Tell Yourself a Story

One of my goals is to become a counselor. That said, therapy, mental health, and counseling ideas are something I think and read about a good deal. This week, I came up with an idea for a way of helping myself understand my own life, and I wonder if it might be helpful for someone else as well. It’s a bit of an exercise which I’ve outlined below, and I think it’s kind of fun. It’s by no means an original idea – but it did just occur to me this week. It goes like this.


Here is an idea to help us out of despondency – to help jolt us back when we’ve gone away, to help us get a sense of ourselves when we feel gone. I will think of my life as a movie. Most movies (and stories in general) can be though of as having three parts: setup, confrontation, and resolution. Think about Pixar’s movie Cars. Lighting McQueen is a racing star (setup), he is swept away to the town of Radiator Springs where he confronts some hard truths and has to learn some hard lessons (confrontation), he goes back on the big track and wins a unique kind of victory (resolution). We even do this without thinking when we tell an everyday kind of story.

Me and Louis were gonna go to a baseball game. But on the way we got a flat tire. So we spent three hours finding a spare and a tire iron and finally ended up at Applebee’s just in time for half price apps. Bing, bang, boom.

You can think of pretty much any story this way. The Bible works rather nicely as well, on large and small scales. Creation, fall, redemption. Or – Jesus predicts Peter’s denial, Peter denies Jesus, Jesus reinstates Peter. It’s a great way to understand stories. And here’s how I think this could be helpful when getting a grip on our own stories as they unfold.

Part 1 – speak truthfully

Prompt: Tell your own story with the present day on which you are speaking as act 3 (resolution). This places the current self (and one’s circumstance) as the resolution. Today is the conclusion of what has come before. And that may not be so appealing, especially if the current state is despondent/bored/removed/unsatisfied. The goal here is to speak truthfully.

Example: [In keeping with my wanting to be a counselor.] (1.) I first decided I might like to be a professional counselor in my senior year of college. (2.) It was too late to change my major from communication studies to counseling psychology, but I was able to add a family counseling class as an elective. (3.) Currently, I am an admission counselor at Grand Canyon University. This isn’t really what I was aiming for, but I do at least get to perform some counseling role with students.

Part 2 – think logically

Prompt: Tell your story as act two. Something, or some thousand things, have set the stage, and now we find the self in a state of action, of conflict, of movement, of friction. This allows for explaining the present as in part a result of the past. However, this exercise should be completed by imagining and articulating the third act as a logical conclusion. How is today a springboard into the resolution? If part 1 has happened, and this present thing is happening, then what seems likely to happen? Again, this may not be appealing.

Example: (1.) I was able to take a class on counseling in college and got an idea of what the profession was like from my professor. I decided that this is the career I would like to pursue. (2.) I took a job as GCU as an admissions counselor so I could get experience advising people on a daily basis and start a master’s program in mental health counseling. (3.) In the future I will most likely finish my degree and become a licensed counselor able to practice in some state(s).

Part 3 – speak imaginatively

Prompt: Tell your story as act one. Finally, the narrator should tell their story imaginatively. The present moment is act 1 of a 3 part drama. You must tell the story of the present day as a precursor to what you hope will happen in the future. You should be realistic about the opposition that will be faced in act 2, the friction. And most importantly, you must articulate a vision of your desired resolution. What is the best possible way this could end?

Example: (1.) I am an admissions counselor who sits at a computer most of the day and talks with students, sometimes on the phone sometimes in person. (2.) I will become licensed as a counselor and open my own practice. It will be difficult at first as I will probably take a major pay cut when starting out. I will have to figure out where to practice and how to build a clientele. I will also have to figure out whether to own my own space or work for/with someone else. (3.) My career will be enormously fulfilling, even while challenging. The experience I gain will allow me to write a book as well as teach at a local university in a beautiful city near the coast where I live with my wife, our family and a small dog and surf at least twice a week.


These three exercises are an attempt to make sense. In doing so, it becomes clearer how the past, present, and future are giving way to one another, that we are in the same breath being and becoming. The first part helps me be realistic about where I am and how I’ve gotten there. The second part helps me think about where my current path is likely to take me if I continue on it. The third part helps me articulate what it is I hope will happen, what it is I am aiming at as I move forward. This is the most important part I think. The examples I gave are true, if somewhat broad and trivial. This exercise may also be helpful for getting a look at the things in life we don’t have the courage to talk about very often.

There’s a funny interaction in Alice in Wonderland that I learned about in a high school class. It goes like this:

[Alice said] ‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where–‘ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’


Gender Roles in Church: Some Reflections

My wife, Aleisha, and I live in Phoenix, AZ and have just started attending a church a few blocks from our house. We’re beginning the work of making friends, getting connected, finding a place. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on the tradition and church I was raised in. Many of my dearest friends I met there – much of who I am was developed there. Still, it’s really complicated. If church is the family of God, and if that community is where we figure out who we are and who we should be, then it really matters what we’re telling each other. I’ve put a great deal of time, reflection, and work into this piece. This subject is deeply personal – and important I believe. As such, I’m not looking to disperse this to everyone or to get a ton of clicks.

You can message me your email to become a subscriber and I’ll send you the article. Or you can pay $2 through WordPress (if you have trouble just message me). It’s not because I want the money, but because you should only read this if you’re actually interested. I believe this is a very important conversation, and I invite you to take part.

In Christ,

Javen.

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Read more of this content when you subscribe today. If you’re having trouble getting it to work (or just don’t have $2 to spend), message me on Facebook or email me, and I’ll send you the article.


Some Resources I’ve Found Helpful

Gender Roles and the People of God” (book) – Alice Matthews



The Things We Do To Women” (podcast episode) – Christianity Today


Me Tarzan, Son of Menno – You Jane, Mennonite Mama” – Katie Funk Wiebe (article)


To Be (Vaccinated) or Not To Be

Preface

A few weeks ago I sat down with my friend to eat some Vietnamese food, and over my lemongrass dish I explained about a piece I’d starting writing – this piece about getting vaccinated. And my friend wasn’t convinced it was a good idea – you should at least put it behind a paywall so less people read it. I do that sometimes with pieces I write that I wouldn’t want just anyone reading (in fact I have one written I’d like to share soon). And so I agreed. Then, about a week later, my friend brought it up again and said no I think you should just write it. So that’s what I did.

And I didn’t write this for the trolls. Whenever I choose to write on a complex issue with a lot of energy around it, there are always a few familiar folks who show up with their minds made up, totally sure, seeing it black and white. They’re easy to spot, and that’s alright – but I didn’t write this with them in mind. I wrote this in that grey middle space, for folks like me, not totally sure and not up for brawling about it. If that’s you, I hope it’s at least a little helpful. These are my words, my experience, what I’ve learned, my thoughts – may I entrust them to you?


The Two Questions at Hand

I believe the question is not so much are these vaccines effective and safe? The question is what do these vaccines mean? I want to address that first question a bit farther down, but to start, I want to think about the second question: what do these vaccines mean?

My Own Experience Getting Vaccinated

On Thursday two weeks ago I decided to get vaccinated. Vaccines have been available for quite some time, so I’m not exactly sure why I waited so long.

There were a few tangible reasons that made up my mind. First, Covid-19 is hitting us very hard again, here on the west coast and back on the east coast. As NPR reported in August, hospitals across the U.S. are, again, filling up. And again we’re in danger of being in a situation where people who need treatment will not be able to get a hospital bed because folks with severe cases of Covid-19 are filling them (we’re already there is some places). 1 out of every 500 Americans have now died from Covid-19. And no, we’re not talking about just those infected. The US population (331,449,281) divided by the number of Covid-19 deaths reported (663,970) = 499.19. 1 out of every 500 people in the US has now died from a virus that popped up less than 2 years. This has been verified by CNN, FOX, The Hill, and others.

Second, one of my trusted friends in medical field, Karlin Bacher, shared a video in which the Republican house representative of S.C.’s 5th district, Neil Collins, spoke with four local doctors and professors: Dr. Helmut Albrecht (prof. at USC), Delphine Dean (prof. at Clemson), Dr. Ted Swann (family doctor in Clemson), and Dr. Phillip Buckhaults (prof. at USC). They discussed the vaccines and gave their advice. They spoke with clarity and unity about the safety and efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccines, and testified they’ve not only been vaccinated but also arranged to have their family, children, and close friends take it as well.

And thirdly, I recently got to take a trip home to South Carolina where quite a few members of my home community have been recently hospitalized with the virus. I got to see my grandparents. I really love my grandparents, and while I would probably be find if I got Covid (I survived it once), I don’t know that they would be. Since I live 3,000 miles away, there’s a very small chance I would pass it to them. But the vaccine would ensure there would also be only a very very tiny chance I could inadvertently pass the virus to anyone else’s grandparents either.

We’ve all read a thousand articles and posts about Covid-19. But on that particular Thursday those three reasons, that hospitals are getting really full as the virus surges, that medical friends and professionals from my home area gave me a convinced, informed opinion, and that there was a real chance someone with a not-so-great immune system could actually die if I gave them a virus I could’ve not given them – these were enough for me to make my choice.

I searched “vaccine near me” and then took about five minutes to schedule a Walgreens appointment for the first dose of the Moderna vaccine. On Saturday, I drove to Walgreens and parked my car. On the way in, I was asked by a rough looking older man for assistance. I was reaching for a $1 bill when I realized he was asking me to roll him a cigarette. He had little papers and a can of tobacco. I told him I didn’t know how, and he said he didn’t either, but he was trying to learn. Inside the store, I filled out a page of paperwork, sat in a chair, then followed a pharmacist to another chair where he gave me a shot in the left arm with a silver needle. I stuck around to be observed for fifteen minutes, and then I was given a card, and I walked out vaccinated.

It’s so puzzling to me that so many of us are scared to be vaccinated. I was even puzzled why I waited so long. I think – even though I’m embarrassed to say so – I kind of believed all the hype. It wasn’t doctors’ opinions or professional advice that came across my newsfeed everyday making me suspicious. No – It was pundits or friends who think they have the latest scoop, and folks who are out doing their own research and sharing Tik-Toks. These are people I would never want medical advice from. Still, being surrounded by all this talk, all the rumors and accusations kind of got to me. What if they’re right? But on Thursday, I decided 96% of doctors means more to me than folks tapping on their iPhones.

So what does the vaccine mean? This is the central question for many of us. It was developed as a medical remedy, but for many of us it’s a symbol. Vaccines, like masks, have come to represent political expressions – they’ve morphed into more than things. Wearing a piece of cloth on your wrist does not have particular meaning associated with it. But we’ve all felt the awkwardness of wearing a piece of cloth over our face and not being sure what it means – how is this interpreted by the others in the room? While we could hardly care less if someone has the flu shot, asking someone if they’ve been vaccinated is a question with mountains more attached. We tend to assume so much – if I know this one thing, then I can pretty much put the rest in place. Did you hear so and so got vaccinated? – yeah, that seems about right, they seemed like the type! So what do these vaccines mean? You could write a mountain of articles and research papers asking that question. We all have to decide what they mean. And in our deciding we contribute to the collective conception.

Back to the First Question

Are these vaccines safe and effective?

I reached out Karlin for help compiling some data. Whether or not data means much to us is up to us. If we are totally engrossed by the other question, the one about what they mean and what kind of person would or would not get vaccinated, this second question and its answers won’t matter so much for us. But I think it ought to.

Are our doctors actually taking the vaccine?

96% of doctors are vaccinated (this is verified by Fox, Forbes, USA Today, The American Medical Association, and a whole lot of other organizations). Of the doctors who have not yet been vaccinated, 45% intend to take the shot. I think this is important. If we had physicians recommending treatment they would not administer to themselves or their families, that would seem to be cause for concern. Yet our doctors are in unison on the question of whether or not to be vaccinated. There are a very very small subset of outliers – the collective opinion among doctors is pretty unified.

Do the vaccines actually work?

Prisma Health is a care provider in South Carolina (they service the hospital I was born in), and they’ve been tracking and publishing data from Covid-19 hospitalizations. Their latest data at the time this is published shows:

Karlin has been tracking this data over time and reports, “The overall average of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients at Prisma Health this past month calculates out to 91%, but it has ranged from 86%-96% depending on the day.” The vast majority of those in the hospital suffering from Covid-19 are those who have not been vaccinated, and this is not an isolated trend. Forbes reports,

For every 100,000 unvaccinated individuals, you could expect 2.03 of them, every day, to need to go to the hospital for a Covid-19 infection. Comparatively, for every 100,000 vaccinated individual, that same hospitalization rate is just 0.17: a risk reduction of 92%. Not only are you less likely to be infected at all if you’re vaccinated, but even if you get an infection, you’re far less likely to require hospitalization for your condition…if you’re unvaccinated as opposed to fully vaccinated. Across every relevant metric, the outcomes are undeniably worse.”

What about breakthrough infections?

There is concern that even those who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 could still contract the virus as breakthrough cases have been reported. As of the writing of this article, about 208 million Americans have received at least one dose – more than 50% of the population has been fully vaccinated. A graphic from the NYT shows:

A study from Los Angeles County reported by Reuters shows, “3.2% of fully vaccinated individuals who were infected with the virus were hospitalized, just 0.5% were admitted to an intensive care unit and 0.2% were placed on a ventilator. Among the unvaccinated who fell ill, 7.5% were hospitalized, 1.5% were admitted to an intensive care unit and 0.5% required breathing support with a mechanical ventilator.” As summarized by my friend, even in cases where vaccinated folks do contract the virus, “Vaccinated people who experienced a breakthrough infections seem to be less contagious & contagious for a shorter period of time than if they had not been vaccinated.”

The Heart of the Matter

Getting a needle in the upper arm at Walgreens wasn’t sexy at all. And when I went back outside the cigarette guy wasn’t even there for me to tell him about it.

At the end of the day, our hospitals are not out of beds because people are shooting up churches. Our neighbors and our grandparents are not in much danger of being hit by a terrorist attack. But 1 in 500 of our neighbors are dying from Covid-19. There is really transmissible virus putting a lot of people in some real trouble. We are collectively pondering what to do about that – maybe you’ve already decided – maybe you aren’t sure – maybe heaven and hell together couldn’t get you to do anything. I believe with all my heart that to live means to put your faith in something. You can’t believe in nothing – you can’t have no faith – everybody puts their faith somewhere. And faith without works is dead, even if your faith isn’t afraid of anything. The decision I made to get vaccinated is what I believe was the right thing to do. Of course, some folks have real medical reasons why they shouldn’t be vaccinated, but most of us don’t.

I’m reminded of what Martin Luther (the Reformation guy) had to say when the Black Death (bubonic plague) fell upon a deeply divided civilization in 1517:

“[Some] are much too rash and reckless, tempting God and disregarding everything which might counteract death and the plague. They disdain the use of medicines; they do not avoid places and persons infected by the plague, but lightheartedly make sport of it and wish to prove how independent they are. They say that it is God’s punishment; if he wants to protect them he can do so without medicines or our carefulness. That is not trusting God but tempting him. . . .

No, my dear friends, that is no good. Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places where your neighbor does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city . . . Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid persons and places where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me, and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

Conclusion

We live in trying times my brothers and sisters – each time has its own perils and challenges. Here we find our own. I do hope that my experience and perspective shared above might be of some help to you in some small way. I don’t mean to condemn you if you are of another mind. I do hope you will take into account not only one but both of the questions I raised in this article. And I hope we follow the example of Christ and the words of Paul to look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

My good friend Jeff recently shared a podcast with me about bias (Learning How to See with Brian McLaren). In the first episode of the second season, they outline 13 kinds of bias which keep us from seeing well – I’ve listed a few I think are really relevant here. I think we do well to keep these in mind when we’re looking at tough issues.


  • Confirmation Bias: it’s easy to see things that fit in with what I already think.
  • Community Bias: It’s easy to see what my community sees, and very hard to see something my community does not see.
  • Contact Bias: I see only what I have contact with.
  • Incompetency Bias: I am unaware of how much I do not know and have not seen.
  • Conspiracy Bias: I tend to believe stories that cast us as the hero or the victim, never stories where I am the villain or accomplice.
  • Catastrophe Bias: I accept information about clear and present danger – I struggle to see danger that is coming slowly.

I hope we will all be faithful in loving our neighbors and loving God, whatever that looks like.

Amen, may it be so.


Do I Have to Give Money When People Ask?

I’ve never been big on using the language of “spiritual attacks,” but I think I was spiritually attacked.

The week before we moved to Arizona, we bought a bike for me. It was a beautiful red and silver bike with narrow road tires and a heck of a lot of gears. I was pretty proud of it, and on it I gracefully cruised the streets of Phoenix. It was such a great bike I didn’t even mind that I didn’t know where I was going – riding was so enjoyable taking the long way was no bother, getting lost was a pleasure.


Fast forward a few weeks. I’m reading in Luke 6, and I came across Jesus’ words.

“Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.”

Luke 6:30

I was a bit struck by that. Jesus doesn’t throw in any caveats or backdoors. If you want to obey Jesus, it looks like you actually have to give to every single person who asks of you. People constantly ask me for things in town. Most folks just want a little change – last week a guy outside Walgreens asked me to help him roll a cigarette. The more I thought about this the more perplexed I became. If you want to follow Jesus, you actually don’t get to say no when people ask you for something material. And then I remembered reading that my friend Rich in NYC said he keeps gospel tracks and quarters with him so whenever someone asks he has something to give.

So that night after work I pitched my idea to Aleisha. I’ll make a real effort to keep $1 bills in my wallet. And whenever someone asks, I will have something (admittedly very small) to give them. This way, I already know before I’m asked that the answer is yes. I don’t have to evaluate or ask them what they want to spend it on – Jesus didn’t say any of those things matter. I figured, hey – I probably get hit up for cash five times a week max, and we can spare $5 a week.

Little did I know the very night I was telling Aleisha my dollar bills plan in the kitchen someone was stealing my bike! My beautiful bike! Someone walked down the steps into our complex courtyard, cut the cable bike lock holding our two bikes together, and took off with mine. Her bike remains unlocked and no one touches it, which offends her just a little.

I was pretty shocked. Of the two of us, I’m definitely the least cautious one about locking things up. I once even wrote a post about how we shouldn’t lock our cars (which I now definitely do). It jarred me that someone would bring a cable cutter and drag off my bike. I still contemplate what I would do if I saw it peddled around the neighborhood. Jesus seems to say I should just keep driving. And this brings up the question, why help people if you know they’re not going to “better themselves” with your gift? We ask this all the time. When we were back in South Carolina last weekend, it came up around the Sunday lunch table. What is our response when someone continually takes what we give them and makes bad choices? When they are handed resources and their situation does not improve?

I’m convinced the answer lies in our reason for giving. If we give away our money, our time, our resources, etc. solely because we are aiming to instigate change, we will become bitter and only begrudgingly give our gifts. If our giving (and lending) is done in a way that the wisdom of giving (or not giving) is judged by the result, we will have a very very very hard time keeping Jesus’ command in Luke 6. If we see our gifts, our helping hand, as an investment into someone else intended to pay dividends or produce results or get that person to change, we’re going to get jaded. And fast.

Our reason, I’m convinced, must be much more simple: because Jesus said to do it. With this as our why, we are no longer tied to what becomes of our gifts. We can give knowing we have done the work of God, kept the commands of Christ, pleased our Lord. And there are those who say, well what if tons and tons of people ask me for money? And I suppose that’s why it’s hard for the rich to enter the kingdom – there is much more to leave behind. In this model, we don’t have to walk through life sighing and groaning about other people’s bad decisions or lack of judgement or poor investments. If we give because Christ is Lord and it’s what he has asked, our joy is not tied to the results of the gift. I think it could be argued that we are more blessed when we don’t see those results.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Matthew 6:2-4

I believe this idea of giving and being free from worrying about the result actually applies much more broadly. In one of my classes, we studied a work by communication scholar John Durham Peters. He compared Jesus’ teaching style with that of Socrates and used the parable of the sower as an illustration. Socrates, he argued, taught with dialogue – if you’ve ever read The Republic, you remember how it’s a few guys sitting in a circle arguing about things, and Socrates is always winning them over to his point of view. It’s back and forth and Socrates doesn’t move on to the next point until the hearer is tracking with him. He doesn’t waste his words – he speaks to persuade.

Jesus did not do that. He went up on a mountain side and told confusing stories to crowds of people. He was a masterful teacher, but he didn’t always make things very clear or make sure everyone was on board with the message. Sometimes he was so cryptic that even the disciples came up to him afterwards and asked what the heck he was talking about. He sowed the seed of his word on all kinds of ground – some of it came up, and some of it did not. But Jesus was obedient to his father in proclaiming the truth to them who had ears to hear. Peters’ point is that Jesus sows indiscriminately – his love is given out – his words are often “wasted” in the sense that they don’t produce followers. Sometimes his words actually turned people away. But Jesus is about his father’s work, not about producing results and making cunning investments.

And what a freeing paradigm that is. Our work, our gifts, our time, and our lives do not have to be measured by the return they yield. Our effort does not have to be validated by the results produced. I think this is what Paul means when he says,

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

Colossians 3:23-24

If I work for the Lord, if I give because Jesus told me to, then the observable results are not how I measure my success or failure. Instead, I take joy in knowing I have been obedient. Obedience is how the kingdom of God comes to earth, not crafty investments, not high interest rates, not giving to the “right” beggars. When I get up on stage and give a speech, the crowd’s reaction has nothing to do with whether or not I was obedient. When I post this piece, whether or not any of you “like” it has nothing to do with whether or not I wrote as to the Lord. When I am honest about my taxes or when I pick up trash or return a shopping cart or lend money to that person again or share the gospel with a stranger; if my reason for doing so is because Jesus told me to, it doesn’t matter so much what happens next. Jesus, and his people, scatter freely. They refuse none who ask.

So I’m going to try to keep dollar bills in my wallet. And I’m going to try not to be resentful if I see my bike in the neighborhood. And I’m going to try to work as to the Lord.

And there lies, I think, the real freedom that Christ and his kingdom have to offer. It’s a new way of seeing the world and seeing the other.


Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
    for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.
 Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,
    who conduct their affairs with justice. Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
    they will be remembered forever.
 They will have no fear of bad news;
    their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
 Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear;
    in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
 They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor,
    their righteousness endures forever;
    their horn will be lifted high in honor.

(Psalm 112)

objeción

nothing is static as a matter of fact.

but the world is a hard and strange place

that’s been chosen for us to live in.

nothing is static, no full stop, but we pretend it is,

just to stay alive.

when i stumble down the stairs, bleary eyed

in the dark cocktail of a morning and night,

i have to assume those stairs are stationary and fixed in place.

i don’t have the energy or stability to account for a trillion

molecules smashing into each other – i just need to pee.

the river and the city built around it and the

one point six three three million people inside

are always changing: aging, growing, hurting, birthing, wilting, laughing, dying, rising,

with each passing, scorching day.

but i’m just one guy, it’s all just “phoenix” to me.

it’s too complex to account for: that the girl two

streets over threw a quinceanera that her boyfriend didn’t attend,

that the homeless population rose by three last night,

but then only by two because alcohol impairs vision,

nothing is static, but i can’t attend to it all.

so, to survive, i assume yesterday is today

just in older clothes, that the situation has remained

unchanged since i last assessed it,

that the girl and her city and its politicians and their priests

are all just the same as they used to be,

that if my worldview could make sense of things,

then my kids can use it too – my conceptions of

god, the good guys, and who we fight should carry

them through – my politics, my conceptions and translations,

just pass ’em on down like old time religion,

but everything ain’t the same. the temperature has changed.

the girl two streets over has her own kids. god lets women preach now?

there are new enemies. have the good guys sold out?

and i’m caught in the vice of the terrifying reality

that we might have been wrong. i might not know!

so my options are narrow: i can either pee myself on the

stairs trying to stay up to speed on the objective nature of

“how things really are” or i can keep running on my

outdated conceptions, keep pretending i know what’s what,

live as if yesterday is today just one revolution older.

or alternatively, i could just give up the game,

instead of explaining and knowing and ridiculing and condemning,

i could strike a golden mean, find a faithful path

between assuming what was true yesterday is true today

and despairing from doubt and my ignorance of everything.

it might mean walking with my eyes open,

it might mean sacrificing my niche tribe identity,

it might mean re-calibrating my perspective constantly,

it would mean redefining who we mean by we, and admitting i

cannot know objectively that which is not an object.

Telling Tales, Taking Trips

In the last two weeks I put put together three videos telling stories. The first is about the first week of vacation bible school at Aim Right. The second is a highlight video shot at Circle K Camp in Colorado where Aim Right takes a group of teens each summer. And the third is a narrative briefly telling the history of Aim Right from 1991 to 2021. These videos were made to be shown at Aim Right’s 30 year anniversary reunion in Ohio. This post is about shooting and producing these videos and our trip to Ohio this past weekend.

Aim Right VBS 2021

I’m new enough to videography that it seems like I learn a new skill or tool each time I make a video. In this video I learned how to do a flicker scene change. It makes for a more interesting transition and helps to move from one portion of the narrative to another.

This was an interesting project because it’s built around a piece of music. Before the week of VBS started, I’d been trying to figure out a way to capture the feel and look of the empty church sanctuary and juxtapose that with scenes of excited kids. I was thrilled when I came across this music track that matched that idea perfectly. And I’m really pleased with how it turned out. As I was going through the footage I noticed I had almost perfectly captured the same shot twice on two different days. This meant I had the panning shot of the light bulbs in the sanctuary both with and without kids in the room. And this is what the transition from the first to second part is built around.


Summer Camp 2021

Aleisha and Mike Dienner shot all the footage for this project. I had just started my new job at Grand Canyon University a few weeks before they left for camp, and taking off for a whole week to go to Colorado wasn’t really an option.

During editing this project I learned a bit about how to make elements from different scenes interact with one another. You see this in the intro when the Aim Right logo appears and the rest of the shot turns to black and white. I needed the background washed out in order for the logo to be clear, so making it seem like the logo’s appearance moved the scene to black and white was a natural choice. The intro is definitely my favorite part of the project. Mike flew my drone up the river and also high above the kids playing soccer. By reversing the direction of the river clip and speeding it (and the soccer clip) up to about 1250%, I got the effect of pushing in and then rushing out that I wanted.

The ending scene is similar. They got a cool shot of Nicole blowing out candles, but I couldn’t figure out where to put that in the video. I decided to try to make the candles flickering out and the logo flickering in coincide, and it worked! By slowing down the footage of the candles, I was able to make the logo part of that interaction as well.


Aim Right 30 Years

This project was created to highlight some of Aim Right’s history as well as the partnerships the ministry is currently involved in. I filmed Caleb and Stephanie talking about the partnerships at different locations and then had Stephanie read an overview I wrote.

In this video I learned how to make dots on a timeline appear. This was surprisingly hard, and it undoubtedly could’ve been done more efficiently. I literally found a shape and made it appear 30 separate times by using 30 separate video tracks, each entering slightly after the one before. In video editing there are tons of ways to make what you want to see happen. I’m still learning how to be efficient. See photo below showing 7 of the 30 tracks.

The most challenging part of this project was in pacing and narrative structure. How do you let the audience know they’ll be hearing a narration read by a voice off screen and still keep them interested in what’s happening on screen? How do you weave a story spanning 30 years together with information about current events? By slowing the videos down during the narration parts and then playing the interview-on-site scenes in real time with no b-roll, I was able to signal what was happening in a (hopefully) coherent way.


Ohio

Aleisha and I got on a plane to Cleveland on Friday at 8:30 a.m. Unfortunately, that plane’s main engine overheated during takeoff and we had to make a landing in Denver. [Side note: the Denver airstrip looks like the middle of a cow pasture] A few hours later, we boarded a new flight and then got to reunion in Holmes County, Ohio at about 10:30 p.m., just as everyone was walking out. We took the pizza they saved for us back to the house where we were staying and devoured it. I for one was famished and dehydrated – Frontier Airlines kept apologizing for our inconvenience, but still wanted three bucks for a bottle of water and didn’t serve any refreshments. Lesson learned on buying the cheapest flights.

The main event was Saturday. We got to see and hear from interns and staff members of Aim Right spanning all the way back to the early 70s. Aleisha was part of a panel of interns who talked about their experience serving at Aim Right. Everyone got these cool mugs and t-shirts. There was even one of those banners to take a picture beside. Below, Mike is interviewing Jose about his experience as a teen who has been a key part of Aim Right for several years.

One of the first things I noticed as we flew into Cleveland was the grass. It was so green, everywhere. That’s something I took for granted before moving to the desert. There are also hills and all the roads are curvy – it was fun driving winding roads again. As we walked into the house we were staying at, I just kind of stopped and looked around – the place seemed huge. Rooms and rooms and two levels and closets everywhere. In the context of the country living, it wasn’t a very large house. But after moving into an apartment, houses with four or five bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room, living room, ect. just seem massive, and kind of excessive. There’s so much empty space.

Our flight back to Phoenix left at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday, so we had time to eat lunch with Ruby’s family and the other Aim Right interns. About 45 minutes into our trip to the airport, we realized we were indeed headed to the wrong airport. Thankfully we only felt foolish and didn’t miss our flight. It’s long been a dream of mine to fly at night on July 4th. And it was magical. As we descended into Nashville for our layover, the ground below us was alight with red, blue, green, white, and gold. You could see fireworks going up out of subdivisions and big commercial displays and kids holding Roman candles in driveways.

On the flight back to Phoenix, we read our books and crooked our necks trying to sleep while the plane bumped along through storms and winds and whatever is up thirty thousand feet between Nashville and Phoenix. Aleisha is reading The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World – John Mark Comer, and I’m reading The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma – Bessel Van Der Kolk. She’s learning practices to help up live more restful and less frantic lives – something that Protestant Americans are just simply programmed against from birth. And I’m learning about the way a traumatic experience can alter our bodies, rewire our brains, and keep us unable to distinguish past from present. It’s also a fascinating look into the different ways we know and remember. As modern people, we tend to assume all knowledge is housed in the brain, and we neglect the ways our bodies learn, know, and remember at a much deeper level. I’m planning to do a master’s degree in clinical mental health, and this book is making me consider focusing on trauma. I’d highly recommend it – it’s easy to read and loaded with stories.

And for now, we back in Phoenix!

How We Got to Memphis

Carolina.

Last summer, Aleisha and I were in Arizona sitting around a dinner table when someone threw out a job offer and said we should move out. At the time, I was doing an internship for my degree while Aleisha was leading a group of interns at Aim Right Ministries. After those six weeks in Phoenix , we flew back home to South Carolina; Aleisha went back to her new job, and I started my senior year of college. Still the dinner table conversation and the offer stayed in the back of our minds.

During my senior year, I got to take the best classes of my degree programs. Communication and theology courses at the 300 and 400 level – to me that’s exciting, some folks not so much, I get that. I really loved those courses and the papers I got to write, and I started thinking about a master’s degree – but I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it in communication. Over the summer I’d listened to a lot of podcasts and lectures from (and about) psychologists, and I was toying with the idea of a master’s degree in counseling psychology. By the time graduation came, I decided therapy was the career path I wanted to start pursuing. And unlike many positions, that ain’t one you can just learn on the job – you have to do a masters degree. As Aleisha and I talked about our options, Phoenix started making more and more sense.

The job offer from our dinner conversation was at Grand Canyon University as an admissions counselor – included was the benefit of free tuition to the university as an employee. Aleisha was also offered a job as the youth pastor of Aim Right Ministries where she’d served as an intern for several summers. After a few phone calls to make sure the job offers were serious and not just off-the-cuff remarks to make conversation, we decided to move from the green hills of east to the desert of the west. Our timeline for moving changed more times than I can remember. The end of June, the end of May…and we ended up moving the end of April, right after my graduation party.

Phoenix.

And here we are!

It was not easy in many respects. Finding an apartment in your own town in crazy hard right now, much less the other side of the country. Getting all your belongings across Texas and every other state standing between is hard as well. Somehow we did both in a very short amount of time. But several times I’ve remarked to Aleisha how nearly impossible it would’ve been if we didn’t have a support system around us. We had friends in Phoenix who scoped out a place for us to rent – our families to help us figure out transferring legal documents, selling vehicles, and loading all our earthly possessions in a one way U-Haul – and we had grandparents who so graciously drove our things all the way across the country so we didn’t have to worry about taking a car we didn’t trust or renting a truck that would be way too big. And there were so many friends who slid us a gift card or some cash or a blessing for leaving.

Currently, we’re living on the upper level of the beautiful old church building where Aim Right is located. Our lease didn’t start for more than a month after I had to start my job training, so we wake up every morning in an old Sunday school classroom and walk through the sanctuary to go the bathroom. Aleisha is transitioning into directing the youth programming at Aim Right. I’m working for Grand Canyon University on the third floor of building 18. I plan to take about a year to enjoy being graduated and get settled before starting the masters in mental health counseling program.

We’re loving life in the city. The other night we walked with Mike into downtown to get some drinks. And on Saturday morning, we went for a hike up a local mountain. If you search for a restaurant, the question isn’t whether there’s one around but which one is closest. If you can live without seeing much grass, Phoenix pretty much has everything. Except of course for emptiness and wide open spaces. Having everything does come at the cost of not having empty places – sounds obvious when you say it, but part of the charm of the rural southeast is the fact that there isn’t everything. The campus where I work has two Chic-fil-a locations within a square mile. I remember seeing Los Angeles for the first time, then sitting down on a couch and writing these words about that city – they seem true of this one too.


It’s something like Cinderella / Something like a machine,

Something like my hometown / Just got more of everything,


At the time of moving we didn’t trust either of our cars to make it across the country. So we flew out and bought this 2009 Toyota Venza. It’s been great so far, and you could probably sleep in the trunk space. I take it to work four days a week. The apartment we’re getting is within biking distance of Aim Right, so that’s how Aleisha will be getting to work for the time being.

Sunday starts the first week of Aim Right’s summer VBS. We’ve been coming out to help with it for the past three summers, and I love it so much. We also get to help with “mobile pantry,” one Thursday morning a month a local food bank brings a semi-truck with pallets of food which we set up on tables in the parking lot and distribute for free to anyone who comes by (usually between 30 and 60 families). We also got to be a part of the last serve event Unite PHX put on. (see the video I made below).


My favorite T.V. show of all time is The Newsroom. And there’s a scene where Charlie asks this kid musician, Bo, “What’s a kid from New Rochelle doing singing about Memphis?” And he says, “Memphis is a stand-in for wherever you are right now. That it really means that’s how I got here.”

I always think it’s fun to think back through the thread of events that lead up to the present, to see if you can pull the strand all the way to its end. Of course, it’s never really possible since no thing exists outside of relation to the things around it. I’m sitting on a couch in a church in Phoenix right now because we got a job offer last summer – but we were only there because when she was 20 Aleisha decided to move to Aim Right to volunteer for a year – and I really decided to take my new job because of the tuition benefit for the masters program – I only knew I wanted to be a therapist after getting a communication degree – it was in Oregon as an intern that I decided to go to college at all. Each moment is in some way brought into existence as the one before it passes away. One thing dies so another can live – we have been becoming who we are all along. Or as a philosopher said, “The self is only that which it is in the process of becoming.”

We’re always in process, and it has been such a gift for Aleisha and I to figure out what will come next for us in the presence of such good folks. Our families have helped us – our friends have supported us – other friends have taken us in – and the Lord has led us. And I suppose you might say, that is how we got to Memphis.


What’s the Weekend For?

This is a revised version my capstone paper for the communication studies program at TFC. The full paper can be found here.


Workin’ Nine to Five

The workweek is often viewed as a prerequisite to the weekend. This is to say the workweek is a necessary, but somewhat contemptible, element of surviving 21st century American life. For many, the hours between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. represent a sort of paid servitude in which they submit themselves to the whims of corporations so they can live the good life on weekends and holidays. The work done from Monday through Friday is often a kind of ritual we participate in as a tradeoff: daily labor in exchange for daily sustenance and the freedom and means to enjoy the weekend. Implicit in this paradigm is the conclusion that if we could bypass the ritual of the workweek and live in a constant state of “weekend,” we would experience a much more fulfilling existence. However, in order to understand the nine to five workweek and subsequent weekend from a biblical perspective, we must understand humanity’s purpose in culture and the true meaning of our work.

What Is Culture?

The essentialist notion suggests culture is merely the sum total of individuals melded together – that our identity is formed and then imposed upon culture in an impactful way. I don’t think this is a good way to understand the situation. Rather, culture is the space where our identity is worked out, where choices are made, and where meaning is constructed. Apart from culture we cannot know our identity. We cannot make sense of our existence apart from culture, for it is in the space of society that we negotiate, construct, and share meaning.

We cannot know or experience God apart from culture. In culture, we realize our purpose, become holy, and fulfill the task of being God’s image bearers. Culture is where humanity glorifies God by creating and ruling, and no attempt should be made to escape from the context of culture. Not only is this impossible, but to do so is to flee from the invitation to meet God.

[Christology] How Does Christ Demonstrate True Humanity?

            Christ comes to earth as the “seed” spoken of prophetically all the way back in Genesis 3. He fulfills the tasks given to humanity, and he does so as a man. Christ is the first human to truly and completely bear God’s image, thus he is the first true human since Adam. Throughout his life, Christ demonstrates the love of God, always yielding to the Father’s will and never committing a single act of sin. If it is true that Christ’s triumph was located in the space of culture and cultural activities (brushing his teeth, going to market, learning a trade etc.), then it must be true that these are activities inside the realm of the sacred work God intends for humanity to do.

[Ecclesiology] How Does the Church Function as True Humanity?

When Christ came to earth, he did not integrate with the flesh nor did he integrate into culture; he became flesh – he was born into culture. As the complete and perfect vision of what humanity ought to be, the divine Word took on flesh and lived the life of a human being familiar with he struggles and experience of humankind (Heb 4:15). Christ is not human in some abstract way, nor is his humanness limited to the pain he felt on the cross. For thirty-three years, Christ experienced an embodied life on earth and participated in the activities of culture. He learned to speak, learned to walk, learned what kinds of foods his particular set of tastebuds liked, developed a unique personality, made friends, went through puberty, etc. It was not in spite of these elements that Christ was able to demonstrate what true humanity looks like; rather, it was through them. And though he lived as true humanity, his own brother failed to recognize him as such, a testament to the regularity and normalcy which served as the context for his perfect life.

Tish Harrison Warren writes,

“The crucible of our formation is in the anonymous monotony of our daily routines.”

Like Christ, we inhabit cultural space, and this is the position in which we meet God. Like Jesus, the saints find themselves in the crucible of the everyday, situated inside familiar worlds with familiar routines and tasked with working out what it means to represent God faithfully. It is in the minute-by-minute actions and choices of the everyday that we construct our identity, that we lay claim to a status quo, that what will be normal is brought into existence. Whether this reality will be one of kindness or exploitation is decided in the space of the everyday, because it is in the everyday that the self works out what and who it will be.

Warren continues,

A sign hangs on the wall in a New Monastic Christian community house: “Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.”… I often want to skip the boring, daily stuff to get to the thrill of an edgy faith. But it’s in the dailiness of the Christian faith – the making the bed, doing the dishes, the praying for our enemies, the reading the Bible, the quiet, the small – that God’s transformation takes root and grows.

(Warren, 36).

Warren’s point is that we can glorify God in the space of culture not in spite of, rather because of, our embodiment. However, it is only when we understand our bodies as instruments of worship that we are able to give the whole of our lives in service to God. Too often, we fear the worship we are called to can only take place in what we’ve deemed to be special or spiritualized contexts. There is a messiness and uncertainty about parts of our lives which often leads us to understand only certain pieces of our existence as potential contexts for worship.

[Streams of Meaning] How Do We Make Sense of Our Lives?

Within Evangelical Christianity, there is a prevalent, and often implicit, principle by which all of life is organized. This principle organized life into two streams: one sacred and the other secular. From this perspective, every action, artifact, event, and person can be understood as existing in either the one stream or the other. A clear line of delineation separates the holy from the profane, the Christian from the worldly, the sacred from the secular. This creates a dichotomy and envisions effective believers as those who build bridges between the sacred and the secular in hopes of impacting culture. Implicit in the framing of the Christian’s place in the world is the understanding that to be sacred is to be apart from culture – that to be kingdom minded is to move actions, artifacts, events, and persons from one stream to the other, secular into sacred.

“Secular” spaces are viewed as places to be won over into (or influenced by) the “sacred” sphere. This framework often leads us to be suspicious of creative, artistic endeavors which aren’t done for the express purpose of evangelism and perhaps why films like God’s Not Dead, though a bit cheesy, are so appealing. It’s easy to see understand owning Atheist professors as God-honoring, perhaps it takes a bit more faith to see weeding a garden, painting a portrait, or going to a concert as such. So Christians have often sought to create outside the context of “the world.” The word Christian is a moniker for supposedly non-cultural creative endeavors. Movies, music, conferences, consumer items, businesses, etc. are created in hopes of being a bridge between us and them, church and world, sacred and secular. Perhaps a better, and more biblical, model is to understand all of creation, that is every inch of culture, as a potential dwelling place for God. This would mean the Christian’s task is to institute the order of God wherever she finds herself. The two-stream model gives way to the understanding that God did not give humankind only a small piece of the world to inhabit and rule.

The command to exercise creativity and authority is not limited to “Christian” spaces if all of creation is a potential dwelling place, a temple, for God. Our obedience to God makes present the kingdom of heaven and moves towards the restoration of relationships between God, humanity, and creation. Yet the potential for this work is severely stunted when we try to impact culture from an understanding in which the church exists outside of and then moves into culture.

[The Workweek] How Can Vocation Be Understood as Temple and Work as Worship?

The 40-hour work week must be understood as a space in which we worship God and in which we become holy. All the tasks which await the worker are opportunities to glorify the God who made humankind with the ability to create, to arrange the chaotic cosmos into an ordered world, to take an acre and make it a garden, to take raw data and draw a conclusion. Warren writes, “We grow in holiness in the honing of our specific vocation. We can’t be holy in the abstract. Instead, we become a holy blacksmith or a holy mother or a holy physician or a holy systems analyst. We seek God in and through our particular vocation and place in life” (Warren, 94). Whether we find ourselves as mothers, architects, teachers, ditch diggers, or mathematicians, the workweek must be understood, in faith, as a cultural ritual in which we joyfully participate for the purpose of meeting God and offering him our work as worship.

Martin Luther said, “God himself will milk cows through him whose vocation it is.”

      I remember listening to Mike Donehey say with an air of profundity between songs at a Tenth Avenue North concert that he was not a musician who happened to be a Christian, but rather a Christian who happened to be a musician. Warren is suggesting that we cannot become properly “Christian”, which is to say like Christ, outside of embodied experience. We cannot become rightly Christian before we become musicians – it is only in working out what it means to be a Christ-like musician, or a carpenter like Christ, or a metalworker in the image of God that we can become Christian, that God will make us holy. We are intended to live lives of worship grounded in cultural space. Quips like Donehey’s, while perhaps helpful in some way, suggest implicitly that one can develop an essential identity in Christ and then impose it upon the outside world. However, Warren’s approach is preferred as it is able to give a much fuller, more holistic account of the everyday. Whereas Donehey’s Christianity comes before his cultural vocation, Warren’s doesn’t exist without it.

In Exodus 31, there is a connection between being filled with God’s Spirit and being able to do vocational work well.

See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills – to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. (Exod 31:2-5)

In this passage it seems being spiritual and being vocational are intertwined. It was precisely in these acts of crafting that Bezalel demonstrated wisdom, understanding, and communion with the Spirit of God. Yet many Christians are only able to draw a connection between vocation and communion with God, or worship, if the work is explicitly church related. In this way, we default to the two-stream paradigm of some work being sacred and some being secular, and we miss out on understanding all the labor of our vocation as an offering of worship.

When we lack the faith to believe God might receive the worship we offer him through our ordinary work, we resort to other conceptions of the workweek. Tim Keller notes some popular options we tend to choose:

“a place to get rich so we can be generous, a place to wear a cheerful face, a place to evangelize coworkers, or a place to find satisfaction in enjoyable tasks.”

These conceptions of vocational worship may have their place, but in them the potential for understanding work as worship and culture as temple is diminished. The faithful Christian teaching holds that all work which is not immoral or unethical is part of God’s kingdom mission, his plan to redeem all things. If the Lord is serious about redeeming all things, then there is no task which cannot be understood as kingdom work. Warren writes,

When we use our bodies for their intended purpose – in gathered worship, raising our hands or singing or kneeling, or, in our average day, sleeping or savoring a meal or jumping or hiking or running or having sex with our spouse or kneeling in prayer or nursing a baby or digging a garden – it is glorious, as glorious as a great cathedral being used just as its architect had dreamt it would be.

Warren, 45

We must not be content with any eschatological conception of work which relegates activities into realms of sacred and secular based simply on spiritualization. If Christ really became a man born of woman, and if he really did rise from the dead, then believers can take to the world and joyfully bring their God-given creativity and authority to bear in the cultural context of the everyday. We can be confident the ordinary tasks of everyday existence are acts of worship if we will only offer them.

[Sabbath] How Can the Weekend Be Understood as True Rest?

            Life in the 21st century west is governed by cyclical rhythms. Most of these rhythms are drawn from the natural order: the four changing seasons signaled by the weather, 365-day years signaled by the earth’s revolution around the sun, 30 day months signaled by the moon’s orbit of the earth, etc. However, there is no clear indication from the natural world which would signal a seven-day week (or a two day weekend). This rhythm is an arbitrary social construction which, in Judeo-Christian thought, originates from the creation account in which God works six days and rests on the seventh. In 1926, Henry Ford decided to give employees Saturday and Sunday off, and he instituted the forty-hour work week. “An altruistic move in part, it also gave his workers the opportunity to spend their down time buying consumer products, keeping cash circulating through the economy” (BBC, 2019). It wasn’t long before the weekend caught on nationally and became a defining element of American life.

A prevailing conception of the contemporary workweek/weekend paradigm understands the forty hours of work from Monday to Friday as a barrier to the good life. The weekend is the ideal – it is where we revel in enjoyment, freedom, and leisure while the stress of the next workweek looms. From this perspective the workweek is a barrier, and the weekend is a destination. This desire to escape the workweek ritual is evidenced by the willingness of the working class to play the lottery. Millions of dollars are spent each year in hopes of hitting the jackpot – this incredible sum of money is sought as a guarantee that the workweek will no longer be a necessary part of the American experience.

In their study, Bankrate found “Americans earning less than $30,000 admit to spending about 13% of their income on lottery tickets”

(Leonhardt, 2019).

            For the believer who understands the workweek as a site of worship, exhausting though it may be, the weekend can be understood as a time of rest, reflection, and anticipation. Rather than an escape from the meaningless and mundane, the weekend can be viewed as Sabbath rest. Here, there is space for reflecting on the work of the previous week, regaining strength for tasks to come, and looking forward to the sacred tasks which are in view. In this way the weekend and the workweek are not disjointed, opposed realities but elements of a sacred rhythm. The weekend from this perspective is no longer the ideal, rather it is a celebration of what God has allowed us to do as well as preparation for the work he has planned for us. Congregants can gather together on Sunday as brothers and sisters in the process of being made holy through their vocations and celebrate the presence of the kingdom manifested in their workweek. They can also understand their Sunday (or Monday or Tuesday…) afternoon at the lake or in the woods as worship.

Conclusion

If any action cannot be understood as a sacred, kingdom oriented, God-glorifying task, then either it is sinful or the framework for understanding that action is insufficient.

Our theology of culture must be able to account for every act performed by the Christian in freedom as a fulfillment of the task given to humanity, provided that act is not unethical or immoral. As such, every interaction with a coworker, every email, every purchase, every step, every breath is an opportunity to be the image of God – not by spiritualizing every interaction – but by choosing the way of Jesus moment by moment. The vast majority of Christ’s life is not recorded in Scripture. Yet we know he was faithful in every regard; in every cultural activity he embodied faithfulness. With this in view, we can say with confidence: if God has tasked humanity with bearing his image through creativity and authority, and if the Spirit of God has set free from bondage those who are in Christ, and if Jesus himself exemplified true humanity by living within the context of embodied experience on earth, then every moment may be sacred. Every floor tile may be holy ground. Every action may be one which expands the order of the kingdom. Every inch of creation may be a temple for the Lord God.

What About Capital Punishment?

In episode 7 on The Abstract Podcast, we wrestled with the idea and implications of the death penalty and looked at what Paul has to say in Romans 13. Below are some of my own thoughts (compiled for a class assignment) and posted here to accompany our discussion on the podcast. There are certainly varying opinions on this matter, but I think it’s an one important to think about.


You can listen to Ep. 7 “Dr. Suess, Firing Squads, and Big Checks for Everyone” using this link – or by finding us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, ect.


The death penalty is a hard issue for me to grapple with. My position comes is that the government does indeed have the right to exercise capital punishment. The pros for this argument seem pretty straightforward. The state is responsible for the protection and well-being of its people. It is tasked with opposing forces which endanger the well being of its people. Often, these enemies are outside the territory, or country as the case may be. The state may deem violence necessary as an act of protecting its people, and it may kill those whom it deems an imminent threat. Similarly, the state may declare a person/force inside the territory to be an immanent threat and decide violence against them is the best move forward.

Paul writes in Romans 13:4, “For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” From this scripture, as well as rather simple logic, it seems the state must possess the authority to do violence against threats to the common good for the purpose of protecting its people. Paul assumes in this chapter that the state is set up and operating for the purpose of punishing evil, not good. “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong” (Romans 13:3).

However, the situation is muddied for a few reasons. Paul writes, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has establishedFor the one in authority is God’s servant for your good.” (Romans 13:1, 4). Paul assumes the “one in authority” has the good of the public in mind. This is obviously not always the case. In most instances of abuse, the abuser is able to perpetrate violence against the victim because of the power situation – the authority was theirs, but they wielded it for harm. Surely, victims in every scenario cannot be expected to submit themselves to violence and abuse simply because they are not in charge. Paul here assumes the general interest of the state/one in authority is the good of the people. Throughout the New Testament, we also witness Paul himself getting thrown into prison time and time again for defying governing authority.

I am not in favor of the death penalty being sentenced in the United States for a few reasons. Firstly, we have the resources to mitigate the threat of persons who are too violent to live freely. They can be put in prison. Their death is not necessary to keep the public safe. Some have argued the death penalty functions as a deterrent to crimes, but this doesn’t seem to be the case when the statistic are examined. Executing terrorists who are an active threat to order and peace is not the same thing as strapping incarcerated people to a chair and electrocuting them (or shooting them at the hands of a firing squad as Utah, and perhaps South Carolina, propose). Executing prisoners with electric, poison, or assault rifles is not only practically unnecessary and barbaric, it negates any possibility of redemption and restoration. This is the Christian’s first and last hope.

In Romans 13:10 Paul writes, “Love does no harm to a neighbor.” The death penalty is the declaration stating a person is not and can never again be a neighbor in any capacity. Perhaps the most striking element of Romans 13, for the contemporary American, is Paul’s tacit assumption that the state will not act in a Christian manner. The state is not capable of the enemy love commanded by Jesus in Matthew 5. The state, which is God’s ordained institution, is not capable of the mercy characteristic of the kingdom of heaven.

Christ tells his followers to expect to be taken advantage of. However, he commands them not to retaliate and to pray for their enemies. This is a higher calling than that of the state – thus the notion of a “Christian state” is untenable. Fundamentally, the state cannot serve its purpose if it institutes the kingdom ethics required of believers. The purposes of the state and followers of Jesus are not one. As a follower of Jesus, I recognize the state’s right to exercise capital punishment, but I am not in favor of it. I recognize the protection afforded citizens comes at the expense of the blood of those who threaten, but I do not want that blood on my hands. I belong to a kingdom of loving enemies and walking the extra mile, of turning the other cheek, and doing good to those who curse. My allegiance is to that kingdom even while I walk the soil of another.