On Listening

I haven’t written anything on here for a while. There’s a reason for that.

When you’re a super connected millennial, who’s up to date on the minute-by-minute happenings of the world, who follows commentators and activists from all over the spectrum, when you have a platform – even a tiny one – there’s a temptation to take a stance, on pretty much everything. And this year seems to have been particularly cruel to us, full of surprises, heartache, and think-piece fodder – there’s no shortage of issues to take a stance on.
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Ordinary

So, Pentecost happened – weird, right?

If you’re unfamiliar with the occasion, here’s what you need to know: there was wind. There was fire. There was spontaneous multilingualism. There may or may not have been day drinking. At the very least, Pentecost was the church’s birthday, when early leaders began publicly preaching the good news of Jesus, baptizing people, and breaking bread in community. It was arguably one of the most climactic moments in the New Testament. Yesterday, churches around the world remembered this bizarre, momentous milestone.  
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Forsaken

This morning I woke up to the sound of my neighbor screaming at his son. This happens kind of a lot. Happy Good Friday.

This Lent, my church did a sermon series entitled “What Lies Beneath: Recovering the Lost Language of Sin,” which was really great and which you should all binge-listen-to right now. The idea behind the title was that many of us work really hard to look like we have it all together. When something goes wrong, we ignore it, or write it off, or pass the blame. But beneath our metaphorical floorboards, we are a fallen, broken, frail people.

However, something I’ve learned about living in a dense neighborhood of a big city is that not everyone is as interested in keeping up appearances as suburban transplants like me are. A lot of people just put it all out there for the rest of us to see or overhear. Addiction, poverty, failed relationships, and violence happen everywhere, but I’m constantly surprised  – maybe even impressed – by how many people around here don’t work too hard to hide it. Continue reading →

Is Trump America’s Lent?

Like many Americans, I’ve reached the point in the election cycle where I’m having to actually consider what a Trump presidency would look like for the country – a notion that most of us laughed off just a few months ago. It’s a disturbing prospect.

Something that I’ve found fascinating in all of this is the general public response to Trump’s candidacy thus far. I try to follow a wide range of news sources and thought leaders – some are pretty liberal, some are pretty conservative, and a few fall in between. In the past week or so, there’s been this funny little trend, where commentators are struggling to determine how Trump’s gotten so far, and why he’s doing so well. It’s funny to me because people from all over the spectrum seem to agree that a Trump presidency would be terrible – it’s almost always treated as some looming potential disaster – and now they’re trying to figure out why this bad thing is happening and how we can stop it. The theories are varied, conflicting, and definitely interesting. But I come away from all of these articles (but especially the ones written by and for conservatives) with the same question: if a Donald Trump presidency is so obviously bad for America, then who on earth is voting for him? Continue reading →

A Hog & Me Both

Somehow, in a weird way, Lent has become my favorite time of year. It’s the refreshing stability of rules and rituals. It’s the way that winter’s thawing into spring mirrors our hearts as we move toward Easter. It’s the challenge of tangible fasting and existential honesty. There’s a lot at play here – I love it all. And each Lent, I find myself revisiting one of my favorite short stories, Flannery O’Connor’s Revelation.

In this story, we meet Mrs. Turpin, a woman understood to be ugly both inside and out. Brutally bigoted, condescending, and self-righteous, Mrs. Turpin takes cruel joy in the belief that she is fundamentally better than the people surrounding her. We meet her before and during a life-changing encounter that shakes her to her wicked core, leaving her rethinking everything she thinks she knows about herself. After a stranger sees her for who she really is and calls her to “go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog,” Mrs. Turpin finds herself questioning God:

“What do you send me a message like that for?” she said in a low fierce voice, barely above a whisper but with the force of a shout in its concentrated fury. “How am I a hog and me both? How am I saved and from hell too?”

Head to my church’s website to read the rest, or, download their Lent Prayerbook.

Returning

You know that feeling of returning to a place that you’ve been away from for a while? Much about it is familiar – even nostalgic – the way it looks, smells, and feels. And this initial familiarity is comforting, until you take it all in and realize that something is different.

A friend of mine has a farm in Tennessee, which has become one of those places for me. I’ve been there a handful of times over the course of several years, and each trip has been spaced apart enough that major life stuff has happened in between. Since I’ve known it, very little about the farm has changed. The house, the lay of the land, even some of the rituals we’ve developed in going there are all intimately familiar. I can pinpoint spots that remind me of specific people or jokes or meals – things I haven’t otherwise thought of in years. And despite all of this, each time I go there, it feels a bit different, not because the farm has changed, but because I have. Who I am and the things I carry affect how I perceive the world, even the places I know best. Continue reading →

This Is (Epiphany)

It’s January, and in case you hadn’t heard, it recently snowed a lot in the American northeast, where I live. By this point the snow has lost its charm and is becoming an ugly inconvenience. That’s often how January goes around here: it’s cold, dark, gross, and boring. It’s also Epiphany, a tricky little season that’s sandwiched between and probably often overshadowed by Christmas and Lent. But that name – Epiphany – is dazzling. In our common vernacular, epiphany means a realization. It’s ideas, thoughts, and observations coming together in a meaningful way. It’s a sigh of relief as something is resolved. It’s a convergence. Continue reading →

With Us

We all know the scene: it’s nighttime, probably a little bit chilly. A faithful carpenter and his pregnant fiancé are far from home, living as oppressed but obedient people under Roman law. She goes into labor, but they can’t find a room or any other suitable place for a safe childbirth, so they settle for a barn. There are animals and all the fun sounds and smells that animals make. There’s straw, and dirt, and poop.

It’s an undignified and unsexy entrance into the world for anyone, let alone God himself.

The prophet Isaiah foretold of this baby, and even some of the events surrounding his untimely birth. When the ancient Israelites were going through a bit of a rough patch, God used Isaiah to promise his people a sign, a solution to their problems. A child. Born to a woman – a virgin mother. In a rando village. And she’d call him Emmanuel, which means God with us. Continue reading →

Peace in Our Time

It’s either terrible timing or divine providence, but as I sat down to write this, the world continues to react to a series of violent attacks in Europe and the Middle East, which ended hundreds of lives, and have left families fractured and cities in mourning. Around the world, people are calling for prayers, solidarity, and peace in our time.

When we envision peace – that mysterious ideal which so many of us long for – it usually looks like one of two things. Sometimes it’s serenity or tranquility. It’s lying on a beach disconnected from everything, totally carefree. It’s inactivity – no obligations. Or, in times of crisis, it looks like resolution: an absence of conflict in our homes, cities, and world. It’s people setting down arms and finally getting along.

But in times of deep sadness and destruction, these visions of peace feel less than satisfying. They are true and good, but in the face of evil our hearts crave something more. The good news of the gospel is that the peace that God promises to us in Jesus is not mere inactivity or absence, but flourishing, restoration, shalom. It’s alive and active.

Read the rest on the Liberti Church blog, or in the prayerbook.

The War on Advent

A couple of weeks ago a really bizarre controversy played out in America, wherein people freaked out about a Starbucks cup. While a refugee crisis heated up in Europe and the Middle East. And while thousands of college students took to the public square protesting racial inequality. But you do you, American Christianity.

This chatter means that we’ve reached an important moment in the church calendar: the annual war on Christmas is well underway. Now, I count myself among the many reasonable Christians who believe that this alleged war is total bullshit. Even so, there does seem to be something wrong about how our culture recognizes this season. Would I go so far as to say that we’re at war? That seems like quite a stretch. But for the sake of drama, let’s say that we are. It’s not a war on Christmas though – it’s a war on Advent.
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