The World Doesn’t Need Good Pray-ers

A few weeks ago as we closed out our journey on prayer at Open Door East Bay, I said that the goal of life with God is not to be a good pray-er.

The disciples didn’t ask Jesus how to pray because they wanted to pray well; they asked him how to pray because his life shifted expectations and at every turn tilted orbits toward a better world, and they wanted to live that kind of life.

The world doesn’t, ultimately, need good prayers or good pray-ers.

The world needs people who walk in the Way of Jesus – which is to say people who step courageously toward justice, are willing to sacrifice for the sake of others, and tilt orbits toward a better world.

Prayer can be a means to that end, but it is not the end.

So pray, yes, pray – not as the satisfaction of responsibility (“I’ve prayed, that’s all I need to do.”) but as an onramp to action (“what must I do? give me the courage to do that. (and then, what’s next?)”).

Brokenhearted Theology, California, Contemp Culture, Crazy Bible, Meaning, Ministry, Ramblings

“But, are ya still preaching the gospel?” and other solicitous questions

We just moved and, apparently, with moving comes solicitors.

no-solicitors-allowed-1444909We’ve had people come to the door asking about everything from security systems (You do plan on protecting your family, right?) to cable television (With us, you’ll get a bazillion channels!), and, tonight, we had a visit from bless-their-hearts church people that just wanted us to know they are starting up a new gospel preachin’ church in the neighborhood and, if you don’t attend a gospel preachin’ church, would you like to come and visit?

They handed us a tract covered in stars, stripes, regal eagles, and “God Bless America”s.

Between the move, toddler-dom, less-than-ideal-sleep, and 25% of the adult ankles in our house sprained, all amidst the piles to unpack and organize, I feel like my energy and interest in engaging solicitors has been minimal.

Tonight, we were having post-dinner family time – dancing, laughing, and listening to records (Gershwin) – as the solicitors approached.

Hi, we’re just here to let you know about our new church.
Oh, hi.
Do you have a church you go to?
Uhh, yeah, actually, I’m a pastor.
Oh, where are you planting your church?
It’s been around for a while, it’s called Open Door.
Oh, you get a lot of young folks, then?
Yeah, I guess.
But are you still preaching the gospel?
Uhh, yeah.
What is it?
What is what?
The gospel.
Oh, I think we both have answers to that question.
Only by the blood of Jesus!
[Tired smile.]
And no works, right? You don’t preach works, do you?
Sorry, we were having family time, so I think we’re actually going to go back to that now. Have a good night.

There’s all kinds of commentary to add here – about my response and what it should or could have been, about door-to-door church invitations, about the strange-but-all-too-common bedfellows of patriotism and religion.

I sometimes wish I had more energy to enter into constructive dialogue with these solicitors (their questions, how we might differ on our understanding of the gospel and where we might agree, how there is more about Jesus than his blood that is good news, etc.).

But, at the end of the conversation, I decided I would rather spend my energy dancing with my family than picking theological nits with strangers (err, brothers and sisters in Christ?).


California, Family, Meaning

Your Blood or Mine?

The elevation was increasing as the snow continued to fall. The freeway slowed as we approached the chain restriction check point.

We pulled off to the side of the expanded shoulder, a parking lot of slush and semi-trucks. A small army of men in fluorescent-orange and -yellow snowsuits with vests reading “Chain Installer” moved about, diving into the slush and stretching odd assortments and varieties of metal over the wet, slippery tires of sedans and mini-SUVs.

I dread tire chains. I dread putting them on and I dread driving with them on, not so much because of the speed restriction (which is annoying) or the constant hum and vibration (which is annoying) but because they represent the risk of driving in unknown conditions: the roads are terrible; put metal spikes in your tires and maybe you won’t drive off the cliff.

I rolled down my window to ask one of the jumpsuit soldiers where I should pull in to install my chains.

Doin’ it yourself?


Then I don’t care. Over there, out of the way.

Oh. Of course. Jumpsuit guy is there to make some cash, not to help out of the goodness of his heart or some great initiative funded by my tax dollars.

I pull over next to my friend whose white SUV still carries what looks to be a foot of snow packed on the roof of his car.

From the backseat: their car needs a haircut!

The SUV doesn’t need chains, but my friend knows I’m dreading this and he offers to help before we head over the mountain pass back home.

As I step out of my car into the slush, I’m grateful to not be alone amidst the hazard lights, fluorescent jumpsuits, and stench of idling eighteen-wheelers.

When’s the last time you did this?

A long time ago.

Me too.

We each take a side, unrolling my cheap bought-them-on-the-internet-for-twenty-dollars-on-sale-used-once-and-returned tire chains, which are not so much chains as they are small little discs of metal attached to a thin wire that may or may not fit around my tire.

I am not convinced these will actually help in snow and ice, but that is not why I bought them. I bought them to get me past chain restriction checkpoints. I am confident they will do the trick.

A fluorescent jumpsuit: You sure you have the right size?

I am sure of very little at this point, and I perceive the sneer and constant eye of the jumpsuit footmen, ready to take a short stack of cash in exchange for my dignity.

For a moment I consider it. At least it would be finished quickly.

But I remember my three-year old, who is straining in the car seat to get a view of his dada putting chains on the tires so our little silver hatchback (the “adventure car”) can brave the mountain pass.

In his imagination, which is only thinly separated from reality, this is just another part of our hero’s quest. This is a great adventure and, while he is told to stay in the car, I am his proxy, preparing our car to slay the dragon.

I cannot abdicate my duties and, while I am not sure what is at stake here, I sense it involves a curious and potentially volatile mix of honor, pride, ego and self-respect, so I squat down near the tire and try to figure out how to put these damnably-frustrating contraptions on.

I recall the conversation I had in the front seat ten minutes prior, in anticipation of this side-of-the-road ordeal.

I wish I had gloves.

You have some right there. Won’t those keep you warm?

No, I don’t care about being warm. I just need to be able to grip and use my fingers.

Oh. That makes sense.

I unroll the chains by the driver’s-side tire as my fearless friend does the same on the opposite side.

They go on the front tires, right?


For a moment, I slip out of my body and survey the scene from above. I have this odd realization that I am a grown up. A man. A husband. A dad. I am terrified and thrilled at the responsibility and weight of this.

I slip back into reality as both my friend and I fumble around on our respective sides, occasionally peeking over to see how the other is doing. I call him over to my side, to see if together we can tightly fasten this twisted necklace of metal to my tires. My hand slices across a sharp edge on these high-economy-low-functionality tire chains of mine. A patch of red instantly paints across my slushy hand and drips onto the slushy roadside below.

My interior monologue grows increasingly loud and deprecatory.

You look like an idiot.
You have no idea what you’re doing.
Those guys are laughing at you.
Why didn’t you buy decent chains?
Why are you trying to drive your Prius across a mountain during a blizzard?
Don’t you know you’re going to drive your family off a cliff?

I have to back up the car a few inches so we can attach the chains, and I hop into the car.

From the backseat: Dada! Are our chains ready to go?

Not yet son.

From the frontseat: Oh, I see why gloves would be nice.


We finish up my tire and move across the front of the car to the other side.

My friend kneels down, pulling the chain taught so we can fasten it and finish the job.

I notice the blood on his hand.

You too? I’m glad it wasn’t just me. I’m sorry about this.

It’s okay. I’m actually not sure if it’s my blood or yours.

Advent, Brokenhearted Theology, Meaning, Ramblings, Spirit, Worship

Growing Impatience in a Very Odd Advent

Advent has always been a season of reflection for me (which usually results in more writing, as evidenced by all these past Advent thoughts).

This has been an odd Advent. Instead of writing and reflecting on waiting, I’m just waiting.

There are always things I’m waiting for. Longings, anticipations, expectations. Usually, though, these things are a bit vague and conceptual – I’m waiting for a deeper sense of internal rhythm, I’m waiting for resolution of a large story in progress, I’m waiting for peace on earth.

This year we’re waiting for a baby to be born. Jesus, yes, but also our own. We’re within spitting distance of the due date of our second child, but I think both Krissy and I anticipated having this child born already.

But the baby is staying put. So we’re waiting, waiting, and still waiting.

And the impatience is growing.

Impatience because this thing we expected to have happened already hasn’t happened.
Impatience because our anticipated timeline is not our actual timeline.
Impatience because life goes on even as we wait.
Impatience because we are not in control and there is so very little we can do.

As I survey the state of my soul, I’ve sensed a subtle (and sometimes less subtle) snippiness, dissatisfaction, and dis-ease, a proclivity towards distraction more than life-giving rhythm. In a world of on-demand, express-shipping, fast-food, I am recognizing in myself an atrophied patience.

This Advent at Open Door, we’ve been making our way through a journey Toward the Approaching Light. I’ve loved that imagery because it speaks of multi-faceted movement. It is not simply that we are journeying toward Christmas one week at a time, but that the Light itself is approaching.


And that’s been a helpful reminder for me in this season of impatient waiting.

Even in the midst of a world in turmoil, the Light itself is approaching.
Even in the midst of unfulfilled longing, the Light itself is approaching.
Even in the midst of unexpected frustration, the Light itself is approaching.
Even in the midst of distraction and delay, the Light itself is approaching.
Even in the midst of growing impatience, the Light itself is approaching.

Even in the midst of yet another Advent season where we join the chorus of two thousand years of waiting, the Light itself is approaching.

Brokenhearted Theology, Contemp Culture, Equipping, Eucharist, Global, Meaning, Narrative Theology, Peacemaking, Ramblings

Guide Our Feet on the Path of Peace

This past Sunday’s lectionary reading from Luke had us hear the words of Zechariah, a man whom I imagine was familiar with personal longing and societal brokenness.

As a priest of an exiled people, I imagine he was weary and tired of infusing hope in desperate and exhausting circumstances.

I imagine he regularly faced those who invoked fear and violence and rallied for exclusion of the other and the call to take up arms as the biblical and Godly way of faithfulness.

I imagine he himself wavered between succumbing to fear and holding on to hope.

And I imagine he experienced both trembling and relief as “he was filled with a fresh wind from God” (Luke 1:67) and proclaimed with prophetic confidence that God’s good news would “guide our feet on the path of peace” (Luke 1:79).

The path of peace, not the path of war.
The path of peace, not the path of self-defense.
The path of peace, not the path of retaliation.
The path of peace, not the path of exclusion.
The path of peace, not the path of violence.
The path of peace, not the path of fear.

Not the path of Christian university presidents.
Not the path of politicians.

The path of peace
following the Prince of Peace
who would welcome the stranger as family
before casting them away and closing the door,
who would lay down his life
before ending the life of another.

Reading Reflections

Some Reading Reflections (The Message 100, The Heaven Promise)

I occasionally pick up a few books here or there in exchange for giving some public comment or review on them

The Message 100: The Story of God in Sequence (Eugene Peterson)unnamed

The Message 100 separates Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible into 100 sections for deeper/longer reading arranged chronologically. Each section has an introduction by Peterson and the book’s layout makes it easy to see what section you’re reading.

I’m always intrigued at different ways and attempts to make reading the Bible (a nearly 2,000 page, 66-volume collection of ancient translated writings) accessible. I’ve written previously that I really like The Message (more on that here) and, while arranged slightly differently, The Message 100 contains Peterson’s entire paraphrase, which is nice. I like the Van Gogh-esque cover and clean layout.

But the 100-section separation and invitation to read these 100 sections slowly and deeply? I’m not sure it works. The Bible is already broken up into major sections (testaments, collections of books, individual books, etc.) and I’m not sure that further sub-dividing and organizing is the best way to make deeper reading accessible.

In short: It’s not a bad idea but my hunch is that most people who buy The Message 100 will end up using it like any other copy of The Message rather than engaging the partitioned reading sequence.

heavenpromiseThe Heaven Promise (Scot McKnight)

One of several books Scot McKnight has written lately (he’s really churning them out!), The Heaven Promise surveys how the Bible talks about heaven and the afterlife. Throughout, the book addresses questions, confusion, and a variety of biblical images to speak of the life to come, continually circling back to the central understanding of heaven as “God’s promise to us” (17). Most helpful to me was the way McKnight illuminates heaven through the centrality of Jesus, God’s kingdom and resurrection.

While evangelicals have often, in my experience, been too quick to jump to glimpses of heaven at the expense of our present experience on earth, The Heaven Promise situates the life to come in the context of the life we live now, while not neglecting the life to come as a source of hope and assurance. In short: a helpful survey and overview.

I received copies of these books from the publisher with a request for some honest, review-like thoughts posted here for you to read and mull over.

Brokenhearted Theology, Equipping, Eucharist, Food, Future, Global, Meaning, Peacemaking, Ramblings

Trampolines and Potlucks: Neighbor Love as the Necessary Way Forward

This will likely strike you as naive, idealistic, narrow or too simplistic. It’s probably some combination of all of those and a few more platitudes that you can think up. 

But since we live in a world where the best, brightest, most logical and most researched ideas do not always work (or, worse, cannot be agreed upon), maybe there’s space for a hunch that a simple and local hypothesis might play a role in navigating our world out of crisis and chaos.

Neighbor Love as a Necessary Way Forward

In light of the Syrian refugee crisis and in light of terrorist attacks in Paris (and elsewhere, but the West is primarily concerned about the West, so mainly Paris), countries, states, cities, churches and hundreds of other defined- and boundaried-groups are asking whether or not to receive the other — those who are not, in one or many ways, anything like “us.”

Many are choosing to say “no, no way, not here, not you,” and, in doing so, raise an ideological wall that may be just as effective as (if not more than) a physical wall in keeping the other out.

Part of my vocation is to help people understand, embrace and practice the Way of Jesus not for the sake of a particular, bounded set of people but for the sake of the world. This vocational calling arises out of a strong conviction that the Way of Jesus is an invitation into a better life not just “for us and also for them” but “for us because of and through and for the sake of and so that we might no longer see them as them.”

So when Jesus invites us to love our neighbor, I hear an invitation into a subversive, world-changing posture that is radically local and yet, when practiced locally, holds an uncontainable potential to spill out and ripple good throughout the world.

In a world where rejection of neighbor is the loudest story being told, neighbor love is a necessary way forward.

Safety Nets and Trampolines

A few of my friends have written and organized around the concept of neighborhood as a fabric of care. At the most basic level, this fabric of care acts as a safety net – when you need something, another can provide it; when another needs something, you may be able to provide it. Entering into the story of a neighborhood as a loving neighbor can provide support in the face of very real needs.

But beyond this safety net, a neighborhood fabric of care can also act as a trampoline, of sorts. When we extend and receive love from our neighbors, our life will not only be more ‘secure’ as we resource each other’s needs but more space is created to love, welcome, rest, and radically extend care to others.

There’s not just a safety net to rely on, there’s a trampoline to play on.

Set-Course Meals and Potlucks

Another helpful image is the contrast between a potluck and a set-course meal.

At a fine meal with careful preparation and specific invitation, it’s not easy to add space for an unexpected guest. The tone of conversation, the timing of the courses and the size of portion is precisely prepared to last for a planned amount of time for the planned list of guests.

Scarcity dictates the nature of this meal – from the place settings to the portions, there is just enough for those at the table. Scarcity, here, serves a purpose, providing a sense of safety, security, and intimacy, but the nature of this meal is restricted to those with a place at the table.

moroccan-feast-1328138At a potluck, if someone shows up unexpectedly, you invite them in. Whether or not they brought anything tangible with them, their presence is welcomed. Food, space, timing and provision are both flexible and abundant. The warmth of the shared meal is extended to all who show up. At the end of the night, which may have gone on several hours longer than planned, there is an abundance of leftovers and laughter.

There is room in our world for both of these meals, yet it seems when it comes to neighbor love we often default to the scarcity of a set-course meal rather than the abundance of a potluck.

What if…?

What if we began to live out of abundance in our neighborhoods and with our neighbors?

What if we lived into and contributed to our neighborhood’s fabric of care not just as a safety net but as a trampoline that, with laughter and excitement, we easily and often invite others onto?

What if, literally and figuratively, we began to host potlucks more often than set-course meals?

Might we…?

Might we begin to see those outside the borders of our family, neighborhood, city, religious enclave, or nation-state as those to invite rather than those to exclude?

Might we find ourselves as the recipients of unlikely invitations at unlikely tables?

Might we begin to blur the lines between ‘our space’ and ‘their space,’ them and us?

Might we begin to see a way forward globally as we act locally?

What do you think?