Thursday, December 23, 2010


I could not quiet my mind,
and I did not have a quiet heart.
There was too much noise.

During a week-long prayer practice with Psalm 94, I found that the hardest part was the noise.

On Monday afternoon, I prayed in a hotel room; I was attending a conference. I read, “Great is the Lord,” as a vacuum bumped against the wall in the room next door. As I pondered God’s steadfast love, I could hear the television in the room on the other side.

On Tuesday evening, I prayed in my room again but at a later time. And it was quiet. But the lack of noise made it hard for me to read the psalm aloud. I was concerned with what others might hear (and think). The most difficult line of the psalm was the one I whispered: “Rise up, O God, judge the earth.”

On Wednesday afternoon, I prayed while walking. It was raining lightly, and a nearby park was deserted. Still, I found Psalm 94 one that was difficult to speak aloud with its cries for vengeance on the wicked.

On Thursday morning, I found shelter from the rain in a coffee shop. And I read the psalm to myself, taking a sip of coffee and a bite of coffee cake before and after each reading as a symbolic step forward and back.

Then, when I was done, I wondered at why such a simple practice had seemed so hard. I wondered at my need for a kind of quiet that goes beyond silence. Because I found a quiet room on Tuesday and an empty space on Wednesday. But I could not pray as though it were just me and God. I could not stop thinking about others and what they might think if they saw, if they heard.

I could not quiet my mind, and I did not have a quiet heart. There was too much noise.

Thursday, December 09, 2010


Prayer as a Circle

a life of prayer that draws
me ever closer to the center and
ever closer to others

The foundation of prayer is love, so to grow closer to God through prayer will also – by its very nature – bring me closer to other people. The metaphor suggested in this idea is a circle, with God at the center and me at the edge. In prayer, with heart directed toward God, I work out my salvation in a life of prayer that draws me ever closer to the center and ever closer to others.

During my junior year in high school, I found that the more time I spent in prayer, the more sensitive I became to the needs of others: alcoholism, neglect, loneliness, depression, desperation. And even though I was overwhelmed by the need, it was a measure of need that previously had been invisible to me. Prayer was creating in me a measure of empathy.

That summer, during a trip to my grandparents’ home, I felt God challenging me to reconsider my path: would I continue to seek a future in the public eye (politics) or would I be willing to set aside what I wanted (wealth and influence) in order to serve others? It felt like a calling. I struggled – in prayer – over what kind of a life I should lead, over what kind of a person God was creating me to be.

During that process, many others joined me in praying for clarity (and for strength to choose well). Today, nearly two decades later, I have trouble remembering why it was such a hard choice, why it felt like I had so much to lose. In this process of prayer – in this daily practice of moving closer and closer to the center – I’ve found both clarity and community. And I can’t even begin to imagine going back.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010


It’s as though the image of God
within is little more than shards of broken
glass in the dusty rubble of real life.

Being made in the image of God connects us to God as well as to our neighbor (someone I’m more likely to think of as other). Prayer, then, is a discipline of connection, of noticing, of focusing, of attending to these connections, staying God-directed, God-centered.

What of the "passions"? Maybe they are simply those desires that lead me away from God and from community. The virtues? Signs of God’s character, stamped on my life, leading me into the quality of service and relationship God intended from the beginning. And temptation – though natural – also holds within it, if I allow it, the potential for distraction from relationship and disruption of service.

Recently, I've been challenged to confront those passions that live at my center, to let prayer “cut to the heart” that I might find freedom in being the person God created me to be.

So simple. And not.

Created in the image of God, I also carry within me desires that distort, that fragment that image. It’s as though the image of God within is little more than shards of broken glass in the dusty rubble of real life.

I want to trust that it’s as simple as prayer, that it’s as simple as letting go, that it’s as simple as Jesus. And I'm trying.

At Barclay Press

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Without God

Life Without God

they have
no knowledge
of God

A student and I were discussing the possibility of life on another planet. “What if we find sentient beings, who are our equals in every way with one exception” – I asked – “they have no knowledge of God?” He responded that the lack of faith would make them superior – less needy, more independent. I disagreed, arguing that belief in someone or something larger, more intelligent, and vastly more powerful than ourselves makes possible society, keeping us humble enough to tolerate, live with, and even care for others.

Monday, November 22, 2010

And even though the journey
was painful and lonely, it was a process that led
to both perspective and maturity.

Nearly a dozen years ago, I made a serious mistake in my position as a youth pastor in a small Idaho church. In spite of my carelessness (and stupidity), I had not been fired; but I faced painful truths about my character, questions about my place in the community, confusion about my future calling. I took a week away from work and drove to Oregon for a spiritual retreat at a primitive cabin near a private lake in the Willamette Valley.

And I prayed.

Or at least I tried to pray. One morning, I read Psalm 119 over more than a dozen times. Then I waited in silence. I wrote out a question for God. And another. And another. But each time, as I waited in silence, I had no peace, no sense of God’s presence. I went for a walk. I climbed a tree. I ate. I slept. On the next morning, I tried again. And the next morning. And the next.

At the end of the week, I felt just as confused as at the start. But I was convinced that God had been present, that God was waiting for me to work through the problem I’d been given, that God trusted me to learn and grow from the struggle.

In Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, Richard Foster recounts a similar situation from his own life: his attempt to solve a long-standing problem at the university where he taught. And I recognize my experience in his claim that “we often pray in struggling, halting ways. . . . We do not know what to pray. We do not know how to pray.”

Roberta Bondi builds on this truth in To Pray and to Love with the story of a friend who discovered that “‘Success’ in prayer finally has nothing to do with how we feel, not even whether we feel the presence of God.”

That week I spent in prayer was the beginning of a journey that led me out of ministry (I resigned my position a year later) out of church (I stopped attending another year after resigning) and then back. And even though the journey was painful and lonely, it was a process that led to both perspective and maturity. It was a journey that brought me closer to God through hardship, heart-ache, and humility.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Contemplative Prayer

I’m not used to
silence. It is hard to wait.
I am impatient.

I love that Roberta Bondi refers to other people in To Pray and to Love as God’s images. It reminds me that I must see the value in others, the truth in others, the love of God in others, the good of others – even and especially when I disagree with their behavior or their ideas. But we’re not talking about “warm feelings” for the other. We’re really talking about noticing what was previously invisible. And I read in this book a personal challenge.

First, there is the challenge of growth, that I would not expect an overnight transformation of myself into the person God created me to be, nor will I expect such instant change in others. Instead, I will celebrate even the slightest glimpses of growth. I will notice the faint shadow of God at work in both my life and the lives of others.

Second, I must continue to pray. Unless I am intimately connected to God, I cannot see the work of God in me or in others.

Third, I must practice humility. I want to be a non-anxious presence, “realistic about all human vulnerabilities,” especially my own.

In Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, Richard Foster offers with his chapter on "Contemplative Prayer" a method for growing more intimately connected to God so that I might become both transformed and a transformational presence in my relationships, in my church, in my community. The key, according to Foster, is silence. I must close my mouth and wait. I must close my mouth and listen. I must close my mouth and let God lead.

In addition, Foster suggests that the ultimate goal is union with God – not for the sake of transforming myself, others, or the world – but simply for the sake of knowing God. These other byproducts of prayer are honorable, but the point is relationship. Foster calls it “union.”

But this prayer is difficult. I’m not used to silence. It is hard to wait. I am impatient.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Our names for God
are human constructions, even if they
are revealed in scripture.

Each of us has an image of God. In our lives and in our communities, we have created God in our image. And we continually recreate that God as a reflection of both our experience and of our need.

We have many names for God – gracious Father, Father God, Abba, Daddy, precious Savior, Jesus Son of Mary, Redeemer, Comforter, Emmanuel, Adonai, Lord – but our words for God represent nothing more than “our conceptions of the divine nature” (Gregory of Nyssa). They do “not convey the meaning of that nature.” Our names for God are human constructions, even if they are revealed in scripture.

Why, then, do we name God?

The issue of naming is an issue of control. Consider the formula “to pray in Jesus’ name,” a formula that simply gets it wrong. To pray in Jesus name must always be a prayer of humility, must never be a prayer of control.

What, then, is spiritual maturity?

It is a willingness to let God be God.

At Barclay Press

Thursday, October 28, 2010


We have this idea in the Western Church that Jesus came to Earth for the single purpose of dying.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Most theological truths are expressed in paradox. Trying to resolve a paradox tends toward heresy. Our belief in the power of prayer to influence God, for instance, can be viewed as a kind of control over God – magic. On the other hand, a focus on aligning myself with the mind/character of God can lead to fatalism, a sense that prayer doesn’t matter.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Simple Prayer

Foster describes the experience of a
boy, afraid of a dog, who foolishly thinks he
knows how to fix a broken world.

When I was five years old, my dad bought me a Dalmatian puppy and named her “Candy.” For her sweet disposition. But Candy was not a nice dog. She barked. And she bit ankles.

I asked my dad to get rid of Candy. He laughed. So I prayed. I knew that God answered prayer. I asked God to kill Candy and take her to heaven to live with him.

It was a selfish prayer. But two weeks later, Candy got sick. And she died.

I remember that last day of Candy’s life. I was sitting with her in the back yard. It was a beautiful day. Quiet. Candy lay in the grass. I slowly stroked her ears. And I wondered about this thing called prayer. I knew I had asked God for a cruelty. And God answered. The all-powerful creator of the universe had opened up access to power for me, a child.

This last week, reading Richard Foster on “simple prayer,” I recognized in Foster’s description the request for help, the question, the complaint, the cry. Foster describes the experience of a boy, afraid of a dog, who foolishly thinks he knows how to fix a broken world. What Foster doesn’t discuss is power or the idea that we can manipulate God by praying the right words in the right place at the right time in the right way. He doesn’t mention any of the things I tend to attribute to prayer, such as its effects or how to make it more effective.

I might not have killed Candy. God might not have killed Candy. All these years later, I may be unnecessarily carrying guilt for a dog’s death -- guilt that’s not mine to carry. I had an idea that prayer’s purpose was to get things done. But as far as Foster is concerned, prayer is a commitment, a discipline, a practice. And the purposes of prayer are faith, hope, perseverance, relationship, personal and communal transformation that naturally flows from our increasing sensitivity to God’s presence and God’s character.

Simple prayer -- being honest about who I am before God, being present with God -- is a beginning. And 31 years ago, a five-year-old boy who hated a dog made that beginning in the only way he knew how: simply.

At Barclay Press

Thursday, September 16, 2010

it's not just
the young who
have questions.

In much of the Church, there's a cultural divide, a kind of gap between adults and adolescents. Psychologists suggest that adolescents are undergoing a process of identity formation -- figuring out who they are and what they'll stand for -- that causes them to question their parents, their friends, themselves. Sociologists suggest that these questions -- something we often label "doubt" -- make us uncomfortable, that they can create conflict.

Here's the issue; doubt is dangerous. First, because it's disconcerting. The right question in the wrong place can throw everything and everyone off rhythm. Second, it's deviant. People who challenge the status quo identify themselves as not fitting in. They're outsiders. They're weird. They don't belong.

But these questions -- these doubts -- reveal something important about the young among us. Many of them simply want a first-hand experience of Christ. Their faith isn't going to be (can't be) based on someone else's beliefs.

What, then, might happen if church were a different kind of place, a place where questions could be asked openly, a place shaped by freedom not fear, a place with plenty of room for doubt?

My sense is that God has been shaping us into just that kind of community for a long time now. My sense is that it's not just the young who have questions. My sense is that we're in this together.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Being a
Christian isn't
about belief

A friend asks, "What is the heart of Christianity?"

I answer: Hypostatic union and the Trinity.

He responds: Is that what it means to be a Christian?

And I realize the answer is no. Being a Christian isn't about belief. It's about practice. What makes me a Christian is nothing more or less than my desire to reflect Christ's character.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Life Eternal

What if living “eternally” is a quality of life much more than it is a length of time?

Monday, September 06, 2010


It's not enough to say the unexpected. I must also learn to say it in unexpected ways.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

At the Coffee Shop

That man in plaid flannel and moustache,
beside the window,
in front of a book.

That woman with dreadlocks and polka dots,
her bright yellow purse,

A nubby green sweater.
A mermaid in pearls.
A white summer suit and straw boater.

I, in the corner,
take strength from this crowd
of the trendy.

They, with their glances,
take note of my notebook,
my pen,
and smile at their good fortune.

Monday, August 30, 2010

a rock, hanging
off the edge of a hill, gave me a
place to sit.

There are places people go when life gets rough -- separate places, safe spaces, sanctuary. My mother locks herself in the bathroom. My brother goes on long walks past the library and into the north edges of town. My father rolls down the windows and drives the back roads. My sister used to hide in bed with a book or her journal. I have a rock in the Owyhee Mountains. Just up the hill behind the Catholic church in Silver City, Idaho -- past open mine shafts and sage-brush clumps -- lies a red dirt path. That first time, I followed it because it went up, and I wanted to go to the top. I wanted to see. But I found more than a view. I found a separate place. Hanging halfway off the edge of the mountain, it felt like the top of the world. I climbed up on top and sat at the edge. Sitting there, dangling my legs off the edge of the edge, I could see for miles down the creek to Jordan Valley, up the creek to Silver City, along the road to Murphy. And I was alone.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve spent my whole life looking for that rock, trying to find a place where I can catch my breath, see where I’ve been, and just be alone for awhile. Sometimes I wonder how other people live, people who haven’t found a rock. Sometimes I sense in the story of scripture a collection of people trying to find a rock, trying to talk about their journey and what they discovered along the way, trying to lead others into an experience of sanctuary. Sometimes.

Most of the time, it seems like I’ve missed the boat, lost my head, hands tied behind my back, barking up the wrong tree, washed up. People have stuff to do and places to be. There’s no time for side trips, no room for quiet, no space for space. And the Bible’s just a collection of dusty letters and foreign poems and depressingly inscrutable commands and old-fashioned feel-good stories. And the churches are PC clubs for white people with too much time (or guilt) on their hands. And Jesus is a TV personality who just wants to be friends with your kids and maybe try a little magic trick or two to lighten the mood. And then there’s the joke where Paul Tillich gets a letter from a critic of the faith. It’s filled with the details of a recent archeological find -- coordinates, descriptions, lots and lots of photos. It seems they’ve found the bones of Jesus, and the critic finishes with a mean-spirited postscript, “There goes your resurrection!” Tillich turns over the paper, confused, and breathes -- astonished -- “You mean, he actually lived?”

Do we live in a world that’s moved beyond belief? Are there no longer separate places? Have we been doomed to frantic, fear-fraught lives? to standards un-bending? deadlines pending? stress un-ending? Are we burned out on religion?

I was. But when I first started contemplating leaving my home church, back in 2002, I struggled with the fact that so much of my identity was intertwined with church. I volunteered with the youth, drove the bus, worked on committees, changed the sign board, cooked for potlucks, showed up at business meetings, represented the local church at denominational events. Surrounded by people, busy with ministry, I felt unloved and unappreciated. And I was lonely. But who would I be if I left? What, if anything, would be left of me?

I’d worked for several years on the staff of a local church. But I felt like a foreigner. I didn’t fit. So I resigned my position. And then I stopped attending. That’s when the questions started: was I in conflict with the pastor? was I depressed? did I have secret sin? I wish I could have articulated what was happening. But at the time, I only knew that I wasn’t satisfied. I didn’t know why, and I didn’t know how to fix it. I wish that I could have told them how frustrated I was with church. I wish that I could have told them that so many of the spiritual answers sounded to me like empty promises, platitudes. I wish that I could have pointed out that many of the practices of church speak to a culture that no longer exists. I wish that I could have told them that church as we know it and practice it is dying.

But I couldn’t say any of those things. I didn’t even know why I was unhappy. I was desperate for truth. I wanted to understand reality and learn to live spiritually. I wanted to know God. I wanted to be fully myself rather than just playing a series of parts. I wanted to integrate faith and vocation with community rather than continuing a kind of compartmentalized existence. And I couldn’t find a way to fit all this stuff into church. The box was too small. So I left.

But I kept coming back, kept hanging around and showing up, watching and waiting for others to exhibit some of the same symptoms -- not people who hate church but those who desperately want something bigger, something that transcends our limited notion of what it means to have faith. Today, I’m even on staff at another local church. Why am I still around? Because I know there’s got to be something better than what is. And I’m not smart enough to figure it out on my own. What I do know is that there’s something about places of sanctuary. What I do know is that people need separate spaces -- for quiet, for peace, for perspective. What I do know is that a rock, hanging off the edge of a hill, gave me a place to sit.

After a little while, I stood up, walked down the hill and drove back to town. But I keep coming back to that rock. One of these days -- some day soon -- I’d like to take others there with me.

At Barclay Press

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Parable of a Bridge-Jumper

Am I more likely to
sacrifice for a neighbor
in need? or take pictures?

Idaho's 486-foot-high Perrine Bridge is one of the world's most-frequented sites for parachutists who jump from fixed objects. But when Tamara Judkins and her daughter, Rebekah, drove through on a summer day in 2008, they noticed that the man "sobbing and leaning over the railing" didn't have a parachute.

Judkins recounted to the Times News of Twin Falls how she circled back, parked, and told her daughter to call for help. Then Judkins did something that none of the 20 or so bystanders had thought to do: "I took off towards him, wrapped my arms around him and held onto him."

Judkins later said that as she tried to talk the man into coming into town with her for a cup of coffee, the gathering crowd just watched, "many of them snapping photos."

Eventually, Twin Falls County sheriff's deputies were able to grab the man, whose name was not released, and pull him back over the railing.

For weeks after I read of the incident, there was one detail that I couldn't get out of my mind -- those people in the crowd, watching and snapping photos.

It reminds me of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Plenty of passers-by saw the man at the side of the road, obviously suffering from his injuries, naked and close to death. But most of them were too busy to stop.

In this newspaper account -- a parable for our age -- the issue isn't one of busy-ness. No, we are a society of gawkers, eavesdroppers and peeping Toms; and we have plenty of time. The problem is that suffering -- a potential suicide, a televised hanging, tortured prisoners half a world away -- too easily excites prurience instead of sympathy . . . leaving me to question my character (and my motives):

Am I more likely to sacrifice for a neighbor in need?

Or take pictures?

Monday, August 09, 2010

A day in the life . . .

We rose in the dark and
showered in silence.

We shaved in our cars,
waited at red lights,

We burned our mouths on hot coffee.

We zipped.

We zoomed.

We slid down on-ramps,
weaved across lanes,
darting, dashing --
more darting.

We turned up the volume
"By the power of Grayskull!"

We were the new Speed Racer.

We started each day -- a crusade -- and

we cursed
the harsh glare of new sun,
the inevitable red glow of brakes,
the insidious ineptitude of the deliberately slow.

We power-walked the centers of hallways.

We answered our phones
with loud laughter,
with tense murmurings,
with a hand on our ear and a dirty look at our loud neighbors.

We hauled paper stacks and portfolios.

We ate ham sandwiches,
ordered Chinese,
crowded into that new sushi bar and
ran (oh, did we run!)

We whistled in restrooms and
sang the national anthem as

we slammed down our phones
on the rockets red glare
and the home of the brave, and

we put aside thoughts of another day as

we jingled our keys
and raced for the elevators.

We were heroes.

We were villains.

We were done, and
the night was still young.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Broken Promises

He promised
cool-running waters, washed stone, sun-brushed blossoms --
blushing --
delicious grass-green vistas, petal-strewn, shadow-dappled;
candy-apple sunsets, marshmallow clouds,
the sound of bluebirds, songbirds, lovebirds
and laughter --
so much laughter.

She lost herself in a dream.

When he left, she couldn't wake up.
Pinching, slapping, biting the insides of her cheeks
did no good --
nothing but a dreamscape, a moonscape, no escape from
brown-powdered footsteps on the edge of a crater
and silence
under a panther-black sky with sparkling white teeth.
It filled fiery-orange each morning
and glared blood-red each night
as she cried.

Monday, August 02, 2010

a point will come
at which some people will get
squeezed out

For hundreds of years, churches have been like rubber bands. Their focus has been on getting as many people as possible inside the circle (of tradition, of polity, of community, of doctrine). The bands only stretch so far, however, making it inevitable that a point will come at which some people will get squeezed out unless the old band is replaced with something newer, larger and less restrictive in each of the senses listed above.

This model isn't working the way it used to. Southern Baptists — the nation's largest protestant denomination — reported in 2008 that new baptisms were down to the lowest level since 1987 and that membership had dropped by about 40,000 people this year. These numbers are generally in line with downward trends among all mainline protestant denominations.

How should Christians respond? Maybe it's time to reconsider the model. Who says the world should be knocking on our door (let alone sitting in our pews)? After all, Jesus didn't tell his followers to sit in an upstairs room—door locked—counting down the days to His return. He sent them out to be his witnesses "in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

Read more at Barclay Press.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Golem

exempt from the crushing
strictures, from the ills,
cruelties, and inevitable failures

A friend recommended that I read Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, and it is amazing. Toward the end of the story, Joe Kavalier, a Czech emigre, is considering his life's work as a comic book artist and compares it to the Jewish tradition of creating a golem -- a living creature that has no soul and acts for the protection of its people. I found the following an inspiration:

"The shaping of a golem, to him, was a gesture of hope, offered against hope, in a time of desperation. It was the expression of a yearning that a few magic words and an artful hand might produce something -- one poor, dumb, powerful thing -- exempt from the crushing strictures, from the ills, cruelties, and inevitable failures of the greater Creation."

And I wondered at my own golems, the words I've ordered on the page, the creations (some ill-conceived) of which I've been a part.

Monday, July 26, 2010

leaving the converted
in a land not their own
and dependent on us

Faith is fused with identity. I am what I believe. As a result, the discovery of a truth opens new worlds and changes my character.

What, then, is the danger of conversion, trying to bring others into truth? It is this. To convert is not to open up new worlds. Instead, its aim is to destroy old ones, leaving the converted in a land not their own and dependent on us, their human saviors.

Do you see that proselytizing is patronizing? That it is a way for us to lord over the less-enlightened? That it objectifies?

Too often, we seek to convince people that they must exchange their boxes for ours. This is sin. Our aim, instead, must be to help them tear holes in their boxes, to see the light of day, to enter this new world as free men and women.

But first, we must work on tearing down the walls of our own boxes. After all, the beam must be removed from your eye before you can take the speck of dust from your brother's.

Monday, July 19, 2010


On a high desert road,
where the wind chips away
at the skin of the world,
sand snakes
across the asphalt,
slithers into ditches,
and ravening packs
of tumbleweeds bite
at the tires of passing cars.
The sun, an open
wound, inflamed,
oozes into the horizon,
while a tattered stand
of junipers huddles
under the darkening sky,
and bats tremble
in their sleep
(rustling, restless dreams),
waiting for the night.

Friday, July 09, 2010

The Way of Peace

Right of way is
something you give, not
something you take.

Is self-defense a natural right? American dads teach their kids to stand up for themselves in a fight. American moms argue with referees at Saturday soccer games. What are our rights?

Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness.

Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.

When I moved to Idaho, I had to take a test to get an Idaho driver's license. I'd been driving for five years, but I was nervous about failing the test, so I spent hours memorizing the Idaho Driver's Manual. I remember a piece of wisdom I discovered in the section on 4-way stops. The manual explained how the sequence of turns takes place. And then I read these words at the top of the next page. "Right of way is something you give, not something you take."

That's the core message of peacemaking. It's a difficult message. It's a message we ignore at the peril of increased conflict.

Since that time I've pondered these questions:

What about people who talk behind my back and slander my reputation? I should hold them up in love, noting their positive traits and building their reputations every time I get the chance. What about those who threaten or manipulate in order to get their way? As far as it is within my power, I must give them what they need, not what I think they deserve.

The only way to make peace, the only option for diffusing conflict is to refuse engagement. If they grasp, I let go. If they accuse, I refuse to argue my defense. When they break in, I make them welcome.

Jesus lived and died this truth. I pray for courage to follow.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

life at its fullest
is heavy with
vital contrasts

We live in a culture of violence, a place where it is "known" that the best answer — the pragmatic answer — to evil acts is stronger acts that punish or even kill.

I call myself a pacifist — a peacemaker — and as a Quaker, I'm not alone. The denomination has a long history of peacemaking. But if we are to make a difference, to actively bring peace to the world, we must teach our neighbors that life at its fullest is heavy with vital contrasts:

Unfulfilled waiting teaches patience. Through suffering, we learn to experience joy. Deep love — the kind that changes the world by giving life to another — comes best from a heart that's been broken.

Monday, July 05, 2010


And the fish swim
in the lake and do not
even own clothing.

Aristotle claimed that happiness is the only thing that humans desire for its own sake. We seek riches, he argued, not because we desire wealth but because we believe money will make us happy. We seek fame, not for the sake of being famous but because we believe celebrity status is a means for achieving happiness.

Yet so many people are unhappy. In fact, clinical depression is the leading cause of disability in North America and is predicted by the World Health Organization to become the second leading cause of disability worldwide (after heart disease) by 2020.

Mother culture holds up an ideal for reaching happiness, claiming that any goal can be accomplished through hard work and determination. We call it the American dream. But it doesn't seem to be working, and millions of people are coming to their senses, waking up and realizing that there's something wrong with the way we've been living.

Unfortunately, we've learned to quiet the questions that bother us by removing silence from our lives. So we know something's wrong, but we can't or don't take time to think about it.

Listen to the voice:

When it asks, "Who am I?" turn off the noise.

When it asks, "Why am I here?" stop what you're doing.

When it asks, "What is the meaning of life?" listen.

"What's it gonna take
to slow us down
to let the silence spin us around?" — Switchfoot

"And I am happier than you are,
And they were happier than I am;
And the fish swim in the lake
and do not even own clothing." — Ezra Pound

At Barclay Press.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Silly Dreams

I want to invest in people who sense there's something wrong with the way they're living, people who dream of different lives.

Even the silly dreams.

Even the stupid ideas.

(Especially those.)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

we are isolated from
those we love by a failure to communicate
what we really mean

Often, while speaking of God, I will talk in one direction, stop, turn, and stop again, only to find that I've run out of words without completing my thought.

At the beginning, the issue seems clear enough. I'm moving along under a full head of steam, when I suddenly spot a break in the track up ahead. I jump to another line, engine shuddering, as I try to maintain speed. But just around the corner, there's that same break. Except for now, it's a chasm. So I stop, try another metaphor, pull out a different analogy, hoping that this time I'll jump the divide. But there it is again, looming ever larger.

And I wonder at this gift of words that is also a curse. After all, language gives us freedom to relate, to connect and create. What is the Church? It's just a word. But the collection of our shared understandings, of our hopes, of our fears, of our deepest needs has made this word into a physical place of refuge for some, a family for others.

This same language, however, also confines. We are imprisoned in a society held up by words that are not our own, and we are isolated from those we love by a failure to communicate what we really mean, what we truly need.

What then can I do when my experience of God — of the very source of love, truth and life — transcends language? What dare I try when words fail me?

At Barclay Press.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Inner Light

I don't bring God to others. Neither do I bring others to God. I can't. If God is omnipresent, then He's already there — everywhere — and He's already working in the lives of each person He's created — everyone.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


I haven't yet
become the kind of
person I claim to be

I hate losing, mainly because I'm so bad at it. I yell, cheat, make snide remarks, and when my situaton seems particularly dire, I sometimes find myself whiling away the time between turns, plotting violent revenge against whoever happens to be winning. Last night, that was my sister.

We were playing Risk, a board game in which players fight for world domination. My sister had publicly proclaimed, however, that her only aim was to destroy me, even if it meant letting my dad win the game. This, to my experienced judgment, seemed unsportsmanlike. But my thoughtful advice as to how she might improve her strategic position, coupled with a kick to the shins (subtly delivered under the table, of course), only succeeded in deepening her resolve.

So when Bethany finally lost, I rejoiced, even though I'd already been out of the game for an hour. In the midst of my quiet (and tasteful) celebration, however, I spotted a flaw in my position. During the game, I'd planned and plotted and sulked. I was consumed by my competitiveness, by my anger.

Please don't misunderstand. For the duration of the match-up, I looked and sounded like any other normal adult. I smiled and laughed and held up my end of the witty repartee required when playing parlor games. But it was a farce. Underneath the happy face, I was anything but happy.

It makes me wonder. If I could successfully separate inner experience from outward expression during a game — a kind of social schizophrenia — then doesn't that make me a liar in real life?

This caused a problem for me as I claim to be a Christian. If God is the source of all truth and if all truth is God's truth, then the Christian character must be marked by integrity.

I realized (once again) that I haven't yet become the kind of person I claim to be, and it's beginning to look as though this journey is going to take at least a lifetime.

At Barclay Press.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I thought about buying
a burger when I saw him smile,
but I kept walking.

Back in December 2006, I was thinking about the person of Jesus. Here's what I wrote:

I saw Jesus today. She drove up in front of my house at 6:35 this morning, jumped from her smoking Ford van, and ran over to hand me my newspaper. She wanted to tell me a story about my dog. I listened and nodded without hearing a word. But I remembered to wave before driving away.

I saw Jesus today. He was ringing a bell outside the "B" entrance at Fred Meyer. He had a moustache and a denim jacket. He asked about my day. I walked away.

I saw Jesus today. He stood on the corner of 6th and Burnside, holding a sign: "Visions of a hamburger." He'd grown a beard, and it was graying. I thought about buying a burger when I saw him smile, but I kept walking.

I saw Jesus today, and I was too busy to stop, too embarrassed to care, too indifferent to offer help.

On the day that baby was born, covered in rags and placed in a feed trough, shepherds came to worship. But I went shopping.

Monday, June 14, 2010


If I believe that God loves me and that God is everywhere, then I will not suggest that I need to go somewhere special or do any sort of ceremony in order to meet God. There is nothing especially spiritual about a life with God; he's simply there, wherever I am, no matter what I'm doing.

Friday, June 11, 2010


If I have promised to obey God no matter what, I will not also promise to always obey any other power. I will not say that I will, sing that I will, or sign a document that says I will. God is the only one with absolute call on my life and my allegiance.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


If I believe that God is Truth, then I will tell the truth. Always. No exceptions. It is possible to live and work without deceiving others, and if I cannot do this where I live and work, I need to live and work elsewhere, or differently. I will not lie even if it is expected, if everyone else does it, and if it causes me embarrassment or hassle or costs me dearly to tell the truth.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010


If I believe that God's kingdom is not made by human hands, then I will be careful to examine the kingdom that has been made by human hands rather than assuming that it must be just as good as God's kingdom. I will not believe any earthly kingdom is God's kingdom simply on the word of others who might say so, even if they do it frequently and with picnics.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010


If I believe that God is the Prince of Peace, I will not accept that any effort to wage war on others is anything but sinful. God may have, at times, commanded people to go to war. But short of that direct order, I am to be a bringer of peace.

Monday, June 07, 2010


If I believe in integrity, I will not try to take advantage of someone's error, ignorance, or misplaced generosity. I will not seek favor by offering special favors, nor will I charge others more because I do not like them.

Friday, June 04, 2010


If I believe that all people are created in God's image and that we are charged with loving our neighbors, then I will treat with respect and kindness every person I meet, without regard to color, gender, belief, lifestyle, or legal status. I will not laugh at their expense, will not avoid their gaze, and will not believe they are of bad character before I know them.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Moral Law

it's basic function
might be to encode and
enforce rules of morality

If there are pre-existing laws of morality and truth, then they should apply to all species (the same way gravity applies to both humans and sea slugs). If that's the case, couldn't we study the way life works for the rest of the planet, and, in doing so, start to rediscover, uncover, or just finally notice the rules that we've been flaunting?

Here's an example: studies of several different kinds of apes find that they do have a form of morality, and that this form is generally based on two rules:

1) Choose to help.
2) Choose not to hurt.

If these rules are true, if they are laws, then following them should actually aid a species' survival.

As far as religion is concerned, it's basic function might be to encode and enforce rules of morality. Unfortunately, if it's true that man has exempted himself from these rules, then it would also be true that man has coopted religion, using it to justify rather than to correct his wrong actions.

This new religion, then, no longer serves as a source of truth, but instead has become a means of control and even suppression.

But what if, in spite of this change, there still remains in religion the seeds of truth? Where would we find them? I'm pretty sure we would find them in the first story and in messages from the prophets -- those nagging calls to righteousness that keep interrupting society's comfortable seeking after security and prosperity.

Monday, May 31, 2010

we commonly make
decisions of life and
death for others

Mankind is unique. For example, no other creature has the power to decide which species are and which are not valuable. In expanding our territory, we commonly make god-like decisions of life and death for others. And although we call ourselves stewards, in effect, we are at war with Creation. Can we win such a war?

I can fight gravity, but jumping off a cliff won't win me much of anything. I can argue against the law of force, but stepping in front of a fast-moving freight train fails to convince. What if there are already-existing laws of morality and of community and of truth? And what happens to humanity if we continue to fight against these laws?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

What if?

What if truth (the way we ought to live) were a set of natural laws (just like gravity and thermodynamics and motion and stuff like that)? What if the only reason humans have trouble knowing what is true and what isn't is because we've decided that we aren't subject to these laws? What if humans have relegated all discussion of truth to religion because, as far as they are concerned, truth can only be found in the supernatural, not in the natural? What if all this time, humans have been dead wrong?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Are Humans Evil?

we too often
decide that someone else's
dreams don't matter

A friend writes that "we are all essentially evil at the core." And I've heard this statement shared so many times in Sunday sermons, in the arguments used for a "just war" or in explanations as to why nobody can ever live a truly "holy" life.

But I disagree. If we're created by God and in God's image, then the core of our very being must be good. Even someone who doesn't know God (or believe in God's existence) has the ability to recognize truth, to give and receive love. Sin (or evil) must be more like an artificial covering, something we like to wear because of the false feelings of protection and power that it provides. The problem is that in trying to protect our interests, we selfishly cause harm to others (or short-sightedly cause harm to ourselves). And in trying to gain control over our destinies, we too often decide that someone else's dreams don't matter, giving ourselves permission to do whatever is necessary to "win."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Aren't these discussions
based on the premise that some
people are unnecessary?

The institutional church, as it grapples with cultural change, has a tendency to preserve the status quo. Members take actions that result in a stronger system — earthquake-proofing, putting on a new roof, remodeling the foyer to let in more light. But what if it's time to move to a new neighborhood? To leave the old building behind and start on a new journey?

People are afraid of the unknown. They would rather improve efficiency than try a new task.

I dropped a piece of doughnut on the floor, and it's covered with ants. Two ants are hauling off a section while a third crawls around on top. A fourth and fifth ant push and pull, stopping the portion's progress for a moment before letting it go again. In spite of this seeming chaos, the work gets done.

What's wrong with redundancy? Why do we need to streamline? To make processes more efficient? Aren't these kinds of discussions based on the premise that some people are unnecessary?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Christian Idolatry

Feed me.
Comfort me.
Entertain me.

Looking back in time, it seems the Church has passed through different stages, and in each stage, there has been a tendency to institutionalize belief, to set up boundaries around who we are in order to protect what we have. Unfortunately, these walls also limit future growth and tend to cut us off from direct relationship with God. Looking at the walls from the past can help us to think about our present walls and to consider what walls might become a danger in the future. Here are three examples:

1) The wall of hierarchy. As the Church grew, it became more and more difficult for those with a direct experience of Christ (in the flesh) to share their experiences with new believers. Because of this, we see a slow transition from gathering together in the temple courts to the sending of missionaries and later to the widespread practice of sharing epistles. Over hundreds of years, these practices — combined with systems of government (Constantine) — created a hierarchical system of authority that was meant to centralize issues of doctrine and organization. But it also took the focus of many away from God and put it on the Church, leaving us with what has been called "pope worship" (among other things) a form of idolatry.

2) The wall of literalism. Luther broke through the wall of hierarchy by claiming scripture as a common-ground connection for all Christians. Gutenberg strengthened Luther's claim by making the Bible more accessible. Individual believers were no longer dependent on the Church hierarchy for teaching, organization, and the filtering of God's message to his people. But even though this broke through the walls of institutional hierarchy, it also set up a new problem by simplifying faith, pulling us away from God's Word (Christ) in order to replace it with the much more tangible form of God's word (scripture). This created an artificial requirement that we defend the Bible at all costs, and whole institutions have been created to do just that. Could we have King James-only churches or a Creation Research Institute or people like the Bible Answer Man if this change hadn't taken place? We like to think that we're an informed and educated people, that we're better than those Dark Age Christians. But we just have a new form of idolatry, identifying the Trinity as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Scriptures.

3) The wall of individualism. George Fox's message broke through the wall of literalism (even though I'm not convinced he recognized the wall he was breaking). He taught a kind of progressive revelation, claiming that the Light of Christ is in all and accessible to all — men and women, English and Turk, slave and free. Because we are each made in God's image, each of us carries within the image of God, which allows us to recognize and speak Truth. We can hear God, and we can obey. But almost immediately, the freedom that Fox preached turned into a kind of license — wearing hats in worship, public nudity, claiming to be Christ — a kind of individualism that threatened to do more than break down a few walls. It looked as if there might be a chance that the entire structure would come crashing down, leaving every man to do whatever was right in his own eyes. Unfortunately (or fortunately as far as many Christians are concerned), Fox and other Friends were ultimately unsuccessful in spreading this message very far. But in a postmodern age, this message of individualism is being preached — not by religious revolutionaries but by consumers. Feed me. Comfort me. Entertain me. And we have in this a new form of idolatry, the worship of self.

Friday, May 14, 2010

they leave their
bodies behind as they zoom
across the universe

Sometimes, Powells Books seems holy to me.

What is Powells? Imagine an entire city block devoted to books. A place where kilted, mohawked, multiple-pierced punks move quietly, side by side with slightly-hunched grandmothers, shaggy rpg enthusiasts, and bag ladies. A place with Jesus Action figures and nun-shaped lighters just 50 feet away from Virginia Woolf and Shakespeare. Down a flight of stairs and just around the corner stand rows and rows for railroad enthusiasts. Climb up three flights to an art gallery and rare book room. Cross through spaces devoted to classic literature, reference materials, religious studies, philosophy, education, the martial arts, cookbooks, quilting . . . And everywhere you go, there are people sitting, pacing, staring off into the distance, lounging on the floor with a book or a pile. It's like a microcosm of the world, like what you might find at an airport or a train station. Except in this place, there's less physical rush. These are travelers. But they leave their bodies behind as they zoom across the universe, back and forth in time, hitching rides as visitors in some hapless narrator's brain.

And they come back changed -- peaceful, thoughtful, calm -- whispering quiet excuses as they step over others who are still traveling, recognizing somehow that this is a holy place, a temple to human wisdom and beauty and truth. A place for searching. For inspiration. A place of peace in the midst of a busy city.

And they always come back.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Game

That night, we stumbled down
that hill in the dark, drunk with the joy of connecting,
of trusting, of being known.

Playing games opens up a world of possibilities in worlds that don't exist. Because that's what games are - alternate realities - and that's what games do. They do away with what is real and ask us to do the same. It follows, then, that in the perfect game, players perform foolish acts for no good reason. And in playing out these harmless fantasies, game players discover reality, what it is to live without inhibitions, what it means to finally be real.

The game is central to identity.

God made man in his image, and although we identify God as the source of love, joy, peace, and other virtues, what lies at the bottom of God's character is creative power. So it is in creative play that we discover God's image within us, waiting to break free from the oppressive propriety and maturity required in our day-to-day lives.

Imagine a 10-year-old boy teaching adults to wriggle around on their stomachs in a round of Snake-in-the-Grass. Imagine two friends on a road trip, reading billboard messages backwards, pretending to speak in a foreign tongue. Imagine a group of middle school students using dictionaries and a long cafeteria table to create a contemporary version of shuffleboard.

When we create and play new games, we discover God's creative power in our minds, his presence in our midst. We discover what God created us to do and be: fellow creators.

The game is central to community.

Jesus prayed that God might make us one with each other in heart and mind, unified with the Father so that we might truly worship him in spirit and in truth. But we live in a dog-eat-dog world where people are valued for what they accomplish, not for what they become. Our success-oriented culture pushes people apart, demands that each man and woman be an island, self-sufficient. Reliance is weakness. Need is next to sin.

But the game turns topsy-turvy the world as we live it. In British Bulldog, the strong and the fast become victims to the cooperative efforts of smaller and slower players. Tops and Bottoms - like Lemonade - is designed around the goal of getting everybody on the same team. And no game is complete without an after-opportunity for sharing stories.

When we play together, we create shared experiences that break down barriers to vulnerability and transparency in other areas of our lives. When we learn how to play all out - hard, fair and nobody hurt - then we cease to be islands. We tag shoulders in Elbow Tag, strip off socks in Knock Your Socks Off, wrestle each other to the ground in Whomp-Em or Bloody Wink Em. And every time we touch, we demonstrate that God is forming us into a living breathing body of believers.

The game is central to worship.

First, some background. Dualism is the ancient heresy that claims spirit is holy while the flesh harbors sin. In Western Christianity, we've given new life to this system in our practiced separation of sacred from secular. Why else would we believe (or live as if we believe) that worship is only worship if it occurs in a certain place (church) at a certain time (Sunday morning) with a certain group of people (other Christians)?

And what good does worship do as a shot in the arm, a kind of holy inoculation intended to keep us safe from the dangers of greed, sex and road rage? Shouldn't worship be central rather than tacked on? And must it always include music? Or a sermon?

Here is the problem. We cannot know God unless we know ourselves. We cannot celebrate God's goodness if we fail to recognize his beauty reflected in the lives of our fellow humans. In order to worship in spirit and in truth, we must know ourselves, and we must have community. Everything else is false.

But our churches too often engage in little more than parallel play. We are in the same place and doing the same things as other believers. But we are alone.

Games bridge the gap.

I once took a group of youth and adults to a grassy hill on the edge of town where we spent hours speeding down the slopes on blocks of ice. As the sun set that evening, we gathered at the top of the hill, recounting stories of close calls and heroic deeds. We dreamed up new adventures. We marveled at the orange-topped buildings in the city below set off by deepening shadows and fiery clouds that shifted from red to pink to purple to blue. We spoke of secret longings and of God. That night, we stumbled down that hill in the dark, drunk with the joy of connecting, of trusting, of being known. That night, we experienced worship.

At Barclay Press

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I was stunned
at how relatively rare
such instances were.

Social researcher George Barna spent several years searching for evidence that attendance and involvement in a local church makes a difference in a person's life:

"While we certainly found some wonderful examples," he writes, "I was stunned and deeply disappointed at how relatively rare such instances were."

Reading this prompts further questions for me:

1) What is spiritual transformation? What does it look like? How does it feel? Why does it matter?

2) If the church supposedly provides a moral foundation for society, then what does it mean that this institution is failing? Isn't even making a difference?

3) Is this really a new problem?

I'd like to know.

Monday, May 10, 2010

More Words

A single word
cannot stand alone
in the cosmos.

Language follows its own law of relativity. Words prop up words and are, in turn, supported by other words. Take a tour through the dictionary — or any reference work — and you'll find that words define words (and not always definitively).

A single word cannot stand alone in the cosmos. It speeds through the space of consciousness, revolving around some words, pulling others to itself, exerting and being exerted upon.

So what is it that holds language together? How was this cosmic balance achieved? What keeps these various words from spinning out of control, crashing down, breaking apart? What is it that allows these combinations of symbols and sound to rise above animal grunts or the crash of water on rock?

What gives a word its meaning?

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

the question of
excrement in heaven could point
to a deeper issue.

I recently stumbled upon a series of old theological treatises. One that caught my attention discussed whether two angels could occupy the same physical space. Another questioned whether excrement could exist in heaven.

At first, these issues strike me as superficial, even silly. And I'm amazed at the extent of human curiosity (as well as the sources of our conflict).

But I think the question of excrement in heaven could point to a deeper issue. For instance, are natural body functions — eating, defecating, flatulence, perspiration or having sex — unclean? Will we somehow lose the physical aspects of our existence when we enter eternity? The implications are huge.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Finding God

some of the mystics
claim that there is no truth
outside of paradox

Logic fails to explain anything beyond the technical, physical, visible. For instance, conscience. Science has no reasonable, logical, or even sensible explanation for human consciousness. Some claim it's just like parallel programming in computers, but that pales in comparison to actually being sentient and having the ability to interact, care for, have conflict with, or befriend other sentient beings.

I've been interested to find that in Eastern Orthodox Christianity, there is an emphasis on paradox (dynamic conflict). In fact, some of the mystics claim that there is no truth outside of paradox. So here's where I'm left:

Science can't prove God's existence or lack of existence. But neither can it explain morality, emotion, desire, consciousness.

Art, on the other hand, can't tell you much about a rocket's trajectory, the volume of the universe, or the energy contained in an atom. But what other language exists for exploring the soul? For expressing passion and pain? For finding God?

Maybe the real problem isn't with God. Maybe the problem is with the tools, the words, the kind of thinking we use to understand who or what God is.

Monday, May 03, 2010

We like to have a
resource for easy answers, quick fixes,
little pick-me-ups.

What if all this bad religion out there is a mistake of genre?

Doing-oriented American culture tends to think of scripture in terms of prose (especially technical prose). We like to have a resource for easy answers, quick fixes, little pick-me-ups.

But scripture is poetry.

Poetry doesn't give up its answers so easily. It has to be digested bite by bite. Slowly. Repeatedly.

And then there's the silence. Lots of silence. Poetry takes time to unfold, and silence — serious meditation — is required if we intend to unravel meaning, find the source of our searching.

People don't have time for this kind of thing. No patience. So they settle for the Sparknotes version. Never take a minute to think (let alone listen).

Enough of that. I probably need to offer an example. What about this one? What if God doesn't really exist?



Pull your fingers away from the keyboard.

Hold off on the hate mail.


For just a minute.

And consider that God is not a thing. How could the Creator be as small as creation? How dare we try to objectify, classify, quantify that which is beyond, that which transcends existence?

But we dare to do just that every single Sunday because we live in little worlds. That's what prose does. It offers answers, entertains, informs. There's no challenge beyond the superficial.

But poetry!

Poetry couches each truth in a conundrum, in conflict, in the paradox. In poetry, the challenge is impossible (at least initially) because it pushes past human understanding, asks that we conceive of conflicting ideas working together to create . . .

something deeper,

something more meaningful,

something beautiful, which otherwise, we might never conceive.

At Barclay Press

Thursday, April 29, 2010


how might today's
extremists appear to
future generations?

Origen, one of the early church fathers, was a man whose greatest ambition in life was martyrdom. In fact, Origen’s father, Leonides, was killed while in prison. Origen — not quite 17 — made plans to join his father, so they could be tortured side by side. But tradition has it that Origen’s mother hid his clothes to keep him from leaving home.

Never fear. Origen found other means with which to prove his faith. He sold the family library and emasculated himself, dedicating the rest of his life to teaching, philosophy, and comforting those in prison.

Except Origen’s acts weren’t viewed as extreme (unless you count the fact that he was extremely popular with students). So how might today’s extremists appear to future generations? And what might those generations think of those we accept as normal, successful and commendable?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Work hard.


A lot of people go through life accepting just about anything they read or hear.

And most of it’s just crap.

I’ve been thinking about that, thinking about whether I’m actually making a difference. Am I making the world a better place? Am I helping my students to wade through the lies, half-truths and just-plain-nonsense? Am I giving them thinking tools and challenging them to actually use them or just filling their heads with more of the same?

Work hard. Smile. Don’t do drugs.

The world doesn’t need more go-getters. What it needs is people with healthy crap-detectors, people who have an idea where they’re going and whether the getting is even worth their time, people who want the truth and won’t settle for anything less (no matter how comfortable and safe the status quo).

Monday, April 26, 2010


How well do you or can you really know anyone? What is the threshold for trust in a relationship? What if that trust is broken (because it always is)? Does that spell the end?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Efficiency Thinking

It's become
so efficient that it no
longer functions.

Just a few years ago, my sister and I decided to unhook our dishwasher. It was a kind of quiet protest.

We’d noticed that tools of convenience actually tend to make life less convenient. For instance, modern appliances save time. But the saved time comes with a need for more space (to house the appliances) and a larger income (to pay for them and the energy they use). Besides that, I tend to take advantage of the time-savings by adding more stuff to my schedule. I decided that living efficiently would no longer be my standard of success.

But it wasn’t until after we’d made this decision that I started to notice how efficiency thinking had invaded not just our homes but also our businesses and social institutions. Take church, for instance, which has become — in so many cases — a kind of one-stop spiritual shop. Every human need has a program (with more being created all the time). We’re becoming busier and busier, struggling to keep up with committee meetings, service projects, Sunday school commitments, home Bible studies, potlucks, small groups.

People need relationship. We’ve made them pay for it with time and responsibility. And now they don’t have time for what they need, for what’s important. No wonder, then, that so many of my friends are disconnected from church. It’s become so efficient that it no longer functions.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Looks like I'm going
to need another
batch of brownies.

On a Sunday morning in 2005, I had a strange experience -- I got sick thinking about going to church. So I didn't go. Here's some of the processing that followed:

I got sick this morning, thinking about going to church. I suddenly felt dizzy and tired. Incredibly tired. I sat down on the couch (with a plate of brownies for sustenance).

What’s going on? Church has been my life. I volunteer for hours every week, attend services at several different denominations, read just about anything I can find regarding what it means to live a God-centered life, what it means to know God. But I had to face the fact that I don’t like church. It feels like a waste of my time. I resent having to go.

Is there anything wrong with church? Anything I can put my finger on? I still believe in God, and we spend a lot of time talking about God. Maybe that’s the problem. We talk God to death every Sunday. But when is there time to experience his presence with us in corporate worship?

What about all the good that churches do? We sent money, supplies and volunteers to help with Hurricane Katrina. We provide food baskets and Christmas gifts for impoverished children in town. We hold an annual appreciation dinner for local public school teachers. We offer free counseling to couples in crisis. But do we know our neighbors? Do we love them? Is our giving truly generous or a burden that we carry (because that’s what good people are supposed to care about)?

I asked my students, last week, where church originated? Where do we get the idea of church? Nobody seemed to know for sure. It’s just always been, some claimed, while others thought that God had founded the institution.

But that can’t be true.

Jesus didn’t go to church. He invited people to enter a new way of life. It seems that we’ve watered down his message, replaced the Kingdom of God with a social institution.

What’s that mean for me? What’s next? What can I do? Should I do anything? I don’t know.

Looks like I’m going to need another batch of brownies.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I Am an Island

for each to experience
integrated living, a chance to
know and be known

Looking around on a Sunday morning, I wonder how many people have felt lonely in church. Even surrounded by others, isolation is possible.

So many of my fellow worshipers are people I only see on Sunday. We don’t live in the same neighborhood. We can't all work in the same town or for the same company. How many have the opportunity to minister to or with others in this group?

What I desire is for each to experience integrated living, a chance to know and be known: to work with, live with and minister alongside a spiritually-connected people.

Monday, April 12, 2010


It’s easy to give, harder to let go.

When a gift is unappreciated — greeted with disinterest, anger, or even greed — I want to take it all back, un-give. It’s then, in the moment of regret, that I discover my attachment and wonder if I really gave (or only pretended at generosity).

Friday, April 09, 2010

Free Will

Is it easier to believe in fate, the idea that every thought or choice is determined by inputs (environment, relationships, events)? Or that life is random and unpredictable? Do I choose, or is even this an illusion?

Wednesday, April 07, 2010


Too many people I know live blurred lives, racing from experience to experience, thrill to thrill. They think they’re pursuing the next big thing, when most of the time, it feels like they’re running away.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

so much of my
identity was intertwined
with church

Back in 2002, I was thinking about leaving my home church, a decision I eventually made (though it ended up being temporary). I struggled with the fact that so much of my identity was intertwined with church. I volunteered with the youth, drove the bus, worked on committees, changed the sign board, cooked for potlucks, showed up at business meetings, represented the local church at denominational events.

Who would I be if I left?

What, if anything, would be left of me?

Looking back, I wonder if people realize how difficult it can be for people to leave. I'm convinced we must take such decisions much more seriously than we do.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Questions About Church

1) Why do programs sometimes seem more important than people?

2) How do we give people more opportunities to connect on Sunday mornings?

3) What if we could shift the focus away from the platform and start noticing the people hidden behind hymnals and Sunday smiles?

Friday, April 02, 2010

The Shape of Community

a place where people
seriously struggle with what it
means to believe

This week, I've been mulling a series of conversations I had with friends a few years back, regarding what the church could be. I remember one Sunday afternoon in particular:

A woman spoke of her desire to be part of a place where people seriously struggle with what it means to believe instead of simply showing up for the social connections or from a sense of duty or in order to get some Sunday morning entertainment. Another shared his vision of creating a place that was open all the time — a kind of community center — a place where people gather to seek counsel, to come together with friends, to discuss and take action on issues of social justice. A third talked about an increasing individualism in society that competes with our desire to be known. We long for community but struggle with commitment.

And there was lots of homemade peanut brittle.

What about you? What do you long for in a faith community? I'm still not sure I know.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

tend to fill
whatever time and
money I have

Back when I was unemployed, I used to live for Tuesday mornings. That’s when the garbage truck comes. I love to watch the compactor in the back of the truck as it smashes all the neighborhood junk.

I wish life were that simple. Instead, commitment and responsibility tend to expand and fill whatever time and money I have available.

I need a life compactor.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Quaker Youth Skit Night

A friend recently struggled to find creative ideas for a Quaker youth skit night. I suggested the following themes:

10. My Favorite Experience with Pine Needles

9. Traveling to Youth Yearly Meeting: A Melodrama

8. If Clowns Were Quakers

7. When Black Meets Gray (A romantic comedy about an Amish girl and a Quaker boy. Of course, their parents don’t approve. It’s kind of an Anabaptist Romeo and Juliet set in Pennsylvania or Indiana or something.)

6. Levi Pennington’s Wife (such a cool title)

5. George Fox’s Space Oddysey (Church of England represented by the Empire and headed by Darth Vader)

4. If Food Found Religion (How would different foods such as oatmeal, carrots or beef speak out against injustice?)

3. A Day in the Life of a Hymnal Selection Committee

2. The Night Before Christmas: Day 24 of the Live Nativity Scene (A new take on reality game shows. What really goes on in the stable? If we had the nativity up for a month with limited breaks for food, water and bathroom runs, what would happen? This one calls for audience participation.)

1. Barney the Purple Dinosaur Goes to Meeting (How will he handle open worship? Will Friends love and accept him?)

Unfortunately, my friend didn’t use any of my ideas.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


A kid I know earned Eagle Scout. His dad choked up, speaking of what makes a man: “A series of accomplishments.” But he’s wrong. Who I become is more important than what I get done.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Religious Crazy

Exhibit A: some
people still drink
instant coffee.

There's a lot of crazy in the world. England has a cheese chase (canceled this year for health and safety reasons). Spain has a tomato fight. Lind, Washington, has a demolition derby for combine harvesters. And crazy comes in all shapes and sizes. Exhibit A: some people still drink instant coffee. Exhibit B: Tootsie Rolls.

But the kind of crazy I'd like to discuss here is the kookiest, scariest kind of crazy I know, the kind of crazy that doesn't know it's crazy: religious crazy.

Early Monday, nine members of a religious militia were charged with conspiracy to "kill an unidentified member of local law enforcement and then attack the law enforcement officers who gather in Michigan for the funeral. According to the plan, [they] would attack law enforcement vehicles during the funeral procession with Improvised Explosive Devices."

The men and women involved in this group identified themselves as followers of "the testimony of Jesus." They claim on their Web site that they "live by faith" and that they have been called to "stand, stay and pray for the defense of the word." They claim Jesus has called them to a full-on fight with the government.

I can see that this kind of thinking is inconsistent with the message and witness of Jesus. So can you. Neither one of us is in danger of falling for such a specious reading of scripture. Or are we?

The real problem is that this fringe group wasn't as far out on the fringes as maybe we'd like to believe. Their ideas about faith (as promoted at their Web site) don't sound so different from things I've heard at my own church.

So how does this kind of crazy come about? It has to do with belief. Belief serves as a prism through which I filter experience. As a result, my beliefs also direct my interactions, dictate the ways in which I view others and the treatment they will receive from me.

Dr. Jerry Falwell, now deceased, held the belief that every event is an act of God. Not so crazy. Is it?

Here's how the reverend used that belief to filter his experience. He said the collapse of the Twin Towers in 9/11 was a God-ordained act that killed thousands of innocent Americans in order to teach the country a lesson about the evils of homosexuality, abortion, and feminism.

This belief justifies acts of terrorism. Definitely crazy.

Author and historian David Barton, founder of WallBuilders, published an online essay in which he indirectly called for the elimination of the capital gains tax, federal minimum wage, inheritance taxes, and the end of a progressive income tax: "In the Bible, the more profit you make the more you are rewarded. . . . The landowner had a right to determine the wages his workers received. . . . The current income tax structure in the United States mandates a higher tax rate or percentage the more a person makes. This tax system is contradicted by scripture."

This belief favors the rich over the poor, encouraging those who have to gain even more at the expense of those who have not. Might not be crazy, but it certainly is inconsistent with Jesus' teaching.

One of my favorite thinkers, Erich Fromm, claims the real problem is belief itself (although he refers to it as dogma). Fromm suggests that evangelical Christian churches created a problem for themselves when they decided to do away with high-church tradition and symbolism: "Religions which are consolidated by extra-religious elements are able to dispense almost completely with a system of dogmas."

What's wrong with a little dogma? It tends to control the mind. Again with Fromm: Dogma is a "powerful suggestion, which is experienced subjectively as reality because of the consensus among believers."

What he's saying is that if it's you that's crazy, it won't feel crazy. And if it's me that's crazy, I'll probably just call it "faith."

At Barclay Press

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Have our efforts
been to transform society or
just to control it?

Religion stabilizes society, instills patterns of behavior that ensure a community's longevity. But is that what it's supposed to do? what it was created to do?

As for us, have our efforts been to transform society or just to control it? Have we left room for creative engagement (or burned our bridges)?

Empires have tended to use religion to exploit. So what do Christians do about a world in which religion for so long has been an empire (if not the empire)? What responsibility do we have for exploitation done in the name of religion?