Embassy, by Sam Drake

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So I have a friend, his name is Taylor. The more accurate thing to call Friend Taylor is “Taylor, Friend and Unpaid Creative Consultant to Embassy, The Blog (and Hopefully, Someday, 'Embassy, the Movie')”. He's the blog fan in my life and is much much more blog-literate than I am. He's the reason this blog exists, which is the reason why all the negative email feedback goes to him and not to me.

As part of his “work” as Official Unofficial Unpaid Creative Consultant, Taylor shared recently that he wanted “a million words on disappointment”. After reading what I've written and talking to me in person about what I want to say and who I want to say it to, he put his finger on this emotional state as being a constant companion on the road of a Workplace Missionary, and I agree with him that a million words, thereabouts, is probably appropriate. Luckily for me, and you, I have not yet learned how to write a million words all at once, so we're going to start that thousand mile journey with a couple steps today.

This is the first in a series of stories on disappointment. Some will end in happy endings, some will end in open ended ways, and some will end and remain in grief. I hope, eventually, to feature other people here, but for a bit here you're gonna get stories from my life. I was brought up by my father to swing for the fences, and if you're going to live your life that way, you're gonna catch a lot of air and more strikeouts than you were probably prepared for before you actually hit that baseball over the fence. Consequently, I've got plenty of stories of diappointment.

My Internship with Chi Alpha Campus Ministries

This is a story with a happy ending. I guess. It feels happy to me, looking back on it.

The second time I dropped out of college, I had been attending and serving with a campus ministry group called Chi Alpha Campus Ministries. We were among the smaller groups at all the campuses I ended up serving at, but if you have ever attended a state school in the US you might have heard of similar groups like Campus Crusade for Christ (which has gone by CRU for a while now, since having “crusade” in the name was not helpful with college kids), The Navigators, Christian Challenge or Young Life. All of these groups have their own personality, both nationally and regionally. Chi Alpha, being the Campus Ministry arm of the Assemblies of God, US Missions, usually have groups that have more international students, more students who speak a language other than English at home, and then a fair number of students who's home church is either AG or Pentecostal in character. I'm in the last category.

My twenties were largely characterized by this desire to be able to formulate and elucidate a plan for my life. Late in my twenties, I eventually adopted a nihilistic approach to “plans for a person's life”, that they're largely garbage and pointless and a waste of time, and that hard edged perspective came from crashing and burning a lot in my late teens and early twenties. Looking back, trying to remember, I think I thought I might be, in roughly chronological order;

  1. A construction worker
  2. A Teacher (of any subject)(even though I hated my time in school)
  3. A Spanish Language Interpreter (even though I knew almost no Spanish)
  4. A Software Engineer
  5. A Campus Missionary
  6. A Computer Hardware Engineer
  7. A Youtuber
  8. A Podcaster (audio is easier)
  9. Back to a Computer Hardware Engineer
  10. A Mathemetician
  11. etc etc etc

You get the idea. I had settled in to a rhythm, by the time this story takes place, of “I enjoy the though of doing X as a career”, “The Novelty of X is wearing off”, “preparing to do X is extremely hard and I have no idea whether I'll want to do X after this is done”, “I'm not an Xer, Xers don't have this kind of trouble getting started, I must have missed my calling, I need to go back to the drawing board”, to, at the last, “I enjoy the thought of doing Y as a career”. Rinse and repeat.

Keep that in mind.

So, that summer, my campus missionary had resigned to go back to school and become a therapist, and the state director, a guy named Alex, had made the decision to merge the staff and student leadership of my group and his group, which met in the college town 45 minutes East of us. This is for a lot of actually good reasons and a couple of the challenges inherent in this arrangement didn't rear their heads until far enough down the line that morale was pretty darn high for quite a while during this whole arrangement, but this story isn't really about that.

I had recently given up on college for the second (but not the last) time, with no direction and, critically, no plan to give to the adults in my life who helpfully/unhelpfully ask “so what are you doing now?”. The anxiety of only having a reply in the shape of “Well, I just dropped out of college and I'm working part time at a big box hardware store and I'm just gonna do that forever” was unhealthy in it's scale, and that anxiety had me looking for a place to land after I had already jumped off the last branch. I was like a juvenile flying squirrel, leaping into the air before even deciding where it was I might want to land. And in to this mental space, an opportunity arrived.

I had known Alex from seeing him at youth events around the state for a long time, and we had hit it off again when he came through town. During those conversations, I came to a couple of conclusions;

  1. I loved the kids and staff in my campus ministry, and I loved meeting new ones.
  2. I hated working my current job, which was a dead end and a pain in the ass in any case.
  3. The work of the ministry seemed to be the most important kind of work you could do.
  4. The more I went with Alex around on the job, it seemed like his job was mostly mentoring young people, teaching the Way of Christ, building a community of faith out of young people and sending them out to change the world.
  5. I think I could do that for the rest of my life.

So we made arrangements for me to come on as an intern for that school year. In fact, one of three interns that year, but I didn't know that until later. Honestly the whole staff got double or triple it's size almost overnight, in a story that's worth it's own blog post. I went to train on how to raise my own financial support so that I could focus on the internship, and eventually the school year started.

It's maybe worth pausing here to make clear something that I took for granted, but I've since learned is a peculiarity of how our fellowship equipped missionaries to enter the field, financially. Let's say you feel the call to enter the mission field, any mission field, and you go to AG World Missions and say so. They look you over, consult the Holy Spirit in prayer and fasting and decide that yes, they agree that the Lord has called you to go to the Moon as a Lunar Missionary. They commission you, consult their tables and formulas to see about how much they think you're gonna need to feed your family and pay for pizza parties and coffee dates and all that, then they take that big number and give it to you as your budget.

Now, in some Christian traditions, the sending body would put the missionary, effectively, on salary and they pack their bags and go and get started. In the Assemblies of God (and other fellowships), the sending body is technically the Assemblies of God Churches in your District, so before you can go get started, you need to go to anyone who will talk to you and ask them to send money every month to support your work. You can't go in the field until you raise your budget, a process that can take a year for people who either have enough saved up to go full bore in to it or have enough interpersonal connections to get a meaningful head start and get some cash rolling to then snowball into expenses like gas and lunch. It can take much, much longer. I know missionaries who worked a decade long career in the field and never made a full budget.

This is an “eat what you kill” model, and there are a lot of good reasons, bad reasons, and stupid reasons for it. My feelings on this model are complicated (ie not decided and not overwhelmingly for or against) and may be worth another post if people care what a missionary wash-out thinks about the matter, but the relevant upside here is that I had a (quite small) missionary budget designed to support a young man on his own, living in subsidized (though not free) housing and spending his time talking to students and supporting the various weekly and quarterly events we did. The internship was a full time internship, really, and there was more than enough to keep me busy all day. It would have been very difficult to work a job and do everything I had signed up for.

I didn't raise a single dollar in support. Not for lack of trying, either. I had churches I knew, families who loved me, loved Chi Alpha, and already supported other missionaries who told me they couldn't support me and couldn't give me a real reason other than they couldn't (wouldn't?) support more missionaries with their budget the way it was. I was going to have to work a part time job just to make ends meet while trying to do my full time ministry internship.

(I learned later that this was a known fact among established missionaries, pastors and observers in my district. The sense was there just wasn't any more support available in the district for missionaries, with even some established families seeing their support dry up and having to leave the missions field. For what it's worth, all of the missionaries I served with in Chi Alpha are now local church pastors, either coming on to an existing church or planting, or have left vocational ministry. I don't know how much financial support pressure contributed to these decisions. It can't be “not at all”.)

The-in-the-middle part of this story seems, to me, in hindsight, the boring part. We made friends, we got to work, the wind fell out of my sails but I kept trying, mostly because my leadership loved me enough to remind me of my commitments and keep me from just dipping out because things got hard, and I eventually had to let go of the dream I had of being a vocational minister because the whole hustle had completely burnt me out. I decided in my heart that I wasn't going to do the next internship in line (which would have sent me to a big established Chi Alpha group in, I think, North Dakota, to prepare to run my own campus ministry) towards the end of the Fall, met and began talking to the woman who would become my wife about a month after that, and told Alex about a month later than I should have, because I was so anxious of disappointing him. He, of course, was supportive.

I didn't have to burn any bridges to do it, but I was out on my own again, without any direction. Again. And I would do this dance a bit more before giving up on it, but I would eventually. This post is already about twice as long as I thought it should have been, but I'll conclude really quick with the reason I told this story at all.

I've never really wanted to do something different with my life than to serve the Church, because that's where Christ was, and He was the thing that never changed in my life. I spent a lot of time in the campus ministry space, I know dozens and dozens of peers who felt the same way, who were completely willing to live on less and give up a retirement and any wage growth at all if they could just find a church that could pay them just enough and let them play worship for a living every Sunday, let them teach children how much Jesus loves them, let them teach adults how much Jesus loves them. In my experience, less than a fifth ever got to feed their family by preaching the word.

So maybe you're in that 4/5ths of my peers who had some kind of similar experience to mine, and you felt that dream fall out of your hands and land on the floor, crash into a million pieces.

I see you, and you're not alone.

Also, the God you serve is the God that entered into death, was broken into a million pieces, and became the Resurrected God shortly after He was made The Crucified Lord. So remember the day of your baptism, remember the day that you died and accepted Christ's invitation into His resurrection life, and remember that your brother, King, and God has made a habit, plan and even talent of bringing the dead back to life.

The song that meant the most to me during that time of my life is a song by a band called Colony House, called “Moving Forward”. You should listen to it. It still makes me emotional today, now, writing this. Alone, in the Starbucks. It's ok, it's 2023, a man can cry in public if he wants to.

This post is part of #100DaysToOffload, a challenge to blog a hundred days in a year hosted by Kev Quirk. This is post #7.

#ChristianMinistry #Embassy #ChiAlpha #Disappointment #Resurrection

Ok, a friend of mine has asked me to pinch hit on a Sunday School class this week, so my attention will be a little pulled by that. So instead of two thousand words on 2 Corinthians, I've got a list of links for you that represent maybe the only time in my recollection of “The Algorithm” giving me exactly what I wanted without me asking for it.

So there's this rock star, Irish lad named Bono. He sings for a band called U2, you should check them out if you've never heard of them. U2 is something of a fixture in my wife's family, my in-laws have been to several of their shows, including the big anniversary tour they did for The Joshua Tree. Big deal. I had almost no exposure to U2 before this, other than thinking Vertigo was a pretty good single (still is), knowing they were “a big deal”, and knowing that some people in my circles didn't like Bono because of his “attitude”. I didn't know what that attitude even was. Presumably it had something to do with always wearing sunglasses.

So I'm a bit of a latecomer to the U2 fold, but the more I listen and the more I read, the more I begin to recognize something special here. I learned what the “attitude” people didn't like was (broadly, debt forgiveness and AIDS activism that leads him to shake hands and work with people who are definitely not punk rock) and decided that I definitely did like his attitude, I loved his art, and I appreciated the fact that his faith was there, for those with ears to hear.

To that last point, and by way of introduction, I feel like the introduction of Chekov's Algorithm is appropriate here. Christianity Today, a publication of decidedly Evangelical persuasion, likely provided the inciting incident here with their publication of an interview with Bono as the cover story for the December issue. He has an anecdote that drives to the middle of what I mean, that his faith is in his art for those that have ears to hear. Bono relates a conversation he had with Franklin Graham, who picked him up from the airport on his way to meet with and receive a blessing from Billy Graham. Franklin wasn't quite sure of his cargo...

“You … you really love the Lord?”
“Yep.”
“Okay, you do. Are you saved?”
“Yep, and saving.”
He doesn’t laugh. No laugh.
“Have you given your life? Do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?”
“Oh, I know Jesus Christ, and I try not to use him just as my personal Savior. But, you know, yes.”
“Why aren’t your songs, um, Christian songs?”
“They are!”
“Oh, well, some of them are.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, why don’t they … Why don’t we know they’re Christian songs?”
I said, “They’re all coming from a place, Franklin. Look around you. Look at the creation, look at the trees, look at the sky, look at these kinds of verdant hills. They don’t have a sign up that says, ‘Praise the Lord’ or ‘I belong to Jesus.’ They just give glory to Jesus.”

I really enjoyed reading the article, and when I visited it from a couple computers it seemed to me that they don't have it paywalled. The author, Mike Cosper, is the host on the famous-in-certain-circles podcast, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, and he was good enough to post the audio of the interview up for us to listen to on the feed for his news commentary podcast, The Bulletin. I've enjoyed the Bulletin more than I thought I might, for a show that's about as Evangelical as I am not. Bono's deliberate carefulness, thoughtfulness with theological matters was surprising to me, in his speech and manner. Listen for treats like “That's a beautiful phrase you might have coined, just that behind Lament often lurks Hope. The grief becomes a kind of invocation, isn't it, to be filled. The emptiness, your emptiness, is this... prayer to be filled. Punk rock prayers.... yeah. That's probably what they were.”

So I listened to the interview, loved it, passed it on and then forgot a bit about it, until I was reminded that The Algorithm's panopticon captures all. Turns out, about six years ago, Fuller Theological Seminary's media studio arranged a meetup and conversation between Bono and the author of his favorite tranlation and interpretation of the Bible, Eugene Peterson, to talk about the Psalms. I didn't know this existed until YouTube served it up for me and made sure I had the opportunity to watch it. Very special conversation for fans of either man.

To wrap up, I'll end with a recommended reading section. The whole conversation with Bono on the artist's waiting and reaction and expression of the move of the Spirit is very much on the wavelength with Makoto Fujimura's work in Culture Care and in describing the Artist's role in Faith, and Faith's role in Art. Do yourself a favor and check him out.

Lastly, I'll give a link to Bono's memoir, Surrender, the likely inciting incident for the whole enchilada here. It's a big ol brick of a work, and I haven't read it yet myself, but I likely will.

Also, here I'll include a parting plea. Buy your books from people who want to sell books, not people who want to colonize the moon. Support your local independent bookstore.

This post is part of #100DaysToOffload, a challenge to blog a hundred days in a year hosted by Kev Quirk. This is post #6.

#links #linklist #100DaysToOffload #bono #u2 #surrender #EugenePeterson #MakotoFujimura

One of the most important things to do when you get a new car is (I'm told, having never owned one myself) to treat it like a new car until it inevitably receives some kind of blemish, it's first scratch. Once it's acquired its first injury, you can stop treating it like a brand new car. Gladly, after an exhausting weekend and one of those little head colds that I get every other week now, courtesy of my infant daughter's daycare cohort, we have received our first scratch on my perfect record. I wanted to get this topic down on “paper” though, so we can start to develop it in relationship to the previous two pillars, Embassy and Mission. Let's proceed with the quotation from St Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians that this specific phrase, “The Ministry of Reconciliation” is pulled from:

2 Corinthians, Chapter 5 (NASB95)

  1. For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 
  2. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, 
  3. inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. 
  4. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. 
  5. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. 
  6. Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— 
  7. for we walk by faith, not by sight— 
  8. we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. 
  9. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.
  10. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 
  11. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences. 
  12. We are not again commending ourselves to you but are giving you an occasion to be proud of us, so that you will have an answer for those who take pride in appearance and not in heart. 
  13. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you. 
  14. For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 
  15. and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. 
  16. Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. 
  17. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
  18. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 
  19. namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 
  20. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 
  21. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

The Word of the Lord, Thanks be to God.

Interpretation

Ok so one of my favorite theologians writing and speaking today is a man named Chris Green, and during a recent talk he gave at my church he made an observation that stuck with me. He pointed out that a lot of times, our approach to Scripture is to first, regard it with fear and trembling (good), but to then go find out what, for example, the book of Jonah is “supposed” to mean, else fall back on a simplified interpretation we received as young people, maybe in Sunday School, maybe in the culture at large. We then take that interpretation, then we apply it to the scripture as we read it, sometimes blowing past what the scripture is telling us, what it actually says there on the page. He advocates for recovering a very careful and deliberate reading practice of scripture, to let the text speak for itself before we speak for it.

I mention this, not only because of its influence on me and my study practice, but also to say that there's a way in which the Church can coin jargon like “Being Reconciled to Christ” out of the scripture, say that it means “being saved” or “being a Christian”, and then we can let that good natured smoothing over to prevent us from getting every ounce of nuance that's available to us in the scripture. Hopefully this example will make what I'm trying to say more clear.

Consider the selection from above: v20. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

That last phrase, “be reconciled to God,” in our jargon, if we translate it as “Become a Born Again Christian”, then the point of this passage is to say that to be an Ambassador for Christ is to beg people to come to the altar, confess your sins and accept Christ as your savior. Simple. And don't get me wrong, this absolutely is part of the mandate of the Church, but going back and reading more carefully is going to give us the whole picture on what exactly Paul is saying here.

v18. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation,  v19. namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 

If I was doing five points and an hour and a half on this section we'd go back even farther, but I think this will do. Verse 18 refers to “all these things”, that is, the person of Christ, what He did and the effects of what He did, are from God, “who reconciled us to Himself through Christ”. That word, reconciled, what does it mean to you?

Reconciliation

I'm not going to copypasta a definition from the dictionary for reconciliation, but it's a relatively specific word that belongs adjacent to ideas like “repair”, “health”, “renovation”, or “setting right”. It means the repair of interpersonal relationships. When Jacob reconciled with Esau, they repaired the brotherly, familial relationship that Jacob broke when he tricked the blessing out of Isaac and took off before Esau could kill him. When you reconcile with a friend, you're fixing a relationship after an injury. You can't be reconciled with someone you've never met, we don't use it for the creation of a new relationship. We also don't really use it for situations where maybe justice has been done, but the friendship remains broken. If you were forced to pay me for the cow that your dog killed by the local magistrate, but you still refused to talk to me, that's not reconciliation. You may be justified under the law, but we are not repaired to the way we were before.

So reconciliation has a pretty specific meaning here, that through Christ, God repaired the relationship between us and Him, and “gave us the ministry of reconciliation”. The Greek word here translated as “ministry” is diakonia, and “ministry” is a pretty good translation for it, in one way. The connotations are those of service, like waiting tables or tending to the needs of others, and also to the work of a government official, particularly one acting on behalf of a superior. This use of “minister” is more common in British English, I think, than in American English, but it's beginning to paint a picture for us. God repaired the relationship between us, and then he gave us a job.

Paul clarifies that we're given this job because it's the job that Jesus had/has/will have, “Namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself”. We, being in Christ, have the same job that He has, this Ministry, this Word of Reconciliation. Reading “Ministry” in it's governmental mode helps us see how connected this idea is to the phrase in v 20, “We are Ambassadors for Christ”. We aren't just any kind of governmental minister, we are Diplomats.

Ambassadors of the Kingdom of God

And we come back to the Embassy that we started with, that I titled the Blog with. We are Christ's Ambassadors, Diplomats of the Kingdom of God, that Kingdom that would reconquer the world not with force, with power, with the sword, but instead would reconquer the world with the kind of love that has no fear of Death, for the Love we follow and emulate has conquered Death.

This is really the core metaphor, word picture, that I'll be drawing on for the remainder of this work. We have been adopted out of whatever citizenship we held before, whatever full faith and allegiance we offered before, to give that full faith and allegiance to the Kingdom of God and it's King, Jesus of Nazareth, The Christ. He is so happy to have us that He makes us part of his government that is responsible for repairing the relationship between his Kingdom and the surrounding Nations, whether those are Nation States, Local Governments, Ethnic Groups or, indeed, those petty feifdoms we often spend eight hours of our day interacting with. He sends us into those places with the calling and mandate to be prepared for any opportunity to improve relations between these two kingdoms, and to do it the way Jesus would do it. We don't come to be serve, but to serve. We don't govern with Power, but with Love. We don't engage in inhumane shortcuts, but insist on the dignity of every human being in our charge.

My friend, you may be working in a job you didn't want, didn't ask for, and don't have any respect for. Let's say, for example, that you're working in a discount hardware store because you need a job and your friend at church was able to get you a job pretty quickly there. You asked to be sent, and the Lord sent you to the back end of the cruddy part of your town. The Lord has work for you there.

My friend, you may be working hard in a job you did want, you prepared for, that you love. You've been doing your best to be nice, ethical, but you never really thought of yourself as the missionary type. You wanted to change the world as a young person, but these days you're just happy to be able to feed your family, give a little extra when the pastor asks for it, and go on a vacation every once in a while. You never asked to be sent, but the Lord sent you anyways. The Lord has work for you there.

You are Christ's Ambassador.

We'll be exploring exactly what that means next time.

This post is part of #100DaysToOffload, a challenge to blog a hundred days in a year hosted by Kev Quirk. This is post #5

#Christian #Ministry #WorkplaceMissions #Embassy

This is a direct continuation of yesterday's Digression, and I suggest you read it first if you're the kind of person that prefers to read serial content in order. If you're the kind of person that doesn't like to be told what to do, then I suggest (but do not tell) that you enjoy these posts in any order strikes your fancy. If you prefer less digressions in your Digressions, then I apologize for the previous digression. Onward!

Notebooks

I use two kinds of notebooks in daily rotation, with one getting the brunt of it. I, at various times, have tried to live my entire life out of one productivity space, whether that's one particular notebook, one particular digital tool, one particular device, but I find that my brain doesn't accommodate that kind of thing very easily. With work, I've pared it down to two.

Baron Fig Confidant Notebook – Flagship Size

You may or may not have heard of Baron Fig if you live in the analog productivity space. I became a customer of theirs a long time ago, when they were just tinkering with the idea of putting out their notebooks in a dark charcoal color, so I've seen the company at various stages and been more or less entranced with the whole branding message. For those unfamiliar, Baron Fig bills itself much more as an “ideas” company for “creatives” that just happens to sell, as their main driver, blank notebooks and accessories to go with those notebooks. If you try to take them seriously as a serious stationery company, you'll probably be disappointed when all their creative energy seems to go in to publishing books written by the owner about the “laws of creativity” or a guided journal collaboration with Netflix. If you want No Bullshit Serious Notebook people, I suggest working with Leuchtterm, Rhodia, Kokuyo or Midori (I guess, Midori dabbles a bit in this with their Travelers Company products). If you can understand Baron Fig as more of a design house that attacks the analog productivity space from a design angle, first graphic/visual design and then product/practicality design, their products might have more traction with you. Incidentally, as one of those “Design is a Human Right” people, the idea of an object that is both beautiful and useful is quite appealing to me.

The Baron Fig Confidant is their first and still most popular hardcover notebook. I have always worked in dot grid in the past, though with all the writing I've been doing, I might switch to ruled on the next one. They come in several cover colors these days, but they all have a signature yellow ribbon bookmark and have a paper that's quite balanced for pencil, ballpoint, roller and fountain pen use. I don't recommend it for mixed media, but it leans towards toothy, rather than smooth, so a blank one may work for you as a pencil and pen sketchbook. The size is very close to A5, but just slightly shorter and wider. This has the frustrating effect of making the notebook a proprietary format, breaking accessory intercompatibility with the wider A5 universe. I have a hard time telling the difference when going back and forth between A5s I have in my desk and this one. Maybe being more squarish helps some people, I think it's a wash.

It's entirely possible one day I'll drift away from the Baron Fig ecosystem, but for now the attractive and useful nature of their stuff continues to speak to me. So for now, I stay.

Field Notes Pocket Notebook

Because they're all so different, and often so beautiful, I move from cover and page format all around without too much of a problem. I've used Field Notes notebooks as my pocket notebook of choice for years and years, but only when I use a pocket notebook. I don't always in every season. I've used them in the past as meal and habit trackers, short journals, etc but today I use one purely for to-dos, which happened when I fell out of love with bullet journaling and split my to-dos and my journals into two different books. Speaking of....

A Note on Bullet Journaling

I had high hopes for Bullet Journaling, seeing as how the author has wicked bad ADHD, like me, and I tried to stick to one off and on for years. I think the problem I may have run in to is that it always felt like there just wasn't enough life for me to organize with a tool like that, it felt like it was overbuilt for my boring and often mundane daily schedule, even though I always appreciated the organization when I was on it. If you ever see me move in to a self-employed role (a use case where I think the system would be completely bomber) or start to juggle more than one workplace, I think I would return to the system and try much much harder to get it to stick. As it stands now, my A5s that I carry around get the Daily Journal job, a habit I started during the delivery of my first child to tame my anxiety just a little bit, and one I always benefit from in very tangible ways.

Accessories

This is always my favorite part of a gear review. Like the rest of this particular blog, we're restricting this to analog productivity gear that is in active daily rotation for me, not all the stuff I've used, owned, or may bring out of retirement in the future.

Baron Fig Guardian Pro Notebook Case

Remember when I lamented that Baron Fig breaks compatibility with the wider A5 universe with their just barely different notebook format? I'd love to put this case in to permanent rotation with all kinds of notebooks filling it, but that's not gonna fly for the Apple-of-Notebooks people. That said, I do enjoy using and owning it, even though I don't recommend you spend the $50ish that it costs unless you know you're sticking with Baron Fig as a main supplier for your needs. There are a lot of A5 compatible covers out there, and it might be worth checking out that option with something like Midori's MD line of A5s. I don't really use the pockets on this guy a ton, but if I was more of a scrapper I might. My To-do lives in the pockets of this cover when it's not in my pocket so I know where to find it.

These Little Pencil Point Protectors

I use these on all my pencils when they go out in the wild. Be sure to get the right kind; the ones made in Denmark are sized for European pencils (thinner) while the ones made by Kutsawa et al in Japan are made for Japanese pencils (thicker). I've successfully crimped the Japanese ones to work with European pencils in the past, but it looks ugly and frankly they're cheap enough to just buy both if you can find the European ones in your locality. Availability has been spotty, and the places I got them have since closed up shop (RIP CW Pencils). If you use Blackwing pencils, those are Japanese width, and if you use American pencils (Why??) then those are closer to European profile.

Carl CP-30 Pencil Sharpener

This one is discontinued but Carl still makes great pencil sharpeners, and I wouldn't be surprised if the mechanism is the same. The nice part about them is they grip and hold the pencil, automatically feeding it in to the sharpening blades, and it automatically stops when the pencil is sharp. Very nice long point profile, not so sharp it breaks the first time you use it. Universal recommendation.

Book Darts

Necessary innovation if you're actively bullet journaling and need to switch back and forth between pages often. Also great for when multiple people use the same book and need to track their place. I use them in my To-Do to mark the current page quickly.

Conclusion

You all may get another Digression tomorrow, since today and tomorrow are work days, but I want to get the page on the Ministry of Reconciliation up soon, Sunday at the latest. Looking forward to talking about it!

This post is part of #100DaysToOffload, a challenge to blog a hundred days in a year hosted by Kev Quirk . This is post #4.

#Stationery #Pens #Pencils #Analog #Productivity #Digressions

Ok, so I said that my next blog post would be on the Ministry of Reconciliation, but I've gotten myself involved with a big furniture remix on my day off. I hate to ruin my daily streak on my third day of blogging, ever, so I thought I'd throw up a quick rundown of my analog (or pen and paper) setup that I use to keep my writing and my life organized. If I was a big time professional blogger, I'd include semi-professionally photographed pictures of each individual item for you to fawn over, but since I'm writing this post in lieu of spending all day on a blog post, we'll have to make do with links and verbal descriptions. Also, no affiliate links! Remember, I'm not a big time professional blogger. If you got something out of this blog, you can do me a favor and just share it with someone else. First stop, writing instruments!

Writing Instruments

I am not a fundamentalist when it comes to choosing a writing instrument, I go through phases of using woodcase pencils, ballpoint pents and fountain pens more or less than before, and I'm almost always using them all during different points of the day. I'll start with the category I'm the hottest on right this moment and work my way down from there.

Fountain Pens

My brother was a big fountain pen guy a while ago, but I only recently got in to them, mostly because of (unfounded) fear of the maintenance required. I'll confirm what the pen addicts have been saying for a long time; since fountain pen ink is all water based and water soluble, the maintenance is very straightforward and generally consists of running water through the mechanism until it is clear. Some accessories make this a bulletproof no-brainer, but accessories are later. I currently own two fountain pens, one I like and one I'm very disappointed in and will not mention.

Lamy Safari Fountain Pen – Fine Nib

So the Lamy Safari is a very common recommendation for people looking at their first, or maybe their second, fountain pen. I find it quite attractive and it works quite well for the $30 price tag. Unless you have very large and open handwriting, I recommend either the fine or the extra fine nib. If your handwriting is even a little compact, hard recommend on the extra fine. European nibs aren't as fine as the Japanese ones, and I kind of wish I had gotten the Extra Fine for myself, though I manage fine with the Fine. Uses a proprietary ink cartridge, but the converter is super easy to get and that should let you use any bottled ink you want.

Ballpoint and Rollerball Pens

So, I don't care for most rollerball pens, they don't tend to flatter my handwriting for whatever reason. They don't have the line variation a fountain pen will, but they'll also lay ink when I drag the tip lightly when a ballpoint or pencil won't. That said, when a company (like Lamy) will make a whole line of similar instruments (like the Safari line), they'll make a fountain pen, a rollerball pen, a ballpoint pen, and a mechanical pencil maybe, and I typically prefer the rollerball body than the ballpoint, which is often a retractable or clicky pen. Check out the Lamy Safari Line on their website and you'll see what I mean.

Retro 51 Hex-o-Matic

A total and complete bro of a bombproof pen, The Hex-o-Matic ballpoint lives in my vest at work and has never failed me, even when I washed it and blew up an ink cartridge in it. I was worried about Fountain Pen maintenance, I SHOULD have been worried about ballpoint maintenance! Nightmare to clean up, even with an ultrasonic cleaner, and while I managed to get it 80% clean on the inside, I also accidentally took half the finish with it. Don't run your ultrasonic cleaner for too long at a time, kids. Anyways, it looks like hell (the cool kind) and still performs like a champ, and it takes de-facto standard Parker style refills, so you should go get one right now. Tell em I sent you, and don't explain who I am when they don't know who you're talking about.

Lamy Safari Rollerball

This was the first Safari line pen I got, because I loved the color and it was a limited edition. Not a ton to say other than I like it, the grip is not great for super long writing sessions with my big hands, for whatever reason, and that it'll live in my pocket on days, like today, where I don't have a bag with me but need a pen for to-do lists. Housework days, quick errand days. One thing to know, like the fountain pen, the rollerball technically uses a proprietary cartridge which i don't think is that great. It's ok, just not great. Turns out, though, if you put a spacer in the back of the barrel, it'll accept standard euro style refills, including my favorite Uni Jetstream refills. So I glued a little spacer back in the back and now it runs like a champ for me. Recommended mod, from me.

Woodcase Pencils

I'm not an anti-mechanical pencil fundamentalist, I just think they're soulless and uncanny and just a little weird. I use woodcase pencils. A lot of different kinds. Here are the three you're most likely to find on me or in my bag at any particular time.

Baron Fig Archer

Ok so the Baron Fig Archer Is not necessarily my favorite pencil, but it makes the trip with me, often, because it's quite light, quite attractive/neutral, and writes pretty darn well in most circumstances. The product is a bit of a red-headed stepchild for BF, they seem much more interested in $50 pens and guided journals, so I don't know exactly how long this product will be available, but it's a reliable and attractive option and I'd grab a dozen if you're already on the site for a notebook or something.

Tombow 2558 Pencil – HB

Ok so the Tombow 2558 is the apotheosis of the yellow school pencil. It has a glossy marigold lacquer, super good enough eraser on the end, wonderful writing lead, and often at $12-15 a dozen. Go get some. Kickass pencil, especially for school/uni work.

Mistubishi 9852EW – HB

Just as good as the Tombow, in an attractive Satin Lacquered Natural Finish. I typically get these on Amazon but I couldn't bring myself to link to them. It's been tough since Caroline Weaver and CW Pencils folded up. I miss them.

Conclusion

There's a lot more to say on notebooks and accessories, but this post is dangerously long as-is so I'll have to save that for my next Digression. I'll see you (hopefully) tomorrow!

Part 2 of this Digression

This post is part of #100DaysToOffload, a challenge to blog a hundred days in a year hosted by Kev Quirk. This is post #3.

#Stationery #Pens #Pencils #Analog #Productivity #Digressions

So, a meaningful barrier that I've hit early in this process has been a disagreement in what words mean what; I plan on subtitling the book “A Workplace Missiology”, or something to that effect, and everyone else is using Missiology or Missions as a term to mean work that is directed over there, towards “other” people. The proper term, at least in America today, for work directed here, towards “our” people, is Evangelism. I'm going to be using the words differently, in part because of the shape of my brain but also in part because I think the church has missed a really important facet of engaging with the workplace as The Church, by limiting their creativity to this one theater of operation.

Evangelism, for the purpose of this work, will be the work of sharing the Good News (euangelion) of Christ, that The Kingdom of God is at Hand, for people who are prepared and willing to hear it. There are always people in our lives who are feeling a sense of lack, of being without, of being needy, and are looking for a thing to fill that void in their lives. They are the Seekers that are imagined by people wanting their church to be more “Seeker Friendly” or “Seeker Sensitive”. They could be a person who is currently attending a church that is in decline due to poor spiritual health, and they're looking for a more healthy church expression to belong to. They could be someone who is in a period of broad spiritual exploration, choosing to leave behind a secular or rationalist frame of mind, and who is open to hearing from believers of many different religions. They could be someone who is in a hard period of transition or grief, and just needs someone to incarnate Christ to them in the room, to be that presence of God for someone who doesn't know how to find him. Evangelism is many things, but the broad thrust of this blog is an attempt to convince you, the reader, that your responsibility and calling is not limited to these kinds of things.

Missions, Missiology, for the purpose of this work, will be Representing Christ (as His Ambassador) to people, institutions, or communities that, by contrast, are not seeking a new religious practice. They are not impressed in their heart by a conviction of their own lack. They live a life, separate from the fellowship of Christ and the Church, that is relatively stable and makes sense to them. You likely have many coworkers that, even if they self-identify as Christian believers, do not practice Christian spirituality (through the attendance of services, performance of personal devotions, etc etc) and do not consider the Lordship of Christ when making decisions about their life. You likely have many coworkers that profess no faith at all, and live life in a very similar way to the people who culturally identify as Christians. If you're reading this in English, the professional culture of your workplace is probably marked by a deliberate embrace of Western Liberalism, that people should be free to believe and practice (or not believe and not practice) any religion they want, as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else (or interfere with work too much). Maybe you belong to a club or association, like a Rollerskating Photography Club, where the purported point and purpose of the group has “nothing to do” with religion.

Western Liberalism believes in and defends the seperation of spheres, the fundamental difference between personal life (where religious belief, home life and structure, romantic/life partner relationships, sexual ethics, etc reside) and public life (professional/workplace culture, civic culture/politics, “the discourse” etc.). People, of course, occupy both spheres at various times, but central here is the belief in the ethic that you should not impose or involve me in your personal life without my consent. If I don't want to talk about your personal life at work, I should be able to say “no” and have that request be respected, while if I don't want to talk to my coworker about a task we've both been assigned at work, I should not expect to have that request be respected. This cuts both ways, it's common for coworkers who are also personal friends to express a desire, if they go out on the weekend together, to not talk about work things at the karaoke bar, for example.

We all know that this is, at best, a fuzzy distinction. If I'm having an extended disagreement with a coworker at work, it can (and does, at least for me) affect my mood and my ability to help with household chores or serve at church. If someone, known as a crabby and impossible manager at work, finds a romantic partner and becomes a much happier person, they might become much easier to work with, at least for a season. The spheres interact, and we know this, yet we are often asked to uphold the boundaries that can exist for as long as we can. The important term, particularly in this cultural moment, is that of consent. If I don't want to, I shouldn't be forced to.

This dynamic, of being allowed some access to a space but having to work under constraints (or risk expulsion) is a major defining factor of missions work, and this is easier to see when we examine missions in an international context. Would it be wise for someone called to spread the gospel in a country that is both hostile to western countries, politically, and inhospitable to Christian spirituality to book a plane ticket, grab an apple box and engage in “turn or burn” street evangelism on the corner of Main and First Street? Of course not! Though many would argue street preaching isn't appropriate anywhere, the fact that the missionary must consign themselves to doing the most work they can do within the constraints given to them is Missiology 101. Maybe the hosting government is unwilling to accept foreign groups who are only there to proselytize new believers, but they are willing to accept foreign food and medical aid. In that case, if you're called to that place, it looks like you need to learn how to get food where it needs to go! Maybe the hosting government is a country that has tense political relations with your home country, and while you're there you must keep a low profile to avoid being expelled. That country, however, is pretty open to foreign economic investment, hoping to grow their economy and improve the quality of life for its citizens. You'll have to find a way to be a missionary who, as far as the government is concerned, is simply a foreign businessperson.

This dynamic is also familiar in home missions, or missions to places inside your home country, not outside of it. I served for years in college campus ministry, and a regular feature of our day-to-day was navigating our relationship with the University administrations on the campuses we worked on. The Administration, particularly the student affairs offices, were concerned with outside organizations using the resources of a student union to the detriment of the student body, either to harm students or to deprive them of money, rooms, etc that would otherwise be available to them. Therefore, if we wanted to meet on campus in one of the empty rooms, we had to follow all the rules (getting a faculty sponsor, have enough students willing to sign up as members, have rules and bylaws that conform etc) and maintain a healthy and friendly relationship with the school admins, people who were sometimes unenthusiastic about religious practice of any kind. Similar concerns exist for missionaries in disadvantaged urban or rural regions who often interact with city/county governments of various persuasions, or missionaries active in Native American/First Nations reservations.

These environments, these mission fields, will not tolerate a ham-fisted or uncareful evangelism-focused approach, and any of the activities that believers in the workplace have long been encouraged to do from the pulpit (invite your coworkers to church, organize a bible study, be prepared to give your testimony to anyone and everyone) may, in a particular workplace, catch someone a reprimand or an instruction to keep the workplace professional. In the past, the church's response to this has often been to either leave our job and find a new place to work with management that is permissive/encouraging of the above activities or to subsume our christian identity at work and say to ourselves that the most we can do is passively live a life of public witness, being both a christian and the best employee, the most helpful coworker, the nicest person etc.

This project is to make a case for a more active approach to being called as a missionary to the workplace and a more expansive view of what kind of activities constitute “kingdom work”. To be Christ's Ambassador at your job could mean all sorts of different things. When you're sitting in a meeting and you ask to hear what another coworker had to say after they were interrupted, that's giving a voice to the voiceless. When you offer to take over a difficult client for a coworker, both to give your coworker enough space to calm down without causing any trouble and to take care of a person who is obviously upset and worked up, you're engaged in the ministry of reconciliation. When you put your position on the line because the team you manage needs more time to do their job well, even when your boss doesn't want to give it to them, that's giving power to the powerless.

These kinds of things are pretty well covered in our imagination as, broadly, “being nice”, but the importance of digging deeper and finding the “why” behind the “why” is one of sustainability, the ability to persevere. I don't think I'm alone in saying that I don't want to be nice to people all the time! If the only thing I have in my gas tank is the knowledge that “I should be nice because Jesus was probably nice”, then we're good for, in my experience, a couple weeks. We need a reason why that's deeper than circumstances or preference. We need a reason why that's more important than the structural criticisms my black leftist heart has against the structure of making a living in this country today. We need a reason why that's eternal. We need a calling, and a mandate. That calling, for the Workplace Missionary, is the Ministry of Reconciliation.

Coincidentally, the Ministry of Reconciliation is the topic of my next blog post.

This post is part of #100DaysToOffload, a challenge to blog a hundred days in a year hosted by Kev Quirk. This is post #2

#Christian #Ministry #WorkplaceMissions #Embassy

So I promise I'll introduce myself properly, but first, a story.

When I finished High School, I got connected with a College Campus Ministry group called Chi Alpha. A family friend and our interim youth pastor at the time, Bill, was a Chi Alpha campus pastor at the time, and the thing about Bill was he just decided I was going to the winter conference, to the weekly meetings, to the thing, the other thing etc etc. I was a kid with absolutely no direction, and the presence of exceedingly strong direction was more of a gravitational pull for me at the time than it might have been at other times. I ended up serving with Chi Alpha in various capacities for five to six years after that, depending on how you count, and I mention it for two reasons. One, the experience is probably what branded me with the vocation of missionary, and two, the name Chi Alpha has an interesting provenance.

At least, it's interesting to me.

If you go back fifty years or so, the group that's now called Chi Alpha used to be called “Christ's Ambassadors”, drawing their name from one scripture in particular;

2 Corinthians 5:20 (CSB) Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.”

The phrase “We are ambassadors for Christ” has lodged itself into my brain ever since. Even as I exited my internship with Chi Alpha and, like a lot of my peers finishing their first ministry internship, left the hope of making a living as a minister behind.

I've met a lot of people my age who had every hope and expectation that if they just showed up and tried their hardest, did their best and dedicated their lives to serving the church, that there would be a job for them out there. Maybe not necessarily one right away, or even soon, but my ship will come in eventually. I have come to believe that, at least in the bible belt midwest, that supply of talented worship leaders and committed staff pastors vastly outstrips the demand, even in large cities. Sure, you might be able to find a place to serve, they just can't pay you anything. You're still going to need a Day Job.

That desire to serve the church, to respond to the call to ministry, and the tension that desire generates with the “real life” necessity of that day job, is what this blog is trying to address. I think that day job, that thing that feels like a functional and unwelcome distraction from your real calling, to serve the church in the church building, actually represents the call of God for this season of your life, if you only have the ears to hear. I want to validate, celebrate and play a part in equipping you for the vocation of Missionary to the Workplace.

Demographically, the vast majority of church attendants and members serve the church as what I have heard called from the pulpit “Missionaries to the Workplace”. “You will talk to people every day that will never give a hoot what the pastor has to say”, the line goes. “You have unique opportunities that nobody else here has to share and spread the Gospel”. Here's the thing though, we don't really take this call seriously in the church, not as seriously as “International Missionary”, “Lead Pastor”, “Bible School Professor”. Those callings get graduate degrees, the Workplace Missionary gets a Sunday School class if they're lucky. It can be hard to not feel disappointed with the whammy prize of “Workplace Missionary”, especially if you went and got one of those graduate degrees for one of those other callings!

I, too, often find that God's calling looks different than I expect it to. I didn't spend any time in my education years preparing for the possibility that I might be selling backpacks for a living, looking and trying to find out how I can serve as Christ's Ambassador to my workplace, and help others do the same. And, all the same, here you are and here am I.

My name is Sam Drake, and I've served as a Missionary to the Workplace for more than ten years. In that time, I've also served as an Associate Campus Missionary, Core Member of a Church Plant and, very briefly, as Lead Pastor of that church before we closed. I'm writing a book on how to begin to take the call to Workplace Missions seriously in your own life, and this blog is part of that effort. Whether you're here at the beginning, or you're coming upon this post a long while from now, I hope we can learn something from each other. I'll see you tomorrow.

Sam

#ChristianMinistry #Embassy #WorkplaceMissions

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