Category Archives: personal

on being honored

i’m not a surfer, really. but i have surfed. mostly, i’ve struggled to get out past large waves about to crash on me. so i have a bit of first-hand knowledge of being on the wrong side of a wave. just at the moment the lip is coming over, and the wave is beginning to curl over, there’s a puff of air and a small sprinkling of moisture that shoots out.

when doug p was standing on stage last night, talking about blessing one another with thanks, he glanced over at me, and had emotion in his eyes, and i caught the puff of air and small sprinking of moisture. and it stopped me cold (or warm?). and (this is stupid, but i’ll risk it anyway), the overwhelming feeling (it was more of a feeling than a thought) was this: i didn’t think they knew. i didn’t think they knew how much i’d loved this ride and sweated and bled for it. in hindsight, it’s absurd. of course they knew. but i never expected to be thanked. and never expecting it, i certainly didn’t expect it to be public.

i received deep hugs. gentle kisses (though it was a blur, and, later, when i asked chris seay if he was there, he touched three places on my face and told me they were the three places he’d kissed me). beautiful words. a long and moving applause. seeing my wife stand next to me crying. the emotion on karla’s face. the smell of cedar that revealed the gift tony so lovingly chose for me before i saw it. and i knew exactly what tony meant when he said, “through bad times and good times”. and i knew that he knew.

after, a middle-age man came up to me with tears in his eyes. he said he stumbled into this convention three years ago not knowing how he could go on in ministry, or even with his faith. he told me how it has changed everything for him. he told me how the change in him has provided a new path for his daughter’s faith and a way for her to be in ministry. his thanks and handshake was one of the richest i’ve ever received from someone i don’t know.

i said i don’t have many words for this experience (in my previous post), and i suppose my rambling here shows that’s not quite true. god, let my words be few. help me to soak in this, not quantify this, or pack it away, or objectify it. help me hold onto the feeling of being blessed.

bittersweet trip to the EC

i’m home from camping, overly ready for a shower, ready to pack and sleep and catch a 6:30am flight tomorrow to nashvegas for the last emergent convention. i believe this event will re-emerge, and will be stronger for having done so (i’m hoping it’s a metamorphosis — nothing wrong with a caterpillar, it’s just that what follows is, in many senses, better).

the emergent convention has been a true labor of love for four years (including the planning time before the first one). serving it and nurturing it and coaxing it has been one of the harder and most enjoyable things in my life. i hope to be involved, in some way, in whatever re-emerges (in 07?) — or, at the very least, attend. but my time as host is ending. i’m not writing this to ask for thanks or sympathy or anything else. it’s just that this coming week will be very bittersweet for me: full of more wonderful friends, new and old, than i’ll be able to spend time with; full of inquiry and new questions; full of opportunities to encourage those slugging it out in the trenches of the emerging church. and, for me (and maybe only a few others?), full of a keen awareness that we won’t be “here” again (“here” can be defined in multiple ways).

not that things should stay “here”. they shouldn’t. and it’s absolutely the right time for emergent (or some collective of friends) to take this baby and run with it. i think those of us who have been at the core of planning for the past three years have seen the value of the event being tied to an organization (institution?) like YS for this phase of its life. it needed initial structure and, even, services that would have been difficult otherwise. but now there’s great momentum (i’m not claiming responsibility, in good or bad ways, for the momentum of the emerging church movement; just some responsibility, good and bad, for the momentum of a national event with this focus).

and what a way to go out. this week is pregnant with the possibility of being the best one we’ve ever hosted. and it’s fresh with some new experimentation that could prove wonderful or frustrating — but, either way, helpful to future events.

if you’ve read other posts on my blog about my year, you know i’ve become an emotional wad of something (not sure what word to use) lately — at least compared to who i was 18 months ago (shoot, my son and i saw Will Farrell’s new movie — Kicking and Screaming — today, and i cried!). So i anticipate a few choked-up moments. Just knowing i’m losing my prime excuse for seeing people who’ve become such valued friends on a regular basis is enough to make this bittersweet.

but i’m ready to enjoy the time and embrace this truly lovely and noble gathering one more time.

geez. that was dramatic. sorry.

Fiesta Island, here we come!

tonite, my 7 year-old son, max, and i head off to “fiesta island” for a cub scout camping trip. fiesta island sounds substantially more festive than it is: it’s a small island (connected by a causeway) in the middle of mission bay, in san diego, with no treees whatsoever. just sand and scrub-brush. and 7 year-olds.

whiplash days

i’m in whiplash days. you have them too — those days that have (at least seemingly) opposite extreme emotions in the same short period of time. one of these random days is enough to leave me pretty spent (as i was last night), but i’m gonna have at least two in a row, if not three.

yesterday, i came into work at the butt-crack o’ dawn to prepare for an all staff meeting (tired, but feeling OK — a little stressed with the importance of the task); then, the all staff meeting was wonderful, and i left feeling woozy with vision and a sense of accomplishment. early afternoon, discovered a bit of a budget problem (knot! in stomach! denial!). stepped into a management team meeting that was supposed to be 2 hours, but went 4. it was extremely hard work — but, also rewarding, because the team really worked as a team. left just before 7 to go re-count the one life revolution money (see post below), and got home at 9, totally spent.

today: in early again, getting some things out of the way. weight of the budget stuff barking at me from the corner of my office. encroachment of next week’s emergent convention barking from a different corner. another 4 hour management team meeting planned for this afternoon.

BUT — tonite is the season finale of The Apprentice, which, next to 24, is possibly the best thing on TV. we have a handful of friends coming over for a finale party.

see? whiplash days. i’m not whining, or asking for sympathy. just stating the reality of my disorienting day. i suppose there’s good in having the extreme good on the same day as the extreme difficult (or stressful, or bad, or hurtful, or whatever). a bit o’ grace, maybe.

my year in review

my life experienced a directional shift 18 months ago when yaconelli died. sure, there has been role-shifting and lots of other tangible stuff as a result. but that’s not the shift i’m talking about. there was an unlocking of emotion that seems to have had a “no turning back” impact on my heart.

the second phase of this shift kicked in exactly a year ago this week, when we chose to take a significant redirection path for YS, launching out on a route of reinvention (without being able to see the end-point on the horizon at that point). much of this was cognitive, but has had deep root-level implications for my heart-unlocking.

phase three seems to have occured over a series of two YS exec team retreats, where we dealt with identity issues (personal and corporate). a new level of self-awareness started to come into view, and this seems to have had a side-effect of ramping up this emotionalism in my spirit.

the final phase (at least the last marker in this) was the heart-breaking that occurred in me surrounding my time at jeanne mayo’s youth leader conference, and the significant healing times i had with monty hipp and ron luce (which i referred to earlier, but can’t risk commodifying by blogging about it).

there have been overt implications of all this (like, i understand leadership differently than i did a two years ago, and, therefore, i lead from a different place; and there have been great implications in my marraige). i have untapped a surprising ability to cry, or at least be overwhelmed with emotion, that had previously been unavailable to me.

but the most striking result for me has been this: for a good 10 years, i’ve had a keen sense that god has been involved in my life — in my professional roles, and in my thinking. this has certainly had profound implications. it’s not that i didn’t believe that god was involved in those aspects of my life prior to 10 years ago; it’s that i became aware of it, i could feel it. but what i’m seeing now, maybe for the first time in my life, is a growing awareness that god is actively shaping my heart and emotions. it’s wonderful, of course. but if i’m fully honest, it’s downright terrifying also. for the first time, i’m starting to understand in a non-cognitive way what yaconelli was always talking about when he referred to jesus as terrifying.

one of the scary things about tapping into emotion is that they’re not all good emotions (like warmth and compassion). a smaller part of this is that i also seem to have tapped into a new reservoir of rage that i didn’t know was possible from me. i think i’d always truncated it in the past. not that i’ve acted out on this occaisonal rage (other than the time i almost strangled our dog for tearing up the family room carpeting). but my controlled anger bubbles up to a more intense level (which i can only describe as rage) on a regular basis.

the group of guys i met with this week, when i mentioned this — almost as a little verbal sidebar — at the end of my recap of the year, challenged me that i need to get some help with this. initially, i was quite resistent. but i’m choosing to accept the spiritual wisdom of the group, and am blogging about it here as a stake-in-the-ground (look! it’s accountability!) that i won’t blow this off.

an open post to my nephew, just about to graduate from HS


So – this is weird – “uncle marko” doesn’t write very often. Fair enough.

I’m sitting on a plane somewhere between Atlanta and Denver. And I’ve been reading a really heavy book about youth ministry (called “Practicing Passion”). It’s kind of academic; no, it IS academic. There are lots of pages where I have to decide to keep reading. But there are also many pages where I’m struck speechless (not that I’d have anyone to make a speech to here at 38,000 feet!) by the simplest and most profound thoughts.

And – here’s the really weird part – I keep thinking about you: Zachary Lincoln Dunlap; my first nephew that I see once or, maybe, twice a year, and have pretty much no contact with between those visits. I’m not really offering an apology, and I’m certainly not asking for one from you! Our lives are what they are, and they’re both very full. And this may very well be the only letter you’ll ever get from me like this!

So, here’s why I’m thinking about you…


Let me type in a few quotes and thoughts from the book first (bear with me):

“Passion is loving something enough to suffer for it” – Jurgen Moltmann

“The Christ-event transforms adolescents into people who actually do ‘have it together’ as they repent and identify with Jesus Christ instead of with the piecemeal fragments of consumer culture. Passion transcends lesser commitments of the self, and binds them to a common higher order allegiance.” – Kenda Dean, the author of the book

“There are only four questions of value in life: what is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for? What is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same: Only love.” – from the movie Don Juan de Marco

Teenagers, while lacking in some areas of maturity (psychological, emotional, social) have at their fingertips something that most adults find terribly difficult to reach: passion. Teenagers, in this sense, are closer to the heart of God, and can experience the Passion of Christ in ways that clarify their otherwise fractured identities and give direction to their lives. Adults need teenagers to show them the path to passion. – my thoughts from the book

Ok. So. Back to Zack.

You, my nephew, are remarkable. The lives of teenagers today are more fractured than ever – even more than when I was one, even more than 10 years ago. Most teenagers (really, almost all) live a collection of lives through a collection of “selves.” There’s gym-class-self and chemistry-self and Friday-night-party-self and after-school-job-self and family-self and even church-self. This is a given in today’s youth culture. It’s really the art of self-protection and survival – I don’t “blame” kids for it; it’s the only way they know how to walk down the path of trying to find out who they are in a safe way (because EVERY part of the world is so completely unsafe for all teenagers).

But once in a while, a teenager is somehow able to rise above this. Ooh, wait, “rise above” probably isn’t the best wording. Once in a while, a teenager – because of a deep soul-level connection with the Passion of Christ (remember: loving enough to suffer) – is able to find a story, an identity, that allows them to “piece together” all those fractured atomic identities into one: child of God, beloved of Jesus.

I know this is true for you. You are one of the few. You ooze this. It leaks out of every interaction you have, Zack, every decision you make, every stand you take. OK, I’m probably exaggerating a tiny bit – maybe not EVERY one of those; but you do leak and ooze!

I’m so proud of you, Zack. I’m so glad to know you (which sounds silly, since I didn’t really have a choice!).

I just know it; I know you are going to have an impact on the kingdom of God. I know God is going to use your combination of gifts (arts, business sense, entrepreneurial spirit, outspoken nature…) and your wonderful brashness, combined with what I think I see as a gentle spirit – all of that, God is amped to use for his glory; I know it in my bones.

Let me put it another way. Max and you are two very different people, no doubt. So I don’t expect him to be you. But I would be absolutely thrilled beyond words to have Max “turn out like you.”

Well, that’s my 38,000 foot thought for you, ZLD. In a sense, my current literal elevation is a decent metaphor for what I’m writing to you: this letter is about what I see in you from a distance, a generalization about you and your life and the norm of teenager-land from a satellite viewpoint.

Stay the course, nephew – blood-kin of mine. Hold on to that passion of yours, and that Passion of His. Continue to order your life and direction and identity and future and choices and priorities around the only thing worth living for, and the only thing worth dying for: love.

seaworld, here i come

i’m off to chaperone for my son max’s 1st grade field trip to seaworld today. i hope my little group doesn’t want to sit in the “splash zone” during the shamu show. ah, living in san diego. i’m sorry for all you parents who have to chaperone your kids field trips to places like this.


i got shat on by a pickin’ seagull. the kids we playing with starfish in a tidepool, and i was having a chat with the teacher. a gull flew over and “striped” me up the front, across the top of my head, and down my back. there’s just no way to gracefully recover from that.

i know, someone reading this will think it serves me right for my arrogance about living in san diego. but i think i can honestly say that a day with seagull crap on your head in san diego is still better than a day without in, say, minneapolis. (c’mon, tony and doug, bring it on — “but some report said we’re in the most liveable city in the US”. yeah, for penguins.)