• Nihilism and Radical Community

    Many of you know, I am a sucker for Radiolab. Listening to the podcast makes cleaning the kitchen a bit more enjoyable. This afternoon I listened to the episode, "In the Dust of This Planet" which became a collaborative story on nihilism with On the Media's Brooke Gladstone in an episode called "Staring into the Abyss." 

    You can find both stories here: 

    Radiolab - In the Dust of this Planet

    On the Media- Staring into the Abyss

    I was intrigued by the idea of "Pop Nihilism." The idea that nihilism is the basic credo of cool. Both episodes suggest that nihilism, the idea that there is no purpose to life, that nothing matters, is at the root of new cultural expression. Staring into the abyss becomes a cultural statement of, "look at me, look how brave I am. I am not afraid. I am badass." Jay-Z and other celebrities have been spotted wearing clothing that reads, "In the Dust of this Planet." Nihilism is trendy. 

    And yet, as both stories suggest, this is a posture. A posture to look cool and ultimately not feel the darkness and terror of nihilism. 

    As a pastor to adolescents, I am aware of trends, and the ways in which the teens around me are responding to them. I do not get the sense that the young people around me are attracted to pop nihilism as a way to ignore the realities of the world around them. I do not seem them posturing saying, "Yes, the world is awful, I am not afraid, bring it on." 

    Instead I hear them saying, "The world is awful, no one seems to care enough to do anything about it." When you see apathy running rampant in the lives of those in positions to bring about change, the outlook for your own future seems fairly dim. 

    In the Radiolab episode they talk about two professors teaching a class on mysticism. They mention how engaged and excited the students were when they talked about the dessert fathers and mothers leaving the corrupt cities to find a new way in the wilderness. The idea of going out, of creating a new reality, of pursuing God and love to the point of such radical reorganization of ones own life sparked something in the hearts and minds of those young students. 

    I was one of them. At Eastern University I was introduced to the idea of "new monasticism." The idea being that we could create another world, one that spoke out against injustice, environmental destruction, corruption, greed, and the McDonaldlization of the American Church. I was so intrigued by the idea that Beth and I pursued it to the point of moving to Denver, CO to live in intentional Christian community. To live in a way that spoke of a new order, or a new ethic. This was our response to nihilism, to staring into the abyss, to seeing only apathy and darkness. 

    Although that experiment failed for us, the sentiment is still there. In many ways I am finding a true expression of radical community in my work at West Hills Friends. 

    We have focused our attention and energy in the Church to saving souls. Our response has been, "This world is an awful place, right? Yes, you have a chance to leave it and live somewhere far better." I am convinced we have gone about it all the wrong way. In our attempts to get young people to heaven we have only convinced them that we are just as apathetic as everyone else. That we don't really care about them, or the world in which they live. 

    What if we could communicate the radical possibilities available to them now? What if we could light up the passion of the early mystics in their hearts? What if we showed them what devoting ourselves to love could look like here and now? What if we showed them the radical possibilities of counter cultural community to speak out against injustice, hate, oppression, greed, etc.? What if we told them that Jesus is in all of this? What if we told them that as a person of faith, your life and work can mean something to the world here and now? 

  • Mojave Desert Phone Booth and Prayer

    As I washed the dishes this morning I listened to this bit on Snap Judgement.

    https://soundcloud.com/snapjudgment/snap-519-mojave-phone-booth?in=snapjudgment/sets/end-of-the-line

    My imagination was on fire thinking about a lone telephone booth in the middle of the Mojave desert that one man decided to call everyday in the hopes someone would answer. I couldn't help but think that there is something in here about prayer. 

    My expectation of prayer was that I would call up God and he would answer. My peers told me it was true, that God had spoken to them, told them what to do when they had questions and problems. So I continued calling God up, a phone ringing and ringing in a desert, my ear pressed firmly against the earpiece, hoping the ringing would stop and God would say, "hello?" 

    It never happened that way. 

    I'm becoming convinced that the action of prayer is less about relying on the miraculous power of God to do or change something, and more about us finally opening ourselves up to the miraculous power of those around us. The people who love us and are ready to help, if only we'd ask. 

    What the storyteller found in the phone booth in the Mojave Desert was the joy of connecting with fellow humans. 

    Prayer as I understand it now is an invite into the radical possibilities of communities to transform, heal, love, and create.  It is God inviting us to see the work she is doing in other humans, showing us the possibilities of love. 

    After listening to the piece, did any questions/thoughts come up for you about prayer or about connection? How have you experienced prayer?

  • Losing a narrative

    Throughout most of my early life I grew up in a part of the world where it was normal to be a conservative Christian. Indeed, my family and friends for the most part identified themselves on the spiritual and political spectrum on the right side of things. Throughout my years in an evangelical youth group I gained knowledge of the absolute truth as it was found clearly in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The evangelical movement had created for me a narrative of truth that could answer any question. I was told to be skeptical of people who tried to challenge that narrative, as they were likely the devil in disguise. 

    In 2004 that narrative became unraveled. The feared “devil in disguise” were not atheists or buddhists, but biblical scholars and theologians at Eastern University. They were not seeking to ruin my faith, but to lead me into a deeper understanding of scripture and the mystery of God’s work in the world. I didn’t lose my faith, but I lost the evangelical narrative. 

    You know, it was nice having that narrative. It was comforting to know that I had something to fall back on, that I had “good ol’ fashioned truth” that seemed backed and followed by the predominate culture. In arguments I could dismiss the other as “lost” or taken over by the devil, I was justified in distancing myself from them because their hearts were dark, their eyes unopened to the Gospel. 

    But I knew that narrative was wrong, that it had caused me so much pain. 

    So now I know there aren’t any easy answers. I know people are complex, and that I, a white, heterosexual, middle class, American, Christian see the world from a perspective of privilege. 

    I thought that coming out of this narrative would release me into a sense of freedom, of joy and happiness. It has, somewhat, but what I am realizing more now is that it has invited me into the deepest experiences of humility.

    You see, when you stop believing the narrative, and you see your privilege (as a white, heterosexual, etc.) you are constantly being humbled by those who point out how the old narrative is still informing your current worldview, and how your privilege is clouding your perspective. You are constantly being humbled by those who need to remind you that you are not the one being abused, that you are not the victim, and for that reason you cannot truly understand the injustice of those who are. 

    These last ten years of losing a narrative, and seeing my privilege have not been the release of prison I had hoped it would be. It has been a continual experience of being wrong about my own judgement. It has been a continual experience of feeling at first defensive and protective, and then embarrassed. I have felt sadness, frustration, and anger. 

    I have hesitated to speak, to write, to post on social media because I almost know for sure that even in my most “progressive Christian” mindset, I will have still found a way to speak from a place of ignorance of the other, the abused, the forgotten, and the lonely. 

    I have felt angry that at times I feel paralyzed, too afraid to offend, too afraid to see the old narrative bubble up. 

    I’m starting to realize that maybe it is not paralyzation, but an invite to shut up and listen. Why do I need to be talking right now? Could the question be…instead of talking, who SHOULD I be listening to instead? How are the voices of the abused, the marginalized, the forgotten shifting my paradigm? Those are questions of humility, and the ones that have come through this process for me. 

    This is an incredibly uncomfortable place to be. It is not fun. Perhaps this is why so many cling to the old narrative while continuing to benefit from their positions of privilege. 

    I want to be in this place right now, in fact I hope I can stay here. 

  • The adolescent nose for hypocrisy

    I remember sitting through youth group, hearing our youth pastor laying on the guilt of hypocrisy extra thick. As young Christians we had a responsibility to not hurt our message by betraying it with our sinful actions. Warning against hypocrisy was another way to make us think twice about drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and having sex before marriage. If our peers noticed us doing these things, and knew we were Christians, how would that be perceived? How could we tell our peers those things were wrong if we ourselves did them? 

    My adolescent years were ruled by nagging guilt and the fear that I was constantly letting God and my friends down. 

    At the same time, as a teenager, the adults around me reeked of hypocrisy themselves. Unfortunately, the system of guilt/shame wouldn't permit me to call them out on it. 

    Teenagers and young adults have a keen nose for hypocrisy. While they feel it within themselves, they see it just as much in the adult Christians around them. They hear the spoken values of love, peace, justice, simplicity, and kindness and see instead the opposite of those things. They see Christian communities damning their LGBTQ friends to hell in the spirit of "love." They see Christian communities praising the American flag, and the pursuit of the American dream while warning against the perils of greed and privilege. They see religious institutions gaining religious exemptions from having to provide women with birth control, and transgender students housing on college campuses while also saying that Christianity is in the business of justice and hospitality. They hear Christian communities say that God cares about all of his people, and that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, but hear Christians speaking out against immigration and calls for further marginalization of people outside our borders.

    Listen, I'm not calling for pumping more guilt into our world. All I am saying is that if we expect our young people to avoid the perils of vices like smoking, drinking and sex with the tools of hypocrisy, then we need to be open to the fact that our young people will leave us in the dust when they see our own hypocrisy. And look around, where are they? Are we so sure that the saving grace of having our youth return to the Church when they start their own families will continue to be our saving grace when this generation has finally signed off on Christianity because of it's hypocrisy? 

    I know each and every one of us is doing our very best to live in such a way that represents our values. I don't want to perpetuate the cycle of guilt and shame that is doing just fine on its own. I do hope, although, that we will listen to our teenagers and young adults. I hope we are willing to step into an uncomfortable place of listening to their concerns, and entertaining the idea that maybe we've been wrong. 

  • Closed Communication

    I am one pastor in one Quaker meeting that is part of a larger collection of sixty-two Evangelical Quaker meetings throughout the Northwest. Most of the pastors in the sixty-two meetings (churches) are a part of a e-mail listserv. Recently a pastor sent out a link to this article which talks about the "dangers" of conversations, and how they can be a poor substitue for "straight truth." 

    My head hit the desk about 25 times while reading the article. 

    I don't identify myself as an Evangelical Christian anymore, and honsetly the hybrid of Evangelical and Quaker is INCREDIBLY confusing to me sometimes. So it might be confusing to you as well, when you hear that this article was shared amongst other "Quaker" pastors and was heralded and praised by many. 

    There are too many reasons I have chosen to drop the Evangelical label. The fear, and thus control, of the conversations we have is one of them. This article suggests that the goal of conversation has changed over time, and that we only have conversations as a way to arrive at nothing that hints of "truth." 

    I don't hear a wise person, calling out a fault of our culture, I hear a person who is afraid. If we have arrived at a point in our faith where we suggest that we should turn off the streams of conversation and dialogue, that is a scary place to be. Labeling certain conversations as off limits reeks of brain washing. 

    In fact, I haven't arrived at any truth except through conversation. I, along with many in my generation, will give little attention to the straight truth talkin' man. The straight truth talkin' man doesn't care about me beyond my ability to say yes to him when he asks me if I agree with him.  I have arrived at truth only after sitting at the table with someone who cared about me as a human being, and who shared with me from their heart. I have found the truth of scripture teased out through study, and conversations with friends, professors, pastors, and others. 

    Having a death grip on "truth" will manifest itself as not allowing anyone to ask the questions that feel dangerous to that grip. After all, if your truth is truth, why fear the conversation? 

    I love Quakers because we believe God is still speaking, and that if we do the work of gathering together to listen to where God is leading us, God will indeed lead us. This is an invite into conversation, of seeking out truth together as it is unfolding for us. Who are we to close the door?  

  • Forgiveness and Spiritual Wounds

    I remember sitting at the kitchen table, pen touching paper. I had been urged, by a Christian family friend to write a letter to my father, a person who weeks prior had walked out on our family after it was revealed he had an affair. It was my Christian duty to forgive, as Christ forgave me on the cross, the ultimate payment for my sins. This letter was a manifestation of being "quick to forgive, and slow to anger," it was the first of 490 times I was to forgive my father (Matthew 18:22). 

    It wasn't until a few years ago that I realized this was the first time the Bible was used as a tool for abuse in my life. Asking a 11 year old to forgive a man who had weeks prior single handedly took my childhood from me, and who had thrown my family into turmoil was ridiculous, and not biblical. It was ridiculous because I was still trying to recover from seeing my own mother have a nervous breakdown on our living room floor just days before. It was ridiculous because in that moment I was trying to process the thought that I needed to be a father to my two younger brothers. It was ridiculous because I was hearing my father punching doors and screaming at my mother on the day they first confronted each other, for all I knew he was killing her. It was ridiculous because I was afraid my father would take me away from my mother. It was ridiculous because forgiving my father let him off the hook for all of this. It was ridiculous because the forgiveness implied I needed to let go of all the feelings of anger, fear, and betrayal he had caused.

    Here is the problem with using the Bible as a tool for matters of forgiveness for people who have experienced trauma and abuse, the Bible is not clear about what forgiveness looks like. There are as many as five different modes of forgiveness in scripture, and to pull out one as the standard for all cases sets up people for spiritual woundedness, pain, and seperation from God.  The Church needs to stop rushing wounded people into forgiveness of those who have harmed them. The Church needs to come alongside those who have been wounded, to help them with healing, and discover if forgiveness is possible, wanted, or benefical in the healing process. 

    Here I use Dr. James Newton's Five Types of Forgiveness 

    1. Everyday forgiveness (Mt. 18:21-22, Colossians 3:13) forgiving our neighbors on a daily basis likely means carrying with us a spirit of forgiveness in our daily interactions with strangers, family members and friends. Think about all of the times throughout our days when someone offends us, makes us angry or mildly upset, or harms us unintentionally. A spirit of forgiveness opens us up to acknowledging that the humans around us are fragile, and who may hurt us from a place of their own woundedness. It's often not about us, and forgiveness is a step towards healing for them, and as long as that harm they passed on to us is mostly harmless, extending forgiveness is an incredible and radical expression of love. 

    2. 2-3 Day Forgiveness (Luke 17:3) What if we all need time to learn and think about what we have done to harm someone? What happens if immediate forgiveness lets us off the hook of examining ourselves and discovering the places of ourselves that need healing? What if the person who has been harmed needs 2-3 days to let the anger and pain subside, to do some mini-healing for themselves? What happens if this 2-3 day cooling off period is best for both parties to restore their relationship? 

    3. Take it to the church forgiveness (Matthew 18:15-17) What structures are in place in our churches to assist each other in forgiveness and restoration of relationships when we have wronged each other? When does it become the work of our elders and church leadership to assist in this process? 

    4. Forgiveness as separation (Mt. 18:17) The above passage is kind of harsh. Allowing someone to be let go as if they are a "gentile or tax collector" seems severe. Some biblical scholars have suggested that this part was added later, but regardless I think this passage is talking about someone who is hard hearted. Haven't we interacted with someone who is so hard of heart that we know that change/restoration/forgiveness is not possible? Is this not a dose of reality in the realness of humanity? I would add that perhaps someone in the process of forgiveness to keep a window cracked. Perhaps the prolonged seperation will allow the offense to season for the offender, and perhaps healing can happen further down the road. 

    5. Leaving forgiveness to God (Luke 23:24) Jesus hands the work of forgiveness to his father. At times is asking God to forgive someone who has harmed us the best thing we can do? Are we catching a glimpse into the limits of human love? Are we seeing Jesus, the human, expressing the limits of his humanity, and calling upon the higher power to step in? I think so, and it's fascinating. 

    There is no telling how much my experience at my dinner table that night impacted my understanding of God. I know, and remember, that as I wrote the letter that the words weren't true. I was not ready to forgive my father, and I'm still not sure I am.

    I understand the power of forgiveness to change the world. I am also understanding the power of healing to bring all of us back into relationship with God. 

  • Sexual Abuse, the Church, and Youth/Children Ministry

    I am through day one of three of a child sexual abuse prevention class led by Linda Crockett of the Samaritan Counseling Center. After day one I am left with the feeling that we, the Church, have done an awful job of creating safe places for our children and teenagers. There could be many reasons for this, but I keep returning to the thought that we look at the children/teens in our churches as below the adults in our congregations. We look at the real work of the church as happening in and amongst the adults. Our children/teens come with the territory, and it's probably wise to have some sort of programming available to them. 

    There are plenty of incredible statistcs and studies out there that prove how what happens and doesn't happen during our childhood and adolesence years shapes the outcome of our adulthood, maybe even the rest of our lives. One in four girls will have experienced sexual abuse before they turn 18. One in six boys will experience sexual abuse before they turn 18. The effects of this abuse will often last a lifetime, but often do not come out until the person reaches their 30's or 40's. It's during this time that churches seem to butter their bread. When past trauma finally manifests itself, the Church built for adults is there (sometimes) to be a place where healing can happen. And yet, the Church is woefully absent in the years where abuse is actually happening, missing the oppoutnity to perhaps prevent the abuse in the first place, or to be a sanctuary of safety and healing in the days, weeks, months, and years immediately following the abuse. 

    It's as if the Church has never caught up, and all we can do is get our teens through the adolescent years, and pray they'll come back to process and heal from all the pain of those years 15-25 years later. 

    I'm curious what role the Church could have, if only it reoriented some of its time, energy, and momentum away from damage control with adults, to being more present to our children and teens in those incredibly important, and formative years of their lives. How would the culture of our church, and society change if our young people knew that their churches were doing all they could to be sanctuaries for them in the precise moments of their abuse, pain, lonliness, and fear? What if we invested the time and energy in offering and teaching them the language to name what it is they are going through? What if they knew they would be met by love and not judgement, acceptance and not shame? Perhaps then we wouldn't all be scratching our heads about their "mysterious" disappearance from our lives together as a faith community when they turn eighteen. 

    I think it's always healhty to assess, as an entire body of believers, where we have decided to put our energy, and to see the consequences of that, both good and bad. 

    Again, I'd invite you to share your thoughts...comment below. 

  • Love your enemies

    Fred Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) is on his deathbed. WBC and Phelps have become a household name for all the wrong reasons, protesting at funerals to gain attention for their radical "Christian" beliefs. Now, it would seem that Phelps' own funeral is only days or weeks away.  

    The easiest response to this news is for people to plan to assemble in the hundreds/thousands to protest at Phelps' funeral. Give them a taste of their own medicine right? 

    I'm convinced that Dr. King was right when he said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that." 

    I think we need to be people with the drive for incredible imagination, to step outside of the cycles of violence and hatred, and maybe, in that stepping out shatter them. We need to point to the cycle as the problem, and suggest a new way, an imaginative way. 

    What if we could imagine a funeral procession for Mr. Phelps that spoke to his family of a new way, a way of unexpected, perhaps unwarranted love? What if the streets were ligned with thousands of silent protestors, holding signs that suggest that funerals are no place to gain attention for any ideology ? What would happen if his funeral was the cause to gain attention for radical Christian beliefs of love and acceptance? 

    Sure, it'd be easy to use Mr. Phelp's funeral as an occassion to hand back all the hate that he and his family has pumped into this world, but what happens if we did the hard thing? The thing that took some surrendering of the urge for retribution? What happens if we did something to show the the Westboro Baptist Church a new way? 

    A comment on Reddit about this news that I thought was poignant: 

    As he lays dying he will ask his family. Are there protesters out there cheering for my death? Yes they will say.

    He will ask are there interracial couples part of the protest? Yes they will say.

    Are there gays and lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders and straight people that are part of the protesters? Yes they will say.

    Are there Atheists and Christians, Jews and Muslims all part of the protest group? Yes they will say.

    He will ask are there soldiers and anti-war advocates out there in the protest group? Yes they will say.

    His last words will be: "Then we did our job and I have no regrets in life.

    Some thoughts, I'd love to hear what you think...comment below. 

  • Excitement!

    Thank you for finding your way to this new little place. It has been a great week for me! Last week I submitted 8 of my photos to be judged by three of Portland's finest photographers. I found out yesterday that this photo...

    was selected by the three judges to be featured on pdxphotographers.com under the "little ones" category. I'd encourage you to go and check out the collection of AMAZING photos and look into the photographers behind them. I am so honored to be included in this collection. 

    Just a few weeks ago, actually, I was doubting my photography skills. While I was happy with the work I was creating, I was still wanting someone on a higher level to see my work and tell me whether or not it was any good. Hearing nothing at all was getting hard. And then the feature on PDX Photographers happened. 

    I'm so grateful. 

    So I started this site in the hopes that folks who are interested in my work can have a place to learn more about me, to see my work, and maybe even invite me into their lives to photograph them and their families. I find so much joy in this work, and hope that I can continue to share this joy with others. 

    Also, as a Quaker pastor, I am always trying to find places to share my thoughts, and to hear what others are thinking. Until now, blogging has been difficult for me. I'm crossing my fingers that this space will be somewhere I can feel comfortable sharing what is going on in my head and heart. 

    I'm attracted to wonder and wilderness. Chances are those things will come up often. 

    warmly, 

    MPR