July 2008

There’s a topic that I’ve been very cautious not to tackle in the fledgling days of this blog.  It’s a subject which, at its very core, has the power to split friendships and families.  It’s one which is fraught with emotion on either side, and just bringing it up has the potential to label you as an infidel if you find yourself on the flip side of someone’s opinion.

Early in the days of becoming a pastor in North Carolina, I foolishly charged headlong into the subject.  I was a brash know-it-all who felt that I must speak the truth, no matter the personal cost.  In reality, it was the best way to alienate myself from my congregation and my co-pastors, so I learned to keep quiet.

However, on Day Two of my Tennessee / Alabama vacation, I’ve had a realization.  I can no longer betray my upbringing and my internal compass.  Whatever the cost, I simply must speak out.  I just has to be said:

North Carolina barbecue is horrible.

Now, I have a lot of love for my adopted home state.  Merriem and I have lived there for just over half of our marriage.  Our two older kids don’t really remember life outside of NC.  My youngest, by his birth, is a native.  The Tarheel State has a lot going for it.  We have the mountains and the beach.  We have Andy and Opie.  We gave Krispy Kreme to the world.

But our barbecue insults the pigs it was picked from.  I can’t understand for the life of me why any self-respecting cook would chop a pig to smithereens, add all sorts of foreign flaky objects, and serve it up as if it were art on a plate.  I remember the first Pig Pickin’ I ever attended.  There lay Porky, in all his naked glory, split down the middle and splayed on a grill that had been converted from an old oil drum.  From the taste of the pig, they didn’t scrape out the drum before they started cooking on it.  There was no amount of hush puppies that would cover the funk.

But Tennessee barbecue…Tennessee barbecue is a religious experience.  I grew up in Southern Middle Tennessee, and here in the Tennessee Valley there is a family that I refer to as the Barbecue Mafia.  Some decades back, legend has it, the family split into three factions, and those three groups of descendants now have three different restaurant chains all over this area.  When the pit is fired up, you can smell the heavenly piggy for miles.  Today, I experienced their talents…twice.  My taste buds immediately formed a committee to thank my hands for raising the fork to my mouth.

Let me just say this to my NC brethren: you can poo-poo my BBQ view.  But I challenge you, drive down here.  Try the barbecue (it’s pulled pork, as it should be).  I promise you that you will get in your car, travel back to the city of your birth, walk into your parents’ living room, and slap your mama.  It is just that good.  You don’t need sauce.  You don’t need vinegar.  You do need stretchy pants.  And perhaps a paramedic standing close by.

So there you have it…I speak the truth in love.  Since God has blessed the piggies, you shouldn’t squander the blessing.  

I stand ready for your nasty, underhanded, opposing views.  But I won’t stand for long…there are leftovers in the fridge.

I’m on the road with my immediate family to visit the extended family.  My bride is apparently going to carry on an all-night TalkFest marathon with my stepmom, so I’m passing time until their iced coffee buzz wears off and we can go to bed (it’s nearly 2 AM back home, or something like that.  I’m old.  I need my sleep.).

Editor’s note: you’re 34 years old.  You can probably go night-night by yourself.

So here are some observations on Day One back in the homeland.  Many of them probably will not make sense.  Like I said, it’s late.

  • You can keep an 11 and 12 year old busy on a ten hour car ride if you have season five of Monk on DVD.  (Seriously, the guy who came up with the “license plate game” couldn’t have had kids.)
  • You can watch an otherwise-calm married couple slowly go nuts if their six year old watches Alvin and the Chipmunks.  At least four times.  At full volume.  While he sings along.  And rewinds at all the really annoying parts.  (Oh wait…the entire movie is annoying.)
  • Ten hour car rides are a great time to fall in love with your wife all over again.  Or learn to hate her guts.  Fortunately, I did the first one.
  • Tennessee home cooking is still the best when it’s not cooked at home.  We hit one of our old restaurant haunts tonight.  I’m still miserable.
  • I made a kid at the salad bar cry.  No kidding.  Like, run-back-to-his-mama-and-bury-his-head-in-her-belly cry.  The little punk was trying to touch my bacon bits.
  • Mmmmmm…bacon bits.
  • My older brother had a heart attack on Saturday night.  Or at least that was the rumor that was going around after a misunderstood text message was received.  He was very surprised to hear about it.
  • The same older brother has learned to make iced coffee.  He is now my new best friend.
  • My nieces and nephews continue to spend their time injecting growth hormones straight into their bloodstream.  They are all taller than me.  
  • My youngest nephew has this mop hair thing going on, which he tops with one of those jaunty little snap-down chauffeur caps.  It’s a fashion statement of some sort, but the kid loves Jesus, so I don’t really give a rip about his hair.  Although I think it’s weird that I haven’t seen his eyes since I got here.
  • My oldest nephew thinks my Sanuks are cool.  I think it’s cool that a 19 year old thinks his fossilized uncle is cool.  Oh wait…he thinks my shoes are cool, not me.
  • My dad and step-Sandra’s cat is slowly taking over the house.  I want to see a copy of the will, because I’m pretty sure I’ve been replaced.

“My name is Danny, and I like things to be done my way.”

If I ever attend a twelve-step program, that’ll be my opening line.  I was singing Frank Sinatra lyrics before I knew the song existed.  My life verse is 1 Corinthians 14:40: “Let all things be done decently and in order.”  If you trace it back to the original Greek, the term in order can literally be translated however Danny wants it.  (It’s true!  Ask any seminary professor.  Especially the ones who teach Hebrew.)

I’ve always viewed the stuff I do in life like you would view letting someone else put a baseball cap on you.  No one else can put a baseball cap on you.  It’s just something you have to do yourself.  Try it.  Let someone else put a Big Ed’s Truck Stop and Tax Prep Center cap on your cranium, and then…don’t touch it.  See how long you can go before your hands shoot up and you’re adjusting that sucker before it drives you out of your ever-loving mind.  See?  You’re a control freak too, you prideful pagan.

Now, that’s all well and good, until it comes to ministry.  In ministry, wisdom dictates that we’re not as awesome as we often think we are.  Remember Jethro’s advice to Moses?  And even though I should have learned it a long time ago, God has been teaching me a very important, yet very painful lesson over the last few years:

You can’t do it all on your own.

Sometimes he’s whispered it.  Sometimes he’s shouted it.  Sometimes he’s felt like he’s punching me in the kidney as he’s explaining it.  But gradually, oh-so-gradually, he’s getting the point across.

Here’s what I’ve learned over the last year of slowly building a structure of team leaders, two Starting Point teams, and developing an ever-growing army of interns:

Giving up control can be messy.

It hasn’t all turned out the way that I wanted it to.  There have been mistakes.  Fumbles.  Foul ups.  Miscommunication.  Mostly on my part, but sometimes on the part of my team.

But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

You need to understand, I have a very long way to go on this journey to kill the twin sins of pride and self-reliance. Those that work closest to me will affirm that.  They can point to a half a hundred examples of where I still want it done a certain way.  They probably didn’t even make it as far as this paragraph before they started logging in and gleefully drafting their comments about this post.  (I will screen and delete those comments, of course, because their participles may dangle in the wrong place, and that’s just unacceptable.)

What I’ve learned is that expanding these teams has allowed me to expand ministry.  I’ve been shocked to find out I’m not as smart and well rounded and intuitive and impervious to kryptonite as I thought I was.  (I’m still as beautiful as ever, but nobody is arguing that.)

Editor’s note: cue laugh track…now.

I’ve realized that the small investments I’ve made in people has allowed me to see the Connections Ministry at the Summit multiply quicker and more strategically than I ever could have dreamed, hoped, or planned for.

Maybe most tragically, I’ve looked back on years of ministry when I was simply too busy doing my own thing and running my own show to build up other leaders.  And I grieve…not because of what other people missed, but because of what I missed.

I look at the team that surrounds me now, and I think that maybe I have a glimpse of the way it could have been all along.  I get the amazing privilege of serving alongside people who can do it better, faster, and smarter than I ever could, or ever will.

And I realize…I should have given up control a long time ago. 

Yesterday I was in a meeting hammering out some details for what will be the volunteer event of the year here at the Summit.  Go ahead and mark your calendar for August 15-16.  This Friday night / Saturday morning event is for everyone who serves in any capacity at the Summit, or for anyone who is thinking about serving.

I promise, you do not want to miss this.  More details coming soon…stay tuned.

I have pretty horrendous posture.  Most of my day is spent sitting in my office, because I believe firmly in violating the first principle of being a pastor: “You Should Spend Time With Your People.”  I’ve seen my People, and they’re pretty busy.  They don’t want me hanging around their office, creeping out their co-workers.  They don’t want me showing up in their backyard, giving out advice on how to get rid of aphids.  My People are probably doing okay in the 9 to 5 without me.

Editor’s Note: He’s being sarcastic.  I think.

So since I spend so much time without People, I spend a lot of time at my desk.  Which means that I occasionally succumb to gravity.  Which means that at the rate I’m going, my posture will have me looking like a horseshoe in another ten years.  When I was a kid, I never said, “Hey!  I want to grow up and look just like this guy and stand out on my front porch yelling, ‘You kids stay off my lawn!'”  No, I’d prefer to have nice posture.  A straight back.  Shoulders that you could build a house of cards on.  I want to be the guy that wanders past an Army boot camp and the drill sergeant screams at his recruits, “You maggots need to be like Franks over there!  And your mama’s ugly!”

Posture is not only important when you’re sitting, it’s important when you’re serving.  Of course, I’m talking about the definition of posture that denotes an attitude rather than a vertical position.  Yesterday I was in a Big Retail Store That Shall Remain Unnamed.  When I walked up to the checkout line, the checkout lady was sitting on the checkout stand, bouncing her heels up and down against it.  When she spotted me, she slowly (almost painfully) stood up and said, “I’m just taking a little break.  I’m really not supposed to, but I don’t care.  They’d better not say anything about it, either.”  

Now, that’s what she said.  What she revealed was, “I’m making a lousy eight bucks an hour working this dead-end job.  I’ve had four customers come through my line today who complained because prices are too high…prices I have nothing to do with.  I have an overbearing manager who doesn’t care about me as much as he cares about his bottom line.  I’m going to do what it takes to get by, but that’s about it.  And if you as a customer don’t like it, then you can stop interrupting my day and go check out in lane twelve.”

If you are in the business of serving people, what does your posture reveal about you?  It will affect your business if you’re in retail, but it could affect eternity if you’re in ministry… 

  • If you serve children, do parents see you offhandedly corralling kids into your classroom, or do you kneel down on their level to greet them?
  • If you serve first-time guests, do they represent a delight (“I get to interact with them!”) or a drudgery (“I have to interact with them.”)?
  • If you serve the congregation by leading worship, does your face reveal heaven, or (as Charles Spurgeon said) does it reveal hell?
  • If you serve lost and unchurched people, does your attitude towards them draw them to Jesus, or push them away from them?

I understand that keeping a positive posture isn’t always easy.  There are days that the guests that you seek to serve will complain.  Or gripe.  Or whine.  In turn, you will be tempted to ignore.  Or join the complaining.  Or reach for a baseball bat and practice your swing.

The bottom line is that our position must dictate our posture.  If you serve people, you have to choose to submit to God rather than succumb to the gravitational pull on your posture.  The Kingdom dictates it.  The spirit of hospitality demands it.  And eternity could depend on it.

So this Sunday, pull back those shoulders.  Your posture reveals more than you may know.

Yesterday the Summit took crazy to a whole new level.  For the first time, we attempted two different Starting Point events at two different campuses.  It was an all-day new people fest that left us completely drained and completely energized all at the same time. 

By day’s end, we saw 140 new people begin and/or finish the Starting Point process (as a comparison, our previous high was 98).  140 people.  In July.  Aren’t people supposed to be at the beach in July?  (And by the way, that’s just me counting heads as a normal person.  Factor in the pastoral count, and we had over 220.  Probably closer to 700.)

In case you’re excitement-impaired, let me tell you why this is something to get jazzed about.  First, we got to see God do some amazing stuff on Sunday.  When you do an event of this magnitude with no RSVP, you are taking some huge chances.  We’ve pushed it to the limit on more than one occasion, and yesterday was no exception:

We should have run out of food way before the last person was served.  But we didn’t.

We shouldn’t have had that many staff wives and other leaders “just happen” to show up to see if we needed extra table hosts.  But they did.

The Bay shouldn’t have held as many people as we crammed in there.  But they fit.

I should have had a nervous breakdown, started babbling incoherently, and curled up in a fetal position in the corner at the first thought of the overwhelming crowd.  It didn’t happen.

Once again, God provided in amazing ways.  And once again, I’m surprised that I was surprised.  I should know better by now.

Second, I watched our Table Hosts rise to the occasion yet again.  This is a batch of men and women who represent the Summit about as well as anyone I’ve ever seen.  They have given their lives to this ministry, and it shows.  Week after week, month after month, they lovingly walk our newest guests through this process and help them feel at home.  They love their job, because to them, it’s not a job.  It’s a ministry.  And they can’t imagine doing anything else.

Finally, we were able to see a new batch of people get really excited about what God is accomplishing at the Summit.  It never ceases to amaze me that talking about this stuff never gets old.  You can watch people’s faces as they realize that this is the place they want to get involved.  This is the place where they can plug in.  Some of them are going to become members.  Some of them are going to celebrate their new life in Christ through baptism.  Many will find a place to serve on a ministry team or find their community in a SummitLIFE group.

So Summit peeps, what does this mean for you?  As we say in Tennessee, it means you’d better scoot your booty.  New folks are coming, and it’s gonna be a huge fall season.

You say you’ve never attended Starting Point?  You can catch it again in just a few weeks.  Details here.

Today marks the final day in our third annual Week of Hope.  This year has been unprecedented in Summit folks’ creativity and new ways to be a blessing to our community.  We’ve had more opportunities to reach deeper into the heart of the city. We’ve seen more churches come online to partner with us in reaching their neighborhoods and taking on their own projects.  I even heard of one student ministry from close to Wilmington that drove to Durham for a couple of days to serve at the Rescue Mission, because they wanted to get in on Week of Hope.  Now that’s cool.

On Monday, I was able to participate in our first large-scale Hope for the Office.  Several dozen Summit members signed up for a grant to provide breakfast for their co-workers.  About fifteen of those offices were randomly selected to have lunch catered in.  (Since we’re in North Carolina, we should have called it the Lunchmeat Education Lottery.)

I got to hang out with Summit peeps Alaina and Cortnee at their Duke Medical Clinic office.  Since I’m a big fan of food, I stuck around to eat with them and all of their co-workers.  It quickly became apparent that the preacher dude was harshing the mellow of the lunchtime conversation.  I was even careful to leave my televangelist hair at home, and refrained from using words like “sanctification” and “thou.”  Nevertheless, their staff were great people to do lunch with.  And note for next year…no one in that office picked the veggie sub.  Long live meat!

Afterwards, Cortnee and Alaina invited me to look through patient records.  (Just kidding, HIPAA people.)

Friday brought our big projects with three area elementary schools.  I was at Eastway Elementary, and my job was that of Staple Remover Quality Control.  Project Leader Chris Gaynor issued me a pair of needle-nose pliers and told me to inspect bulletin boards, walls, and doors for staples that our vertically-impaired middle schoolers couldn’t reach.  (I just barely missed the job of Bottom of Desk Gum Scraper, which isn’t a bad thing because even though I heart Durham, I heart my hand sanitizer more.)

Let me pause here and ask, “What in the name of all that’s good could all those staples have been used for?”  We’ve been in the middle of a war, people.  Shouldn’t we have been rationing staples?  Someone should alert Al Gore so that he can make another documentary.

At one point I was pretty sure that the staples were actually holding up the wall.  I could just imagine a construction worker building Eastway back in the day saying, “Ah, dang it.  Hanging this sheetrock is too hard.  Hand me that stapler.”

There were staples that stapled in other staples.  It was like a little staple colony, mocking me from their lofty heights, spurning my attempt to extract them from their society.  When I wasn’t looking, staples would actually vault themselves back into the corkboard.  There were staples for days.  As a matter of fact, if you took all the staples I pulled and laid them end to end, there would be a line that would encircle a medium-sized cantaloupe three times.

Editor’s note: What did you expect?  Staples are very tiny.

The best part of the day was getting to work alongside my firstborn.  Jacob and his fellow middle schoolers have spent the better part of this week in various WOH projects.  Today, he and I armed ourselves with the aforementioned needle-nosed pliers and got to work and talk.  True, most of our conversation consisted of, “Hey, you missed one,” but we talked, nevertheless.

Week of Hope is always one of the highlights of my year.  As a pastor, I seem to spend more and more time answering e-mails, returning phone calls, running our membership process, filling volunteer spots, laying out the calendar, parsing Greek words, attending to the crisis du jour, reading books on how to fill volunteer spots, renewing my subscription to Hip Fundamentalist magazine, and inadvertently ticking off friends of British bloggers.

Editor’s note: He’s lying.  He’s never parsed a Greek word in his life. 

The point is: Week of Hope puts this minister back in the ministry.  I love getting to spend time with Summit friends as we try to show the love of God to our city.  I love meeting Duke Medical employees and Eastway teachers who ask, “Now exactly why are you doing this?” and getting to tell them that it’s because Jesus loves people, and we want to be like Jesus.  I love watching my three boys experience sore backs and sweaty heads because they’ve been learning how to selflessly serve.  I love watching brand new Summit members who are partnering with us to love our world.  I love hearing about what other churches in the area are doing, and how we are all getting to see our city change, one life at a time. 

This week has been seamlessly pulled off because of the round-the-clock efforts of super-stud Brad O’Brien and his sidekick detail-guru Matt M.  Both of them have been kept on the straight and narrow by Lori Perdue, who could manage a small country with one hand tied behind her back.  Add to this team an awesome array of Project Leaders, StudentLIFE leaders who are way overdue for a vacation but keep on serving, kidsLIFE leaders who have been doing WOH by day and Hope4Kids by night, and over 1900 volunteers from the Summit alone, and you’ve got a recipe for making Durham a great place to live and raise a family.

So, what’s your Week of Hope story?  And what are you doing in your community next week and beyond?

With that, I’m heading back over to Eastway for the rest of the day.  There are some defiant staples that must be reckoned with.

Check out some of the local news coverage here and here.

Those of you who know me well know that I’m a late adopter.  It’s hard for me to jump on the bandwagon until all the bugs are worked out, the price has gone down, and there’s no chance that it’ll multiply if I feed it after midnight.  Example: I bought my first cell phone only about five years ago.  Yep, I watched all of you with your cool bag phones, gleeful that you will have chronic back problems and self-esteem issues for the rest of your days.  But I figured gettin’ down with my celly was too expensive, too much of a luxury, and would give me too many brain tumors if I caved too early.

So it is with blogging.  I’ve waited, debated, mutated, and finally decided to get on board.  I figure if this guy has a blog, there’s no chance in me being the most uncool blogger in all the world.  But, there are still a few reasons why it’s taken so long…

  1. What the heck do I have to say?  I’m kinda like Forrest Gump…I am not a smart man.  You want theological musings on everything from evangelistic protocol to Mormon holy underwear, better check out another page.  Here, it’s more along the lines of trying to make sure spell check can keep up.
  2. Who the heck wants to read it?  Last summer when I was in Central Asia, my team and I started talking about the pros and cons of blogging.  It was an overwhelming bloodbath when I mentioned I was thinking about it.  Friends that I have known for years turned on me with viciousness and ice picks, telling me that bloggers were stupid and they would never read my blog no matter what I said, what I paid them, or how interesting it was.  I was deeply encouraged and immediately started therapy.  So with that in mind let me just say to Carla, “I found a blue-eyed rich doctor who wants to marry you.  Call me and I’ll give you his phone number.”  (That’ll teach her not to read my stuff.)
  3. Vanity, vanity… I don’t want to be one of those guys who is slave to the stats counter.  That’s why you’ll never see one on this site.  And I’m thinking about blocking it from my list of approved sites, just because yes, I am that shallow.
  4. I ain’t doing this every day.  This ties in to #1 above.  But good glory, I got stuff to do, people.  I will be about as irregular as the 2008 cheddar cheese eating champion.
  5. Blogging is a gateway drug that leads to other evils, the main one being Twitter.  I refuse to even give you a hyperlink to Twitter, so loathsome is it in my world.  Let me say this: if you ever get to the point where you care that I talked to my mechanic today or that I’m pulling into the ATM drive up lane, you need to purchase some pharmaceutical products.  Fast.
July 11 update: I was a little hasty yesterday in linking to John Hood’s blog (you can link to it above) and categorizing him as uncool.  John is a UK blogger who found out about the link and was a great sport about the whole thing.  However, his friends have put me in the same camp as Salman Rushdie.  That’s why I’m waving the white flag (translated: they scare me) and declaring that John is indeed cooler than me.  Oh yeah…and he has a Mac.  Which is a no-brainer.  You can read John’s gracious recap of the whole thing at the bottom of this post.
Counting down the days until this blog nets me my very own posse…

Typing this sentence is a bit like ripping off a Band-Aid.  As I launch this first blog entry out into cyberspace, I am both admitting defeat and embracing victory.  Defeat…because I swore that blogging was just a fad (like parachute pants) and justified why I would never be a part of it (blogging, not parachute pants, which I looked good in, thanks).  Victory…because dang it, I’m really excited about this.  Some people exercise their creative outlet with music, others with poetry, still others by painting pictures of dogs playing poker.  Me?  I’m a writer at heart.  I’ve written lots of things.  Grocery lists, love notes to my wife, love notes on my wife’s grocery lists…I’m pretty accomplished, actually.  Maybe you’ve seen my work on aisle 12 at Food Lion.  Right there, under the endcap with the on-sale cereal.  That’s it.

Editor’s note: does anyone see what this has to do with a Band Aid?  Just checking.

However, there comes a time when you have to give in to the masses.  For the last several months I’ve had hundreds…dozens…four people who have begged me to start a blog.  “You need to get a life!” they’ve said.  But deep in their heart, what they meant to say was, “The free world needs to know what is happening in the recesses of your mind, and you should immediately begin putting your thoughts out there for all to read, because one day we’ll need them for the court deposition.”

One of the rules of blogging is that you should know your topic.  But I’ve never been one to follow the rules.  This blog will be part church, part personal, but almost all fun.  There will be limits.  You should not care what I had for breakfast, nor should I tell you.  That’s just personal and wrong.  Your freedom of information ends where my whole grain waffle with butter and low-calorie syrup, side of wheat toast and Diet Caffeine Free Dr. Pepper begins.  (mmm…butter) 

If you like my church, you’ll probably like this blog.  If you like my family, you’ll probably like this blog.  If you like neither, you need to go to a far country, because there is no love in you.

One more rule of blogging is that every once in a while you should end with a cliff hanger.  (“Be sure and tune in tomorrow where I call on the government to shut down West Virginia!”)  So here’s the cliff hanger: next post, you get to find out why I refuse to blog.  Try not to lose sleep until then, friends.