The Benedict Option – a conversation with my friend Joshua Banner

My friend, Joshua Banner, invited me into a conversation about this article. My response is below. I’m excited to read the upcoming book by Rod Dreher.

Joshua, I’m so glad you shared this article and appreciate you sending it my way. I had not seen this article yet and, although I’ve followed Dreher for several years and enjoyed reading and identifying with “Crunchy Cons”, I had not read anything on the upcoming book “The Benedict Option”.

I’ll respond, but with a caveat. This topic is central to my journey and you and, in order to do it more justice, you and I need some significant time on the front porch in Carlton Landing, preferably with a Bible in one hand and a shared bottle of Bulleit Rye on the coffee table.


When I first saw the title, “The Benedict Option”, I was intrigued but presupposed that I would disagree with the assumed premise as I associate the Christian monasticism tradition with vacating the role of culture shaping and being intentional about our influence on society. I’ve read about intentional communities and have studied ways this kind of faith is practiced today. You might have seen “The New Monasticism”. While there are parts of that movement that are very interesting and appealing to me and while it connects with something that god has done in my heart (which i’ll get to in a moment), I think these movements tend to emphasize “withdrawal from society” too strongly. I feel called to engage culture and stay connected with society, so I don’t care to build a wall around me and live a cloistered life.

But the element that such movements have which is SO appealing to me is the deeper understanding of what it means to live a Godly life. Also, the humble respect and appreciation for the Christian tradition provides an anchor to ones faith that I don’t see in the many of the new emerging church patterns. There is a desire in everyone for a DEEP faith experience that transcends denominational lines and the consumer culture of our day. People want substance, meaning and purpose. They look to the church and typically find a watered down experience that fails to change lives or inspire passion or stand up against injustice or affect how we spend our time, money or energy. When faced with going with the pop culture or joining a typical North American church, I fear that most people would say “what’s the difference”? That is a tragic reality but that’s where the church is today in most places.

Since 2003, in trying to figure out how to see redemptive, impacting change and positively affect the way people live and interact, being a real estate guy, I’ve started by looking at the shape and meaning of the built environment. Musicians will look to music. Film makers will look to film. Politicians will look to policy. I look to the bricks and sticks of architecture and, more importantly, urbanism. Carlton Landing was/is an experiment to see how that works. Hopefully, it works well to provide an environment where life-giving culture is nurtured and continues to be long after I’m gone. Wheeler District in OKC is Round 2, now in an urban context. (Blair Humphreys is overseeing that good work.) 

In the process of founding Carlton Landing, some might say that it was a retreat from society in the historic sense of the monastic movement. But I felt that we were creating a place that would nurture culture and foster community so that people could come out, be restored, and go back into their cities to engage culture and use their influence to lead society. I saw a place like Carlton Landing in the same light as the Chautauqua Movement – a place where positive culture could emanate and grow influence. So it’s more about cultural engagement than cultural withdrawal.
Also, I see the slide of the American culture over the past 100 years as a transition into a post-Christian society. Some don’t want to admit that, but I’d be happy to debate that with anyone. Our institutions have fallen – family, marriage, church. In many ways we’ve abandoned a God honoring position in education, government and certainly entertainment. The outcomes of moral relativism have started to be realized and I think they’ll just continue to grow. It’s the reality we live in.

So where does that leave the church? How do we search for truth and live out the gospel in this kind of society? After reading the CT article and listening to an interview with Rod Dreher by Albert Mohler, I think Dreher is right on the money. He’s not calling for a withdrawal, but rather a ratcheting down of our theological understanding and Christian practice. We have to know what we believe, how to effectively impact the world by practicing that faith, and guard against the slide into moral and ideological relativism through cultural assimilation. We have to be willing to set ourselves apart, not necessarily geographically, but certainly morally and ideologically. We must be intentional about knowing how we as men and women can walk with God, what it looks like to have families who live in a way that honors God, how to live in community in a way that personifies the Gospel, and how to have a podium of influence in society for positive change.

A longer conversation on the porch sometime!

Church, State and Refugees


Some people talk about the separation of church and state as if it’s clearly a black and white issue. I believe that everything we do — be it buying groceries, living in community, fighting in a war or ruling over the earth in governance — is a moral act that requires us to do the RIGHT thing. Choosing the right course of action is a moral determination. 


If we expect our political leaders to govern with a moral compass, we’re acknowledging a connection of faith and governance. If we remove faith from the equation, the moral compass is subjective. It can shift greatly from one leader to the next — and what we’re witnessing today in the White House is a tectonic shift in values and world view. Case in point is the current issue with our policies toward refugees. I invite everyone to join me in really processing through our position on the issue of refugees. How are we as Americans to respond? What is our basis for that position? If you’re a person of faith, how does that impact your view? As a Christian, how am I to respond? How should the Church respond? Is there a different standard for the U.S. Government? Should it set policy according to different factors than the Church? 


Scripture shows a clear commandment of Christians to love our neighbor, to show care and concern to the outcast and downtrodden. To give our extra coat to him who needs a coat. We are to show the love of Christ to “the least of these”. It’s clear to me that refugees qualify as “the least of these”. The Church is the body of believers, so the same commandment is given to the community of Christian faith. 


But the federal government is not the Church. Is a government system held to a different standard than the Church? If the federal government views the refugee issue strictly from a homeland security or financial perspective, I think Trump’s proposed policies are able to be defended and justified more easily. 


But if we hold the government to a moral standard, if we have a moral expectation – that the policies of our federal government show compassion or set an example of morality for other countries to follow – then the refugee policies presented by Trump appear more near sighted and possibly, ultimately ineffective in terms of protecting our national security. America was founded on hope, freedom and acknowledging the value of every person because we are made in the image of God. We need to balance protecting our borders with showing compassion to “the least of these”.

This article does a good job of representing my position on refugees.

Movie Review: “Lion”

Watching this movie is a gift you give yourself because it grows your compassion, your empathy, and your hope as it tenderizes your heart.

“Lion” is the masterfully told story of Saroo Brierley, a precious boy who grew up in the slums of rural India and, through the events of one heartbreaking night, was separated from his mother and siblings and thrust into a totally different world. All aspects of this movie are top shelf. The acting, script writing, cinematography, character development, plot, timing, beauty, all contribute such a well told story. As an amazing true story, they did it justice with this film.

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To say that this movie is a tearjerker is a gross understatement. Watching this movie is a gift you give yourself because it grows your compassion, your empathy, and your hope as it tenderizes your heart. Drink a gallon of water before the show so you’re not dehydrated from the tears.

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This movie is loaded with powerful, universal life themes that we all can relate with: The love of a mother for her children. The need we all have to be protected, especially the young. The power that someone can have a living life outside of themselves in doing good for others. The pain that someone can cause when they fail to see the value in a human life. A good anger at injustice perpetrated to “the least of these”. The importance of family. The beauty and power of adoption. The necessity of grace. The temptation to try to do life alone. The fear of vulnerability. The blessing of acceptance. The impact and life-shaping sense of “home”.

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If life feels hard or if you find yourself having a short fuse because of first world problems, you need to stop what you’re doing, go to the nearest movie theater, and spend a couple hours watching “Lion”. It will surely realign your perspective and let you remember all that you have to be thankful for.

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It’s hard to imagine, but 80,000 kids go missing in India each year. One of the best groups we’ve come across and are blessed to work with is Compassion International. Through their work, they feed, clothe, educate and love 1.8 million kids around the world. If you’d like to support a child for only $38/month, just CLICK HERE. You’ll be able to make a life changing impact for a special, wonderful kid. Have a great week!

Blessing Amidst Turmoil

this season has something to offer – a blessing amidst the turmoil . . . if we’re willing to open our eyes, be conscious of it, and run after it. In this season, I believe we have a unique opportunity to find unity based on values we share. The dividing lines are clear. Partisan politics. Race. Religion. Economic Inequality. Yet I’m sensing a return to appreciating the common values we all share universally.

 

Hey there – a good Sunday to you! Just returned from my first trip to Telluride, Colorado. Amazing natural beauty. Gorgeous mountain cliffs surrounding this great little town. Totally walkable. It was a good time for all of us to get away, make some memories and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation.

While in Colorado, I had several ideas floating around in my mind. They weren’t complete, concrete, linear or sequential ideas. Rather they were hunches or fragments of a concept that hang out in my mind, waiting for me to connect the dots and process through them in a way that reveals the hidden meaning. I don’t think I’m alone in this. We all have a chance to process our ideas, but it takes time. Sometimes, we’re busy and the ideas fall like seeds on hard packed soil, yielding no fruit. Sometimes, we have the time to process through our thoughts, but they still seem disconnected or half baked. I’m quick to admit on this post that these ideas are fresh, not fully processed, and something that I’ll be sure to continue to unpack for some time. But I feel sure enough of the principles here that I can put it out there for discussion and invite anyone who wishes to help me process through them.

Intro

These are interesting days we’re living in. I don’t remember a time when the collective nerve endings of our country have been so exposed. If we just take everything at first blush, it’s a pretty sad state of affairs. Stories on the national media work to highlight a fractured population. Recent events reveal the frailty of our progress toward racial reconciliation. Talk to any stranger on the street and, without scratching too hard, it’s easy to uncover deep heartfelt emotions about the state of things. You also discover a spectrum of perspectives and outlooks for the future. Some are cautiously optimistic or excited about the days to come. Many are sorting through emotions of fear, anger, isolation or confusion. I think everyone agrees that we’re in a fragile state.

Looking back to the past . . .

This season we’re in reminds me of events and seasons in the past when we’ve been at a crossroads and gone through a pendulum swing. For an example of a specific event, I’d look at April, 1995 with the Oklahoma City bombing. Or an example of a season of change, I’d look at October, 2008 through 2011 with the global financial crisis. In both of these examples, we saw times of extreme change as we realized a new dimension of our own vulnerability. There was a clear realization of a real tragedy, but there was also a blessing amidst the pain. In each of these seasons, as we worked through the grief and sense of loss, we realized that something was also gained.

  • An Event of Change – The OKC Bombing. When Tim McVeigh detonated a truck bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, it was the most fatal act of domestic terror ever perpetrated on U.S. soil. The death toll – 168 of Oklahoma’s best – was staggering. The city was rocked. What we gained: But in that season of loss and devastation, we saw something new emerge. In the months and years that followed this horrible event, Oklahoma City united as one with a shared resolve to find hope amidst the tragedy. In addition to hope, we found unity across our city. Lines of division that had existed for generations – geographical, political, racial and ideological strongholds that kept people divided for so long – all of the sudden looked so insignificant in light of the loss that everyone in the city had endured. With the realization of our own vulnerability, we found a shared humanity that brought us together. Diverse people came together, served one another, gave fresh grace to each other, and found ways to work together. That event turned out to be the most significant impetus for the rebirth of Oklahoma City’s urban core. As people look back on it now more than 20 years later, it’s clear to see how the tragedy of the OKC Bombing ended up serving as a catalyst for positive cultural change, racial reconciliation and civic rebirth.
  • A Season of Change – The Global Financial Crisis. While an economic meltdown is not at all the same kind of tragedy as the murder of 168 people, this season had a similar characteristic to the OKC Bombing. In the spring of 2008, while much of the country was already into the Great Recession, the music was still playing in Oklahoma. On April 29th of that year, Forbes said that Oklahoma City was the most recession-proof city in the country. And we believed it! But over the next 9 months, the market would lose 47% of its value, one of our greatest civic leaders would lose $2 billion in capital calls as the market tumbled, and the whole world fall into a major economic recession. So everyone’s 401(k) took a nose dive and those close to retirement age saw their life plans go up in smoke. What we gained: In the long slog of a recovery from 2009 through 2011, as we waited for the financial markets and consumer confidence to return, we found the rich blessing of a renewed sense of contentment. With less money for dining out, families spent more time eating together at home. There was also an appreciation for simple living which allowed people to slow down and make time for the things that are most important.

. . . to see the present in context.

With the rise in race related violence, a major political shift, economic disparity, and a strong sense of uncertainty about the coming days, the media is telling us that our nation has never been more polarized. In many ways, they might be right. But disunity is nothing new to our country. We’ve come a long way, but there’s still a long journey of healing ahead of us.

I think that this season has something to offer – a blessing amidst the turmoil . . . if we’re willing to open our eyes, be conscious of it, and run after it. In this season, I believe we have a unique opportunity to find unity based on values we share. The dividing lines are clear. Partisan politics. Race. Religion. Economic Inequality. Yet I’m sensing a return to appreciating the common values we all share universally.

We’ve seen this where we live in Carlton Landing. In our small community, we see people that come from both sides of all the dividing lines. But we live together in a way that is life-giving and healthy. When we live according to a common set of values, the dividing lines fall aside and we can see people for who they are – a unique person who we can add quality to our life.

A Few Common Values:

Take any two people – as different as can they can possibly be – and you’ll find that they hold these six values in common.

  1. A desire for justice.

    Everyone, regardless of which side of the dividing lines you find yourself on, has a moral nature that desires equal justice. We want to see a just consequence applied to crimes and other kinds of social wrongdoing. When we realize injustices in our society, we call for resolution. The idea of the optimal method to bring justice will vary from person to person, but the desire equal justice meted out is universal.

  2. A desire for a quality of life.

    Each of us desires to grow and improve ourselves physically, intellectually, emotionally, relationally and spiritually. A healthy concept of self assumes that we get better over time. This hope for our personal future inspires hope and fuels our will to live life to the fullest. This desire drives innovation and acts of creativity. It guides the progress we make in technology. It gives us something to look forward to, something to work for. It gives us a sense of purpose in life.

  3. A desire to be esteemed.

    Regardless of who you are or what you do, every person desires to be respected by their peers. Sometimes, the greatest gift we can give to a person is the respect and dignity which is rightly due to every man. This is a place to start the dialogue, before categorizing a person according to the usual lines of division and then assigning the typical stereotypes, we can start by looking at a person as a unique creation with the right to have their own beliefs, their own talents, their own dreams and their own purpose in life. Every life is significant. Every life matters. And we have something to learn from every person we get to meet.

  4. A desire for healthy relationships.

    As relational beings, we have a desire for healthy, life-giving relationships. This translates into all types of relationships, including a healthy marriage, life-giving family relationships, having a sense of belonging within a community, being known by and doing life with our neighbors, and showing hospitality to the strangers and foreigners among us. When our relationships are strong, we are strong. When our relationships drain the life from us, it affects all areas of our life. We can only realize our full potential and live with passion if we can cultivate and maintain healthy relationships in life.

  5. A desire for a life of meaning and purpose.

    As we figure out how to live each day, we desire to align our actions with our values. When our actions are aligned with our values, it translates into meaning, purpose and leaving a legacy. Each person wants to be known for living intentionally and bearing good fruit. We want to look behind us and see that the world is better because we were here. This was much of the reason I chose to go into real estate development and ultimately moved to the country to start a new town from scratch. The idea of changing the built environment in a way that could positively affect the way people live and interact, even long after I’m dead and gone, seemed like meaningful work. We all want to leave our mark in some way.

  6. A desire to live in peace.

    In the current age of terror attacks, hostility and strife, every person has a strong desire to live in peace. We desire for people to walk in harmony with each other. But consider the idea “to live in peace” in a more close to home context. We all desire to find inner peace. As a society, America is plagued by anxiety. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans have an anxiety disorder and we spend more than $2 billion each year on anti-anxiety medications. George Makari, a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and author of “Soul Machine: The Invention of the Modern Mind”, states that “personal thoughts and feelings are the central drivers of human action – not roles, not values, not personal sensation, not God.” Unfortunately, I for the most part have to agree with him. Our culture is, by and large, not driven by roles, values or God. (I do believe it’s driven too much by personal sensation.) In our culture, all too often, people live according to what feels Life by feeling is a dangerous concept, because I know how my emotions can swing from one day to the next. It’s possible to find a peace that transcends all understanding and can overcome the emotional ups and downs we all encounter. Every person out there is looking for the same thing – an inner peace that can guide our actions and lifestyle.

Where do we go from here?

I think we can start by being intentional in reaching beyond the lines of division. As you initiate, invite and connect with people who don’t look like you, vote like you, believe like you, or shop in the same stores as you, you can begin to build unity in our society. Maybe that looks like inviting them to lunch or out for coffee. Maybe it means inviting them into your home. Realize that each act of unity across these lines might at first feel a bit awkward, but can lead to a level of richness in life you haven’t known before. We each have so much to learn from each other. And we can learn the most by putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes and seeing the world from their eyes for a bit.

Have a great week!

3 Things Worth Pursuing in 2017

One of the things I love most about the Christmas Season and New Year’s Holiday is the way this season offers a chance to look back on the past year, take stock in this life we’re living and look ahead to the future with hope. It’s a time when everyone — even the most downtrodden Eeyore — can savor some optimism about the coming year.

While some people are consumed and overwhelmed by the commercialization of Christmas, I say it’s still possible, albeit with some intentional effort, to pull back, quiet the soul, make space for rest and spend focused time gaining perspective on life. In my particular business, the days of December and January are the low season when people extend extra grace and let me enjoy more personal life outside of work. So I take advantage of that grace and space to ask questions and find a renewed vision for how I should live.

Here are a few ideas, thoughts and conclusions I’ve realized over the past days.

I want to CRAFT my CULTURAL INTAKE.

Our societal norm is to be besieged with information at all times and from every direction. News, email, books, podcasts, articles, pop-up notifications, audio books, billions of data bytes from screens of all sizes. “Cultural intake” is the collective mass of cultural input we allow to flow into our state of awareness. In an age of information, it’s how we continue to learn, develop, stay connected and stay relevant.

 Historically, the flow of information was more controlled from the top down and provided fewer options to the consumer. Back then, we couldn’t be selective or picky about what information we received. Each of the media outlets had a controlled presentation of the latest news, music and entertainment. In the 70’s, we had but three network channels on T.V., one newspaper, and a handful of radio stations to choose from. Now, we have a world of data to choose from. We can be the pickiest of cultural consumers with Spotify, Stitcher, AudioBooks and the world wide web full of news and information. With so many options, we can be intentional about crafting and filtering our cultural intake. What kind of news, email, books, podcasts, etc. are worthy of my time and attention? What is the standard that I use to separate my culture from useless trash and distracting noise? Where do I go to access the culture I want to include in my intake?

For me, I look for culture that fits the life I want to live. I like stories and I want a redemptive moral to the story. I want information that helps me grow into the person I want to become. Intake that feeds the good parts of my heart as opposed to the bad. So I avoid news that elevates people, lifestyles or culture that doesn’t esteem the values I aspire to grow in. I choose to filter OUT culture that values winning through dominating or exploiting others, fame, materialism, status for status’ sake, cosmetic beauty or the entertainment of personal destruction. I choose to filter IN culture that esteems goodness, truth, real beauty, innovation, honesty, the will to live, freedom, personal growth, the desire to do good for others. This is an act of the will. We have to craft our cultural intake.

Having said that, I also think there’s a place for intentionally being exposed to culture that doesn’t fit into the narrow framework of my cultural filter. I have no desire to be like much of the world’s culture, but I realize that I need to know what the world is saying if I want to live in it and remain culturally relevant. As I look or listen outside the box, beyond the lines I’ve imposed as cultural filters, I keep in mind a couple of things. First, I’m conscious of my filter and keep my heart guarded. Second, I’m looking for the themes, values or messages being communicated in the culture so that I can be better equipped to relate to people who are not like me. I want to stretch my exposure so that I can be relevant to people different than me, so that I stay open-minded and so that I stay teachable. My life principles stay more fixed and they serve as a reliable filter, but I continue to have a wide variety of intake that I run through that filter.

I want to LIVE from my HEART.

Our western mindset values advancing our intellect. Obviously we need to develop our minds and continue to grow. Most of the cultural intake I discussed above helps me grow intellectually. But I need to also keep my heart connected as well. The 18th Century French philosopher René Descartes is famous for saying “I think therefore I am.” He believed that as a thinking thing, he proved his existence. But he also wrote a good deal about the passions and was one of the early thinkers to shape the way we understand the pineal gland which he said “must necessarily be the seat of the common sense, of thought, and consequently of the soul” and the passageway for what he called our “animal spirits”. There’s a place in life for the mind to direct our actions, but we also have to bring everything to bear before our heart and acknowledge the importance of our emotions and character values as we set our course for life.

Unfortunately, our popular culture doesn’t set a high bar for cultivating our passions in a healthy way. Instead, it celebrates the unguarded, unintentional, unrestricted appetite of our flesh, in a depraved, animalistic, and sensational manner. This reckless disregard for the heart produces violence, hurt and shame through lowest common denominator entertainment. In order for our society to experience holistic advancement, we need to raise the standard for what we think is worthy of our time and attention.

I’m interested in the intentional formation of my mind along with a balanced amount of priority directed my heart. So while I’m learning or developing intellectually or professionally, I also want to be able to look back on 2017 as a year that I’m developing in terms of my character. In Galatians 5:22-23, the Bible lists the Fruits of the Spirit as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”. That’s not a bad list to start with.

Many people who make headlines have achieved success in certain areas, but the development of their heart level attributes is non-existent. I love to meet people who are wildly successful in cultivating a peaceful spirit. I’m charged up by spending time around people who are rich in joy. Growing in these attributes is part of growing as a person.

I want to ALIGN my HABITS.

Any knowledge I acquire or character I claim to have cultivated is pointless if it does not direct my lifestyle or alter my actions. In my experience, the best way to craft my lifestyle is through habits. (This is probably the area that I need the most intentional effort and accountability. Self-discipline seems hard for me, but it’s the area that I wish to grow in.) When it comes down to it, the act of putting this into practice is not complicated.

  • To craft my cultural intake, I need to block out time. So 30 minutes each morning, I’m carving out time for reading and meditating on the Bible. And then after I get the kids off to school around 8:10, before I get into email or meetings, I’m blocking off 45 minutes for reading and writing. This isn’t processing work on my desk. It’s just my time to learn and to think and to process my ideas. Work responsibilities start at 9am and go through the day so that I’m back home by 5:30pm. At night, after the kids are down to bed, I want to get at least 30 minutes of easy but still mind-stimulating reading. This might happen after Jen goes to sleep so that I’m not taking away from our time together.
  • To live from my heart, I need to stay conscious of what’s going on in my heart. This means that I need to be tuned into to how I’m feeling emotionally, aware of how I’m acting character-wise, and tuned in to what’s happening spiritually. This is happening continually, but there are some actions to help us stay connected to our heart.
    • For me, in the quiet time in the early morning, I block off just 5-10 minutes for prayer and meditation. This is probably the most important habit I have.
    • Throughout the day, I try to see my situations through a spiritual lens so that I’m not just taking everything on face value but am looking for the deeper, heart level reality. This isn’t just with human relationships. It also applies to seeking wisdom about business decisions, strategy or trying to figure out complex issues. It’s mainly a prayer to ask for help and seek wisdom and understanding through the course of the day.
    • I’ve set a simple prayer schedule as the wallpaper on my iPhone so that whenever it goes into lock mode, it reminds me to think outside myself and pray. This is a subtle reminder to stay heart-focused because I have to see that prayer schedule and Bible verse (Heb 4:16) every time I unlock my iPhone.
    • There are seasons when I’ll have a reminder throughout the day – typically every 3 hours at 6, 9, 12, 3, 6, 9 – to stop and pray or meditate for a few minutes. This daily rhythm is an integral part of many religions. Christianity has the church bells. Islam has the Adhan. Judaism has the Barechu. This has a big effect on me – allowing my heart to be reconnected and stay tender. I’ve learned that if I keep my heart in the right place, my mind and body and actions all follow.

So that’s where I am for now. It comes down to living each day intentionally and with the right motivation behind my thoughts, words and actions. To the degree that I can put all this into practice, my life will stay on track. That will be evidenced by good fruit. Wishing everyone a rich 2017!!