Saturday, April 30, 2005

Whew! Glad That's Over

I've been out of touch for the past few days because of the Grow Up Conference that's I've been a part of. Nearly 3,000 folks from all over the world came to rethink how they do ministry to families. Lanny Donoho and I got to spend some time together after it was all over, and he asked, "Doesn't it amaze you what we get to be a part of?"

Amazed is an understatement.

I have to keep reminding myself that this time three years ago, I was preaching to a brick wall of a church -- a place on life support that declined any attempts to revive it. I was miserable. My family was miserable. It seems like once a month I travelled somewhere to see about a new job. Life was bad.

The story of how and why we ended up here is too long for me to tell right now. Maybe another time. For now, suffice to say it is hard to believe that I got to speak to hundreds of people this week about the concepts of teaching less for more and why teaching the Bible to kids isn't enough. I got to share stories and see the great folks at KidStuf U.K. Remind me to tell you their story sometime!

It was a great experience, but I have to say: I'm glad it's over. I have a book to write and a deadline to meet. Next week, I'm headed to Pepperdine to speak on Friday and do some coaching for a church in Los Angeles.

Before I sign off from this post, let me ask you to help me with something. You might disagree with a comment someone leaves here. You might disagree with me on something I say. But let's try to be civil in our disagreements and not suggest that someone who chooses not to include Santa in their Christmas celebrations belongs in therapy because they can't distinguish between imaginary and real.

I know everyone who posted comments on the board. We're all thoughtful, educated, responsible people. Most of us are parents of young children who are trying to make difficult decisions to help our kids navigate through troubled waters. We all serve the same God and will be held individually accountable to him. One of the things I try to do on this website from time to time is get people to respond honestly to questions. That will be easier for them if they know they're not going to be ridiculed for their answers.

Whew! I'm glad that's over.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Santa Claus vs. Jesus

I'm writing a book on parenting. Is everyone aware of that? I feel like I've been writing it for about 10 years now, and it just won't end! I'm making progress, but it sure feels like slow going.

Anyway, one of the things I want to do in this book is include a lot of personal stories from Christian leaders about how they actually are putting into practice (or not putting into practice) the things they teach and write about. I'm always collecting and soliciting stories like this.

One guy (I won't use his name here, but look for him in the book) is a professor of theology. He's written extensively on philosophy and worldview-related issues, and I have a ton of respect for him. For some reason I was surprised to hear that he and his wife tell their children (ages 2, 4 and 6) that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are fairy tale stories. He says, "I understand that many parents think they would rob their children of the wonder of childhood if they don't play along with the existence of Santa, but I would rather not risk corrupting my children's belief in God. When they eventually realize that what I told them about Santa is not true, might they also begin to suspect what I told them about God?"

Okay, I know this can be a very emotional subject matter, but I want to know: Do you think he's right? Or is he off-base? Please give reasons for your answer.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Courageously Ordinary

When we think of courage or fearlessness we tend to think of either reckless daredevil behavior or grand acts of heroism. We either think of Evel Knievel or the NYPD/NYFD doing their post-9/11 thing. Here's the problem with that: very few of us will ever find ourselves needing the kind of courage it takes to rescue someone from a burning building. Oh, and also there's a fine line between courage and foolishness. Jumping over double-decker buses on a motorcycle -- well, I'll let you decide which category that fits into.

Usually, when God calls us to fearless living, he's not asking us to go face-to-face with Pharaoh. He's not asking many of us to play chicken with a giant or sing while we're in prison on trumped-up charges. Most of the people reading this blog live in places of relative comfort and ease.

And yet we are still afraid.

I think the kind of courage God asks of us is courage in the ordinary places -- the kind of courage that might not ever make headlines but might just change the course of history in small ways -- one person at a time. Courage to take risks in our relationships -- wise risks that deepen community and allow us to experience authentic friendships. Courage to face temptation and say no to negative impulses. Courage to dream big dreams. Courage to make difficult decisions. Courage to just endure hard times.

Sure, they don't sound like all that much. But this is how the world turns, and how the world is changed. It looks small right now -- like a pinchful of leaven in enough dough to feed an entire village -- like a tiny mustard seed. But just you wait. Courage like that -- courage in unseen places -- courage in the ordinary turns the world upside down.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Mustering My Gumption

Here's what I want God to do: I want him to make life easy. "Make all the scary things -- all the things that evoke fear in me -- take care of all that, God. I'll stand over here, you just let me know when it's safe to come out. Go get 'em, God!"

Here's what God wants me to do: He wants me to move towards the things that make me afraid. "Until you take the first step, I will not meet you with my power. Your fear will never go away as long as you stand there on the banks waiting for me to part the Jordan River."

He says, "Put your foot in the water first. Then the water will part."

He says, "Go talk to Pharaoh, and I'll meet you there."

He says, "Go back down the mountain the way you came and face down Jezebel and Ahab. It's nice that you want to come up here and talk, but you have to go back the way you came and face the stuff you're afraid of. I'm not going to airlift you out of it."

If I could just muster the gumption to make a move I know what will happen: I'll grow in my confidence that there's nothing I can't handle as long as I handle it with God. I'll grow stronger and wiser and more confident. My fears will recede, and I'll be more effective in living in the fullness of life that God has provided for me.

But mustering gumption is harder than it sounds, isn't it?

Monday, April 18, 2005

Living in Fear

Okay, I'm coming to grips with the fact that I suffer from this terrible Imposter Syndrome. Thanks for all the feedback through comments and email. In some weird way, I'm learning how addicted to fear I've become. So, it couldn't be better timing for me to be speaking at a retreat next weekend on the topic: Fearless Faith.

Here are some preliminary ideas I've got. The cost of living a fear-filled life is extremely high. From personal experience I can tell you that living in fear eats away at your self-esteem and makes you feel hollow. Living in fear causes stagnation instead of growth -- and you live with the pain of unrealized potential. Living in fear costs you joy. Living in fear leads to regret as the "what ifs" slowly turn to "what might have beens". Finally, living in fear is contagious.

I refuse to pass on this weird fear to my kids, so I'm going to do everything I can to internalize Eugene Peterson's translation of Philippians 4:13: "Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am." In other words, I can handle anything because I don't have to handle it by myself. The One who is with me has unlimited resources and capabilities at his disposal.

That's going to be the first step I take in getting a handle on this fear. All you other imposters out there -- tell me -- do you think it'll work?

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Overheard at the Turner House

Our house is a disaster. We've both been so busy lately that cleaning house just hasn't been a priority.

So, it's Saturday -- what is usually known as "Chore Day" around our house. Time to catch up on laundry and dishes and bathrooms and mopping and all that. Except, Anabel (my five-year-old) has been invited to a birthday party at the polo fields. If you've ever seen her face light up at the mere mention of horses, you'll know that there's no way we're going to keep her from this party. It'll be the highlight of her month.

All that sets up this wonderful exchange between my wife and my two oldest daughters.

Jill: Girls, tomorrow we're going to get up and eat breakfast, then do you know what we're going to do?

Anabel: Go to the party!

Eliza: Anabel's going to a party with horses!

Jill: Right, but your rooms are such a mess. What can we do about that?

Anabel: Do you mean after the party?

Jill: No, I mean before the party. What could we do about your rooms before the party?

Eliza: Well, you could change your attitude, Mommy.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


I have a secret, irrational fear. Psychologists call it Imposter Syndrome -- a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in the face of information that indicates the opposite to be true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt and feelings of intellectual fraudulence. It is basically feeling that you're not really a successful, competent and smart person -- that you are only posing as such. No matter how much success you experience, you're never quite able to internalize it. It all must be due to luck or just being in the right place at the right time or your ability to charm and fool people.

I've got it, and I've got it bad. In fact, I've wrestled with it on and off for my entire life. I hear people say great things about me, but inside my head that little voice whispers, "Yeah, but if they really knew what you're really like they'd say something else."

Recently, due to the heightened stress of too much travel, too little rest and a foolish decision made more than a decade ago that has reared its ugly head to bite me in the tail, I have been consumed with this fear that at any moment someone will stand up and yell, "Imposter!"

Of course, I'll know they're talking about me and that at last the jig is up. I was able to fool them for a while, but in the end my incompetence was discovered.

I know for a fact that several people read this blog. I have a counter that tells me I get nearly 100 people a day looking at the site -- unless that's my mother hitting the refresh button every 30 seconds. I also know that many of you are very successful people in various capacities -- writers, preachers, therapists, coaches, scholars, computer techs, business people. Anyone else out there struggle with this?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Doing the Impossible

In his book The Active Life, Parker Palmer tells a great story of his encounter with a friend who had worked for many years with the Catholic Worker -- a ministry to the poor in New York City.

Daily she tries to respond to waves of human misery that are as ceaseless as surf in that community. Out of my deep not-knowing I asked her how she could keep doing a work that never showed any results, a work in which the problems keep getting worse instead of better. I will never forget her enigmatic answer: "The thing you don't understand, Parker, is that just because something is impossible doesn't mean you shouldn't do it!"

Okay, what about you? What impossible thing are you doing these days?

Monday, April 11, 2005

One More Question

Jon Owen asked me a follow-up to the 5 Questions post. Here's his question:

"Looking at your links, you have many resources. If you had to list your top pick for encouragement/spiritual insight, which would you pick for each category?"

Okay, let's start with my wishlist, shall we? If I had to pick one thing it would be the Everyone Gospel set by Tom (N.T.) Wright. Bite-sized, popular level commentary on all four Gospels -- including his own personal translation from the Greek.

Next category: Places I work. Which one would I pick for encouragement/spiritual insight? Reflections Ministries. Dr. Kenneth Boa is the smartest man I've ever known. And he may be the most humble, generous and Christlike person as well. The things posted on that site -- everything from lectio divina helps to scholarly articles are all great sources of wisdom.

Classes I taught. If a person was going to listen (or watch) one of these classes, I'd have to suggest God Is With Us. If anyone wants any of these classes, I have most of them on CD -- you could just email me and ask.

Bloggers I read. Probably my favorite blog is also the hardest to read. Hugo Schwyzer is so paradoxical -- he's a conservative Christian who attends a liberal church -- a straight, white man who teaches gender studies and history at a community college in California. He's vigorously pro-life -- in both directions (opposed to abortion and capital punishment). His posts are so honest and thoughtful. I'm not sure if this really fits what you're asking (encouragement / spiritual insight), and he's certainly not the standard Christian blogger. But I really like his blog.

Sermons. I have to say that Andy Stanley is the most consistently good preacher I've ever listened to.

Books I'm actually reading. I just looked at the list and realized it needs to be updated. I usually change the list at the beginning of each month, but failed to do so when March became April. Of the books listed, C.S. Lewis' The Problem of Pain -- without a doubt. I've read it several times, and every time it gets better.

Articles I actually wrote. I'm not sure any of the articles are that encouraging or filled with spiritual insight. I suppose I'd recommend the article on The Da Vinci Code -- if for no other reason that because of it's relevance to right now.

The final section is called Archives. If I could steer people to one post it would be this one from last August. It's called A Father-to-father Connection. It's probably my favorite thing I've ever written.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Five Questions for John Alan Turner

My friend John Dobbs has asked me five questions about my blog. Here they are, followed by my response.

1. In your first post you said, "I have no idea where this whole blog thing will go." What are your impressions of the blogger explosion? Do you think this is a long term phenomenon or a trendy flash in the pan? Do you have a blogger mentor, or are you an original? How important is it to you to blog regularly?

Blogging has taken off in a way I never dreamed it would – not just for me but for the whole world. And I think it’s here for a while. People thought email and instant messaging would be short-lived. Instead, they revolutionized the way people communicate. I think blogging may have a similar impact on the publishing industry. I know it’s already changing the way news is reported.

Personally, I don’t really have a “blogger mentor” – never even considered that until you asked me. I do have several blogs that I like to read, but mostly I just share what’s on my mind. I would say it’s important for me to blog regularly, but I’ve been so busy lately that I’ve been hit and miss.

2. As an avid bookreader, how do you decide which book to read next? You have a fairly ecclectic list of books you recommend. What is your favorite source for finding books to read?

Believe it or not, the place I find most of the books I read is in the books I read. I’m one of those weird people who actually reads the footnotes and bibliographies. I also look for names I can trust on the back. For example, I recently picked up Simon Chan’s Spiritual Theology just because Dallas Willard had a quote on the back. The third way I get new books into the pile is through conversations with others. I was emailing back and forth with a friend of mine before Christmas, and he said something that I really liked. I wrote him back and asked if I could use that quote somewhere, and he – somewhat reluctantly I might add – confessed to having “borrowed” it from Abraham Heschel. I was familiar with some of Heschel’s writings but hadn’t ever sat down to read one all the way through. He recommended God In Search of Man, and I will be forever grateful.

3. Since you are a writer by trade, do you use your posts to float ideas, see what the reactions are, and then use those to clarify your chapters ... or are your posts totally separate from what you are writing professionally at the moment? Will I find one of my responses in a future book? :)

Absolutely, I do. In fact, I had a series of posts about a month ago dealing with parenting. Those are actually sections of the book I’m working on. I’m not sure if you’ve made an appearance yet, but one comment did make the book because it was so heartfelt and got to the core of what so many parents feel.

4. You have written very little about your family. There were some posts about your children, a mention of your parents, and an affirmation that Jill was not pregnant in a few posts! I can only guess that this is purposeful (privacy is not a bad thing). Tell us three things about your family that would give us some insight into the John Alan Turner household!

Actually, I thought I wrote more frequently about my family than I apparently do! I don’t want my blog to become “too inside” for casual readers. I know I don’t enjoy blogs that are all about what we had for dinner last night and the latest health news of the kids and all that. When I do write about my wife and kids, I try to make it something accessible for everyone. I also know first-hand what it was like to grow up in a fishbowl. Hello, my name is John, and I’m a Preacher’s Kid. (Everyone now say: “Hello, John.”). So, I don’t want to overexpose my kids and keep them from having a normal lifestyle.

Three things about my family that would give you some insight into my household:

One, my father is very academically credentialed. I’m talking about terminal degrees in Theology, Christian Education and Biblical Counseling. So, intellectually speaking I tend to be an over-achiever – still trying to earn favor in his eyes, I’m afraid. That one thing shapes the contents of my house (books, music, movies, etc.) probably more than anything else.

Two, my wife is a better writer than I am. But I remember things better than she does.

Three, my kids are funnier than I am. And the best part is they don’t know it yet.

5. What one thing have you really meant to do lately, but you just haven't made the time?

Do you want the whole list or just the top 10? Probably the most important is my grandfather. He’s slowly losing his battle with Alzheimer’s disease, and I really need to get down to visit him – more for my father’s sake than anything else. My father has just asked me to do the funeral, so I know this is going to be a very difficult time for him. I seem to have overscheduled myself (something that – oddly enough – I learned from him) into being unavailable for him during this traumatic time.

That got way more serious than I thought it might. But it forced me to think – that last question wasn’t answered as easily as the first four.

So, there you have it -- five questions about me and my blog. Do you feel like you know me better now?

Friday, April 01, 2005

Incite Worship

Boomboxes can be traced back to rather humble beginnings in the mid-1970s. Back then the idea of a personal stereo was a bit of a novelty, but it didn't take long for the boombox boom to begin. Soon everyone had to have one. Everyone wanted the ability to listen to their own music wherever they went. It was kind of like having your own soundtrack playing everywhere you were.

Nowadays, we don't carry boomboxes around with us. In fact, they're outlawed in a lot of places. Instead, we carry I-pods or .mp3 players. Regardless, the principle is the same: people can have their own personal music playing whenever and wherever they want.

At this very moment, in homes, offices, cars, restaurants and clubs around the world, people are listening to music. Music is the center of social activities, like concerts, where people gather to listen to music and talk about it. Even when music isn't the primary focus, it's still an essential component -- imagine for instance a wedding or a party without music. Boring. Take away the music, and you might as well take away the celebration.

The kind of music you listen to helps others know some things about you -- what you like to do, how you like to dress, the people you like to hang out with -- all of these can be revealed by the music coming out of your boombox. In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology says the music you listen to may contain hidden keys to understanding your true personality. Psychologists P. Jason Rentfrow and Samuel Gosling of the University of Texas suggest that people use music as a "badge" to communicate their values, attitudes and views.

None of this is really news to us. That's why the people of God have always been a musical people. Worship flows like water from people who have been redeemed. Young and old, rich and poor, black and white -- we all resonate to different beats, different rhythms, different harmonies but we all share the same song: the song of the redeemed.

What's more: it's not just the music. It's the melody of life -- its ups and downs, highs and lows -- all of life becomes a symphony of praise for those who have eyes to see and, more importantly, ears to hear. Maybe it's time to stop telling kids to keep quiet and tell them to crank up the music a little.