A pastor’s prayer for the Church in 2016

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Creative Commons: “St. Vigeans Church (HDR)” by Gordon Milligan

I’ve been writing and blogging off and on for the past three or four years. However, in terms of content and conversation, for me, there’s never been a year quite like 2015.

As a pastor who occasionally writes, 2015 was one which ultimately proved both beautiful and ugly for the church in America. It was a year filled with moments of joy, and moments of deep pain.

From racial inequality, to the Supreme Court decision regarding equal marriage, to our own denominational unrest, 2015 has forced us to take a hard look in the mirror, often revealing things in us that need healing.

While I know it’s 2016, I want to thank each of you for having hard conversations with me, and I want to invite you to continue having them in 2016. It will not be easy, it certainly will not be comfortable, but I believe, without a shadow of a doubt, they will ultimately prove to be worth it.

Let us continue to resist hatred, and fight against fear.

Let us name bigotry and racism, and call out those who seek their advancement.

Let us continue to stand up for our brothers and sisters who are of a different race or different religion, calling to account the system of power which is slanted against them.

Let us continue to provide for the outcasts, and speak on behalf of the voiceless, the outcast, the politically inconvenient.

Let us name the ways our current political structure seeks to hijack our gospel in the name of the Empire. Seeking to justify violence in the name of Christ.

Let us live out peace and forgiveness in a world of harbored grudges and retaliation.

Let us better create space in our churches for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Let us listen to their stories, and seek repentance for the pain we’ve caused them. May we welcome them to the Table, a place they’ve always belonged.

If 2015 showed us anything, it’s that the world doesn’t need a moral majority. It needs a prophetic minority. Church, this can be us. Let us show the world a better way in 2016.

Lets continue pushing into the unknown, and let’s do it together.

Why I’ll never vote for “The Donald.”

donald trump

The Donald has taken our country by storm over the past several months. Seen as a political outsider, Trump says what he thinks and doesn’t mince his words.  He’s just Donald being Donald.

This sort of filter-free campaigning has created some memorable moments:

From the time he mocked a disabled reporter:

…to the time he grotesquely quested Hilary Clinton for needing to use the restroom during a debate (insinuating she had “womanly issues”…because, that’s unacceptable in a man’s world):

Or when the Megyn Kelley was too difficult on him during a debate, Donald claimed she was just PMS-ing:

Or the time he fat shamed a protester:

 

Sadly, I could keep going.

If there’s one thing that’s become increasingly apparent, Trump, has shown his willingness to belittle others, not based on superior ideas or through legitimate debate, but through slander and bully-tactics. The stuff we remember from our 5th grade playground.

Yet, in spit of his juvenile antics, Donald is winning. This matters on a very real level, because in America bullying has reached a crisis point. Due the the prevalence of social media, the reach of the bully is far greater than even I remember, and it is affecting our children in relentless ways.

For instance:

One out of four students (22%) report being bullied during the school year.

14% of those children found bullying extended to their online world.

40% of kids with autism and 60% of students with Aspergers experienced bullying.

64% of kids were bullied based on their weight.

Nearly 82% of students who identify as LGBTQ were bullied based on their sexual orientation.

And this sort of bullying matters. 

Studies have shown strong association between bullying and suicide related behaviors. Youth victimized were nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to report suicidial ideation and over three times more likely to attempt suicide.

Students who experience bullying are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties, and poor school adjustment. Compounding this, students who bully others are at increased risk for substance use, academic problems, and violence later in adolescence and adulthood.

Pro-life?

It’s ironic that the party of pro-life, family values is the party in which Trump currently leads. Considering Trump is the candidate who so clearly demonstrates a willingness to shame, mock and outwardly embarrass those different than him.

Yes, we can be fairly certain Trump is just being Trump, and in a country led by politicians whose values are determined by a populist pollster, Trump’s candidness can be intriguing.

However, as parents and, really, as human beings, we can’t acknowledge that our country has a bullying problem, and publicly lament for those who have taken their lives resulting from years of relentless bullying, while offering our political support for our bully-culture lived out in flesh and blood.

We MUST do better. Our children’s lives count on it.

Light in a dark year: A Christmas Eve reflection

This is the homily I will be delivering tonight. May they find meaning this Christmas season.

"Nara Chugen Mantoro" by Pieterjan Vandaele

What a year.

What a dark, dark year.

There have been more mass shootings than days this year.

The rich are getting richer, the middle class is shrinking and the poor are getting poorer.

I don’t have to tell you that there are over 23 million people (12 and older!!) suffering from alcohol or drug addiction in America.

3 million men and roughly 39.5 million women will suffer physical abuse this year.

Nearly 300k will be sexually abused.

The UN estimates that there are between 27-30 million slaves today in the world.

According to the World Bank, nearly 1.5 billion live in extreme poverty. They will earn in a month what many will spend on a casual dinner.

There is so much darkness in our world.

It can feel overwhelming, can’t it?

This deep sense over division, resentment, angry, hatred, fear and objectification is what prompted time magazine to put out this magazine:

The question they asked “What’s really changed in our country since the late 1960’s.”

Time Magazine: "America 2015"

Some days it feels like not much has changed from 1968 to now.

Some days, it doesn’t feel like much has changed from the time of Jesus until now.

Evil surrounds us. Death whispers in our ear, telling us we’ll never win. That darkness is inevitable. It’s the victor. It has the final word.

And, if we’re honest, logic and experience seem to prove this to be true.

And so we grieve and mourn.

We lose loved ones, and say good-bye to friends.

We suffer in silence the evils of the world.

Feel alone in our depression.

And wonder if life will ever get better.

Darkness for miles.

But we were not alone. Not forgotten.

Into this darkness was born a baby.

This wasn’t just any baby. He was light.

John, one of Jesus’ disciples and closest friends, described Jesus this way:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  (John 1:1-5)

Into a world of darkness.

A world of violence.

A world of hate, we witness the birth of something beautiful and revolutionary.

Something that would change everything.

The Kingdom had come, and light was born. Which is good news because…

Darkness can feel overwhelming, cant it? 

Like a blanket, it can surround us. suffocate us. Smother us.

And we carry that heaviness with us throughout the year.

Still, here we are. Christmas eve. And in our being here, we’re declaring truth into the darkness.

The truth that no matter how deep and dark the darkness is, light has already come…and heres the thing about light.

We so often led to believe light to be at war with darkness. We believe them to be fighting against one another.

I love the way Shane Hipps talks about it:

“For the longest time, I saw light and darkness as opposites. Light casting out darkness. That’s its nature. But eventually I realized darkness is not actually opposite of light. It is in fact the absence of light. In the same way, there is no opposite of love. Just like light has no opposite, love has no opposite. There’s only love and the absence of love. In the presence of love, nothing backs it down, in the presence of light, no amount of darkness can quench the light. You can have darkness for millions of miles around, and one candle will illuminated all the space around it. No darkness can quench or conquer that light. That’s the power of love.”

Light and love. When you strip away the trappings of Christmas. When you break the nationalistic season down to it’s core… the message of Christmas.

Light illuminated a world of darkness.

Love overcame a world of hate.

And that my friends is good news.

This good news of Christmas is the declaration that the Light has come, and it doesn’t inhabit some well-lit, marble floored, morally sterile penthouse.

No, the light has entered into the real world- the world in which we live. The fearful, addicted, grief-filled-to-the-point-of-suicide, guilt-racked, isolated, hopeless world. This is why the coming of a small baby boy matters.

This is why we gather as faith communities and remember. This is why we spend weeks in anticipation. We anticipate because we are deathly tired of fear. We’re deeply tired of being objectified. We’re unspeakably tired of sickness and death.

And so we look to the light. The light which shines in the darkness and the light which darkness cannot overcome.

I don’t know where you are coming from today. I don’t know what your story looks like. I don’t know where you’ve been. I don’t know where you’re going.

I don’t know if your world is in the valley, or if you’re currently residing on the mountaintop.

Know this. Christmas is for you in all of the emotions, in all the pain, joy, sorrow, love, fear, guilt, innocence.

And know that as we celebrate the light. As you are invited to come and take communion, and to come and light your candle, know that this light is illuminating whats been there all along: the love of God, and his name for you….his son. his daughter.

A letter to my kids: Learn from our mistakes.

Mideast Syrian Refugees Rethinking Aid

FILE – In this Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015 file photo, a Syrian refugee child sleeps in his father’s arms while waiting at a resting point to board a bus, after arriving on a dinghy from the Turkish coast to the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen, File)

E and H,

The world is on fire.

People are afraid because men, overcome by anger and hatred and fueled by a false ideology, have killed thousands in cities over the sea. Fear and grief does something to the human heart- it divides us and turns us on each other. Where once we saw a person who dressed differently, or who spoke with an accent, we now see monsters in people who love, hurt, fear and laugh in the very same ways you and I do.

One day, in school, you’ll learn about the events of 2015. It was an explosive year.

You’ll learn about the massacre in Paris, the bombing in Beirut, the riots in Ferguson, police brutality against minorities, the Supreme court decision about equal marriage, and ultimately, you’ll stand with some distance and see how the Church responded to it all. I’m afraid you won’t like what you read.

You’ll read about how the lifeless bodies of kids, not much older than you are now, which washed up on nameless shores and read about how our leaders called for the return of the innocent millions back to a country which has already slaughtered millions of their people. This while the biggest issue we face is the removal of Santa from a red coffee cup.

You’ll read about how our country divided among racial and socio-economic lines. Our churches more willing to side with the powerful at the expense of the oppressed. How we shamed those who dare speak out that an unjust system should be reformed.

You’ll see fear and brokenness which saturated our responses.

You’ll see the fear in our words and in our legislation.

You’ll see the division in our attempts for control.

You’ll see how we refused to affirm the Imago Dei, the image of God, in others because we listened to a pundit rather than a poor immigrant born in a manger.

If I’m honest, most days I worry we’ve elevated Herod over the impoverished baby from Bethlehem. 

I write you this letter not to shame myself or others, instead I write these words because I desperately want you to learn from our failure. I hope our actions reveal the deadly consequences of choosing partisan politics and fearfulness over the optimism of grace and the hope of an emerging, Christ-centered Kingdom.

In many ways, the problems of today will be the problems of tomorrow. While the names, dates and events will be different, the tendency to walk the path of fear will be the same. After all, we know people will always peddle fear; societies trade fear like currency.

Fear sells magazines and fear gets clicks, but fear will never change the world for the better. Fear can only consume us. Eating away the good in us, and blinding us to the humanity in others.

So, my children, please learn from us.

Know that life doesn’t need to be lived in fear.

Know every life is deeply valuable. All life. Not just life in a womb. Not just in America. The life of a dead Syrian child weighs every bit as much as a living America child.

Know there is something deeply holy about defending from harm someone you dislike or disagree with.

Know that the simple act of hospitality can change the world. Never underestimate the power of a warm bowl of soup, or a warm bed, to heal divisions among enemies.

Ultimately, I wish we had been better. I wish we had modeled the Kingdom of God better. However, as a pastor, I know God is always at work. His spirit is always moving. And I know he’ll mold and shape us. I know we’ll grow. I know these wounds will heal.

So, my kids, hear my heart, learn from us, and live in radical hope. Live in Kingdom optimism. Live in  love. Live out forgiveness. Offer grace. Bring about peace. Fight for reconciliation.

It may cost your life, but that’s a life worth losing.

I love you, and am proud of who you are becoming.

Your dad.

The hypocrisy in the pro-life platform. (And why there’s hope for the church)

This has been a year unlike any I’ve ever witnessed. As we approach the Thanksgiving (and Christmas!!) season, I find myself reflecting on the past 12 months.

It’s been a busy year.

Our country has watched as police violence committed against minorities has become a daily (important and politically divisive) discussion.

McGill Vigil for Ferguson, by Gerry Lauzon. Creative Commons.

McGill Vigil for Ferguson, by Gerry Lauzon. Creative Commons.

We’ve watched as the Supreme Court recognized equal marriage for everyone, heterosexual and same-sex alike. We then watched as a county clerk defied that ruling.

“The People Petition The United States Supreme Court, “Equal Justice Under Law”, Rally For Gay Marriage, Washington, DC” by Gerald L. Campbell. Creative Commons.

We watched millions flee a war-torn Syria, and watched as countries wrestled with what it means to be a good neighbor. We also watched some coldly close their borders to those in need.

“Syrian family crossing into Lebanon fleeing the fighting inside the country. It is estimated that 200,000 have fled Syria.” by Abayomi Azikiwe. Creative Commons

We watched in horror as multiple mass shootings were committed against our children.

mass shooting

I think if we were honest, it would feel like our world is struggling with the value of a human life.

Our world is falling apart around us. 

In the midst of all this heartbreak and chaos we find ourselves, as Christians, deeply divided as to what we believe must be done.

More-so, we struggle to agree on what it means to be pro-life in the middle of this newly forming international landscape. The world is changing, and it scares us. This isn’t the world we grew up in. This isn’t the country we knew.

We are desperate to get back to the way things were. To achieve this, we’re told to resist.

In our resistance we become culture warriors. Fighting for “life.” Turning our gospel into a sword.

Prompted by our particular church leader or political personality, we create and carry signs, marching in front of our local Planned Parenthood. We write letters to our congress representative asking our government to rescind funding.

Often, though, in the midst of this culture war, I find myself wondering…is this all that it means to be pro-life?

I mean, our politicians tell us it is. Many of our christian leaders tell us it is.

However, I can’t shake the feeling that we’re taking the easy way out.

I can’t shake the feeling we’re speaking less for the gospel and more for a political party.

When our politics become the primary method of informing our faith, our claims of “pro-life” become a political platform rather than a Christ-imitating life dedicated to Christ-imitating love and service of others.

A politically defined faith will protest an abortion clinic all while ignoring the suffering of “the least of these” who happen to have a different skin color or speak a different language.

A politically defined faith will see life in an American womb as more valuable than life in an Afghani hospital or the life of a 13-year-old minority who is a casualty of a broken justice system.

What it means to be pro-life 

Is abortion an issue of life? Absolutely. Should we fight for the lives of the unborn? Without question.

However, if we’re going to claim the mantle pro-life, it must extent outside the platform of the Republican and Democrat parties. Life doesn’t cease to matter after birth.

To be pro-life is weighty and it’s inconvenient.

If we’re going to claim to be pro-life, then we must fight and speak for our African-American brothers and sisters who are being crushed under the weight of a racially unjust system.

If we’re going to claim to be pro-life, we must fight for the rights of the immigrants (legal and illegal) among us.

If we’re going to claim to be pro-life, then we must refuse to see our LGBTQ friends, family members and neighbors as “the other”, and instead commit ourselves to listening to them and defend them against the careless and hurtful words of those in our churches…even if we disagree with them theologically.

If we’re going to claim to be pro-life, we must advocate for those on food stamps and medicare, striving to empathize with their struggle, and refusing to dismiss them simply as “leeches on the system.”

If we’re going to claim to be pro-life, we must fight for those who struggle with depression and suicidal tendencies, recognizing the ways in which our churches have pushed hurting people away.

If we’re going to claim to be pro-life, then we must speak for the lives lost in the American bombing of the “Doctors without Borders” hospital in Afghanistan.

If we’re going to claim to be pro-life, then we must elevate others above ourselves; seeking the good of those who look, talk and believe differently than we do.

Being pro-life, in the Kingdom of God sense is counterintuitive, and certainly not politically savvy, but it matters.

And should the Church commit to it, this beautiful, counter-cultural way will change our world, one life at a time.

On Guns, Bernie Sanders and how we choose to speak of “the other”

Bernie Sanders: ‘Environmentalists Deserve a Debate’, by Katie Valentine

Bernie Sanders: ‘Environmentalists Deserve a Debate’, by Katie Valentine

It’s election season. This means our social media feeds are filling up with the politically slanted opinions of friends, family and that one person at work we can’t actually remember meeting.

One recent example of this came from a social media connection who is a Christian, scholar, professor, and very open Republican (in the immortal words of philosopher/scholar Seinfeld, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!”). This individual recently posted about Bernie Sanders, saying:

This is a short and helpful take on Bernie Sanders’s fiery denunciations of “income inequality.” If this issue has you confused, I commend it.”

He then linked to this Washington Post article titled, “What Bernie Sanders doesn’t understand about economic equality.”

What bothered me most wasn’t the authors dissenting view of Democratic Socialism. What troubled me wasn’t the author’s critique of Sanders’ political and economic platform. These are important and valid political conversations to have during an election season.

Instead, what troubled me was the way the author ended his post. The author wrote:

Sanders focuses less on empathy for the poor than on stoking the discontent of those who are comfortable but envious. They will ultimately be discomfited by the fact that envy is the only one of the seven deadly sins that does not give the sinner even momentary pleasure. Fortunately, for most Americans, believing in equality simply means believing that everyone is at least as good as everyone else.

What began as a fair disagreement of economic values, this essay found its conclusion buried in a disappointing accusation of Sanders as a dishonest socialist-bogeyman. The author moved away from educated policy and settled with baseless accusations of Sanders as a troublemaker interested primarily in manufacturing greed and economic discontent amongst a population which is otherwise happy.

Now, it needs to be said that I’m no Bernie apologist. I’m neither Republican nor Democrat, and generally speaking, both parties leave me feeling extremely uneasy (read: nauseous). However, in reading this article, and watching it be “shared” across my Facebook feed, I found myself frustrated by a trend that I’m seeing more and more among Christians; namely a willingness to speak flippantly and unfairly of a political “other.”

The Other

As Christians, we’ve grown far too willing to accept the false narrative of “the other.”

We’ve become far too willing to reduce real people into political talking points.

We’ve grown far too comfortable with fear creeping into the ways we talk about those we disagree with.

They will know us by our…?

As Christians living in an election year, the most important thing we will do will not be to place a pro-life candidate in office, nor will it be electing an anti-gun policy maker in congress. Rather, it will be a public demonstration of our faith inspired love of other during our nation’s long, ugly political journey which lay before us.

…love

Not the familiar culturally-accepted partisan love. Rather, we’re talking about a contrary-to-logic and opposite-to-our-cultural-experiences sort of love. A love demonstrated through the ways in which we love “the politically unloveable.”

This is an upside-down love which refuses to see others as the enemy. It refuses to speak unfairly of those we disagree with. It rejects the siren song of political fear mongering that surrounds us each day.

Where our politicians see just another “fundie” or “liberal,” Christians see those who are created in the image of God.

We don’t follow Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders, Hilary Clinton or Ben Carson. We follow a God who chose to become human and die a humiliating and excruciating death in our place, instead of bring judgement upon those who “had it coming to ’em.”

Simply stated: In a world of partisan love, we are called to emulate Christ, not our preferred pundits.

As Christians entering into the political season, we’d be wise to heed Paul’s famous words in 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

I believe, more than anything, it will be our love of others, not a ballot box, which will most clearly bring about the kingdom of God in our culture. It will be our Kingdom hope, not partisan fear which will transform the brokenness we see all around us. It will be our ability to listen instead of shouting over, that will break down philosophical barriers.

It will be honesty the size of a mustard seed that will divinely move a culture of fear and deception the size of Mt. Everest.

As Christians, may we choose a more loving, more honest way.

Rather than demanding our political beliefs be heard, may we demonstrate intellectual fairness and academic responsible dialogue with those we disagree with.

May we listen before we speak.

May we reject political fear-mongering.

May we live in hope instead of fear.

My we love in the face of hate.

May we see our brothers and sisters in the faces of our “enemy.”

Ultimately, may we strive to be like our Father in Heaven, even if our efforts wind up being “poor politics.”

Kings and Presidents: An interview with Tim and Shawna Gaines

One of the great parts of being a pastor in a denomination is the chance to meet and grow alongside fellow clergy who are passionate about the Kingdom of God. While I’ve known the Gaines via social media far longer than I’ve known them “in real life,” Tim and Shawna’s calling and passion for the Kingdom has always been evident in everything they’ve done. It’s this same calling which lead them to write a book many might have steered clear of.

Generously, the Gaines have taken a few moments to talk with me today about their book, Kings and Presidents: Politics and the Kingdom of God. I encourage you to go buy their book.

I promise, you will not be disappointed. 

banner

First off, well done on this book. It’s a great step toward a healthy and Christ-centered conversation about politics and the church. I always love to hear the story behind the inspiration for a book. For you two, where was the idea for this book born?

The original idea wasn’t about a book at all. Back in 2012 we had the idea to preach a sermon series at our church. We had been studying 2 Kings and kept seeing themes that challenged politics as usual. You could say it was born out of our pastoral concern to cast a distinctly Christian vision of politics for our congregation.  We sensed that a “Christian” approach to politics in the minds of our people mainly meant choosing one party over another (we had both Democrats and Republicans in our church).  We wanted to suggest that the Christian tradition isn’t subsumed under one party platform or another, but contains resources to offer a totally different way of thinking about politics. The series so resonated with our congregation and several people suggested we turn it into a book, and here we are!

As you studied 2 Kings together, and as you wrote these sermons/book, what proved itself to be the biggest personal challenge to the way you have always thought?

Probably the chapter on Elisha’s stew and the “death in the pot.”  We had the privilege of sitting under the teaching of a dear friend and mentor, Pastor Steve Rodeheaver, who lectured on this story. He has a gently painful way of letting scripture speak truth to power.  The idea that our job isn’t to dig out all the elements we consider “bad apples” or even to sift out all the worldliness but rather we engage with the hope of the coming kingdom of God.  Ultimately it is God bringing the Kingdom that will and does change the very substance of this world. That’s hard for pastor types like us.  We always have our spidy-senses out for fowl temperaments, hard hearts and good ole’ fashion heresy.  While we need to be aware of what’s going on in our churches, it’s not our job to purify the pot.  We simply proclaim the Kingdom, and that takes a lot of patience!

You talked a bit in your book about how much of this material came out of, and in response to, a church dealing with what it means to be faithful during an American election year (A struggle for many churches). What was the church body’s response to this series? How have others outside your local congregation responded? 

The church was really receptive overall.  Once it was clear that we weren’t waving red OR blue flags, it cut a lot of the tension. They understood that we weren’t trying to convince them to vote for one candidate or another, but rather calling them to see political life very differently.  We often assume that Christian faith should fit inside of our politics, and what we were trying to do is suggest that political life really must fit inside a life of discipleship that follows a very different pattern.  There were still tears and cheers on election day, and both responses are appropriate, but we definitely heard a change in tone in the way they talked about politicians, victories and defeats.  And tone tells you something about “where your treasure lies.”  So far those outside our congregation who have engaged this book seem to be eager for different language to talk about politics in such a polarized season.  And I hope to that end we have been helpful.

You make an important distinction between the “World of Kings” and the “World of the Kingdom.” How have you seen the church often find itself entangled in the “World of Kings” rather than as agents of the “World of the Kingdom?”

The most troubling example of this doesn’t have to do with elections and politicians.  For us our biggest concern is when the church adopts the same political sensibilities as the World of Kings.  Leaders look to dominate and rule rather to serve and submit.  Individual churches build their own kingdoms, insistent on constantly quantifying victories rather than seeing themselves as part of God’s larger Kingdom within a community and throughout the world.  Christians ugly attitudes about political elections are really just symptomatic of a larger problem: they are living in the World of Kings and claiming to speak for the Kingdom.

In your chapter dealing with the story of Namaan (2 Kings 4:8-37), you explored “decorated irrelevance,” a phrase originally coined by Brueggemann. Decorated irrelevance is this idea of someone dressing or puffing ourselves up in hopes that order to display a power that is utterly worthless. In what ways has the church sought power through kings, and resigned themselves to a life of decorated irrelevance?

Ouch, this one is so much easier to talk about in terms of politicians we will never meet.  But you are so right, the church is often guilty of decorated irrelevance.  Truly anytime the church is putting power on display it is decorated irrelevance.  The only reason to display power is to intimidate and control and these are not the ways of the Kingdom and, therefore, they have already been exposed as worthless in the light of the cross.  There is a difference in celebrating service and even Christlike leadership and displaying power.  Faithful congregations (districts, conferences, and assemblies) must test the spirit of their pomp and productions.  Faithful leaders must test the spirit of their use of authority.

You spoke a bit about contract theory, or this idea that people are unable to function as a society without contract that binds us together. You also talked about how, when this is fleshed out, it can lead to deep seeded mistrust and anger towards “the other.” Talk a bit about how the church might find it’s way away from contractual relationships and more towards covenantal relationships.

I think a lot of it comes down to taking our own story seriously and coming to terms with the fact that Christian discipleship is a very unique and strange way of life.  When we take that strange way seriously, we will likely see that following Jesus doesn’t mean we support this candidate or that candidate, but we primarily follow after Jesus and his utterly different approach to life.  I mean, discipleship to Jesus just doesn’t ‘fit’ in our modern political system.  It doesn’t ‘work’ in the sense that it doesn’t play by the rules of oppositional politics played out through power dynamics.  And that means that everything is different for disciples, including the way that we engage with others.  Because contracts are all about maintaining a certain kind of power over against “the other,” it will mean that we are always, in some sense, opposed to the other.  The way of discipleship, however, is about reconciliation.  Jesus’ own Sermon on the Mount is pretty clear about the call upon the lives of disciples to be reconciled to one another.  Contracts will always keep us at a bit of a distance from one another, but reconciliation will ultimately be fulfilled in fellowship.

In your final chapter, you talk about how the World of the Kingdom uses people who are unexpected, or seen as less-than. In what way does the Church struggle to see the calling of God on the lives of the unexpected? Who might a modern-day “Leper” be for those in the church?

The poor, the alien, the widow and the orphan.  I know I’m stealing from a Biblical script here, which might not sound “modern” but I think we still haven’t gotten it.  Churches and ecclesial power centers are moving away from cities and away from the poor while more and people are moving into the cities.  The way politicians talk about children of God who lack documentation as though they are less than human is certainly translating into a type of paralysis in the local church when it comes to serving this community.  Meanwhile, churches pour their resources into serving the normative family unit – mom, dad, 2.5 kids – while more and more young adults are intentionally living single, more marriages are ending in divorce, and the LGBT community is at a lost as to how to engage the church for those that even have the desire.  If we can heed the commands of scripture – poor, alien, widow, orphan – perhaps we won’t spend many more generations bemoaning our inability to connect with the generation that follows.

Do you guys have any new projects on the horizon? Anything you can tease your readers with?

Shawna has two video-based Bible studies coming out called Breathe: Created and Breathe: Wilderness.  We each have a chapter in a sequel to Dan Boone’s A Charitable Discourse, and I’m looking forward to seeing how that will develop.  We also contributed to a volume about the call of God that Mark Maddix and Stephen Riley are putting together titled God Still Calls.

Finally, and on a slightly lighter note, what is the best book you’ve read over the past year? How did it impact you?

Tim has been doing a lot of re-reading these days as selecting books for classes.  I think the biggest impact on me is a collection of lectures by Karl Barth that go under the title Evangelical Theology.  In it, he reminds us how humble we must be as we go about the task of theology, and how we cannot get away from the strange, particular way of Jesus.  A few others that have been impacting me recently are: The Future of the Word: An Eschatology of Reading by Tiffany Kriner, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’ by Sarah Coakley and How (Not) to  be Secular by James K.A. Smith.  Shawna loved Daniel Bell’s Economy of Desire, which has a lot to add to this political discussion. But really she is waiting with baited breathe for the new Cathrynne Valente novel to hit the shelf.

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Tim and Shawna Gaines used their time as co-pastors of Bakersfield First Church of the Nazarene to seek distinctly Christian approaches to pressing contemporary issues, and to apply those responses to faithful and creative ways in the local church setting. Tim now serves as assistant professor of religion at Trevecca Nazarene University. Shawna is a frequent speaker, author, and blogger. Her work can be accessed at shawnasongergaines.com