It’s Like This

I once had a job interview that kind of described what being a rookie PCA elder has been like.

It was at AIG, before they had the vaguely scummy reputation they now enjoy (though they were well on their way to earning it). I had just lost my job and my former employer had brought in some companies from around the area to host a mini job fair for the few hundred of us that had been served a pink slip.

The AIG guys were at one of a handful of tables in our featureless gray conference room. I sat with them and slid my résumé across the table—they were two executives, hotshots. They looked over my job history and asked the usual questions. And the one who claimed to be a CIO of some sort smirked at my mid-twenties self and told me how it was:

“Here’s how we hire people at our company. First we throw people into the deep end of the pool.”

“That’s to see if they can swim,” his associate rejoined.

“And then, we throw bricks at them.”

Being a new elder is kind of like that. Only, now you’re expected to pull bodies out of that pool because you’re the lifeguard.

There’s a learning curve—to leadership, to the PCA, to your pastor, to the job—and the time you get from the moment you’re ordained to the expectation that you have answers to tough problems is brief.

I told a another church leader over coffee recently that the three year term has a pace to it: learning, yearning and earning. (If your process isn’t alliterative or rhyming, then it’s not ministry, right?) The first year, you’re figuring it out. The second year, you’re setting goals before your term is up, and the last year, you’re working your way to those goals.

I’m through the first year and survived the bricks—but that’s not the job. As I head into my second year as an elder, I’m much more interested in helping establish our church’s trajectory for the next 5, 10 or even 20 years.

Pragmatic Goals

“This”:http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=20-07-015-v came to my inbox by way of “these people”:http://zoaearts.com. Money quote:

In Catholic worship with its sacramental focus, O’Connor found her sense of mystery nourished, and saw such nourishment as a key to the writer’s ability to “penetrate concrete reality”: “The more sacramental his theology, the more encouragement he will get from it to do just that.”

Does their theology of the sacraments preclude Evangelicals from nurturing their writers in this way? Not necessarily. Metaphor and symbolism are central to the creative process for writers, and they are an important way in which we evoke and assimilate mystery.

One need not believe in transubstantiation to make the Lord’s Supper more central in worship, nor does a symbolic or metaphorical view of the sacrament render it irrelevant to the lives of artists. But Evangelicals have too quickly and too often reacted to what they perceive as the abuses of the biblical sacrament in the Mass by relegating the Eucharist to a marginal role in their worship.

This cannot be unrelated to the fact that we as a community can seem too much like the generation O’Connor described, “that has been made to feel that the aim of learning is to eliminate mystery.” Our services, like our fiction, are justified by their efficiency in achieving pragmatic goals. Our sermons are full of practical, easy steps to spiritual victory, a better marriage, or financial success; our music is designed to express comfortable emotions; everything is aimed at maximizing the body count at the altar call.

Some of these goals are worth pursuing, but perhaps if abasement before a transcendent deity, felt as such, were one of them, we would produce better Christians and better writers.

Ironworks Gang 2: What makes a healthy small group?

??Jode Poley?? (“Existential Stillborn”:http://existential-stillborn.net/) and ??Darin Pesnell?? (“Peznet”:http://peznet.net) join me for a discussion about what makes a successful small group ministry (Ironworks 1.0 was our college small group back in the day). Big ups to Vessel for use of the intro.

*Ironworks Gang Drinking Game*: Do a shot for every time we use the phrase “There’s a sense where…”

We’re still playing with the format. The next podcast will likely include more awkward silences. And I won’t talk, I’ll just tell horrible jokes. And laugh at them. The whole time.

After the Jump

I’ve never resigned from a job before. The experience was a little surreal, even while I was having the conversation with my boss. His look of shock helped, though.

I wasn’t looking forward to it at all. I have a decent working relationship with him, but my manager and I haven’t been close. I hadn’t the slightest idea of whether he was going to laugh, be furious, or get strangely quiet. Getting a new job can be a lot of fun, but I think only the most bitter employees look forward to quitting.

There’s nothing quite like changing jobs to teach you about the sovereignty of God. I had breakfast with Frank that morning and he raised the question: “So, what have you been doubting Him about lately?” I don’t know whether it’s the corporate world or because we constantly struggled with finances when I was growing up, but I’m often pressed with the weight of responsibility of providing for my family.

Beyond the immediate, we also talked about the idea of one’s “Life’s Work” and of having “arrived” in one’s own career. I think artists struggle with this question in a more dynamic way than many business people, but I think everyone working a job they don’t like wonders what they should _really_ be doing with their lives.

In the end, after the initial shock, my manager was ecstatic for me. He said I was one of the best people he’s worked with, that my career growth was limited in my current role, and said I made absolutely the right decision. I was floored — of all the things to come out of his mouth, I expected this the least.

My new job within Citigroup starts at the end of the month, and then we leave for three weeks for Europe. I’m looking forward to stepping back from work for a while and getting some perspective on what it really means to eat and drink and find satisfaction in my work.

On the Radar: Giving the blog some love again

* ??Mark Glaser?? for ??PBS??: “Should Community-Edited News Sites Pay Top Editors?”:http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2006/07/digging_deepershould_community.html (via “Digg”:http://digg.com/tech_news/Kevin_Rose_Responds_to_Jason_Calacanis_Rant_from_Netscape → “Kevin”:http://krose.typepad.com/kevinrose/2006/07/calacanis.html → “Jason”:http://www.calacanis.com/2006/07/25/kevin-rose-cracks-or-how-to-know-when-youve-won-the-debate/). Aside from the Digg vs. Netscape drama that’s been erupting over the past couple of weeks, Calacanis raises some interesting questions about how people in the *attention economy* are compensated for their time and hard work. The next 18 months as these two players in community-driven news hash it out should be really interesting.
* ??John Gruber??: “Magic 8-Ball Answers Your Questions Regarding Microsoft’s ‘Zune’”:http://daringfireball.net/2006/07/magic_8ball_zune. That 8-ball. He sure knows a lot about the *digital music* industry.
* ??NPR??: “Avoiding the Housing Market ‘Dead Zone'”:http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5565128 and “Location, Location: What to Buy, and Where”:http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5565119. The nesting instinct kicks in: these interviews were pretty insightful about the state of the housing market right now. Of course, there are derivations for where you are, but the overall buyer’s recommendation is to wait until some of the *already-present market pressures* (housing surplus, higher interest rates, and exotic mortgages held by peers) bring prices down — perhaps even way down.
* ??Everything Newark??: “‘Newark is an Emerging Market””:http://blog.newarker.info/2006/07/19/newark-is-an-emerging-market/. The ??New York Post??, of all places, has a practically beaming article about Newark’s comeback. Booker’s enthusiasm, that Newark is a place of *untapped potential*, hangs on the very critical results of his stopping crime in the city.
* ??Washington Post??: “Religious Left Gears Up to Face Right Counterpart”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/07/25/AR2006072500437.html (“via Digg”:http://digg.com/politics/Religious_Left_Gears_Up_To_Face_Right_Counterpart). Favorite quote: ‘I’m an evangelical Christian who thinks that justice is a biblical imperative,’ said Wallis. ‘The *monologue of the religious right* is finally over and a new dialogue has just begun.’ I really hope Wallis is right.
* ??The Motley Fool??: “Opportunity Knocking for Citigroup”:http://www.fool.com/news/commentary/2006/commentary06072514.htm. Citigroup may (or may not) be on the rise if the Fed stops raising interest rates to counteract inflation, which would be nice for shareholders given the “latest anxiety”:http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601103&sid=aWJ3CLLNPUp4&refer=us over rising costs. A thought for Mr. Prince: consumer banking is sucking wind because *the customer experience is just awful*. The ATMs are nice, and the marketing is fun, but customer service just pales in comparison to banks like Wachovia.
* ??37signals??: “Writing Words vs. Writing Software”:http://37signals.com/svn/archives2/writing_words_vs_writing_software.php. I love these guys: Everyone and his cousin is working on a web app. But how many are actually finishing? That’s why we argue for biting off less. Write a short story/small app instead of a novel/massive app. *Shrinking scope means you actually finish*. And finishing is huge. When you finish something, you show up. And, like Woody Allen said, ‘Eighty percent of success is showing up.’
* ??Rosecrans Baldwin?? for ??The Morning News??: “The Maine Attraction”:http://www.themorningnews.org/archives/the_nonexpert/the_maine_attraction.php. Never been, but this sure was funny: Crystal Meth is easier to obtain in rural Maine than it is back home. So are crystals, and posters of *wolves kissing dolphins* in outer space.
* ??Paul Ford?? for ??43folders??: “Are there ‘good’ distractions?”:http://www.43folders.com/2005/10/24/paul-ford-distractions/ Paul’s struggle between accomplishing something with his life vs. “swimming in a sea of data” really touched a chord. I’ll have more thoughts on this later, but, if you read only one of these linky-things, make it this one. When I’m not getting enough done I get unhappy and depressed and think about the billions of years I’ll be dead before the heat death of the universe erases everything. I want to feel like *I did something during my brief life* besides check my email.
* LAUNCHED: Sarah goes independent with “Side by Side Dog Training”:http://sidebysidetraining.com/. The quick-and-not-so-dirty site brought to you by the wonders of “WordPress”:http://wordpress.org, “Quilm”:http://oriol.f2o.org/qwilm-a-wordpress-theme/ theme, and the “DreamHost”:http://www.dreamhost.com/r.cgi?63570 “1-click install”:http://wiki.dreamhost.com/index.php/Goodies_Control_Panel#One-Click_Installs. Feel free to pass the site along to your friends with dogs — especially the ones that accessorize their dogs with *Louis Vuitton dog carriers and DKNY collars*.
* ??Jon Katz?? for ??Slate??: “The Loneliness of Rose”:http://www.slate.com/id/2146000/. Rose is not cute. She is a working dog, a farm dog. She herds sheep, keeps the donkeys apart from the other animals during graining, alerts me when lambs are born, watches my back when the ram is around. *She battles the donkeys*, the ewes who protect their lambs, and stray dogs who approach the farm. She and I take the sheep out to graze two or three times a day. On Sundays, we sometimes march the flock down to the Presbyterian Church to hear the organ music and present ourselves through the big windows. ‘Hey, Rose,’ the kids sometimes shout after the service is over. With Rose, we don’t need fences. As my friend Peter Hanks said, Rose is the fence.
* ??Washington Post??: “US waives sanctions on Saudi over religious rights”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/07/19/AR2006071901178.html (“via Angela”:http://hereisangela.com/2006/07/25/galatians-221-turbans-teaching-and-temperance/) The United States has extended a waiver that avoids imposing sanctions on Saudi Arabia because it has made efforts to *improve religious tolerance* in the kingdom, U.S. officials said on Wednesday. The US ignores the religious freedoms of millions to suck up to one of its few allies in the Middle East.
* ??New York Times??: “What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage”:http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/25/fashion/25love.html (via Angela over IM). If you read _two_ of these linky-things, make this the other one. 🙂 It was only a matter of time before he was again tearing around the house searching for his keys, at which point I said nothing and kept at what I was doing. It took a lot of discipline to maintain my calm, but results were immediate and stunning. His temper fell far shy of its usual pitch and then waned like a fast-moving storm. I felt as if *I should throw him a mackerel*. Incidentally, this is how Sarah trains Dina (and maybe me).

On the Radar: Laziness Edition

* Youtube: “Jon Stewart’s Infamous Crossfire Interview”:http://youtube.com/watch?v=aFQFB5YpDZE. This is from the 2004 election, but it’s indictment of corporate media is timeless.
* Simile: “Christianity Timeline”:http://simile.mit.edu/timeline/examples/religions/christianity.html. A demonstration of “Timeline”:http://simile.mit.edu/timeline/, which is to time like Google Maps is to place. Very interesting effect!
* GE: “Imagination Cubed”:http://www.imaginationcubed.com/LaunchPage (“via Web 2.0 Show”:http://www.web20show.com/articles/2006/07/06/web-2-0-show-episode-22-bram-cohen). Interactive pens are fun!
* ??Metropolis Magazine1??: “Behind the Glass Curtain”:http://www.metropolismag.com/cda/story.php?artid=2123 (“via Digg”:http://www.digg.com/tech_news/Google_s_new_headquarters_-_the_perfect_working_space). Corin Anderson does not work like most of the world: his office is a glass tent, which he shares with two other people. His desk hides behind a complex Rube Goldberg-esque maze, built by Anderson out of a toy called the Chaos Tower, a sort of theme park for marbles. Each day he sits in the midst of figurines, Legos, and stuffed animals, eyes fixed on his computer screen and earphones strapped on, for hours at a stretch.
* ??Ask a Ninja??: “Ninternships”:http://www.askaninja.com/node/1146. I gotta be honest with you: there are only three people who have ever lived through the ninternship. There was, uh, Joan of Arc — that girl can kill. If you can inspire French people to fight? I mean, my goodness, that’s pretty intense! One of the better ones.
* ??seattlepi.com??: “Q&A with Firefox’s Blake Ross: Extended version”:http://blog.seattlepi.nwsource.com/microsoft/archives/104679.asp (“via Digg”:http://digg.com/tech_news/Firefox_creator_s_thoughts_on_IE7,_and_Future_of_Firefox). They did exactly what we were expecting them to do, which was take a bunch of time and get IE7 up to feature parity with Firefox. I haven’t seen any real innovation above and beyond what we delivered in Firefox. I think that it’s a solid product, but I think that by the time it comes out, we’re going to be another world ahead of them again, so I think it’s kind of a step or two behind us. We really are trying to make it less of a religious thing. The whole browser space in general has traditionally been very religious.

Heat Death

We bowed low and entered the temple of driveling entertainment that is Blockbuster. After searching high and low, we discovered and blew the dust off of the indie flick, “The Squid and the Whale”:http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/squid_and_the_whale/. We enjoyed it, it had this rubbernecking quality about it such that you _had_ to watch it — peeking out between your fingers as you covered your face with your hands.

Jeff Daniels’ and Laura Linney’s performances as the squabbling, separated parents (Bernard and Joan Berkman) were poignantly true-to-life, and writer/director Noah Baumbach teases out the rationalization and self-protection schemes that are all too common in divorce: “I’m hiding these books under your bed so your dad won’t take them — they’re my books, I paid for them.” It’s funny because it’s true.

In a cast interview on the DVD, Linney points out that the story is about a marriage that has reached the end of its lifecycle. Joan has found her voice as a writer, which Bernard, himself a failed writer and her bitter mentor, finds impossible to embrace. In short: she’s self-actualizing and he can’t handle it, so she’s outgrown him.

I thought Linney’s use of the word “lifecycle” was interesting, as if marriages were born into a sort of Hegelian framework: into each is sown the seeds of its own destruction. But, I don’t think that’s a particularly helpful way to think of marriage. Many achieve their highest level of intimacy and mutual respect just before they end in death rather than divorce. That Bernard couldn’t grow beyond himself and celebrate his wife’s achievements isn’t something we should come to expect as a cyclical process in marriage, it’s a dysfunction.

But the idea of a “shelf-life” or “half-life” of a marriage has merit. All marriages have some rate of decay if left unattended and uncultivated. “Entropy”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heat_death is the inevitable result of what theologians call a “fallen world”:http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=romans%208:19-21;&version=31. None of us is very far from that point in our relationships where we disengage completely. The Squid and the Whale was an urgent reminder of the pain and suffering that comes when a marriage is run aground on the shoals of egotism and neglect.