Faith Not Fear: A story of inspiration

FNF_01

Dear fellow Conspirators for Awesomeness,

As a seminary student and someone seeking to discern a call into vocational ministry, I often find myself in conversations about discovering our purpose in the world. Often, we find ourselves talking about how we’ll know what God’s will is for our lives.

What I’ve come to believe is that, more often than not, God’s not so much directing us to a particular activity or position as he is encouraging us to find something that ignites our passions. Maybe, rather than waiting to hear what God is calling us to, we should do what excites us most and allow God to bless it.

A few months ago my friend Allie started a new venture called Faith Not Fear Apparel. FNF sells inspirational t-shirts as a means for people to start meaningful conversations, and gives away a portion of all sales to help empower others.

I wanted to feature FNF here on TheAwesomnessConspiracy.com both to help spread the word about their products as well as to tell Allie’s story. I think it’s a shining example of finding that place where your gifts and talents intersect with your passions, and watching God go to work with it in spectacular ways.

I recently had a chance to ask Allie to share the story behind FNF. And while many are rushing stores today for Black Friday deals, I thought today would be a good day to feature a possible alternative for your Christmas shopping.

What inspired you to start Faith Not Fear? 

Faith Not Fear Apparel was born out of a desire to “do more” to encourage people’s faith. After coming back from a life-changing mission trip to Haiti, I knew I couldn’t go back to sitting behind a desk, looking at the computer screen all day, when just a few days prior I put shoes on the feet of impoverished children, handed out Bibles and prayed with strangers. While sitting at my desk I kept wondering what I could do to make a difference here…as Mother Teresa said, “love begins at home.”

FNF_02Why t-shirts?

America is not a third world country and is privileged in many, many ways. But it’s a land full of hurting people, people who need Jesus. However, as a Christian it’s sometimes hard to start a conversation about God with strangers (or even friends!) − how do you bring it up a topic like that to that person behind you at the grocery store or that mom waiting to pick up her children beside of you. A t-shirt − that is was it! I decided that that was the way I could try to make a difference in my own community. It is our hope that by wearing a Faith Not Fear Apparel shirt that someone might ask you about it and give you the opportunity to share a little bit about faith/God/church with them. As a company, we strive to develop shirts you would be proud to wear and that have a simple, powerful message.

You said your trip to Haiti was life-changing. What was it about that experience that motivated you to do something like this?

With the root of the idea being planted in Haiti, 10% of the sales price of what we sell goes to support the ApParent Project, a nonprofit I visited there. The ApParent Project provides opportunities for Haitians to have steady employment. Haitian artisans learn skills, which enable them to provide for their children rather than send them to an orphanage due to extreme poverty. The Apparent Project distributes Haitian recycled, or “upcycled” items, which have become beautiful products including jewelry, home décor, pottery and more! They are making great strides in empowering Haitian people and keeping families together. To learn more about this heartwarming organization visit them at http://www.apparentproject.org

What’s in the name, “Faith Not Fear?” Is there a story there?

FNF_03Dave Willis, a leading expert on building strong Christian marriages, said, “There isn’t enough room in your life for both fear and faith. Each day, you must decide which one gets to stay.” This quote really stuck out to me − fear is something so many people (including myself) struggle with, it’s something the devil uses to paralyze us, so as the quote says, each and every day we have to make a conscious decision to squash those lies and choose to believe the promises from God.

How have other people spoken into your vision for FNF? Was it important for you to hear other voices? If so, why?

I have received a lot of encouragement from others to continue down this journey and each time I start to take a step back, God puts someone, even strangers, in my life at the right time to continue to push me! People have shared their heartfelt testimonies with me, and shared the reason they want a shirt whether it to be wear themself or to give it as a gift to encourage someone else. I love the way people want to shine God’s light on others using Faith Not Fear Apparel as a vehicle to do so. 

If we could fast-forward to a year from now and you could call FNF a success story, what would that look like for you?

I would love to walk down the street and see people wearing my shirts! I would also love to be able to send significant contributions to the ApParent Projects and be able to see the wonderful ways they will put the money to good use! 

What dreams do you have for the future of FNF…both in terms of product as well as mission?

I hope to expand the product line to include more designs and possibly a workout line of apparel. My main goal will continue to be to think of ways to shine God’s light on hurting people and find ways to help encourage people’s walk in faith.

To learn more about Faith Not Fear apparel, visit their fully-featured online store at www.faithnotfearapparel.com.

 

Advertisements

Excerpt from An Ecological Eschatology

MontanaSkyIs the church waiting around for God to bring about his ends? Or, perhaps, is God waiting for us to get on board? What if our mandate for creation care is more than simple stewardship? What if our call is to be agents of redemption?

If those questions intrigue you, you might be interested in my latest Benthics column over at The EcoTheo Review. Here’s a snippet:

“In the broad sweep of scripture, an overarching story unfolds. And that story is one wherein God’s ends are achieved through the activities of human beings in history.

The elect people of Israel come about because of Abraham’s faith and obedience. The line of Judah (from which Jesus is eventually born) is carried on through the long-suffering faithfulness of Joseph. Rahab shelters Joshua and Caleb so the Israelites can conquer Canaan. Ruth lays on the threshing floor with Boaz, and a couple of generations later King David is born. The heroic actions of Esther and Mordecai preserve the Jewish race during the exile.

Again and again, God uses ordinary people to unfold his redemption plan. A plan which, as Romans 8 reveals, includes not just human salvation, but rescue for all of creation.

It seems that waiting for God is not so much a passive thing.

In fact, it seems like something we get to participate in.

God’s plan, it seems, is not so much something that magically reveals itself in a flash of light and a puff of smoke. Rather, it appears to come to life as human beings actually live into it.”

You can read the full article here.

Here is the church, here is the steeple…

steeplefingers

istockphoto.com

“…Open it up, and see all the people. … Hey! They look just like me!”

I’m in the middle of a seminary class this week on leading change. “Change” is a big word in church circles these days. It seems like everyone is either dying for it or dying to avoid it.

I’ve been part of church change conversations in a variety of contexts over the past several years. I’ve been part of internal change movements and have tried to help others either facilitate or manage change.

There are a few things I’ve noticed about change in churches:

1) Almost everybody seems to know they need to change. The alternative to changing is to fade into non-existence.

2) Almost everybody is terrified to actually implement change. They understand the consequences but simply can’t bring themselves to endure the uncertainty that comes along with it. By doing so, they essentially choose a slow but sure diminution into non-existence.

3) Those who want change generally want something specific. And what they want is for the church to change to be more like them.

It’s that third thing I want to focus on.

When I was part of a change movement in my church several years ago, I had a vision. At the time, I thought that vision was for a more vibrant, more lively, more “relevant” expression of the church.

In hindsight, what I now realize is that what I wanted was a church made in my own image. One to suit my wants and desires and perceived needs.

I arrogantly assumed that everyone would (or at least should) want the same thing. And even if they didn’t know it yet, that was the kind of church that they really desired to be part of. Once they could experience it, they’d surely come around.

Now that I’ve spent some time seriously studying the church in its various expressions and various movements, both historically and contemporarily, I’m coming to the realization that that’s pretty much what everyone wants.

The best church, we assume, is the one that’s most like us.

And so we embark on these Quixotic change missions, trying to make the church what we want it to be, laboring under the assumption that what we want is really what everyone wants. More hip. More traditional. More welcoming. More stable. More conservative. More progressive. More evangelical. More missional. More straight. More gay. More “biblical.” More “spiriti-led.” More diverse. More homey. More young. More multi-generational.

What you seldom see or hear in these conversations is probably the one thing that maybe we should all be striving for.

Instead of a church that’s more like us, maybe we should be seeking a church that looks more like Jesus.

Of course, our immediate response to that is to say, “That is what I want! JESUS WANTS EXACTLY WHAT I WANT!!”

Really?

Here’s the thing: The church of Jesus almost never looks like what we think we want.

Because Jesus is dangerous.

Jesus calls us into those places that make us uncomfortable, that challenge our preconceptions, that stretch our imaginations. The church we think we want, the one that looks and thinks and acts just like we do, does none of those things.

And do you know why?

Because Jesus is all about LOVE.

Sound oversimplified? Think about it. Really think about it.

Love is anything but simple.

Love makes us uncomfortable. Love challenges our preconceptions. Love stretches our imaginations.

Love—real, authentic, unconditional, life-giving love—is the hardest thing we can do.

Love calls us to die so that it can rise up in our place.

We cannot continue to box ourselves into our labels and categories and preconceptions and preferences, and love like Jesus loves. It’s not until we abandon all of those things that we can even begin to glimpse what that kind of love is like.

It’s only in utter surrender that we can find true freedom.

In Wesleyan theology we talk about the idea of “Christian Perfection.” That’s a pretty hard concept to get your head around. We all know instinctively that we can never be “perfect.” But because of that instinct, we never really give the idea an honest try.

What John Wesley meant by “perfection” wasn’t an error-free existence. What he meant was that we could—at least conceivably—actually love other people and the world around us the way Jesus does.

Bob Tuttle, one of the most brilliant professors I’ve had the privilege to study under, defined it like this:

“Love devoid of self-interest.”

The love of Jesus, the love he calls us to as individuals and as his church, is a love that does nothing for its own benefit and everything for the sake of others.

Everything.

So whatever our agendas are and as noble as they may be, unless they are founded on that kind of utterly self-sacrificing, thoroughly generative love, they fall short of the best life Jesus calls us to.

So what kind of church do you want. Really want?

If you want one that’s just like you, I guarantee you’ll find it.

I hope we can choose the riskier path.

A Confession…

confession

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.

I didn’t really mean to. I thought I was doing the right thing. But over time I started believing it was more important to convince people I was right about what you want than to show them who you are. I became more concerned with piousness than piety. I gave you allegiance, but not submission. I invoked your name to belittle, argue, and exclude. I used your word not to heal but to attack. You asked me to be your hands and feet, but all I wanted to be was your mouthpiece.

Forgive me Sister, for I have sinned.

I thought I was following the rules. But in doing so I failed to appreciate you for all you are. I pigeonholed you into unfair and antiquated gender roles. I devalued your work, and I made matrimony and motherhood your only acceptable virtues. When you needed support, I responded with empty rituals. When you needed a strong foundation, I handed you a one-size-fits-all formula to follow. I disrespected you, objectified you, and oppressed you in countless ways.

Forgive me Brother, for I have sinned.

I took you for granted. I missed so many opportunities to engage you in conversation. Instead of celebrating your unique ability to contribute, I offered you a litany of boredom and irrelevance. When we were together, I failed to respect your particular gifts and talents and thrust you into roles for which you were not suited. When you wanted adventure, I offered chores. When you wanted meaning, I offered clichés and platitudes.

Forgive me Friend, for I have sinned.

I meant to be helpful. But I assumed you wanted the same things as me, without ever asking. I saw you through my own eyes instead of getting to know you deeply. Our relationship was little more than a consumer transaction to me. When you needed me to listen to you, I only saw ingratitude. When you needed me to help you, I demanded that you try harder. I used you for my own benefit without seeking to benefit you.

Forgive me Neighbor, for I have sinned.

You weren’t like me, so we never talked. You came from a different place, your skin was a different color, you didn’t believe the same things as me, and you loved the people I thought it was wrong for you to love. I never bothered to try to know you, because it was easier to just believe what others said about you. I wanted you to conform to my ways before I would even approach you, and I missed out on all the richness, the beauty, and the joy I could have experienced through you.

Forgive me World, for I have sinned.

I was supposed to change you. But too often I was all too easily drawn to status, power, and influence. I was supposed to bring justice, but instead I joined forces with the unjust. I offered banal, insipid answers to your deepest worries and hardest questions. I did good works on your behalf, to be sure. But too often those works came with an agenda. I wanted to be in you but not of you, so I withdrew from you rather than face your difficulties side-by-side…and I pretended I was better than you because of it.

I am the Church, and this is my confession.

Forgive me, for I have sinned.

Confessions…an excerpt

fencerow

A few weeks ago my friend Darren Bouwmeester posted here at The Awesomeness Conspiracy as part of a blog exchange project. Today, my article, “Confessions of a non-sustainable carnivore” appears on Darren’s site, Composting FaithHere’s an excerpt…

++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I don’t garden. I shop at Wal-Mart. I drive an 8-cylinder Jeep. I only recycle about a third of what I should. I eat a LOT of meat. And I like it.

In fact, for all my talk about conservation and protecting wild places, I’m not really very “green” in my own home.

I don’t say those things pridefully. In fact, there’s a good bit in those statements that I’m not at all proud of. Some of them I even feel a little guilty about. Except the meat part. I do like meat.

So why would I tell you all of this? And why, of all places, would I write these statements for a blog devoted to practices I’m admittedly not good at following?

Because it is what it is. I’m human. I mess up. I’m lazy. I’m stuck in a lot of patterns and habits.

But also because I care. I care about our planet and our society and our cultures.

I care that my impact means something. That the things I do (or don’t do) don’t happen in isolation.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++

You can view the full post here, and while you’re there I encourage you to check out some of the other awesome content and conversations going on at Composting Faith.

The Path of Most Resistance

tangledpathI confess, I’m a bit irritated with myself for taking so long between blog posts.

Actually, I could have ended that sentence about seven words earlier.

I’m a bit irritated with myself.

Come to think of it, that’s still too much.

I’m a bit irritated.

For the past two-and-a-half years I’ve been working toward a Master’s Degree in Christian Ministry at Asbury Theological Seminary. Up until now I was taking a limited part-time course load, trying to balance work and life and school without unnecessary overload.

But I added an extra class this spring in hopes of finishing by December, slightly ahead of my pre-determined, self-imposed schedule. Half of my 60 hours’ worth of classes are online; the remainder must be completed on campus in the tiny rural village of Wilmore, Kentucky, about 25 miles south of downtown Lexington.

So, yeah, things are a little busier than usual. Juggling course assignments with work, family and church life can be hectic. Add to that a series of four-hour drives to Wilmore for weekend classes on campus, toss in some additional duties I’ve taken on in ministry, and there just hasn’t been any time to write.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. There’s time to write. There’s just no time to think. To concentrate. To focus. To process ideas.

And I find it all a bit irritating.

When I can’t concentrate, when I can’t focus, when I feel like I don’t even have time to think or sort or process ideas, I get stressed. It’s one of the few and very rare instances when it sucks to be me. Sure, things get done, but it’s just an exercise of pinballing from one priority to the next, waiting to hit the flapper and get flung up into the game again, bouncing aimlessly from bumper to bumper.

But I’m starting to think all of this irritation, this lack of focus, this inability to concentrate, is actually a symptom of something else.

When I enrolled at Asbury for the Fall 2011 semester, I had no idea exactly what I was going to do with a seminary degree. I was certain I was being called into some type of vocational ministry. I had been preaching for about six years as a lay speaker, filling in for pastors who were on vacation or accepting invitations to appear as a guest speaker at various church functions, and I was receiving a ton of encouragement and affirmation from people that it was something for which I had a gift.

So while I was sure I was doing what I was supposed to do, I never really had a clear picture of where it was all going.

And now, with the end in sight, I still don’t know.

To be honest, I’m a little anxious about it.

Maybe even a bit irritated.

Now, I know I still need to be patient. I’m as convinced as ever that God placed me on this path for a purpose, and that at the right time the right opportunity will come along and it will all make sense. I’ve been down that road before. That’s the great thing about faith. The more you experience it being rewarded, the more confident you become in it.

But the closer I get, and as I start entering into the “system” of United Methodist ministry, and the more I see that I don’t really fit into any of the boxes that exist in that system, the more I find myself pushing for an answer. And the less I find myself able to really focus. On anything.

And the more irritating it becomes.

Of course, it doesn’t help that perfectly well-meaning people, folks who are genuinely interested in me, keep asking those questions: “How long do you have left?” “What is your degree in?” “Are you going to be a pastor?”

“What are you going to do?”

It also doesn’t help that the UM ministry hierarchy is a fairly tangled and complex one which is difficult to explain. Most people who have been Methodists their entire life don’t understand it. Which makes it that much harder to relate to someone from a different faith background.

And so when I try to answer these good, interested, well-meaning people, it takes me half an hour to just explain the difference between an elder and a deacon and a local pastor, and how all of those different options play out, and how you need an M.Div. for this and an M.A. for that, and how none of them really seem to fit what it is I sense God calling me toward.

They say the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

My line is anything but straight. I have chosen the path of most resistance.

And while I’m absolutely convinced it’s the right path, and while the end of it is in sight, the destination is still unclear. The trail is obscured.

So I hope you’ll excuse my infrequent posts and my self-indulgent little rant. But at least I’ve written something.

And even if nobody reads it, at least I’m a little bit less irritated.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like Antonina’s kitchen…

AntoninasKitchen

In Matthew’s gospel Jesus teaches a series of brief parables that include some variation of the phrase, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…”

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who sowed seed.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of yeast.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed.

Like a treasure of great value.

Like a fine pearl.

Like a netful of fish.

Throughout these parables, Jesus is attempting to relate the in-breaking Kingdom to his disciples’ experiences. Because the kingdom is not something you can really describe or explain.

It’s something you have to experience.

After visiting Ivanovo, Russia, last spring with a team from Orphan’s Tree, I have a new take on Jesus’ kingdom parables. And it starts something like this:

Antonina (Photo by Brooke Patterson)

Antonina
(Photo by Brooke Patterson)

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like Antonina’s kitchen.”

Every day during our team’s visit to the Ivanovo ministry center , the first thing we would do when we walked in the door was head straight to Antonina’s kitchen.

Not because there was work to be done there (although there usually was).

Not because we were looking for a quick snack (although we usually found one).

Not even because we couldn’t wait to see Antonina (although we couldn’t!).

We headed straight to the kitchen because the kitchen invited us there.

Sure, the heady aroma of garlic and dill and Russian deliciousness sent excited nerve impulses from our olfactory nodes to our brains, sparking ancient impulses to feed and be satisfied.

Yes, our inquisitiveness for what culinary delights might await us that day piqued our curiosity.

But there was something more. Much more.

Something undefinable.

Something undetected by the senses.

I think I realized this “something more” when I began to notice that it wasn’t just our team that made a beeline to the kitchen the first priority of the day. It was everyone who set foot in the building.

The students, the staff, the young moms, their kiddos, visitors of all kinds. First stop: Antonina’s kitchen.

It’s taken me awhile, but I think Jesus’ Kingdom parables explain it.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like Antonina’s kitchen.

The kitchen invites you in.

It wasn’t just the immediate compelling presence of the delightful aromas, the promise of a tasty bite, the anticipation of what Antonina was preparing for lunch or dinner, or even her beautiful smile, infectious laugh, and twinkling eyes.

It was all of that. But it was also more.

It was the memories of meals partaken. Of stories told. Of experiences shared.

Of hurts and struggles and joys and celebrations. Of pain and healing. Of hopelessness and hope. Of tears and laughter. Of work and play. Of serving and being served.

Of young and old and rich and poor and Russian and American and women and men and moms and dads and grandparents and grand babies and students and teachers and employed and unemployed and hungry and scared and scarred and wise and confused and broken and confident.

And questioning. And waiting. And wandering. And wondering.

Of people.

Of love.

It was the place where everyone was on equal footing. Where, if for only a moment, everything evaporated away into a time of unconditional one-ness.

You might even say it was a place of justice.

And the spirit of it all, of past and present and future and everything that fills the gaps in between, becomes the most real thing there is.

And the reality of it is utterly irresistible.

First stop: Antonina’s kitchen.

Because the kitchen — like the Kingdom — invites you in.

And you can’t wait to accept.

This article first appeared Jan. 1, 2014 on the Orphan’s Tree blog. For more on Orphan’s Tree and its work with Russian orphans, visit www.orphanstree.org

When our cures make people sick

poinsettias

In my home church, we have a beautiful Christmas tradition of lining the altar with white poinsettias for our Christmas services. The bright blooms set against the greenery and lighting of the season makes for a stunning display. It is a gorgeous visual invitation into a very special experience of worship.

It is an elegant, exquisite sight to behold. It is wonderfully fragrant. It is a powerful symbol of the season.

And it makes me sick. Literally. Sick.

Since boyhood, I’ve been subject to pollen allergies. When I played Little League baseball in the spring, my eyes would often swell almost shut from all the blooming flowers and trees and the fresh-cut grass of the ballfields. I took allergy shots every week from age 10-17 just to help me get through the season. Even now I basically subsist on Claritin and Benadryl during March and April.

So, every winter, that wonderful display of white Christmas flowers in the sanctuary brings on itchy, watery eyes, a runny nose, chest congestion, and a scratchy sore throat.

I know the people who decorate the church aren’t intentionally trying to make anyone sick. They’re authentically trying to create a very special experience for people.

And for me, it’s worth the tradeoff. There’s no place I’d rather be than in that sanctuary with my church family on those most holy of days. So I pop an antihistamine and gut it out (and, admittedly, whine a bit to my wife and kids…we all need to vent, right?!).

But this Christmas, as I sat in my pew and fought back the coughs and sneezes, I started wondering…

What other things might we be doing in our churches that are—completely unintentionally—making people “sick?” Not so much physically, but spiritually?

What occurred to me was that not only were the folks who placed the poinsettias obviously not trying to illicit an allergic reaction, but it didn’t even occur to them that it might happen.

And that’s the thing. We do things all the time that somehow cause some harm to others. And we do it because it doesn’t even occur to us that that’s what’s happening.

In a way, it’s understandable. We’re experiencing something deeply meaningful and we want to share that experience with others. Our intentions are good.

Unfortunately, too often we fail to translate that experience to others’ perspectives. Especially if they’ve had a bad experience with church in the past.

In our efforts to spread our joy, to include more people in our experience, we say and do things that make others feel more and more excluded. Not because we’re mean or bad or evil, but because we simply don’t consider how our words and actions are perceived outside of our tribe.

I think this may be especially true when we see people engaged in what we perceive to be behaviors that seem contrary to what we’ve been taught to believe. In our efforts to “save” them from such behaviors, we usually end up doing more harm than good.

We don’t mean to, but that’s what happens.

And so we say things like, “The most loving thing I can do for someone is to point out their sin so they can correct it and get right with Jesus. If I see someone drowning, should I not throw them a life vest? If someone is falling out of a plane should I not give them a parachute?”

On the surface, that all seems noble enough. And it’s true. If we see someone we love doing something harmful, our natural tendency is to intervene.

But what we fail to realize is how that sentiment is often understood. In our efforts to be helpful, we are instead perceived as being critical and disparaging. It’s not our intent. But we have to recognize that perception is reality.

To the folks we’re trying to help, it doesn’t sound like help. It sounds like judgment. Like condemnation. Sometimes it even sounds like hate.

Our poinsettias become poison.

Here’s the thing…

Unconditional love is hard. It requires us not only to reach out to others, but to put ourselves in their place. To walk alongside them in whatever their experience is. To not try to “fix” them, but to simply be present, no matter what.

The difference is our focus. Are we going to focus on what we perceive to be peoples’ sins? Or are we going to focus on God’s grace?

Jesus didn’t just offer people a life vest or a parachute. He gave up his life vest. He handed over his parachute.

There is a temptation to look at what I’m saying here and say it’s too easy on sin. To say that it’s just a weak excuse to accept what Diedrich Bonhoeffer referred to as “cheap grace.”

But in reality, there’s nothing harder on sin than grace. Because grace is the only thing that breaks sin’s power.

The message of the gospel is not sin management. It’s shalom.

As we enter into a new year, may we learn to focus not on sin and judgment, but on unconditional love and grace.

May all our good intentions be matched by words and actions that cause no harm but instead spread true peace and goodwill.

Happy 2014!

Throwback Thursday: A Roller Coaster Guy in a Merry-Go-Round World

everestdrop

This article originally appeared on Aug. 13, 2009. I revisit it today not because of any current frustration with my own leadership roles, but because I’ve recently completed a course in Christian leadership that reminded me of some of the tensions in which those of us in leadership positions often find ourselves.

I love metaphors. I think there’s a reason Jesus speaks so much in that form through stories and parables. Metaphors draw pictures of concepts in a way that speaks to our commonality of experience.

Regular readers–both of you (insert smiley face emoticon here)–will notice that lately I’ve been wrestling with expressing some frustrations in the arena of church leadership. And last night, in one of those times when my brain wouldn’t shut down and let me sleep, this whole Merry-Go-Round/Roller Coaster metaphor started to creep into my imagination. And it speaks to a lot of my current sense of restlessness.

Folks who know me will get it when I say I’m a Roller Coaster. Wildly erratic at times, rushing at full speed from place to place, tossed about uncontrollably. If it wasn’t for the belts and harnesses I’d fly off the track. Life to me always has been and always will be a thrill ride. An adventure. An experience to throw myself into without worry or regard to where it’s going to take me or what it’s going to do to me.

Other folks, though, are more like Merry-Go-Rounds. Enjoying a nice, pleasant, easy pace. No jerking around. No sudden acceleration. No adventure. No need for belts or harnesses. No puking at the end of the ride.

Merry-Go-Rounds don’t understand Roller Coasters. They’re too uncomfortable. Too unpredictable. Too uncontrollable. Too messy. Too dangerous.

We Roller Coasters, similarly, don’t get the Merry-Go-Round life. Circling around and around and around and around. Seeing and experiencing the same things over and over and over again. Too comfortable. Too predictable. Too ordered. Too safe.

Roller Coasters want everyone to be Roller Coasters. To experience the thrill. To be utterly and thoroughly exhilarated by the very wildness of the ride. To fly off into the unknown and be totally at the mercy of the ride.

Merry-Go-Rounds have no desire to be Roller Coasters. Merry-Go-Rounds wonder why Roller Coasters can’t just straighten the track, flatten the hills, and be more…well…stable. More cautious. More under control.

Now I’m not talking about extremes here. I’m not about to go jump out of an airplane or bungee off of a bridge. Nor am I talking on the other end of the spectrum about folks who just do nothing and settle for a bland, couch-potato type of existence. I’m just talking in broad generalities.

If you’re a Merry-Go-Round, please try not to get mad at me here. Because I love you. I just don’t get you. Going around and around and around makes me dizzy. It’s not pleasant or peaceful at all. In fact, I find it stressful. Unnatural. Because when I look at Jesus, I don’t see a Merry-Go-Round. I see a Roller Coaster.

And yet, in many ways, there is something about “church life” that is much more Merry-Go-Round than it is Roller Coaster. It is the most counter-intuitive thing I can imagine. And I think the reason is, we’re much more comfortable PLAYING church than BEING the church.

Playing church is comfortable. It’s safe. It’s predictable. It’s plannable. It’s showing up on Sundays, singing nice songs, passing the plate. Casserole dinners. Shaking hands in the aisles. Not offending anyone. No risks. Polite prayers. It’s a Merry-Go-Round.

Being the church is dangerous. Unpredictable. It’s stepping into the war zone of culture and addiction and poverty and brokennes. It is battling the demons that entrap total strangers while forcing yourself to face your own. It is risking everything to follow Jesus wherever he leads you. It is loud, powerful, hands-in-the-air, tears-in-your-eyes worship. It will fill you with adrenaline one minute and empty your stomach the next. It’s high-fiving your friends right before you barf on your shoes. Roller Coaster.

Admittedly, some Merry-Go-Rounds will never embrace Roller Coasters. Some folks will always be content to spin around and around, their biggest thrills coming as the horsies bob up and down. Smiling and passing the potatoes. Playing a nice comfortable game of church.

Others will long for the rush of the Roller Coaster, but live a life afraid of leaving their friends on the Merry-Go-Round. Worried that the Merry-Go-Rounds will resent them for changing rides. Afraid to leave the game and live the life. Trapped in an endless cycle of regret. Resenting both the Merry-Go-Rounds that hold them back and the Roller Coasters who live with wind in their hair and hearts pounding out of their chests.

Those who will take the risk and ride the Roller Coaster will be filled with life in a way that can never be experienced on the Merry-Go-Round. We will suffer as much as we rejoice. We will cry as much as we laugh. And we will love every minute of it.

We will always love our friends on the Merry-Go-Round. But we can’t ride with them.

Stepping into new waters…

ETR_LogoI am pleased, honored, and humbled to share the news that I will have an article in the inaugural edition of The EcoTheo Review, a new quarterly online magazine which will launch officially tomorrow (Sept. 10, 2013). EcoTheo is aimed at creating conversations around those places where faith, ecology and culture intersect. It’s a movement growing out of a cohort of students at Princeton Theological Seminary that includes my cousin, friend, and oft-times co-conspirator Nate Sell.

I’ll post an update tomorrow on my social media sites when the first edition goes live, but here’s a brief excerpt:

Sometimes I take people–friends–into these mountains, along these cascading streams and rivers, and they see them, and they are utterly gobsmacked by the visual splendor of it all. And they say things like, “How can you look at this view and say there’s no God?”

I guess I understand what they’re saying. But for me it has never been about just seeing it. Yes, it is a feast for the eyes. Stunning broad vistas from the peaks. The play of color and light in the valleys. It is always ancient, always new, both real and surreal.

No, for me it is the water. Always the water. The closer to its source I go, the closer I find myself to my own. The more intimate I become with it, the more I discover its story, the more connected I become with the One Great Story. It awakes the soul it led me to discover as a boy, and stirs it to life in ways that always thrill and surprise me.

It is the water. And with the water came trout. And in the water, the trout and I became friends.

With my finely-tapered magic wand of split bamboo, and with wisps of fur and feather lashed on tiny hooks attached to gossamer monofilament, I step tentatively into the flow, glancing about for a flash beneath the surface or a nose poking up into that mysterious place where water meets sky. I remember that the early Hebrews referred to “heaven” as “sky,” thinking of it not as someplace within the great blue expanse above the horizon  or as the twinkling black sea of night, but as that omnipresent ether that is always and ever all around us. It is in the very air we breathe. Near, not distant. Something we are part of, not apart from. And I wonder how we managed to forget.

I hope you’ll check out the full article and all of the other amazing content in this new venture when it comes out tomorrow.

But more than that, I hope you’ll get involved in the conversation. Share it with your friends.  Help change become real.

A time to dream

martin_luther_king_jrIn honor of the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s iconic “I have a dream” speech, I’ve been thinking about what some of my own dreams would be if I had a chance to voice them. I’m sure the blogosphere will be full of these posts the next few days, but I haven’t written anything for a month and I need to get unstuck. So, in no particular order, here ’goes:

I dream of a world where respect for others is our highest value.

I dream of a world where our faith is strong enough to allow differences of opinion without being divisive.

I dream of a world where we understand that “truth” and “fact” are not necessarily the same thing.

I dream of a world full of laughter.

I dream of a world where fear is a distant memory.

I dream of a world that doesn’t have a word for “despair.”

I dream of a world where we spend more on our children than our entertainment.

I dream of a world where teachers are paid more than politicians.

I dream of a world where the highest compliment you can pay someone is to praise their ability to reach compromise.

I dream of a world where our greatest natural resource is nature itself.

I dream of a world where being a Christian is not just good news for Christians.

I dream of a world where power is determined not by how much you have, but how well you love.

I dream of a world without borders.

I dream of a world where hope is as abundant as air.

I dream of a world where opportunities are not determined by where you were born.

I dream of a world where justice is defined by mercy.

I dream of a world where violence is never an option.

I dream of a world that doesn’t understand the concept of greed.

I dream of a world that doesn’t understand the concept of poverty.

I dream of a world that doesn’t understand the concept of hate.

I dream of a world that understands that true love is always beautiful.

Most of all, I dream of a world where equality is no longer a dream. A world where everyone is free to enjoy God’s blessings in the fullness he intends for each of us and all of us.

As we celebrate 50 years of Dr. King’s dream, what are your dreams? More important, what can you do today to make your dreams come true?