Thoughts on Willow Creek

The news coming from Willow Creek Community Church in the last week is incredibly sad. Allegations against long time pastor Bill Hybels from multiple women have turned out to be far worse than originally stated. The blowback resulted in two pastors resigning and last night the entire board of elders announced they would be resigning. For those not in the evangelical world, Willow Creek is a huge megachurch near Chicago which has many different sites where their church meets. To have the entire leadership resign is truly tragic and shocking.

I must admit however that ten years ago I would have been even more shocked than I am today. Ten years ago I was on the periphery of a situation that, while not abuse or harassment, was no less damaging to a Christian organization. I wrote about this story on this blog a number of years ago but I feel like I should retell it today briefly. I’ll use even fewer identifying details than when I first wrote my blog. I admittedly only have one perspective on the matter and want to be kind to people who lived it out much more closely than I did.

Tens years ago after college I lived overseas for a year as an intern with a Christian ministry. The organization had been started by a couple who soon got married after founding it. During my year both the husband and wife taught classes and preached sermons that I enjoyed immensely. I can’t express how much I respected each of them.

We lived on a somewhat sprawling missions base. Basically it was a big, incredibly beautiful piece of land with some buildings in the middle. The husband had an office right in the middle of everything, surrounded by windows. We called it the fishbowl. During the year the husband and wife had to travel back to the US for a couple months and for various good reasons, the husband ended up coming back a couple months early.

The ministry had a number of North American mission staff. One worked closely with the husband as his assistant among other roles. Her desk was in the fishbowl with him. I had to fly back for my sister’s wedding midway through the year. When I got back the husband and assistant picked me up from airport, a 2-3 hour car trip each way. Today such an extended time alone would set off alarm bells for me. Ten years ago I suspected nothing. I think often evangelicals “suspect nothing” because sex is largely taboo and we do not discuss it very openly. We also put pastors and leaders on a pedestal where they surely can do no wrong. This should change.

At the end of my fantastic year I got an email the first week I was home. The husband wrote that he had fallen short in a number of ways. Basically an emotional affair but nothing physical. He and his wife were returning to the States for counseling. I believed the email because why wouldn’t I? This guy had been a tremendous leader who had spoken into my life repeatedly. I shouldn’t have.

Less than a year later we get another email from the wife. The husband had an affair and had decided to get divorced. The marriage was now over. Again it should not have shocked me at the time but it did. When the allegations against Willow Creek’s Pastor came out I had a feeling they were even worse than what had been released. This past week has confirmed my feelings.

I do not mean to say we should speak out or judge before all facts are in. But if the #Metoo movement has shown us anything it is that we need to consider allegations with eyes wide open and at the very least not summarily dismiss them. The man who ran my ministry did not abuse or harass anyone but what began as a significant personal failing became a full-blown affair that destroyed a marriage.

It is really hard to write this. Even now, ten years later I hate to come off as disparaging. It feels both very close to me because I was there when it happened but also very far away. I was just a lowly intern who had no idea what was going on. The Board at Willow Creek does not have my lack of accountability. The fact that the Board did multiple investigations and found that Hybels did essentially nothing wrong is incredibly damning to their credibility. The fact that further, credible accusations only just now led to their resignation means all churches need to look even more carefully at their policies regarding leadership.

I learned a lot in my year overseas. Once during a lesson on leadership, the husband told our class of interns, “The greater the sin and the higher in leadership, the greater the consequences.” This is playing out tragically today for the Willow Creek community. May this sad sequence of events lead to greater accountability for church leadership and greater care for all church staff and members.

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What I’ve Done So Far on my Summer Vacation.

It is a well-known fact that most teachers get a summer break. For me, a public school teacher, that equates from about mid-June to Late August. Obviously having a huge summer break is different from most industries. I thought it would be nice to list (in extremely rough chronological order) what I have done in my first month of summer vacation.

  • Had friends over to catch up and meet our daughter.
  • Watched my 2 month old daughter while my wife went to work.
  • Fed my 2 month old daughter.
  • Played with my 2 month old daughter.
  • Changed my two month old daughter.
  • Gone to a wedding of good friends.
  • Gone running a lot.
  • Completed a class to earn graduate credit to increase my salary in the fall (one more class to go!) Note: the only way for public school teachers to increase their salary is to show up for another year or take further education classes. If this sounds like a terrible system to you I applaud your motivation to attempt to make it better!
  • Taken my daughter to a friend’s July 4th party and watched fireworks (we have cute ear protecters.)
  • Watched my 3 month old daughter while my wife went to work.
  • Fed my 3 month old daughter.
  • Played with my 3 month old daughter.
  • Changed my 3 month old daughter.
  • Taken my family to two professional soccer games.
  • Napped
  • Read half a book.
  • Drove up to Maine last Wednesday and said goodbye to my 91-year old grandfather as he passed away in the hospital. My dad and I made it with two and a half hours to spare. The nurse noted that he was waiting for people to show up to be with him.

Many Americans for various socioeconomic reasons can’t take much time off from work. Many who can do not take what they are fully allowed. How much vacation one takes is a personal one between them and their family. I will say I am really grateful I was able to  hop in a car (my wife graciously watched our daughter the whole day so I could go immediately) midweek and get up to Maine to be with my grandfather. If it had been during the school year I would have likely already been at school and getting up there in time would have been impossible.

Summer vacation can be a difficult time for many kids and families. Many kids have zero of the supports they enjoy during the school year. Many parents (and various family members) work long hours, often leaving kids to (literally) their own devices. But I think the general principle of a longer break in the summer (maybe 4-6 weeks) would not just be good for teachers but for other workers too. More time to relax and reboot. Time to do activities one enjoys. Time with family. Last Wednesday was challenging but I am beyond grateful that I was able to see my grandfather one last time.

Thoughts on Fatherhood.

The moment had arrived. My wife was ready, after three location changes and over a day of waiting and hospital care, to deliver our first child. I look over at the first doctor on the scene and rather sheepishly ask, “Do I have time to go to the bathroom?” I did and I did. Less than 30 minutes later I was a father.

I’ll be frank about this entry. It is more for me than for others. My first child was born just under two weeks ago and I simply want to remember everything. The memories I write here may seem a bit all over the map and disjointed but they are glimpses of the monumental experience we had in four days at a hospital in Boston.

We went to the hospital Tuesday morning, a day I completely thought I would go to work.    Instead we spent the morning in sort of a holding room as we began the process of inducing a pregnancy. Within the first two hours of sitting there two women were wheeled out for C-sections and than wheeled back in, babies in their hands. There unseen cries made me impatient. I was ready to meet our little one!

A brief aside about my in-laws. They are fantastically intentional and supportive of their kids. They showed up at 8:30AM that first morning and were there until the moment of birth the following afternoon. They spent that first night in the hospital in incredibly awful chairs in our delivery room. In retrospect, they could have gone home that night, but my wife told me she needed them and so they stayed. I’m so grateful they were there but also grateful that they happened to have a vacation planned for a few days later!

I confess to having felt fairly sheepish in the hospital. I know I was the impending father and had an official visitors sticker and totally belonged there but I couldn’t walk through the Labor and Delivery unit without feeling completely in the way. I really didn’t want to bump into a doctor or nurse who were about to bring a life into the world as I was fetching more water for my wife. This is a good time to give a shoutout to our hospital and how good our experience was. Nurses are unsung heroes, full stop. They do so much, work 12-hour shifts and not once did I percieve that they were tired. I feel very fortunate that we live near Boston and were able to deliver at such a well-regarded hospital.

It’s hard to express how I felt those first moments as the delivery process began. I ran competitively in college and have run in countless road races, long and short. I’ve traveled overseas and got married four years ago. None of those experiences came close to the pure rush of adrenaline that flowed through me as I put my hand on my wife’s forehead and waited to meet our daughter.

I did not know the gender of our baby until birth. My wife did but was able to resist telling me for months. I know that this provokes a lot of questions and interest but I’ll just say this: From the start I was going to be ecstatic with either a boy or girl. It did not matter to me what they were as long as he/she was healthy. And so in the minutes after her birth I went over to where doctors were cleaning our baby off and had to identify the gender. With all the emotion and adrenaline of the moment it was a significantly more difficult task than I might of thought. I focused really hard, looked at our child and made the announcement: we had a baby girl. Her name was Eleanor Joy.

She was pink, and crying, and healthy. She was perfect. After two hectic days in the hospital we were able to go home as scheduled. I won’t go into all the details here but this was a miracle baby. I couldn’t have expected how perfect she is and yet knew it all the same. The amount of prayer and support that brought this little girl into the world is too numerous to mention but know that it mattered and know that we are so grateful for you all. It gave us so much comfort and even confidence as we prepared to welcome our little one.

There is so much left to say but I’ll finish with this. We are home, adjusting to life with our little one. She is eating, and growing, and crying, and that other thing babies do. It is tiring but awesome. It’s still hard to believe but I’m a dad now. I’m grateful for almost a month at home before returning to work and the many visitors and gifts that have graced our address. I’m mindful that many do not have the support or resources we have enjoyed. Thank you to everyone who have supported us so well. I’m just starting this journey but I can’t wait to continue.

Four years in.

One of the most surprising things about adulthood is the number of things you experience for the first time and than you feel like you have become an expert on. You knew absolutely NOTHING about something and then suddenly you are able to carry on a conversation for a solid 20 minutes about it. If I can find someone else with the same experience? Well this introvert just became a Nobel Prize winning orator. Mortgages, sump pumps, or lawn mowers? Please let me regale you with my knowledge.

The topic that most exemplifies this trend though in my life is my marriage. Being married is still something that pervades our society with expectations and advice even as many are uncertain about and delaying the experience. While I realize that people get many messages about marriage from their family and society it’s funny how blind you can go into it. It’s hard to envision exactly what it will look like to commit your life to someone and then make good on it. Despite the inherent difficulty here, it’s my fourth anniversary on Thursday so I thought I would offer a few thoughts based on my experience.

Four years in it is my conviction that my decision to make a lifelong commitment to my wife in marriage is the best I have ever made. Endless caveats could be made here before I continue but I’ll just throw out a few that feel more obvious to me. Plenty of people get married who probably should not. Plenty get married but for the wrong reasons. Many single people may feel the need and desire to get married but in fact being single is perfectly OK for the time-being or perhaps their life. My goal here is not to encourage anyone to get or stay married who should not but simply to relay a brief slice of my experience.

Four years in my wife and I know each other really well. We have learned our likes and dislikes. We have established routines. We find ways to compromise on many things. We even fight better than we used too. My wife especially has made it a huge value to establish ways to grow our relationship and communicate that have allowed us to love each other while avoiding lasting resentments. If I had one piece of advice in this entry it would be that communication is absolutely critical. There are a million reasons your partner might not realize something they are doing grates at you. Talk to them about it. Over time, I think good communication breeds countless dividends.

Four years in we support each other (and get support from others) in countless ways. We look out for each other. We cook for each other. We comfort each other. We pay for things for each other. We worry about each other. As a relatively not anxious person this has been one of the most ridiculous things to happen to me in marriage. One moment I am bingeing on Netflix blissfully unaware of anything and then, suddenly, my wife hasn’t texted me enough during the day and so she must be in a ditch on the side of the road somewhere. Just as we support each other, our commitment has also brought together a incredible network of family, friends, and church folks who love us so well. So many examples could be said here but I’ll simply say I’m grateful and thankful for all of you.

Four years in I’m writing this in a hospital awaiting the birth of our first child. Children don’t fix marriages and it will certainly make ours more complex but damn am I excited for us to be parents. There are a wide array of families in society today and all have value but I am so grateful and fortunate to have my wife by my side as we start this new adventure. Marriage is not a panacea for the unhappy or a goal for all but, four years in, I can’t imagine doing life any other way than what has happened so far.

Grasping at Straws in Times of Grief.

School is a very strange thing when you get down to it, especially as a teacher. You see these kids for 45-50+ minutes a day, for 180 days. They populate your mind extensively for these 180 days. You spend many hours thinking about where they should sit, how they might respond to a certain lesson, and grading their work. The bells rings, and they come in. The bell rings and as stressful as the class may have been, they disappear again. The days go by, the seasons change, and June (Finally!) arrives. And they disappear for one final time. They may or may not come by to say hello again but the massive investment that you had in their life for 10 months is done. In my case they move on (in 1-2 years) to high school, out of my building. As memorable as many students have been it always surprises me how quickly I forget many of their names.

I write all the above because last week a former student of mine unexpectedly passed away. He was 16. I got an email from my department head saying there had been a death at the high school and she could not make meetings today. Twenty minutes later in the middle of first period our principal emails the news with his name.

I read the email, paused in bewilderment, and had to go back to teaching my class.

I taught him two years ago and confess to not knowing him all that well. He was a quiet student. He did his work (usually) and kept to himself. He was a strong athlete and seemed well-liked and popular. He was not the type of student who would ever come back to the Middle School to say hello. I wouldn’t either when I was a kid.

Usually before I write a blog entry I have a plan, a spine, a piece of inspiration. I know what I want to say, I just need to get the words down in the right order. This is not an entry like that. I have no idea what to say or think. He simultaneously feels very close and very far away all at the same time.

I went to his wake on Sunday. I waited in a line for 2+ hours to pay my respects and hug his family members. I’m grateful for the former students I saw and that his mom remembered me.

I suppose this entry is just a fleeting attempt to try to honor him and his memory. He may be gone but he was my student and he mattered. I hope he is at peace now and I hope his family, in the awful months ahead, can find little glimpses of peace and even joy as they remember him. I also hope for all my students: past, present, and future that they can find the support they need to have a good life long after they disappear from my classroom.

 

 

Speaking Up

Two summers ago I went on vacation to Colonial Williamsburg with my wife’s family. As a history teacher I was excited. The sites of the Battle of Yorktown, Jamestown, and  (a fictional rebuilding) of Williamsburg itself are all in close proximity to each other. While this popular area has been built up considerably for the tourist sector I had a great week exploring history.

One morning I found myself checking out a gun display in one of the Colonial Williamsburg museums. After I did this I sat down on a bench nearby and struck up a conversation with a retired teacher from Tennessee. As we learned we were both teachers we both enjoyed talking about the importance of history for a couple of minutes. She then said something quickly, almost in passing. I do not remember the exact quote but she noted that “some people want to get rid of our history. Some people where I am from are trying to get rid of statutes of General Forrest.”

She was referencing the trend for states and communities to take down statues of confederate war heroes. Even still, if I hadn’t read an article about General Forrest a few weeks prior I probably wouldn’t have known who he was. But I had. Let me tell you a couple things about Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

During the Civil War a group of soldiers he led was responsible for the Fort Pillow Massacre where an overpowered group of mostly African-American soldiers were brutally shot down even after the battle was won. These Confederate soldiers were not particularly happy for African-Americans to haven taken up arms against them, you see. After the War, Forrest was named as the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

This perfectly pleasant woman I was talking to was mistaken. Mr. Forrest deserves to be studied and remembered as an actor of hatred and a reminder of what the Civil War was fought over. But statutes and memorials to him all over the South? That is nonsense and deserves to be corrected.

Now I am a reasonably well spoken adult. Surely I could sort out how to tactfully and respectfully to explain to this women why her view was mistaken. I have a strong sense of justice and what’s right. So that’s what I did.

Except it’s not.

After a glimmer of recognition of who Forrest was in my mind I mumbled uncomfortably and said nothing. A few minutes later the conversation was over. Now there’s a lot of reasons I could use to excuse to explain my lack of action. I’m a shy introvert who does not love confrontation with people I know well, let alone people I just met. But those excuses would be just a smokescreen. I did not speak up that morning because of of my privilege.

In a great number of ways, my life is a textbook example of white privilege. I won’t go into all of the ways here but my point is this. I have NEVER spoken up much about current issues of race or racism in the past few years, either in conversation or on social media. It has felt too contentious and I have felt like taking sides would be too difficult. But mostly I haven’t spoken about these things because I haven’t had to.

My privilege insulates me from feeling strongly about these issues. It’s incredibly difficult for me to admit this but it’s true. I have opinions or thoughts about events of the past years but it does not feel near to me. Our society insures that it rarely will. Those who have lost family members or feel the reality of racism daily enjoy no such luxury.

I sincerely regret not speaking up that morning to the woman. I suspect that she was a perfectly nice and professional teacher during her career. But she harbors attitudes that allow protests like this past weekend to occur in Charlottesville. This does not mean we demonize each other. It does mean we recognize racist attitudes when we hear them and see them and call them out. I am a nerdy, WASPy, teacher with glasses. I won’t always get everything right. But I will commit to writing more and when I see racism I will do my best to speak up.

Moving

Many young people are now taking a gap year between high school and college.  A year to travel, work, do something worthwhile, or just take a breath before they decide what they want to pursue next. I took a gap year as well except mine came after college and stretched into 3 years being overseas and at home. After college I flirted with being a missionary because that was the only career I saw myself trying at that time. I was an intern for a year with a missions organization in South Africa and then followed that up with a year teaching English in the Czech Republic. Yes I know those are wildly different and yes I’ll be happy to explain why I went there if you ask dear reader.

Ultimately I decided to return home and get my teaching degree and license but I bring up those experiences to say I was basically constrained in having stuff those two years to what I could take onto a plane: two checked bags, a backpack, and my laptop. Of course I acquired goods overseas and even brought some home with me. What I remember at the end of those two years however was packing up my stuff, cleaning, sorting, and dumping things I no longer needed. I enjoyed that process and it was not that difficult.

And then I came back home. To America. And got married.

I’ve moved 3 times since I got married. First from my parents house to my wife’s apartment, second from that apartment to a new apartment, and mostly recently from that apartment to our new house. The first move was not that bad. Our first apartment was already furnished and she had being living there almost a year. I brought my clothes and a few other things and that was that.

The second move was…rough. We had to move it all in one day and that meant getting everything in boxes and ready to go beforehand. I confess to being a little clueless about how to pack up the entirety of a small apartment. My wife did the lion share of the packing and was amazing but on the day of it was just rough. Our new apartment was on the third floor which meant getting things up two flights of stairs. We had furniture at our parents houses which necessitated trips to both those places on the day. Our box-spring did not fit upstairs which meant we spent our first night on an air mattress surrounded by boxes. Did I mention we both dislike change? It was an overwhelming and exhausting experience.

Less than three years later I was quietly dreading another move this time with more furniture, more stuff, and more reasons to feel angsty about the whole process.

The process is not quite complete but as I sit typing this in my new dining room I can say this move has been pretty amazing. Not perfect or without stress but it has gone really well. There’s a number of reasons for that. First we have been able to spread it out over two weeks because we still have our apartment till the end of the month. Annoying but ultimately helpful. This allowed us to bring stuff to the house by car for a week before doing one final big push this past Saturday to get our furniture and other remaining items. It also allowed us to clean and paint a bit before getting all our stuff in as well.

The other big reason was all the help we had. We had friends just kill it this past Saturday with packing, unpacking, and organizing our stuff. New church friends, old church friends, no church friends, and family all combined to make our move relatively quick and simple. It’s hard to express how good this move was compared to our last one. And it’s hard to express how grateful we are to all the people in our lives who gave up hours and days to help us start here well.

So cups up to friends and family! I think I need to go paint something.