Tuesday, January 31, 2012



For me, the difference between relaxing/comforting myself and an addictive behavior comes down to a question of reality. Is my discomfort because of a sense of lack? Or the result of a true lack? Am I missing something -- health, rest, calm, security? Or am I simply missing the thing to which I'm attached?

The answer, I think, is found in my understanding of self. If I know myself separate from the thing to which I'm attracted, then I'm probably not addicted.

If, on the other hand, the thing to which I'm attracted is an integral part of my identity, then I probably am.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012



This very act blurs the line.
If self-disclosure is the door to friendship, then the danger for pastors, teachers, doctors, and counselors is that the very nature of their jobs requires those to whom they minister to open up about the parts of their lives that they would normally choose only to share with a friend. This very act blurs the line.

Do I share because we are friends?

Are we friends because I share?

In many cases, neither is true. But it feels true. So there is an imbalance of power, of influence, of affection. And it is all too easy to misinterpret signals. Or to take advantage.

Thursday, January 19, 2012



the present-day Christian addiction to the Calvary cross has replaced Jesus' entire ministry ... with a single act of sacrifice
Left unchecked, an evangelical focus on Christ’s sacrificial death could be the death of the Church. It’s skewed our theology, messed up many of our relationships, and created a culture that thrives on guilt and judgment. But it’s not Jesus’ fault. He tried to warn us.

Here’s the deal: Jesus lived his message, and it was a message of love. But the present-day Christian addiction to the Calvary cross has replaced Jesus' entire ministry -- both before his death and after his resurrection -- with a single act of sacrifice, making that willingness to die for a belief and a people the proof of Jesus’ love.

It doesn’t work that way. Sacrifice -- of anything for anyone -- is powerful because of its selflessness. But sacrifice has some problems as well.

1) Sacrifice, to be effective, requires the misfortune of others. I cannot save someone unless he needs saving, hence the Church’s reputation for passing judgment. 2) If the act of sacrificial death teaches us the value of someone we previously took for granted, it remains powerless to heal that relationship. There is no reconciliation without life. 3) The pursuit of sacrifice in the form of hoped-for martyrdom is to give up living altogether. What is the value of a life that was never lived? 4) Sacrifice, as we understand it, involves a completely selfless giving without any hope of receiving in return. It is not a contract. This makes death the end of all sacrifice. Except for one thing -- Christians have the hope of resurrection. Unbelievers have no such hope. Logically, this would make the sacrificial death of an atheist more powerful (and more ethical) than the death of a believer.

I could go on.

But I’ll end with this, instead. When Jesus preached that “The Kingdom of Heaven is here” or that God desires “mercy and not sacrifice,” when he offered rest for our souls and spoke of a banquet to which all those found along the highways were invited, when he healed the lame and the blind and the bleeding, he was pointing to a wedding, not a funeral. And the wedding is here. Now.

It’s time to change our focus.

And our tone.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Fringe Christians

No wonder the Church is largely considered irrelevant and even destructive.
A student described to me a debate -- hosted by his church -- in which two men attacked each other for almost two hours. The issue? Whether water baptism is required for salvation. This student, exhausted by the speakers’ anger, told me he’d decided it doesn’t really matter.

Another student told me about a Christian teacher -- respected in the community -- who made the claim that figure skaters, female gymnasts, and English teachers are prone to lesbianism. This student wanted to be an English teacher. Now she’s reconsidering.

A chapel speaker had students stand if they’d read any of the Harry Potter books. He told them that they’d opened themselves up to demonic influences and that they were in danger of experiencing the fires of Hell.

No wonder the Church is largely considered irrelevant and even destructive. Fringe Christians like these seem -- more and more -- to be stealing attention away from the majority. They claim that the only issues that matter are the sanctity of life (code for anti-abortion), the institution of marriage (code for anti-gay marriage), and other inviolable pro-family principles (code for anti-yoga, Halloween, public Ten Commandments displays, Supreme Court appointments, and any other politically-expedient social issues).

But these people don’t represent the thousands of pre-Civil War Christians who set their slaves free and hired them back as workers, paying them a fair wage.

They don’t represent the German Christians during World War II, who had to be told by their government -- again and again in official announcements -- to stop giving up their bus seats to Jews.

They don’t represent the community of Amish Christians who shocked the world in 2006, when they publicly forgave a man who had killed their daughters.

And I hope they don’t represent you.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Admitting my actions are rooted in selfishness and also arrogance is in fact the way humility works. Humility, after all, is a kind of truth telling, facing up to who I really am.

Monday, January 09, 2012


Do I trust the members of my community with the secrets that I'm holding? Of course, if I don't trust them, then I'm probably not experiencing community, no matter how much I claim to "love" the people with whom I worship. The hard part for me is balance. What if the members of my community have their own secrets, secrets that make them less able to help me carry my own? What happens if I go first?

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Rubber Bands

Rubber Bands

These numbers are generally
in line with downward trends among all mainline protestant denominations.
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 April 2008 that new baptisms were down to the lowest level since 1987 and that membership had dropped by about 40,000 people that 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."

Thursday, January 05, 2012


An important element to longevity in ministry seems to be humility. Not the false humility of claiming I'm not really as good as you think I am. Not the false humility of pretending I'm lower than I really think I am in order to make sure I'm not perceived as arrogant. Not the kind of false humility that is selfish and needy and dependent in its projected selflessness. Real humility, recognizing and admitting who I am -- strengths, weaknesses, lightness, darkness, nuance, simplicity, complexity -- as honestly as I can, especially to myself.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Addiction & Grace

Last week, I had a discussion about whether relationship with Christ is required for the experience of grace. And I understand the tension. It’s been argued by Gerald May that our incompleteness – the hollow parts we try to fill, the addictive efforts of trying to fill – “is the empty side of our longing for God and for love.” The more traditional view might be that I must actively turn toward God in order to experience God’s “flow of grace.”

But I’m not sure that’s true. At least not completely. Why would I need to name the source of grace in order to recognize its power? Why would I need to know the source of grace in order to experience its presence?

Sunday, January 01, 2012


Christ breaks the power
of winter in my soul, inviting
me into celebration.
Activity is addictive. And like any addiction, there are consequences: headaches, depression, loneliness, irritation, shallow relationships. I have experienced them all. I have not taken the time I need for rest. But in order to change, I need to find a new rhythm, recognizing that . . .

  • Christ breaks the power of winter in my soul, inviting me into celebration.
  • Intimacy requires more than monologue. Real prayer is a dialogue.
  • The darkness is broken when I find that ministry helps me to see in the countenance of another, not another number, but the very face of Christ.
  • Sabbath is fundamental to life, to both spiritual and emotional health. It is the day that gives purpose to all my other days.
  • God longs for me to rediscover the rhythm of the life for which I was created.

It’s not a duty. It’s not a space in time waiting to be filled by human activity. It’s a gift.