Worth Doing Badly: Letter to a Young Perfectionist

Worth Doing Badly: Letter to a Young Perfectionist

Dear Perfectionist,

We need to talk. Your anxiety is getting out of hand. Sometimes it presses you into frenetic service, spurring you in the side until you wear yourself out on the altar of "His Excellency." Sometimes, no doubt out of self-preservation, you perform the anatomically challenging task of stuffing your fingers in your ears and hands over your eyes, so that you can pretend there is no amazing feat to achieve. You vacillate between stressed-out striving and overwhelmed evasion of responsibility.  It seems hard for you to do the slow and steady, day-in, day-out, diligent but imperfect stuff of life. I get it. It can be hard for me too. 

#DACA and Home

#DACA and Home

As I see it, this belief, that belonging is fundamentally about birth into a particular community, legal status, or benefit to the existing group runs into at least two enormous problems for me. First, it is completely unable to deal with the historical reality that present day America is a result of illegal immigration onto Native American land that brought unspeakable harm to the existing community. Secondly, while it might comport well with nationalistic sentiment, it absolutely flies in the face of my Christian conceptions of belonging and home. 

Mike Brown, Robert Jeffress, and Faith Bigger than the System

Mike Brown, Robert Jeffress, and Faith Bigger than the System

Three years ago today, Michael Brown was killed in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. The community was rocked. Many of us were in mourning. We were angry. The officer who shot him was not even indicted, but there was nothing new about that. Amidst all the pain, chaos, protests, and posts, Steph and I felt like we needed the company of our friends. So we opened our home and asked folks, "Hey, you wanna come over and process how we are thinking and feeling together?" 

That night, one of us mentioned their Christian faith and how it gave them certain ways of thinking about what happened to Mike and many others like him. A friend of mine, who isn't particularly religious, responded, "Wait, can you clarify something for me? You're saying that your faith has something to do with these broader systemic issues? It's not just about your personal life?" 

A Cord of Three Strands

A Cord of Three Strands

This past week at our Ceasefire Collective Conversation, we decided to introduce a new note into the music of the Ceasefire Collective: Micro Groups. A micro group at its best is a group of 3 people who know each other deeply, strengthen each other's faith, share each others' burdens/struggles/celebrations, and genuinely share life together.

But why form Micro Groups as part of the Ceasefire Collective? Why start groups for the purpose of intimacy and relationship within the group whose mission is to foster wholeness, justice, and peace in the city of Oakland? Isn't that about us and not our neighbors? Isn't that selfish?

It could be. It absolutely could be.

Even God Rested...Why Can't You?

Even God Rested...Why Can't You?

Sometimes I think I'm more important than God. This does not come in the form of grandiose delusions of my cosmic power. I do not go around demanding the worship of the masses. I claim my deity by simply refusing to rest. And when I refuse to rest, to stop, to cease my daily striving to be productive and to make an impact, the Bible says I'm acting like I'm more important than the Creator. Because even God rested. 

Hurry Up and Wait

Hurry Up and Wait

One of my favorite things in the world is staring at dirt. That's right. Not even watching grass grow. That would be way too interesting. I would rather enjoy a good soil-gazing session. Why? Because of what's about to spring up from below. 

I just planted some beans, carrots, and lettuce in my garden, and even though the package says they'll sprout in 7-10 days, I'm out there on day two, staring at the dirt. I almost feel as though if I don't blink they'll break out of the earth more quickly. It never happens. 

Sometimes I find myself staring at dirt in life. The soil has been amended. Seeds have been planted and watered. The sun is shining. It's day two, and no reasonable person would expect a sprout for a while. But there I am. Trying to make them grow by sheer force of will. I want to do something. Surely, I'm not just supposed to wait. 

Adaptive Change

Adaptive Change

This Sunday, July 9, we will be meeting in the restaurant at the Washington Inn, rather than our normal room. There was a scheduling conflict with the hotel, and they needed the space where we normally meet. I guess that's just life in a startup church like ours. 

Little moments of flexibility like this remind us about how we need to be flexible in the big moments as well. When the terrain changes we need to adjust how we plan to traverse it. That's called adaptive change. 

"Nice" Jesus and Preserving Injustice

"Nice" Jesus and Preserving Injustice

I recently read a post from a former seminary professor of mine decrying the falsehoods and double-speak of the current administration. What caught my attention was not the post itself, but a reply from a person who didn't know my professor:

"...we don't know each other, but I think your harshness is anything but like what our Savior [Jesus] would do and say... I am calling you to repentance." 

Bracketing the specific content of the original post for a minute and whether it was something Jesus would say, I was intrigued by her claim that "harshness" and Jesus are mutually exclusive....that harshness is "anything but like what Jesus would do and say." I was intrigued because it was such a clear statement of "Buddy Christ"--Jesus as the nicest, coolest guy that ever lived-- which is a relatively popular picture of Jesus in our culture. And I think it's a belief that finds practically no evidence in the accounts of his life. 

My Crisis of Faith...or Doubt

My Crisis of Faith...or Doubt

One of my biggest pet peeves is poked when Christians use jargon, or "Christianese", without explaining it or really understanding what it means. It's a pet peeve of mine not because I'm so much better but because I used to do it constantly, and I didn't even understand what I was saying. I used the words that made me sound like I knew what I was talking about without really knowing what they meant. And I don't just mean their dictionary definition. I mean how these words show up in real life. 

One of those words is "Faith," and knowing what it really means has changed my life. 

A New Series: The Story of God's Love for the World

A New Series: The Story of God's Love for the World

Lesslie Newbigin, who as a young man was a Christian missionary to India, wrote:

Many years ago a Hindu friend of mine, a very learned man, said to me something I have never forgotten: "I can't understand why you missionaries present the Bible to us in India as a book of religion. It is not a book of religion - and anyway we have plenty of books of religion in India. We don't need any more!

I find in your Bible a unique interpretation of universal history, the history of the whole of creation and the history of the human race. And therefore a unique interpretation of the human person as a responsible actor in history. That is unique. There is nothing else in the whole religious literature of the world to put alongside it." (A Walk Through the Bible, 4). 

The Bible is a story. Or, more accurately, it's an epic saga. But the way Christians sometimes treat it, you might never know that.

Spirit and the Uncontrollable Faith

Spirit and the Uncontrollable Faith

Perhaps the most common reason (of the many reasons) people come to religion is control. Life feels unpredictable. I'm not sure how to process what's happening. I don't feel like I have any semblance of power over my circumstances. Well, maybe I should try religion! Doesn't that usually boil down to something like, "God can control the uncontrollable?" And if I obey certain rules, if I pray a particular way, and if I am a part of the right group then God will control things in my favor, right? So we develop practices, laws, and boundaries so that, effectively, we can control God (or at least control how he relates to us), and thus have some control over our untamable lives.

Christians have often been just as hung up on this way of using religion for the sake of control as people of any other faith. But Pentecost, the Sunday we are about to celebrate this week, ought to completely wreck this view of God and how to relate to God. Pentecost is about God's gift of his Spirit. 

Geographies of Joy: On Gentrification, Worship, and the Kitchen Table

Geographies of Joy: On Gentrification, Worship, and the Kitchen Table

Where do you find joy? I don't mean, in this case, what practices bring you joy, what people cause joy to spring up in you, or what experiences have brought you joy. No. What physical space is a space of joy for you? What are your geographies of joy?

For me, it's the garden. I love waking up in the morning and watching the progression of the fuchsia blossoms, the true leaves sprouting on the tomato seedlings, the radishes peeking their red heads up over the soil. I find joy in the fact that when I pick a spinach leaf to sustain me, I'm actually not hurting the spinach but giving younger leaves more room to flourish and grow. It brings me joy to see plants from last season volunteering themselves in this one and reminding me of a past crop. My garden is a physical space of joy for me. 

Christian theologian Willie James Jennings, says "Joy is fundamentally tied to space." If joy is something that happens to us, arises within us, in the actual contexts of our lives then it happens in the spaces where we live.

The Great Enemy of Joy

The Great Enemy of Joy

Every day I wake up and read the news. Of course, it's filled with presidential politics these days. But it's also filled with stories of tragic accidents, security breaches, North Korean missile testings, and epic malware attacks across the globe. I've noticed, after reading story after story and watching commentary after commentary, that if I'm not careful something can sneak into my soul that threatens to strangle my joy: Cynicism. 

I'm convinced that the great enemy of joy is not sorrow, but rather cynicism....

Pleasure vs. Joy (and why the difference is crucial)

Pleasure vs. Joy (and why the difference is crucial)

Have you ever known joy during the very heart, the deepest part, of your suffering? During high school I had an experience like this. I was dating someone who had become very important to me. We spent hours upon hours every night on the phone. I would drive hundreds of miles every weekend to spend just a few hours in person with her. And then one day, without explanation, she broke up with me. 

Now, I know that the ending of a high school romance doesn't score very highly in the suffering olympics, but anyone who has been rejected by someone for whom they cared deeply knows how it can pull the tears from your eyes. It feels like Darth Vader has the death grip on your stomach. It feels like part of you has been torn away. Well, in the middle of that pain, inexplicably, as I was pouring my heart out to God in prayer, I felt an overwhelming sense of joy. It did not cancel out the sorrow or push it aside. They just...coexisted. Like companions. Joy and Sorrow together. And it made the sorrow bearable.

Practicing Joy as an Act of Resistance

Practicing Joy as an Act of Resistance

If you had to name someone in your life who embodies joy, who would it be? For me, it was one of my mentors. He seemed to live almost constantly with a deep, deep joy. You could hear it in his bold laughter, see it in his easily smiling eyes, and notice it creep into his voice as he was encouraging whoever happened to be nearby. Joy, for David, was a way of life. 

But this way of life didn't just happen to him. He cultivated it. He practiced it. He diligently maintained daily and weekly rituals that rooted him his own belovedness in the eyes of God. 

Willie James Jennings, a theology professor at Yale, says, "Joy...is a work that can become a state that can become a way of life." 

Egypt, Praying for Persecutors, and Good Friday

Egypt, Praying for Persecutors, and Good Friday

On Palm Sunday, Christians and people of good will around the world grieved as bombs ripped through two Coptic Christian congregations during their worship service. As I sit here with tears in my eyes reading more about the attacks, forcing myself to look at pictures of the destruction, my own sadness cannot compare to that of my brothers and sisters in Egypt for whom these bombings must be unspeakably horrifying. I want to express my deep sorrow with my brothers and sisters in Tanta and Alexandria, and throughout the Coptic community. Though this kind of attack is not new, especially to Egyptian Christians, The word "persecution" has been filled with even deeper, more painful meaning this week.

Just a couple hours after I read the news story, I lead our own Palm Sunday service at Oakland Communion. But before I had a chance to pray for our Coptic brothers and sisters in Egypt during our gathering, one of our own Oakland Communion brothers reminded me of Jesus' words: "You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...."

The Deadening of Lament: Syria, Dave Chappelle, and Church

The Deadening of Lament: Syria, Dave Chappelle, and Church

In his new Netflix special, The Age of Spin, Dave Chappelle points out one of the greatest spiritual challenges of this generation. Speaking to a 24 year old member of the audience, Chappelle said,  "I'm from a different time, young man, a dark time to you." He goes on to tell a story about how, in the age before smart phones, he and his classmates watched in trauma as the Challenger space shuttle exploded on live TV in 1986. "My point is, a guy your age wouldn't even know the pain, because in your generation a space shuttle blows up every #*$& day. How can you care about anything, when you know every thing?"