Doubt, Musings, Suffering

Discerning, Doubting, Discovering: a Life Update

Just in case you were (unintentionally) baited by the title of this post, this is not another “I’m losing my faith/leaving Church/deconstruction” sort of post. Not that there hasn’t been a good bit of that in my journey and for those around me, and I have been deeply involved with some friends walking paths like this. But, I’m just saying outright that this isn’t the subject of this update.

I realized that there has been a lot going on in our life, and I felt like a longer form post would help bring those things together for you (and for me!).


I have officially entered a formal discernment process in the Episcopal Diocese of MD toward being ordained. This could be kind of confusing for those of you who know that I was ordained as a pastor while serving at Gallery Church. The short version is that, as a different branch of the Church with their own rules and ways of doing things, it is more of a process. A several year sort of process. But, I am submitting myself to it. This is a new season of discernment, which is a fancy word for prayerfully exploring and listening and responding to what God might be up to, particularly as it relates to my own sense of calling.

Something I am learning about myself is how important it is to truly seek to discern rather than just decide. Decisions, for me, are often made without doing some of the deeper work as to what my feelings and fears are. The last few years of my life have been me learning to name and confront those things, seeing how God might be at work in them and what stories might be at work in me. As a result, I am engaging more in a process of becoming and seeing, rather than in procedural steps which lead to some predetermined outcome. At least, that’s what I’m hoping for.

So, for now, I am assigned to a church in Howard County, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, as an intern, where I will be serving through January in a variety of ways, and also discerning with folks there. I would welcome your prayers and conversation along the way.


There have been some intensely painful moments over the last year as we have been walking with my sister through her treatment for ovarian cancer. She has been very open about this process, but it was about a year ago that something showed up on a scan at the doctor’s office which led to surgery the day after Christmas to remove a large cancerous tumor. What has followed has been a difficult journey of doctor’s visits and bad news and chemo and complications and loss. She should finish her treatment by Thanksgiving, but there will likely be more to go. A big question I’m holding in the midst of all this is, “God, how could you be present in this? This hurts and I don’t understand.” That’s sometimes all I can bring myself to pray.

We are still fostering a little girl, who has been with us for over two years now. The plan is to reunite her with her family, but it has been complicated by a lot of factors and instability. We are living court date to court date, and it has been a very trying time. I have a lot of doubts about the foster care system, its ability to truly care for children and even determine (much less act in) the best interests of these children. I have doubts as to whether what we are doing even really makes a difference for her. My prayer for this? See above.


A few months ago, Kara woke me up with a befuddled look on her face and something in her hand, saying, “What does this look like to you?” As I put on my glasses and allowed my vision to adjust, low and behold, she was holding a pregnancy test. A POSITIVE pregnancy test! We’ve had them before, though rarely, and have never had a pregnancy last very long. It’s been a painful thing up until this point, not having children while trying to for the past six years.

So…we’re having a baby! The baby’s due in early March and we are thrilled, amazed, and it still feels surreal.

So what am I discovering in all of these things? New, multifaceted ways that this world is broken, pain and suffering cannot be well-explained, knowing yourself is not for the faint of heart, and graces may be found in the midst of it all. Life is complex and wild. There are gifts in the midst of the truly dark things. And it is hard to see how God is present and how we are to respond to and follow this God. And it is hard to fully celebrate things will grieving other things.

There is much, much more to say and unpack about these things, so hopefully some more posts to come.


Coffee and Connectedness

I know it is not incredibly novel or surprising, but I love coffee. I love the smell, the warm feeling of the cup in my hand, the way in opens my eyes and wakes up my body each day. I’ve come a long way from my late-night Waffle House coffee-drinking days, but it still remains a staple in my life (coffee, that is…not Waffle House). A couple years ago, I acquired my first Chemex to prepare pour-over coffees. I’ve had my fair share of pour-over coffees made by others, but this has been an absolute game-changer for me.

The process for making coffee is decidedly more complex or time-consuming than a single-cup pod brewer or even a normal drip brewer. I measure the beans out on a small digital kitchen scale, grind them by hand with a burr grinder, heat up the water in my goose-neck tea kettle, and pour specific amounts of hot water over the grounds at certain intervals. What was once a clumsy and seemingly complicated process has now become my morning roasted ritual.

I was reminded of the significance of this time during Fr. Tim Schenck‘s presentation last evening on his new book, Holy Grounds: The Surprising Connection between Coffee and Faith – From Dancing Goats to Satan’s Drink. While there were some unique historical trivia about the origin of coffee and its connection with faith (like allowing monks to not fall asleep during night prayers!) I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about the many hands through which these sacred beans pass before they make it into my own. The pickers, the packers, the processors, the shippers, the distributors, the roasters, the retailers, and then my own. This, of course, raises many questions about ethical sourcing, work environments, safety, exploitation, and even climate change. No product we consume is immune to these questions, and I will be asking them anew.

Additionally, though, I left with a significant impression that I believe I will carry with me for some time. The labor and work that goes into each cup of coffee I drink is significant. Should I not also take the time with my own hands to craft something that is worthy of their work? And might I also take time to pray for those hands, with whom I am connected by means of this coffee? I am reinvigorated to make this time each morning a time of prayer and a recognition of our connectedness through something as simple and as wonderful as coffee.

In our prayer book, there is a prayer for agriculture that seems fitting:

Almighty God, we thank you for making the earth fruitful, so that it might produce what is needed for life: Bless those who work in the fields, give us seasonable weather; and grant that we may all share the fruits of the earth, rejoicing in your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP, 824)

May coffee continue to open our eyes, in all ways.


Advent Practice: Feeling the World As It Is

It can be rather en vogue to swear off things like social media and the like during certain seasons of life. Particularly for us Christians, we tend to do this during times like Lent, foregoing the pleasures of chocolate, meat, Netflix, Twitter, or alcohol. For Jesus, of course. The discipline of fasting is intended to help us better identify with the life of Jesus, while also exposing to us our real hunger for God.

Advent, which is far less frequently observed and all-too-often consumed by the holiday hustle and bustle, is meant to be a similar time of identification and preparation. While arguments abound as to whether it is truly a penitential season, it is a time to, amongst other things, prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus. And one way to do this is to enter into what Fleming Rutledge names, “the Time Between.” Advent is the time between ages, between the world as it has been and the world as it shall be. Indeed, this is the time that we all live in, yet rarely take time to be present to.

“The Time Between” by Anna Razumovskaya

Advent is a time to be fully in the present and to face the world as it is, in all its darkness and despair. “Deck the halls with tears and sorrow. Tis’ the season to fear tomorrow.” Isn’t that how the song goes?

But seriously, I am learning that I have a tough time simply taking time to see the world as it is. I have to quickly interpret it, parse it, spin it toward some redemptive, good, and didactic end. I need to get angry at it and shoot off a quick tweet. I need to speak out on every issue I see to offer my take. I am not taking time to simply see the world as it is. I am not pausing to feel the world as it is. Instead, I am often reacting to the world as I am.

So, as a way to take stock of this, I am choosing to not post to social media for the duration of Lent and Christmastide (apart from the occasional family thing or work-related post). I won’t be engaging on threads or subtweeting weirdly obscure denominational issues. I won’t be offering takes or the like. I need to take time to simply read and take in what I read. I need to sit with it. Stay angry about it if it angers me, rather than placating with a post. I need to actually pray about it.

But I will be reading. I will not shy away from the world. I will lean in, but will do so with a sort of engaged silence, a watchful and curious gaze. I will not withdraw, but I will suspend adding my quick voice to the fray. Some may criticize this as a sort of privilege, and it certainly is, to be sure. And it is not for everyone to do, nor would I prescribe it.

I’m hoping this will help me to learn how to better see the world and feel the world as it is. I’m hoping it will better connect me to the God who is very much present and working in this world. And I’m hoping it will help me get in better touch with my own feelings and emotions around these things.

I share this not as some spiritually performative act or to immediately condemn those who are heavily engaged on social media (I’ve learned a lot from others on these platforms and am truly grateful). I share in order to be explanatory to those who are used to seeing me post more regularly. I also share as a means of accountability in my practice.

May we all come to better see and feel the world as it truly is. Perhaps as we sing the words from O Holy Night on Christmas Eve, we may better appreciate the miracle it is for a “weary world” to rejoice.


“Prayer Changes Things” (but not how you might expect)

I started reading and praying from the Book of Common Prayer regularly almost eight years ago.

It began in a darker season for me; in a time when I had run out of words to pray, or couldn’t find them, and my spirituality was simply coming up short. I was hurting and broken and I needed a new vocabulary for what I was feeling and what I was learning about God and myself. I found richness in the prayers and collects, the pages saturated with Scripture, and readings of the Psalms which allowed to be more than simply an object of study, but rather the very voice of my prayer.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the beginning of a new leg of my journey. And it was one which would include being healed, married, ordained, and installed as a local pastor.

It would also lead to some shifts in belief/theology, to some hard lessons learned and unlearned, to a sense of release from my ministry position, stepping into unknown territory, working for a non-profit, becoming a foster dad, being hired as executive director for said non-profit, and nearly being a seminary grad.

In short: prayer changes things.

Most particularly, prayer has been changing me. And even more specifically, I have felt a shift or sense of clarity surrounding part of my calling as a result of this formative practice.

It has been incredibly affirming to see and trace the hand of God and the movement of the Spirit over these years, leading and inviting me into a new moment. At this point in my journey of following my sense of calling and purpose in life, I am taking a significant step into further exploring and discerning this vocation.

God willing, on September 30th, I will receive the sacrament of confirmation into the Episcopal branch of the one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church. This is a significant step of my journey toward potentially serving as clergy within the Church.

But what does it mean to be confirmed? For those of you raised in a similar tradition as I was raised, you may wonder why someone like me who was baptized at a five-year-old in a Baptist church by my Baptist father, attended a Baptist Bible college, and will be (hopefully!) finishing seminary this spring must now be confirmed in his mid-thirties?

That’s a great question. There is a short, more procedural, answer: I need to be confirmed in the church to begin the process of potentially being ordained as a clergy person within the Episcopal church.

I will write more about why I feel called to serve in this way another time. For those of you who may be interested, what follows is a a longer answer as to why I am being confirmed and how I understand its significance.

According to the Book of Common Prayer, the baptized (whether adults or children) are “expected to make a public affirmation of their faith and commitment to the responsibilities of their Baptism in the presence of a bishop and to receive the laying on of hands” (412).

I see three strong components of confirmation:

A Public Affirmation of Faith
This is important on a couple levels. Some have asked me whether this means that my faith is finally “valid” because I am being confirmed, as if unconfirmed faith is not valid. Absolutely not. My faith has been valid in all of its forms/practices and throughout the different seasons of my life. I have grown in my faith, questioned it, expanded my understanding of what I believe, deconstructed it, reconstructed it again, and continued to walk in it. And I imagine that this will be the case in the future as well.
But this is a way to, in a fresh way and new season of my life, publicly affirm my faith in Jesus. This is no small thing today. It is also a way of saying, my way of following Jesus is moving forward in a new way.

A (Re)Commitment to the Responsibilities of Baptism
The responsibilities of baptism are to:
* Affirm the Apostle’s Creed (what Christians have historically believed)
* Continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, breaking of bread, and in the prayers (doing what Christians have historically done)
* Resist evil and repent when I fall into sin, proclaim the Good News in word and deed, serve all people, love my neighbor as myself, strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being (continue doing what all Christians are called to do)

The Presence of a Bishop
Why is it important that some person with the title ‘bishop’ and a cool hat be present for this? Bishops, amongst other things, help to show us and remind us of the unity of the church. They stand in line with the Apostles as those who have been called and charged with carrying on the apostolic work of leading the church. In the same way that the Apostles would lay hands on others to confer the Spirit and affirm the work of God, so too do bishops do the same today.
I will have hands placed on me as a way of willingly placing myself under their authority and aligning myself with the historical movement of the Church. It is a real and tangible way of being a part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. It is, for me, a move toward solidarity and unity with the historic church and the deep tradition to which I belong. It is a statement that says that I am in expressed communion with the Church of history (for better and for worse).
This bishop will likely pray these words over me:
“Strengthen, O Lord, your servant Derek with your Holy Spirit; empower him for your service; and sustain him all the days of his life. Amen.” (BCP, 309)

It will be the power of the Spirit which will move me onward into what may come next.

I invite your prayers as I take this step forward and welcome your questions as well, should you have them.

Life, Musings, Relationships, women

When Guys Don’t Notice You

There is a certain genre of writing/approach within the American Christian world that is semi-obsessed with marriage/relationships/purity/etc. Blogs abound and advice poureth over toward single folks, particularly single women, concerning how to remedy their unfortunate, single state. Most often, the content comes from blissfully married (finally un-single?) men and women. I do believe those who write these blogs and books are often well-intentioned and want others to experience what, for them, is a cherished gift (as it should be). However, the common threads found through much of their exhortation include thinly-veiled shame, a blind resignation to the mysterious will of God, and an often not-so-subtle patriarchy-infused logic.
An article of the same name as this one has recently been circulating that does much of this same work. It stirred up so much in me reading it, and many others, I discovered. I quickly realized it was not, in fact, satire as I saw my dear sisters be hurt, yet again. They were subjected to an argument that goes something like this: dress nicer and guys will notice you. While this article, like many others, have the obligatory, yet passing, references to things like “inner beauty” and being the “real you,” the core message rings clear in the minds of so many readers: I am not enough and my “enough-ness” is connected to whether or not a guy notices me and /acknowledges my beauty.
My dear female friends: you do not need men to notice you or tell you that you are beautiful, nor do we get to define what that even means.
There is so much to go into here, but I want to address the other side. Many have commented that such articles rarely address men. The burden is placed on women to doll-up so that guys’ hearts will start to beat faster and get all hot and bothered. This is not ok.
But, there is a strange truth in all this. Women, us men don’t notice you. And, my dear sisters, it is not because you need a teen movie-style make over or more rouge: it has way more to do with us. I dare not point a finger at you for what is, at a basic level, a problem that we have at noticing what is good and wonderful.
We don’t notice you because we are often caught up in our own worlds of fear, brokenness, anxiety, competition, and loneliness. Though we won’t admit it, or don’t know how to.
We have been breathing the air of a male-dominated society for so long, that we can’t name it. We have been conditioned not to notice you unless you offer something to us: pleasure, advancement, codependence, money, status, or power.
We have been conditioned by the “male gaze” to commodify you before we even meet you. We have fallen victim to similar lies that tell us we are not men unless we conquer you sexually, which manifests both in rape culture and in purity culture. We have come to believe that your bodies are ours to uncover as “earned” or to demand to be covered for “modesty” so we don’t “stumble”. In both cases, you are subjected to bear the weight of our own rampant sexuality and lack of self-control.
We are deeply insecure about our worth. We are afraid of failing because so much around us has told us we are not made for failure, but rather for greatness. We are threatened by your aptitude, your successes, and your accomplishments. We are so threatened because we think that these very things (success, accomplishments) are what make us and our lack of them unmake us. So we often don’t notice you, because to do so would mean to come face to face with our own lack, our own fears, our own issues.
This goes far beyond romantic interest. This is a core Sin at work from the beginning that takes the gift of blessed partnership, mutual submission, and community and twists into blaming, shaming, and disconnection.
According to the origin stories of the Hebrew Scriptures, the First Man in the Garden of Eden could look at the newly crafted Woman and burst into song and poetry, naming his deep kinship to her (bone of my bones) and calling her his mighty Helper (ezer: a term used of God, who helps the helpless!). Today, rather than looking to this an an example and original intention for our relatedness, we choose to live under what follows. After the entrance of sin, the response is one of shame and hiding, blaming women for our misdeeds and even blaming God for putting us together in the first place. God have mercy.We do not notice you because we are still hiding, attempting awkwardly to cover our shame.
We don’t notice how amazing you are, and it is a deep tragedy, because we are missing out on the very work of God around us. We are missing out on the ways in which we can learn to depend upon one another by being vulnerable, by celebrating all that God is doing in you, by admitting that, in fact, we need help (and Helpers) in all areas of our lives, not simply in a wife. And this is, again, to say that women need our “noticing”. Many of you are quite happy, thank you very much, in not being married or paired up. You have thriving careers, passions, and relationships. And the problem of not being noticed is, yet again, a loss for us men…a failure to see the work of God in you and your key part in it because of our own issues or our limited framework.
So, to my male friends, I invite you to hear the words and heed the example of your amazing, fierce, and powerful sisters. So many of them are killin’ it as they work way harder than any of us have had to because, well, they have to in order to get ahead. Celebrate the hell out of them. NOTICE them for who they are, not who you think they should be, because who they are is way better than you could imagine.
And to my female friends, know this: I am for you and I need your help. And I will never let other men get away with telling you how you need to be in order to be “noticed”.
church, Discipleship, Musings, Relationships, theology, women

I Give Thanks for the Presence, Example, Leadership, and Gift of Women

This is a post I’ve been thinking of writing for a LONG time. I’ve waited, and waited, and waited. Not because really because of fear, though I have felt it. Not because I wanted to stay on the sidelines, though at times I did. Not because I wasn’t sure, though I have long wrestled. I waited, because I honestly haven’t even known where to begin.

But, to not begin; to not speak, I now realize is one of these things I confess each evening in my prayers: “I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done and what I have left undone.”

Without equivocation or qualification, I give thanks to God for the presence, example, and gift of women pastors, ministers, elders, professors, mentors, leaders, and teachers. Not just for those in my own life, but for those throughout time. We are better because of you. I would not be more whole and healed in my life without you. In short: we need you.

While this post may feel like a bit of a hot-take toward certain articles and posts that have been circulating recently, that is not really my desire. And, I do not desire to rehash tired arguments. I will leave that to others. I will simply say that I believe that the full-inclusion of women in places of leadership, authority, and gifting in the church and the world (and fruitful partnerships of mutuality between men and women) is the more faithful response to the full story of our Faith and a more beautiful witness to the world of God’s kingdom.

I was recently in a meeting with a group of women who are working to serve and love some of the most marginalized and vulnerable in our region. I had a moment as I was sitting at the table where I just realized how blessed I was to be in their midst. These are some of the most passionate, smart, strategic, gifted, and hard-working women (and people!) I have met. I felt overwhelmed by the fact that I got to work with them; that I had a seat at their table. That I was being led by them. This feeling of blessing was then commingled with sadness for others who are missing out on this opportunity for reasons of belief or institution or otherwise.

But rather than parse out the reasons for my support and belief (which again, others have done very well) I wanted to take the space to honor and thank some of those women who have had such a profound impact on me. They have led me and modeled for me what it looks like to be fully human and a lover of what is good in the world. Note: ***I will inevitably leave far too many out, and I commit to taking more time to share consistently how women continue to challenge and bless me. Forgive me and grant me grace, especially if you are left out. But this is a start. I’m beginning…

My mom helped to instill a vibrant and intellectually honest and curious faith in me from a young age. She took note of my needs while in middle school to homeschool me for a couple years to help affirm my thirst for learning and affirm the mind God had given me. She modeled faithful service and imaginative ways of using her gifts and talents in a variety of jobs and places of service in the church and community. She created space for my questions, she entertained my wonderings, she endured (endures?) the harsher edges of my idealism and fundamentalism with grace and love.

I think of my seminary professors who have profoundly impacted me. Dr. Rebecca Hancock, my Hebrew Bible professor who opened up the beauty and significance of these texts in a way that still challenges me, and who led discussions around the Psalms which have shaped my own prayer life. I think of Rev. Amy Richter, whose deep love for Scripture and pastoral heart gave me a renewed imagination for my own vocation. I still remember hearing her preach and seeing her interact with every single one of her parishioners after the service. I saw, in a fresh way, how robust preaching and faithful shepherding can go hand-in-hand.

I think of Dr. Tracy Radosovic who helped me rediscover the Gospels as stories to be told, not simply texts to be studied. Her fervor for seeing the proclamation of these texts as fully embodied, dramatic moments has influenced my own preaching to this day. And, of course, Dr. Pat Foasarelli, the “Double Doctor” as I call her, as she hold both an M.D. as a pediatrician but also a D. Min. as a professor, Associate Dean, and trainer of seminarians (yes, all-male Catholic ones, too!). Her depth of experience in pastoral ministry in her parish, her stories of working children living with HIV and AIDS, and her way of pushing us into deeper questions about practical ministry, continue to serve as a fuel for my journey. Her matter-of-fact personality and her sensitivity to the work of God in others as a spiritual director is a gift to so many.

I also think of my own spiritual director, Jackie, who helped guide me as a sort of surrogate grandmother, helping me make sense of the rublmings in my heart around vocation and life direction. The times with her, sipping coffee at her kitchen table and listening the Spirit together will continue to shape my life for years to come.

And there are the countless women pastors and ministers who have taught me (personally or from afar) in one way or another about God, ministry, preaching, and self-care (And I will inevitably leave someone out!). Sandy Boone, Toni Draper, Cathy Oatman, Christine Parker, Michelle Rader, Christa Burns, Mandy Smith, Barbara Brown Taylor, Fleming Rutledge…gosh I could go on.

And, of course, in my work now with HopeSprings, I have learned and grown so much under the leadership and direction of Erin Donovan. I am grateful for her philosophy of leadership, her passion and compassion for those we serve, and her faithfulness through challenging times.

(I have chosen not to include my wife here, because 1) that deserves its own post and 2) she is not fond of public attention from me like this! But, at the risk of violating my reasons, Kara, you are a gift, a means of God’s grace, and a wonderful life partner to me! And to my sister, Amelia…I will save my words for the endorsement or foreword on your first memoir or book, should I have the honor of being asked to write them! ;-))

So, at the risk of a reductionistic and overused phrase, I say again: thank you. And for all those women not named here who are wonderful friends and sisters: we need more than just your competence. Your competence is a given. Your qualifications are evident. We need your presence and your example. And I commit to doing all I can to honor you and open any spaces I can for you to continue to bless and teach us all. Not because you need my help, but because we need your voice.

Authenticity, Musings, Prayer, psalms, Suffering

Still Feeling It AND Not Giving Up

Last week, I shared some incredibly raw and real thoughts and feelings I’ve been having about what I am seeing within much of the American Christian world. I was struck and humbled by how much my words resonated with so many (and upset some, as well!). I am grateful for the space it has opened for some of us to share our collective grief and pain. While the post was precipitated by a recent event, the feelings and thoughts were not simply about this one situation or “issue” (I really don’t like that word, by the way). Rather, in many ways, this was the culmination of a lot of pain and frustration that has been on a sort of “low boil” for awhile. In regards to how people tend to respond to us when we are in that place, I will have more to write…perhaps later this week.

I believe that my post was not a cry for a debate about a certain topic, nor was it simply a knee-jerk reaction or “hot take” on the latest social media outrage. It was my attempt at a sort of prophetic lament. This is a way of naming what one sees as inconsistent, wrong, and painful…and holding it up to each other and to God. It is a way of saying: “I see this. I feel this. It hurts me and others. It is wrong. We can do better.” In short, it is an expression of where we really are in our faith and life and a small step toward imagining something better. And we see this especially in the psalms. I’d encourage you to read some of them like Ps 31 or 88. Or even Ps 41 (which is an interesting mix of lament and thanksgiving, seemingly on the back end of some intense suffering).

D. A. Carson says that, in biblical lament, the authors do not try “to whitewash the anguish of God’s people when they undergo suffering. They argue with God, they complain to God, they weep before God. Theirs is not a faith that leads to dry-eyed stoicism, but to a faith so robust it wrestles with God.”

I would also add, that such lament is not just before and with God, but it is amongst a community as well. And it is a KEY and necessary step in addressing any sort of action or response. In short, lamenting is is not giving up or losing hope. It’s looking at and letting out. It is the practice of naming what really is as it is.

Actually, I believe that when we refuse to lament, when we run away from that which is uncomfortable, when we “spiritualize it away”, or even settle for having abstract theological debates about topics, that these can all be forms of giving up. We jump from what is to how it can be quickly and easily resolved. So we respond like this: Here’s a verse. Here’s a book. You should just pray about it. You should just count it all joy!

Soong-Chan Rah in his EXCELLENT book, “Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times” says this: “The American church avoids lament. The power of lament is minimized and the underlying narrative of suffering that requires lament is lost. But absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. Absence makes the heart forget. The absence of lament in the liturgy of the American church results in the loss of memory. We forget the necessity of lamenting over suffering and pain. We forget the reality of suffering and pain.”

The practice and habit of lament helps to ensure that we are still connected to suffering and pain in the world, even when it isn’t our own.

There is so much more to say, but I will leave you with one quote from Walter Brueggemann’s “The Prophetic Imagination”: “The cross is the assurance that effective prophetic criticism is done not by an outsider but always by one who must embrace the grief, enter into the death, and know the pain of the criticized one.”

I’m not done. I’m not going anywhere. I am carrying my feelings and grief with me in the work God has for me in the world. In the end, we lament; not because we have given up, but because we refuse to do so. May we lean in to all that we feel, think, and experience as necessary and un-rushed step forward. May we still feel it, still wrestle, and by doing so, not give up.


I’m embarrassed. I’m sad. I’m angry. I’m sorry.

***Reader beware: this is a raw post. If you disagree with some of what follows, I understand. If it upsets you, I’m sorry. I’m upset. This is me trying to figure out what in the world is going on around me and in me. I am trying to just name where I am right now and I’m trusting God is meeting me here. I’m still a work in progress.

There are sometimes when the frenetic activity of the world in which I’ve grown up in reaches a fever pitch and it really affects me. This world I mention is the Christian world in North America. It’s certainly been on a low boil for awhile. That’s probably not the best metaphor, but consider this: evangelicals love affair with and unequivocal support of Trump, patriotic worship services in megachurches where they sing “Make America Great Again, the deafening silence around unaccountable (and un-indicted/acquitted) police officers increasing the black body count, the ridiculous questions about whether Christian women can blog without male pastor approval, the fear-inducing rhetoric surrounding refugees and immigrants, the political litmus tests for ministry positions…

And now, one of the most influential pastors and writers I know, Eugene Peterson, says he would perform a same-sex wedding and the Christian Twitterverse loses their collective “mind”–many outright questioning his eternal destiny, pulling copies of his amazing paraphrase of the Bible (The Message) from bookstore shelves, and sharing how “disappointed” they are in him.

I suppose I’m disappointed, too. But not with Pastor Peterson.

More to the point: I’m embarrassed. I’m sad. I’m angry. And I’m sorry.

I’m embarrassed. I’m embarrassed that professors from my alma mater are suggesting that someone who disagrees with them over this issue are in danger of eternal torment in hell. (I won’t hyperlink to that one here…sorry) I’m embarrassed that the bookstore I used to work for years ago is preparing to act on the decision to pull copies of The Message Bible over this one interview. (They do this specifically when authors come out with a Pro-LGBT position, like Jen Hatmaker did.)
***PS Lifeway does still choose to carry a book by Fox News commentator Todd Starnes, who wrote The Deplorables’ Guide to Making America Great Again . Starnes also argues against the removal of confederate statues (comparing politically liberal people to ISIS), thinks Trump’s election was divine intervention, and calls immigrants “enemy invaders”. But yeah, keep selling his books and stop selling The Message (which is a paraphrase of Scripture-the product of years of ministry in trying to connect the Scripture to everyday people).

I’m sad. I’m sad that these sort of polarizing statements get the most press and that this is what we are known for: arguing over issues. I’m sad that more people in the LGBTQ community will have more (justifiable) reasons for keeping people of faith at a distance while still longing for personal and spiritual connection. I’m sad that true dialogue about our differing understandings around interpreting scripture cannot happen without throwing bombs and labels at each other. We are so afraid.

I’m angry. I’m angry with the hurtful words that so many spew at one another. I am angry that this keeps happening. I’m angry that we continue to have these litmus tests for fellowship and communion. I’m angry that it seems to be getting worse and not better. I’m angry that when I say I’m a Christian to my neighbors, they often associate me with this sort of hate, vitriol, and nonsense. I’m angry that we can seem to still be ok reading and endorsing the works of those who have come before us who fully endorsed slavery, treated their wives and children horribly, endorsed the extermination of different ethnicities and the physical punishment of people who disagreed with their beliefs, and thought of women as second-class citizens (i.e. Edwards, Whitfield, Wesley, the Puritans, Augustine, etc,) But this is the line in the sand? I’m angry that I continue to be angry and don’t know what to do next.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry if any of this hurt you. I’m sorry if it stirred up things for you. I’m sorry that the name of Jesus continues to be pulled through the mud. I’m sorry that we get it wrong way more than we get it right.  I’m sorry to those of you who have been deeply hurt by the words of those on all sides, including my own. I’m sorry to my LGBTQ sisters, brothers, and friends who again feel like an “issue” more than a person because of responses like this. I’m sorry that your pain is compounded again and again. And I’m sorry for failing to be a loving and attentive neighbor to you.

In some ways, this feels like a break-up letter to my conservative, American, evangelical past and present. But more so, it’s just a letter of heart-break and disillusionment. In trying to follow Jesus as best as I know how, I am finding it more and more difficult to be in your world. I just don’t understand it anymore. It doesn’t make sense to me. And it hurts to read your words.

But I also feel a bit spiritually homeless; like I don’t quite fit in any of these worlds we’ve constructed for ourselves. Like I don’t belong in the right club or something.

I will make the turn, in the end, to actively choose to trust in the unfailing love of God. But I have learned that trusting God means trusting God with all that we feel, think, and see. This is my lament. How long, O Lord? And help me know what it means to trust you. And to trust while I’m still very much embarrassed, sad, angry, and sorry,

Musings, Prayer, psalms

“Can We Pray That?”- Daily Office Reflections

(Psalm 42, 52: Deuteronomy 11:13-19; 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2; Luke 17:1-10)

Psalm 52

1      You tyrant, why do you boast of wickedness *

against the godly all day long?

2      You plot ruin;

your tongue is like a sharpened razor, *

O worker of deception.

3      You love evil more than good *

and lying more than speaking the truth.

4      You love all words that hurt, *

O you deceitful tongue.

5      Oh, that God would demolish you utterly, *

topple you, and snatch you from your dwelling,

and root you out of the land of the living!

6      The righteous shall see and tremble, *

and they shall laugh at him, saying,

7      “This is the one who did not take God for a refuge, *

but trusted in great wealth

and relied upon wickedness.”

8      But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; *

I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.

9      I will give you thanks for what you have done *

and declare the goodness of your Name in the presence

of the godly.


As I was praying this during morning prayer this morning, the words seemed to fly off the page and stirred up a lot in me. I thought, “Can I really be praying this right now?”

The psalm seems to be addressed more directly to this tyrant.

I have to be honest: there are many of these descriptors that connect to how I feel about our current president. I don’t intend this to be a politically divisive post; I’m just trying to talk about where I am this morning and where God is meeting me (which can only be where we really are!)

Over the last months, I have felt much of what the psalmist names here. I see a boastful, arrogant leader who pays fast and loose with the truth and uses his words to hurt others. He trusts in wealth and trickle-down economics at the expense of the poor. This is putting it mildly, in my opinion.

But as the psalm goes on, this is a prayer for this tyrant to be taken down, or more directly, taken out. By God. It’s a prayer that God would demolish this leader so that the righteous would see what happens when leaders operate this way.

My first thought was, “Can we pray for this?” This seems extreme. Many commentators thing that this psalm was penned by David in response to the lies, scheming, and murder committed by Doeg the Edomite in 1 Samuel 21-22. He murdered 85 priests based on lies he spread to King Saul.

David had witnessed the evil which can come about when leaders (Doeg is said to be a lead shepherd in Israel) play politics and spread lies. It ends up in destruction.

I’m still not sure how I feel about praying these words, but I do understand the feeling. Perhaps God meets us where we are, even in our outrage and anger against those who perpetuate injustice. Perhaps, we can continue to call out to him and plead for those who lie, steal, kill, and destroy to be taken away.

And we can also commit ourselves to being people of mercy, knowing we need it as well. We can, more positively, proclaim the goodness of our God. We can be a voice for what is true and good in the midst of so many half-truths, full-blown lies, and boasts of what is evil.

Daily Office, Musings, Prayer

“You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear” – Daily Office Reflection

Easter VI (Psalm 85, 86; Ezek. 1:28–3:3; Heb. 4:14–5:6; Luke 9:28-36)

28 Like the bow in a cloud on a rainy day, such was the appearance of the splendor all around. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.
When I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of someone speaking.

Ezekiel 2

1 He said to me: O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you. 2 And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me. 3 He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. 4 The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord GOD.” 5 Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them. 6 And you, O mortal, do not be afraid of them, and do not be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns surround you and you live among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words, and do not be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. 7 You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear; for they are a rebellious house.
8 But you, mortal, hear what I say to you; do not be rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you. 9 I looked, and a hand was stretched out to me, and a written scroll was in it. 10 He spread it before me; it had writing on the front and on the back, and written on it were words of lamentation and mourning and woe.

Ezekiel 3

1 He said to me, O mortal, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel. 2 So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. 3 He said to me, Mortal, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it. Then I ate it; and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey.

So, the book of Ezekiel is pretty weird. A lot of imagery. Eating scrolls. Wheels in the sky. Dead bones. All the more reason, I think, for the LORD to make sure Ezekiel knows what his task his as a prophet: to speak what he sees and hears to the people to whom God has sent him.

As I was reading this today I was thinking about many in my life who have served prophetic roles; they spoke truth to me in a time where I most needed it. It was not always pleasant and I did not always listen. But the words do their work in their own way and in their own time. And I am grateful for those who were faithful to speak what they saw and heard to me.

I often am so concerned about how people will receive and respond to my own challenges and invitations. There are many times in writing sermons or rehearsing conversations endlessly in my head (anyone else do this?) where I would try to craft the words in such a way that I would imagine the greatest possible response from others. When you craft things in words, you can become pretty good at persuasion and even mild (or not-so-mild) manipulation of emotions. I’ve learned how to convince people.

But this passage causes me to pause in two ways. First, it reminds me of my primary responsibility: to speak what I have heard and seen, whether people listen or they don’t. This is hard, because it is lonely sometimes. When people don’t respond or don’t validate your words, it can cause doubt to creep in, “Did I really hear that right? Am I wrong? Is this even what I’m supposed to be doing?”

Secondly, Ezekiel eats the scroll. Weird, I know. But I wonder if it signifies the internalization of the message he was charged with speaking. Sometimes I am quick to hear something and simply regurgitate it: sort of spiritual bulimia. I think the challenge may be to allow the messages we feel and the impassioned words we hear from God to take up residence in us for awhile; to digest them. I wonder if many prophets are burned out because they binge and purge the words of God, not taking the time to be nourished by the words that are not just for others but are really for us, too.

So, for my prophetic-voiced friends: keep speaking! But keep feasting, too. And take a nap every now and then post-dinner before sharing the treasures you’ve found. It’s really good for you, and will be good for us as well.