Syrian toddlers and Curious George birthday parties: a father’s prayer.

syrian boy
A few weeks ago I celebrated the 4th birthday of my little girl, Ella. It was a Curious George themed party.

As we celebrated that day, I couldn’t help but reflect on her life.

I remembered when she was born. I remembered changing her first diaper, being completely lost and deeply aware of my own inadequacies as a father. I remember her first toothless smile, and I remember holding her, tears in my eyes, as she cried for hours from un-diagnosable pain. Pain we couldn’t take away. I remember the first time she said “da” and the first time she walked.

I love the ways she smiles at me when I come home from work. I love how she asks me to cuddle “for one more minute” at bed time (Ok, ok, I love it most of the time).

In both the good times and bad, I can’t imagine life without her.

Many parents are forced to do just that.

Today I came across the story of a little Syrian boy who drowned during his attempt to flee his war-ravaged home, and who’s little body washed up on the shores of Greece. In reading this, my heart fell-apart.

My heart broke because the only reason this story isn’t about my daughter is because, by chance, I was born, and subsequently my daughter was born, in privilege and peace.

My family’s safety and luxury is not deserved any more than that boy deserved pain and death.

Yet, I have it, my daughter has it, while this sweet little boy (and 11 million others) didn’t.

This feels all the worse because, on our side of the globe, our politicians and church leaders seem more concerned with getting rid of illegal immigrants, exporting Muslims, denying marriage licenses, and protecting gun rights than they are in speaking for the poor and marginalized (though, I must stress that this is not a universal statement- there are many who dedicate their lives to this work).

Our churches seem more concerned with shaming Target for removing gender specific signage, than we are in calling out Wal-Mart for their numerous and various human rights violations (domestically and internationally).

We’re more concerned with protecting our God-given-rights to own guns than we are in calling people to peace, forgiveness and radical reconciliation.

We claim protecting the sanctity of marriage is the most pressing issue of our day, while today, there are more slaves (an estimated 29.8 million) than ever before, and more than 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 a day.

The hypocrisy is startling.

As a pastor, I get countless letters inviting me to attend conferences dealing with the emerging, church-apathetic, generations. Conferences wrestling what it looks like to woo a generation back into the church.

As I scroll through social media today, though, I am left wondering if these generations are fleeing our churches, not because of our theology (as so many leaders are quick to claim), but because they see the deep-rooted hypocrisy in our compassion.

How quick we are to love those who look, talk and act like us, while allowing the rest to wash up on countless, nameless shores (this statement directed squarely at myself).

And so today, all I can do is to offer this prayer:

Father, forgive us- forgive me- for making the Gospel ethnocentric.

Forgive us for making the gospel political.

Forgive us for choosing vengeance over forgiveness.

Forgive us for giving into fear.

Forgive us for ignoring the cries of the oppressed in order that we might dine with the privileged.

Father, help us to listen better, to act more courageously, to speak prophetically, and love unconditionally.

Help us to be brave, because our children need us.

What Miles Davis taught me about the simplicity of holiness

Recently on Facebook, I made this statement:

As a pastor, I’m far more interested in teaching Christ-like love, humble repentance and grace-filled forgiveness than I am sinless perfection. It’s not even close.

After posting, and out of the subsequent conversation came a wonderful challenge from a leader in my denomination; explain the difference between sinless perfection and Christlike love, grace and forgiveness, and explain why it matters.
This post is my attempt at responding to this leader’s challenge. While I’ll attempt to work out this difference (to an extent), I think it should also be noted I have a bigger goal in mind; an attempt at rediscovering the simplicity of the Kingdom life. I’ll explain more in a minute, but first, let’s take a step back in time.
During a recording session (later released as ''58 Miles'), American jazz musicians John Coltrane (1926 - 1967), Cannonball Adderley (1928 - 1975), Miles Davis (1926 - 1991), and Bill Evans (1929 - 1980) perform in the studio, New York, New York, May 26, 1958. (Photo by Frank Driggs Collection/Getty Images)

During a recording session (later released as ”58 Miles’), American jazz musicians John Coltrane (1926 – 1967), Cannonball Adderley (1928 – 1975), Miles Davis (1926 – 1991), and Bill Evans (1929 – 1980) perform in the studio, New York, New York, May 26, 1958. (Photo by Frank Driggs Collection/Getty Images)

On March 2 and April 22, 1959, Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderly, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Jimmy Cobb and Paul Chambers gathered in the iconic 30th Street Studio, a converted Greek Orthodox Church in New York. It was here this quintet created a masterpiece which has subsequently become known as the greatest Jazz album of all time; Kind of Blue.

Beginning with “So What” and moving to the elegant conclusion, “Flamenco Sketches,” Davis and his legendary band participated in a musical revolution. They created art through simplicity.

A little context.

Jazz, from its very inception, has always been an art form focused mainly on the beauty which emerges out of improvisation.

Order within chaos.

Jazz, at its core, is about taking chances, risking failure, and in the process, creating something beautiful which will last throughout generations.

The famous jazz pianist and composer, Dave Brubeck described Jazz like this:

Jazz stands for freedom. It’s supposed to be the voice of freedom: Get out there and improvise, and take chances, and don’t be a perfectionist- leave that to the classical musicians.

This begs the question, though; What happens, when you get some of the most talented men and women together, pushing each other musically, and collaboratively challenging the way things have always been done?

Things got increasingly complicated. 

Growing frustrated with this ever increasingly complex art form, Miles Davis found he had begun to grow discontent with what Jazz was becoming.

In an interview with The Jazz Review in 1958, Davis went on record saying,

“The music [Jazz] has gotten thick. Guys give me tunes and they’re full of chords. I can’t play them…I think a movement in jazz is beginning away from the conventional string of chords, and a return to emphasis on melodic rather than harmonic variation. There will be fewer chords but infinite possibilities as to what to do with them.”

In this interview, Davis is lamenting this increasingly busy form of Jazz, and is wondering aloud if the future of Jazz might just be rooted in a deliberate rediscovering of the simple.

Out of this frustration, Davis gathered around him a world-class band, in hopes that, together they might explore and discover a more simple way. Over the course of those two Spring days, these five musicians discovered something beautifully simple, yet incredibly important.

They discovered “Modal Jazz.

Where other, more complex forms of Jazz would pack multiple chords into a single measure, the modal form would choose a single chord, would sit in it for a while, exploring that single chord and the various expression of it, for 4 to 16 measures.

In their pursuit of simplicity, Davis, Coltrane, Evans, Adderly and Cobb created what many believe to be musical perfection.

The increasing complexity of holiness.

If we think back to the Gospel accounts, we’re are left with a simple truth: the message of Jesus wasn’t that complex.

Jesus required people to love God first, and in the same way, love others.

Later on, before he ascended into heaven, Jesus’ last directive to his disciples wasn’t a treatise on how we are to behave and what rules we are to follow, rather He simply told the disciples to go and do what he did.

To preach the good news.

To baptize those who accepted this good news.

And in everything, to do it confidently, knowing Christ will walk alongside them.

This is pretty simple, yet incredibly beautiful stuff. And like jazz, it included a lot of room for improvisation. Improvisation we see throughout the rest of the New Testament (particularly the book of Acts).

However, somewhere along the line, this beautiful improvisation became more and more complex. The practicing of our faith became “thick.”

We had theological councils.

We had theologians.

We had libraries filled with detailed systematic theology.

We had reformations.

We had denominationalism.

Now, while none of these are inherently bad, and much of what came out of them was incredibly good, it’s also not surprising that, somewhere along the line, we found we had taken a simple and elegant Gospel and turned it into a millstone to hang around our necks.

The Nazarenes and a sinless perfectionism

Starting back in the early 1900’s, the Nazarene church was simply born out of a desire to love and serve the down and out. They preached holiness, a calling-out-of-ness, and preached a grace filled with optimism. You don’t have to be tomorrow, what you are today. This message was particularly powerful for the context- alcoholics, drug addicts, and those on the fringe of society.

Some called this message holiness. We called it sanctification.

Eventually, we described it as sinless perfection.

Many preached and insisted on, after an initial moment of salvation, the necessity of God doing another work of grace, curing us of sin, and empowering us to live a life free from willful transgressions against any known laws of God.

While this sinless perfection theology was explored and taught with a heart of love, it had unintended, long-term consequences.

Instead of a church willing to wrestle with the difficult issues in the spiritual life, instead of a church community willing to apologize for their faults, and instead of a church community who was able to openly wrestle with faith and doubt together, our tribe’s journey into holiness became a masquerade ball.

A gathering filled with beautiful costumes covering a broken people forced into a life of anonymity.

A people fabricating a mask to show the world.

The beauty of the struggle was lost in our fight to attain resolution.

Holy like I’m Holy

Often, in this conversation about Holiness, we hear people claiming Matthew 5:48. It is in this passage, Jesus commands his disciples to “be perfect…as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

A weighty command, indeed.

Like most passages, when we remove it from the greater context, we lose the true meaning of what is being conveyed. Context always matters.

If we take this command to be perfect and place it back into its intended context, we read:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

When placed within its intended love-centered context, we find this isn’t a command to be perfect in ones adherance to every known law of God, rather it’s a command for the community of believers to treat others as God would treat them.

To love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.

To speak honestly and reject grandiose promises you never intend to keep. To mean what you say and say what you mean.

To view people as humans, and not objects to be consumed and discarded.

In other words, Jesus is calling us to see each other, friends and enemies alike, as our Father sees us; as His children whom he desperately loves.

Jazz reminds me that holiness is about the struggle.

Holy, Christ-centered living is difficult. The ability to reconcile with our enemies, to love those who curse you, to reject the belief that people are objects to be taken advantage of, takes a God-sized dose of grace and power.

Without the love of God going before us, without his first reconciling us to our Father, and demonstrating that love in our hearts, it would be all but impossible for us to do anything other than to hate our enemies, and seek the first chance at exploiting one another.

Yet, we are called to be more.

We’re called to be like our Father, but it’s this “becoming like our Father” which is a tedious journey. It’s filled with ups, downs and moments in the sunshine and in the fog.

It involves humility as we ask for forgiveness and admit our wrongs.

It takes releasing the neck of “the other” as we forgive the wrongs (even be they egregious) others have committed against us.

And we know, somewhere along the line, as we participate in this beautifully simple, yet incredibly challenging kingdom life, we will slowly take on the character and competency of Christ.

It’s in the complexity and the struggle where we find ourselves growing in love for God, in love for others, and ultimately in our desire to become more like our Father in Heaven.

In this struggle we are becoming holy.

I remember my first time hearing “Kind of Blue.”

It was around midnight, my kids were in bed, and my wife was asleep next to me on the couch. I had, over the past few years, grown into a love of Jazz, but in this discovery of Jazz, I had never listened to Blue (a crime of the unforgivable kind). It all changed there and then. In the quiet darkness I listened to the melodic voices of musical giants. The simple perfection washing over me.

When the final notes of Flamenco Sketches ended, I immediately started the album over and listened again.

I have never been moved by an album like I was moved by “Kind of Blue.”

At the time, I didn’t know about modal jazz, I didn’t even know who was playing along-side Davis.

I just knew it resonated deeply within me in a way no other album had.

I now believe I so deeply resonated with Blue because it wasn’t about the resolution. The ending wasn’t the point. The point of “Kind of Blue” is about discovering the wonder of wandering from note to note in an un-hurried and methodical way.

It was about doing something new, and doing it together, and in this collaborative creating, it was realizing simplicity has indeed changed the world.

And in this I offer my prayer:

May I live a life dedicated to the struggle to love like Christ, live out humble repentance and offer grace-filled forgiveness.

And may I look forward to the day when the resolution has finally come. But until that day comes, may I find a deep wonder in the wandering.

“Searching For Sunday:” An Interview with Rachel Held Evans.

This past April, Rachel Held Evans released Searching for Sunday to much deserved acclaim. It’s a book dealing with the difficult questions of faith and doubt, and processes them through the lens and anchor of the sacraments. Ever gracious and generous, Rachel offered her time to an unknown writer like myself, and I encourage you, in agreement or disagreement, to let this be something that challenges you towards unity as believers.



Rachel, thanks for taking the time to talk with me!

To kick this interview off, I would love to hear how this book came to be. Being that this includes so many intimate parts of your spiritual journey, what was the inspiration for you to write this?

Thanks for having me, Michael!

This book, and my inspiration for it, really came from conversations with my readers. I just knew from my blog, and conversations with people at conferences, that the big question on their minds was, “what do we do about church?” So many of us have doubts and questions, and even maybe questions about our pastors and church leaders. It’s a big issue. Should I go to church? Is it even relevant in my life anymore?

Searching for Sunday is my attempt to tap into the questions so many people are asking. Honestly, I somewhat went into this book dragging my feet, especially because I was trying to answer so many of these questions myself. However, when it occurred to me to write it around the seven sacraments, this really helped me give my thoughts, and this book, form.

Honestly, I didn’t know if I could talk about what the church meant to me without talking about what baptism or confession meant to me. These sacraments became the anchor for this book.

Of the seven sacraments mentioned in Searching for Sunday, which has been most significant in your own life?

To add some context, from the beginning, I chose those seven sacraments more for a literary purpose than a theological statement. As many know, they are the seven sacraments recognized by the Catholic and Orthodox churches, and I’m neither. In thinking about this, I felt like, as you examine those seven sacraments, you see the presence of them in every day church life, regardless of your recognition of them as a sacrament. From sharing meals together, to baptism through immersion or sprinkling water on their head, or from gathering around someone who is sick and anointing them, they are an important part of what it means to be the Community of Believers.

As far as which one made the greatest impact on me, I would have to say it was the centrality of the Eucharist (communion) in worship. This has become a very important sacrament for keeping me in the church. It’s the one I miss when I don’t show up on a Sunday. Gathering at the table, kneeling down, receiving something I didn’t earn is an important practice to make Christ real to me.

What was one sacrament you learned most about during your journey through the sacraments?

If there was one I learned most from, or one which was less familiar to me, it would definitely be anointing of the sick. I think I always assumed it was this superstitious thing that some people did to “cure” people. However, in researching it, I discovered that the act of anointing of the sick is less about “healing” someone as much as it is about the process of healing. It’s about anointing someone’s suffering as a holy struggle. This sacred act, recognizes that suffering, anoints that suffering, and says this suffering is a big deal and we are here for you. That’s beautiful, and for me, this discovery was really, very significant.

In Searching for Sunday, you write quite a bit about your views on the church and its treatment of those in the LGBTQ community. For you, what was your catalyst moment when you began to understand your worldview, in regards to same-sex marriage, was shifting?

My parents always instilled in me a tenderness of heart for anyone who found themselves left out. It was such a great thing they modeled for us- this loving and inclusive posture. So even in college, I was seeing people who grew up just like me, in the same Christian environment, to loving and devoted parents, who were being ostracized and marginalized because of their sexuality.

This caused in me a questioning that maybe this wasn’t something people chose and could change. Or, at the least, sexuality was more fluid than I once thought, and so as I continued on into young adulthood, I just had this nagging feeling that maybe we hadn’t got it right, and maybe people were really suffering because of it.

I think we have to look at the degree to which a particular system in the church is hurting people. It’s not enough to say, “huh, maybe we’ve got this wrong, maybe not, but we’ll just wait and see.” If it’s really causing this much damage, I felt like I had to explore it further.

It was out of this I was connected with Justin Lee at the Gay Christian Network, and Matthew Vines, and a few others who, through my reading their stories, began to find my mind begin to shift.

This is something that’s a very loaded and complicated question in many denominations. Nazarenes included. There are those in these denominations who are really unsure how to proceed. They feel as though they’re being torn between what the Bible says, and what  their experiences have been. This being the case, what wisdom might you offer to people who are currently living in this tension or fear?

I think because I know and love so many people who hold this belief, I would want them to know that I’m sorry folks on the affirming side can be so dismissive in judging their motives. It bothers me when someone says, “anyone who is against same-sex marriage is a hateful bigot.” I get a little bit prickly when this is said, because you’re talking about my dad. Most of the people in my life believe this way. It also bugs me when people think I’m caving to a social whim.

Ultimately, I think we could all do with a little less questioning of motives. About those on the conservative side of the topic, I’m sorry people have jumped to conclusions about their hearts. Everyone is different and they hold their beliefs because of different reasons.

I would also encourage them, though, that if they’re going to error, then error on the side of grace. Especially when it comes to something like baptism and communion. When it comes to who you allow at the table, who you baptize, just remember that you’re a sinner and that nobody comes to the table because they’re worthy. We come because we’re hungry. We all long for a relationship with Jesus. I feel strongly that nobody should stand in the door and keep anyone outside of the kingdom. Jesus spoke strong words against those who tried to dictate who were in and who were not.

So seeing as none of us deserve to be at the table, I would encourage you to remember we’re all sinners saved by grace.

In Searching for Sunday, you spend time talking a lot about healing vs curing. It sometimes feels to me that, when the church discusses the really difficult issues (racism, discrimination, LGBTQ equality, etc), we’re more concerned with curing them, than in doing the really hard work of healing the deep wounds caused by the church. Would you find this to be true? 

For me, the church participating in the sacraments became this beautiful picture of people who were wounded coming together to heal. It’s not about curing, it’s not about a simple fix. It involves them coming to terms with the wounds they’ve received, and finding healing together. There is a sense, when it comes to Christians and sexuality, that anything other than heterosexuality must be “cured.” That if we’re anywhere along that spectrum, then we need to be fixed. But people don’t need to be fixed. Really, we’re all just looking for healing. This then becomes more about people coming to terms with their sexuality rather than fixing it.

There is so much healing that needs to happen, no matter if you’re talking about LGBTQ issues, racial reconciliation, or any other division we’re currently working through. It’s not going to happen quickly. There is no quick fix. It’s messy, complicated, and painful, but we all need each other in the midst of it all.

Sometimes the same church that wounds is the very church that will heal.

For me, the pièce de résistance of your book is the section on communion. To me, it’s a beautiful reminder that, as often as we focus on what separates us/divides us, we are still unified by the table. How do you see the Eucharist being the catalyst of the church moving forward?

I’ve found the Eucharist to be such a unifying sacrament. It’s such a unifying experience. It’s where we all come together, with differing theological views, and in spite of these differences, we can come and receive the bread and the wine, reflecting on Jesus, and in this, it all comes together into this powerful, hard to explain, but beautiful way.

The Eucharist is the great equalizer.

It’s like when I get really mad at other writers and thinkers, I often have to pause and ask myself, “Rachel, how would you approach this person after you’ve been to the table? How would that change things?” And the thing is, it would change things.

I would love to see more ecumenical unity. Not just to share in communion formally, but to also share in meals together. There’s something powerful about the act of sharing in a meal with someone new that brings us all together.

One of the things I believe matters most about your book, is that it touches on a very real feeling that many, many clergy have. They silently struggle with questions, doubts, and fears, and there may or may not be a place for that in their current situation. For those within a denomination who are struggling to make their voice heard, what advice might you give to them?

Simply put, you’re not alone.

I think the hardest part of doubt and questioning is that you feel like you’re the only one. It’s a very isolating feeling. I remember worshiping in the church I grew up in, surrounded by those who knew me and loved me best, and yet it was the loneliest hour of the week for me, even though I knew this wasn’t true.

There are so many experiencing the same thing, asking the same questions, and I have been encouraged to discover over the years that those questions and doubters are closer to home than I thought.

So, for those with questions, and to those that struggle, be brave and filled with grace in the midst of your questions, and I think you’ll find that in the midst of the asking, you’ll find you’re not alone.

About Rachel:
rachelRachel Held Evans is a New York Times best-selling author whose books include Faith Unraveled (2010), A Year of Biblical Womanhood (2012), and Searching for Sunday (2015). Hailing from Dayton, Tennessee—home of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925— she writes about faith, doubt and life in the Bible Belt.

A pastor’s apology to the #LGBTQ community.

“Little country church” by Tim Wilson

To those in the LGBTQ community,

I suppose I should first offer an introduction. My name is Michael, and I’m a pastor.

Because of my role as a pastor I’ve witnessed, over the past few days, conversations responding to the recent Supreme Court decision that are anything but Christlike (read: Loving and compassionate).

You see, the reality of this situation is my fellow church-folk are struggling with this issue. Compounding this problem, as Christians we’ve often come from a place of legalism, and in many ways, even as I write, we’ve not broken free from this law-first theology. Because of this theological reality, we have almost no practice dealing with something as controversial and emotionally/physiologically complicated as sexual orientation.

Really, this is bigger than equal marriage. The Church has historically done an extremely poor job of dealing with sexuality in general.

And so, it’s from this place, and with this understanding, that I, an ordained pastor in the church, would like to offer a few apologies.

Please forgive us for succumbing to fear.

When it comes to same-sex marriage, for many of us, fear is ruling the day.

For too long, the church has been so intertwined with a particular political agenda that we’ve lost the ability to speak graciously and live lovingly into a difficult situation. We’ve stopped listening to Jesus’ commands to not live in fear and, instead, listen to the talking heads who evoke fear.  And because we rely more on these cable-news networks than Christ’s example, the result has been that we’ve turned you into talking points and into a faceless agenda. In this, we have rejected the truth that you, like me, are a human being, made in the image of God.

Please forgive us for not seeking out your story.

Because you’ve been treated as an agenda instead of a face, a name and a story, we have been unwilling to hear the journey that’s brought you to this point. Because we’ve not listened to your story, we’re unaware of the ways in which the pulpit has been used as a club and our Bible as a knife to wound instead of heal.

I’m sorry we’ve not treated your story with the care and gentleness it deserves. I’m sorry for the times when you’ve tried to share your experiences in our pews only to be shouted down with Bible verses and theology.

Please forgive us for ignoring your pain.

Because you have become an agenda, and because we don’t know your story, we don’t understand the pain you carry with you each day. The church doesn’t understand the thoughts of suicide and self-harm that many of you carry with you from the moment you wake until the moment you finally fall asleep.

Please forgive us for treating your pain as somehow different than ours.

Please forgive us for acting as though your pain will contaminate our social gatherings. Our callousness is anything but Christ-like, and you deserve far better than the church has provided.

You deserve community. You deserve love. You deserve attention. You deserve the right to be heard.

Forgive us for refusing your questions

In those times when you’ve actually spoken, forgive us for shutting your questions down. You see, for so many of us, we’ve operated on a black and white standard our entire lives. We have been unaware of the shades of grey that reflect the sexual spectrum.

We’ve never understood the complexity of human sexuality.

As a result, when you share your thoughts, opinions and ask your questions, we’re unsure of how to respond. Simply put, your questions scare us, and this should not be the case.

Please forgive us for those moments when you have taken the chance and put yourself “out there” and found only silence or resistance.

Please forgive us. You deserve better.

Please know the grace we’ve received is far better than the grace we’ve offered.

There is a beautiful quote by the Christ-follower, Dorothy Day that says,

“As to the Church, where else shall we go, except to the Bride of Christ, one flesh with Christ? Though she is a harlot at times, she is our Mother.”

How often we’ve failed. How often we’ve missed the mark. These past few days, we’ve acted far more like a harlot than the bride of Christ.

And so I beg for your forgiveness.

My friend, in spite of what the Church has conveyed, you are a person of incredible worth, and you are a person who matters to Jesus.

I recognize this damage will take some time to undo. I also understand that many of you may never come around our places of worship again, but know that should you find yourself with questions, doubts, fears or loneliness, you have a place in my church.

You have a place at my table.

My church welcomes you.

You are loved.

A repentant pastor.

The Church in an age of Suicide. (Are we really a people of hope?)

Creative Commons:

Creative Commons: “Solo/Alone” by Hernán Piñera

Recently, I had the great privilege of being invited to be part the planning team for our city’s inaugural  National Suicide Survivors Day. While you can find more information about what this day is about here, the purpose can be summed up this way:

Survivor Day is the one day a year when people affected by suicide loss gather around the world at events in their local communities to find comfort and gain understanding as they share stories of healing and hope.

Sitting with me around the table, I found civic health care representatives, representatives from AFSP as well as survivors of suicide. It was a beautifully eclectic and compassionate group of people.
During our time of planning, we shared stories of how they had been impacted by suicide, some shared the stories of their own attempts to take their life, and we talked about what National Survivor day looks like.

This day is intended to be a place for people to find hope, community and love in the midst of a very dark chapter of their life.

It was a meeting filled with tears, hope and beauty.

Over and over again, during our time together, I kept thinking, “this is exactly the kind of thing the Church needs to be part of.” After all, we are Gospel people and it’s the Gospel which offers hope, offers love, and demands compassion towards others.

A perfect fit, right?

As this internal monologue ran inside my head, a question in regards to where this celebration would be located came up- “Where would we meet?” someone asked.

Hearing this, I grew excited. I have space at our church, and would gladly offer it free of charge. After all, the good folks of Living Vine Church are some of the most wonderful embodiments of love, grace and compassion I’ve ever met.

But as my building was mentioned, the leader of the meeting spoke these words,

“I can’t stress how grateful I am that your church would take the time to participate in this meeting. Your folks are welcome here and deeply hope this partnership continues. But I need to encourage us to not meet at a church building. Our group has found through the years that the very people considering suicide, or those who’ve lost people to suicide, are quite often ones most deeply wounded by the church and will not come to this event if it’s held at a church.”

In that moment, my heart broke. It broke because I knew they were right about the American Church.

How? Lets start with a few statistics.

According to a Williams Institute (UCLA) study, 4.6 percent of the overall U.S. population has self-reported a suicide attempt. This number climbs to somewhere between 10 and 20 percent for lesbian, gay or bisexual respondents. This number then doubles to 41 percent when speaking about trans or gender non-conforming people.

41 percent.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Stories of those in transition

At the time of this meeting, our culture (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) was ablaze with social commentary about the transition of Caitlyn Jenner. The church and her leaders gladly jumped in.

Some in the church were kind-hearted and gracious.

Many, however, called Caitlyn and those who dare defend her, the worst of names.

They called Caitlyn a monster (shamefully evoking Frankenstein references).

They called Caitlyn defenders heretics.

An aggregation of theological perspectives, put together like a mosaic, created the picture of a villain in the 21st century.

In personal conversation, this is often the case, as well.

I’ve frequently heard those who find themselves same-sex attracted, or those who don’t identify with the gender of their birth, being compared to those who practice beastiality or pedophilia.

“Both are sin” we say. “God forgives us all” we say.

But do we not see the hurt inflicted in such verbiage?

Do we not see the brokenness this creates in the name of Christ?

Do we not see the ways in which the Community of Healing has become the Community of Exclusion and Rejection?

What kind of Church do we want to be? 

The truth is, the church is in the midst of a very heated debate about same sex marriage. In this debate, Christians are entrenching in their particular theological bunker. Throwing exegeted passages from their bunkers like grenades.

And you know who is hurt by this?

The very ones we are commanded (and claim) to love.

For in our proclamations of biblical marriage, we’re destroying the image of God in others.

The uncomfortable truth is, as the priesthood of believers, we bear the weight of dealing with this issue in a theologically responsible way.

However, it’s important to remember that every one of my same-sex attracted friends has reminded me that they don’t demand that the church marry them and their partner. They only ask for kindness and compassion.

Kindness and compassion: two things we’ve (myself very much included here) failed at miserably.

And so, as the church continues claim to be beacons of light and love in our world, and as we sing songs asking for God to “break our heart for what breaks yours,” we ignore those around us who are searching for connection and community.

Through the ways we’ve talked, the ways we’ve acted, and the ways we’ve responded to stories of others and trusted confession of others, the church has become a place they no longer trust. A place where they no longer find love. A place where the most vulnerable are no longer willing to walk into.

This begs the question:

If we’re called to be people who bear the image of Christ, yet don’t bear it, it must be asked: who’s the real heretic?

The Church I hope to pass on to my children

Creative Commons: keeva999,

Creative Commons: keeva999, “Country Church”

Lately, I’ve been thinking about legacy. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the church; more specifically, I’ve been thinking about what sort of church I’ll be leaving my kids.


This is an interesting word, isn’t it?  It’s interesting because there has been quite a bit of talk lately about people leaving the church.

Earlier this month, the Pew Research group released a National study that found:

Overall, 35% of adult Millennials (Americans born between 1981 and 1996) are religiously unaffiliated. Far more Millennials say they have no religious affiliation compared with those who identify as evangelical Protestants (21%), Catholics (16%) or mainline Protestants (11%).

Fully 36% of the youngest members of the Millennial generation – those between the ages of 18 and 24 when the survey was conducted in 2014 – eschew an affiliation with organized religion. This youngest group was not eligible to be surveyed as adults during Pew Research’s initial Religious Landscape Study in 2007. But the older cohort of Millennials – those born between 1981 and 1989 – was surveyed that year, when they were ages 18-26. In 2007, 25% of this group identified as religious “nones.” Among this same cohort, now ages 25-33, the share of “nones” has increased 9 percentage points and now stands at 34%.

This trend has been true on a denominational level, as well.

Recently my wife and I attended our Denominational district assembly where we were told that the Nazarene Church in the US and Canada had shrunk by 43,000 people over the past 10 years, and our district had struck 23% over the same period.

All of this begs the question, “Why?”

The “why” isn’t very easy to get at. People are complex and diverse, and their reasons for leaving are equally so.

However, in 2009, a protegé of Chuck Coleson, a man by the name of Gabe Lyons, gave us a window into the answer when wrote the book Un-Christian.

Lyons’ book dealt with the Church, with those who refuse to attend, or those who have left, and what their perceptions of the church might be, as well as the reasons they left.

His findings were that the Common Perceptions of Christianity were that Christians are:

91% Anti-homosexual

87% Judgmental

85 % Hypocritical

75% Too Political

72% Out of Touch with Reality

78% Old Fashioned

70% Insensitive to Others

68% Boring

Now, I’m not going to pretend to have all the answers. Nor am I going to pretend these present a full picture as to the exodus of Millenials from our churches.

I am, however, wanting to share my hope for the church moving forward.

I want to dream, for a moment together, about what the church could look like as we hand it off to the generation that is inhabiting our nurseries. After all, everything we do today will affect my kids, and their kids. The issues we tackle today will benefit them, and the issues we ignore today will be issues that compound and are forced upon them to deal with.

And so, as a Father, I wanted to spend a few moments and talk about the church I hope to be. I want to share what I dream the church will look like for my children one day.

1.   Inclusive

I hope to be part of a church that no longer pushes people away. I hope to be part of a church that welcomes in the messy, and eats with those who are culturally shamed and refused.

I hope to be part of a church who welcomes into the community of believers the drug addicts. The single moms. The abortion clinic doctor. The Democrat. The Republican. The pot-smoker. The recently divorced. The frequently divorced. The over-eater. The under eater. The alcoholic. The attention seeker. The over eager. The unreliable. The food stamp user. The Bentley cruiser. The prescription medication abuser.

I hope to be part of a church that welcomes into the community of believers the biblical literalist. The evolutionist. The same-sex couple. The overwhelmed, newly married couple. The Doubter. The overly confident. The apathetic. The poor.

I hope to be a church that welcomes each person in, knowing what unifies us is Christ. Knowing what convicts us is his spirit. Knowing what provides the soil for the difficult spiritual work is the love and acceptance of the spiritual community.

2.   Justice oriented. 

I want to be a church that seeks out the oppressed, and diligently fights against injustice.

I want to be a church that is willing to live in the uncomfortable reality of someone of a different race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status.

I hope to be a church that’s willing to mourn with the family of a boy unfairly treated by police.

I hope to be a church who mourns with the family of a police officer shot in the line of duty.

I hope to be a church that fights against a system that oppresses based on color of skin.

I hope to be a church that mourns the life of the Afghani child killed in a drone strikes.

I hope to be a church that mourns with the family of a fallen soldier.

I hope to be a church that supports soldiers dealing with PTSD and depression long after our government has abandoned them.

I hope to be a church that refuses easy answers, and a church that asks hard questions.

I hope to be a church that chooses Christ and his Mission over Politicians and their schemes.

I hope to be a church that listens to the cries of the oppressed.

3.   Confessional

I hope to be a church that accepts that we are a broken people, filled with broken hearts, and wounds that cause us to lash out at one another.

I hope to be a church that allows us to confess our short comings to one another. To speak the struggles of our hearts. To name the issues that bind our wrists. To encourage the forward movement of a people who can hardly stand by themselves, but who find strength and courage in numbers.

I hope to be a church where pastors no longer feel the need to put on a mask of perfection, but can live out their calling to be a wounded healer.

I hope to be a church that lets her people bear their scars, and a church which nurses the wounds of the broken.

4.   Forgiving

And in the moments when we hurt, I hope to be a church that practices the sacred practice of forgiveness.

I hope we can be the church that forgives freely, and without any expectation of return.

I hope we can be a church that forgives past the point of convenience.

I hope we can be a church that sees our oppressors as humans created in the image of God.

I hope we can be a church that forgives, even when culture tells us to retaliate.

5.  Loving

I hope we can be a church that lives out Christ-like love. A love that says, no matter what you do, no matter where you go, no matter what you say, you are loved.

I hope we can be a church that loves out of a deep understanding that we were first loved, even at our most unloveable. A church that recognized we were welcomed into the family by no right of our own.

I hope that we can be a church that lives this love out in a real and tangible way in a world that is desperately seeking love. And I hope to be a church that realizes this sort of love is a bit chaotic and messy, and hope to be a church that loves anyway.

Friends, lets become this church. If not for ourselves, for the sake of our children.

And when we do this, maybe- just maybe- we’ll find our youth returning to the fold.

On Wyoming, and experiencing peace together.

Creative Commons:

Creative Commons: “Un nuevo viaje!” by Andrés Nieto Porras

On Wyoming and Experiencing Peace.

Somewhere along the line, we got this image that the best way to experience God was to do it alone. Whether through worship, through prayer, through devotions or through confession, most of us have spent the majority of our spiritual lives building walls that isolate us from others.

We grieve alone.

We sin alone.

We try to experience God alone.

But try as we might, we’re never quite able to experience peace alone.


I have made the drive from the Midwest to the West Coast twice.

The first trip was made as recently graduated college student, idealistic and feeling as though I was in complete control.

The second, as a recently hired pastor, anxiously packing and carrying the possessions of a wife and 18 month old little girl to a city I had spent a few hasty hours interviewing, late Saturday night and early Sunday morning, with a beautiful congregation.

The first trip, beginning one June morning, was done with two of my closest friends. We packed into an old Ford Taurus and started West on I-70. Our destination was a wedding in Northern California where we would celebrate another close friend’s wedding.

Along the way, we found ourselves caught in a rocky mountain snow storm, witnessed the brilliance of the stars in the Utah desert, the brilliant lights on the Los Vegas strip at night , and frigid wet of the Pacific followed by the warmth of a bowl of San Francisco Clam Chowder.

The second trip was made with my Father-in-law. Being winter, and not wanting anything to do with the Rockies in January, we decided to take the southern route; old Route-66.

Pushing west, an overloaded mini-van and a moving truck, together we witnessed the beauty of the Texas Basin, the oasis of Flagstaff in the midst of a sea of red clay, meteor crater in Arizona, and the beautiful rolling hills that run along “I-5” in California.

There was a distinct moment during each trip out West when I remember being awe-struck by the sheer beauty of what I was seeing, and then became overwhelmed with gratitude that I was able to share this experience with someone else.



We yearn for it, don’t we? Our efforts are dedicated to finding it; often finding that our searching is in vain. And so we keep searching for it through books, through music, through exercise, or through long drives at night.

After failing more times than we want to admit, we find ourselves believing maybe we haven’t pushed the right buttons, or maybe we lack enough self-discipline.

What if peace isn’t what we’ve been taught it is?

What if this counter-intuitive peace was so powerful and so beautiful because it has more to do with the collective whole rather than the individual?

What if peace was never intended to be found alone?

In a sermon about the Kingdom of God the peace it brings, Pastor Tim Keller talked about peace this way:

“God created the world to be a fabric, for everything to be woven together and interdependent… The more interdependent they are, the more beautiful they are. The more interwoven they are, the stronger and warmer they are. God made the world with billions of entities, but he didn’t make them to be an aggregation. Rather, he made them to be in a beautiful, harmonious, knitted, webbed, interdependent relationship with one another.” 

It’s this communal experience of peace that prompted the angels to proclaim “Peace on earth.” The word used there was “Eirene.” It’s a word used to describe a collective peace; this is peace on a national scale.

Eirene shows us that Christ didn’t come to save you, and he didn’t come to save me. He came to save us.

When the church is acting in one-accord and when it’s threads are tightly woven together, there is a peace that is present in the midst of the people who goes beyond any explanation, and defies any logic.

Kingdom peace, in all its beauty, will never be found through escape; it can only be found through communion.


With the wedding a success, we began our trip back to the Midwest. I had the lonely responsibility of driving the grave yard shift from Salt Lake City to Denver Colorado. The road stretched for miles with no turn in sight, and we found that the only change for miles was a slow and steady rhythm of small hills that rose and fell like a small child peacefully breathing. Couple this with the soft hum of the tires and I quickly I found myself to be the only one awake.

It was dark.

Then came Wyoming.

The Sun began to creep up and cast the full range of reds, oranges and blues along the eastern sky directly in front of me. I was witnessing art in progress.

This moment was sacred, it was peaceful and I knew it was a gift.

Disappointed that I would be the only one to witness this sunrise, I hopefully glanced over at my friend, Chris who was sitting in the passenger seat, and saw that without my knowing he had woken up and was silently soaking in this moment with me. We witnessed the slow birth of beauty, and experienced a quiet peace.

That was 6 years ago, but Chris and I still talk about that sunset to this day.

Originally published in Standard,  February 22, 2015 (WordAction Publishing Company: Kansas City, MO). All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.