I Can't Defend Marriage

And I'm not sure why I should.

Defend Marriage?

I'm still trying to figure out what it means to be married.

Amy and I have been married since 2006. We exchanged vows and rings. We signed papers. We weren't sure exactly what we were doing, what we were getting ourselves into, what it truly meant to be married.

I'm a selfish man. I sent my newly-married bride alone to Wal-Mart in the middle of the night to get a new air mattress when ours popped. I spent lots of our money on books. I rolled over in the middle of the night in hopes that she would get up to take care of the crying baby. (I still do that sometimes)

We are married. Connected. Married together. Married to each other. One. But I'm still selfish. I still act as if I can look after my own interests first. I still find myself behaving as if I'm on my own.

How can I defend the institution of marriage? I can't even defend my own marriage.

I'm grateful to be married to Amy. I love her.

And I would defend her. I would argue and fight for her. Don't call her names and don't push her around. I will come to her defense. Because I love her.

I love Amy. I don't love Marriage. Marriage is just an institution.

I know with perfect clarity that I've been called by God to love Amy. And loving Amy is one of many loves that God is drawing out of me. He calls out to me in a strong, loud voice:
"Love your neighbor"
"Love your enemies"
"Love your wife"
"Love God"
And sometimes love entails defense. 
Sometimes I'm called to defend my neighbor. 
Sometimes I'm called to defend my enemies. 
Sometimes I'm called to defend my wife. 
Sometimes I'm called to defend God ... 
... though usually He's defending me from my foolishness.

We Christians defend people.

We're at our best when we're defending people. Or, at least, we're at our best when we're loving people. People, not institutions.

Why do we feel the need to defend institutions? Am I missing something?

Book Review: Coach Your Champions

I've been hearing about this book for month's now. "Have you read the cookie book?" people keep asking me. "No," I kept having to answer, "Not yet."

Coach Your Champions is a book about a "new" approach to fundraising. In my work with InterVarsity, I've had to raise funds for my work on campus and for the work in my Area. For years, I've been talking about how we will need to make a fundamental shift in our fundraising practice if we're going to be able to develop thriving ministries on community college campuses. That's why people keep telling me to read this book.

Coach Your Champions is a story about Josh, a non-profit director who is struggling to keep his ministry funded. Over the course of the story, Josh's thinking about fundraising changes dramatically. He begins to value people differently and his ministry broadens to include volunteers.

There are a lot of great ideas in the book. But three of them most stood out to me on this reading.

Create opportunities for people to see and own

At the start of the book, Josh runs from major donor to major donor, trying to drum up cash to keep his ministry afloat. He crosses the train tracks to go to business places and mansions, looking for large gifts to bring back to his struggling neighborhood ministry. Through a twist of fate, Josh ends up inviting a potential donor to visit the ministry. The donor accidentally gets invited to kids birthday party and the ministry clicks for him.

I've realized that this was important for years, but haven't quite had the right grid for it. I realize that people want to see the ministry (and not just hear about it). So, I've created Special Guest Tracks for them to observe our conferences. And though those are nice, they don't quite work for us.

Instead, what's working is inviting people to serve alongside us. Lead a Group on campus. Prayer walk a campus. Help out. People are much more eager to participate than they are to observe. Shannon Marion put it this way: "No one comes when I invite them to a Special Guest Track. But I can get a line out the door to peel potatoes."

We need to create opportunities for people to own the ministry, to get their hands dirty, to engage more deeply. This seems incredibly wise.

Keep the problem/question out front

There was one scene in the book where a grandmother-figure was helping Josh write their latest newsletter. She wrote an obituary for a kid that had been killed in their neighborhood, then turned to chastise Josh for his newsletters. Josh's newsletters - like my newsletters and updates - have tended to put the ministry on display. Here is what we're doing. Here is what God is doing through us.

In a way, our ministries are solutions to a problem and answers to a question. Unreached college students. Who will reach them? InterVarsity. College kids without mentors. Who will invest in their lives? InterVarsity. College campuses ignoring spiritual reality and truth. How can we show these campuses the importance of spiritual things, the importance of God? InterVarsity.

Our ministry is the solution, the answer. But if we focus on the solution and the answer, people begin to forget the problem and the question.

A great deal of ministry communication - mine included - ends up sounding like this:

  • Problem: We can't charge students. Question: Where will we find money to pay the bills?
  • Problem: We don't have money. Question: How can we get money?
  • Problem: Money. Question: Money?
When we assume the problem and the question, we set ourselves up for the problem and the question to be co-opted. Money becomes the problem and the question. And why should anyone have any motivation to help us solve that problem or answer that question?


Think about levels of involvement

The last great idea had to do with involvement. Ministries usually track involvement by the size of people's gifts. A person is a major donor if they give a gift with a lot of zeroes in it. This happens in almost every non-profit: the opera, the Red Cross, churches ... we all do it.

But this thinking ignores deep, biblical truths: percentage matters more than size, people can give more than money, playing favorites is playing with fire.

In Coach Your Champions, the main character begins to value things other than money. It starts when he asks one of the bake sale volunteers to consider taking leftover cookies to a local school to help build relationships with the kids. When that takes off, Josh starts to realize that the lady who coordinates the cookie drive is a major donor, even though she doesn't have much money to give. She's a major donor because she's a major owner. She owns the ministry.

At the core of the book is the idea of a donor development process. How do you take someone who participates and help them become engaged? How do you take someone who's engaged and help them become an owner?

Too often, we ministries assume that just because someone gives a gift that they feel ownership of the ministry. This just isn't true. People can give significant financial gifts and still stand at a distance. We need to help them get involved more deeply in the ministry.

My one major concern about the book

My one major concern about the book as someone who fundraises and supervises people who fundraise is that this model may or may not produce funds.

I've been working in this vein for the past two years down here in South Florida and we've seen phenomenal results. We went from having 2 volunteers in our Area to having 23 volunteers in our Area. Our work is thriving. But our budgets are stretched and slammed.

I'm grateful that my supervisors are willing to give me time to develop this new system. They've allowed me to build up deficits because they agree that this strategy will lead to a healthy ministry and a well-funded Area, eventually. But not everyone has that kind of time.

Arrogant International Development

When does helping go awry?

Aid workers travel to Africa to provide convenient water technology. They want to save people hours and hours of gathering water from wells outside of town. They set up dew-traps, huge and metallic and effective. The traps warm up during the day and cool at night, drawing water from the air via condensation. The traps produce water ... for a few weeks.

When the aid workers return a few weeks later, the traps are gone. Sold for scrap.

More traps get built. Lectures get given: "Don't sell these, please." And, guess what? The traps are gone. Sold for scrap.

This pattern drove one of my friends a little bit crazy. She worked in the Peace Corps and really wanted to help. She just couldn't understand why the people would sell these traps for scrap. Were they greedy? Were they ignorant? Were they short-sighted?

For weeks, she wrestled with this problem. What was going wrong? She started asking questions and listening to the scrap-sellers. And she discovered the problem.

Arrogance.

But the arrogance wasn't where she expected it.

The scrap-sellers were selling the traps to get money for things they considered more important than clean water: anti-retroviral drugs for AIDS patients and mosquito netting to prevent the spread of malaria.

It turns out that no one asked the locals what kind of help they needed. This kind of arrogance cuts the knees off of international development. We want to do good in the world, but fail because we're scratching where people aren't itching.

How can we avoid arrogant international development?

I think the answer lies in relationships.

When my friend in the Peace Corps started asking questions and listening to the scrap-sellers, she started to see what they really needed. Her relationships with the people in the villages shaped the way she served them. But she had to give up some of her agendas and some of her pet causes.

Relationships create healthy space for powerful development work. But many of us don't make time for relationships with the people we are helping. We want to help them, but we don't want to cross the distance to be with them.

How can we develop deeper relationships with the people we want to help?

Shared Leadership at the Team Meeting

I led my first Team Meeting this week. Although I've been an Area Director for almost 3 years now, my team is just now in a place that makes Team Meetings make sense.

For you InterVarsity outsiders, a Team Meeting is a gathering of Staff from throughout an Area to pray, rest, train, strategize, plan and learn. Some Areas have day-long Team Meetings every month. Others meet for 3 days several times a year. When I lived in Virginia, our Area Team met 3-4 times every year. This week, we met from Monday evening until Wednesday morning.

Our Team Meeting this week focused on Shared Leadership.

We spent several hours looking at the end of the life and leadership of Moses. I've been spending a lot of time studying Exodus for the LaFe Staff Conference in early March and the LaFe13 National Conference that's on the horizon in December. I wanted my Team to benefit from my studies and to share with them what I had been learning.

We looked at Exodus 17: the story of Israel quarreling over a lack of water in the desert and the story of the battle against the Amalekites. When the quarreling happens, Moses tries to calm the people's fears (or at least redirect their frustration). But this doesn't work. He then turns to God, who shows him a way to miraculously produce water from a rock. [Striking the rock to produce water would later get Moses in a lot of trouble] In the next scene, in the same location, God's people are attacked by the Amalekites. Moses makes a snap decision and sends Joshua to fight, promising to hold the staff of God in the air as an act of intercession. When Moses holds the staff up, the battle goes well. But he can't keep his promise. His arms get tired. Fortunately, Aaron and Hur are on hand to hold up Moses' hands.

Prayer for guidance. Intercession. Shared leadership. My Team caught on fast.

We looked at Exodus 18: the story of Jethro - Moses' father-in-law - and his visit to Moses. Life in the camp had become too much for Moses and he had sent his family away, back to his wife's father's house. Jethro brings them right back. He hears about God's work for God's people and rejoices. But he sticks around an extra day to watch Moses at work. And what he sees isn't pretty. Moses is trying to do everything himself. Everyone who has a problem has to go to Moses. Jethro suggests a new leadership structure. And it works.

Relationships. Strategy. Shared leadership. My Team was dialed in.

We spent several hours talking about our Area vision and how this vision impacts our strategy. We trained on recruitment and the HRD cycle. We worshipped and we prayed.

And almost everyone brought something to the table. Fatimat and Chad led prayer times. Matt talked about church partnership. Alexis led a time of intercession for our campuses and Rachel led us in worship. Deb led a time of listening prayer. Leah shared about developing leaders. Bill shared about recruiting leaders. I led a shared-inductive experience on Moses' legacy out of Joshua 1.

Shared leadership. We each played a part.

I'm excited about what God is doing with this team. When I started, we had 2 Staff and 2 volunteers. As of this week, we have 10 Staff and 23 volunteers. My Team insists that we have volunteers that I don't know about, so that number may be even higher.

I'm excited to see what God will do with this team.

Book Review: Sir Gawain and The Green Knight

I don't know how reading Sir Gawain and The Green Knight slipped through the cracks in my education. I knew the story from my Childcraft books from back when I was a kid (thanks, Grandma!). But somehow I never actually read the book.

Sir Gawain and The Green Knight is an epic poem, hundreds of years old and very influential in English literature. It tells the story of a young knight named Gawain who accepts a challenge from a mysterious green man. The green man challenges Gawain to trade him swing for swing with a giant ax. Gawain accepts, slices off the mans head, then watches in horror as the green man wanders over and picks his head up off of the floor. Gawain has a year and a day to find the man and let the man take his turn with the ax.

The story hangs on the tension: What will Sir Gawain do? He goes searching for the man, choosing to value his honor over his life. He's a noble hero. But along the way he is faced with temptation ... and he fails. This is, to me, what makes the book so interesting.

Gawain is visiting a castle and makes friends with the lord of the castle and his wife. The lord of the castle strikes up a deal with Gawain: whatever the lord wins in his day's adventures, he will give to Gawain ... and vice-versa. The lord takes his men hunting and catches all kinds of things and brings them back to Gawain. Gawain stays at the castle, where the lord's wife attempts to seduce him. He refuses her advances, but accepts a kiss from her. Chivalrous, he kisses the lord when he returns from the hunt. In all this, Gawain's virtue remains untainted.

But on the last day of his visit, the lady of the castle gives Gawain a magic belt. The belt, she promises, will protect him from harm. What will Sir Gawain do? Will he give the belt to the lord of the castle and keep his bargain? He doesn't. He hides the belt and rides off to face the green man.

At the end of the story, Gawain's life is spared, but his misdeed is made known. He returns to King Arthur's round table, wearing the green belt as a sign of his failure to keep perfect virtue. Humbled.

The poem is written in wonderful, alliterative verse. This was quite a shock to me. I expected it to rhyme, like The Canterbury Tales. But the alliterations show a fantastic grasp of language and skill of composition. They drive the story.

Having spent so much time in the honor culture of The South, I found the questions raised by the poem to be very interesting: How valuable is virtue? What makes a man noble? What do you do when you fail?

It's a quick read. 80 pages. Definitely worth checking out.

The Beginnings of Missions in the Bible

I had a conversation about international development recently. The conversation spilled over into a fun, talk-argument about missions.

And one of my friends said this: "Missions begins with the Great Commission. 'Go and make disciples of all nations.' That's why missions needs to be about evangelism and not about development or social justice." Was he right? Is that true?

If you know me you know I pushed back on this statement. Missions is definitely about evangelism. But evangelism need not exclude development and justice. Why do I say that? Well, I disagree with my friend's premise.

Missions does not begin with the Great Commission.

Flip back in your Bible and you can find stories of missionaries littering the pages.

Daniel and the rest of the exiles, who went to Babylon. Sure they spoke about God with the pagan authorities, but they also planted gardens and built homes (see Jer. 29).

Jonah, who went to Nineveh. Sure, he preached and evangelized, but he also confronted violence and warmongering.

Farther back, farther back.

Abraham. How about him? Definitely a missionary. God covenants with him to make him a light to the nations. All the people of the earth will be blessed through him. The world will know God through Abraham's family. But this same Abraham led a midnight raid into the camp of Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him. In that raid, Abraham set slaves free and returned money and goods to their rightful owners (see Gen 14).

Over and over again, God's people in mission demonstrate both evangelism and social concern.

Look at Jesus himself. He could demonstrate his power by turning water into wine and multiplying loaves and walking on water. Why would he bother to heal diseases or cast out demons? Sometimes, God's work of revelation also creates transformation.

If your only verse on God's mission is the Great Commission, you will miss God's mission.

Check out this video that illustrates our need to live out our faith with both words and deeds:

A Jesuit, an Argentine and a Pope walk into a bar

A Jesuit, an Argentine and a Pope walk into a bar ... and they were the same person.

Not much of a joke, is it?

I've been thinking about this move all day, the move of Catholic Church to elect Francis I, the first Jesuit pope and the first pope from Latin America. If you missed the announcement, watch it here [Cardinal Bergoglio announced as new Pope].

Here are three reasons why I think this move is significant ...

First, Pope Francis is the first-ever Jesuit pope. The Jesuit order is deeply committed to education and care for the poor. Their priests take special vows of obedience to the pope, but often their commitments lead them to buck the leadership in the Vatican. I'm very interested to see what happens if Pope Francis keeps to his commitments to education and care for the poor and if the Jesuit order really throws their support behind him.

Could the Catholic Church increase her efforts to care for the world's poor?

Secondly, Pope Francis is the first-ever pope from Latin America. For years, people have noted that the global church is growing most rapidly in the often-disenfranchised Global South. This is especially true for the Catholic Church, which is spreading like wildfire in Africa and thriving in Latin America. Something powerful happens when disenfranchised people gain a voice, a seat at the table where decisions happen.

Will Pope Francis remember his people and maintain connected to the Global South?

Lastly, Pope Francis is Argentine. A large portion of Argentina's population can trace their roots to Italy, as wave after wave of immigrants flooded Argentine cattle country after the wars rocked Europe. As an Argentine with Italian heritage, Pope Francis can serve as a bridge between the church's heritage and the church's future. For generations, pope after pope came from Italy. Italy was the center of the Christian world. As that center shifts, it seems like it would be very helpful to have someone with dual citizenship, someone who connects with both the heritage and the future, someone like Pope Francis. This may open doors for more leaders to arise from the Global South.

Will Pope Francis' dual identity create opportunities for more leaders to arise from the Global South?

Mission Field and Mission Force: LaFe Staff Conference

"Latinos are more than a mission field. We are a missions force."

Last week, InterVarsity Staff from around the country gathered in Pasadena, CA to to explore this idea at the LaFe Staff Conference. I had the opportunity to go to the conference and serve as the emcee. And I found myself to be very challenged.

We started out by looking at Latinos engaged in God's mission on college campuses. Lots of people are thinking about reaching out to Latino students. But there is something special that happens when Latinos throw their unique gifts into the mix in campus mission.

One story really stood out to me. Stacy and Eric Rafferty shared about their work to launch ministry to college students in Nebraska. That's right, Nebraska. Stacy is one of my best friends in LaFe and Amy and I are really delighted to support the work that the Rafferty's are doing on campus. They shared the story about the start of their chapter plant. They started with one Latino student and, because Latino students tend to be natural networkers, they ended up with a healthy and diverse chapter on their campus.

If Latinos are natural networkers, this could have huge implications for our participation in God's mission.

From there, we talked about how God is using Latinos to serve in global missions. We heard from a man who leads PM Internacional, an organization that mobilizes Latinos for to reach the Muslim World. From him, we learned that, by God's grace, Latinos are some of the most effective missionaries in the Muslim world.

Latinos can often pass as Middle Eastern. There's a great deal of overlap between Spanish and Arabic. But the effectiveness of Latinos in the mission field goes deeper than that.

History reveals an intimate link between the Latino and the Muslim worlds. For 700 years, Muslim Moors occupied the Iberian peninsula, deeply embedding Spain with their culture and worldview. When the Spaniards retook their land in the Reconquista of the 1400s, they carried elements of Islamic culture and worldview with them to the Americas. When Latinos step out in mission to Muslims, it's like reaching out to long-lost relatives. There is a deep, cultural resonance between the two communities.

Perhaps Latinos have been prepared by our long history in order to be incredible agents for God's mission to those who desperately need to hear God's good news.

The last session on mission wrestled with this question: Sure God can use us on campus and on the other side of the world, but what about in our own communities? Rev. Alexia Salvatierra spent the morning with us teaching us and training us how to be God's agents in our own families and neighborhoods.

She talked about the concept of the pueblo (a village, a people). In the Latino community, there's this deep sense of mutual ownership and responsibility for each other. Loyalty. Love.

As Alexia trained us in community organizing, I started to see how important it was to be part of a pueblo when trying to participate in the change that God is creating in a local community. Change efforts by outsiders sometimes lack the sense of acceptance and commitment needed to fuel the change. God gives us power to identify with communities in need, to remember them, to consider ourselves one with them.

This can be extremely difficult. But Latinos are prepared for that difficulty, especially those of us who are several generations in. We have already struggled to identify as Latinos. We have already chosen to identify. The pueblo is our pueblo by choice. And there's something powerful to that.

What if God's work through us wasn't just for the whole world, but also for our neighbors?

There was a lot more that I could say about the conference. If I get a chance, perhaps I'll take time to reflect on it here. If not, feel free to ask me about it on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/steven.tamayo) or Twitter (@yostevetamayo).

The Stink of Generosity

Tonight my Grow Group studied John 11, looking at the story where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. It's a story full of emotion and twists and turns. I wouldn't claim to have the whole thing figured out.

There's a great moment toward the end of the story. Lazarus has died and has been buried. His sisters are grieving: Martha who has all the answers and likes to keep busy and Mary who anointed Jesus' feet with expensive perfume to prophetically prepare him for his death. Everyone is talking, weeping, crying out. Everyone but Lazarus. He's been in the tomb for days. He is beginning to decay. As the old English liked to say: "He stinketh."

Our Group noticed something tonight: Lazarus stinking up his tomb. In the ancient world, wealthy people anointed their beloved dead with expensive perfumes. This is why the wise men bringing frankincense to Jesus as a child was so special. This perfume was a luxury.

A member of our Group started wondering whether or not Lazarus and his family were wealthy. Maybe he stinkethed because his family couldn't afford the expensive perfume.

That's when we noticed the story about Lazarus' sister, Mary. Mary anointed Jesus with expensive perfume. She wasted it on him. It drove people crazy. The waste.

Perhaps the reason Lazarus didn't smell like perfume in the tomb was because his sister had poured the family perfume reserve onto Jesus' feet.

We often use perfume to cover up the stink of death. We mask the smell of death in our own lives, in our own relationships. But why would we hide the death when we are in the presence of the One who can turn death to life? Why waste perfume on a dead body that won't remain dead?

There is something wildly generous in Mary's act of anointing Jesus' feet. But generosity in one place, generosity toward Jesus, forces us to make choices. We may not have money for a fully-funded retirement. We may not be able to afford the nicest coffins. We may not be able to avoid the stinketh. But it will be worth it.

Book Review: The Pastor by Eugene Peterson

For months people have been telling me that I needed to read this book. I've made no secret about my admiration for Eugene Peterson. He has deeply shaped my thinking about Scripture and ministry and discipleship.

The Pastor is Eugene Peterson's ministry memoir. He moves more or less chronologically through his story, meandering. Peterson is an excellent storyteller. He owns his own voice.

The Pastor was a wonderful read.

Here are some things I enjoyed in the book ...

Eugene Peterson is unapologetically a pastor. He found himself, in various seasons, attracted to the work of a professor or a counselor. But his heartbeat is for pastoral ministry.

I find this challenging and inspiring. I've frequently found myself putting my hand to the plow and looking over my shoulder. Maybe I should jump fields. Professor. Counselor. Those are the options that occupy my overstressed thoughts. Peterson models a way of being in ministry that doesn't come naturally to me. And I'm grateful for it.

Eugene Peterson is also unapologetically a writer. When he worked as a pastor, he found a way to reads and write ... and to do it in a way that complemented his work in his church.

In ministry, it's easy to slip into utilitarian patterns of reading and writing. The world is full of how-to books. And people who read how-to book after how-to book begin to write how-to sermons. Now, there's nothing terrible about how-to sermons. But God doesn't hammer us with how-to's. Instead, God offers us stories and invites us into stories. I would love to be able to go and do likewise.

Two struggles with the book ...

Though Peterson pastored his church through the turbulent 60s and 70s, there's almost no mention of the civil rights movement or all the wars. I found myself very curious about how he shepherded his flock through that season.

Lastly, I struggled (as I do) with the language of "pastor." On the one hand, I resonate deeply with Peterson's vocation and his call. I want to be a pastor. I wonder if I already am a pastor. But on the other hand, I love being a missionary. I love the breadth and diversity of my work. I love the freedom.

All told, I would highly recommend The Pastor.

Writing Off Screen

I've actually had a phenomenally productive writing month, though you wouldn't know it from reading this blog. I've done a ton of writing in other places: grants, newsletters, sermons, talks, journaling, guest posts for other blogs. But I know that a lot of that is happening "off screen" for you.

Great stories often rely on action that happens off screen. You get glimpses here and there. Flashes of narrative light.

The Gospels are like this. Mark moves immediately from story-pearl to story-pearl. Luke lobs parables like tennis balls from a machine. Matthew shifts from sermon to sermon, John from sign to sign. If they blogged the life of Jesus, the gospel-writers would always carry this disclaimer (Jn 21:25):
Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
I feel like those words reverberate around our ministry here in South Florida. If I tried to write every God-sighting and God-lesson down, I'd never stop writing. The whole internet couldn't contain the sentences that would fill this blog.

Here's the best bit of writing that happened "off screen" this month: