Books, Brokenhearted Theology, California, Contemp Culture, Future, Global, Meaning, Peacemaking, Ramblings

What To Do When the World is Crumbling Around You

Following up on a recent conversation, I wrote an article where I swirled up some thoughts on zombies, Cormac McCarthy, ethics and the book of Revelation.

In light of recent world events – the immigration crisis, the war zone in Gaza, etc. – I’ve been asking myself this question again and again:

When the world is crumbling around you, how will you choose to live? 

Here’s a few teaser paragraphs from the piece I write – Zombie Apocalypse and the Perseverance of Ethics – with the rest posted as part of The Antioch Session on my friend Zach’s Patheos blog.

Living in Los Angeles, a common fear is that “The Big One” could strike at any moment. In Southern California, “The Big One” is shorthand for a massive earthquake that would (will?) devastate our cities and our life together. In addition to earthquakes, our proximity to Hollywood means we like to write, create, watch, and talk about the Zombie Apocalypse that could (will?) wreak havoc on life as we know it.

Whether Zombie Apocalypse, a global climate crisis, “The Big One,” economic collapse, or a combination of all four, end of the world scenarios are popular fodder for movies, books, television shows, internet conspiracies, and lunchtime conversations.

I was recently in such a conversation where bunker hideouts, resource stashes, and escape plans were discussed. (We were talking specifically about global collapse as a result of climate change, not Zombie Apocalypse (though I do not deny those things could be linked).) Some creative and elaborate ideas were suggested involving desert meetup spots, secret permaculture gardens, and tips and tricks for living off (what’s left of) the land.

What surprises me most, when having or overhearing conversations about apocalyptic scenarios, is how many people would abandon the ethical principles they proclaim in times of peace – pursuit of the common good, love of neighbor – to instead chase after survival for “them and theirs.”

Read the rest over at The Nuance.

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Brokenhearted Theology, California, Church, Equipping, Leadership, Ministry, Ramblings

Gratitude #4 – Open Door

As we transitioned from life in Los Angeles to life in the East Bay, I’ve been writing a series of reflections on the various ways we saw God’s faithfulness and presence during our time in LA.

Gratitude #1 – Los Angeles
Gratitude #2 – Fuller
Gratitude #3 – Kairos Hollywood

As we’ve continued our transition from LA and are now putting down roots in the East Bay, the gratitude continues.

Now it’s time for some thoughts on this whole transition that I wrote for the Open Door Community, shared here for all of you! 

We Didn’t See This Coming

Last year, Krissy and I began to sense a potential transition was on the horizon. We had been in Los Angeles for seven years and unsure what our next steps were; our two main options seemed to be either digging in for another season of life in LA or uprooting and moving closer to family in the midwest (we’re both from Wisconsin).

What was not on our horizon, or so we thought, was uprooting and moving to an entirely new place – away from both our midwest family and our Hollywood family.

Enter Open Door

In February, I got wind of a church in the East Bay that was expanding its staff team. The position and description of the community resonated with me and felt in sync with the work we’d been a part of at Kairos Hollywood. Mostly to convince Krissy I was proactively participating in our discernment process (you know, since we weren’t going to move anywhere but the midwest), I briefly told her about the job description.

Without knowing many details – including the name of the community – she replied, “well, we should move forward on this and see if God opens a door.”

I’m Kinda Into You

From the first conversations I had with the hiring team, I was intrigued by you. Your commitment to following Jesus through creativity and experimental practice. Your focus on formation and mission in local and global contexts. Your love for families and desire to be shaped into a family following God into the journey.

After we visited in May, our hearts started beating faster and we sensed a clarity in God’s leading that felt like a rare gift.

The You Becomes We

Krissy’s dad is an ecologist and he told me recently about convergent evolution – when unrelated species from different ecosystems have overlapping traits and features suggesting deep connection and relationship with each other. As I begin this season at Open Door, it feels like convergent evolution or, in terms that might be more familiar, it feels like God’s woven together our stories in beautiful and unexpected ways, calling our family to join yours.

 

I’m so excited to be entering Open Door’s story in this particular season of the journey. I love the questions Open Door asks – What does it look like to follow Jesus here in this place? What does expanded mission in the East Bay and beyond look like? How can we best participate in God’s formative and redemptive work among us for the sake of the world? – and I’m eager to join you in seeking the answers and trajectories God’s set forth for Open Door in this next season in the life of our community.

May we continue to grow as those who are rooted in Christ and woven together as family.

May we continue to faithfully extend sacrificial love and cultivate others to be and do the same.

May God’s spirit guide us as we walk in the way of Jesus.

 

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Bivocational, Brokenhearted Theology, California, Church, Equipping, Leadership, Meaning, Ministry, Ramblings, Resurrection, Urban, Worship

Gratitude #3 – Kairos Hollywood

I don’t think I was looking for you when I found you, but maybe I was.

We walked in, weary from six months of shopping around on Sunday mornings for a place to learn, a place to worship, and a place to call home.

We were not looking to move to Hollywood. We were not looking to enter into a season of bivocational ministry (we didn’t even know what that meant). We were not looking for a reason to stick around Los Angeles after finishing up grad school.

But somehow we found those things and more when we found you.

frA creative and eclectic community.

Risk takers and question askers.

Open to ideas and input.

A piece of clay willing to restart the potter’s wheel when a new shape was more conducive to faithfulness on mission – even when painful and disorienting.

It was a Saturday morning and I was sitting beside the little pool in our student housing apartment. My phone rang and it was JR, asking me if I’d be interested and able to preach the next day at our Kairos gathering.

It had been about a year since we had first walked in the doors. Sure, why not?

Psalm 80 was the text, and I spoke about lament as a communal practice. Restore us, not restore me. This is about us, together. Mistakes and gifts, pain and grace all swirled about in the mixing bowl of life together in community.

I broke some rules I’ve since set for myself. I used too much Hebrew. I spoke too long. I used a lot of umms and you knows which, umm, I still use a lot. You know?

shadowcommunityBut you let me speak. You were encouraging, you pushed back, and we kept moving forward.

And you let me lead. Or, more accurately, you challenged and expanded what I thought leadership was, and then invited me into that.

You are the type of community that does not pedestal its pastors. Sometimes I had the mic and sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I answered and sometimes I questioned. You did the same. It was always a conversation and never a monologue.

I was a pastor but I was also a husband and a dad and you didn’t ask me to put those things to the side for any greater cause. The cause was simply our life together and inviting and seeing how God worked in our midst. To be a dad, a husband, a friend, an employee, a neighbor, a patron, a servant – these were all deeply embedded in my job description as a pastor in our community. 

The greatest compliment I received during our season with you, Kairos Hollywood, was not about speaking, counseling teaching, administering, budgeting, hosting, or teaching. It was that the three of us who were called to equip, lead, and pastor the community, equipped, led, and pastored alongside. Not from the front, not from behind a microphone or podium, not from a high and lofty place above - but alongside.

So I am grateful to you, Kairos Hollywood (and, also, to our brothers and sisters in Kairos Los Angeles churches across the city) for helping me find my voice, for allowing me to guide, equip and shepherd, for showing me that to pastor is to walk alongside.

I’m grateful for who you are – a group of people centered on Jesus, listening to the voice of God and responding in the faithfulness made possible through the power of the Spirit.

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Brokenhearted Theology, California, Church, Equipping, Fuller, Future, Global, Leadership, Meaning, Ministry, Ramblings, Worship

Gratitude #2 – Fuller

I came to Fuller with twenty-something years of questions, seeking answers. Open to new ideas, perspectives, opportunities that would lead me to clarity, confidence and a killer resumé for the next step (you know, the one where I would return to the midwest and work for a megachurch. Yeah, that one.).

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Journey, 2003

I sought answers but instead found fellow ask-ers. From all walks of life, from all corners of the globe. All asking questions about meaning, life, God, and the church. Discovering new words and new ways of speaking about our common and diverse experiences, our frustrations and our hopes.

I sought answers, the resolution and dissolution of my questions, but instead found strength and encouragement to continue the questioning journey. With new words, languages, skills, and – most important – friends whose journeys have woven together with my own. Companions, collaborators, teachers, colleagues – constant reminders that even in the midst of loneliness you are not alone.

I sought answers, a tradition to call my own, a tried and true banner under which to find direction, vocation and a career. Instead I found a community of creativity and collaboration. Risks and hunches that the road ahead may wind in new directions and into new terrains. That following God’s wind may lead to uncharted waters, requiring a constantly calibrating compass. That whether the needle seems to simply spin or remains strangely still, God’s voice sometimes continues to speak.

I sought answers but instead found better questions – or, maybe, the same questions expressed with more clarity and humility (a combination that I’ve found most often leads to what the world calls wisdom). The end goal is not a simple and straightforward answer to life’s most pressing questions but a more helpful posture of dwelling with those questions from a place of health, experience, and wisdom. A place of conviction, yes, but also a place of mystery – “take off your shoes for the ground here (the same ground you’ve walked on before and will walk again) is holy.”

I sought answers and, in seeking those answers, found life.

For that – for being a shaping and forming place, a gathering place of sojourners and ask-ers on the way, I am grateful.

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California, Family, Future, Meaning, Ramblings, Urban

Gratitude #1 – Los Angeles

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Angeles Skyline, 5:23AM

Los Angeles, you’ve won my heart.

Despite the frequency you get bagged on by those who live outside your borders (and even more so by those who reside within your borders!), you are a class act.

You’ve exposed me to new tastes and flavors. Bibimbap, boereks, pad kee mao, burrito mojado and boba. Some of the best and worst coffee I’ve ever tasted.

You’ve given me an appreciation for cultures, languages, and people groups from across the world. Where I previously heard unfamiliar noises and sounds, now I hear Armenian, Thai, Korean, Chinese, Tagalog. Beautiful languages spoken by our beautiful neighbors – distinct and unique in the everydayness of Angeleno life.

You’ve shown me the beauty of well-constructed buildings and the redemption possible with the crumbling walls of poorly-constructed buildings. From city centers and pop-up shops to subversively-scrawled poetic prophecies. You’ve shown me that graffiti can be art, that abandoned pallets cry out to be repurposed, and that place-making is a necessary and holy calling.

You are iconic, full of images and symbols. We’ve lived in the shadows of your fame, seeing both the beauty and the brokenness and learning to live and love in the midst of it all.

You are a city of lost boys and a city of dreamers, but you are also a city in which dreams become reality. You are the city where many of our dreams – for community, for family, for a neighborhood – took root and blossomed.

Los Angeles, you’ve been home and, for that, I’m grateful.

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Brokenhearted Theology, California, Crazy Bible, Equipping, Global, Green, Meaning, Ramblings, Resurrection, Urban, Worship

I Stand In the Goodness of Dirt

I was looking over a draft of a personal narrative theology I began constructing a while back. I didn’t get very far, but the draft opens with this simple line:

I stand in the goodness of dirt.

We are a mysophobic people. We don’t like germs and we don’t like dirt. We fear those things because we’ve given them the power to make us unclean.

So we shower. We scrub our hands. We control our climates – heating and cooling with machines – to avoid sweats and shivers. We rinse, wash, spin and then rinse, wash, and spin.

We apply chemicals on the parts of our body most prone to smell. We “plug it in, plug it in for freshness with a new spin” so the air around us stops smelling like…us. We seal off doors and windows. We pay for new cars so that our car can smell like a new car instead of an old car (which smells like…us).

We only shop at clean and shiny stores where we can buy clean and shiny food. We want to eat meat but do not want to see eyes or blood or feet or beaks. We scrub, scrub, scrub our fruits and vegetables. No dirt for us, just clean and shiny food.

Somewhere deep down we’ve equated being dirty with being unclean in its fullest sense – defiled, unworthy, bad.

So we scrub, scrub, scrub.

I guess what I’m saying is that we’ve forgotten where and what we come from.

The ancient Hebrew stories of beginning (which have been compiled into a book we call Genesis) start with God calling the universe into being and, in that brand new universe, cultivating a garden. Planted in that garden and given life through God’s own breath was אָדָם – a creature formed from and named after the dust and dirt and soil of that first garden.

In the beginning, God created dirt-y and dust-y humans and it was very good.

I just finished reading Sara Miles’ latest memoir (which I really enjoyed…check it out): City of God: Faith in the Streets (Hachette, 2014). In it, she explores her neighborhood – San Francisco’s Mission – through the lens of Ash Wednesday’s call to remember dust and ashes, to remember the cycle of life and death, to remember our humanity.

How often we forget our humanity. How often we forget the gift it is to be human. How often we forget to stand in the goodness of dirt.

The story of Christianity is ‘good news.’ Too often that goodness has been construed through a lens of escape.

Escape from our bodies, escape from this earth, escape from the dirt and the dust.

The goodness of the Christian story lies not in escape but in embodiment.

This embodiment is an invitation into the freedom of realizing and embracing who we were created to be.

Crafted in the Imago Dei, being transformed into the Imago Christi so that we might experience the redemption and glory of a dust creature living in right relationship with the one who calls forth and forms life and beauty from the dirt and names it good.

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Brokenhearted Theology, California, Family, Future, Global, Meaning, Ramblings, Urban

There Are Stars in Los Angeles

When we first moved to Los Angeles, we never saw any stars. We saw some celebrities, but I’m not talking about that kind of star.

Los Angeles is one of the world’s great cities, and great cities have great lights. The lights of Los Angeles are beautiful; I love flying back here in the evening because as the plane descends, I descend with it into the endlessness of light.

We live in the shadow of the iconic Griffith Observatory. Sitting atop the Hollywood Hills, the concrete structure is brightly lit at night and, from it, you can see our giant of a city and her magnificent lights sprawling as far as the ocean to the west and as far as you can see to the east and south.

But lights cause luminous pollution - the fancy word used to described the effect of non-natural light on our ability to see natural light. Bright city lights do not diminish the natural light of a Red Giant or the flash of a meteor; bright city lights diminish our ability to correctly perceive that natural light. The lights of a city, in a sense, distract us from the lights of the universe.

Human eyes are amazing. As an environment darkens or brightens and our eyes’ rods and cones adjust, what our eyes see as “black” changes, recalibrating to the ‘new normal’ of our ambient surroundings.

It takes between twenty and thirty minutes for eyes to fully adjust to darkness. Each minute we wait, we can see exponentially more as we give our eyes more time to calibrate to the lights shining amidst the darkness. In darkness as opposed to sunlit conditions, the human eye is up to one million times more sensitive to light.

When we first moved to Los Angeles, the city lights were too bright, and we never saw any stars. 

We are approaching the eight-year anniversary of our move to Los Angeles. Last week, I was outside in the evening with Everett. He pointed up and, in sleepy-eyed wonder, exclaimed “Dada…stars!

Sure enough, I looked up and two bright stars twinkled overhead. He and I spent more time gazing into the luminously-polluted skies high above our home in northeast Los Angeles and, gradually, our eyes adjusted to the reality of the universe blanketing us in light-amidst-darkness.

There are stars in Los Angeles.

To see many of them it’s taken eight years of slow adjustment. But they have been there the whole time, and they will continue to shine once we are gone.

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