My Top 5 List(s) for 2016

It’s been a difficult year for many with such a divisive election, a spirit of fear hanging in top-5the air, and the loss of so many cherished people that made a mark on culture and society. Perhaps the end of year lists that get published this time of year will bring us some collective joy. Here are a few of my top 5s. For something to be considered I had to read it, hear it, watch it, or see it myself. I’ve got two kids under the age of eight, so that limits some things (you’ll notice that when we get to the movies.) Each list is in no particular order, just Top 5. Here we go

Top 5 Television Shows I Watched

This is Us- the power of hope amidst the complexity of our relationships. I’m not afraid to admit I’ve shed a tear at almost every episode

Stranger Things-What’s not to love? 80s nostalgia, Winnona Ryder, and a mystery that keeps you on the edge of your seat

Blindspot- This replaced The Blacklist as our guilty pleasure weekly thriller show

Gilmore Girls Revival- It was great to be transported back to Stars Hollow once again. I only wish that I could have banter as witty as Lorelai and Rory

Black-ish- Continues to feature some of the best social commentary that makes you think and laugh at the same time. Props to Anthony Anderson, who has come a long way from his days on Hang Time

 

Top 5 Albums I Heard

Chris Stapleton, Traveller– The man who made us remember what actual country music sounds like

Margo Price, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter- See above, except exchange man for woman

Drive By Truckers, American Band- Not afraid to take on the tough social issues of the day against a backdrop of powerful southern rock. Somehow made their best album minus Jason Isbell

Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to the Earth- The awe and wonder of someone witnessing their first child’s birth is captured perfectly in this record. Don’t miss his version of Nirvana’ In Bloom

Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book- A record built around the artist’s faith, gospel harmonies mixed with powerful instrumentation

 

Top 5 Movies I Watched (realizing I need to see more movies)

Hell or High Water- I’m not a big fan of Westerns, but this was one solid film. The story of two brothers who will do whatever it takes to save the family farm

The Man Who Knew Infinity– A movie about math, that’s really about more than math. Our friend Ken Ono worked on this fantastic story about the power of possibility. Jeremy Irons gives a performance that is pretty close to perfect.

Zootopia- Remember that I have an 8 year old and a 5 year old. This animated feature is for all ages, teaching us that we are not divided into predator and prey, but we are one.

Spotlight- Yes, I realize it came out last year, but I just saw it a few weeks ago. Wow, a sobering, powerful film.

Captain America: Civil War- Everyone loves a good superhero movie and to me, this was one of the best

 

Top 5 Books I Read

The Great Spiritual Migration, Brian McLaren If you want to know how Christianity will be practiced (and in many ways is now), this is an excellent and challenging read.

Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson- A look at our justice system and how unjust it is towards many. A clear call to fix our broken (in many ways) justice system

The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni- I will utilize the learnings from this book for many years. Why do some organizations succeed while others fail? The key is culture and organizational health.

The Road to Character, David Brooks- There are deeper values that shape all of our lives. This books challenges us to rebalance the scales between our “resume virtues” and our “eulogy virtues”, using the stories of well-known and not so well known people.

Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance- A look at the lives of those who come from rural Appalachia, the challenges they face, and the perspective they have.

I’d love to know what you think of my list of hear what you would put on your Top 5.

All the best to you and yours in 2017

Dear Future President: A Letter

Dear Future President,

The big day is almost here. You will be elected to the highest office in the land by the American people. Regardless of what people might say, you will be elected to serve all the American people. That’s a tough job because we can be pretty difficult. Are you sure you are ready for this?

There are several things that I hope will happen over the course of the next four years as your policies and actions shape our shared future.

I hope people will pray for you. Whether they voted for you or not, I hope people will pray for you. Imagine the power of people from many faiths praying for you and your work. Know that there are people across the nation praying for you. May you feel these prayers.

I hope you will be welcoming. Our nation continues to grow more diverse. This is a good thing as a rich tapestry of cultures and traditions comes together as one. You should see this as a strength, not a weakness. This is something for which we should be proud, not ashamed. Continue to welcome those in our land who are seeking our cherished freedoms.

I hope you will embrace all people. Too much of the language of this campaign season has been divisive and “othering.” When considering policies, take into account the effect they will have on everyone. Don’t be afraid to take on the systemic issues that we need to face.   May you foster an environment in our nation where all people are celebrated. Not tolerated. Celebrated.

I hope you will promote peace. I get it, foreign policy is difficult and we are threatened on several fronts. You receive information daily that most Americans could never fathom receiving. Very few of us would want to be in your shoes. However, as you are able, help us lead the way in promoting peace in the world. I believe we can support those serving our country  while working together for peace.

I hope you will work for the economic good of all. In a nation with our resources, we should not have the poverty levels that we do. I realize the government is not the only institution that bears the responsibility for caring for our people, but please advocate for policies that lift people and benefit the widest range of people possible.

I hope you will be a responsible steward of the earth. We can do better when it comes to addressing climate change. Let’s talk about climate change while looking at our own lives to see where we can be better stewards of the earth, so that we may leave a better future for our children and grandchildren, etc.

I hope you will respect those who disagree with you. I know this is a tough one. It’s hard to, especially when you are the one who has to “turn the other cheek.” One of the ways in which we can turn around the way we talk to one another is if you set a good example.

So there you go. Just a few hopes that I have for your time in office. May Gods grace and peace be with you as you begin this journey.

 

3 Resolutions for the Church

The following are three resolutions for 2016 that I offer for the Church universal. While this is no means an exhaustive list, it’s hard to work on more than three items of transformation at once. I also believe if we get these right, we will get a lot of other things right as well.

 

Be Civil, Nice, and Respectful of One Another

2016 is an election year. The former political junkie side of me still gets excited. The current clergy side of me is fearful. I’m fearful that the way we talk to one another about political matters will continue to encroach on how we talk to one another in general. Most clergy also hear the following comments in most presidential election years-“you are being too political” or “you are not being political enough.” I believe people are curious as to  what Jesus would have to say to our land today. I suspect most of us wouldn’t like it as much as we think. While we can argue about whether Jesus was political or not, one thing is certain- Jesus was contextual, and I am sure the election will be at the center of many a conversation. I pray that our candidates are civil and respectful of one another. I pray that our conversations are civil and respectful. Let’s remember that we when talk about candidates and their supporters, we are talking about real people. Let’s remember that when our government makes decisions, real people are affected.  We are all first and foremost not Republicans, Democrats or other- we are beloved children of God. That’s the glue that holds us all together. The church can be a model for how people of different opinions talk to each other.

Draw our Circles Bigger, Not Smaller

Our land is growing more diverse and one of the benchmarks for healthy churches is a commitment towards diversity in all forms- gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious background etc. For some, the reaction has been to close ranks and to attempt to draw lines of who is in and who is out. I am reminded that no matter how big we draw our circle, the circle drawn by God is always bigger. When it comes to welcoming all, we are never ahead of God. God’s mission for the church includes everyone’s gifts and graces. When we are busy judging, we are wasting precious time that we could use loving others. Let’s recognize that everyone is just as important as we believe ourselves to be in the eyes of God.

Leave Fear Behind

We live in a world where the threat of terror is real, fueled by extreme ideology. We cannot allow this fear to fuel how the church lives and loves in the world. We cannot allow fear to cloud how we respond to basic human suffering, as it has with the refugee crisis. Do we want the Church’s witness to be that fear is more powerful than love? At the very least, can we engage in meaningful interfaith conversation, seeking to understand, rather than jumping to blanket conclusions? One of, if not the most, faithful things the church can do, is bear witness to the truth that love is more powerful than fear. We can never be the people God creates us to be coming from a place of fear.