Thursday, July 30, 2015

new ventures

Well, it seems like it may be time to start writing again.  I took a bit of a hiatus there for a year and a half.  It seemed like I was in a bit of a holding pattern--going to school, teaching at law school, volunteering at church, and working through issues related to the suffering of friends close to me.

But it appears that I'm on the other side of that, and I continue to have people encouraging and asking me to write.  I've finished my master's degree, having spent the last 8 months or so working on a thesis exploring the beliefs of a sample of Millennials in my community regarding spirituality and groups--trying to get at whether they had any sense of value for and interest in gathering with a community of others seeking God.

Meanwhile, I started a part-time job at a local Methodist church.  In March I said yes to a job helping them plan and start a second church service aimed at worship that would be meaningful for folks under 40.  For many reasons, and though it was completely unexpected, it seemed like the right job.  And it turns out that it was the right time, too.  I was able to use my thesis study to inform my work at the church.

So this is the exciting new venture that I am embarking on, along with  the church that I joined.  So as we explore what church could and should look like for Millennials and beyond, I think I just may begin writing about it.  As we struggle and experiment and try to figure out what to do next, I'll share what I can of the journey so that we as the broader Christian church can make this journey together.  If this is a topic you're interested in, stay tuned....

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

12 Grief Cliche's by Leanne Penny

So, I stumbled across this blog post by my friend Leanne--and I thought she totally hit the nail on the head about the many awful cliches that Christians come up with... and I think she's right that many times the reason is that a cliche is easier than getting too close to the pain and mess that others are experiencing.  So without further ado, here's the beginning of Leanne's post.  You can read the full post here.

Two weeks ago I asked a question via my Facebook page: “In your opinion, what is the worst cliche used for grief and loss?”

People hate clichés, so they were happy to chime in on the flippant things people said to them in their worst moments.

I’ve had nearly all of these thrown at me in a funeral receiving line, all except the ones that pertain to loss of a child, a unique grief which I haven’t walked through.

I’ve spent the past few weeks going over these in my head, turning them over in my heart and I’ve come to realize that there are two central themes running through every one

1) Loss isn’t that bad and it will all be better soon, this isn’t really that hard.

2)  God is the source of your loss, he willed it for the good of all.

I find that every grief cliche has one or both of these going on.
Often those who come bearing these cliches also come armed with scripture that makes us wonder, “wait, are they right? Is the way I’m feeling completely invalid? Is God up there sending the worst into my life like a parent doling out punishment?”

This practice is called proof texting, it’s what people do when they want to say something and they want it to be biblical, so they find a verse that backs up their thoughts and ignore the context completely.

And the google gods have just made this even easier to do… 

Proof texting has backed up slavery, racism, gender inequality, corporal punishment and pretty much all of these awful cliches. So when you hear a verse that seems completely incompatible from what you know to be true of the Gospels and the love of God, dismiss it until you’ve had time to look into the context itself.

For now, let’s blow up some clichés, yes?

To read the rest of the post, click here.

Thanks, Leanne!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Presence in suffering

I had a friend lose a child recently to the criminal justice system, and I was able to stop by the courthouse and stand with my friend as the sentence was handed down.  And I thought that day about the power of presence in the midst of a person's suffering.

See, I didn't really know if I'd be welcome.  I didn't know if it would be embarrassing to my friend to have me there while things were not looking pretty and the horrible realities of life were exposed.  I didn't know if my friend would appreciate the vulnerability that my presence would bring.  We'd never shared an experience like that, never talked deeply about our emotional scars, never really gone to that level.

But still I went, and I stood there, and I experienced those moments with my friend.  And though I couldn't solve any problems or make anything better, I could just be.  I could just be there.  And that means now that my friend will never have to explain to me what happened that day. 

Words will always be inadequate to express what those moments of suffering are like.  If I had not been there, I would never know what happened--not really.  But because I was there and shared that experience no words are necessary.  As my friend deals with what happened that day, I'll never need an explanation for why it is hard or what feelings might be involved.  I won't need the story because I saw the story unfold.  I will know because I was there.

Presence in the midst of suffering is a gift.  And the gift is not in the ability to problem solve, to make the situation better, or to even ease the pain.  But presence is a gift because it means that I don't have to explain to you why my life is hard or why my day was hard or why I am not ok.  You already know because you were there.  And that means that I am not alone.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Biblical Storying with Post-Christian Generations

I had the opportunity to write an article for the journal EMQ about how I've come to use biblical storying to reach my post-Christian friends.  You can read the article for a limited time by following this link.  In about a year, I'll be able to post the whole article on the blog.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


I'm blogging over at my friend Emily Miller's blog about the spiritual practice of taking time to retreat.  Check it out!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Saturday Book Review

Coffee Shop Conversations by Dale and Jonalyn Fincher (Zondervan, 2007)

This book is divided into three parts:  the first argues that we can and should find ways to naturally talk about our faith in small talk and everyday life.  The second part talks about some essential tools that people can use when talking about faith with others.  And the third part argues that there are only a few things that we should actually be willing to die for theologically, and that the most important thing is to introduce people to Jesus.

Overall, I thought the book brought some really important points to the table.  Like the Finchers, I believe that in this post-modern world, it's a mistake to convey that people have to believe a certain list of ideas in order to become a Christian.  Instead, we need to introduce people to the Person of Jesus Christ--he is the only one who has the authority and the ability to call people to follow him.  And many of the things that the organized church has stood for and against have been things that don't matter or that we can't know for sure.  There is a lot of room within the Orthodox Christian faith for a whole spectrum of theologies and practices, and to tell our friends they have to believe just like us to follow Christ is both wrong and ineffective.

They also argued that we need to earn the right to speak into others' lives.  Specifically, they say that "the only time we have a right to talk with someone and introduce Jesus is when we’re certain we see them as equally human, broken, and in pain like us. . . .Until we open up to two-way giving and receiving, our acts of charity, whether they be donating, witnessing, volunteering, dining with an argumentative couple, listening to a troubled teen, or striking up a conversation with a woman at the library, will remain drive-by acts of charity."  In this way, they encourage us to see people beyond the way we label them and as people who are made in the image of God and who are valuable to relate to and learn from.

So overall, if you have a heart and passion for evangelism, I think it's probably worth reading.  However, if you're looking to gain a skill set to help you talk about faith with post-modern, post-Christian folks, I'm not sure this is a helpful resource, for two reasons.  First, although the book is filled with stories of how the Finchers have shared faith and challenged the philosophies of their friends, if you have no background in philosophy yourself, you would not be able to figure out how to lead conversations the way that they do.  They are able to identify a worldview and philosophy and meet people within that to share faith effectively within that context.  And though I believe that we can all learn to do this, the book does not go far enough in truly identifying philosophies and practically helping the reader to know how to respond.

Second, there is no discussion of barriers to faith that aren't intellectual or philosophical.  In today's world where people are increasingly making decisions based on how they feel rather than what they think, a book that does not speak to the emotional barriers people have to faith is of limited usefulness.  Sadly, this gaping hole in the book is absolutely typical of the current conversation around evangelism.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR 255.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

embracing suffering

Therefore we do not lose heart. 
Though outwardly we are wasting away, 
yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  
For our light and momentary troubles 
are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, 
but on what is unseen, 
since what is seen is temporary,
 but what is unseen is eternal.  

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV)

If you've ever been "hard-pressed on every side" like Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 4:7, you'll understand the struggle not to lose heart.  But Paul says, again and again in so many of his letters, that we should not lose heart.  He consistently talks about finding joy in suffering, comparing today's momentary troubles with eternal glory and abundant life.

But when you're hard-pressed on every side, sometimes it's impossible to see beyond the moment.  When my 38-year-old roommate is literally groaning in pain for hours on end and there's no relief in sight and no hope for future healing, I must admit that I struggle to see anything else.  The abstract thought of life with Christ is so intangible in that moment compared to the solid wall of pain and suffering that's with me in that space and that time.

Paul talks about fixing his eyes on what is unseen, and while I cry out to God to give me that vision--to see what is unseen--it is not a vision that I have within myself.  It's not a vision I can create out of my own mind or even my heart.  I can't produce or imagine what a world free of suffering would even look like, let alone a world  filled up by the presence of God.

But this is what a life of faith looks like, isn't it?  It's a life that embraces humanity and struggle and suffering and invites Jesus into the darkest of places.  It's life that is renewed from the inside out, day by day, no matter what the struggle is on the outside.  It's a life where I know that no matter what the pain and suffering, Jesus is walking with me through it, and the Holy Spirit is interceding on my behalf.

Left on my own, the mere idea of an eternity that I can't see or feel right now would never sustain me through the circumstances surrounding my life.  But what I am finding in this place of suffering is the very real presence of God--not magically fixing all the broken places of life--but transforming me from the inside out and giving me a faith that is solid enough to give me abundant life in the midst of a world where death is mercy.