All posts by Chris Marshall

The Gift of Unemployment

The dawn of March 1 will mark the beginning of technically my 9th month of unemployment.  I haven’t had regular work/paycheck etc. in that timeframe.  I’ve been freelancing in some management projects, teaching projects, writing projects and hustling our Resurgam Coffee side business, but none of that has equaled anything close to a full-time income.  What have I learned?  I’ve learned this journey has been an incredible gift on so many levels.  Let me explain . . .

  1. The Gift of Self-Reflection – How often in your life do you get the opportunity for a complete do-over?  To go back to the drawing board and ask foundational questions like Who am I?  Why am I here?  What would I love to do?  What brings me joy?  Now this is also deeply frightening, the more questions you ask, the deeper the rabbit hole gets.  I began to realize how much of my ‘accepted’ and unquestioned life both internally and externally did not line up with my deepest values.  The gift does not then become self-condemnation, but an invitation to new life.  Know thyself and then act accordingly.
  2. The Gift of a Simple Life – My wife and I are more connected right now around our daily, weekly and monthly finances than ever before.  Not fear, not panic . . .  connectedness.  We talk about it, daily.  Our grocery list is no longer whatever looks like ‘we have to have’ at Costco, it’s planned out and intentional.  You know what?  It’s fun!  I’m cooking more creatively and intentionally.  Our meals are actually far more fresh and healthy.  We are counting the green beans and the last eggs, but we are also finding creative ways to deliciously season the throw-away and discounted cuts of meat from the grocery.  We are grocery shopping with cash, whatever cash has come in, that’s our budget.  We’ve learned how we don’t need very much income to live a connected, satisfied and full life with some creativity and teamwork.  It’s a gift to be able to have such connection between God’s most recent provision and the food that will be on our family table this week.  We have daily bread, gratitude fills our table.
  3. The Gift of Intimate Marriage – Naturally, this has been a time of great challenge, pressure and vulnerability.  These kinds of storms in life have a way of exposing great breaches in the foundations of even the best of marriage partnerships.  But, there is always a choice.  You can live in fear, isolation, destructive habits to cope and blame etc.  Or you can choose as a couple to look at the storm in the face and hand in hand walk into it and through it together.  Wedding vows take just a moment in a ceremony to say but it takes a lifetime to fulfill them.  We chose to come together in this, communicate and over-communicate, look to the needs of one another and create a new beginning together.  We have no idea how it will all turn out, but we do know one thing, we are gonna be there together.  It’s our eternal vows to one another and I wouldn’t want it any other way.  I am so in love with this woman.  She vowed to believe in me on our wedding day, and on my worst and most discouraging days, she believes in me and the gifts God has given me.  I am able to anchor my identity not in the rejection email of another job I won’t get, but in the love and commitment of my wife for me.  Folks, with that kind of love, I’ll run through a wall.  True intimacy in marriage is an unbelievable gift and it’s the result of a lot of choices ‘towards’ one another, not ‘away’.
  4. The Gift of the Myth of the American Dream – In my dissertation I wrote a chapter on this ‘myth’ and how consumerism has robbed much of what we used to experience of so-called community in America.  The assumptions of certain standards of living for happiness, the crazed rat-race of the US corporate life, the dehumanizing experiences of bottom-line company strategies, the false dream of a leisured retirement, the entitlements of the marketing seas we swim in, the oughts and shoulds of a life it seems almost no-one is enjoying.  We are supremely busy, but not busy being happy.  Meaning, connection, community and the things that feed contentment and happiness are not bought, and not even offered in consumer lifestyles to keep up.  Consumerism by definition keeps you wanting more so you buy more, all with the hope that it will finally satisfy.  It doesn’t.  That degree won’t magically satisfy you, that job, that car, that membership, that house, that team etc etc.  All will leave you wanting and never having ‘arrived’.  I’m learning to look at my life of a different ‘arrival’, my own death.  I’m mortal, I will die, this human life will end.  So how do I want to live it?  I get one chance and it’s a result of my free choices.  Should I organize it around chasing things ‘out there’, or can I organize it around the amazing gifts God has already given me right here?  Faith, family, friends, creative work, sustenance etc.  These things can be lived and enjoyed for a whole lot less $$ than the American rat race.  Why live a myth, why not live in ruthless and satisfying truth?
  5. The Gift of Anything is Possible – One of my largest personal values is freedom.  I love the freedom to create, to learn, to dream, to act, to inspire, to encourage, to lead etc.  Feeling confined in close-ended jobs in my history has contributed to a lot of self-imposed depression.  After I grieved my vocational past and choices, I now have come to a place of a free and open future.  Anything is possible, that is a gift to me.  I’m in this place of what Romans 8 says, ‘what’s next, Papa?’    God and I can create together a connected, partnered, grounded and freely sustained life.  I don’t know yet what it looks like, but I trust Him.  His goodness and faithfulness have become so resounding in my life during this journey it’s almost deafening.  I have nothing concrete in my hands but I have supreme confidence in my heart and mind.  Anything is possible, that is hopeful and good enough.

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!” -Romans 8:15-17 (The Message)

My journey is my journey.  I know many of you out there are experiencing far more painful stories and realities than me and you aren’t seeing the same conclusions I am.  My intent is for encouragement and help, I can’t change your reality, but I can offer you my human compassion and story.  All of life is a gift, the learning is the fun part.  Let’s live out loud!

Raw Belief

Today’s Meditation

I am not here to pass judgement
or point the finger at anyone.
My name was written in the sand
as one who is forgiven.
Strengthened with hope, impervious to shame,
I will walk freely like the freshness
of the dry lands after rain.

Let light spill out of heaven
through my life,
dispelling mediocrity and silent blame.
Too many people, guilt-stricken, wounded,
walk in regret,
feeling bad about failing,
apologise even for breathing.

Raw belief, a passion for others
grows in me,
encircling each moment
with instinctive prayer.
I will carry the freshness
of the dry lands after rain.
Compassion lives in me again.

Andy Raine  (excerpt from Celtic Daily Prayer) 

Showing Up

“80% of success is just showing up.” -Woody Allen

So I was re-reading a popular narrative in the New Testament this morning from John 6 and it was the ‘Bread and Fish for All’ as The Message puts it.  Traditionally we understand this to be the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000.  There are a lot of faith-stretching learnings in this story.  It was like Jesus was click-baiting his disciples by making them go out and find some paltry replenishments so that they knew in the end, that what would be done would not have come from them and their accomplishments.  I could write a whole other book on the futility of self-sufficiency, I’ve lived that dead-end over and over.

8-9 One of the disciples—it was Andrew, brother to Simon Peter—said, “There’s a little boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But that’s a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this.”

Here is what struck me this morning; sure the 5 loaves and 2 fish were not nearly enough for 5,000 men (not including women and children), BUT it seems an OBSCENE amount of food for a small boy, no?  

Do we ever ask the question why the boy has SO much food just for himself?  I’m just speculating, but it occurred to me that maybe the boy just had some extra that morning, maybe sometimes he doesn’t, but that day, that week, that season his family had more than needed.  Maybe they made a habit of ‘showing up’ when they had extra with a heart to give and be generous in case the opportunity presents itself.  ‘Showing up’ is a decision of the heart and mind to carry out values and commitments whether anyone knows about it or not.  Most of ‘Showing up’ is done in anonymity, no spotlight, no miracle recorded, just you and your commitment to who you are and what you want to do in this world.

Everyone wants the miracle, everyone wants the ecstatic experience of the victory, everyone wants the big win, everyone wants the glory of the finish line, everyone wants the accolade of the award . . . but who wants to ‘show up’ when no one is watching?  Who wants to give away their extra today because it’s in their heart to do, not because it will be recorded in a Holy Scripture?

I’m in a place in life where I have a lot of great and valuable work, but very little income.  I know it is likely just a season, but I don’t know how long the season will last.  My mind wants to jump to the end, where Jesus multiplies the little and shows off in the kind of power he has.  But in taking the example of this young boy today, I recognize that the challenge is to ‘show up’ today in the value of the work before me without the need for physical reinforcement of income.   ‘Showing up’ comes from a deeper set of values, an imbedded set of deep commitments planted in you to fulfill your identity and calling in this world.  Collecting a paycheck is not a big enough idea, you were destined to count in ways you never imagined.  Today, it’s about ‘showing up’ in our work and letting value be its own reward.

Picking a Fight for 2017

We all end up dead, it’s just a matter of how and why.” -William Wallace, Braveheart

One of my favorite scenes out of Braveheart is what comes just after the legendary battlefield speech of William Wallace to his fellow Scotsmen at Sterling. The speech is over, the troops are fired up, now what?  The dialogue goes like this:

Stephen: Fine speech. Now what do we do?

William Wallace: Just be yourselves.

Hamish: Where are you going?

William Wallace: I’m going to pick a fight.

Hamish: Well, we didn’t get dressed up for nothing.

What do you want to pick a fight with in 2017?

Resolutions are for the comfortable, I’m interested in the kinds of decisions that lead to uncomfortable change.  Change, deep down, fire-breathed transformation.  Where is the fire in your belly?  What keeps you up at night?  What injustice can you not live with?  What habit is in the way of you absolutely slaying your job?  What negative mindset is robbing you of your creativity?  What slave master says it owns your freedom?  What is in the way of you living out a dream?

Everybody dreams, the difference is some people actually experience them.  The separation is usually a matter of discipline from the dream stage to the experience stage.  It’s largely an issue of will, discipline, effort, heart, stubbornness, resilience, resources and perseverance.  If you pick a fight, you are likely to get punched in the mouth, that’s a given.  The issue is when you hit the mat, do you resolve to get up?  Outlasting your opponent is where the marrow of the victory comes from, you bid your time, and when the opportunity presents itself, return your blow and land it on your enemy’s jaw.  It’s yours for the taking, opportunity knocks.

I’m entering 2017 not with a resolution, but with a primal scream to take another step of what I was put on this earth to do.  I am challenged, I am stretched, I am vulnerable . . . the bullies are on the battleground in front of me.  They hurl their insults, they predict my failure, they intimidate with accusations of lies.  They are the voices I oppose.  The primal scream is louder than those voices, it’s what I’m listening to.  I don’t want to take a step forward, I want to dismantle the entire system of resistance in front of me.  The life of the Creator lives in me, his breath breathes in me.  Therefore, I have no fear . . . none.  I’m here to pick a fight.

What are you picking a fight with in 2017?  How can I help you?

Pastoring a Church without walls

Almost 20 years ago now, I made a conscience decision to fire myself vocationally from ministry.  I had an instinct, a calling and a drive to create a response of the church to it’s present and emerging culture. It was clear to me that the word on the street was a growing distrust in the structures known as church.  What could church look like for people who would never step foot in a church?  I had a dream of a ‘missional’ church, a church without walls, where the posture was not asking people to come to church, but the church being ‘sent’ to where people were living/working/playing etc.   Reframing the church from being perceived as a building  or special event once a week to a community on mission doing all of life together.  I believe fundamentally that church is not someplace you go, but a people you belong to.

I’m still a pastor, I just don’t get paid for it.  I am sent into my world to care, love, inspire, teach, educate, inform, protect, marry, bury, baptize, pray for, pray with, pray behind their backs, create, build, enact mercy, stand for justice . . . all the things pastors should do in their culture.  I have no walls to keep me in, in the words of John Wesley, ‘the world is my parish’.  I don’t know about you, but I pastor a REALLY BIG church.   I’m sent to the 7.8 billion people that God has put on earth that I may come into contact with.  I work under the assumption that if we come into contact then the Creator wanted it to be and I’m available for the assignment he has in mind.  Pastoral ministry is not a job, it’s a way of life.  It’s a set of gifts given to you by your Creator and he gets to decide how they are used.  We are characters in a divine story being written one chapter at a time.

I don’t really buy the categories for faith I grew up in.  Churched or unchurched, saved or lost, believer or unbeliever, christian or nonchristian,  religious or secular etc.  I think we are all made up of the same substances of sinners and saints.  To me, church is more like an AA meeting, you participate and belong because you need it.  You start with the fact you have need, not because you’ve arrived at any great end.  I share this need with all my neighbors, all of them.  God isn’t mad, he just misses us.  He wants us to know the unyielding affection he has for us, all of us.  He wants to meet us at our place of need and do the mystical work of transformation together that is available to any of us through the Spirit of Christ.  That’s my job, to walk around my community and culture and give away the Spirit of Christ, I don’t have anything more important to do.  It’s the entire deal in pure form.

A church without walls.  Missional church is sent to bars, pubs, coffee houses, marketplaces, stadiums, fields, parks, libraries, entertainment centers, neighborhoods, schools, famers markets, festivals, concerts, parties, parades, online forums, places of work, etc. etc. where all the saints and sinners hang out.  There is no place where Christ’s extravagant love is not, therefore there is no condemnation or judgment.  Leave your self-righteousness and judgment at home, God is love.  We are a community invited to participate in the love and affection of the one who made us and doesn’t want to be without us.  He isn’t mad, he misses us.  All of us and everywhere.

 

Lighten up, 2016

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In 2016, I had a major job transition.  As of July 1, I had no guaranteed income, no health insurance for my family and no real idea what provision would look like moving forward.  Now, to know me, is to know I’m a bit of a controller and a planner.  Perhaps more than ‘a bit’.  I’m most of the time too intense for most others in my drive to push ahead and plan strategically.  I’m a doer and a planner, a starter, a leader, a ‘make things happen’ kinda guy.  I was left with all the big questions of a Father of 3, husband to 1 and the responsibility of the majority of our income for 23 years of marriage.

I was faced with all the familiar voices to listen to:  fear, anxiety, depression, anger, heaviness, despair, control, urgency, scarcity, shame, guilt etc.

Then in my raw and honest moments of genuine prayer, I began to hear a different voice.  It was gentle, at peace, sure, confident, full, light, generous, gracious, hopeful, fun, creative, joyful, bold and . . . sustainable.  It was a mindset I could grow to live into and let it sustain me regardless of my circumstances.  I could choose to ‘lighten up’ and have zero changes to my circumstances and yet experientially live them differently.  As I chose to listen to that voice and give it my attention, energy and opportunity started sparking up all around me.  Even though I still do not have a traditional ‘job’ per se, my family’s needs have been completely taken care of.  I’m working hard at freelancing and provision has come in a myriad of ways.

I have no ‘job’, no guaranteed income and yet I’ve never been more excited about the future.  Creativity is a constant companion.  Every day has been full of new opportunity and potentials are in every conversation.  Instead of a heavy slave-master of having to control it all myself, I’m trusting in a Provider who has never left me without.  I’m learning to ‘lighten up’ and enjoy the ride, no matter the circumstances.  Even in difficult scenarios, I’m more present, more alive in the situation, fear hasn’t sucked the life out of my presence.

By no longer trying to strong-arm my life; I became truly powerful.  Confidence is rising and expectations for goodness are the norm.  In this mindset, my freedom and my creativity are more dangerous.  I’m choosing what I want to pick a fight with and I’m enjoying every punch I get to throw along the way at life’s bullies.  When darkness and doubt come to my doorstep, I War with words of thankfulness and gratefulness.  In this discipline, I ‘lighten up’ and the clouds begin to dissipate and the sun rises again on my hope.

Forever the cynic, I’ve become a bit of Mr. Positivity and it’s incredibly more healthy for me.  I am eager to see where it all takes me in 2017.  But I’m thankful for the lesson in 2016 to ‘lighten up’.

Residing with Mortals?

“‘But will God indeed reside with mortals on earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built!” -2 Chron. 6:18-19 (King Solomon)

Friends, do not be fooled by the cooing baby in the manger or the swaddling clothes. Though physically an infant, in reality he was not vulnerable, he was the creator and sustainer of the entire universe come for a visit. Immanuel . . . God with us.
The reality is he doesn’t need us, rather we need him. If we did not bring ourselves into being then we are on a great search for the truth about who we are, why we are here and what we are to do. Not unlike the shepherds and wise men, we travel afar for the answers to life’s great questions.


The beauty of Christmas is not that God needed us but it is that he WANTED us. God does not need to reside with mortals on earth . . . but he did. He chose to. He chose you. He chose us. Our choice is to come humbly to that manger and bow low, the King has come and his gift is pure Love. In that Love, we find who we really are both now and forever. The proper response is a primal shout of Hope. Immanuel, God with us. #hallelujah

Shepherds and the Ghetto

The 1st century Shepherd, no longer the esteemed wealth acquiring job producer of 1k years previous, now the lowest rung of the Palestinian caste ladder; the dirty labor class. They weren’t considered cute and adorable as our Christmas pageants parade them in burlap, they were detestable, high in stench, assumingly deeply sinful and dirty. Having no social status it is they who receive the esteemed invitation to a Manger. Why not the religious leaders? Why not the powerful elite? Why not the educated do-gooders?

From it’s infancy, the life and teachings of Jesus have had a prejudice towards the marginalized, the outsider, the looked down upon, the lost, the broken, the poor, the laborers, the dirty, the deeply sinful . . . the shepherd-types. If this is you, know that the Jesus of the Manger has an unyielding affection for you despite the prejudices of this world. If this isn’t you, the Manger tells you to humble yourself and remember you used to be. No one is immune to the unquenchable affection of the Creator when He enters into His Creation and starts making announcements.


The Manger is a ghetto, we are taught to go around them, not to them or in them. But nowhere, nobody and nothing is forgotten at the Manger. It all matters in a beautiful Creation. Find your ghetto, and love their today. It is the love of the Manger that announces hope and brings peace on earth. The invitation is open . . .

 

Broken Strength

 brokenpetals

“Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”  ― Brené Brown

I am of the opinion that being honest about our frailty, our weakness, our vulnerabilities is part of what makes us strong in the end.  Embracing our brokenness is an element of what actually makes us whole.  Admitting that we don’t ‘have it all together’ is actually a crucial part of what God may want to do to ‘bring it all together’.  When you live under Grace, strength and competency is not a requirement.  #thankGod

Why pretend?  Why put on a false-self just to please others and their judgment of you?  Why show others an imposter that’s not the real you? If they do return the affirmation you crave they still aren’t affirming the real you; just the imposter you put out there for them to accept.  If it’s not you, it won’t satisfy, you will be left in the same discontentment of your folly. It’s not strong to pretend, it’s a fearful reaction to potential rejection.

You want to be a strong leader?  Act powerfully, and it starts with living with, in and through your own vulnerability.  People aren’t looking for leaders who play ‘make believe’ about their real selves, they are looking for the compelling experience of raw authenticity and it’s a rare thing.  People need a leader they can relate to but are living beyond them so that they can lead them to a land they’ve not yet been.  If you are pretending about your own self, as Brennan Manning puts it: ‘you are handing out travel brochures to places you’ve never been.’   

There’s a beauty and a strength in brokenness.  It requires inner strength and confidence to admit weakness, to risk rejection, to put our real selves ‘out there’.  It requires that you are rooted in another place than the affection of your followers, it requires that your identity is rooted somewhere else than in the acceptance of others.  It’s a confidence in who you are and who you belong to no matter what the crowds say.  It’s a place of raw, holy and Broken Strength.  

If you learn to live there, there is nothing that can move you.  Nothing.  Anchor down in Broken Strength.  

“Our life is full of brokenness – broken relationships, broken promises, broken expectations. How can we live with that brokenness without becoming bitter and resentful except by returning again and again to God’s faithful presence in our lives.” – Henri Nouwen