brigitte kathleen

rediscovering my heart


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An Open Letter to Jon Acuff and #StartEXP Participants

Dear STARTers,

Where do I even begin? First of all, Jon Acuff, thank you for the courage you’ve shown over the past few months, taking on this experiment and getting us involved in something great! So many great relationships have been born. So many inside jokes, so many hashtags… It’s  been a whirlwind three months of constant phone charging, and fear punching.  Jon, because of what you started, I went to Nashville for the first time (and saw some naked statues). Jon, because of your powerful words of encouragement, I wrote a Time Magazine article that described what I pictured my life being like in a way I never thought before. Jon, because of your dream, I made 200 new friends. And though we are very different, there’s an incredible amount of magic going on in that #StartSingles group that no one can really explain. Jon, thank you for involving your 2,000+ new friends on this journey you began. It’s been a joy to see it transform, grow, and morph it something no one expected.

Now, for all you #STARTers. I’ve never seen a more tenacious, determined, faithful, dedicated, loyal, supportive group of people in my entire life. And I don’t mean just the ones who post the most, or ninja-like the most, or were a part of FrankenSTART. I mean everyone. To see how each person contributed was truly amazing. I’ll be 100% honest, at the beginning of the second round, I went on a trip out of the country, and I had a hard time getting back into the swing of things when I returned. I lost touch of the main group and spent most of my time in the #StartSingles group, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t pop my head in every now and again to see what kinds of great things were being brewed up in there.  Thank you for being a constant shining light.

But now what? Yesterday, the #StartEXP as we once knew it came to an end. I see there’s a new group called “Dreamers and Builders,” and bravo for taking the initiative to keep the community alive. But… I want you to start thinking about life in terms of chapters, or seasons. The best example I can think of off the top of my head is Jon’s exit from the Dave Ramsey group. We don’t know the reason, and Jon doesn’t owe us one, but it’s obvious that his season there was over. Just like the season for the #StartEXP is now over, and has transformed.

But here’s what I want to challenge you with.

I don’t think Jon’s intent was for us to become dependent on him or this community for a feeling of purpose or contribution. I think community is really important, but I’ve noticed how some of us react when something changes- like yesterday, or like when Jon announced his resignation. People seem to get easily flustered. But you know what, guys? Jon is not the source of your power. Jon was simply someone who gave you the keys to unlock what you already had! If Jon completely disappeared from this, you would still go on being brilliant, and creative, and powerful.

I’m not saying the season for change starts now, but I want you think about what happens next. In Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud, he talks about how in order for things to change and become new, some things need to end. This is very similar to the idea of death and resurrection. Eventually, death will come to everything we know as #StartEXP, and it’ll be in our hands to move forward embracing the resurrection of something new and exciting. For Christians, I believe that is where we’ll see the Holy Spirit’s action start up again. When we allow death to bring in resurrection, we are offering an opportunity for new birth. If you don’t believe in the Holy Spirit, think about it in this way- a gardener must prune back roses in a bush that might be beautiful, but not necessarily buds that help the entire plant reach is fullest, brightest, and most beautiful potential.

Change is usually difficult. And some of us are not ready for that change to happen to the #StartEXP yet. But I can tell you that change is coming, and eventually we’ll have to embrace the pain of death so that we can allow our brilliance, our creativity, and our mind power bring to life something new and exciting.

Jon is just a guy who had an idea. All of us had our own ideas also, or we wouldn’t have replied to the tweet/post/every other social media medium out there that Jon uses. Jon is not the one supporting you. Even your fellow #STARTers aren’t supporting you. You are using your own mind, your own ideas, your own ideation to create and discover. Don’t let go of that. Don’t forget about the magic you had before you met Jon.

I have the utmost respect for all of you, and I’m excited to see what awesome things you continue to do.

Love,

Brigitte K. Leininger

#STARTAlum

P.S. #allthethings

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I’m Just Like Herod… But Cuter

I only ask what I’d ask any superstar.
What is it that you have got that puts you where you are.
I am waiting, yes I’m a captive fan.
I’m dying to be shown that you are not just any man.
So, if you are the Christ, yes the great Jesus Christ
Feed my household with this bread.
You can do it on your head.
Or has something gone wrong. Jesus, why do you take so long?
Oh come on, King of the Jews.

If you’re familiar with the Broadway hit, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” you might recognize these lyrics. King Herod’s Song is probably one of my favorite numbers from the show because of it’s swing feel, and overall fun factor (if you have time, click the link- you won’t be sorry.). Not to mention everyone I’ve ever seen portray Herod has been EXCELLENT in his role. Always hilarious, always tragically creepy, and always, ALWAYS the perfect portrayal of demeaning. I mean, really- If you want lessons how to make other people feel as little as humanly possible, you must do some serious Herod research.

The first time I saw Jesus Christ Superstar was for my 17th birthday and I fell in love. Having a theater background, I was giddy to begin with, but to see the story of Jesus’ life portrayed in such a creative (and relatively accurate) way was inspiring and exciting. I’ve gone on to own the soundtrack (which is the entire show because it’s a rock opera), and I’ve seen it two more times, as well as watched it on TV every time it’s on. I can also sing the whole show from beginning to end because I’m determined to be some production of it someday.

I love stories. I love telling stories, I love hearing stories, and I love reading and watching stories. I don’t know about you, but depending on the day, I can relate to an wide spectrum of characters from real life, fiction, or the bible. I tend to live in different realities depending on my mood. I’ve been Taylor Swift. I’ve been Katniss Everdeen. I’ve been Rachel Green. I’ve been Princess Jasmine. Right now I’m just like Herod (but cuter). And it’s here, in my Herod days, that I come to you with a question.

The story of Herod comes at a heartbreaking and pivotal moment in the Passion narrative. Herod spends his time doing nothing but mocking Jesus and asking for some sign of proof that he is who he says he is. We see this paralleled in the story of Jesus dwelling in the desert and Satan comes to taunt him. But I have to ask you a very serious question: How are we any different?

How many times have you gotten into a jam- any kind of jam- and been desperate enough to ask God to show Godself? How many times have we been through tragedy and said, “God, if only you were there…”? How many times have we used intercessory prayer to question God’s antics? How many times have we used our relationship with God as leverage to measure “how things should be”? What I’m saying is, how many times have we been so lost in our humanity that we wanted to make God prove Godself to us to make sure WE were being taken care of?

The crappy great part about it is there’s NOTHING we can do about it. We’re unfortunate humans, created in the image of God, but pretty pathetic. Our sinful nature cannot be combated. By the Law and Promise dichotomy, Christ comes to us in our sinfulness BECAUSE of our sinfulness. If it weren’t for our sinful nature, we would have no need for the Promise made in Christ’s salvific act. Because of this, we’re going to continue needing proof of God’s active presence. We are going to continue needing something tangible to hold onto so that our selfish, sinful nature can be convinced that he is alive and loves us.

Especially lately, I find my self doing this at my deepest times of need or loss. For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been done with school since December, graduating this past May. I’ve been looking for jobs since September. After applying for 215 jobs, I gave up counting (in February). Job hunting, as it turns out, is the most emotionally taxing, vulnerable, devastating journey you may ever embark on. Never in my life have I felt so small, insignificant, and worthless. In the pit of this valley, I found myself asking God how he could have gotten me here? Why wasn’t he helping me? How could he leave me to flounder so easily? I felt completely deserted by the one thing I knew to be constant.

So what do we do? I’ll tell you want we do– nothing. I mean, something, but let’s start with nothing. By nothing, I mean, let’s sit in quiet. Be embraced by the presence of God that you KNOW is there. Because though your head might feel deserted, your heart knows that’s not true. Settle your mind. When you’ve become calm, remind yourself of the promise of Christ’s love. A promise that could not be broken by death, life, angels, demons… Nothing separates you from that promise. I don’t believe that God has our lives mapped out from beginning to end- I believe that there is free will involved. However, I do believe that as a child of God, I’m offered a promise of love and hope for the future. When I remember this, I no longer need Christ to walk across my swimming pool or turn my water into wine. The thing he’s doing is continually making me a new creation. That’s my proof. That’s my promise.


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Social Responsibility and the American Dream

So, here I am on my way to New York City for the 2012 Social Good Summit where I’ll spend three days hearing about how social media can and should impact out global culture. I’m also excited to be able to experience something with thousands of other people around the world who are just as concerned about the future of social responsibility in a world that is changing faster than most of us can keep up.

In the midst of getting ready for this event, my mind has been a little preoccupied with the upcoming election. Not only are we voting for the presidential office, but Minnesota also has two important issues on the ballot: the Voter ID law, and the MN constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman. I’d like to take this opportunity to express my thoughts on one of these issues, from both a social and Christian responsibility perspective.

Marriage Amendment

It’s no surprise that the biggest and most vocal group supporting the passing of this amendment is the church grounded in the Evangelical (note: capital E) practice. This group tends to be very conservative and fundamentalist, which means reading and interpreting scripture as it is written, in any given translation. They claim their support for this amendment is based on the biblical view of marriage, and what God intended for marriage to be. This argument would be valid, if they weren’t looking at only a few scriptures to make their point. What the supporters of the amendment are failing to realize is that the relationship we refer to as marriage has been changing since its birth in the Garden of Eden. From everything to polygamy, to forced marriage due to death of a spouse or a man taking a woman as his wife because he has raped her and now claims ownership, marriage has continued to evolve. How can this group both claim that the Bible-in its entirety- is true and God-breathed, and wanting to uphold the biblical understanding of marriage without attempting to uphold every kind of marriage that has ever taken place?

My next argument against the amendment is similar- marriage is a state-sanctioned union. I believe that by attempting to use the Bible as a measuring tool for issues that aren’t unique to the church, you’re now on a slippery to integrating church and state. Also, we live in America, where one of the greatest blessings we have is the freedom to practice or not practice any religion we choose. Why, then, should we be forcing people to live by ideals that everyone might not possess? This is an unfair expectation, especially when Christians are a becoming more of a minority every year.

Yesterday, I posted something on my Facebook page that said, “I’m Lutheran, and I’m voting NO.” I did this for a couple reasons. One, I am really proud of the steps my church (The ELCA) is taking to promote equality and human rights. Second, I want to be a voice for those who feel they don’t have one. But most importantly, for those who are not in the weeds of the religious circles everyday like I am, they may not understand that there are religious groups that are fighting for equality for Americans. This brings me to my final point on this- equality. I’m proud to say that I live in a country that recognizes the value of human life, and individual thinkers. I live in a country where the ideas that something could be a reality have led to the first air-flight by the Wright brothers, and the birth of the automobile. I also live in a country whose Declaration of Independence clearly states that we believe all men are created equal, and have access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Have these sentiments always been upheld? Absolutely not. We’ve seen the degradation of African Americans in things like slavery and the 3/5 law. We’ve seen women have to fight for equal pay and the right to vote. We claim these beautiful words as our own but are obviously a work in progress. Although those eras were far from perfect and we still fight some of these old ideals, many of us look back and realize how big of a mistake they were. America is progressive, and the issue of same-sex-marriage is just another’s elf those things weave to fight through. The overall issue we’re facing is the right to equality. For some reason, supporters of the amendment don’t see this as discrimination, but that’s exactly what it is. Right now, a particular group of people are being denied rights of their fellow citizens based on their inherent nature as a human. Just like the African Americans were discriminated against because of the color of their skin, anyone who isn’t heterosexual is being discriminated against because of their own nature of being. This is contradictory to what I believe America is supposed to stand for. And if America isn’t going to stand for the equality of her citizens, then it is time to draft a new Declaration of Independence.

Social responsibility is not just a “social” issue, but an issue for Christians to take under their wing. Many people think that the ELCA taking a stance on the two issues on the ballot is politicizing the church. I have two responses to that- first of all, if the evangelical church is going to try to bring their religion into the government by trying to ban something, than we should have the opportunity to bring religion into the government to do the opposite- however, I believe that having a religious reason to be involved is unconstitutional. However, from my own personal belief, I’m taking a stand because it’s a social and human right issue- nothing to do with my religious beliefs. It just so happens that my religious beliefs fall in line with my social beliefs.

My goal or wish is to be a voice for those who don’t think they are able to use theirs. I want to put out a call to my brothers and sisters to do the same.

I also want to take this opportunity to encourage you to VOTE. If you have a voice, USE IT. Please get out there and vote on November 6th, no matter your beliefs, although I hope you find courage to continue conversations that are important to the future of America, and the impact we, as Americans, can have on the social responsibility culture in the coming years. If you have moved since the 2008 election and/or are not registered to vote, you can do that at gottavote.org (sponsored by the Obama 2012 campaign) or rockthevote.org (no party affiliation).

Until next time, don’t forget to dream big.


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Failure: Opportunity, or Human Brokenness?

Failure. Defeat. Catastrophe. Inadequacy. These are all words that, as humans, scare us into being determined to succeed. When working towards a goal, think about what it is you’re really afraid of- success and praise? A promotion? Pride? No. Humans are wired to be afraid of failing at something and disappointing the people around us. Sometimes, we get so caught up in this fear of failure, and the repercussions, it paralyzes us and we are unable to function. Our society has taught us that we must always be pushing for success and perfection. Whether it’s the perfect job, successful salary, perfect body, desirable lifestyle, we are convinced that unless we have success, we will be unhappy.

What would the world be like if we changed this mentality- what if failure was considered a positive outcome? This is hard to wrap our minds around, but in some circles, failure is praised, and embraced. It’s time to give failure a new purpose in life, and determine the consequences of what that might mean. One question that we need to be asking ourselves, though, is how should the idea of failure be dealt with in the church world as opposed to how it’s encountered in the corporate or entrepreneurial realm. This article will uncover some of the mentality shifts on failure, mostly in the corporate sector, and then translate that into what it means for the church in this pivotal time of change and transformation. What does it mean to be the church, and how does sin affect our ideas of failure? Should the church and the secular world accept failure in the same way?

It’s important to begin by looking at the place failure has in our society, and the shift in mindset the business world is currently experiencing. In “Poke the Box”, a book by Seth Godin, he discusses the important role risk plays in success. In order to succeed, especially if you’re working on something new and exciting, you have to embrace risk-taking. If you’re not taking risks, you’re essentially not attempting to get anywhere new. By attempting anything new, you have to risk something. What makes it a risk? Knowing that failure is a possible outcome, and unfortunately, most initiatives fail.[1] True risk-taking knows failure is a possibility, and not being afraid of it.

Godin is very enthusiastic in his writing, with ideas like “Don’t start- Leap!” and “What would you do in a world with no rules? Go and do it!”[2] These are zealous statements, especially knowing that most of the times you’ll leap, you’ll fall flat on your face. But, if you go into an endeavor attempting to avoid failure, you’re being counterproductive. Recognition of failure is at the core of risk-taking. If failure isn’t a possibility, it’s not a risk. Try to remember that the goal has never been to succeed, but instead to continue taking initiative and taking risks.[3] By doing this, failure will take on a new character in our lives.

Dr. Henry Cloud, a leadership consultant, wrote an entire book about the importance of endings. “Necessary Endings” covers everything from personal relationships to professional endeavors. Dr. Cloud uses this book to explain that although endings are always eventually necessary, these endings don’t mean that anything has been a failure, although it might be hard to see it as anything but defeat.  His main theme throughout the book is that an ending is not a failure, but simply an open door for other opportunities. This is a very optimistic (some may say naïve) view of failure and how we let failure function in our lives. But who has ever said optimism is bad? What would the world look like if we weren’t terrified of failure, and really embraced it as a jumping off point for something new?

In “Necessary Endings”, Cloud uses the imagery of a rose bush. He discusses how it’s necessary to prune and cut back the rose bush to let it blossom to its full ability. This means getting rid of buds that won’t bloom, or branches that are hindering a full blossom, and even those buds that have blossomed, but not as full and rich as the others. This image encourages us to get rid of anything that is holding the bush back from being 100% of what its supposed to be. Take, for example, a blossom that hasn’t produced a perfect flower. If the gardener were to leave that blossom in tact, the rose bush as a whole would not be able to fulfill its purpose, and be the most beautiful rose bush in the garden.[4] But, if the gardener were to take a risk by getting rid of that one rose blossom that seems to be holding the integrity of the bush in itself, what could eventually come of that? Could the bush produce something more beautiful than he could have imagined? Would the bush all of a sudden be lacking a integral piece of its beauty? This is a risk the gardener would have to take, hoping for the best, but recognizing the possibility for the worst.

What does this mean for the church? So many of these ideas are heavily entrepreneurial, and for young hotshots, looking to make the move on that next big idea, and make a lot of money. Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and even our good friend Seth Godin are all examples of what this looks like in the public, secular, business world. But the church is a different place. The church embraces same goals, same mission, and same gospel, and lets those things be the driving force of the wider church, so how do we use this new mentality of failure, knowing what we know from scripture, including the idea of sinfulness, and the work of evil in the world?

Is the church held to different standards than a run-of-the-mill Fortune 500 company? This was the first question I asked myself when I started thinking about failure as a whole. The answer I came up with was: no. However, there are other factors that we recognize as acting agents. We call it sin. That’s not to say sin isn’t present in business practices, but in the church we have a name for it.  As a church, we claim to constantly being focused on God’s mission, and how we, either as individuals or congregations, can work together to work within that missiology. But how do we tell if an idea we have is God-centered?

The power of discernment has become central to our transforming church culture. Prayer and listening have become the first step of many congregations’ “move forward” strategies. They listen to those around them, their communities, and hopefully they’re listening to God. What does it mean if we engage in these intense listening, praying, and discernment practices, but our ideas either never seem to take off, or simply just fall apart?

Bill Hybles, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois is very well known for his work at Willow Creek, and has also written numerous books on leadership. One of his recent works, “Axiom”, is a collection of leadership proverbs, touching on everything from communication to personal integrity. His tenth proverb is entitled, “The Value of a Good Idea.” In this short chapter, Hybles is very clear on how he feels about ideas: allow them to happen[5].  Bill encourages people to constantly be coming up with ideas, even ones they are completely unsure about. His strategy is simple: “In order to land one good idea—one breakthrough idea that will kick your organization’s activity into high gear—you have to allow for hundreds or even thousands of mediocre ideas.”[6] Even with this hopeful mentality about developing ideas, there’s still a possibility that you take an idea, and let it soar, and gets absolutely nowhere. The first question people will ask is, “Whose fault is it?” Is it fair to say that God is not involved in the discernment around those mediocre ideas?

In the past couple of years, my home church has been attempting to start a young adults (20-to-30-somethings) ministry. In order to do this, the point person on this project talked to all the young adults he knew and could think of. He put up announcements before church, in the bulletins, on the website, and all over social media. The group started with an average attendance of five to six people every week, some weeks more, most weeks less. He tried to jumpstart this ministry twice, and both attempts flopped. He tried for weeks, and months to figure out where he had gone wrong. Eventually, I told him that what he’s been doing wrong was attempting to market to a demographic that wasn’t present at the church. Our church has a fairly vibrant aging community, and the rest are young families. There are very few newlywed couples without children, and even fewer single, post-college adults. Essentially, he was hitting all the right marketing outlets, but there was no one there to care about them.

His idea was strong, and he was passionate about it, which made it harder to admit defeat. To look at this situation from a slightly cynical perspective, one could say that he probably wasn’t seeking after what God wanted him to do, and instead was giving into his own selfish desires. He had an idea, but how God-centered was his idea if God allowed it to fail? To look at it from the other, more optimistic or naïve perspective, you could say that this wasn’t a failure at all. This was simply an opportunity to realize that the group he was trying to reach were not currently in the church, and so now he’s been given the chance to get outside the church doors and see what he, with God’s help, can make happen out there.

The problem with this situation in particular is the focus on the ministry, and its purpose. The focus was purely internal- he was trying to get people involved in this programming, without considering anything outside the walls of the church. His intentions were great on a human level- he wanted to create a program for a group that hadn’t been tapped into in our congregation. But he didn’t use his resources efficiently. In “Missional Renaissance”, Reggie McNeal talks about refocusing resources. First of all, the man attempting to start this ministry used what was easy for him to grab hold of- marketing tools inside the church, people who hung out at church, social networking followed by mostly only people who attend the church. What he failed to do was take the extra step to reach outward.

I believe the biggest mistake he made was in his discernment process. He saw something he wanted, and he went after it without consulting God. McNeal says that prayer is the most “untapped and underused resource available”[7]. In the case of my home congregation, this was very clear as we saw what could have been a booming ministry wilt without ever really reaching a peak. But what about those churches that are spending time praying, and in discernment? How should they react when something they’re passionate about never takes off, or does take off, but then goes belly up?

These two situations are very different, the key factor being the place of prayer and discernment. If a church is truly willing to enter into a time of exploration, growth, and missional renewal, and they are intentional about seeking God’s direction for them. Somewhere along the line, they may hit a bump but God never said, “Go out, and create the perfect ministry model, and do everything perfectly without a hiccup.” Instead, God sent Jesus to send us out, making disciples, with a to-do list of two things: Love God, and love your neighbor.  This has contributed multiple shapes of ministry in different settings, and cultures. Of course we’re going to make mistakes, and experience problems. That’s what makes it fun! We are human, and we are bound to do things wrong. We can’t do anything without our sinful nature getting in the way. But if we earnestly seek out the Holy Spirit’s guidance and prayerfully discern where the Spirit is leading us, I can’t help but think that eventually God’s will can and will be accomplished.

Is failure the same, overall? I believe so. I also believe that failure isn’t always negative. Just as if an executive were to make a selfish move, causing the collapse of a program within a business, if a pastor begins preaching based on selfish intentions, something will fall short. Intentionality is a major piece to this failure puzzle, and deciding how to approach it in our given communities.  Churches can still find opportunities in failed attempts at ministry, programming, discipleship- you name it, and we’ve failed at it at least once. The important thing for the church to remember is this overall concept of “failure equals opportunity” is not solely designated to the goings on outside of the church. We, as the church, can still take a failure, and turn it into a thriving, blossoming rose bush. In order to do that, we need to trust that God will guide us through that process of discernment, failure, and recovery, and not lose hope in the mission we’re here to take part in.


[1] Godin, Seth. Poke the Box: When was the last time you did something for the first time? United States of America: Do you Zoom, Inc., 2011.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Cloud, Henry. Necessary Endings. New York, NY: HarperCollins Books, 2010.

[5] Hybels, Bill. Axiom: Powerful Leadership Proverbs. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008. (p.43)

[6] Ibid.

[7] McNeal, Reggie. Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2009. (p. 67-70)