When “safe” no longer is…and possibly never was

Sunday, my family and I worshipped at an A.M.E. church in our new home city of Greenville, South Carolina. We’d been intrigued and slightly annoyed at the lack of diversity in all the congregations we’d been too. So we decided we wanted to try an A.M.E. church.

It wasn’t until I entered the sanctuary that I realized how much white privilege affects me.

Crossing the threshold to worship, I remembered that it was a white guy who shot A.M.E. members, after praying with them. In their own church. In the same state I was in.

And with all I’d thought about prior to attending a black church, I had not in the least considered that my presence may have set them on edge. I desperately wanted to reach out and let people know we weren’t like the white guy who’d traveled to Charleston. But bringing up the shooting seemed even dumber than not being aware that my presence might be scary for some.

I remembered the lessons my dad taught me about how to behave if pulled over by a policeman. So to help set people at ease, I intentionally tried to keep my empty hands visible during the service. Fortunately, that’s not hard to do an an A.M.E. church! But it was a conscious choice to keep my hands on the empty pew in front of me when I wasn’t clapping or taking notes during the sermon.

And I wondered how it must be for the pastor to see one white family in the sea of his congregation. Just three months after nine people he may well have known were shot in their own sanctuary. Nothing can be the same. There must be a new awareness. A new wariness.

And today, I pray for the teachers and professors around the nation that are approaching their classrooms. Rooms that were once unquestionably their sanctuary. Their domain. Where they taught students. But today are now potentially unsafe places full not of students but of possible threats.

Church on Sunday turned out to be a wonderful worship service with a gracious group of fellow believers. We received only hospitality, welcome, and hugs. It was great.

But I end this week realizing how random acts of violence affect all of us. And I mourn the increasing loss of “safe” spaces. That mourning almost seems silly when I realize the violence people around the world suffer on a daily basis and even those of differing races and backgrounds have suffered in my own country.

So I enter the prayers of those around the world and across millenia in saying:

Kyrie eleison
Christe eleison
Kyrie eleison


Say what?!

And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”
– Exodus 3:12 NIV

Reading my 14 Minutes a Day reading today, I stumbled across Exodus 3:12 (quoted above.

I always think of Moses as a bit annoying. God says to go, so go, darn it!

But this verse jumped out at me. Basically God is saying, “Go confront the global power of the Earth on behalf of the oppressed. Just to prove this is from Me, after you’ve successfully completed all the tasks involved with confronting the leader of the world and taking what he sees as his stuff, you’ll be back in this very spot worshipping Me.”

Say what?!

Can you imagine Moses response to “As a sign to you, after you have done all this well, you will worship Me.” “Gee, thanks God. Would it be too inconveninent to also give me some help with the details? Did you notice they had an APB out for my arrest when I left? Or that my people have been slaves there for four hundred years? Or that my people didn’t even want my help the last time I tried? Just sayin’.”

Being in the midst of a move to Greenville, SC, I feel some of what Moses must’ve felt. Ok, we’re not (knowingly) going to right the wrong of centuries of oppression. Or to confront world powers by standing up for the poor and oppressed, although my wife and I do want to be more intentional in that.

But I do hear myself saying, “The movers would like to know where they’ll be delivering our boxes. Could You please look in Your address book and let us know too?” :)

It’s all good. I know that. He’s moving things so fast.

  • Our house was under contract 8 days after the first showing.
  • When our son auditioned for a jazz program two weeks ago, he was accepted on the spot.
  • And every talk I’ve given since April has had someone either from Greenville or with a Greenville connection.

They’ve all been wonderfully helpful and hospitable. Still, I’m reminded me of the Smalltown Poets song “Hold it up to the Light.”

The search for my future has brought me here
This is more than I’d hoped for, but sometimes I fear
That the choice I was made for will someday appear
And I’ll be too late for that flight…

Now as soon as I’m moving, my choice is good
This way comes through right where I prayed that it would…

I guess God likes motion. So I’m glad we’re moving. And I’m so thankful that all our kids get to see this side of their Mom and Dad.

And I’m sure we’ll have an address before long.

You can hear the whole Smalltown Poets song right here:

If you want to hear the folksy intro from David Wilcox about how the song was written, go here: https://youtu.be/uPc1wZABLDM

Daily Bible Reading at the Speed of Life: Announcing 14 Minutes a Day

14 Minutes a Day - Bible reading at the pace of lifeI’m thrilled to announce the launch of 14MinutesaDay.com!

Ever since becoming a Christian at the age of 14, I’ve been committed to reading the Bible. My family would read it every morning at 5 a.m., often snoozing over genealogies! When I went to college to be a pastor, I studied Greek and Hebrew to help my Bible reading. I even lived in Israel so I could better understand the Bible.

Reading the Bible–not just ABOUT the Bible

I was fine with my level of Bible reading until one Saturday when a group of guys teaching at The Stony Brook School invited me to breakfast. As we waited for food, the guys went around the table saying a number. “3.” “6.” “1.” “4.”

One of the guys explained that it was the number of days in the past week each of us had read the Bible, not just read about the Bible.

That’s when it hit me — somewhere along the way, I gave up reading the Bible in favor of reading about the Bible.

It was the same for each of us. We read devotionals, Bible studies, posts, and articles about the Bible. But we’d moved away from actually reading the Bible itself.

My conscience was pricked. But honestly, I still found it hard to hit a regular rhythm of devotionally reading the Bible. Reading the Bible as a way of listening to God. When I pastored a church, I read the Bible mostly in order to teach it. But reading the Bible for sermon preparation was different than reading it to personally grow in my relationship with Jesus.

The 7×7 Experiment

Then in 2012, my friend Jon Swanson announced a Lenten discipline called “7×7: Listening to God for Lent.”

He started an experiment of sending emails to help people spend 7 minutes every day listening to God. Each email contained a link to a passage of Scripture that would take 5 minutes of Bible to read, leaving a couple minutes for prayer.

Boom! This totally worked for me! All of a sudden, I was reading the Bible and listening to God on a daily basis. At some point, he started adding longer 14 minute passages. That was even more my style. I like reading longer passages of Scripture to get the context and see themes.

Soon I was helping him with the 14 minute passages. We didn’t go through the Bible in order of the books or in order of chronology. We chose to keep a mix of Hebrew Scripture (Old Testament) and Christian Scripture (New Testament). Sometimes we’d do individual books. Sometimes we’d group books together like Deuteronomy, Malachi, Luke, Hebrews, and Romans because as Jon put it, it’s “the clearest statement of the law, the despair of ever filling it, Christ living and fulfilling the law, the Gospel to both Jews and Gentiles.”

14 Minutes a Day

After we’d worked through the entire Bible, we stopped the emails. And before long, I fell out of the habit of daily Bible reading. So I’ve created 14MinutesaDay.com for my own personal devotional use. But I decided to open it up for others too. I call it: “Bible reading at the speed of life.”

If a free, no-frills, daily email with just a link to a passage of Scripture that will take roughly 14 minutes to read sounds like something you’d want, sign up at: 14MinutesaDay.com

The balance has shifted

BalanceChessboard-ScotlandCommonsFlickr240wI was approached by a major publisher last week to write a book. Flattered, I asked what they had in mind. I figured they had a series of books that had a hole my expertise could fill.

Their reply? A generic book proposal form. “Here, think of something that you’re getting asked alot. Or something you want to write about. Then fill this out and we’ll see if we’ll work with you.”

Thanks but no thanks.

The shift is about access

I’ve written seven books now, two with publishers and 5 self published. It used to be that publishers had the access to readers. It was like that in every area of media:

  • If an author wanted to reach readers, they’d go through a publisher.
  • If a DJ wanted to reach listeners, they’d go through a radio station.
  • If a TV personality wanted to reach viewers, they’d go through a network.

Now that has totally changed. Authors can reach readers for free through blogs. DJs through podcasts. TV personalities through YouTube. Not only reach them, but grow a base of fans.

This shift has been going on for a while now. Since before I started blogging in the late 1990s. But it’s even more prevalent now.

Still a role for the “legacy” systems

There’s plenty of room for all of us in this game. One very important role for publishers, radio stations, and TV stations is filtering. Some call it “curating.”

Just because anyone can create content doesn’t mean all the content is great. Publishers and others can respond to the shift by focusing on credibility and trustworthiness.

To the content creator, they can emphasize the credibility they provide. Sometimes that is internal. It’s great to know I’ve been published by a publishing house. That makes me feel more “legit.” And there is still the external credibility, that to readers, of having a publisher’s name on your book. That is the trustworthiness. Legacy systems could say, “You don’t need to sift through the chaos of information out there. We’re saving you time by doing that for you and bringing you only the best.”

But I’m not seeing that shift yet. Instead, I’m seeing legacy systems trying hard to make what worked last century work today. And being surprised to find that it no longer works.

It used to be that they held the upper hand. It seems to me that we’re now closer to being peers. But I wonder how the legacy systems will adjust to realize they now need to market to both the content consumers and the content creators.

Much is about marketing

I wonder if that is the key. If much of the shift in balance has to do with marketing rather with access. Access alone isn’t enough. We all have access to each other. But only those who market well get heard.

If the legacy systems like publishers were good at marketing, then going through them would be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, they’re not. A couple years ago, I was excited to write a book with a publisher because I wanted to learn how to launch the book. I knew there had to be a system for marketing books and I wanted to find it.

I did work with three rounds of editors. That was an important process for me to experience as an author. But the “launch” never happened. Rather than having a marketing system, they seemed to be making it up as they went along. All that access I thought they had? They appeared to think I’d had it all along and were looking for me to give them access to my audience. Worse, I don’t own the content I created with them and they won’t even send me copies of my book despite repeated promises. (Copies I’d be charged for.)

Still room for a mix

I still believe there room for a mix of legacy systems and whatever we call the new reality. Micro-publishers? Content creators? Free range publishers?

But it needs to start with us playing the game more as equals. What about you? Have you found legacy systems that realize the shift of balance has changed?

Would you help me build a 2014 “over the top” love playlist?

Frederick Beuchner on God's astounding loveThis quote from Frederick Buechner was on one of my Facebook friends streams around Christmas. (Sorry I don’t remember who’s!)

The full quote is:

“Once we have seen Him in a stable, we can never be sure where He will appear or to what lengths He will go or to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation He will descend in His wild pursuit of men.” – Frederick Buechner

I love the phrase “ludicrous depths of self-humiliation.” I too often forget this about God. This Hosea-like seeking and giving second chances over and over again. This love that makes you look totally foolish.

That’s our God. And I want to remember that in 2014.

Crazy love playlist

Honestly, it’s an aspect of God that makes me a bit uncomfortable. I’m reminded of the line in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, about Aslan being good but not being tame. But I think David tapped into it when he danced his clothes off.

How would I live my life if I was firmly convinced that God is crazy in love with me? That he delights in my quirks and individuality? That, like Zepheniah says, He will rejoice over me with singing?

To help me remember this in 2014, I’d love to build a Spotify playlist. Would you help me? I’m looking for songs that celebrate this aspect of God’s love for us.

I immediately think of songs like John Mark McMillan’s “How He Loves” with lines like “He is jealous for me” and “Heaven meets Earth like a sloppy wet kiss.” Especially: “I don’t have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way that He loves us.” Kim Walker and David Crowder have also done versions of this.

I also think of songs like Alanis Morissette’s “Everything.” I can’t help but think of God when she sings about how human she is and then sings, “…you’re still here.”

What other songs should be on the playlist?

If you were building a playlist about over-the-top love, what other songs would you add? Worship music, pop music, I’m not really particular where the songs come from.

Leave them as a comment here, tell me on Twitter @marcapitman, or send me an email marc@fundraisingcoach.com. I’d love to know the song, the artist you prefer, and the reason you think it fits.

After it hits 5 or 6 songs, I’ll share my list on Spotify. I plan on continuing to add to it throughout the year.

(If you’re on Spotify, check out my “Kingdom in Unexpected Places” playlist. It’s a list of songs that remind me, unexpectedly, of God.)

The difference of one week – Remembering Mom

A week ago at about this time, I got the call that my mother had died.

It was a shock.

Mom was human, so I knew she’d die at some point. We all do. (Well, except for Enoch.) And on March 28, Mom was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, also known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” So I knew that, barring a miraculous act from God, her death was sooner than we’d foreseen.

But it was still a shock.

There’s a lot to be thankful for:

  • Mom died peacefully, in her own bed, falling asleep–no struggling or pain.
  • My brother-in-law, an RN, was with her at the time–no “should I have done more” second guessing for the non-medical people in the family (like my sister and me).
  • She’d had a day full of conversations the day before. I wonder if she’d decided it was a day of goodbyes.
  • She’d even gotten to say an extra special goodbye to my dad before he went to work. She knew. And it was ok.

I’m so glad she won’t have to suffer the worst of ALS. She died while she still had some control of her muscles and her movement. And I’m so glad my family’s made the choices it has–self employment, distance learning, and home school– to be able to drop everything and drive down to be with family the moment we heard.

It still stinks. And people familiar with this side of grief tell me that it’s going to get worse after the service tomorrow. (I’ve counseled people through death, but this side is really different.)

Mostly humbling gratitude

What a week. Time is all wonky. I sit down to do something and all of a sudden two hours has gone but I have little to show for it. I feel like I’m not getting much accomplished but I’m exhausted by 6 p.m.

But I have to say, I’m mostly grateful. Mom is in a far better place. The last time I got to talk to her, she told me that she’d lived with so many fears, but now Jesus had taken those fears away. And I’m grateful that she wouldn’t put up with any of us feeling sad for the rest of our life or beating ourselves up for the things we didn’t say!

I’m grateful for a family that works well together. My wife and kids are a tremendous team. My sister and her husband have been a constant presence for Dad. My dad is pretty remarkable in his own right. Mom’s brother and sister-in-law are amazing (always have been). All the people our family’s adopted or interacted with are surrounding us. Even more, the Body of Christ, the followers of Jesus that were praying for her and my family are all around. (Our church in Waterville has been amazing even though we’re not physically there right now!)

And the widest circle of all, the people that don’t share my faith tradition or relationship with Jesus but care enough to express their support and gratitude.

In the midst of the sadness, it’s humbling for this kid from Maine.

How can we help?

For all who’ve asked “How can we help?” — we Pitmans are stubborn-as-mules do-it-myself Yankees. We have generations of practice not asking for help. We stink at it. So honestly, we don’t know. Prayer is always welcome. It’s doing more than you know.

But I know that doing something tangible (not that prayer isn’t), is comforting too. My friends over on Facebook are building a list of things. The constant refrain? Our families will need the help for months to come. (And apparently the most help involves food. I’m good with that!)

If you’d like, you can make a donation to your favorite charity. We give addresses for The ALS Association Northern New England Chapter, The ALS Center at Dartmouth, and Pathway Vineyard Church in Mom’s obituary.

I guess I’ll say, please don’t let our ignorance in knowing what we need stop you from trying. But please honor us, especially dad, if we say, “Thank you but please stop”! :)

Also, we’d be honored if those of you who knew Mom would share a picture of mom or story or memory about her, even just a couple lines over at http://facebook.com/KathyStories. And if you’re unable to come to the service tomorrow at 1 p.m., we’re going to attempt to stream it over at http://marcpitman.com/kathycelebration.

Most importantly, please keep lifting Dad up in prayer. I can’t imagine losing your best friend of over 45 years.

What have you found helpful?

It’s only been a week, and though we were preparing for Mom’s death, I don’t think we were quite ready. Not sure if you ever are.

What have you found helpful in dealing with grief? And for getting through those moments when it catches you unaware?

What if this Easter celebration is real?

Easter sunrise service

Easter. The day that splits people.

Many appreciate Jesus. His life. His teaching.

And feel sorry that “the man” or “the machine” killed him.

But ressurection? For so many, that’s going too far.

If that’s you, this Easter try something different. Rather than scoff, mock, or feel sorry for those of us otherwise sensible people that believe in this raised-to-new-life thing. Rather than chuckling at this notion of Jesus not becoming zombified but actually becoming a new, more real creation.

What if?

Why not ask “What if it’s real?”

What if the pagan rituals of spring were just echoes, pantomimes, hints of a much deeper truth? Like the deeper magic Aslan releases?

Happy Easter!

However you choose to commemorate today, I wish you a happy Easter!