Why and How Reservoir Invites You on A Journey

My three children are a spectacular gift to my wife, to me, and to the world. I pity the fool who’d tell me otherwise. Yet raising them to this point in their teenage years has disabused me of the notion that there is anything like the perfect child. It turns out all our kids will have flaws and struggles, just like us. 

When trying to accept imperfections, one of the phrases people like to say is: Progress, not perfection. At first it sounds liberating. I don’t need to lose twenty pounds, just one per week. My kids don’t need to earn straight A’s, just keep raising their grades. And yet, when you stop and think about it, this mindset is also a trap. It assumes that there is such a thing as perfection, that ideal me, ideal child, ideal you, ideal whatever exists, and we can feel good as long as we’re all making progress toward that ideal. 

But who gets to decide what the ideal looks like? (And before you say God, I’ll ask whose version of God? What person or culture or time period’s image?)

We were talking about this last week at a conference on justice and renewal led by the noted social psychologist and theologian Christena Cleveland. One of her many great lines was, “Perfection is the figment of the colonial imagination.” Our ideas of perfection are usually shaped by dominant people and groups, used to rank and sort people and cultures, elevating some and diminishing others. Perfection has a few winners and many losers. If we settle for progress, we haven’t changed the goalposts; we’re just trying to make peace with our slow speed in getting there.

A quick look at the trees could have taught us the same thing. There’s no such thing as the perfect tree, so there is no such thing as progress in that direction. Healthy trees grow. Their growth, their expansion signals their flourishing, no matter what beautiful form that growth takes. 

When Reservoir tries to support your faith journey, we have flourishing in mind, not progress or perfection. Our aim is for people to connect with Jesus and with our church and to thrive more as a result. We’re not interested in trying to tell you what your thriving and growth looks like; we assume you know a fair bit about that for yourself already. 

Another way of putting this is that Reservoir doesn’t think we need to manage exactly where our faith journeys should lead. But we would encourage us all to take one, to choose movement over stagnation, to see what love and peace and joy this life and the one who made it all have in store for us. 

For the next few weeks, on Sundays, we’ll rather explicitly invite you to think about your journey. Pastors Ivy and Lydia and I will talk about five ways of being in the world that seem to help us find more of God and more of the good life, five ways of being in the world that might encourage some movement in our lives. They’re not the only five, but they’re five we like, and they so happen to be Reservoir’s five core values for doing Jesus-centered community life in our time and place. They’re connection, action, everyone, freedom, and humility.

(The English teacher in me knows that one of those words is really messing up the syntax of that list. “Everyone” is a pronoun, not an abstract noun, so that sentence would flow a lot better if is said something like “inclusion” instead. But when we wrote this list a few years back, we wanted that one to stand out, and we still like how it does, so there.) 

Anyone – in fact, everyone – can show up on any of the next five Sundays or follow along with the content online. But if you like this approach, and if you’d like some company and encouragement on your faith journey, we’ll strongly encourage you to become a member at Reservoir. Membership in our church is about belonging, not believing. It’s a way of saying to yourself and the community: I belong here. I’ll let these folks encourage my faith journey, and maybe I’ll even encourage others on theirs. 

Membership – and the community and the giving it involves – is  also a way of sustaining a Jesus-centered, fully inclusive approach to faith, one that values and empowers connection, action, everyone, freedom, and humility. Like most things in life, this stuff is good, but it isn’t free. 

I look forward to connecting with you on your faith journey, to listening and learning from one another as we go. Personally, I’m not all that interested in progress or perfection anymore, but on seeing what beautiful things we will see and become as we continue. 

Resources for Financial Freedom

Last week, as part of our Flourishing series, I preached on Moving from Financial Shame and Anxiety Toward Freedom. It was pretty well received, and I personally think it would be a rich use of forty minutes of your time. I heard a lot of appreciative comments, and almost a third of the adults in the room committed to a 90-day tithing challenge as well.

Tips #2 and #3 at the end were:

  • Learn from the world’s best (and free) financial resources, and
  • Make the hard choices today for a better tomorrow, and a better today.

I was encouraging people to break patterns of anxiety around our finances not just by giving more – as important as that is – but by also figuring out the disciplined moves we can make to bring our financial lives into greater order and health.

I’m no personal finance expert, but I promised to pass along a few resources that have helped me or been recommended to me by good friends or facebook acquaintance friends.

So, here they are.

First off, if you need any more reading on just how big of an issue this is in America, here’s the article from The Atlantic that I lead with. “My Secret Shame” is a pretty powerful and sobering look at Americans’ personal finances, through the lens of one man’s struggles.

Next, my favorite book I’ve read on the topic: All Your Worth, by Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren and her daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi. Your local library likely has it. The Warrens commend a financial balance, where no more than 50% of your income pays for true “must-haves”, where you devote a full 20% to savings or paying down bad debt, and where you’re left with 30% of your income for “wants”, which would include everything from music lessons for your children to shopping for new clothes, to eating out, and more. They have a ton of other great advice, on everything from bringing these categories into alignment, to helpfully navigating money issues with your partner, to dealing with frustration and blame around your finances, to what to do when your case seems hopeless. I shift her proportions to account for giving as 10-20% of our family budget, but they get things started well.

Several Christian friends swear by the resources Dave Ramsey produces, particularly his seven baby steps, which they say have helped them and others get out of debt, stop getting into debt, and give generously while living well. I’ve never read his stuff, so I can’t comment either way.

Many friends have used the website Mint to help them understand where all their money is going, which helps them gain awareness and change their spending patterns. Others have used You Need a Budget, and the work of Mr. Money Moustache for these purposes – to rethink spending and money priorities.

A few other have learned a great deal about personal finances from Suze Orman or a book called The Richest Man in Babylon.

If you can afford it, others recommend an appointment with a fee-based financial advisor (one who makes no money by selling you products), being entirely truthful, and seeing what advice you get.

Whichever of these tools you use, may you move out of the fear and shame of financial bondage and into freedom!

This Summer, Let’s Flourish!

We’ve started a summer series at Reservoir Church we’ve called flourishing. And we’re pretty excited about it – here’s why.

If you’re anything like me, even if you’re long past school aged, summer brings all kinds of anticipation. Our first 80 degree summer days take me back to those feelings from my last days of school as a student, or even as a teacher. Freedom is coming. Joy is here. It’s time to really live!
But summer can of course end up kind of disappointing as well. As a kid, all that freedom could quickly turn into boredom. Did I really want to play Nintendo for six hours? Did that really give me what I was looking for?
And as an adult, summer’s work demands don’t magically go away. Life for most of us isn’t set up with two month long breaks and vacations. And if you’re a parent – as I am – summer can actually be a lot more work than the rest of the year, as our schools shut down and we have to figure out what to do with our kids – and ourselves – all day.
Not just in summers, but in the whole of our lives, we don’t want to live in disappointment, stress, and restlessness, but we want to flourish – to grow, to contribute, to prosper, to experience life as we sense it was meant to be lived for us.
At Reservoir Church, we think Jesus knows the way and can help us with this. So we enter our summer of flourishing.
We’ll look at finances, and fear, and sex, and politics, and many more things and ask how Jesus can walk us toward flourishing. And this Sunday, I will walk us through a grid that an author Andy Crouch gives us in his book Strong and Weak that will help us understand some of the dynamics that lead us toward or away from flourishing.

Last week I kicked things of with a brief exploration of the strength we can experience as God meets us in our weakness. We started there, with understanding our disabilities, because this is not a self-help series. We won’t spend our summer telling you do be better and do more.

Rather, we’ll look at Jesus, and we’ll see in Jesus the tremendous authority and vulnerability that shapes God’s flourishing. And we’ll look at God’s invitation to join us and make that pattern of living our own as well, as we follow Jesus into more and more life.