Categotry Archives: food for thought

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Experiential Faith

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Categories: food for thought, Meanderings (look it up), Tags: , ,

You know, one inherent danger in blogging about this stuff (especially for people like me who tend to over-think), is that if we aren’t careful, we can end up approaching God, the church, theology and all the rest strictly as a mental exercise. I have some blogger friends who have vacated the online discussion simply because they got tired of talking theology and wanted to get back to simple, real-life stuff. I also know that when we try to approach God completely from the perspective of the mind, we’re bound to fall short. Inevitably there are going to be unanswered questions and apparent contradictions, and in some cases it has even caused people at different times to question their faith or abandon it completely.

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God, Like It or Not

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Categories: food for thought, Tags: ,

I had an interesting experience yesterday.

Something you might not know about me is that as an ordained minister, I sometimes officiate weddings. I am called upon at times by a Christian wedding chapel owner to help out with ceremonies where no pastor is pre-selected.

The ceremony I officiated yesterday was the first one I’ve done in which the couple distinctly asked for no official mentions of God. The woman in particular had been raised in a strict religious upbringing, and while I wouldn’t call her anti-God, it was apparent in our pre-marital conversation that she sees God in a stern, disciplinary light, and she wanted her ceremony to be about celebrating the two of them as a couple. It was as though she was afraid to bring God into the picture, like that might cast a shadow on the celebration, somehow.

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So the End of the World Didn’t Happen–NOW What Do We Do?

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Categories: food for thought, Meanderings (look it up), Tags: ,

Obviously, rumors of our rapture, and the subsequent pending apocalypse, have been greatly exaggerated. πŸ™‚

At least, I hope so. (Anyone still out there? Anyone?)

The end of the world has been wrongly pinpointed before, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard this much chatter about the previous (non)-incidents. Thank you, Facebook and Twitter.

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What Does Mission Really Look Like? (part 1)

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Categories: food for thought, missional, Tags: , , ,

As I continue on this path of deconstruction, along with many others, it can get very easy to get caught up in just pointing out things that are wrong with the institutional form of church. I think that’s an important part of it–we can’t re-think the things we won’t be honest about–but I also think that’s just one part of the healing process. There are a lot of things in the church that began as right things–we’ve just been going about them the wrong way, and muddling them up in the process. Those are elements that should not be thrown out–just stripped back to basics, or reinvented, or at least placed in a context where they work better.

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A Fresh Coat of Paint on a Broken Machine (part 2)

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Categories: changing mindsets, church, food for thought


In my previous post, I revisited the story of the man who kept ordering chocolate shakes at a fast food joint, and kept receiving vanilla ones. When he complained to the teenage cashier at the counter, all the teenager could say was, “I pushed the chocolate button.” I used this story to talk about ways that the church is doing a similar thing with our “tried-and-true” methods. Although many of them aren’t working anymore, instead of finding new methods that do work, we keep splashing new coats of paint on our broken machines, trying to make them attractive and “relevant” again.

I’ve been thinking about this particularly with regard to how the church usually looks at mission, evangelism and “church planting” (a term not actually found in the Bible), perhaps because I now consider myself to be on a mission, and I don’t want to follow the ruts in the road. I’ve never been quick to do something a certain way simply because an “expert” says that’s how it ought to be done. (Maybe you folks who have read this blog the past couple of years didn’t realize this.) πŸ™‚
Anyhow, without putting too fine a point on it, it seems like the typical formula for church planting goes something like this (with a few variations here and there):
  1. A core group of people gathers or gets sent out from an existing church entity, for the express purpose of starting a new church.
  2. The new church begins to meet and spread the word about their existence.
  3. Believers in the area who know the new pastors, or are for some reason “between churches,” begin to hook up with the new entity.
  4. Overall success for the new church plant is measured by growth in attendance.
Now, am I the only one who sees a problem with this formula? The key to the weakness is in point 3: believers start coming to the new church plant. This isn’t a bad thing inherently, but it points to the deeper problem: that our church planting system is primarily based on transfer growth. If you look at the actual numbers, it seems like most of the time church plants aren’t very effective in drawing many non-believers into relationship with Christ. Rather, we’re primarily drawing existing believers from other places, creating competing entities. Yet we will regard these new church plants as successful simply because we are getting consistent numbers on Sunday mornings.
This is what I mean by a broken machine. The machine still runs, but we’re producing vanilla shakes and simply imagining that they are chocolate, rather than taking a hard look at why our growth is primarily transfer growth–why we’re not getting the results.
Now, to be fair, many church plants truly desire to be missional, and many of them do a lot of community-oriented things in an attempt to reach non-believers in their area. Many times they are working very hard, and that should be respected. It’s just that, in my opinion, the model itself is flawed, as evidenced by the fact that most of what we’re attracting by it is existing Christians. In terms of growing the church, isn’t really growth if we’re just shuffling our own people around. (When businesses do that kind of thing with their books to inflate their profits, they get in trouble for it.)
So why is it that this model seems to attract mainly other Christians? I think it’s for the same reasons that our existing institutions aren’t attracting non-believers. Our culture is changed, and the church in its current form is seen as less and less relevant. In fact, I think overall our current church planting methods are having the opposite effect of what mission ought to do: we’re drawing plenty of our own numbers while repelling a majority of non-Christians.
If non-believers are staying away from our institutional entities (as well as an increasing number of believers, for that matter), why in the world would we think we’d draw more non-believers simply by adding more institutions? And yet, we keep on blindly pushing that chocolate button, hoping against hope that maybe this time the shake will come out chocolate.
See my point?
Now, I’m not trying to be disagreeable or to slam church planters or evangelism in general. I applaud those who have this passion. I am not about to rip the “Great Commission” out of the Scriptures; it’s there, and it should be taken seriously. But in any other context other than church, when a particular model no longer works effectively, we change the model. It really ought to be that simple. The fact that we have such a hard time re-thinking our models and methods simply proves that we have far more sacred cows in our pantheons than we’re willing to admit.
The fact is, if you look at our current church planting methods, they actually reflect corporate business models more than they do the Scriptures themselves. We tend to treat new churches like new franchises. That’s why when people start coming to them, we automatically register them as successful–because it looks like were getting “customers.” We don’t have any regard for whether the people coming through our doors are believers or non-believers; a warm body is a warm body. We’re judging our success by the wrong criteria entirely.
In the early days of the church, growing the church was admittedly a little more cut-and-tried, simply because there were so many people who had never heard the gospel. When Paul or folks like him began a new church gathering, it usually started with two or three people going into a new town, and talking to people until a few became believers–and then those new believers would start meeting together. Today, our challenge is a little different; today, especially in America, we’re hard-pressed to find people who haven’t heard the gospel. The problem is, many non-believers haven’t just heard the gospel–they’ve heard a watered-down, hypocrisy-laden version of it, which can make it all the more difficult to reach them. We need a method that speaks to these issues, rather than ignoring them. We need to stop spinning our wheels and start looking for tangible ways for the mission of Christ to regain traction in our culture. And that starts by ADMITTING that we have a broken machine, and that what we are doing is not working.
Do I claim to have a new model that works? Nope. πŸ™‚ As usual, I’m just the guy pointing out what’s wrong. But like I said–that’s where change begins: by acknowledging what is wrong. I can tell you that these are questions burning in my soul, that are deeply informing my own search. I know that whatever community eventually forms around our efforts in the arts scene, the last thing I want to do is wake up one morning to discover I’ve created yet another Christian ghetto. I’d rather not do anything if that’s where it’s headed. I’d rather take it slow, listening to the heartbeat of our community and learning from the mistakes of our past, allowing the needs of the community around us to inform what the mission looks like, rather than following some sort of formula. I guess what I’m saying is that whatever this is going to look like, it’s more important that we make a positive difference than that we simply start some carbon-copy entity that people can see and measure and brag about.
True success isn’t found on paper. It’s found in human hearts.
That’s what I think, anyway. πŸ™‚

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A Fresh Coat of Paint on a Broken Machine

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Categories: Broken machine, church, food for thought, Things that Will Probably Get Me In Trouble


Near the very beginning of this here blog, I wrote a couple of posts about The Chocolate Button. I related a story I read once in a newsletter about a man who asked for a chocolate shake in a fast food restaurant, and received a vanilla one. He returned to the counter, and the teenager helping him proceeded to pour him another shake from the machine–this time, also vanilla. When the man continued to come back two and three times complaining that his shake was not chocolate, all the teenager could say was, “But I pushed the chocolate button!” His logic could not move past basic procedures–he seemed unable to rationalize that something was wrong with the machine.

I used this story as an analogy for the institutional church system, and years later, it seems to me like it’s still appropriate. How many times, and in how many ways, do we Christians keep doing the same things over and over again in the name of Christ, church and evangelism, not realizing that we’re bearing little or no fruit from our efforts, and when someone asks why we’re doing it, we say, “Well, this is how we’ve always done it!” Frankly, it comes from the same kind of mindlessness as the teenager who kept pushing the chocolate button. At some point, someone needs to speak up and admit that the machine is broken–otherwise, we’ll spend from now till Jesus comes spewing out vanilla shakes and magically believing that they’re actually chocolate.
But that’s not the worst of it.
I worked in McDonald’s as a teenager (which is perhaps why the chocolate shake story is so funny to me), but I can tell you, when I go into a McDonald’s today, the whole thing is different. Yeah, it’s still a bit of an assembly line, but the way they prepare food, the procedures, even the machinery is vastly different from when I worked there five or twenty-six years ago. What I’m trying to say is–even McDonald’s keeps up with the times. They employ new technologies, they offer new products, they replace their old machines with new ones. Even if their teenage employees sometimes don’t use their brains, the higher-ups seem to know when it’s time to change.
But what about the church?
You know, I think there are a lot of people out there who are sincerely trying to renovate. You can spot them because they’re the ones who use catch words like “relevant” and “real” to express what they are doing in church. I’ve used those words quite often myself. But I still have to take issue with a lot of what we’re passing off as “relevant”, because in fact, it’s not very relevant at all. If you look at how we “do church”, at the heart we’re practicing the same methods we’ve practiced for centuries. I’m talking specifically about things that really have no backing in Scripture–they’re not necessarily BAD things, just things we do in a certain manner because we’ve ALWAYS done them that way.
The problem is, when those things stop bearing fruit, and we keep on doing them for the sake of our tradition, we lose sight of what we’re here for in the first place. We’re not here to perfect our practices–we’re here to partake in the mission of Christ. The mission of Christ is to help as many people as possible become partakers in the redemption Christ has offered us all, but what we’ve done is basically reduce that mission to trying to get people to come to our gig, hoping that in the process they will “get it.” To put it another way, instead of genuinely reaching out to people where they are at, we seem to spend most of our time simply gussying up our practices, hoping to make them attractive to people. We might try to use different words to make them sound more hip and “relevant”, but in the end we’re just splashing a fresh coat of paint on a broken machine.
Now, I realize I might make a lot of traditional folks angry with words like these; let me be clear–I’m not dissing the traditions of the church in and of themselves. Many of our ancient practices carry deep meaning–especially those deeply rooted in Scripture–and I respect them and draw from them like any believer should. What I’m saying is that preserving traditions and fulfilling the mission of Christ are not necessarily synonymous. When we are reaching out to a generation that has no grid for the value of our traditions, we have to learn to think like they think–not try to get them to think like we think. (Especially when the way we think has in so many ways become mindless–see analogy above.) We cannot hope to convince anyone of the value of an ancient tradition unless we can help that person make contact with Christ in the here and now–right where that person lives. Christ is not kept in the past. His mission continues in the present, and that’s where we must live, too.
The bottom line, imho, is that there are a lot of methods we still use–in how/when we meet, how we evangelize, and many other things–that if we would open our eyes, we’d see they just plain aren’t working anymore. I’ve spent a lot of time personally looking at some of these methods, and when I can’t even find a solid Scriptural basis for many of them, I have to ask why we’re still doing it that way when it’s obvious we’re not getting results. This driving question has informed my own journey for several years, and is continuing to inform my journey into mission today. And for anyone who truly wants to partake meaningfully in the mission of Christ–that is, they want to bear fruit, not just belong to something–I think these questions have to be asked.
It’s gone way beyond whether the chocolate button still works. It’s time for some new technology entirely.
I’m actually going somewhere specific with all this–this was just groundwork. πŸ™‚ More in the next post.

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Coming as Babies

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Categories: changing mindsets, food for thought, Meanderings (look it up), moments of truth

I’ve been spending a bit of time the past couple of days thinking about mission, and what it means–what it looks like–to be missional. Particularly, I’ve been asking God, basically, “What next?” We’ve been getting settled in this new place for a year and a half, and I still have this desire to do some sort of missional work in the creative community–but I’ve been soul searching about the right approach, what the next steps are (if any). I’ve been trying to find words to verbalize things felt deep in the soul, where people could maybe understand them. And frankly, I’ve felt a little lost–not in the sense of losing faith, but in the sense of trying to think about mission outside the boundaries of traditional church, when all I’ve done previously has happened within those boundaries.
Just this morning, I think something really has registered with me that’s going to deeply inform our direction in the days ahead. It’s not a new concept, but it’s like it “clicked” with me–like someone switched on a light. An “a-ha” moment.
Okay, you get the idea. πŸ™‚
One thing I’ve been trying to do is get back to the basics of mission, particularly the mission of Christ. If Jesus set an example for us to follow–and I believe He did–then we can learn the correct approach to mission by looking at what He did as well as what He taught.
So how did Jesus approach His mission? He became one of us.
Jesus did not come to earth in a blaze of glory, riding on a white horse, His deity apparent all over the place. (That would be the SECOND coming, and that hasn’t happened at press time.) Instead, as the Bible indicates, He laid down His heavenly glory and took the form of a man. A regular human being, just like us. We call this the “incarnation.” The incarnational approach to mission has already been talked about a lot in missional circles, and like I said, I’m familiar with it and seek to embrace it.
But there’s more. You see, Jesus came as a man–but not as a grown man. He didn’t launch His mission as the self-proclaimed expert of all things spiritual. He came into this world the same way we all do–as a baby. A helpless, vulnerable, non-potty-trained baby. He didn’t come with all the answers–that came later. Jesus came to us needy. He came to us needing to be fed, changed, nurtured, loved, trained–all that stuff that kids need in order to grow.
Talk about humbling oneself.
My family and I have been immersing ourselves in the local creative community pretty much since we got here, because we understood the necessity of becoming part of the existing community. What I hadn’t really seen before now–but God did, and has already been orchestrating–is that we are coming as babies. We’re not coming with the answers; we’re coming with needs.
I probably see this playing out most right now with The Wild One. She has totally laid down her personal aspirations for “ministry” probably more than I have–she has been able to totally empty herself. The artistic circle she found herself in saw her not as a pastor or spiritual expert, but as someone who is hungry to learn art–who has always wanted to do it, but never had the chance or the resources, and who has great potential. As a result, they’ve totally taken her under their wing and begun to teach her to paint–and she’s making great progress. And because this group loves the arts in general, and because they are already so open, they’ve adopted the rest of our family right along with her. We’re not on the giving end–not right now. We’re the needy ones. We’re the babies.
I can now see this setting up the same way with the music scene. I’ve developed a rapport with this music community by covering the local scene as a freelance writer, and I’ve made a lot of friends. But the truth is, while I do know a few things about how to encourage young artists, in order to do what I really want to do in music–I’m going to have to become the baby. I’m going to have to ask people half my age how to go about booking shows, who to talk to about getting publishing deals, and so on. I may have to collaborate with others in order to polish my songwriting skills and aim them in a new direction. I’m not really the expert here–I’m the needy one.
I’m beginning to see that at least in our case, to be truly incarnational in our approach requires us to become as infants in this community–not just to be one of them, but to grow up as one of them. And with this fresh understanding of things, I actually have a new perspective on the past 10 years of our lives.
There’s a place in the Bible where it talks about Jesus emptying Himself in order to come to earth as a man. Jesus stripped Himself of His heavenly glory in order to embark on this mission. I don’t know how that felt for Him–but I do know some of what it feels like to be stripped. The entire time we lived in Tulsa, we were being stripped. We obviously weren’t being stripped of heavenly glory or deity (we never had those things). But we were being stripped of our pastoral or clerical prestige, so to speak. We were also being stripped of mindsets, of wrong assumptions, of wrong motives, and pretty much of everything we thought “ministry” was. By the time we got here to Denver, we were almost completely deconstructed and undone. Starting over–as babies.
It sure looks like God has been setting us up.
This whole theme about becoming as a child has deep ramifications, not just in mission, but in other ways as well. Didn’t Jesus repeatedly say that we need to come to the Father as little children? This post could get really long rambling about that–so I’ll save that for another time. But this understanding has really caused a lot of the fog to clear for me. It’s showing me that it’s okay, even necessary, to step into this mission not as the expert, but as the student. It’s showing me that it’s okay, even necessary, to embrace small beginnings. I think God has a long-term plan here, and apparently we’ve been within that plan for awhile now.
On a personal level, I think I’ve struggled for a long time with my deconstruction. Although I’ve definitely been thankful for the sense of freedom (and wouldn’t ever want to go back into bondage), I also have felt such a sense of loss because at the very least I had a strong sense of direction, and when things dismantled, I felt there was nothing to replace what I’d had. I think I’m finally going to be okay with that now. I think I can fully embrace this time and place, knowing that the previous stripping was necessary in order to step into this mission in the right way.
Jesus came to us as a baby, and He changed the world. I believe that if I embrace the same idea, enter this mission as a baby, and have patience with the process, I can at least make a positive difference.
Which is pretty much all I wanted in the first place.

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God Doesn’t Have to Explain Himself

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Categories: food for thought, Meanderings (look it up)

“Why?”

That’s one of the first questions we learn to ask as children. You can usually tell when a kid has first discovered this question, because that kid will follow you around and ask it all the time.
“Why? Why? Why?”
That being the case, I suppose it’s natural for us to want to know why. When something bad happens that rocks our world, when dilemmas come up for which there are no easy answers, we have this nagging need to understand the purpose behind it all. Since this is obviously in our nature, you’d think that God would be going out of His way to answer this one for us–especially when our need to know “why” stems from a tragedy, or trauma, or something else that causes us pain.
But He doesn’t always. He doesn’t always tell us why.
Have you ever noticed that God never seems to be in a big hurry to defend His reputation? As someone who is practically obsessive-compulsive over my need to be understood, at times I find it quite annoying that God doesn’t have the same problem. He never seems to get ruffled when He gets blamed for bad things happening, or when He is caricatured as something He is not, or even when He is mocked. I get upset sometimes that God doesn’t feel the need to prove Himself to people who are genuinely questioning His existence. I’m like, “God, why don’t you show that person what you showed me?” It kind of feels like that singing frog in the cartoon who only sings when the one guy is around. (Not disrespecting God by comparing Him to a singing frog, but simply comparing the feeling, you understand.)
But here’s the thing. If He is God, and we are not, then God isn’t under a mandate to explain Himself. God is not in our debt, and He owes us nothing. Now, in saying that, it isn’t to say that God hasn’t already gone to great lengths to make Himself known. That’s why we have a Bible. That’s why even today, countless miracles are still recorded all over the world. Even nature itself testifies of Him. It’s just to say that the answer to “why” isn’t an answer we are automatically entitled to know. That said, offhand, I can think of at least three possible explanations for why we don’t always get an answer to “why.”
First–this is speculation and personal testimony, but in my own spiritual journey and experience, I’ve discovered that sometimes my “whys” get answered years down the road, long after I’ve asked the question. When the question gets answered, it’s an “a-ha” moment, and not only do I realize why, but I realize why God didn’t answer the question when I first asked it. I realize that only after some maturity and further experience could I even have understood the answer. I think sometimes that’s why God doesn’t always answer right away–because we asked a question for which we had no grid to appreciate the answer, and He must first grow us to a point where we can handle the answer.
Second–there are still other times when the answer to “why” just never comes–perhaps because in this life, we simply aren’t equipped to understand. Sometimes the answer to “why” can’t be understood by people who are “seeing through a glass darkly” (1 Cor. 13), and it’s going to take seeing Him face to face in the next life before the answer is clear.
And third–there is this troubling thing that Jesus said over and over in the Bible. He said it as a conclusion to many of His parables, and He said it in the “letters to the churches” in the Revelation to John: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” This is troubling because it suggests that sometimes we are not pre-disposed to hear. Sometimes God speaks and we just don’t get it; other times, I think, God doesn’t speak because knowing the hearts of men, He knows who has ears to hear Him, and who does not.
I’m nobody’s judge, so I have no ability to discern who has ears to hear. I only know I desire to be one of those people who has ears to hear. And for me, that starts with a heart approach that can ask God to explain Himself, but does not demand it as though it were my right. If I don’t get an answer to “why”, I don’t want it to be because my heart was not in a position to listen.
In contrast to the troubling “ears to hear” thing in the Bible, there is also a promise that we will seek Him and find Him when we search for Him with all our heart. (Jer. 29) I personally think this doesn’t just mean we seek Him intensely–I think it suggests a heart that is pre-disposed toward Him, a heart that leans toward trust as opposed to demanding proof. I think it is this kind of a heart that gives us ears to hear.
I guess what I’m saying by all this rambling is that while God doesn’t have to explain Himself, and while there are some “whys” that may never be answered in this life, there are some things He gladly reveals to those whose hearts are turned toward Him. By that, I mean those who will love Him even if He never answers their “whys”, because they trust Him with their unknowns. God doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to answer those who demand an explanation, but He does seem to be willing to reveal more of Himself when He sees a heart that truly longs for Him.
So while I’ve asked some “whys” for which I may never get an answer, and some “whys” I am not ready to handle yet–at the very least, I want to be a person who trusts God with my unanswered questions, a person who gives Him the benefit of my own doubts. A person who believes that God has my best interests at heart, even if He doesn’t always tell me why. And hopefully, a person who has ears to hear, so when He does speak, I’m in a position to listen.

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So I Guess Now I’m a Demographic

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Categories: church, food for thought

A few days ago, I posted this rant about a book that defends the institutional church structures, essentially addressing the growing “problem” of people leaving the institutions. A quote from the book near the end of it concludes that we should just basically bite the bullet, go back, be faithful, and be quiet.

Now, to be fair, I haven’t read the book, only some quotes posted by a blogger who is apparently in favor of it…so my rant wasn’t about the book itself, but about the quotes from the book. (I probably won’t read the book, either, at least right now, because I’m too busy actually engaged in things that matter to come down off the wall and debate.) So this isn’t a continuation of the rant, nor is it really to bash the book. Rather, I’ve just been thinking that the fact that books are now actually being written about this issue highlights two important points:

  1. This trend of people leaving institutional church (without necessarily leaving their faith) is now apparently a large enough groundswell that people feel compelled to write books to counter it.
  2. As one who has left, I am apparently now part of a new demographic the institutional church is now targeting–right along with the unbeliever and the prodigal. I am part of the target market now. (This is a new experience for me–I’m used to being on the side of the targeters, not the targeted.)

In other words, this has apparently become a significant enough “problem” that it’s attracting attention among institutional leaders and thinkers; yet their response thus far seems to be not to soul-search to find out what’s causing the exodus, but rather to try and stem the tide itself by trying to convince the leavers to return.

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True Passion

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Categories: food for thought, link love

It’s been awhile since I’ve done this, but I felt like I wanted to link to my post today at Communitas Collective. It’s about passion. Here’s an excerpt:

A familiar quote that has been increasing in popularity in recent years comes from one Dr. Howard Thurman:

β€œDon’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

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