Category Archives: Cheap Philosophy

What Pete Said

Years before Pete Carroll won the Super Bowl as the coach of the Seattle Seahawks, and before he led the USC Trojans to a title, he was the head coach of the New England Patriots. He won some games there, but his brief tenure was somewhat middling — nothing terrible, nothing remarkable. Then Carroll was let go.

On Sunday before the Super Bowl, Fox aired a pre-taped interview between Carroll and former head coach Jimmy Johnson. Johnson asked Carroll about what happened in New England and why Carroll was ready to give the NFL another shot in Seattle, and I found the response fascinating.

Carroll began by intimating that he didn’t have as much control over player personnel in New England as he wanted or maybe deserved. Then he said that when he decided to take the Seattle job, he spoke to Seahawks general manager John Schneider (aka Carroll’s new boss) and said this:

“I want our relationship to be famous.”

In other words, I want us to be on the same page. I want us to define our roles, own our roles, and trust one another to play those roles. I want us to work so well together — you as the GM and me as the coach — that football teams, basketball teams, hockey teams, creative teams, and executive teams come to us to study how we cooperate and collaborate.

As a football fan, I thought that was fascinating. Then, in an instant, I was hearing Carroll’s words again in my context as a communications pastor.

“I want our relationship to be famous.”

Have I said that to my supervisor or my executive pastor or my senior pastor? Have I thought it? Honestly, it never occurred to me. But more than saying it, could I mean it? What about my attitudes and actions would have to change? What would it take for church leadership teams around the world to come to Irving Bible Church and study how I cooperate and collaborate with my leadership?

I don’t know exactly what would need to change yet. The only answer I’ve come up with so far is, “A lot.” Evidently I’ve got some work to do.

The Work Before the Work

At Echo Conference a few weeks ago, Blaine Hogan shared a wonderful and challenging quote from Parker Palmer:

“Before I turn to my work in the world, I have inner work to do.” — Parker Palmer

When I hear quotes like that one, the air in my chest tends to escape in a burst. It’s funny how ideas can punch us in the chest and we can have a tangible reaction to an intangible blow.

A quote like Palmer’s, a session like Blaine’s, and a keynote like Donald Miller’s (on identity, fear, and shame) can be tough for us, especially in a context like Echo, because we’re so prone to focus on our “work in the world.” After all, this is the work by which we’re judged and affirmed, for which we’re compensated and promoted. This is the work with which we identify and are identified.

I once heard someone point out that we even train our children to be identified by their work in the world:

Q: What are you going to be when you grow up?

A: I’m going to be a teacher!

We’re really asking about what kind of work they’re going to do in the world, but we’re conflating that work with identity. When a child tells us what she’s going to be when she grows up, we don’t expect her to say, “I hope to be mature, faithful, loving, and generous. I hope to be a devoted Christian, wife, and mother.” No, we want her to say, “I’m going to be a ballerina or a scientist. Or both.”

We put our work in the world first. As a result, the inner work suffers. Just as it does in a culture of over-work and over-commitment. In a plague of workaholism, we’re unlikely to hear someone confess that they’re an inner-workaholic. But where the inner work suffers, so does the work in the world — it’s harried or dispassionate or something worse.


Right before I came on staff here at IBC, I had lunch with the pastor to whom I was going to report. In the midst of our conversation he offered me some words that likely saved my time here before it even got started. He said that while I certainly brought a lot of assets to my new position (enumerating those here would be the height of arrogance, so just use your imagination), there was one asset that was more important than any other: myself. Beyond skills, abilities, talents, experiences, or expertise, I was bringing myself, and that meant more to the staff and people of IBC than anything else. As you might imagine, those words were liberating. At the same time, they were terrifying. I think I felt more confident in the skills and abilities than I did in the self. I had a different kind of work to do, and it wouldn’t show up on my résumé.

“Before I turn to my work in the world, I have inner work to do.” — Parker Palmer

This is the work before the work. In reality, it’s the work before, behind, inside, and underneath the work. It’s the work that endures when the hard drives crash and all our TPS reports have been tossed in the recycling bin. It’s the work that imbues all our other work with grace and passion and humanity. To neglect this inner work is to undermine our work in the world and short-change those with whom and for whom we work.

As fall ramps up, God knows we all have work to do in the world. But let us not forget the work before the work.

What Makes a Good Meal?

Matthew Anderson’s new book, The End of Our Exploring, has me thinking about questions and questioning. Here’s one question I’ve been asking myself recently:

What makes a good meal?

Wait, let me back up …

Five months ago I joined the staff of my church for the last nine years, Irving Bible Church. I soon found that I’d walked into the middle of a number of ongoing conversations, one of which was about our worship services — specifically, their audience, objective(s), design, and execution.

In the midst of this particular conversation, we heard from someone who framed their worship services as something like “a family meal with guests present.” There’s something to that phrase, certainly, and it’s a helpful frame for the saints-versus-seekers debate. And yet, the metaphor begs the question (at least in my mind): What makes a good meal?

In other words, what does the family need to eat, week in and week out, in order to grow and thrive and all that?

This is the question that has my cerebral hamster wheel turning these days (even though it’s not exactly my job as the Communications Pastor to answer it). The question even prompted me to pick up James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom at the recommendation of some colleagues, and the book has proved to be a dense and fascinating read.

I’m terrible at proper book reviews, but suffice it to say that Smith connects our liturgies (sacred and secular) to the shaping of our desires. Worship practices, whether we’re at church or at the mall, teach us to love and desire something, a particular articulation of “the good life.” And so once again I’m asking what should be served at the family meal. What corporate worship practices will best shape the IBC community into the sort of disciples God would have us become?

It’s a big question, and I think it’s a good question. I imagine it’s a question that I and my cronies at IBC will ask often in the months and years to come. If you have any insights, I’d love to hear them. Or if you’re content to simply pray for us in our questioning, I’d appreciate that too.

Now that I’ve shared my question, I’d like to share another link to Matthew Anderson’s The End of Our Exploring. Matthew is a friend and a Moody label-mate, so it’s my pleasure to tell you about his new book and a pretty great opportunity:

If you buy the book by Friday, Moody will send a free digital copy of the book to one person of your choosing. Buy one, give one — it’s that simple. Get the details here.

Coldplay’s Call To Worship (or I Will Try To Fix You)

Shortly after Coldplay burst onto the American music scene, the band’s presence was felt on the American church music scene as well. Sometimes you could see it in the way the worship leader dressed, skipped around the stage, or played the piano. Often you could hear it in the electric guitar riffs that swelled between choruses and verses. I always noticed it most acutely in that one drumbeat — you know the one — POP-puh-puh-POP-puh-puh-POP-puh-POP …

Oh, and there were also the churches who were a bit more on-the-nose with their Coldplay affinity when they actually covered tunes such as “Fix You,” “The Scientist,” or “Viva la Vida.”


Last Sunday I was pleased when Coldplay made a different kind of appearance in the worship service at Irving Bible Church. Our worship pastor, Jason Elwell, took a moment to explain that he and his wife were randomly watching a Coldplay concert film on Netflix when he heard something that grabbed his attention.

Coldplay frontman Chris Martin was expounding on the dynamics of a live performance when he said this:

“Every show is different. When the lights go down, that’s 30,000 people’s lives colliding for that one moment. Everyone there that’s working is working for that one moment, everyone there watching is watching for that one moment. It’s when you’re all kind of in agreement about what you’re doing at that time, so it’s a wonderful feeling of togetherness and possibility.” — Chris Martin

Certainly a gathering of believers can be (and perhaps should be) a colliding of lives. Hopefully, there’s some level of anticipation about what will happen as we gather in the presence of God, knowing that Christ has promised to be present with us as well.

Maybe the question for us is whether we’ll honor the collision, the anticipation, the agreement, and the possibility bound up in worship by telling the story of God and inviting people into it. Anything less than that is, at best, a concert or, at worst, a sanctimonious town hall meeting.

Concerts are enjoyable and town hall meetings are informative, but neither is likely to yield any lasting affect. For us to honor the gathering, the moment, is to incite that which is truly transcendent and transformative. And as we do our work together, the work of the people, we know we can trust God to do His too.

From there, the possibilities are endless.

Buechner on Hope

I came across this Buechner passage today and had to share it, document it somehow, so that I wouldn’t lose it in the world’s unending flood of words. He’s talking about the intentional act of remembering as a spiritual practice, and how the right kind of remembering actually changes how we think about the future:

“… we have this high and holy hope: that what he has done, he will continue to do, that what he has begun in us and our world, he will in unimaginable ways bring to fullness and fruition.”


By the way, this is from the titular essay of Buechner’s A Room Called Remember: Uncollected Pieces. Pick it up.

Buechner on Hope

I came across this Buechner passage today and had to share it, document it somehow, so that I wouldn’t lose it in the unending flood of words. Here’s talking about the intentional act of remembering as a spiritual practice, and how the right kind of remembering actually changes how we think about the future:

“… we have this high and holy hope: that what he has done, he will continue to do, that what he has begun in us and our world, he will in unimaginable ways bring to fullness and fruition.”


By the way, this is from the titular essay of Buechner’s A Room Called Remember: Uncollected Pieces. Pick it up.

A Way I Want To Be

Here’s Brian Bailey reflecting on the start of a new year in the latest Uncommon dispatch:

I realized at that moment that what I want out of a new year can’t be measured. It isn’t an achievement I want to unlock. It isn’t something I want to do, it’s simply a way I want to be; immutable priorities lived out slowly and peacefully in the company of quality people like you.

Well said, sir. Here’s to a year of being.

What It’s Like To Hit Your Stride As A Writer

I spent seven months of this year working on the manuscript for Tell Me a Story. Throughout that stretch there were good times and bad times, creative feasts and creative famines. As a writer, there’s nothing quite like those good times, when the words flow and the ideas take shape on the page.

When I stumbled on this video today, I knew I’d found a fitting visual representation of what it feels like to hit your stride:

Do you thing. Do the work.

(Analogy guide: swordsman = writer; blade = brain and/or laptop; plastic bottles = word counts, deadlines, and Resistance.)

Relationship and Transformation

John Sowers is the president of The Mentoring Project, an organization I proudly support. This morning John tweeted an insight likely related to his work at TMP, but which I’ve found to be true in all facets of life:

Many of us, myself included tend to get that backwards. We see relationship as the reward for transformation.

Clean up your life first, then approach God.

Make yourself cool/smart/attractive, then you’ll be surrounded by dear friends. 

Get your act together, then you’ll be worth my time. 

John’s observation calls us out of that trap. The truth is that meaningful relationships come first, so that’s where we ought to invest ourselves.

(If you’d like to find out more about The Mentoring Project, just click here.)