Blubber: a story of staying pudgy

This follow-up to my non-viral post, the most vulnerable thing I’ve ever written to people on the Internet, is really more of a prequel, which makes this a lot like whatever happened with the Star Wars movies.

How did I get to the point of not loving me? That sounds too inclusive. It’s not all of me, just the physical me, so no big deal.

It took a while to get here, but let me let you join me on the journey.

I wasn’t always pudgy. No. There were pre-pudge glory years of an eon past.

Domination to Deflation

The year was 1990. The place, my hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee. The setting was the Knox County area elementary field day. You can sense the excitement and anticipation in the stands, filled to overflowing with hundreds of kids stupefied by classmates hopping around in potato sacks.

I didn’t participate in an honorable mention event, though, people of the Internet. I was fast. No lie. Like a Nick Cage movie to DVD fast.

My event was the 100-yard dash. I owned it, probably due to the stellar coaching of my PE teacher who was none other than Kenny Chesney’s dad. I never met Kenny. But, add 100ish pounds to the blue chair sittin’ fella holding the pirate flag and chilled rum concoction, and that’s Kenny’s dad.

A slight slip on some loose gravel at the sound of the starting gun meant I had ground to make up. But I already told you. I was fast. I won that race in 1990.

I’d never win another one (until I had kids and totally dominate).

The following year at our school field day/qualifying meet of the now-defunct Giffin Elementary, I came in third place. I didn’t trip or even go down it sprinter ESPN 30 for 30 style with a pulled a hammy. I just lost because I was slower than other people.

So what happened? How was my glory so short-lived? Were my socks too high (not possible, it was ’91)? Was my shirt tucked too tightly into the elastic waistband of my shorts? I need to know why!

It’s pretty simple, actually. Corn dogs.

Corn dogs and mashed potatoes and chicken-and-dumplings and Dr. Pepper and Cheese Wiz and copious amounts of banana pudding.

My heart didn’t quit on me that field day. My metabolism did.

That may not be 100% accurate, scientifically speaking, but it feels right, so let’s run with it.

I was an active kid. Riding my bike around the hood, playing basketball, baseball, 1.5 years of football (apparently it’s full contact, not a fan), tennis. But such frivolous activity couldn’t compete with my soul-deep desire for biscuits and gravy and milk…always milk.

Fashionably Unfit

My speed faded as fast as MySpace. But something else happened, an inexplicable phenomenon that was beyond my control.

Silk shirts happened.

Button up silk shirts, to be exact. I was given a couple as gifts, probably along with socks and a serving of gravy at Christmastime.

I wore them. Proudly apparently, since, living on in my parent’s house is a school picture of me in the multi-striped silky of fifth grade rivaled only by Joseph’s coat of many colors. That shirt, as fly as it was, couldn’t hide a couple of new features I was sporting.

  1. A less defined chin. Sure to capture the admiration of all lady people, my neck was growing upward. Strange.
  2. A mysterious case of gynecomastia.

In other words, my face was getting chubby. Also, what’s gynecomastia, you ask? It’s serious, people.

Maybe you know this condition by its street name…man-boob. What causes this mystery illness? Turns out it’s the same root cause of slowness.

Corn dogs and mashed potatoes and chicken-and-dumplings and Dr. Pepper and Cheese Wiz and copious amounts of banana pudding. Did I fail to mention that there is no cheese in Cheese Whiz? It’s just whiz.

Some dudes put on weight in their bellies and it never hits their chests. Others carry the excess in their posteriors or thighs–if only, my friends. My stowaway luggage fits nicely into the ever-so-obvious pectoral region, not to mention my face and tummy. Such is the pattern my fourth-grade self experienced for the first time.

Want proof that I’m still pudgy? My lovely, supportive, sensitive wife just professed her love the other day saying, “I’ve never even seen an ab on you.”

Just one. That’s all the poor girl wants. She isn’t greedy.

I’d like to give her that ab show–just the one. No more, lest I become vain and call down the Lawd’s wrath.

For Better or Fat

To be fair, I wasn’t ripped, as they say, when my bride and I said our death vows. I wasn’t fat, but I wasn’t svelte. I was pudgy…say it again with me – pudgy. Even the word sounds fat.

Early on in our wedded bliss, we moved to California where people tend to be fit. If not they just own it and wear tighter pants. Kudos to you, California.

I was in seminary and working at a church. Seminary is code for, I’m putting on 30 pounds and you can’t stop me. At 6-feet tall, I was a soft 225 pounds. It wasn’t handsome, burly, or any other manly adjective. The buttons on my shirt were sweating, and I was sweating. Lots of sweating.

Something had to give, mainly because my wife had a hard time looking at me. Mind you, when she did look she couldn’t miss me. So I started running and not eating crap. What happened?

I lost 40 pounds. My gynecomastia was cured! It’s a miracle!!

Yes, science is a miracle. Does that make me a doctor? I don’t know. You be the judge of that.

As a doctor, I discovered that the secret to not being fat is exercise and an appropriate diet (not a crazy can’t keep it up diet, just a healthy way of eating and being). **Disclaimer** Yes, there are actual medical conditions that make weight management difficult.** End disclaimer.

But, even after dropping the weight of a 3-yr-old, did Lindsey see that ab?? Nope. Pay closer attention.

What Now?

I’m working on the pudge purge. Persistence is the name of the game. I’ve made so many plans and set so many lofty goals that I don’t care to do either again. Persistence, though, she’s a gift. Show up each day. Say no to the kids’ scraps from dinner and from eating one of everything that goes in their lunch because that’s eating four extra lunches.

I don’t even like the saying “progress, not perfection” because then I feel crappy that my progress isn’t progressive enough. That’s why I say persistence. I’m becoming the guy who shows up each day. Who says no to the doughnut, even after taking a bite and feeling the shame that leads to spitting it out.

Here’s to the journey. Of course, you’ll be at the top of the list of folks I let know when the elusive abdominal comes out of hibernation.

The most vulnerable thing I have ever written to people on the Internet

Computer generated depiction of what I’d look like as Chris Hemsworth playing Thor

I don’t know how to say it or where to start.

It’s incredibly uncomfortable to write.

Here goes — body image has been a big thing for me for a long time.

No turning back.

I used to be thin. Yeah, six was a good age.

But something happened. All the corndogs and bologna just stayed around, as is affixed to my body until death do us part. Weird. If only science had been around in the 80s and early 90s.

Since then, I’ve dreaded summer. Pool time. The beach.

Why say it now, Patrick? Why here? Why trust me with it?

Well, trusted Internet blog reader person, putting myself out there will bring accountability. The incomparable Seth Godin talks about the importance of publishing, putting words out there for people to read or not. The important part is hitting the publish button.

So now you have the weighty responsibility of helping hold me accountable with eating and exercise and endurance training and exciting runs and excruciating foam roller sessions.

Not looking for perfection. The goal is to show up each day. See you tomorrow. Not literally. This is the Internet.

Enough Sexy, Bring the Romance Back

JT, bringing sexy back

When Justin Timberlake brought sexy back in 2006, I was a few weeks away from getting married. That was the perfect time to bring it back since I’d be spending a lush seven days in St. Lucia with my bride. This post isn’t about that trip, or even my marriage, but indulge with me.

While JT brought it back, I sent sexy packing again by stockpiling about 30 lbs of not muscle within a year or so. I was basically a barrel with arms and legs. No amount of sensuous R&B or mood lighting was going to make that sexy.

I wasn’t really romantic in that time either, not like when I was in high school and college. Point of fact, in the years of yesterfar the iconic rain embrace scene from The Notebook was my desktop background. My movie genre of choice was Romantic Comedies. News flash: the love fern is dead.

While I wasn’t always the best human I could be, I cared about romantics. I had the crushes and made the mixtapes (if you listen closely you can still hear K-Ci & JoJo singing ‘All My Life’). I would wait for the daily top five countdown with a blank cassette tape in my JVC boombox (exact model in the pic), ready to hit play and record with Ethan Hunt precision. Your mission, should you choose to accept it–try not to fall in love with the guy who made this wicked tape!

If all went according to plan, the progression of relationship would go as follows:

“I like you.” “We’re talking.” “Want to go out?” “Want to be boyfriend and girlfriend?” “Let’s get married.”

Something formative happens in the midst of hopeless romanticism and being head over heels in like. Something formative also happens in its absence.

Hello Sexy, Goodbye Romance

When sexy came onto campus, she kicked romance out the door. It wouldn’t be long before twerking would be a thing. And with twerking came the end of civilization or, at least, civilized courtship, dating, and age-appropriate romance. Meaningful communication took a nosedive. Kids would never know what it’s like to breathe over the phone for an hour in between spurts of pubescent awkwardness.

Younger generations have been dating digitally way before COVID. It’s why right now there are umpteen teens in passenger seats while mom drives, thumbs flail across digital keypads as if independent from the body. Swiping, scrolling, sending, sliding into DMs. Gotta keep the streaks alive, am I right? I’m a savage. You’re a savage. We’re all savages. Screens have yet to make anyone more human.

I’m not anti-technology. I kept it 100 when I courted my wife on AOL instant messenger. Now feels different, though. Impersonal. Unembodied. Confusing attention for affirmation and affection. Thus the birth of arched back photos, ratchets, and body counts.

Sensual Death Tolls

If you’re out of the slang game, a body count no longer only refers to casualties of war, terrorist attacks, or natural disasters. No, dear friend. Language once reserved for the worst disasters is now how many people someone has been with sexually. Every young girl’s dream…to be on Mr. Right’s hitlist. A casualty of war.

Why so serious? Because the anguish I, and plenty of others, feel is deep. It’s like watching Dorian Grays frolicking in fantasy as if their portrait tucked away in the attic isn’t externally disfigured as a result of their internal decadence.

How sad to watch hearts longing for romance settling for rendezvous. Once hopeful sprites for love now given over to the lowest common sexual denominator because what other choice is there? This is a bit of a cry for help. I’m crying out to parents and teachers and friends and churches.

It starts with giving an alternative, better picture of romance and relationship. Including romantic pursuit, conversation, flirting, dating, notes, and all the things. For those who are married, would you be thrilled if your kids had your marriage? I can’t address everyone here. I’m asking for folks who are interested to raise their romance quotient.

Part of why I published this is to make myself for accountable in romancing my girl. She deservers way more. Time to step up. Our kids get giddy when they see us flirt and kiss. But there’s more to it, and I’m looking forward to the challenge. Chances are, someone reading this has a boy one of our three daughters will like one day. So get on it. Give your boy a robust picture of romance.

Switch to Side B for the rest of the tape.

Life has lyrics to forget

I used to watch Newlyweds. I did. I loved it. I also love that it has a Wikipedia page as well to tag when writing about Newlyweds.

Nick and Jessica will forever be in my heart. Not in one another’s. But mine, yes.

I saw a clip years later of Nick and his brother Drew singing at their grandmother’s wedding (or something like that). For those who weren’t in the coolest of cool groups in the 90s, one of 98 Degrees’ biggest hits was I Do, Cherish You. It was a mixed CD staple.

In the 90s, you could only wear denim and white, in no particular order.

It was also a redo of a country song, which may be the only boy band hit to boast such a genesis. Regardless, Nick Lachey probably sang that song 1,000 times, scientifically speaking.

So there Nick and Drew are, at granny’s wedding (or something like that), rehearsing for the walk down the aisle. And Nick doesn’t remember the words! Oh, Nick, you’re so crazy, forgetting the words to the song you sang for 10 years.

It’s comical how something so familiar can feel so foreign at times.

I have a great friend who is a great singer of great songs he’s written. He used to forget words to his own songs. It was always awkward.

My son loves to sing. In the shower. Doing chores. In the car. Doing chores in the shower before getting in the car. Singing is his favorite. Christmas is also his favorite, which means Christmas songs are his favorite favorite.

A few weeks ago he boldly belted out O Come, Let Us Adore Him. He knew the melody. He knew when to go up and down and when to get softer and louder. That he didn’t know the correct words seemed a non-factor to his ill-formed frontal cortex. As far as he was concerned, he was nailing it.

Ready for what any of that goobly gop has to do with our adult lives?

I can’t help but feel that there are days upon days when it seems I know the tune…maybe I’ve even sung it perfectly before. Marriage, parenting, friendship, conflict, work, finances. We have lots of songs to sing.

We know the crescendos and tempo changes, but doggonit, sometimes I can’t remember the blasted words!!

I know what marriage is supposed to sound like and how that relationship is intended to flow and how my job harmonizes with it all. But I’m singing and just. can’t. remember. the. next. ___________.

Those moments are going to happen. I’ve appreciated when artists have just owned it right there in the moment and didn’t pretend like they were perfect. They laughed at themselves and made everyone feel free to laugh as well.

At 36, I’m learning to own my lyrical amnesia. I’ve been owning it a lot lately.

  • Sorry, children…it’s not you, it’s me.
  • Sorry, babe…it’s the kids, not you. Okay, no, that’s me too.
  • Sorry, teacher at school…that was my fault.
  • Sorry, person struggling to figure out the merge lane…it really is you and you’re the only one who doesn’t know it so I’m not owning that one.

What do we do in those frightful moments when the music’s playing, but the lyrics just aren’t there?

I think we keep singing. Keep belting it out like we know what we’re doing. And when it’s clear–even if only to ourselves–that we’ve forgotten the lyrics, we own it. Name it. Laugh or ask forgiveness or confess or whatever the moment requires. 

And if you’re wondering

I do, cherish you
For the rest of my life
You don’t have to think twice
I will, love you still, from the depths of my soul

 Love, Nick and Patrick (we do share a birthday, so that counts)

The Journey Towards a Better Death (and life)

architect-architecture-black-and-white-1537008The better game is one we all play even though it never promises a return.

We pay for the next better, move cities to find the next better, cheat on a spouse to experience the next better. There really is no end in the quest to find this psychological sasquatch.

One of the ways it has shown up in my life over the years is with church and employment.

Southerners are especially skilled in playing the better game with churches. The perfect one is out there. I’m going to find it. The one where the pastor preaches a strong, theologically rich sermon with hilarious stories, poignant illustrations, priceless application and all in 30 minutes or less, like an episode of that new Netflix show, F.R.I.E.N.D.S.

In my mind, there was always a better preacher. A better worship experience. A better atmosphere. There had to be. This could not be the pinnacle of church.

And I carried that same mentality and quest for better into my graduate education and professional career.

So by 2013, after 7 years of marriage, we’d moved 11 times (a couple of which were in the same city to a different living situation, but my wife still counts those as moves). Granted, at least I didn’t say I was feeling “called” to Nowheresville. We set up camp in Savannah, Los Angeles, St. Louis–all great cities.

My graduate transcript was a registrar’s worst nightmare. It probably looked more like a word search than a transcript.

After all my searching and gypsy-like moving, where did we end up? Daggum Bluff City, TN. You have to say daggum in a sentence with Bluff City.

That’s a very generous use of the word City, by the way.

But there I was. There we were.

I went from megachurch to megachurch in search of better and ended up being most satisfied pastorally and professionally working in this little, out of the way church and at a Christian school.

At Bunker Hill Christian, there was nobody waiting to be wowed. They wanted to be loved. I didn’t hit a home run with that one, but I grew. Oh so slowly. But they were kind, patient, and gracious.

That season was refining in the sense that it exposed the prideful dross that covered every inch of me. That pride kept me from living a Hebrews 11 life. It would keep from dying a Hebrews 11 death.

Even when I thought I was seeking first God’s kingdom, I was very much at home here. I was an earthly citizen through and through, ALL about the tangible, measurable, and quantifiable.

From childhood to adulthood, the next achievement, next girl, next church, next city, the next better was supposed to make me feel like I’d arrived.

My grand realization? Fundamentally, these were all things I could manipulate. All I had to do was say, Well, God’s calling me to California. Calling me to St. Louis. Calling me to break up with you (best.line.ever).

It doesn’t take faith to manipulate. It takes faith to live and move toward that which you do not control.

Hebrews 11 again

10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

There’s only one truly better city, better scenario, better whatever. The city of God.

There is a future that will only be fashioned by faithfulness in the moment. The Architect has the plans drawn up. But He is also the Builder. So what’s our part?

It may sound like this conclusion to Hebrews 11

32 And what more can I say? Time is too short for me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets, 33 who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the raging of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received their dead, raised to life again. Other people were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36 Others experienced mockings and scourgings, as well as bonds and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. 38 The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and on mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. 39 All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.

What better epithet could you ask for than verse 38?

    The world was not worthy of them

Only a person who has lived for a better world will have that said of them.

But like the folks in the text, I can’t sit idly by and dream of the better place.

So, a word to the dreamer like me who can’t get no satisfaction.

Pastor Darrin in Pooler, GA said something one Sunday while we were visiting. I can’t shake it. Keep your eyes fixed on heaven, but get your head out of the clouds, he said. Mind your business, I thought.

No, it really did hit me. Translation for my life? Stop being a critic without bringing a contribution. I’d made a living doing that. The pay is terrible.

I’m asking God to do something with my imagination other than have it be an idol factory that spawns discontentment and petty thoughts. I want to bloom where I’m planted as those flowery journals at Target quip.

But part of our spiritual journeys is smashing face first into the transcendent reality that the lasting satisfaction and fulfillment we seek won’t be found this side of forever. No thing. No one. It won’t happen.

That realization should be even greater fodder for the fire of exhausting all resources in this life on the journey towards what matters most. And it’s probably not the latest facebook fight or Twitter mud slinging contest.

I have a finite amount of time, energy, and resources, and this is what or who God has put in front of me right now, and I’m going to catalyze those resources to make the most and best of my actual life right now—and by faith it will produce a better life and death.

Eyes on heaven. Heads out of the clouds.

I’m going to cultivate the very ground in which I’m presently planted to see the fruit that God wants to grow in me and through me, for my good, the good of those around me, and for His glory.

Selah.

The Better You’ve Been Longing For

nathan-dumlao-1120872-unsplash

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Welcome to part 3 of this lovely series on why happiness eludes you, experiences disappoint you, and dreams deceive you.

In case you’re just joining in, I’ll give you the bottom line — it boils down to the idea of better. You can read parts 1 and 2 to catch up or fall asleep, your choice.

For those picking up after part deux, you were left with but a centimeter of your posterior hanging on the edge of your seat, wondering what in the world happens in Hebrews 11 to these men and women who lived by faith and died in faith, having never witnessed or grasped that for which they so deeply longed.

There are two helpful summaries about these men and women in relation to better.

Summary 1 is Hebrews 11.13-16.

These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised. But they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth14 Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland15 If they were thinking about where they came from, they would have had an opportunity to return. 16 But they now desire a better place—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. 

Summary 2 comes at the end of the chapter in verses 39 and 40.

All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.

So these faithful men and women who’ve gone before us by thousands of years, listened and obeyed God–not perfectly–but to the point that it was clear their better was not a better to be grasped in this world.

This feels like that moment where the preacher has no application and leans hard on  aren’t you glad heaven is waiting? Now, let’s stand and sing eight stanzas of I’ll Fly Away into Beulah Land somewhere over Jordan!

So yes, no wool to pull over your eyes, the better is forever. It’s eternity. It’s with God in His presence for eternity.

But I don’t think that is the main point for the writer of Hebrews. There is a pursuit of better here and now. The letter doesn’t continue on with a charge to suck it up until you die. 

Chapter 12 carries on with physically vigorous exercise words like lay aside every hindrance/weight and run the race with endurance. There’s no passive laisse faire spiritual gobbly goop there.

Run. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. He’s the one who got you started, and he’s the one who will get you across the finish line.

And oh that moment. That moment when your race is done. That moment when I fall into the arms of my Savior. That moment.

Having never laid hands or eyes on that which we longed and lived for, we will know in an instant that nothing was done in vain. We will be reassured one billion times over that there was nothing or no one on earth worth trading for a city that only God can build and an inheritance that only God can afford.

  • That moment will be better than whatever awkward bliss you can achieve with your girlfriend or boyfriend in your car or your apartment.
  • It will be better than whatever subdivision you dream of living in but can’t seem to afford.
  • It will be better than that car or lifted truck or boat or house or outfit or purse or batting average or GPA that you think will satisfy your itch for better or make your dad proud.

What’s it all mean?

May I be blunt? Of course I can; I’m writing.

There is no better this world affords that will be better enough.

It feels wrong to say it, type it, read it, believe it. But it’s true.

The only better that will satisfy is the better that lasts forever.

An obsession with that better will yield a life of beauty and purpose here and now. There is something about looking out and walking the path of long obedience that, invisibly and invariably, satisfies in the end.

For lack of a better word, it’s better.

I  will conclude this series next time with my own grasping for better story.

Until then.

 

Seeking a Better Better in a World of Imposters

So you’ve been bamboozled by the idea of better your entire life, as I mentioned in the last post. Nobody said that’s what was happening, but it happened. And it carries on.

Right now, some of you reading this are thinking about the better job or car or shoes or purse or blog (shame on you for that last one). But it’s in us. We want better. We crave better. We have anxiety over better and imagine ourselves living in, driving, or sleeping with better.

We shouldn’t be surprised by the fact that better is so alluring. The first advertising campaign on earth had to do with better.

It took all of three chapters in Genesis for Eve to be convinced that she could be

agriculture-apple-blur-257840

Just one bite?

better and life could be better if she’d just eat of the fruit from a specific tree.

Both she and Adam took the bait of better, hook, line, and sinker. And then everyone blamed someone, but that’s a different topic.

Better is that low hanging fruit, right there in front of your face non-stop. It seems so reachable, so pleasing to the eye, and it must be wonderful to experience. 

  • With ladies, I think about social media and the gnawing sense that her life is better. It’s constant.
  • For the gents living in a hypersexualized culture, it’s evident that the Internet thinks you can get better, and for cheap. Why bother with real people when virtual people will fulfill your fantasies?

Better is everywhere. It wears many masks.

It may be worth noting here that my hope is NOT that you would abandon better. I want you to believe in better. There is a reason that longing is in you. It just may be a wildly different better altogether. It’s a better that, in an election year, will make people frustrated and simultaneously prevent you from slinging mud on the facebook…because you don’t think better will be won at the polls, at not the better folks are slandering, lying, and cussing to grasp.

I found myself some time back re-reading through the letter of Hebrews in the New Testament, which really reads best if you do it all at one time. It’s more like a sermon.

Hebrews chapter 11, in particular, is where this is all coming from.

This chapter is sometimes called the hall of faith because it is replete with the names and stories of some of the who’s who of the OT

Enoch. Noah. Moses. Abraham. Sarah.

The refrain of the chapter is by faith. By faith Noah–by faith Abraham–by faith Israel…

In order to not be confused about what faith is, God is kind enough to tell us exactly what faith is at the beginning of chapter 11

Hebrews 11.1 Now faith is the reality (confidence) of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. (CSB) 

> The glaring oddity about faith and your walk with Christ is that it’s wrapped up in things not seen.

It’s not that the empirical, visible, or tangible doesn’t matter. But rather, that the transcendent, intangible, and invisible matter more, at least in terms of what governs the way you live.

As you might expect, this is a pervasive theme throughout the Bible. That we live amidst the visible and invisible.

It’s this tension that makes so many college students and academics uncomfortable.

It’s what drives attempts by Bible professors who’ve spent nearly a decade in doctoral programs to explain away the supernatural.

And yet much of the focus in Hebrews 11 is on these men and women who were faithful even when they didn’t see what was promised to them by God in this life. Those who were captivated by the invisible, by faith.

  • Abraham didn’t see descendants as numerous as the stars.
  • Moses didn’t see the Promised Land in all its glory.

In the next post, I will point you to a summary of several of these lives and their having died without seeing the better they so longed to experience. Faithful men and women who, thousands of years before we ever cared about a thing, listened and obeyed God, not perfectly, but to the degree that it was clear their better was vastly different than the better we’ve become accustomed to chasing.

Here’s to a better better.

Leading with Authority, part 4: True Authority

Washing_of_the_FeetTrue authority, as hinted at in parts 2 and 3, is enacted when the one in authority acts as one authorized. That is, she is under the authority of another and not acting capriciously or arbitrarily.

How, then, does true authority behave? What’s the goal for those who wish to exercise godly authority and ultimately honor God’s authority?

As Charlotte Mason says, this authority is a trust. It’s not my own. It’s a stewardship. I will never forget pastor Andy Stanley’s classic leadership talk: Leadership is a stewardship. It’s temporary. And I’m accountable. 

In other words, folks, the buck doesn’t stop here. Autonomy is an illusion. To live as autonomous, or, as a law unto oneself, is to be a lunatic living in a fantasy land. To think there will never be an accounting for the measure of authority I, you, we exercise is foolish. Anyone in authority is accountable to a greater authority, always.

With that in mind, what does Christ-like authority look like?

1. It’s gentle. That is, it doesn’t seek to cause offense to someone. We refuse to be arbitrary or unreasonable.

2. It is alert and aware. This may seem odd but think about it. Good leaders know the tendencies of those in their care. You know when certain kids are more apt to misbehave and you prepare them for those moments.

  • For example: It’s time for an assembly, which is prime time for shenanigans. Good authorities would prepare people for that moment. “I know some of you are going to be tempted to talk and cut up. Remember, we want to give respect to the person talking. We want to cultivate the habit of attention. (I may even call on a few of you to narrate back what was said at times).”
    • How much better is this than a pre-scolding and then expecting the worst?
  • So we’re alert and aware of what we know will be difficult…that last moment of play-time. The final round of a game.
    • In our house, this is illustrated best at bedtime. We have to prepare for bedtime at our house because temptation abounds–to keep talking, to get out of bed, to
    • There are those things in the life of the school day as well. Prepare the students. Be proactive. Just as Jesus repeatedly tried to prepare the disciples for his departure…though they didn’t get it.

3. Authority is marked by timely clemency and timely yielding (Mason’s words). In layman’s terms, you know when to pull back a little and ease up…when to let grace have more of a place. And you know as well when to press in and let the waters of justice roll.  But, always with care, because if everything is a something, then your authority will mean nothing to the people around you. 

  • This is so important, I’ll say it a different way. If you make everything an issue, if everything is a battle that has to be fought, you’ll exasperate your students. Just like you would exasperate a spouse. And those spouses who live with an “everything is a something” spouse know exactly what I’m saying.

We should assess our motives for why we’re addressing something. Is it truly disruptive to the class? Is it disrespectful to someone? Is it detrimental to that child’s formation? Or, most likely, does it just sort of bother me, and I don’t really like it–so I’m going to now make a quick rule, and another rule, and another.

4. Authority pays careful attention to each person and situation to determine what’s required.

  • Ephesians 4.29 really speaks into this: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
    • Corrupting means rotten and worthless–like spoiled fruit
    • Building up (even in disciplinary moments)–am I highlighting and honoring the image of God in this student?
    • As fits the occasion means I am fully aware of when I should press in or pull back.
    • That it may give grace to the hearer… Like, that person should feel you have done something good for them, even if the correction or redirection was hard. They should be able to look back at that encounter and say, “I really appreciate the way Mr/Mrs. Smith spoke to me.”
      • If a young child cries because of an interaction with you, it cannot be because of an autocratic presence. It should be those moments where you’re so tender and the Spirit has room to move in their hearts that they can’t help but crumble and let the tears flow.
      • If an older student is made at you because you addressed an issue, it cannot be because you were snide or biting or shaming in any way. It should be because they’re embarrassed by their own behavior and feel the shame that should come with violating godly authority.

——————— And that brings us to the application side of things—————–

On the application side, here’s what you know about yourself: you lean towards applying authority the way you saw it applied growing up, especially in your anxious moments. (if you were raised under a more autocratic, harsh, impatient regime–that’s where you’ll lean in difficult moments).

The goal is for all of us to grow up and mature, by Christ’s power, into men and women who are able to govern well within our different offices of authority and to constantly ask ourselves, “Who gave me this authority?” Answer: God. And to Him I am accountable.

And when you think about all of this at a very practical level, here’s what we know about kids of all ages (as well as ourselves)–and it’s something Charlotte Mason highlights: We must be content to lead by slow degrees.

  • What she means is we have to be okay with a little progress here and a little progress there. Because we know that human souls are not shaped in leaps and bounds. Human minds aren’t shaped in leaps and bounds.

Every little step, no matter how tiny, is an arrival.

Thus, the way in which we express authority is an act of love, because ultimately, how do we express authority if not in love? Self-denial. Self-repression. Self-sacrifice.

Lindsey and I talk often about how our worst parenting practices arise out of selfishness. When we just turn a video on for the kids rather than getting down on the floor and playing–it’s selfish. It isn’t self-denial….we call it survival. Or when we’re outside WHILE the kids are playing, but we aren’t engaged. When it’s bedtime and rather than reading, singing, and praying, we’re dictating and threatening.

A word of caution from Mason in closing. We will never govern well if we desire the favor of our subjects. If we’re easily distracted. Or if we love the easy life.

  • If any of those are a sticking point for you, it may be that God is inviting you into a different calling.

In just three weeks of school, you have already had all more contact with kids than their pastors will have with them in a calendar year. That’s crazy! We have an inescapable responsibility to steward the authority God has given us. To point these kids to Jesus in good times and bad.

So, dear brother. Beloved sister. If you don’t have a set apart time with Jesus in the morning, I’d go ahead and just call in for a sub that day. Because you cannot fulfill the calling that we’ve been given without abiding in Jesus Christ. In that John 15 sense of abiding in Christ and remaining attached to the vine, knowing that apart from him there is NO nourishment.

That abiding is also our saving grace. In it, we’re reminded that God’s grace is upon us. He knows our weaknesses and has called us still to play this particular role for such a time as this.

Solia deo gloria

Leading With Authority, part 3: How to Be an Autocrat

Part One in this series introduced the weighty reality that children are image bearers of God and, as such, educators and persons in authority over children must treat them as image bearers. This means there is no such thing as an ordinary day at school.

Part Two laid out a key distinction regarding the location of authority. Simply put, authority rests not with a particular person, but with the office that person occupies. A principal, for example, has no authority in herself, but the office of principal holds the authority. Once a person begins operating according to her own impulse and not as one authorized, she forfeits true authority and become an autocrat.

This post addresses how autocracy behaves. So, if you want to be an autocrat, just follow these simple steps!

As a reminder, autocracy is defined as independent or self-derived power.

Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Kim Jong Un—a person operating according to his own impulse is an autocrat.

To bring it into the classroom and make it a little more real–that impulse may even be as simple as yelling, belittling, or doling out some arbitrary punishment in order to bring oneself back to a place of calm (at the expense of the child, to be clear).

Charlotte Mason speaks of the distinction between authority and autocracy in relation to the Centurion who interacts with Jesus in Matthew 8. Jesus possessed all the authority in and under heaven. But he did not leverage against or lord it over people.

The Centurion in Matthew 8 remarked that he too was a man under authority. In other words, he recognized that Jesus did not operate according to his own agenda, enacting seemingly arbitrary regulations and harsh repercussions for disobedience.

If Jesus had been an autocrat, how might he have behaved?

  • Impatient
  • Resentful (mainly because someone isn’t giving me the respect I–not my office–deserve)
  • On the watch for transgressions
    • If you work for someone who makes you feel like he’s watching and waiting for you to fail in some way, you are probably working for an autocrat.
    • If you as a teacher are watching or waiting for a child to fail in some way, you are probably being an autocrat.
  • Swift to take offense
    • Are you easily offended?
      • As a parent, as a teacher, as a coach, as a school employee—you and I are the adults in the room. And when the kids see us not behaving like adults (which is synonymous with being autocratic and arbitrary) then we are leading them where we don’t want to take them.
      • If as an adult you’re easily offended and resort to childishness, you may be an autocrat.

Another significant behavior of autocracy is the implementation of extensive regulations. A drastic penal code, Mason suggests, is necessary because an autocrat needs everyone else to know where they stand in my presence. And I’ll do whatever is necessary to keep myself in a place of calm and feeling in control.

To wrap it up, if you want to be an autocrat…

  1. Be impatient with people (think of them more as problems to be fixed or projects to be completed)
  2. Be resentful (have this thought a lot-“don’t they know who I am”)
  3. Be on the watch for someone to mess up (see #5)
  4. Be easily offended (usually a sign of immense insecurity)
  5. Be heavy on regulations, rules, commandments, and repercussions (because how else can you judge if someone measures up?)

Make these five behaviors the foundation of your leadership and you too can be an A-level Autocrat!

Leading with Authority, part 2: A Key Distinction Regarding the Locus of Authority (Because who wants another Hitler?)

Yes, I used the word locus. Me, 1 – The World, 0.

This is part 2 in a series on what true authority really looks like, or, how it behaves.

After reading Charlotte Mason’s writings on this matter, I was both convinced and convicted.

  • I became convinced that how we treat a student is more important than what we teach a student. For those cynics in the crowd, don’t run off into the weeds with that statement. I’m not talking about teaching falsehood or garbage.
    • What I am saying is that how we relate to these young Persons is paramount if we want them to love learning, let alone love our schools. Of that, I am convinced. 
  • I am also convicted. After reading Charlotte Mason, I am staggered by the thought of how often I resort to autocracy with my own children, rather than functioning faithfully within the office of authority God has bestowed upon me as a father.
    • That distinction between authority and autocracy should be clearer by the end of this series. 

So what I want to do is begin with a key distinction regarding the locus of authority–that is, where is authority actually located. From there I will move to what autocracy is and how it behaves and finish up with how authority behaves.

All along, though, we must bear in mind that this conversation has woven through it the principle of docility, which speaks to someone being easy to handle or one easily taught

  • Neuroscience has shown that babies are born wanting to know. That is to say, they’re hardwired for knowledge. They instinctively react to different situations and people, all with the aim of connecting. Synapses are forming left and right based on how they’re learning to relate and draw connections. 

In other words, kids have a natural curiosity–which is what drives us all so crazy at times. It’s what leads them to shove crayons into the DVD player and ask 1,000 questions per hour and walk up to you, their loving mother, and proceed to smack you across your face…just to see what you’ll do!

But Charlotte Mason’s aim was to represent authority in a God-honoring fashion so that this docility was cultivated and cared for and grew up with the child, noting that when authority is violated, children shut down, as well as resent and bemoan the educational process.

So first up, a distinction regarding the locus of authority.

Where is authority vested?

There were centuries in which authority was believed to be vested in a person. Mason writes about “the divine right” of kings and of parents back in the day–whose view of God as some arbitrary, autocratic Being ultimately shaped their own forms of governing.

  • This is the kind of thinking that led to the absolute rule of Czars in Russia; as well as the likes of Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini. Kim Jong-un would fit the description as well.Adolf-Hitler-tijdens-een-speech
  • Some of you were raised under what felt like an autocratic regime depending on your age.

But, Mason, writes…

“…we have been taught better; we know now that authority is vested in the office and not in the person; that the moment it [authority] is treated as a personal attribute it is forfeited. We know that a person in authority is a person authorized; and that he who is authorized is under authority.” (School Education, 1989. 11-12)

  • So, authority is vested in the office. The office of parent, for example. The office of teacher. The office of administrator. The office of President of the United States.

Accordingly, when someone asserts himself in an independent fashion or governs upon the impulse of his own will, that person, according to Mason, “Ceases to be authoritative and authorized, and becomes arbitrary and autocratic.”

We have a prime, modern illustration of this. Those who know me well know that I am one of the least politically charged people east of the Mississippi. What I’m about to say, then, only serves the agenda of illustrating the larger principle.  

Policies and party politics aside, at the very core, why is it that some people on every side of the political spectrum take issue with Donald Trump?

It’s not just that he’s a womanizer. It’s that from his Twitter feed to his taped conversations, people know deep down that he is not acting as one under authority. It’s why personalities on CNN AND Fox News comment that he’s acting in unpresidential fashion.

There is great authority and honor in the office of President of the United States. But when anyone, man or woman, abuses that office and operates from the impulse of his own will, he ceases to be authoritative and authorized.

Let’s shift focus from the Donald to me. This is exactly what happens when I get tired and worn down by having four kids, ages 7, 6, 4, and 2 in my house, and I shift from governing as one governed to absolute, arbitrary rule. It sounds like, “No! You can’t do that!” “You’re going to get spanked!” “One more time and I’m throwing the toy in the trash after I burn it in front of your eyes!” 

               No training. No discipling. No teaching. Thus, no authority. Only autocracy.

Authority rests, not in a person, but in the office. The question for us to ponder is whether we are behaving as authorized persons or as our own lesser versions of tyrannical autocrats whose names are emboldened in History texts.

To be continued…