Archive for category Personal

Grooves, Ruts, Water, Ice, and Tracks of Various Kinds

Billy Joel has a song that unfortunately has really spoken to me at various times: “Running on Ice”.

As fast as I can climb
A new disaster every time I turn around
As soon as I get one fire put out
There’s another building burning down

That sense of running as hard as you can just to keep from falling down, not actually getting anywhere…it’s very real. That’s not where I am right now, thankfully. But I’ve been there.

Ages ago I saw an old black and white one-panel cartoon (maybe from the New Yorker?), in which a person says to someone sitting next to them, “I’m not sure if I’m in a groove or just stuck in a rut.” I went looking for it today, just to discover (unsurprisingly) that this groove/rut dichotomy has been cartooned (and later memed) to death by pretty much everyone who can draw at one point or another. Which I guess is fitting.

I’m not stuck in a rut, myself, as far as I can tell. But I don’t really feel like I’m “in a groove”, either. I’m definitely not experiencing a lot of “flow state” these days, but then, I’ve only ever really been able to achieve flow in highly competitive environments, like chess tournaments, hockey games, and certain online games. Well, and when practicing tai chi and other forms of meditation, I suppose, but that flow feels different.

From the outside, though, I imagine I might look like someone either in a groove or a rut. I have a ton of routine in my life these days. All of it very deliberately crafted. My brother Pearse got really into the science and practice of habit formation awhile ago, and then got me hooked. James Clear’s Atomic Habits is my current go-to book on the subject; I highly recommend you read it if you haven’t already. So I have routines. I have a daily routine, a weekly routine, and mini-routines that kick in when I am working on specific kinds of long-term tasks. And I’m pretty consistent about them.

I have also been diagnosed with ADHD-I (which probably has a different designation, now–they keep changing them), which means my brain has a powerful tendency to try to smash routines in order to feed its need for novelty. My whole process, these days, of habit formation, routine development, and self-discipline (which is NOT the same as “will power”–it’s MUCH more useful), is a combination of a war and a compromise–an angry sort of dance, if you will–with my own neurochemistry. And it gets me through and helps me accomplish quite a lot.

But sometimes, when I have been sustaining my intentional routines for a long time, I get this sick, breathless feeling in my chest. It’s like I’m treading water, but can feel the energy that it takes to do so slowly dying, and my need to breathe increases even as I can sense the water rising higher and threatening to cut off my access to the air above, which makes me tread faster and burn energy faster and get more out of breath…

Well, maybe that’s more dramatic than it needs to be. But there’s an impending sense of something, and it feels like waiting for a house of cards to come down. Interestingly enough, being on Ritalin for an extended period of time gives me a similar sensation. I don’t take anything for ADHD these days, but back when I did, I could sometimes get into these–grooves? ruts? routines? rushes?–in which I kept getting stuff done, getting stuff done, and on the outside it just looked like a fairly even-paced efficiency, but on the inside it felt like an engine slowly over-revving.

So it’s interesting to get a similar feeling without drugs, just from my personal behavioral disciplines. It’s like, I’m “on track”, but maybe those tracks are roller coaster tracks and I’m getting a little tired of the whooshing. This is still too dramatic, though. I don’t feel panic, or fear, or exhaustion, even. But I do feel a quiet sort of alarm going off that really wants to break the routines and habits, just to get a break. I wonder (I really have no idea) whether this is a false alarm, or if it’s something I should actually attend to in some way.

I do know this: I don’t really have a lot more room in my life for additional stuff. Partly this is because it’s December and I’m a pastor, and my professional life gets really full for me every Christmas season. Partly, it’s because life under COVID has taken away from me my psychological reserve tank just as it has for so many others. I’m handling the stuff I need to handle quite well, but if you try to balance one more plate on top of the stack I’m carrying, it might all come crashing down.

Or maybe not. Human beings are remarkably bad at estimating their own breaking points. Just ask a Navy Seal. Or anyone who has trained to overcome those built in stops we all have, to discover that their actual capacity for hardship is far greater than they first thought.

Anyway, I’m okay. But in my self-reflections, I do wonder if I’m building up new normals that I can eventually relax into, or if I’m smoking my pistons a bit and need to either find another gear or ease off the gas a tiny bit.

I’m not sure if these ramblings will be of use to you. Maybe you identify with this feeling I’m describing, and if so, then know that you’re not alone. Or maybe this is all very foreign; in that case, isn’t it interesting how different people can be?

Next week maybe I’ll talk about my actual system of habit formation, routine building, and self-discipline. I swear it works with no bad side effects! 😉

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Dealing with Social Distancing During the Pandemic

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Mac and Pearse Live: Dealing with Coronavirus, Covid, Social Distancing, and Church

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Mac and Pearse Live: The Mindful Goalie

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My Next Horizon

So, I realize I have never actually announced this to the general public, but in case you haven’t heard:

I have accepted a call to be the next head Pastor of Washington New Church in Mitchellville, MD.

For those of you unfamiliar with that church, it is in the area of Bowie, Maryland, in Prince George’s County. It’s about half an hour east of Washington, DC and around forty-five minutes south of Baltimore, MD (well, on a good day, anyway). They have one worship service on Sundays, operate a school, and have been meeting continuously in their current location since 1965, with roots in the Washington DC area that go back to 1846.

I am very excited to be taking on this new role, but I will also miss the many friends I’ve come to know in my three years serving Glenview New Church here in Chicagoland. When I had to close New Way Church in Austin, TX, I finished my ministry there worn down a bit and needing to rebuild my mental and emotional reserves. Church planting is an intense crucible for the soul, to say the least; I loved pastoring in Austin, and love all the people I met there, but trying to build a church from the ground up and maintain it took absolutely everything I had. So pulling back a little bit from that level of responsibility and coming to Glenview to be an Associate Pastor in a larger, well-established congregation was the right move for myself, and for my family. And the people of Glenview have been amazingly loving and welcoming to me and my family. I will be forever grateful.

And now I’ve recharged, and I’ve learned a ton from serving this group, and it’s about time to step back into a primary leadership role. I have served as an assistant in three congregations that ran schools, and I have been the lead pastor of a church I planted myself, but this will be my first time stepping into the lead role in an established, “school society”, church. Anyone who knows me really well knows that I live to learn. I am an expert beginner and an avid explorer of new experiences and competencies. So this is going to be a great adventure.

The plan at this point:

Michael Gladish, the current Pastor there, officially retires on June 30th, and I become the new Pastor on July 1st. In mid-June moving trucks will pull up to the house my family is curremntly renting and haul everything off, probably some time between June 17th and June 20th. Then I, my wife, and my kids will drive to Maryland, to our new home. I will then fly back to Illinois to preach my final sermon for Glenview on June 23rd, and then drive our second car back to Maryland by myself. Before all that, though, we need somewhere to move TO, right? Well, on May 10th I will be flying out to close on a house Gillian and I are purchasing, and to coordinate with contractors on some work we want to get done there before we move in.

In the mean time, I am using as much of my personal time as I can scrape together to go on a crash-course deep-dive to prep for my new role. I’m pouring through budgets, pastor’s reports, strategic plans, bylaws, and other such documents from the last many years of WNC’s history. I’m also rereading a couple of books on pastoral management that I think will be relevant to my new situation, and trying to plow through a stack of about three to six new books on leadership as well. And finally, I am doing a reading survey of teachings in the Word that are relevant to the purpose, function, health, and leadership of churches. That may sound like a lot of work, but actually it’s what I think of as fun. Yeah, I may be a bit broken, but at least it’s in a potentially useful way, right?

One final thing: I am looking at this as an all-in, long-term, heart-and-soul move for me. When I came to Glenview, I had no idea how long or short my stay was here, and could really make no commitment beyond a couple of years. Likewise, when I served in Pittsburgh and in Bryn Athyn, I knew I was signing up for a likely short stay. But this move is different: churches need senior pastors that aren’t looking around for something “better”, and deserve leadership that is all-in. And there are a lot of studies that show lead pastors tend to become most effective in their roles after seven or more years with a group. My aim is to stay with this group as long as I am useful, so long as they will have me. How long is that? I have no idea. I’m not thinking in those terms. Basically, I’m not leaving until either I’ve lead them to a place where they need a different style of leadership, or until I annoy the heck out of them and they ask me to go. The former could easily take a decade; the latter…well, that’s for them to decide I guess. 🙂

So it will be goodbye Polishes, hot dogs dragged through the garden, and Italian beefs, and hello (again) Wawa, and who knows what else. I’m not certain, yet, how good the barbecue scene is in Maryland, but I intend to improve it when I get there. And when the Flyers play the Caps, I’ll be there.

So that’s my news.

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