Pokemon GO and the Salvation of Western Civilization

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As a prelude to what I hope will be a series on young people, and a follow up to last week’s discussion of Growing With–I’m retuning to a favorite of mine, originally run here on the Theology Mix blog.

I have to update–statements made in the first paragraph are now invalid. My daughter taught me to play a few weeks ago. And all my assumptions that I could get addicted were accurate.

Pokémon GO will save the world

Well, that could be an overstatement. Other things are doing their share.

Still, it’s a valid hope. I don’t personally play the game. It looks fun—and I do have an inherent passion for collecting things that is totally compatible with the idea of going around catching various creatures, indexing and organizing them like my junior high insect collection that took on epic proportions. My highest StrengthsFinder score is Input–ie, collector of things. Any things, really.

\So, really, best I don’t touch the thing. I know my limits, and with time an endangered commodity in my life right now, another way to spend it should not be on the table. I will stick with geocaching when I feel the need to hunt outdoors.

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Yes, this is actually mine. Yes, it’s fun.

However, I have trailed along as a cultural observer when others play. In the trailing, there is a tale to tell. Pokémon players are changing the lonely landscape for the better.

Fact: Millennials are the loneliest age group in America.

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https://www.themarshallproject.org/2016/07/12/who-loves-pokemon-go-the-police

This as determined by researchers from the University of Cologne and the University of Chicago. They have eclipsed the presumed leaders in that race, the elderly. Their buzzword of choice may be community, but the reality is, they are finding it less and less. Blame social media, economic issues, mobility, competition, overzealous parents and ovescheduled lives, and fear of commitment. Whatever we blame, the reality is, our culture finds friendship and relationship disposable, and no one suffers more for it than the generation that learned friendship online.

Enter Pokémon. What I witnessed when accompanying my two Millennial daughters was nothing less than a modern social miracle. Dozens of young people wandered around the lakeside park. Some in groups, some alone, everyone staring at their phones. Suddenly, a random “Charmander!” rang out from across the field. Once, twice, three times. Strangers were calling others to come share the mecca of fiery creatures they had found. Other people who passed us offered up clues—“Dratini right over there.” “Go to that willow tree—there are Bulbasaur all over the place!” Everyone in the park was helping one another play the game. Something made them act as a team. Some sense of “we’re together here” permeated the area.

They are not becoming fast friends. They’re not walking away together linking arms and singing kumbaya or planning to be in each others’ weddings. But they are helping one another toward a mutual goal, with no personal gain at all.

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In a particularly contentious and angry time in the US, a game on a cell phone is causing strangers to work together. This is nothing short of miraculous. We should all be standing and applauding.

Of course, we’re not. Instead, I read random rants about how young people are staring at their phones again/always and how this makes them self-centered. I see older people condescending to younger ones with broad assumptions like, “If they put this much effort into getting a job, they’d be out of their parents houses’.” Such assumptions bother me, since my children, and most players I know, are gainfully employed and/or full time students. But they bother me further, on a much deeper level, because they prove the speaker has never had a conversation with any young person. At least, not a mutually respectful one.

This matters in the church. If we care about the loneliness epidemic outside (and inside) our walls among the Millennial generation, we will care about ways to bring them together. We will want to understand how they form community and why it matters. Pokémon GO has a few things to teach us about our relationships with and continued learning from the next generation.

Pokémon GO reminds us that Millennials don’t think play and work are mutually exclusive.

Will our leadership accept that work and play often look a lot alike for Millennials, and sometimes they are doing their best innovating when they are having fun? Can we adjust our committees, classes, and teaching to reflect this?

Pokémon GO is a game. It’s also a community, a place to belong, and a network. It didn’t take players long to realize that a game can be used to meet people, learn about other cultures, find job opportunities, or shatter their Fitbit goals.

Cities report that police officers are joining the game to create relationships in their communities. People are using the social phenomenon to solve seemingly intractable problems—like racial tensions and law enforcement woes. While the lines are blurring between work and play, they are also completely blurred between fun and practical change. Will our churches follow suit, or will we retain our insistence on old methods of solving problems?

Pokémon GO reminds us that Millennials want to ask questions rather than be told where everything is and how it works.

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Can our discipleship involve the kind of seeking that Millennials seem to prefer over the straight telling we have embraced for so long? Maybe we should ask more questions rather than give so many answers, so the search for being like Jesus can consume us like the search for Pikachu.

Pokémon GO reminds us that Millennials value relationships over formulas.

Can we encourage evangelism that’s more like playing games with a group of new friends than sealing a used car deal? Do all the right words mean less, ultimately, than being with another person? What would that look like in church programming?

Pokémon GO reminds us that Millennials want for a place to belong.

Will the church embrace that need and offer a balm for loneliness? Will we hold out the ultimate relationship rather than rules to live by? Will we invite them in regardless of their tribe or background or beliefs? Will we be the ones standing on the path calling, “What you’re looking for is over here! Come be with us. We understand the search. We’re with you in it. Let’s look together.”

It could save the world, you know.

What Does the Church Need to Bring Back the Younger Generation: Author Interview

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A few weeks ago, my friend Terri asked if she could interview me for her author interview series. Since she is a great interview-question-maker and a great friend, I said of course!

(Also, she is a very talented photographer–she took my headshot this year in San Antonio, and I am pretty certain the shot at the beginning of her post is of Oxford from our time there last spring. I know that hallway!)

Terri asked so many good questions about the church, its future, and the leadership of young people. Since I am known around these parts as an advocate of the latter (I mean, look at the tagline right up there), I loved every one of her questions.

Questions like:

Many young adults have left the church. What has driven young people away?

How does the church and its people need to change to bring young people back?

I especially love the last question–you’ll figure out why when you read it!

Just part of one of my answers–I hope it makes you want to click over to the full interview.

Jesus came to forgive our sins AND to usher in the kingdom of God with redemption of everything, starting right away. He came to set a broken creation right again. They aren’t separable. Young people find this story credible and compelling. They know the world is broken. They want to help fix it. We’re not just saved from sin—we’re saved toward wholeness.

Get yourself over to her full interview here. Thanks!

 

Is Friendly Enough?

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Welcoming isn’t the same as “you belong here.”

Everyone welcomes you when you’re the new one in the group exercise room. Are they friendly, or are they just grateful that someone in the room is going to look dorkier than they do now? Time will tell, especially when they all politely turn aside when you lose your balance doing side kicks.

Whatever the reason, people welcomed me to the three exercise classes I started attending a couple weeks ago. They smiled, pushed mats over the accommodate me, and asked about my morning. I was going to fit in with this group, despite the fact that they all have grey hair and talk about their grandkids. Who cares? We’re all nice people enjoying our morning together.

But Really . . .

Halfway through the class, we walked out onto the track, and I noticed right away that my celebration had been premature. People paired up. They walked together in twos or threes, talking about whatever concerns life had brought them that day. I’m sure they knew one another’s concerns. I’m certain they walked with the people they were accustomed to pairing with—people who had spent time with them and knew them enough to be used to one another.

No one hung back to walk with me. No one chatted with me about silly nothings or major somethings, either one. I walked alone, while the other twelve enjoyed one another’s company.

Is Our Church “Friendly?”

That’s when i realized the difference that many churches never recognize. There is friendly, and there is welcoming someone into belonging. You can welcome someone to church, but are you welcoming them into the life of the church?

It’s so easy to smile and welcome a person but then turn to those we are used to, the ones who know us, and spend our actual interaction time there. A new person is genuinely greeted with friendliness. We sincerely want him or her there. But then we turn to our accustomed habits. We talk to our comfortable friends. We leave the welcomed person to feel on the outside, finding a friendly people but not finding access to their circle of friendship. 

Being Access Givers

A lot of churches need to work on being access-givers. Often we’ve put a lot of emphasis on ensuring that new people find the process of coming to church seamless and simple, but how much work have we put into making sure they feel like they’ve been to a community rather than an IKEA? How often do we open our small circles and invite someone in who’s standing on the outside?

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I’ve been that person on the outside more times than I like to remember. I can tell you—that person is dying for more than a smile and directions to children’s ministry. Here are five ways to make someone feel like she belongs, not like she’s just welcomed.

  • Open the circle. Literally. Look away from your group of friends and find someone who needs to be pulled in. Go to her. She won’t come to you.
  • Ask questions. She isn’t likely to offer a lot of information. She’s nervous. So make her feel you care by asking about her life. What brought you here? What’s your family look like? How long have you lived here?
  • Find a common denominator. Do you have the same age kids, the same work field, equally annoying relatives? Hobbies/ TV shows? You’ll have to talk a while to find out. There is likely to be something you share that forms a bond.
  • Introduce her to someone. Does she crochet? Introduce her to someone else who does. Is she a mechanical engineer? You might know someone with whom she can talk about those things (I would not be that person. Introduce me to the person who can quote Shakespeare or Dr. Who. Doesn’t matter which.)
  • If it seems right and not pushy, invite her to something else. Lunch after church would be marvelous. A MOPS group. Your Bible study or your planned night out for Margaritas. Whatever. 
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Going for coffee is always good.

Being friendly is something you can get from a Walmart greeter. Making someone feel they belong is the art and the work of Christian community. Let’s do it to his glory.

“May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.” — Romans 15.5-7

Level One

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I look just like this in class. Exactly this.

The class is called Strictly Strength. The title and description intimidated me right off. I am not strong, strictly or otherwise.I imagined kettle bells and giant weights and me, collapsed on the floor, begging for the water bottle I inevitably forgot to bring.  Being sick a couple years back took all the muscle I had away, and strength has been a bit elusive since that point.

So while the sound of it was terrifying, the promise was worth the risk. I jumped in as the class newbie.

Level Up?

Surprise—there are levels to being strong. For just about any move the instructor taught us, she explained that there was a level one and a level two—or even three. There are options! There are large weights, and there are small ones. There are heavier bars and lighter bars. (And now I know I have to get there earlier if I want a lighter bar.) There are moves that test your further than other, easier possibilities. I did not have to walk in the room and lift a kettle bell above my head on the first day. Thank you, sweet eight-pound baby Jesus. That would have been ugly.

The most important thing I learned right away though—

There is no shame in staying at Level One.

Oh, I want to be at Level Two. I want to do the harder twists, the longer planks, the tighter crunches. But the part of me that is tired of injury remembers that is why I am doing this—to avoid hurting those parts of me that have gotten bruised, pulled, and pained by doing too much.

So I keep it slow. And steady.

Other people can do the full planks. I stick to the hands and knees ones. Someone else may be able to do double leg lifts. I will happily do them one at a time. Maybe one day I will do those harder things, but right now, I’m at Level One. And that’s an OK place to be.

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Church Has Levels, Too

Some of us show up to church at Level One. We don’t know the songs. We aren’t comfortable singing in public, anyway. We get part of what the pastor’s talking about, but some of the things are fuzzy, and we’re not sure how they apply to our situation. We don’t want to volunteer, because we’ve been burned out, and we’ve been called out by the person who felt we just couldn’t get it right. We don’t understand the unspoken cadence of the service that informs everyone else to stand up, sit down, or dip the bread in that cup rather than drink the juice.

Everyone else seems to be at Level Three, at least.

We want to be. We want to pretend we know the lingo, act like we’ve got our life together. But then we remember why we’re there—because we want to stop the hurt that happens when we are fake. We hate the bruises, pains, and sprains in our hearts over trying to be what we’re not.

Maybe church is a place where it’s OK to be at Level One. At least, we hope so. We long for grace for those who aren’t quite ready for the heavier lifting. We pray there is kindness for the ones who need the lighter weights, and we wish for others who can bear more to offer us their shoulders and their lighter burdens. We hope that, if anyone notices we can’t do what the seasoned attenders can do, they will not point that out but treat us as if there were no differences at all.

There is no shame in staying at Level One.

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Searching for Sunday

Church should always welcome the Level One folks. Partly, because Jesus told us to. Partly, because we were all Level One at some point. Party, because they have something to teach us.

If you’re trying church for the first time, or if you’re back for the first time since something there hurt you immeasurably, don’t push it. Don’t expect to be lifting the 25-pounders your second day. Don’t think you have to know all the moves in order to fit in. Embrace awkward. Know that you don’t know and that it’s OK. Know that sometimes you can’t manage whatever task it seems everyone else is taking on, and that’s OK, too.

Level Two will come.

It doesn’t really matter how long it takes. I makes not one bit of difference how long you have to keep doing one leg lifts. You’ll get there. You’ll grow stronger. Maybe one day you’ll see that person who doesn’t seem to know the steps and you’ll say to yourself, “Oh—I remember that. I’m stronger than I thought. I think I can be a shoulder for her.” That day, you’ll be the grace someone else needs to poke her head in the door and say, “Maybe I’ll try this. It’s scary, but maybe it’s just what I need.”

Dance Like We Just Don’t Care

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I went to three exercise classes last week. You might think that is normal. You are just not me. Three exercise classes is more than I have gone to in approximately three hundred years. I don’t do group classes. I don’t like them. I am not peppy or muscle-y, and I am barely scraping the edge of social. I went anyway, because a body that works when I want it to is becoming more important to me than my preference for private exercise. (By which I mean, no exercise at all more often than not.)

And wouldn’t you know, it occurred to me during the course of the hour, that exercise class is a lot like church. How, you ask? Well, let me tell you. 

Observations on a morning of exercise class:

Observation One: I love exercise classes where I am the youngest member.

Because I work at home, I am able to go to classes in the morning, after the overflow of committed enthusiasts who go before they get behind the wheel for their commute. Those people are scary. I have been at the gym at 6:00 am and seen their classes with accompanying blaring rock music. How can anyone endure that eardrum assault so early? I have watched them race onto the track and actually run, putting feet together in a coordinated, fast motion at that hour.

This is not possible for normal people. They are clearly the spawn of aliens.

But the 10:00 am classes? Filled with retired folk. Do you know what is glorious about an exercise class filled with people over 65?

They Do. Not. Care.

They don’t care how they look. They don’t care if they get every move right. They don’t care if they can’t stretch as far as that girl next to them in the designer purple yoga pants. They do not care the tiniest bit. They dance like they don’t care.

I love it.

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Church people care.

They care if your kids are crazier than theirs. They care if you volunteer as often as they do. They care if your opinions line up with theirs. They care if your clothes are nicer/not nicer/less modest/less expensive/more expensive/more outlandish/more casual than theirs. They. Care.

Not everywhere. Definitely not at our church. But at many.

So the lesson from exercise class? Find a place that doesn’t care or, better still, make a place that doesn’t care. Go to church and pretend you’re a 70-year-old woman doing yoga.

  • That other mom’s kid can’t seem to stop running through the hallway? High five her and tell her she’s doing great at a tough job. I mean, motherhood is kind of like trying to stretch your foot behind your ear while breathing properly (or breathing at all). Those kids’ souls are what matters—not any mess or noise they make. Old ladies doing yoga just don’t care about what doesn’t matter.

 

  • Go talk to that teenager wearing pajama pants to church. Welcome her. Ask her about her day, year, life. High five her for surviving being sixteen. That’s like me managing an hour of swing dancing when I’ve barely got the endurance level of a three-toed sloth. I bet she’s got a lot to share.

 

  • Find the single guy who only shows up every month or so. Ask him what his dreams are. Find out what he’s good at. High five him for wanting something deeper in his life enough to get there when he does. Kind of like showing up for strength training class when currently you’ve got the muscle mass of a hummingbird.

There are dreams and wishes and hurts and yearnings we know nothing about swirling in the hearts of the people right next to us.

It’s freeing to be among a bunch of people doing aerobic foxtrotting with glee and no shame at all. It makes it OK to make mistakes. It allows for someone to not know what comes next. It forgives. It offers a chance to dance with glee yourself.

It makes me want to come back.

What if we were the people who offered those things to the ones who walk through the doors of our church?

It’s OK to make mistakes.

It’s fine not to know what comes next.

It’s beautiful that you have doubts.

It’s great to see you whatever you look like.

I want you to dance here, with joy.

“So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free. Use your freedom to serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5.1, 13)

Make your space a just don’t care zone. And I guarantee, from my experience, people will want to come back.

Why I Believe in the Local Church

This week, in our discussion of church, we’re hearing from a fiend, Robin Lee, at Brighten a Corner. I hope you enjoy her words as much as I did.

The mention of the word “church” makes some (including some of my dearest and most precious friends) feel like this:

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When I say, “I get this feeling,” those are not light words with no experience behind them.

I know the imperfection of church.

I AM the imperfection of church.

I have been kicked out of Bible Study (many, many years ago), had places of ministry that were precious to me end (much more recently), and had to repent and apologize more times than I can count in relationships in church.

But in spite of all this, or because of all this, I still believe emphatically in the local church.

I often say that the governing verse of Brighten A Corner is Zephaniah 3:9, “For then I will give the peoples purified lips, That all of them may call on the name of the Lord, to serve Him shoulder to shoulder.” It does not say denomination to denomination OR congregation to congregation, but it says clearly shoulder to shoulder.

823_10200310819160050_1667372954_nThe UNIVERSAL church–Christian to Christian–is supposed to be linked together through a love for Jesus. This Universal Church is often–I TOTALLY get this and I AM this–a horrible example because many are passionate about and focused on many things, and we often come to radically different conclusions on these subjects.

I have said many times, “How can people call themselves Christian and believe _________________.” You can fill in the blank.

I am relatively certain people have said the same thing about me.

I desperately want all of us to learn to connect the dots in life. For a Christian that means connecting the dots of the Bible to the dots of our lives. For all of us it means connecting the dots of our decisions to the dots of our results.

And it is through church that I overcome my natural tendency to be harsh and slowly learn to connect the dots of truth and the dots of grace.

It begins with extending grace to the church I attend, the people in it and the people who lead it.  Church puts into the rhythm of my life the willingness to show up once a week and say, “Okay God, what do you have for me?”

My part is to be open and show up.

Recently I have reenergized my desire to honor the sabbath. The Fourth Commandment in Exodus says: Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. What I realize as I study this in the Bible and what I am trying to practice is two things…to remember the sabbath means what I do on the sabbath matters. Also, and possibly more importantly, what I do to prepare for sabbath matters.

IMG_6704For those of you struggling for balance, who always feel too busy, I ask you: Do you go to church regularly? If yes, and you still struggle, I exhort you to shift perspective and begin to honor the sabbath. It will help you find peace.

It will set you on the path to abundance.

NOT BECAUSE church people are perfect and every pastor without flaw. That is never. going. to. happen. Yes, church can be one of the loneliest places on the face of the planet, when we are spending our time at church looking around. But if you set aside all the imperfection and show up weekly to say, “God, what do YOU have to teach me today?” Life. Can. Change.

Hard edges can be knocked off. Connections can be found. Peace will come closer.

Perhaps you will have to do an extra load of laundry on Saturday. Maybe you will have to plan your meals a bit better, so that gathering is possible.

Join me in this quest?

I believe in the local church because I believe it is what God has created for me. And because I believe my children’s lives will be richer if they are part of it as well. And because I believe the only way to a life that doesn’t feel spun-crazy-out-of-control is to anchor that life with a holy sabbath built around family, friends, food, fun (we are trying to spend lots of this time outside with our kids) and, YES, church.

Course Correctors

IMG_7454.jpgWhen our daughter was in high school gymnastics, she had a great team. Without fail, the girls cheered one another on. Shouts of “You got this!” and “You go girl!” bounced off the gym walls at every meet. Other teams noted the camaraderie and envied it.

But I remember one other team. They were highly ranked. They had a reputation. They scored big numbers. The evening I sat close and watched their girls vault, I figured out why. One by one, those girls took off toward the vault and threw some tricks that, judging by the way they hit the floor and sometimes the wall, they should not have been trying. The difficulty, and subsequent scoring, were huge. The danger was, too. Their coaches, who should have discouraged trying skills that could land them in a hospital, stood at the end and cheered as the girls hit the mat.

Cheering for people is great. I love being encouraged to do hard things. Sometimes, though, the best thing we can do for someone is to say, “Um, no, you actually don’t got this. Don’t go, girl.”

We’ve been talking here on the blog about church. What it is. What is could be. What it should be. The primary thing it should be is family. Family encourages one another big time. Sometimes, though, family has to do something more difficult. Sometimes, family has to tell us the truth.

Family keeps us on course

Sometimes, your sister has to tell you not to leave home in that outfit. Or not to date that jerk. We all know that later, we are grateful. It’s a family’s job to keep the weird uncles in check so they don’t embarrass everyone too much. It’s a family’s duty to tell Aunt Ruth she needs a hearing aid because she’s talking so loudly the rock band next door can’t practice.

IMG_9313.JPGWe edit one another’s resumes, practice job interviews, and filter photos before we post them, because we want our family to be shown in their best light. Hey, if it were not for my daughters, I would still be going around in mom jeans and white tennis shoes. Family tells us the truth when we won’t look in a mirror and see for ourselves.

Note: We don’t always appreciate the truth.

If church is our family, we should be keeping one another from that terrible date.

Nudge or Judge?

When someone in our church family is going off the rails, a good family nudges her back over onto the track. Don’t miss that important word. We nudge. We don’t judge. That one letter makes all the difference in whether or not we correct one another’s courses well.

Church has gotten the reputation of being kind of judgy. Let’s be honest, it’s easier to judge someone than it is to correct them. Judging is quick. It’s easy, because we have our set of rules taped to the wall, so we know when someone has broken one. It’s painless, even a morale boost sometimes, because if we can conclude that someone is worse than we are, we feel better about our own missteps. Judging is simple. Walking with someone through resurrection is hard.

Admitting we need someone to walk with us is perhaps even harder.

Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. (Galatians 6.1-3)

To share someone’s burden implies that we treat it with reverence and care, like it is our own. Paul’s words create a picture of someone taking another person’s error and cupping it in her hands, like a nest for a baby bird, to support and sustain until the bird is able to fly. They do not leave room for judgment. Quite the opposite.

Gently and humbly.

When is the last time someone did that for you? When is the last time you did it for someone else?

The other side, of course, is that we have to be people who learn to accept correction. We have to begin to trust our families to tell us the truth. The beginning is the most difficult; after you begin, the going on seems natural. It is. It’s the way God meant for us to be.

IMG_6928Moving from relationships based on eggshell walking or grenade lobbing takes intentional effort. It is so much easier to either skirt conflict or to take shots at one another from the safety of our own righteous foxhole. Neither one requires risking rejection. Both keep us at a safe distance. Either allows us to keep “my private life” separate and unassailable from public examination.

It’s just that Jesus never let anyone get away with that.

Gently and humbly. I keep coming back to those words. What would our churches look like if we learned to steer people away from the dangers of life and learned to submit to that steering with those two qualities?

Just Take It

Accepting course correction means giving out rights we might prefer to keep.

When I tell my family that I want to strengthen my muscles, I give them the right to ask every so often—“So, have you been to the gym?”

When I tell them I want to eat better, I freely offer them the right to give side eyes to that frozen custard stop. I’ve invited them into my life as course correctors.

When my daughter tells me she has applied for the job she wants, it’s part of my job to ask her gently, “Have you sent a follow-up yet?” I’ve earned that right after changing hundreds of diapers, wiping grape juice vomit out of the car vents, and driving to approximately twelve hundred gymnastics practices. I’ve gone the difficult distance with her.

Just Earn It

Family gets in your face when it’s for your own good. They’ve earned that right. Church families need to earn the right—by going the difficult distance with us and bearing the burdens we can no longer bear. And when they do, we learn to listen when they tell us the curve is up ahead and we’re going a little too fast.

Family asks—Have you been reading you Bible like you wanted to? What’s your progress on that temper issue you told me about? Are you working on you marriage? These are hard questions. But ultimately, they are kinder than standing on the sidelines and cheering impending disaster because that’s more polite.

Gently and humbly. Good words to ponder. Possibly to paint on our walls.

Imagine if every church became a place where everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable. Imagine if every church became a place where we told one another the truth. We might just create sanctuary.—Rachel Held Evans