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Arriving

“I haven’t really had to cry yet since I moved, and I know that doesn’t sound like much, but—”
But it feels a little like victory.
I heard someone say this recently, and I couldn’t have agreed more. Arriving in new places, new jobs, and meeting new people has taught me to expect the sort of struggle that leaves me crying at the smallest of problems. When I moved to Korea, a dog barking at me could make me cry. Even that homeless dog knows I don’t belong here!
For me, finding the paths I need is the most crucial part to feeling like I belong in a new place. How to get to the grocery—oh. It’s closed? Where’s the next nearest grocery? That’s closed to?!—how to get from the parking lot to my office to the nearest bathroom—no, not that bathroom; it has a cockroach living in it—and where to find a reliable source of ice cream and cookies.
I’ve been in my new home of North Carolina for two weeks now, but I kept waiting to write this blog. It doesn’t count, I kept saying, until . . .
Until what?…

Leaving

If you’re a Christian-nerd who keeps track of these things, you’ll know that two big-name pastors have left their big-name churches recently. Bill Hybels, Willow Creek megachurch pastor, retired to the now-familiar refrain of accusations of improper conduct with women in his church. And just weeks ago, Nadia Bolz-Weber passed off her church, the House for All Sinners and Saints (HFASS, pronounced “half-ass”), with one of the most moving sermons of all time. If you have 15 minutes, listen to it.
I, too, am engaged in the spiritual practice and litmus test of “leaving.” If I believed in the separation between church and life, I might think it was too grand a thing to compare my networks and workplaces and family to the churches of Bill Hybels and Nadia Bolz-Weber. But I don’t. I believe that each of us founds a church around us, whether we acknowledge our pastorship of that church or not.
Like all pastors, we are responsible to God for the ways we treat others, our environment, and the wo…

Knowing Right from Wrong

If you thinking knowing right from wrong is easy, are are . . . well . . . wrong.

“Don’t lie” is one of the clearest commands of the Bible. Throughout Proverbs (14:5), the epistles (Colossians 3:9), the Old Testament law (Leviticus 19:11) and Jesus’ words calling the devil the “father of lies,” (John 8:44) God’s will is fairly clear about lying: it’s immoral.

And yet the Bible shows that even this clear moral law is not absolute: Jacob deceives his father to receive his brother’s birthright (and God blesses him, Genesis 35); the midwives lie to save the lives of Hebrew babies (Exodus 1); and Mordechai instructs his niece to lie about her identity as a follower of God (Esther 2:10).

The Bible regularly contradicts itself in this manner because life is messy and morality must be considered contextually. What is moral in one context would be immoral in another context. It is the task of the mature Christian to consider her own actions to discover God’s will. It is the hallmark of an immatur…

"Inappropriate"

Last week CNN reported that the Trump administration excluded one of their reporters from a press event for asking what they described as an “inappropriate” question. (The Guardian, July 25, 2018)“Inappropriate” is one of those words that seems innocuous until someone uses it to describe you. And when that happens you realize that what is “appropriate,” is very powerful and very contextual.
When Jesus shows up on the scene for all of three years of ministry, he did a lot of inappropriate things. He ate with tax collectors and sinners, consorted with prostitutes, and did his very best to disturb every person he ever met in order to instigate change.
Change, protest, disruption: these are part of our Christian heritage.
But so is stability and order.
Paul writes desperately to the early churches, instructing them in how to establish institutions that won’t tear each other apart at the first sign of disagreement. He encourages slaves to submit to their masters and insists that women stay wit…

Faith Tests

Once I said something—a small, off-handed comment—that made a friend of mine think that perhaps I wasn’t “saved.” A few years later, a professor at Fuller Seminary wanted to check to see why I wasn’t “where the other students were” when it came to matters of faith. Failing other peoples’ faith tests has been a reoccurring event in my adult life.
That ought to mean I condemn faith tests, and yet I find the practice useful and employ mine constantly. My faith test has one question (and it’s not “have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”):
Have you ever realized the Bible or your church was wrong and chosen to believe in a good and loving God of justice anyway?
Follow-ups might include, have you ever been deeply disturbed by the Bible or made an outcast in your church? Have you ever found Jesus outside of the church and chosen to follow that Christ (no matter what she looked like) instead of the one preached from the pulpit?
The Bible lets me down almost daily. Today’s passage…

Blessed Are the Border Control Agents I Belittled in Montreal

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Blessed are the weak, the powerless, the outcast, the demoted—for theirs is the kingdom of God.

This is the “backwards” gospel, the upside-down nature of God’s Kingdom that I love so much. The times in my life when everything has fallen apart and I’ve been hopelessly disillusioned, this is the only truth that saves me. Our weakness is God’s strength.
When we are vulnerable, we are most likely to have eyes to see and ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the church and to the world around us.
Barbara Brown Taylor says that these thorns in our flesh are “how God defends us from . . .stainless steel Christians who want to cleans the church of problematic people.”
My weakness is temper tantrums. When things don’t go my way, I turn into an adult-sized toddler. I was in Montreal on my way back from vacation earlier this week. I was happy, relaxed, content—I had just been on vacation! They made us de-plane in order to go through border control (which we then had to repeat in Toronto), but di…

Nehemiah Would Have Listened to NPR

I heard on NPR the other day that certain people have been ignored for decades. In the wake of the 2016 election, I heard that’s how conservatives feel—ignored for decades. The people being ignored, according to the NPR story are pockets of African Americans, whose communities have received less funding and even less Christian mercy from their white brothers and sisters in the suburbs.
I feel that way, too: ignored. I feel small and helpless against the processes that guide and control our country, our communities, and even our churches.
But we have to wonder: what’s the difference between “feeling” ignored and being ignored? Are they the same?
Nehemiah has answers. As a bold leader, he always seemed to have answers. Too many foreign wives? Pull out some hair! Enemies at the gates? Carry a weapon in one hand and wall-building materials in the other! Things were simple for Nehemiah: he saw and problem and he fixed it. A social conservative and strong advocate of self-defense through viole…