Feb 28

In the last strip on the month we see Jimothy touting an old argument which holds that since men were created first, they are more important than women. Beth shows how the logic doesn’t really hold up if you carry it through the rest of the creation narrative.

The creation narrative of Genesis 1 has humankind being created last, a sort of grand finale in God’s creative work. God says creation is good, and then humankind is very good. There is significance and meaning in the order of events – humankind being created last is a sort of stamp on their specialness (in this story man and woman are created at the same time). In Genesis 2 (the second of the two creation accounts) it’s interesting to note that Adam is made first and then Eve. If we use the framework of the first account, it would imply that the woman is the finale of creation since she is made last. I don’t know that’s what the author is implying, but it is interesting to consider.

The Third Commandment

This post is part 7 in a 7 part series of reflections as I turn 25 years old. I’m convinced that to be human is to struggle and to struggle with God. This series serves to honor the difficult questions. I don’t know if everyone has questions their mind continually turns over while they walk the dog, shower, drive to work, but these are mine. I’m hopeful that in 25 more years I’ll have more compelling, more faithful answers to them than I do now – or that I’ll have moved on to more interesting things altogether. Either way.

you’re using my name in vain, for your power and for your personal gain, for your advantage, for your wealth, and for your fame,

your public prayers i abhor in my ears they have become a strain, because you ignore the poor in their fears and the exiled in their pain because you adore and you defend the lustful pride, the bribes, and the lies of the arrogant,

you’ve joined that tribe and aligned your brand with the unkind in the land it’s not me you represent you’re using my name in vain for your rights and privilege, you trade prophetic witness for economy and prosperity, (Using My Name – Remedy Drive)

When I was about fifteen years old, I was sitting in church on Sunday morning at Foothills Fellowship, and someone was sharing from their seat about what they learned in Sunday school. And I remember him sharing this idea about what the third commandment meant, that thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.

He said maybe it wasn’t so much about not saying “Oh my God!” as an expression, which is what I always thought the commandment was forbidding, and more about attaching God’s name to things where it did not belong. My mind was blown; it still is.

Perhaps someday I’ll figure out why this is, but (murdering aside) I’ve got a stomach for witnessing most of the commandments listed in Exodus 20 being broken. But number three, using the Lord’s name in vain, it really feels different. This reality does not always lend itself to working at a Christian university.

On the enrollment side of the university, we have a weekly Zoom meeting to go over updates, discuss current issues, and hear from leadership. Each week, we formally begin with a prayer from an employee. I’m usually very uncomfortable here. The prayers often implore God to grant us special blessing in our bid to enroll students and “build the kingdom.” And here is where I think we violate, weekly, the third commandment. The implied narrative, which is sometimes explicitly stated, is that our institution’s growth, increase, and financial success is somehow God’s will. So then it’s a short step to asking God to bless us so we can serve him, grow bigger, and “build the kingdom.” I’m just not convinced the “kingdom” I get paid to advance has much at all to do with the kingdom of heaven.

I’m not writing here to bag on the company I work for. And it’s not that I expect a really robust theology from the admissions department. What I do wonder is what is an appropriate response and level of participation in these kinds of systems. More directly, to what extent can I be complicit and still be faithful? Bluntly, how much can my conscious take? In some ways I’d be more comfortable working at a secular institution where spirituality was an authentic, personal expression rather than a corporate agenda dressed up in pseudo-spiritual language. It’s a bit ironic I think: many Christians of generations prior fought so hard to keep Christianity firmly ensconced in the public sphere, wanted nothing more than to have prayers spoken in corporate meetings. Here I am, and it makes me sick to my stomach.

Truthfully, I think the proclamation of the gospel and the breaking in of the kingdom of heaven is pretty much the last thing any corporation with dollars in mind wants. I have to laugh a bit when I see the ways these two agendas, the gospel and money, are tragically melded together. I hear phrases like “doing business God’s way” and “conscious capitalism” and “faith and free markets.” The catch phrases of the gospel are more along the lines of “sell everything and give it to the poor” and “the person in last place will get the best deal” and “favored are the needy” and “lend money without interest” and “give to people who you know won’t repay you.” The executives get a bit less “kingdom focused” when you put it that way.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty
(Luke 1)

If we really put people and flourishing at the fore, maybe we wouldn’t build museums on campuses to businessmen and pay for huge lettering announcing that their millions were made “doing business God’s way.” Maybe we wouldn’t be hellbent on making more money every quarter and getting more consumers on board with our brand. In my opinion, if that’s what you’re after, that it totally fine – it’s normal. No shame in that. I do wish you’d leave “the gospel” out of it. And stop couching your visions of corporate gain in Jesus’ words. Stop assuming God wants you to get bigger. For God’s sake, stop violating the third commandment.

Until then, I will probably keep wincing during the corporation prayers and keep laughing when folks wax poetic about how much God is blessing us. And some folks think it’s irreverent to laugh a bit when people are praying, or to chuckle when executives talk about God’s will. But I think it’s the posture of God. When the biggest corporations in the country, education or otherwise, bow their digitally represented eyes, thank God for his blessing, and then continue to relentlessly chase money and growth – I’m pretty sure he’s laughing too.

I have to wonder though why I have such an aversion to this violating of the third commandment. Why don’t I feel the need to write articles about how stealing or committing adultery or not honoring parents? I’m reading a book called In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts in which Gabor Maté brilliantly delves into addiction and the mind of the addict. One of the points he makes is that our disdain of things we see in others is rooted in recognition of those things in ourselves.

When I am sharply judgmental of another person, it’s because I sense or see reflected in them some aspect of myself that I don’t want to acknowledge.” – Gabor Maté (In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, p. 266)

Maté goes on, “If, for example, I resent some person close to me as ‘controlling,’ it may be owing to my own inability to assert myself. Or I may react against another person because he or she has a trait that I myself have – and dislike – but don’t wish to acknowledge…Moral judgements, however, are never about the obvious: they always speak to the underlying similarities between the judge and the condemned.”

I used to dream of being a major league baseball player. I had a sort of unspoken deal with God that if he let me make it as a pitcher, I would use the platform to…whatever Christians with big platforms think they’re doing. So I wonder if my hypersensitivity to people using God’s name in connection with their own brands and commercial agendas has something to do with recognizing that tendency in myself. Or maybe I see people throwing God’s name around willy nilly, and it reminds me of how awkward I feel when spiritual conversations are raised, and so I try to avoid them for fear of seeming like a sham. It’s tough for me to reckon; I’m super annoyed when people attach God’s name where it doesn’t belong (for instance, claiming the USA is a Christian nation), but I also am not very good at leading authentic conversations around faith and spirituality in healthy ways myself. So maybe I selfishly just want everyone to avoid them.

I would like to leave the reader with two things. One is part of a short, funny poem I wrote in December of 2019. And the second is a song about using God’s name in vain that my friend Brock sent to me – it’s become one of my favorites.

“the prayer”

And Yahweh’s laughing out so hard, he’s busting out his sides,

Doubled over his holy throne, I think he’s starting to cry,

Then an angel came up curiously, and said Father what’s so funny,

He said, I don’t know who he’s thanking, me or the god of money,

Yeah, I don’t know who these prayers are for, me or the god of money,

Right and Left Brain

This post is part 6 in a 7 part series of reflections as I turn 25 years old. I’m convinced that to be human is to struggle and to struggle with God. This series serves to honor the difficult questions. I don’t know if everyone has questions their mind continually turns over while they walk the dog, shower, drive to work, but these are mine. I’m hopeful that in 25 more years I’ll have more compelling, more faithful answers to them than I do now – or that I’ll have moved on to more interesting things altogether. Either way.

Our talent for division, for seeing the parts, is of staggering importance – second only to our capacity to transcend it, in order to see the whole’ – Iain McGilchrist

When I first heard Iain McGilchrist speak in an interview, I knew I had to get a hold of his work. And then this green covered, 588 page, beast of a book arrived in the mail, and I second guessed my decision. It took me about a year to read, but this book, this conception of how we construct, perceive, and enter into reality, is one of the most important things I’ve ever read.

For me, the pearl of brilliance in this work is the idea that each person possesses a mind which is split into two parts: the right and the left. And these parts work together to build our conception of the world and to creatively interact with that world. However, they are not at all the same, the right and the left. The are not merely two parts on the same team. They have distinct personalities, trademarks, tendencies, preferences. There are hallmarks which define each, and they are vying for control.

The Master and His Emissary

McGilchrist will go on in the second half of the book to explore ways in which these hallmarks, of the right and left hemisphere of the brain, are evident in cultures. A very plain example being something like: a culture driven by numerical information, data, and artificial intelligence bears the hallmark of the left hemisphere taking control. A culture which values personal connection, human interaction, and intuitive understanding bears the hallmark of the right hemisphere being in control. And this, McGilchrist argues, is the proper order of things. The title of the book, The Master and His Emissary, is taken from a story told by Frederick Nietzsche.

The story goes that there was a spiritual master of a small domain known for selfless devotion to his people. As the domain grew, he trained emissaries to help with the work. Eventually the most trusted emissary began to see himself as master and used his position to increase his own wealth and status. He became contemptuous of the master and hated him for his temperance and forbearance which he viewed as weakness, not wisdom. Eventually, he overtook the master and ruined him, duped the people, and the domain was overrun by tyranny and collapsed. (The Master and His Emissary, (paraphrased) p. 14)

McGilchrist argues the right hemisphere is, properly, the master. It ought to be in control and assisted by the left hemisphere. However, he believes our world has come to be dominated by the unruly emissary, the left hemisphere. Below, he outlines the characteristics of each.

Hallmarks of the Right and Left

“If one had to encapsulate the principal differences in the experience mediated by the two hemispheres, their two modes of being, one could put it like this. The world of the left hemisphere, [is] dependent on denotative language and abstraction, yields clarity and power to manipulate things that are known, fixed, static, isolated, decontextualized, explicit, disembodied, general in nature, but ultimately lifeless. The right hemisphere, by contrast, yields a world of individual, changing evolving, interconnected, implicit, incarnate, living beings within the context of the lived world, but in the nature of things never fully graspable, always imperfectly known – and to this world it exists in a relationship of care.

The knowledge that is mediated by the left hemisphere is knowledge within a closed system. It has the advantage of perfection, but such perfection is bought ultimately at the price of emptiness, of self reference. It can mediate knowledge only in terms of a mechanical arrangement of other things already known. It can never really ‘break out’ to know anything new, because its knowledge is of its own representations only. Where the thing itself is ‘present’ to the right hemisphere, it is only ‘re-presented’ by the left hemisphere, now become an idea of a thing. Where the right hemisphere is conscious of the Other, whatever it may be, the left hemisphere’s consciousness is of itself.” (p. 174)

The right hemisphere is what allows us to know through experience and intuition. The left prefers analytical, rationale, mechanistic means of knowing. The right hemisphere is able to appreciate the relationships between entities as well as concepts and paradoxes. The left hemisphere is powerful, but self contained, in its ability to know and use only what it is familiar with and the virtual world it creates (p. 93). The left hemisphere is immensely valuable in its ability to use language and develop systemic thought. That we can discriminate between parts and reason with rationality is largely thanks to the left hemisphere. McGilchrist will argue, however, these actions should be performed in service of “something else that only the right hemisphere can bring” (p. 93).

Cases of Damage to One Side

Some of the really helpful insights in this book are the case studies of people who have brain damage to one of their hemispheres. “An inability to recognise faces is called prosopagnosia, and follows right-hemisphere lesions” (p. 60). The left hemisphere see things in parts whereas the right hemisphere sees the whole. So when the right hemisphere is damaged, and the left is on its own, it tries to recognize a face part by part, the nose, the eyes, the shape of the chin, and struggles to recognize a face. The right sees the whole and has no trouble.

The right hemisphere has a closer physiological relationship with the body. McGilchrist notes that parents, going back thousands of years, tend to hold infants to the left side of their body – this puts them in the direct line of sight of the left eye which is connected to the right hemisphere. [This is a bit confusing: the right side of our body, including eyes, corresponds to our left brain hemisphere, and vice versa]. In patients with right hemisphere damage, such as a stroke, “there appears to be a removal of the normal integration of self with body: the body is reduced to a compendium of drives that are no longer integrated with the personality of the body’s ‘owner.’ This can result in a morbid and excessive appetite for sex or food, which is out of keeping with the nature of the individual involved” (p. 69).

In a remarkable experiment, split brain patients are shown two pictures projected to one or the other hemisphere (both hemispheres cannot see the same image in this experiment), and they are asked to pick a card associated with the scene. Each hemisphere has knowledge of only one image, and in each case it’s different. A picture of a snow is shown to the right hemisphere and a picture of a chicken is shown to the left. When the patient is asked to choose a card, his left hand (which corresponds to the right hemisphere) correctly chooses the shovel. When asked why he chose this, he uses his verbal left hemisphere to respond (it cannot know, because it only saw the chicken). He responds that of course it’s because you need a shovel to clean out the chicken shed.

“The really interesting finding here…is that without batting an eye the left hemisphere draws mistaken conclusions from the information available to it and lays down the law about what only the right hemisphere can know…and did so not as guessing but as statement of fact…in the presence of a right-sided lesion, the brain loses the contextual information that would help it make sense of experience; the left hemisphere…makes up a story, and…appears completely convinced by it” (p. 81).

Ways of Knowing

When it comes to truth, the right hemisphere is concerned with metaphor, the implicit, and relationship. The left hemisphere is bent toward abstraction, and explicit definition (something like objective truth). One of my favorite examples in this book is of the difference between grasping and drawing near. The left hemisphere wants to gain knowledge by grasping it, that is, by holding it tightly and obtaining it. This is the kind of ‘knowing’ in which we memorize facts and hold them as though that were the truth itself. The right hemisphere way of knowing the truth is to draw near to it, almost as if we were sitting near to a wise person and experiencing wisdom through proximity to it.

In Greek mythology, Tantalus was the son of Zeus, and he was cursed to “stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low branches, with the fruit ever eluding his grasp, and the water always receding before he could take a drink” (wiki). McGilchrist’s claim is that “grasping things…won’t get us as far as we would like, because the most important things in life refuse to be grasped…like Tantalus’ grapes they retreat from the reaching hand” (p. 179). Another good example is trying to look at a star in the night sky. Often, looking directly at the far off star will cause it to disappear from vision. However, looking near it will allow us to see it in our periphery. “The best things in life hide from the full glare of focused attention. They refuse our will” (p. 181). This is encapsulated in the folk wisdom we repeat to take life as it comes/don’t try to hard/don’t force it. McGilchrist cites the poet Donne:

One a huge hill, cragged and steep,

Truth stands, and hee that will, reach her,

About must, and about must goe,

“Satire III” – John Donne

The clarity and fixed nature of things is preferred by the left hemisphere and make up its conception of truth. “It is only in the case of the left hemisphere, not the right, that one can speak appropriately of a world ‘view’ at all…[which produces a] resulting illusion of clarity, the ability to know something ‘just as it is,’ as though everything about it were revealed through clear vision” (p. 181). This depth, awareness of relationship, context, and the betweenness of things is necessary from a right hemisphere perspective. In contrast, the left prefers the objective, Cartesian, two dimensional view of the world. It may be compared to getting to know someone by memorizing facts about them: where they were born, how tall they are, what shade their skin is as opposed to knowing someone by eating a meal with them: here, you experience their presence, depth, and gain intuitive insight.

“The right hemisphere presents an array of possible solutions, which remain live while alternatives are explored. The left hemisphere, by contrast, takes the single solution that seems best to fit what it already knows and latches onto it. V.S. Ramachandran’s studies of anosognosia [which impairs a person’s ability to understand and perceive his or her illness] reveal a tendency for the left hemisphere to deny discrepancies that do not fits its already generated schema of things. The right hemisphere, by contrast, is actively watching for discrepancies, more like a devil’s advocate. These approaches are both needed, but pull in opposite directions.” (p. 41)

Apollo and Dionysus

Apollo and Dionysus, “according to Nietzche, these two gods represented the two fundamentally opposed artistic drives: one (Apollo) towards order, rationality, clarity, the sort of beauty that comes with perfection, human control of nature, and the celebration of masks, representations or appearances” and the other (Dionysus) “intuition, the over-riding of all humanly contrived boundaries, a sense of oneness or wholeness, physical pleasure and pain, and the celebration of nature beyond human control, as she really is” (p. 199). McGilchrist claims these do not correspond exactly to the hemispheres, but I think it is a good representation of the tension between them and how the world we know is contrived from the push and pull of these fundamental differences.

If we think about our world today in which much of our experience is mediated by algorithms which are based on data and machine learning, it certainly seems like the left hemisphere and Apollo are winning the tug of war. New advances is artificial intelligence are making many tasks possible for computers to complete. A.I. released late in 2022 has the ability to write theologically coherent sermons, compose stylistically consistent poetry, and even write college homework papers extremely well. (Ezra Kline recently released a very helpful podcast episode on this.) In the therapy world, there is talk of and progress towards A.I. therapy in which a person is helped by a robot who talks back and administers treatment. On a more relatable level, in 2022, internet users were on pace to hit about 2.5 hours per day spend on social media according to Oberlo. When we’re scrolling, we are being served by machine learning as algorithms learn from what we ‘like’ and serve us what it thinks will be the most likely to keep us fixated or click on adds.

This is what McGilchrist terms the triumph of the left hemisphere. When this happens, the world is known and reality is built upon the precept of the left hemisphere – everything is according to this. “The existence of a system of though dependent on language automatically devalues whatever cannot be expressed in language; the process of reasoning discounts whatever cannot be reached by reasoning” (p. 229). What about the world according to image and screen (Instagram)? Surely it will discount anything which is not according to itself and those who adopt this view will seek to build the world according to it. “In our contemporary world, skills have been downgraded and subverted into algorithms: we are busy imitating machines” (p. 256).

There is a popular phrase which originated when people lost their jobs in coal mining and were coldly told by journalists “learn to code.” Essentially, we’ve built artificial machines to replace you – so you need to learn to build artificial machines if you want a job – it’s time to start imitating machines. This is the triumph of the left hemisphere.

Living with the Metaphor in Mind

Reading this book took me about a full year, but it has given me a new metaphor for understanding how we build and interact with the world as we know it. One of the fundamental insights is that the world as we perceive it does not exist apart from our perception. Our conception is always, in some way, an expression of who we are. Relationship and communication is never a one-way street. To encounter something means you change and it changes – we are not able to see things “objectively,” nor should be desire to.

“If what it is that exists comes into being for each one of us through its interaction with our brains and minds, the idea that we could have a knowledge of it that was not also an expression of ourselves, and dependent on what we brought to the relationship, is untenable” (McGhilchrist, p. 37)

I’m no neuroscientist, but even a rough understanding of the hallmarks of the right and left hemispheres has helped me to think differently about things I encounter. I’ve found it very helpful in identifying the values and desired outcomes of institutions (like churches), ways of relating to people (like methods of therapy), and businesses (like meat producers). For instance.

A church institution which is deeply concerned with counting the number of baptisms they are able to conduct or that views faithful living as a set of rules to follow and facts to live by or which builds services for production value and branding seems to me to be dominated by a left-hemisphere paradigm. A much easier to read book on this subject is The Other Half of Church: Christian Community, Brain Science, and Overcoming Spiritual Stagnation – Jim Wilder. In contrast, a church which values personal connection, sees people as whole lives rather than defined by isolated actions and checked boxes seems to me to have a healthier right-left balance.

When psychotherapy originated, patients were asked to lie on a couch to be observed by a therapist who tried to objectively analyze them like a doctor with a scalpel. Later, Rogerian therapy was designed to place emphasis on personal connection and keep the counselor/client relationship at the forefront of therapy. Today, some therapists are using A.I. to treat clients without having to have any interpersonal connection, and this seems like a reversion to the left hemisphere dominance where therapy started.

Recently, I learned that the reason most of our grocery story meat is so cheap to buy is because the animals it comes from are treated as machines and basically no regard is given to their suffering so profits can be maintained. This is a gross domination of left hemisphere value, and it brings to mind the fact that psychopaths often have deficits in the right hemisphere which prohibit them from feeling any guilt, shame, or responsibility (p. 85). Meanwhile, I have friends who raise their own animals for meat and maintain a grounded connection to where their food comes from which seems much more sensible.

Right, Left, Right

It’s important to note that the left hemisphere is not bad. It is not something to be eliminated, or as McGilchrist says, we should not wish for everyone to experience a left brain stroke. The key is keeping the master in charge and the emissary under his direction. McGilchrist suggests the proper order is right – left – right. This is to say that primary experience of reality begins in the right hemisphere. From here, the left hemisphere is extremely useful in processing and reasoning from this experiential data. However, “it is essential that what the left hemisphere yields is returned to the realm of the right hemisphere where it can once again live” (p. 219).

He gives the example of a work of art or a body (perhaps in surgery) which is subjected to detached, analytic attention, we lose the sense of the thing itself, and its being in all its wholeness and otherness recedes. But the result of such attention, provided it is then relinquished, so that we stand in a state of openness and receptivity before the thing once again, may be a deeper and richer ‘presencing.’ The work of the left hemisphere done, the thing ‘returns’ to the right hemisphere positively enriched.” (p. 231).

The question I’m left with is what does it look like to make sure this sequence is allowed to operate properly. Extended metaphorically, could it mean that in church, the decision about the service is not left up to the production guys – they are there to serve the needs of the people who will be in the building? Could it mean that in companies which are data driven, like the one I work for, measures have to be put in place to make sure the data is used to serve values and not the other way around? How can we push back when the left hemisphere’s warriors (A.I./algorithms/machine learning) are hidden behind words like community and connection to disguise themselves? Ultimately, how do we keep the main thing the main thing? How do we keep the emissary from usurping the master and bringing the kingdom to tyranny and ruin?

Man Therapy and Anti-Racism

This post is part 5 in a 7 part series of reflections as I turn 25 years old. I’m convinced that to be human is to struggle and to struggle with God. This series serves to honor the difficult questions. I don’t know if everyone has questions their mind continually turns over while they walk the dog, shower, drive to work, but these are mine. I’m hopeful that in 25 more years I’ll have more compelling, more faithful answers to them than I do now – or that I’ll have moved on to more interesting things altogether. Either way.

The algorithm is our god here in 2022, and God have mercy. A few days ago I was given an add for “Man Therapy.” At first I thought it was a real therapist account, and I was gobsmacked (see the video for yourself). After a bit of reading, it turns out it’s an add campaign put together by partners in the southwest to reach out to men. Southwestern men are apparently at high risk for suicide by firearm.

The ads star the character “Rich Mahogany,” a psychologist who spouts manly one liners about mental health from a chair beneath a taxidermied moose. He sports a mustache and relates everything about mental health to hunting, grilling, sports, beer, and other manly things.

The whole schtick is of course based on the reality that many men are unlikely to seek mental health services if these services don’t feel familiar or approachable. It’s a cliché that men aren’t good at talking about their feelings, but it’s cliché because it’s been true of many men for a very long time.

The point here is that it’s a broken frame, an unfortunate situation. The world where men are known as those incapable of talking about their feelings is not the version of the world we want to live in. A better story is one where men are capable and willing to communicate, and they do so without these ridiculous analogies. But in order to solve a problem, the problem that men can only be related to in a very stereotypical way, Man Therapy chooses to embrace this stereotyped vision of men and to try to help from inside the trope.

I make these observations because I think it’s an access point to the conversation around anti-racism and the ideology about how we understand the situation. Recently, I listened to Dr. Sheena Mason share about the theory of racelessness. This is the idea that race is totally a construct in ways that ethnicity, culture, and language are not. Dr. Mason critiques thinkers like Ibram X. Kendi who insist on an anti-racist movement which she claims really exacerbates the problems it tries to solve. Per Mason, according to Kendi, operating with race as central to identity is not ideal, but it’s what we have to do because of what has happened in the past. I take this point in some way. White folks set up a society in which skin color was everything – being black meant being a chattel slave, and being white meant being superior. That’s a reality which can’t just be undone with the snap of a finger.

And to be clear, I’ve not yet read Kendi. However, I’m fairly certain he’s a proponent of anti-racist training and a frame which highlights differences between races and juxtaposes these differences explicitly. This seems to me to blatantly center race, and this does not seem like the dream which Dr. King had at all. It seems Kendi and others hold that while this isn’t ideal, it’s necessary for now. It’s living inside the trope.

Here is the obvious parallel and the question: does Man Therapy and race-centered ideology for combatting racism put us in a better place? I want to ask this with caution – when I say we, it must be noted I’m a middle-class white person, so I lack the perspective many marginalized people bring to the table. For those who would answer “yes – that this does put us in a better place,” I think the question is how long must men be taken only to offices with taxidermy? When do they get de-stereotyped? Are we moving toward that or are we reinforcing the trope? By centering race and the differences between races, are we only entrenching ourselves into a reality where people will never be judged by their actions by always by their race?

I’m not here to condemn Kendi or really even to disagree with him. I’m quite new to this conversation and haven’t read widely enough to know very much at all. I do find it interesting that the theory of racelessness seems to be growing. Currently, I’m taking a class on counseling culturally diverse populations, and the textbook we’re using holds to a theory of racelessness. I believe we must always be willing to adapt and offer what is called for by the time in which we find ourselves. And this is always tightly tied to the failed solutions and ideas of the time before us. I heard Iain McGilchrist say, “Today’s solutions are tomorrow’s problems.” We are living in a racialized world, and this is a problem our generation has inherited. This from Jones-Smith:

“Race is primarily a social construction created by the Western world…Skin color has been the primary biological marker to place people into “racial” groups…The early colonizers placed meaning into these physical markers…While colonists were creating the folk idea of race, naturalists in Europe were engaged in efforts to establish classifications of human groups in the 18th century. They had to rely on colonists’ descriptions of indigenous peoples for the most part, and their categories were replete with subjective comments about their appearances and behaviors. Ethnic chauvinism and a well-developed notion of the “savage” or “primitives” dictated that they classify native peoples as inferior forms of humans. Although there were earlier attempts to categorize all human groups, then known, Linnaeus and Blumenbach introduced classifications of the varieties of humankind that later became the established names for the races of the world. This notion, referred to by today’s scholars as racialized science, is based on an imprecise and distorted understanding of human differences and an agenda to empower White colonizers. (Jones-Smith, 2019)

Race is certainly different than ethnicity. Again from Jones-Smith: “Whereas the concept of race lacks a valid scientific basis, an ethnic group is based on two factors: genetic antecedents and cultural traditions. An ethnic group is a group of people who share a common history and culture, can be identified by similar physical features and values, and identify themselves as members of that group through social interactions. Further, a person becomes related to the ethnic group through emotional and symbolic ties. An ethnic group can be defined in terms of self-identification. From this viewpoint, an ethnic group may be described as a process of self and other ascription” (Jones-Smith, 2019). It is one thing hold to a theory of racelessness – it’s entirely another to say we’re all just the same and everyone needs to pull themselves up by their bootstraps or such idiocy as that.

I’m also not here in the slightest to say that racism is over or that it’s no longer a problem. Racism is a vice, and like greed and lust, it will always be around. It will adapt to whatever environment we create. Saying racism doesn’t exist because laws have been changed is like saying lust doesn’t exist because prostitution is illegal – it just doesn’t work like that at all. Racism, individually and systemically, is a serious problem, of that I have no doubt. What I’m not sure of is how to best frame the issue and work toward progress.

I’d like to see a day when Man Therapy and race-centered anti-racism and dialogues which lean into stereotypes aren’t needed. The question is whether they are currently moving us closer to that day or pushing it further off. And this question I must leave unanswered.


Dr. Sheena Mason, 2022. Theology in the Raw [podcast]. Episode 1009: https://theologyintheraw.com/podcast/1009-the-theory-of-racelessness-dr-sheena-mason/

Elsie Jones-Smith, 2019. Counseling the Culturally Diverse.

Iain McGilchrist, 2021. Rebel Wisdom [podcast]. https://rebelwisdom.podbean.com/e/the-matter-with-things-iain-mcgilchrist/

Man Therapy. Retrieved from: https://mantherapy.org/ (video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBMDHQlzFaA)

The Elements

This post is part 4 in a 7 part series of reflections as I turn 25 years old. I’m convinced that to be human is to struggle and to struggle with God. This series serves to honor the difficult questions. I don’t know if everyone has questions their mind continually turns over while they walk the dog, shower, drive to work, but these are mine. I’m hopeful that in 25 more years I’ll have more compelling, more faithful answers to them than I do now – or that I’ll have moved on to more interesting things altogether. Either way.

This whole world is always changed,

Every time we draw a breath,

Coming up and out of dust,

We’re children of the elements,

Communion Table is a painting by Nigel Wynter

The elements are the parts used in the Lord’s supper, the bread and wine. People argue about whether they’re symbolically or literally the body and blood of Christ. What does it mean to take them? What are they?

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (John 6)

The ending of this essay is a poem I started writing back in February. I’ve only just finished it. This essay is my way of exploring what the elements mean. It is an essay intertwined with a poem. It is a bit long, but I hope you might stay with it.

It is my own rule of thumb to smile and nod uneasily whenever anyone has a good grasp on what it means to be saved and on who is being saved and who isn’t. The shortest way to say what I will say below is what Thomas Merton has said.

That which is essential never imposes itself for love is always offered, it’s never
imposed, and that which is unessential is constantly imposing itself.

I was born in the house of God,

Scraped my knees on the alter steps,

Cut my teeth on the bread and wine,

A child of the elements,

Jesus told us it is those who eat his flesh and drink his blood (take the elements) who have eternal life. If we believe our Father desires all to be saved, as he says he does, it seems to me he offers these sacraments, this flesh and blood, the place to believe and be changed, to all his children. He offers it to those born in the church, and those born outside – in what Marilynne Robinson (borrowing from Ezekiel) calls a “field of blood.” I think we’re are all born in a field of blood. There are a lot of fields of blood, and they look pretty different from each another.

And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all. None eye pitied thee, to do any of these unto thee, to have compassion upon thee; but thou wast cast out in the open field, to the lothing of thy person, in the day that thou wast born. And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live. (Ezekiel 16)

Some of us grew up going to church every Sunday. That doesn’t mean we’re not in a field of blood. What does it mean for us to recieve the elements – to take the bread and wine, the flesh and blood?This is a deep mystery. Thomas Merton once said, “The next time you receive the Eucharist, you should realize someone’s taking perfectly good care of you.” Well that’s not so hard to say for us who grew up in church and filed through a communion line every week, or at least a few times a year. What about those born outside?

You were born in a field of blood,

To bear the storm where the earth was bent,

Your mama drowned in a sea of pain,

A child of the elements,

When I was about 18, I read a book called “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp. I really liked the challenge of listing out a thousand gifts, and I think I even made it to about three hundred and fifty. But I was deeply unsettled by some of the other things she said. Essentially, she claimed that all was gift. Whatever happened in life was a gift from God. She even told a story about a boy getting his fingers whacked off in a farming accident, and she searched for a way to see it as a gift from God. I found that a bit troubling, and I still do.

It seems she’s claiming that bad things are actually good things if we can be grateful for them. That seems a bit crude, a bit masochistic even, to me. Still there is the question: is God holding himself out to us in suffering? I’ve been listening to James Finely, a spiritual director who studied under Thomas Merton, and he says this.

As true as this is, and it is true, it is true, but it doesn’t mean when we’re suffering that we’re not really suffering. It doesn’t mean that the risks aren’t real. It doesn’t mean by human standards everybody makes it. As a matter of fact, many people don’t. And so, there’s the raw reality. See, there is a way we don’t transform trauma. There’s the brutality which trauma transforms us in really brutal ways. It’s like being burned alive, but it’s not just terrible, see? God writes straight with crooked lines. And out of the suffering deeply walked with patience, and courage, and the givens out of it, the miracle arises.

A few weeks ago, I was part of a small group playing a game where we were given cards which had prompts related to our faith on them. And a student was asked on his card if he believed in miracles, and he told us he was Catholic, so yes he did. He told us that he saw two miracles every week when he went to mass and took the Eucharist, when the blood and wine transformed into the literal body and blood of Christ.

And on his water bottle was the word “timshel.” I asked him about it, and he began explaining to me what the word meant. I replied that I knew what it meant, but I was curious why he had it. His preist, he said, had told him about the word and about the passage in Steinbeck. Remarkably, I reached down and pulled the very text, East of Eden, out of my bag. Timshel. I suppose it is timshel whether or not to choose to believe that very occurance was a miracle. Much like taking the eucharist I think.

The passage in Steinbeck is as follows: [‘Why is this word so important?‘ Lee’s hand shook as he filled the delicate cups. He drank his down in one gulp. ‘Don’t you see?’ He cried. ‘The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel – ‘thou mayest’ – that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘thou mayest’ – it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not,’ Don’t you see?’…Now, there are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and through their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! Why that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.’ Lee’s voice was a chant of triumph.”] (Steinbeck, pg. 303).

And here is where I disagree with Ann Voskamp. The tradgedies which befall us, and the horrible sins we commit against each other, these are not gifts. Yet they do meld together with everything else to create our situation, and it is here we may choose to meet God. I think he is ever present, ever offering us the elements, if only we would receieve them and meet him at the table. What it means for me and for my neighbor to do so may look widly different.

When, long ago, a rather hard hearted people stumbled around in the desert turning their back on God, God gave them a miracle so they could receive the bread. It seems the Old Testament God always gets typed as the more stern God when we get down to it. And it seems to me that if God made it rain bread in the sand so a stiff-necked people whom he loved could receive the eucharist, there is little reason to suppose he cannot and would not and does not offer the bread to every other whom he loves. And does he not love us all?

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11)

The elements which he gives us – that we may recieve them and live – who is to say what they look like? Perhaps it is today and always timshel. Always, the bread is set before us. Always, we may choose to take it. Always, we may expect it. And never, never are we to know what form it may take – whether bread raining down into the sand, or unleaven bread baked and plated in tupperware, or plasticky wafers in small plastic cups, or the love of a stranger, or a cup of warm coffee, or a sunrise. Always. If only we would recieve it.

And these elements never impose themselves on us. Nor can we ever impose them on one another. When Christopher Columbus came to America and converted the natives to Christianity, killing most of them in his wake, that wasn’t God reaching out. That was a sinner imposing his religion. That which is essential never imposes itself.

Peace and wrath,

Storm and calm,

The field of blood,

The alter steps,

All of these,

The elements,

We shall take,

And resurrect,

Would you like to know what I find very odd? It is that at the same time we believe God loves all people, desires all to be saved, and yet we still believe folks have to follow our formula to receive eternal life. It really makes God into a rather stern old fellow who must only be bent on saving the folks like me; folks who take their body via wafer and blood via Welch’s.

We so often fall into believing that to be saved means to ask Jesus to come into your heart. And to do this, you naturally need to be in church and hear a plan of salvation and repeat a sinner’s prayer. And, if possible, it would be really good if you walked down an aisle and then wrote the date down in the front of a KJV Bible. But has it ever occured to us this isn’t really possible for most people who have ever lived on earth? For some, this compels them and their Christian brethren to get on with it! Start getting red carpet aisles built in China, and translate our sinner’s prayer into Hindu, teach every tribe and tongue how to do VBS!

Once I heard these very well meaning folks present at church about how they’d been courageously taking Christianity into an Asian country and come upon a city with a lot of Buddhist temples. After some prayer, they left the city. When returning later on, they were amazed that an earthquake, or something, had taken out much of the city and destroyed many of the temples. This they thought was a powerful act of God decimating the Buddists due to their Christian presence there! It’s a bit like that terrible children’s song: I’ve got the belief that will baffle the best of the Buddists down in the depths of my heart. I think there is a really strong possibility that isn’t what God is up to.

I wonder what if we actually believed the elements were already offered to all God’s children? That maybe they too were able to meet him outside the context of padded benches and ugly carpet. Could it be that Jesus loves the children of this country and all the other countries enough that he actually made a way they could reach out and find eternal life?

These to us are all familiar,

Tastes of life, the taste of death,

Not our first time, nor the last,

Children of the elements,

I was practically born in church. My first memory of communion is driving home from church with my grandparents and snacking on the leftover unleavened bread in a tupperware container. I remember being about 4 years old and giving powerful sermons from the pulpit to an imaginary congregation while my mom cleaned the church. It makes me shudder to think God loves me so much more than most of the other kids in the world that he put me in a church and put them in places where they don’t know they’re supposed to make unleavened bread and drink it with Welch’s.

I don’t exactly know what the elements mean. Does it become Christ’s blood and body in my mouth – is it just a symbol done in remembrance? Does it need to be plasticy wafers and juice? What about the kids whose parents make them live on their own? If we’re all born in a field of blood, and it’s up to the Lord to rescue us out, how come he only chooses the kids with churches in their neighborhoods? Or maybe that isn’t really what it means to be saved at all. Maybe we’re all children of the elements, maybe we meet Jesus in mysterious ways. He certainly didn’t come to us as anyone expected the first time – I don’t know why he would now.


This whole world is always changed,

Every time we draw a breath,

Coming up and out of dust,

We’re children of the elements,

I was born in the house of God,

Scraped my knees on the alter steps,

Cut my teeth on the bread and wine,

A child of the elements,

You were born in a field of blood,

To bear the storm where the earth was bent,

Your mama drowned in a sea of pain,

A child of the elements,

Peace and wrath,

Storm and calm,

The field of blood,

The alter steps,

All of these,

The elements,

We shall take,

And resurrect,

These to us are all familiar,

Tastes of life, the taste of death,

Not our first time, nor the last,

Children of the elements,


East of Eden – John Steinbeck. 1952.

Lila – Marilynne Robinson. 2014.

Turning to the Mystics (Podcast) – James Finley. 2020.

Psyche, Spirit, Body

This post is part 3 in a 7 part series of reflections as I turn 25 years old. I’m convinced that to be human is to struggle and to struggle with God. This series serves to honor the difficult questions. I don’t know if everyone has questions their mind continually turns over while they walk the dog, shower, drive to work, but these are mine. I’m hopeful that in 25 more years I’ll have more compelling, more faithful answers to them than I do now – or that I’ll have moved on to more interesting things altogether. Either way.

I’m convinced most of the great debates, which we first passionately take part in and then gradually learn to appreciate as expressions of different aspects of reality, are simply that – expressions of the complex nature of the cosmos. They also evidence our various ways of perception so that we can believe the Calvinist and the Armenian when we see the fire in their eyes and the earmarked pages in their Bibles. So it could be this question is of the same nature; if so, I just haven’t realized it yet.

Which is the start and which is the goal – which is the gateway to the other – which is primary? Theology or psychology? In graduate counselling classes, theological explanations are seen as second rate. They are viewed as moral arguments which may only point to psychological realities. Psychology is primary, though some try to access it by theology.

And in books such as The Cure which we’re reading as a group at Aim Right, “sin” is viewed as the primary explanation for unhealth. Things like attachment theory or even therapy are means of accessing and dealing with sin and its effects. This is to say that theology is primary, and psychology is an access point.

Perhaps psychology and theology aren’t the best terms here. But the questions seems to be rooted in how we relate and understand ourselves in context. Are we working to be reconciled to the divine or are we working to be made psychologically whole? Obviously, or perhaps not always obviously, but seemingly, the result is pretty similar (though the theologian may resist here). It is my view that what is called “God” very often an idol, something rather constructed, a “god.” In this case, I think psychology is accessed through religion, trite religion.

When “God” is understood differently, as in “the Tao which is the true Tao cannot be named,” I think theology is correctly and ultimately , primary. Psychology is a subset, a throughway, to theology, queen of the sciences. But I’m afraid this is a far cry from anything very much resembling Evangelicalism. This religion is, for most of human history, inaccessible to most of the world’s people. This is never true of a psychological understanding. I.E. if there are people, on islands or deep in Asia or whatever, who are said to be psychologically well but theologically damned, I don’t think this is a theology adequate to be primary.

This presents a bit of a quandary to ever affirming anyone’s viewpoint it seems. So many are certain that God damns those who don’t pray the prayer, walk the aisle, etc. In this case, I think their religion only points to something more ultimate – something like a psychological accounting. Even I don’t really know what I mean by “primary.” I don’t thing that’s the best way of putting it. Jung comes closest to what I sent sense here in my reading so far.

He tells the story of speaking to a primitive mountain tribe, the Elgonyi, whom he asks about their religious customs. They do not consider it a religious act, but they tell him of their tradition of every morning upon leaving their huts at sunrise they “spit on their hands, and hold them up to the sun” (Modern Man in Search of a Soul, pg. 150). Jung goes on to comment on the meaning of this ceremony:

Clearly it is an offering to the sun which for these natives in munguthat is mana, or divine – only at the moment of rising. If they have spittle on their hands, this is the substance which, according to primitive belief, contains the personal mana, the force that cures, conjures and sustains life. If they breathe upon their hands, breath is wind and spirit – it is roho, in Arabic ruch, in Hebrew ruach, and in Greek pneuma. The wordless, acted prayer, which could equally well be spoken: “Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Does this merely happen so, or was this though already incubated and purposed before man existed? I must leave this question unanswered” (Ibid, pg. 151).

Jung admits he doesn’t know which is primary. Earlier in the same chapter, he comments on baptism:

“Baptism endows the human being with a unique soul. I do not mean of course, the baptismal rite in itself as a magical act that is effective at one performance. I mean that the idea of baptism lifts a man out of his archaic identification with the world and changes him into a being who stands above it. The fact that mankind has risen to the level of this idea is baptism in the deepest sense, for it means the birth of spiritual man who transcends nature” (Ibid, pg. 145).

Jung poses the question, which I believe is something similar to what I’m trying to get at, this way:

“The question is nothing less than this: does the psychic in general – that is, the spirit, or the unconscious – arise in us; or is the psyche, in the early stages of consciousness actually outside us in the form of arbitrary powers with intentions of their own, and does it gradually take its place within us in the course of the psychic development” (Ibid, pg. 147-148).

Are we best aided in our troubles by the pastor or the therapist? It depends who you are of course. My sense is that whichever you are the most inclined to seek out, you may be better served by the other. Those who grew up in church, couples who’ve only ever heard sermons on marriage might ought to see a therapist. And those who’ve gone religiously to counselling an its books may be hungry for a spiritual food which a pastor could provide. Writing in 1933, Jung thought, “It is indeed high time for the clergyman and the psychotherapist to join forces to meet this great spiritual task” (Ibid, pg. 229).

Theology and psychology are each wonderful avenues into the greatest questions. I cannot yet, and perhaps never will, tell which one subsumes the other – whether “sin” is another way of getting at un-wholeness/imbalance/separation in the psyche, or whether these malfunctions or broken patters of behavior are something signalling a disunion with the divine (God).

Other ways of getting at the question might be in terms of prayer/meditation: do you pray because you believe communicating/communing with the divine reorders your being and your psyche – or do you pray because you believe that saying phrases falls on the ears of deity, and God acts as a result of your words?

Did Christ come so that humankind could learn a way of living which was peace with each other and in his teachings find a way of reordering ourselves and acting out our lives; or because a blood sacrifice was necessary to appease/propitiate the wrath of the deity so humankind could live in bliss for eternity and at peace on earth?

Is cocaine addiction the devil, or is the devil cocaine addiction. Is using cocaine (drugs, pornography, etc) falling victim to the predation of an active, real devil character – to be bludgeoned by the tools of darkness. Or is cocaine addiction a manifestation of evil which is just anthropomorphised?

It doesn’t ever seem to be only of the two. It must be both. Still I am not satisfied I understand. Kierkegaard seems to think it is the spirit which reconciles, or unifies, the psyche and the physical. So maybe it’s better this way. Rather than asking whether theology or psychology is primary, we could say the spiritual reconciles the psyche and the physical, it is something of a bridge. According to Kierkegaard, the human being is the synthesis of psyche and matter unified by spirit (The Concept of Anxiety). So it seems humanity is where these realities touch together.

I am certain I will someday have much more to say on these topics. But for today, I have many questions.

painting by Faye Akassa


This post is part 2 in a 7 part series of reflections as I turn 25 years old. I’m convinced that to be human is to struggle and to struggle with God. This series serves to honor the difficult questions. I don’t know if everyone has questions their mind continually turns over while they walk the dog, shower, drive to work, but these are mine. I’m hopeful that in 25 more years I’ll have more compelling, more faithful answers to them than I do now – or that I’ll have moved on to more interesting things altogether. Either way.


In a recent counseling course, we surveyed the approaches to therapy, from Frued to Jung to Yalom and so on. There have been thousands of studies published trying to figure out the best ways to do therapy. Do we try to alter behavior, do we analyse subconscious thoughts, do we try to change thought patterns, etc?

The conclusions are a bit of a somber tale: no theory or method is a clear winner at all. Healing seems to have less to do with what is being done in therapy and more to do with the fact that therapy is happening. I’ve come to think of church in similar terms. Thomas Merton had this to say about the necessity of communing together.

“The Desert Fathers who ran spiritually amok in the third and fourth centuries did not fail in asceticism. Their fasts and their penances were almost incredible…Where, then, did they fail? In humility and charity. This failure was expressed in a contempt for mankind in general, for the other hermits, a contempt for the common prayer life of the Church and a conviction that they could do without Mass and the Sacraments.” – Thomas Merton (Bread in the Wilderness)

The Good

I grew up in a conservative (ish) Mennonite tradition, and that’s where I first learned theology and a lot of other things.There is so much to celebrate about the tradition I grew up in. I experienced transcendance there; I communed with the holy. Growing up, the moments when I felt closest to God, the times things really fell into place for a moment of clarity – many of those instances where in church.

There was a really strong focus on sharing our lives with each other. There were monthly meals which our congregation ate together. All the time folks were making announcements about someone needing practical help (a roof, a fundraiser, a baby, a music night) and people flocking to pitch in. There was a deep sense of being a collective whole that seemed so natural. It’s really only when I was away I realized how unique it was. Growing up there, it seemed like the best way to live. Why wouldn’t everyone pitch in for a monthly meal?

In that tradition, we also did everything we possible could in house. Everything from running sound equiptment to leading worship to building maintencance to actually preaching was done by people in the congregation. No one was every brought in from the outside to perform an important church function. This meant that for me it was really easy to be involved. I wanted to help with music, so I allowed to help play worship and trained on the soundboard. And like we all do, I thought we had things pretty ironed out.

photo taken from TFC bulletin board

The Rest

I remember driving to church one Sunday and feeling a deep and uneasy pity for man mowing his yard – a heathen working on the Sabbath. Whether that was my own idea or what was being preached isn’t really the point. This man fell outside the lines of our tradition, and it was clear to me he was wrong.

I think there’s a tendency to grow up thinking our parents and our pastor and our friends have it nailed down. Our people get it. And then you grow up and start to realize there are lots of other folks holding the same Bible in their hands, singing songs to the same God, and it’s looking a whole lot different. This seems to be going on at a much accelerated pace in the last years. Millenials and Gen Z seem to be deconstructing from the traditions we were raised in.

I’m convinced much of this is a good thing. And it’s not happening because we’re particularly brilliant or care more about God; no, I think it has a lot more to do with having exposure to other Christians and ideas through digital technology.

It’s almost funny to listen to us talk about church. So many of us say the same thing – well we’re going to a non-denominational church now. I sense a real break away from tradition, a need to get out from under what we’ve perceived to be wrong with church. I say we because I feel this so deeply. When I reflect on some of the things that passed for normal in church growing up, I almost wonder if memory is failing. But there is also a sort of unmooring that accompanies attending a church without a denominational background or long faith tradition, and this is where a lot of my generation find ourselves.

I have absolutely no qualms with the term deconstruction. There is so much ugliness which has been blended into American Evangelical Christianity – unbuilding is absolutely necessary. If you want to remodel your house, the walls with rot have got to come down. And this isn’t a new idea. Folks, like Rich Mullins, were saying these things in before 2000. The question is – where do we go from here? Once we’ve found the rot, what comes next?


A few months back I found myself in a church service where I just cringed for about an hour straight. I was there somewhat against my will, and what I heard was brutally distasteful and downright unchristian in the truest sense. Hearing God’s name plastered on blatantly false teaching made me physically sick to my stomach.

And then I looked over to my right and saw this young man having a deeply meaningful experience. I opened my eyes during the alter call, and there he was raising his hand in a sincere act of faith to recieve salvation. I was torn – clearly this service was garbage, and also clearly this other person had experienced something transcendent and apparently communed with God. Could both things be true at the same time? Can different people see the same thing and have very different experiences. It seems so.

I’ve had many conversations with friends, and I suppose I’ll have many more, about how to know if you should leave a church. There comes a time when you are uncomfortable because things are going wrong – whether that’s teaching or abuse of power or whatever. But I also know it to be true that the people who started the non-denominational churches all came from somewhere. I think “non-denominational” is attractive to many folks like me because it holds the promise of being free from the baggage we’re trying to get away from. But anytime you have people, those people came from somewhere, and doing something more than once births a tradition anyway.

Brian Zahnd recently Tweeted, “Without transcendence religion is just politics.” And I’ve been thinking about that ever since I read it.

How do we get out of “just politics?” A later post in this series aims to dig deeper here. But it’s clear to me there isn’t one way or one tradition. I’m also convinced that traditions, in their differences, are able to offer richness which is unique to them. Carl Jung thought the pysche operated based on balance and equilibrium. When one part was deficient, it’s opposite was stronger. If one part was shifted, it’s opposite was shifted to compensate. This strikes me as correct about church traditions.

There are ways in which the Catholic church, with its liturgical focus and proper vibe, is unable to provide the same fellowshipo as the Mennonite church I grew up in. And my Mennonite church, with its insistance on doing everything in house, created a culture where formal theological education was viewed with suspicion. The Southern Bapists have an incredible emphasis on spreading the gospel to other countries, and God help them, their denomination does some terrible things to native peoples in the name of Jesus. Just as there cannot be one “right” person on any subject or any one “perfect” player in any sport, there can’t be one right church tradition. Our strengths are also our weaknesses in some sense.

Moving Faithfully Past Positivism

The way forward is, to me, not clear. But I am certain in involves giving up our obsession with positivism – this is the obessession with grasping the objective truth. Thinking there must be one right answer, that only one way can be right, is what led many of those before us to think their tradition had it figured out and everyone else was stupid. We must go beyond that. Quite frankly, it means we stop using the Bible as a textbook of answers about things it wasn’t written to answer. The positivist temptation is certainty.

wikipedia definition

We must become aware of the values and dispositions of our own tradition, as well as the flaws, without just becoming disembodied, amorphous blobs. We have to belong to somewhere. But this should lead to an openness, a willingness to celebrate other traditions, a desire to integrate more fully. This would make many shudder who are adamant our goal is to remain as separate as possible.

Many of my generation and the ones after me are trying to figure out what it means to move faithfully out of dogmatism. Where do we go from here? I don’t think there is a clear answer, and I have so much to learn. I’m confident there is a whole lot that is good about where I came from. For me, there was enough reason to leave and look elsewhere for a church home.

I think that in church, like in counseling, most any “theory” can work, but not everything works for everyone, and not every place is conducive to healthy living. It has more to do with finding a place and a people where you can recieve the love of others and the love of Jesus and give it out too. And I for one and still figuring out what that means.

Diffuculty of Hell & Ease of the Spiel


This post is part 1 in a 7 part series of reflections as I turn 25 years old. I’m convinced that to be human is to struggle and to struggle with God. This series serves to honor the difficult questions. I don’t know if everyone has questions their mind continually turns over while they walk the dog, shower, drive to work, but these are mine. I’m hopeful that in 25 more years I’ll have more compelling, more faithful answers to them than I do now – or that I’ll have moved on to more interesting things altogether. Either way.

There’s a scene in Bridge to Teribithia (the movie) where May Belle informs Leslie, “If you don’t believe in the Bible, God’ll damn you to hell when you die.” May Belle’s stance is a blunt but rather accurate summation of most of the sermons and calls to repentance I’ve heard.

If you were to ask 12 year old me why I said a prayer to become a Christian, the answer would’ve largely resembled, well I’d very much like to not get damned to hell for eternity. I’m not here to deny hell outright or tell you I’m not a Christian or something, but this is worth reflecting on. It’s been a year since I wrote my statement of faith in which I discussed hell briefly. When I last looked at the topic, this is where I came out if you’re interested.

Hell is the Ultimate Gotcha!

If someone holds a gun to your head and says they will definitely shoot you unless you do what they say, you just do what they say. Many presentations of “the gospel” are essentially this. Except that instead of a quick and painless death, they’re talking about being horrifically tortured by demons while your skin melts off in a place of darkness and fire. Not only that, you also never get out – so it’s horrific for a hundred million years, and even then you’re not even a hundredth of the way through. With a threat like that at your head, who wouldn’t pray the prayer? Just take listen to Bill Wiese’s incrediby manipulative sales pitch and tell me you aren’t ready to get on your knees and pray whatever prayer it takes! It’s not about the way of Jesus or even heaven – it’s just about not going to hell! The comment section on YouTube is just people typing out pleas for mercy because they don’t want to go to hell either. Can you get saved in a YouTube comment section?

If we didn’t have the hell card, we’d be forced to work a lot harder at articulating the gospel at summer camp, VBS, on the street, in church, and such. What does it mean to be a Christian? What is the meaning of the kingdom of heaven? How do I take part in it? On a recent episode of the Voxology podcast, Mike Erre asks, what Jesus meant when he told his disciples to share the gospel. “What did he mean by ‘go’? Did he mean engage in lots of awkward conversations to have people pray a prayer about what happens when they die?” I don’t think this is what Jesus had in mind. Yet, we’ve put so much energy into the spiel.

The Spiel

Under the conviction that everyone who hasn’t said a prayer asking Jesus into their heart to be their personal saviour will burn in hell for eternity, we are left with the task of getting as many people to pray the prayer as possible before it’s too late! Some even say if believers can’t point to the very day they prayed the prayer, then they can’t be sure they’re “saved.” But that isn’t how Paul talks about salvation. It’s not a box to check off to get salvation in your pocket. It’s described as a process.

Paul says we have been saved (past tense): But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3)

Paul says we are being saved (present tense): For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing (II Corinthians 2)

Paul says we will be saved (future tense): Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5)

The question becomes, what is the gospel message? I’m convinced it’s something we can bear witness to, however it isn’t something we can easily pin down and say this right here is what it is and what it always will be. I think just as much as “repent and be baptized” is a gospel proclamation, so is the prophetic word is Isaiah,

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
   to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Lazarus being raised from the dead and the widow recieving justice and the proud being brought low and the rich being sent away empty. These are all pieces of the gospel.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
 He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
 He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

When someone gets up to share the gospel from the pulpit, or when youth group kids are told to be bold and share the gospel message, it’s pretty rare to hear talk about the rich getting shorted or the poor getting filled or rulers being brought down. But that’s because you can’t distill the gospel in its fullness into a sentence or one conversation.

So our answer to that, since we believe eternal damnation is what’s at stake, is just to make it as simple as possible – we try to master the spiel. The gospel is a sales pitch. And with every head bowed, every eye closed, we thank God for each hand raised who has bought into “the gospel message.” As an admissions counselor who is trained to cover all the high points about a university in a short time period, I’m often struck by how the gospel spiel resembles a pitch for kids to come choose a university.

We love to cite the numbers: we had 17 salvations at VBS last week and 28 baptisms the week before. If the gospel is a salespitch which can be accepted to make sure you don’t go to hell, then a spiel makes sense. I don’t think any of those things are particularly true or very helpful. If the gospel is more than just an abstract understanding about the afterlife, if it’s actually what Mary is talking about in her song, then I think this opens up a lot of avenues for “sharing the gospel.” This requires greater faith. Mike Erre notes in the podcast mentioed above that the church’s job is to be transformed into the image of Christ – it is not for us to transform the world.

Josh Garrels puts it so beautifully in this short clip reflecting on John 6 – the work for God’s people is to believe in the one he has sent. I think this means there is real work required, work to believe in the presence of God in the everyday. If the gospel means the hungry get fed, then could we share the gospel by going to the park and handing out sandwhiches to our neighbors? If the gospel means freedom for the prisoners, could we help inmates with their court cases in confidence it is gospel work? Could we do our jobs as mechanics fixing cars with assurance we are participating in sharing the gospel? I truly think and hope so. Otherwise, we’re left going about our daily lives trying to convince ourselves our work matters, but really we’re looking for any opportunity to “share the gospel,” to interject regular conversations with a spiel about someone not going to hell. And that is just tiring for believers and really annoying to everyone else.

Those Unfortunate Souls

The unfortunate souls – this is where the wrestling really happens for me. I do not reject the concept of hell outright. But I have a lot of discomfort and doubt about how we talk about it and who gets sent there. There are just too many unfortunate souls.

The belief of many Christians is that to go to heaven, you need to accept Jesus and pray the prayer. Or, if you were born before Jesus came to earth, you need to…be an Isrealite. Both in my view are really problematic. Firstly, folks of antiquity didn’t have air travel. So if you weren’t born in Europe or some parts of Asia, there is no way you’re hearing about Jesus unless someone happens just along. There are entire continents of people who just unfortunately will all be damned to hell due to their lack of proximity to Bethlehem and Paul’s missionary journies. That is a serious bummer for them.

And perhaps an even greater bummer is everyone who wasn’t an Israelite before Jesus was on earth. I remember being in a philosophy class and feeling a bit sorry for Socrates – brilliant guy who benefited millions and gave his life to seeking the truth, but he missed Jesus by a few hundred years, and he was Greek, not Jewish. Similarly, I’m reading a book by Thomas Merton (a Christian monk) about the life and teachings of a Chinese philospher in named Chuang Tzu who lived around 300 B.C. This guy was remarkable. He spends his life in search of Tao, which is something like the source and guiding principle of all reality as conceived by Taoists. But God also put him on earth before Jesus came, and he lived in China. So even though he spent his life in pursuit of truth and virtue, and even though his teachings are deeply influential (even to a Christian guy like Merton), he never got a chance to raise his hand at the end of a service with every head bowed and every eye closed. Bummer.

It really seems like your chances of hearing the gospel speil are increased if 2,000 years ago you were born in Europe. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says something which gives me a lot of hope for guys like Chuang Tzu and a lot of suspicion for the speil verision of the gospel which we place so much importance on.

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8)

Sharing the Gospel

Maybe this is the question we should consider. If you couldn’t use fear tactics about hell, how would you share the gospel? I think sharing the gospel means inviting people into a truer, more beautiful story than what we’re handed in the world, and it’s about being transformed. There is no formula per se. It will look differently in different places. It is always about relationship, but here we must say more. It’s not about building relationships just so we earn the right to tell people we’re right and they’re wrong, and that they need to believe what we believe. This is manipulative and just an outworking of the spiel.

We also need to share the gospel with each other, with believers. I think we get pigeonholed into just trying to share the gospel with unbelievers. Yet those among us need to hear continually as well. And if you believe in the spiel, this gets pretty weird. Imagine you walk up to an elder in your church and start laying out for him a five point plan of salvation, telling him the way to be saved, and asking him if he would like to repeat the sinner’s prayer. That would be weird, and he’d be like uh, I’m already saved, but thanks. But if the gospel is more than a spiel, then it might look like walking up to your church elder and telling her, I’d love to have you over for a meal to celebrate your birthday. Or walking up to a person on a street corner and giving to them a sandwhich, because the good news of the gospel is that the hungry get fed. And the gospel is that others care for me, that my mother loved me and my father taught me to play baseball and that my friend flew out to visit me. We must not neglect to share the good news with one another.

I think sharing the gospel is great. But I am wrestling with what that means. I don’t think it can be formulated or done in one sentance. I kind of hate the spiel. The spiel makes me very uncomfortable. It’s also very uncomfortable to think about folks getting sent to hell to be eternally tormented or annihilated (but especially tormented) because they never heard the spiel or said yes to it. In my reading for my statement of faith, I came across one author who said something like: If God indeed desires all to be saved, might there be a possibility that in the end his will is accomplished? (Romans 5:18). And while I find that a very interesting idea, I am not convinced everyone is saved in the end.

The Ugliness of Hell

It is difficult for me to imagine the same God who in this life desires reconciliation and restoration will desire eternal torment in the next. I’m reminded of those who are sent to prison punitively, where there is no thought of their restoration to society, only paying for crimes in some abstract way. The way we speak of hell reminds me, as a therapist in training, as a place of unending, inescapable trauma. It’s a place where you can never heal or find any respite for your misery – you are left to languish there forever like prisoners sentenced to rot in prison until they die. I’ve been in prisons and watched old men playing cards next to their walkers, waiting to die. There’s no hope of reintegration or restoration.

If God so desires reconcilation, healing, rest, the broken being restored in this life, how is it those things are thrown out in the life to come? Forgive me for being blunt – prescribing hell (physical pain, social isolation, and no hope of any recovery) seems sadistic. Many people who commit crimes in this life do so because of crimes done to them or traumas they experienced. A fate of unedning trauma and torture of the worst kind in hell seems an odd way to resolve the arc of a broken life on earth.

Final Thought

This has been a rather long reflection, but I’d like to offer one more thought here. This was an idea that struck me a few months ago. Much is made of the question, What is the fate of those who never heard the gospel (or the name of Jesus)?

What if our answer to this question is the answer to our own personal fate? If you honestly think that every person who doesn’t get a chance to hear the name of Jesus will be damned to hell, perhaps there isn’t much hope for you either. Who’s to say you have heard the authentic gospel? Who’s to say your church preacher told you everything you needed, or your Bible reading produced all the correct conclusions, or your profession of faith came from a sincere heart of repentance? Perhaps you are the one who has not properly heard and believed the gospel message. Or if our answer to the question is that God is merciful and desires to save, and that anyone who seeks for him will find him, then perhaps you too in all your bumbling will find grace as well and be saved.

Last night, Aleisha and I went to the AMC down town and watched Where the Crawdads Sing. There’s a scene towards the end where the girl being accused of murder, an outsider, tells her lawyer she will not take the stand to defend herself. She says that when the jury of townspeople judges her, they judge themselves, because they know nothing about her. I wonder if we, in our judegements of others and proclamation of their fate, condemn ourselves.

In the Dirt With the Angel: 7 Reflections on turning 25.

In Genesis 32, Jacob has just left his uncle Laban’s house where tensions were very high. He heads out and goes to meet his brother, Esau, who may very well kill him and take everything he owns. After sending gifts as well as all his family, servants, and possessions to meet Esau across the river, Jacob remains alone and terrified on the other side. That night, he wrestles with God until the sun comes up – refusing to let go until he is blessed. The man he is wrestling says,

“Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

And then it’s written,

Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

Israel, the new name given to Jacob, means struggles or wrestles with God. So then the Israelites (or the children of Israel) are the ones who wrestle with God, or children of the one who wrestled with God. This name and a blessing are given after getting down in the dirt with God. I love that.

Yesterday, I turned 25. I would like to write 7 reflections detailing my own wrestling. They’ll serve to help me understand what I’m thinking through, perhaps be helpful or at least amusing to someone else, but mostly they’ll be a landmark. When I look back in another 25 years, I may just laugh – that’s what I have to do when I read myself from 10 years ago. Still, it helps to remember and honor the present struggle with God which I think is the task of the believer. In 25 years, these questions may seem insignifcant, or maybe not. But I won’t be able to look back unless I record them.

One of my heros wrote a song on his 25th birthday called “24,” and he’s still playing it now 20 years later. This is my own attempt at something like that. They will be published…soon.

The seven topics are (probaby) as follows:

  1. Difficulty of Hell & Ease of the Spiel
  2. Within Tradition
  3. (Too) Quick to Think, Slow to Dance
  4. Slipperiness of the Kingdom of Heaven
  5. The World in a Grain of Sand
  6. The Faith Required
  7. The Necessity of Struggling

I wanna see miracles, see the world change,

I wrestled the angel for more than a name,

More than a feeling, more than a cause,

Still I’m sining, Spririt take me up in arms with you,

(Switchfoot, “Twenty Four”)

After the Jester: 5 Ideas for Women & Men in Church

In February, I published a comic strip. It was a sattire project – this strip is what I imagine a conversation around gender roles might look like if the ideas we hold internally spoke to each other openly.

In this piece I would like to look for answers to two questions:

1. Why write a comic strip like Fundamentals?

2. What is a better way forward for the church?

[First Question: Why write a sattire strip like Fundamentals?]

Ian Crohn suggested if you distilled the writings of the desert fathers down to one phrase, it would be “Wake up!” Sattire overstates its point for exactly that reason. It calls to attention, shakes, says “wake up!”

I don’t have a long career of writing, but I’ve published enough to know that gender issues and politics are two of the diciest subjects. If you enter these spaces, you will probably get a lot of views, but it will get uncomfortable pretty fast.

You might get called a heretic by your pastor, asked to meet for breakfast to discuss your work and encouraged to stop. Your best friends might be encouraged to disasscoiate with you. I’ve had the privelge of each of those. What I’ve found is that these conversations tend to only happen behind closed doors. I hate awkward tension, and I don’t want to stir up strife; however, I do think there’s some truth in Gloria Steinam’s words, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”

So why write a daily comic strip? Why raise a gender issue for 28 days in a row? Because we need to wake up. David Dark likes to say, we become what we’re willing to sit still for. Speaking only behind closed doors is to say; yes, there are problems, but it would cost me (or us) too much to tell the truth about them. Our Southern Baptist brothers and sisters have recently found out just how much it may cost not to say anything.

There are those (even now reading this) who simply cannot speak up. It would be their ruin if they spoke out. But for me, it’s just uncomfortable. That is something of a privelge I recognize.

[Second: What is a better way forward?]

I’m a long time fan of The Holy Post podcast (hosted by Phil Visher, the Veggie Tales guy, and Skye Jethani). They’re often criticized for holding conservatives accountable and not saying much about liberals. Their response, and I think it’s a good one, is that these are our people. Sure, there’s a heck of a lot wrong with the left wing and liberal Christians, but that isn’t the Evangelical crowd – that’s not who we rub shoulders with on Sunday. That isn’t where we come from.

After writing this piece about gender roles in the Mennonite church, I received something of the same critque from a friend: you’re not really Mennonite anymore, so why does it matter what you have to say? Another friend, a pastor, responded, yes there are problems here, but so what? What do you suggest we do? I don’t attend a Mennonite church on Sundays. But that is where I was raised and spent my childhood. Those are my people. And maybe it doesn’t matter much what I have to say, but I know there are people asking these questions, even if only behind closed doors or in closed Facebook groups. My comic strip, and the five claims below are my attempt to open the conversation. It’s one I wish I could’ve had a long time before today. I would like to propose some ideas and offer another vision.

*if you’re reading this and have no idea what any of it means, then these aren’t your people 🙂

(1.) Women must be allowed to worship in freedom

Women are gifted by God (and who would say otherwise?!) But they must be allowed to fully exercise those gifts. As it stands in many church communities, only women with certain gifts are able to use them to worship freely. We should work toward an environment where women (married or not) are empowered to work, think, teach, lead, and follow as God has so called them. We should leave behind the days where women with the gifting to lead and teach are faced with the choice of stifling their calling or walking away from their local church family.

Some men will likely feel uncomfortable and threatened (pissed off even). In the Greco-Roman world where Jesus grew up, women were seen as impure, deformed males. Yet even here, a New Testament church emerges where women host church their homes, contribute from their businesses, teach, and prophecy. If this kind of freedom could exist among an oppressive and deeply sexist culture such as first century Rome, we in 21st century America have no excuse for operating as a church family in ways that keep women afraid of fulfilling their calling. I agree that some New Testament texts about women and their roles are difficult, and I don’t know what is meant at all places. Still, I don’t think there is any excuse for a church culture where women are afraid of fulfilling their potential because it will upset men of the church.

Many will agree with me here, but they will balk at action. They’ll take the stance of thosed who said in hushed tones that all people were equal but opposed integration because everyone else isn’t ready for it yet. I guess I’m tired of that kind of balking. I’m tired of women having to be afraid of upsetting men, of hestitantly asking permission to teach Sunday school or to say a few words between songs lest they step out of line.

(2.) We must share the load and the reward

I demonstrated at length in a piece how in conservative church communities there is often the desire to remain separate from secular culture in visible ways (like clothing). If a church sees this as a good goal, men and women must share in this together. What often happnes is that men put this responsibilty soley on women. While women wear clothes that distinguish them from “the world,” such as dresses, skirts, head coverings, etc., men enjoy the comfort of blending in. Men are permitted to dress exactly like those outside the church while women alone bear the responsibility of maintaining the difference. Either the goal of dressing to separate is abolished, or men must participate. In this way, I think the Amish community holds a better standard – men and women share the task. Men wear suspenders and straw hats so they too are separate from the world. I think the reason why we separate this task and give it to women is because of the following point below.

(3.) We must resist the sexualization of women’s bodies

The primary resistance to my position above will undoubtedly be “modesty.” In the name of modesty, women are asked to hide their bodies. Cape dresses are designed to de-form the female body. Why? So that it doesn’t serve as a temptation to men. It is because we have so sexualized the bodies of our sisters that we require them to design special clothes to hide their form. I am not an expert in this area, but I could go on. Perhaps it’s sufficient to say we should learn from what we’ve done: by requiring women to go above and beyond to hide their bodies (never wear hair down, never wear legged pants, never show belly/back even when swimming), we have created the reality where these things are “sexy.”

Men of conservative churches often sexualize women’s bodies (and are taught to do so from a young age). If you don’t believe me, read a book like Every Young Man’s Battle where women are described as temptations to male purity and the sastisfaction to men’s lust. Ironically, conservative Christianity often sexualizes women’s bodies even in ways secular culture does not. I have atteneded exactly three college/universities, and trust me when I say no one is blushing over seeing someone’s knees. Seeing a girl’s kneecaps or, God forbid, stomach is only percieved as “immodest” or “sexy” if we’ve created an environment where it’s forbidden. Hypermodesty creates the sexualization of women’s bodies. To get beyond this would require recongnizing the female form as God-given and something that neither men nor women need to be ashamed of. The requirments imposed by so many churches have no scriptural basis, but they have huge implications about how boys are taught to view girls, and how women are told to view themselves.

(4.) Women must be invited into decision making spaces

While it may be argued from some scriptures that women are not permitted to serve as a lead pastor, there is no legitamate scriptural precident for excluding women from committees, boards, or other gatherings of decision making. In churches where decisions are made by casting votes, women must be invited to participate in day to day decisions. Similarly, in deciding church will require, women must be part of the conversation. It is simply inexcusable that in many churches decisions about what women will do/wear do not even include women! The result is not husbands leading their wives in a familial setting. The result is men being more important than women. In conversations about finances, the vision of the church, ministry strategies, mission boards, church policy, teaching plans, etc., women must be invited to lend their gifts.

We must work toward what Katie Funk-Weibe calls an engendered story. I’m reminded of the words of the Psalmist,

Listen, daughter and pay careful attention: Forget your people and your father’s house. Let the king be enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your Lord. (Psalm 45: 10-11).

(5.) Women must be allowd to live as to the Lord and not to men.

For too long, to be faithful has meant to live up to the measuring rod laid out by men of the church. Women mustbe allowed to set their eyes higher, on pleasing their Lord. Their worth, their bodies, their gifts, their place – these do not belong to the men of the church. They are holy and to be offered to their true, good king.


As discussed, if you want to get in trouble, raise gender issues. And after reading, some may say: He has a point, but I’m not ready to step on any toes.

It’s is an important issue, but we’ve got to go slow – we’ve got to avoid upsetting people.

This just isn’t a hill I’m willing to die on.

On the other hand, maybe you agree with me – this is a hill worth dying on. This is half the church we’re talking about. This is about who our sisters and daughters and mothers are told they’re supposed to be. For a long time, I was too afraid to say anything. I figured if this is the way things are, there must be a good reason. Or even if it isn’t ideal, it isn’t so bad. Or if it is bad, it isn’t that bad for me.

I guess I’m done with all those answers. This is not a tertiary issue. I’d say it’s a fundamental.

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The Summer Trip

May 16th was our two year anniversary! We planned to take a road trip to southern California and sleep in our car for about four days. In the weeks leading up to leaving, we found and ordered what we thought we’d need (car tent, power supply, air mattress, cooler, gas stove, etc.) and then took off hoping for the best. It was an incredible trip that we’ll remember for long time – and things went surprisingly well.

The Route

  • (Wednesday) Phoenix to Santa Barbara
  • (Thursday) Malibu, Laguna Beach, Ventura
  • (Friday) Oceanside, Encinitas, Del Mar, La Jolla
  • (Saturday) La Jolla, San Diego
  • (Sunday) Phoenix

The Ride

I found a Hasika “Tailgate Shade Awning Tent” on Amazon for about $80 which made sleeping in the our Toyota Venza pretty pleasant. At night, we put a few of the larger items outside (cooler, beach chair) and laid our back seats down. This left enough room for an air matress, and when the back gate was up with the awning attached, I could completely stretch out. It was actually really fun.

The Food

We bought a two burner, propane camp stove from some friends so we could cook at the beach. We only ended up doing this a couple times, but it worked super well! We took a cooler and ate most of our meals from there. We figured we ate out about five times in five days. Between sleeping in the car and taking our own food, we kept the expenses pretty low (except for gas – gas was high).

We ate at a great little place in Little Italy in downtown San Diego.

The Beach Towns

We’d been to Del Mar before and definitely want to return. This is such a great beach spot with both a nice town and a beautiful beach. The photo above of me with the grill is at Del Mar.

Aleisha and I agreed that Laguna Beach was the place we’d move if we were going to southern California – for sure a favorite. La Jolla also turned about to be a ton of fun (although finding a place to park for the night was really hard).

Before we left I bought a wetsuit. And a few years back, Aleisha and Luke bought me a surfboard. It was great to not have to rent anything anywhere we went. I did a lot of surfing. It made me realize though that west coast waves are harder than east coast waves, and I’m a bit out of practice.

Overall, we had a blast! It was kind of surprising how smoothly the whole trip went. We decided that next time we’ll plan ahead a bit more about where to park overnight as finding a place to sleep can be challenging. This was a lovely way to experience the coast of California.


The day we got back to Phoenix was the day my mom flew in with our new puppy, Teddy. We got him from my aunt Thersea who raises beautiful little dogs (Palmetto Upstate Puppies)! He is so far a great addition to the Bear family. Teddy sleeps well at night, mostly, and is very chill overall. He sometimes complains about having to go on walks. We love him.

In Other News

Aleisha is the program and intern Director at Aim Right Ministries and has recently also taken a job with City of Joy. They’re an incredible organization in Rwanda, and Aleisha manages their online store. I’m still working as an admissions counselor at Grand Canyon University where I’m also in my third class towards being licensed as a mental health counselor.