable of running it. I told her that people run in costume and there’s a unique camaraderie in the van. I told her it’s a chance to feel like a kid again.

Still, Elaine was worried about her pace. Evidently her husband’s friends are cops and are pretty competitive. They didn’t love that she runs like an 11-minute pace. In our conversation about pace, she was saying that she just didn’t think she would ever get faster, and I said, “Pace is really just dependent on how uncomfortable you’re willing to be. You can get faster; it just might not be worth the discomfort.”

Of course discomfort is not the only factor. If I’d lose 20 lbs, it’d be a lot easier for me to run faster, but the variable that’s always a factor is discomfort.

I am a firm believer that anyone can run Ragnar, anyone can run a half marathon, and anyone can run a full marathon. The question isn’t whether a person can do it. The question is whether a person is willing to do it. The question is how uncomfortable a person is willing to be, because running a marathon is really uncomfortable for a really long time.

Elaine recently quoted me back to myself, saying that she actually thinks about discomfort every time she runs now. She thinks about how if she’ll just be a little more uncomfortable, she’ll also be a little faster.

It’s really cool to hear that it helped her. Even though I didn’t intend to be particularly awesome or helpful in that moment, what I said to Elaine has actually been really helpful to me in studying for the LSAT.

The LSAT is an obnoxious test. And I’m beginning to believe that taking it is a lot lot running a personal best on race day. It’s not just about getting up to the distance; it’s also about being efficient. It’s about pacing and constant forward motion.

I scored my first 160 on a practice test several weeks ago, which was awesome. 160 is the median score U of A accepts, and it’s at the lower end of the range where they offer merit-based scholarships. It was also my goal score, so I got to adjust my goal up, which is always such a confidence-booster. But it took a lot of discomfort to get to that 160. It took a lot of sitting at sbucks, reading and practicing a bunch of stuff that has nothing to do with law school. I’ve done practice questions about giraffes, race cars, evolution, public parks, furniture, bread deliveries, tropical fish, computers, drilling fluids, choreography… you name it, I’ve studied it. Some of the questions are about literature, which always makes me happy, but the vast majority of my preparation has been reading about crap that really irritates me.

Also, it would have been easy to score 160, then stop worrying and studying. And yet, here I am, at sbucks, getting ready to work through my third thousand-plus page book, in the hopes that reading about the history of model airplanes will provide significant compensation in a few months. Discomfort now, for comfort in the future.

That’s what running is like. The more uncomfortable I’m willing to be, the better I will likely perform on race-day.


The Willingness to be Wrong

“…when they are very young, kids aren’t particularly worried about being wrong. If they aren’t sure what to do in a particular situation, they’ll just have a go at it and see how things turn out. This is not to suggest that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. Sometimes being wrong is just being wrong. What is true is that if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

Sir Ken Robinson in his book The Element

Becoming Good

“…the path to becoming a good writer is no more clear than the path to becoming a good person. We get to each place through trial and error, through staying the course yet digressing down crooked trails, through keeping our eyes open while keeping our guts willing, through not just trying but trying intelligently.”

Rachel Simon The Writer’s Survival Guide Ch. 5

The Balance of Reality and its Transcendence

This week’s (beginning of January, actually) reading in Surge has been a challenge to me.

We’ve just started a new quarter, which means that our focus of study has changed. We’re beginning to deal with evangelism and mission.

Not coming from a childhood full of VBS and Sunday school, I have memories of people trying to evangelize to me, whereas, tons of people in the church never experienced that. They grew up calling themselves Christians, because their parents took them to church every week. My early memories of friends trying to talk me into Christianity cause me to think of evangelism differently than most of the church thinks of it.

Our reading this week was about strategy. It was an analysis of Jesus and His evangelistic technique.

The reading rubbed me wrong for about 612 reasons. One of them is that I can remember a conversation I had with Mike, when he was echoing the ideas in this chapter… and simultaneously despising and dismantling a community I loved and continue to love. He insulted and railed against a ministry that some of our friends had just started up, because he didn’t believe they were being strategic enough about evangelism.

I get that his actions weren’t what this reading selection was promoting. I get that his actions were those of one person, and not necessarily representative of God or the church.

And yet, it seems like Christians who tout strategy are the ones busiest with despising and dismantling rather than loving and edifying.

Strategy is what prompted the street evangelists in both Vegas and Phoenix to target me and disbelieve me when I told them I actually was a Christian. It prompted them to keep at me, while there were plenty of atheists walking past, because they didn’t believe it possible that someone who was walking around downtown late at night could be a Christian. Strategy led the one in Vegas to give me that silly million dollar bill, talking to me about my sin as if he, stranger, has a right to something so personal.

I am suspicious of the church’s strategies.

Strategy is what put those dumb political ads in my mailbox, satirizing my roommate’s boss by pretending that having the last name Barber is enough of a crime to merit an ad equating him to Barbie. Forget the fact that he’s a man who took two bullets in service to our community. When we elevate strategy, winning becomes more important than decency.

I came to the reading with that severe bias, but I came to it admitting that strategy ought not to be completely abandoned, and, in fact, strategy submitted to the Spirit is a good thing.

And then, the silly mis-wordings just kept coming.

“…the controlling principles governing the movements of the Master…”

The Master wrote all principles… therefore, He governs them, rather than vice versa.

“Jesus staked his whole ministry on the apostles…”

I thought his ministry was staked on God’s sovereignty.

“Jesus was a realist…”

Realists submit to reality; Jesus defined, transcended and changed it.

“His whole evangelistic plan hinged on this dedication, and in turn, the faithfulness with which his disciples gave themselves in love to the people about them…”

I sure hope God’s plans never hinge on the dedication and faithfulness of man… I hope they hinge on His own sovereignty.

“He recognized that it’s not enough to get people into his spiritual communion…”

Wait – spiritual communion with Jesus isn’t enough? Christians should NEVER suggest that Christ isn’t enough.

“Unless they grasped the meaning of prayer, and learned how to practice it with consistency, not much would ever come of their lives…”

Isn’t it the point of the Gospel that God frequently makes lives meaningful, regardless of comprehension and obedience?

“…he was teaching them how to win souls…”

Proverbs 21 teaches us that man can prepare the horse for battle, but the victory belongs to God. Jesus may have been teaching many things, but I doubt He ever expected His followers to win souls.

There are other things in the chapters that bothered me, and, realistically, the author’s main point isn’t blasphemous, even if his communication of that point was lacking.

His point is that we ought to model our evangelism after that of Christ.

However, as someone who came to Christ through evangelism, I think the focus of a Christian is warped and skewed when she elevates strategy.

When one person “witnesses” to another, I believe she ought to act as a witness would. Witnesses who practice their lines and plan out what they’re going to say are suspect. I don’t trust them, because they are acting as actors rather than as witnesses. I’d rather know that the person in front of me is a witness, rather than is trying to be one.

A person who has known God does not need tracts or strategy in personal evangelism. A person who has known God need only describe God and His actions to have performed well as a witness. She need not identify and select a group of promising people to “pour into.” She need only be what she is, and she need only try to be what God wants her to try to be.

I understand that there’s a current movement in church leadership that seeks to remind leaders to love people, focus on relationships rather than systems, and be effective.

My problem is that this movement and the reading selection create systems for teaching leaders to focus on relationships… rather than systems. The very paradigm they combat is embedded in their rhetoric against that paradigm.

A believer evangelizes by, first and foremost, knowing God. She seeks God, which leads her to immerse herself in the Word, which leads to the knowledge of the greatest commandments, which makes her effective in evangelism.

A church leader did not get me to love God. It happened because God chose me and called me way back in 2002. Then, I sought Him, until, in 2008, He revealed Himself to me in a way that I could not, and didn’t even want to, ignore. God used my sister, prayer, Steve, His own Word, Dave, Mike, and A.W. Tozer to win my soul. There is no amount of strategy that could have predicted and orchestrated those six years of my life. My sister doesn’t even talk to me anymore. Steve isn’t the same sort of churchy man he used to be. By the grace of God, I still read His Word. Dave is no longer in Tucson and the church he led no longer exists. Mike is off the map. A.W. Tozer is still dead.

My point is that, while I’m sure Steve giving me a card to “the Edge,” Dave investing in my life and experience of the gospel, Mike expressing joy on a daily basis, and A.W. Tozer writing good books… were all strategic choices, I’m also sure that God is the One Who brought them together and stirred my soul. Had He not, all of the strategy in the world wouldn’t have won my soul. Additionally, had these people have neglected strategy, my soul would still belong to God, because He wanted me.

Google defines strategy as, “a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.”

“…designed to achieve a major or overall aim.”

My problem with strategic evangelism is that human plans, actions and policy are ALWAYS insufficient to win souls.

Strategic evangelism is inherently flawed; it aims to do what only God can do. It implies that when a believer shares the Gospel with an atheist, and the atheist remains an atheist… something must have gone wrong. The strategy must need revision, or the believer must adhere more completely with the strategy, because a well-executed and solid strategy would result in conversion. It neglects the mystery that is evangelism. It neglect the sovereignty of God…

just as the reading this week neglected the sovereignty of God.

Every single mis-worded idea in the reading this week offended me because it elevated strategy and human effort above the sovereignty of God.

The Giving of Advice

It’s been awhile since I’ve been asked for important advice. For a short time in my life, it felt like all I was doing was helping other people make decisions, helping them empathize with someone with whom they were in conflict, helping figure out what they believe… Nowadays, it’s rare that anyone asks me anything beyond book recommendations, which is both nice and not. It’s nice to relax, but I sometimes miss that feeling that someone values my opinion enough to ask for it.

Well, I got an email from a student just a bit ago that knocked me on my ass, because a brilliant girl (previous student) is making those all-important college decisions. In fact, she thought she’d already made the decision, but is getting cold feet about moving away and colleging elsewhere.



What other people think.

What if…

Those are all parts of what this student wrote to me, and I felt the huge honor and weight of giving her advice. Advice-asking and giving is a time-honored tradition that deserves and requires humility and respect from everyone involved.

Also, over the years I’ve learned that the best advice doesn’t answer the question, “What should I do?” Rather, it seeks to help the asker think and find her own answer.

Advice askers often need help thinking about which variables matter in the situation, how the variables interact with each other, etc… because choices aren’t so much right or wrong most of the time, but rather good, better, worse, etc… Making choices isn’t about doing what we’re “supposed” to do or about avoiding the “wrong” choice. They’re about becoming the person we want to be.

In a sermon I heard a year or two ago, the pastor (I can’t remember which one) said that God is far less concerned with what you do than He is with who you are becoming. I thought that was brilliant, and it’s something I think I’m going to try to remember as I work with students this year. My job isn’t about the moment. It’s about the person and who she is becoming.