Monday, November 26, 2012



If church were a place where
I was allowed to ask questions,
I'd probably still be there.
I went to my 20-year high school reunion this summer. And it was weird. How little had changed from what I remember.

Except my memories.

They’re almost all wrong.

At dinner, for instance, we watched a video Bryce’s dad took at our graduation ceremony.

There was prayer. The reading of scripture. Two sermons. A Christian pop song.

It was religious.

I’ve shared stories about what it was like. The awards. The people. The pranks. But the commencement on that video wasn’t much like the ceremony I remember.

I was sitting next to Rachel at the end of our row. I had a red plastic squirt gun I surreptitiously utilized every time anyone went up to or came down from the stage. Lots of wet spots on black robes.

So it was the real thing.

But it felt fake.

I just hadn’t remembered how Christian my class once was.

Then, as the video played, I did a mental survey of the room. Many of those who’d been active in church no longer are. I wondered why.

One said this: “If church were a place where I was allowed to ask questions, I'd probably still be there.”

Another wrote that he was disillusioned by the mismatch between what faith shouldn’t do but does and what it should do but doesn’t: “Religion, church, spirituality, whatever you want to call it often has a way of turning people into us and them. I would hope that something so great would turn us into we.”

Yet another, watching his younger self on film, just shook his head. I didn’t get to ask what he was thinking.

Since that night, I’ve wondered why I’m still at church (other than for the paycheck). I’ve come up with a few things so far:

I want to normalize doubt for those who might otherwise feel abandoned by God and by their community. I want to encourage serious questions that challenge our thinking and open up opportunities for growth. I want to be part of a community that uses faith as a tool for transformation (never as a weapon).

And I hope.

That 20 years from now.

Some former student.

Watching graduation reruns.

Might ask herself why she’s still at church.

And think of people who weren’t afraid of her questions, people who loved her because of (not in spite of), people who inspired and encouraged and modeled for and listened to and learned from …

That she would think of so many people.

And that one of them might be me.

Monday, November 19, 2012



I think I'd just want to know her name.
I saw my first pornographic image before I was in kindergarten.

We were on the way to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. We’d stopped for gas, and while Dad checked the oil, Mom sent me to use the bathroom.

There was a picture. Torn from a magazine. Taped to the wall. The photo – a woman with hair down to her knees – seemed sad and alone. Silent. Staring out into the space of that darkened stall, the ragged yellow edges of her world.

I washed my hands.

Outside, I told my parents I’d seen something bad. And as we drove away, I wanted to know why. Where were her clothes? Why did someone take that picture? What did it mean? What was her name?

Although most of that conversation has been lost to time, I remember one point that my parents made: the woman in the picture had done what she ought not to have done. She’d taken off her clothes. For attention. For money. To make others think she cared.

That woman was a liar.

I wasn’t old enough to argue. Didn’t know how to put into words what I felt was true. But I did know this: I’d seen the picture. And that woman’s eyes – staring into mine – weren’t full of pride or desire.

They were afraid.

Now, more than 30 years later, I can still see that picture. I carry it around in my head. From time to time, I think about that image – the things we do, the things we do to each other. And the truth is, my parents might have been right. That woman might have been a liar. She may have been greedy, selfish, and shameless. She might not have cared for anybody but herself.

And she might not have really been afraid.

People, after all, are complex.

But if I could go back in time to my five-year-old self, I think I know what I’d ask my parents in the car, on the road to my grandparents’ house: Who took that photo? Who paid the woman? Who printed the picture? Who tore it out and taped it to the wall?

How do you know she’s a liar?

And if my five-year-old self had met the woman instead of her picture.

I think I’d just want to know her name.

Monday, November 12, 2012



And in the midst of the mundane, we are reminded.
Ministry is mundane.

I plan and prepare an event. I write about the event. I talk about the event. People come. We spend time together.

Sometimes we talk. Sometimes we play. Sometimes we drive to Idaho. Or build a house in Mexico. Or walk along the beach. There is singing and scripture study. A check-in question. Games. Prayer. And stories. There are always stories to tell.

When everyone’s gone home, I vacuum. Wash the dishes. Turn down the heat. Turn off the lights. Sometimes, someone else puts away the tables and chairs. Sometimes we’re setting up chairs. Or putting pictures on a bulletin board. Making a collage. Sending a card. Reading. Talking. Questioning. Arguing. Laughing.

Every once in a while, there are chocolate cupcakes. Chips. Cherry tomatoes. Doughnuts and good, strong coffee.

Sometimes, when people show up, they are barely awake. Or a little bit sick. Or WAY TOO LOUD for Sunday morning. Sometimes, they are hungry. Heart-sick.

Sometimes, people don’t come. Sometimes we wonder why. Sometimes we know. Sometimes we take time to pray. Or send a text. Or save a doughnut in a Ziploc bag (to be delivered). Sometimes we get busy. Distracted, we forget to follow up. We find the stale doughnut on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Sometimes we eat it.

Sometimes it seems like everyone’s come. It’s noisy. Joyful. Chaotic. Sometimes it’s only me. Or just a few of us. Almost always, it’s enough.

And in the midst of the mundane, we are reminded.

Again and again.

And again.

That God is with us.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Gospel Conflict

Gospel Conflict

The third possibility is not just to bandage the victims under the wheel, but to jam a spoke in the wheel itself.
The nature of gospel conflict – Jesus and the Sanhedrin, Jesus and the Pharisees, Jesus settling a dispute among his disciples – suggests that prophetic witness is generally meant not for the secular, but for the sectarian.

After all, it’s the teachers of the law who accuse Jesus of blasphemy. It’s the Pharisees who accuse Jesus of eating with tax collectors and sinners. It’s John’s disciples who wonder why Jesus’ disciples do not fast. It’s Jesus’ disciples who tell him to send the crowds away. It’s the Sadducees who ask Jesus for a sign from heaven.

It’s the circumcised believers who criticize Peter, and it’s certain men from James who oppose Paul.

But conflict, for the Christian, doesn’t always come from within.

In 1933, at the behest of the Nazi government, the Evangelical Church in Germany adopted the Aryan Clause, effectively removing all pastors of Jewish descent from service. In “The Church and the Jewish Question,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer offers three tactics that the Church might use against the state:
  1. Ask the state whether its actions are legitimate and in accordance with its character.
  2. Aid the victims of state action.
  3. The third possibility is not just to bandage the victims under the wheel, but to jam a spoke in the wheel itself.
And I wonder, in light of gospel conflict, whether these tactics might be tried within the Church.

Last year, some folks wrote a public letter addressed, in part, to my alma mater and to my church. In the letter, they suggested that it was time to reconsider our position on gay marriage.

More than 400 people have publicly signed the letter in support. Of these, some attend my church. Some work with me. Some have sat next to me in seminary classes. Some were in my youth group or on a youth leadership team I directed or in a class that I taught. Five or six were mentors to me. One was my counselor. One was my professor. One was my roommate my sophomore year in college.

I haven’t signed the letter.

But just over a week ago, in a meeting, I heard that two organizations connected to my church are considering new policies that would prohibit those who have signed the letter from participating in any of these organizations’ programs.

I used to serve on the board of one of these organizations. I presently serve on the board of the other. This new policy would affect at least one current board member and nearly a dozen volunteer staff.

And I still haven’t signed the letter.

But I think it’s time to ask a question: Is this proposed board action legitimate?

And another: Who are the victims, and how might I help?

And maybe one more: Anyone have a spoke I can jam in this wheel?