Here

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We live at the epic-enter
Patient zero in consumption’s AI revolution
Where excessive capital and extreme poverty
Dot the skylines and fill the gutters
The bookends of our taxonomy
Homo-Sapien, the wise-ape
Here all of our contradictions are undressed

Beauty and depravity
Within each symbiotic breath
In and out, out and in
The foggy, salty air of this place
Love’s holy name on our lips

Here
Where golden hills cradle
Piercing glass
Protected waters
And the first-fruits of the connected age

This place is where each new flashy screen is imagined and monetized
Follow the algorithms upstream and you’ll find it
The source of our great epidemic

Bent necks and drained adrenal glands
The pursuit of the digital novelty
Hearts, clicks, and likes
Behind each one a desperate search for meaning and identity
“Can anyone see me, do I matter?
A prayer of all history and all hearts

The bay and the redwoods paint a mirage of wholeness
But the bridges and the lights are not the promised land
Ones and zeros are not our home
Curated profiles are but empty calories

There was a time before our madness when we,
The we we’ve erased by destiny manifest,
Lived in melodic harmony with these lush shores
Like a nursing newborn and her mother’s magic

The seasons
Rain and dry`
Were our agenda

The neighborhood
Brother oak and sister marsh
Was our network

But those days are long gone

Now it’s the hum and hurry
Legions of the earbuded and laptop hooked
Avoiding the suffering and squalor below
Spinning the endless wheels of educations debt and technology’s promise

From dawn to dusk we fight and climb
Ignoring the depths of reality within

This place is stunning and stark
And if you’re not careful its spell will always entice
The promise of boom
In endless veins of gold and silicone

This is home
It’s all here
The bookends of humanity

Salvation is here too
And like the keys you lost but were in your hand the whole time
It’s right here

Breathe it in
Notice it
Let it out

Because we are patient zero
An epicenter of life
A contagion of love
An ocean of grace
Here

This is the gold rush beyond
The transcendent burst behind the bubble
The novelty that can’t be grammed or tagged
The promised land is here
Within

When

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When your sea-deep and sky-bright eyes lock mine
And your beaming cheeks raise a two-toothed smile
A few syllable-less grunts and cackles move through the air
As sound waves of heaven’s joyful arrows, and they pierce my insides

When those same glossy blue eyes sparkle with the reflection of Christmas lights
And your three inch hands grab my experimental and coarse ginger beard
And you guzzle and suck down your 6:00 AM bottle an hour early
The melting of my heart outweighs the grief of sleep lost

When a day’s gone by and we’re filled with the good kind of tired
And our gaze catches photos from a few months ago
And we see that same smile in a body closer to the womb
We feel the anxiety and bliss of how fast and slow time’s march leads

When your tumbling-tossing body rolls near the cradled horizons
And I pluck and sing my abbreviated bed-time playlists
And you climb my arms and mute the curious strings with your fragile touch
The melody of the moment rings louder than the incomplete verse

When my mind surveys tomorrow’s foreign labyrinth of limits and limitlessness
And the benchmarks not promised that will one day be memories
And there are less ahead than already lived
I’m brought back to this instant, and your breath on my neck

The altar of this moment is the greatest of gifts
An eternal declaration of life’s victorious blinding light

Love’s claim to all things and all time
To behold and yield are the its most urgent grace

This time, this day, these voices, these souls
Your tinny squirming body in my arms and relentless pursuit of new things
Your angel red hair and innocent sapphire eyes
That nuclear smile, and your short crested giggle

Your very being is evidence of Divine reality
Truer than truth
And yet only a glimmer of its Source
When I but open my eyes, it’s there every time.

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2018 Book List

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A few years back I set the goal of reading at least the same amount of books as I had read the year before.  For a while I was able to accomplish this objective, but things changed this year in one significant way.  Needless to say, I wasn’t able to hit my 2018 goal and my blog writing became more focused on reflections for my church and personal poetry.    That said I did read some books this year, and so in what has become sort of a tradition for me, and as a way to remember what I read, what follows is a recap of the books I finished in 2018.

I’ve noted my favorite books of the year with three of these ***.  Also, I’ve included an amazon link and a brief sentence or two recap for some context.  This list is only includes books I’ve finished and does not include the many, many books I’ve referenced or utilized in part for personal or professional purposes.  For an explanation of my process here is my introduction from 2016.

2018 Book List:

A Baby Makes Three, John & Julie Schwartz PHD
So many practical and helpful tips for couples who’ve added another member to their family.

Barking to the Choir, Father Gregory Boyle***
Loved this book.  Fr Boyle started what is widely recoginized as the most effective program working with gang members in the nation.  Boyle’s anthropological and theological insights are many and this book should be read by everyone.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuvel Noah Harari***
I’ve finished a few books by Harari and this one was the most fun of them all.  Basically, Yuvel makes predictions about the future and explores the many ways the forthcoming decades will look way different than those already past.

The Kingdom of God is Within You, Leo Tolstoy
Classic Tolstoy theological pontifications.  This work is specifically in the vein of contemplation/introspection and how the divine is revealed within us. A little dense, but still a decent read.

Holy Luck, Eugene Peterson
Eugene Peterson, one of my favorite pastors/authors, passed away this year.  This book was a collection of his poetry and contains some of his most powerful literary explorations.  Eugene’s work has always been good for my soul, and that’s an understatement.

Building a Disciplining Culture, Mike Breen
One of the areas folks in my line of work often miss the mark in is in their focus on church attendance rather than deeper engagement. .  This book reflects on the ways we can better help people orient their life around Jesus in a way that is truly transformative and moves folks from being spectators to participants in the work of Christ’s love, mercy, and grace.

Cultural Literacy For Religion, Mark Berkson
Recently Oak Life had a “Question and Conversation” series where folks asked various questions and we did our best to facilitate spaces for deeper engagment.  One of the questions that came up was in regards to Christianity’s relationship to other religions.  As part of my research, this book was a great refresher in some of the basics of the great faiths of the world.

Short Stories By Jesus, Amy Jill Levine
So good.  Levine’s work explores Jesus’ parables and some of the contextual interpretations that reveal the ways these stories are way more subversive and disruptive than many of us ever thought.  Anyone interested in Jesus and his teachings would find this book interesting and worthwhile.

So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Olue
Over the past few years I’ve been committed to continued reflection on racial injustice and my own place within American racial dynamics.  This book is a great 101 introduction to the common vocabulary and concepts commonly utilized in our current discourse.  If you’re just starting the journey of understanding the magnitude of race and racism in America, this is a great resource.

Braving the Wildernness, Brene’ Brown
Brene Brown is sort of a cultural thing right now.  Her reflections in Wilderness are largely about acceptance and self discovery.  Good book.

Inspired, Rachel Held Evans***
A great read for folks trying to reconcile the nature of the Bible with their scientific/historic/modern disposition.  Basically, Rachel is able to find the deeper value and truth in the Bible as she explores what exactly it is all while being free to ask questions and consider its problematic characteristics.  We actually had a book club at our church that read Inspired together and it was super fun to see folks deconstruct their oversimplified views of the Bible and reconstruct a more robust, nuanced, and reverent understanding.

Mans Search for Meaning, Victor Fankl***
A classic existential exploration of life, suffering, and meaning.  Frankl writes as a holocaust survivor and his wisdom is timeless and precious.  Everyone should read this book at some point.

Bitten by a Camel: Leaving Church and Finding God, Kent Dobson
A really fun deconstruction/reconstruction journey from the guy who took over Rob Bell’s pulpit.  I highly respect his process, honesty, and faith.

Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, Brian Zahnd***
For anyone who has a view of the Divine as a cosmic Zeus who looks down on humanity with a frown judging each of our actions, this book is an urgently needed offering. Basically, Zahnd starts and ends his view of God with how God is revealed in Jesus- a God of endless mercy, inclusion, and love.

Heretic: An LGBTQ-Affirming, Divine Violence-Denying, Christian Universalist’s Responses to Some of Evangelical Christianity’s Most Presssing Concerns, Matthew J. Distefano***
I’m not sure how I stumbled upon this title, but man was it enjoyable.  In this work Distefany basically does a catechism style Q&A in defense of his theological positions which would be considered by mainstream American evangelical culture as heretical.  Fun read for anyone coming from that context looking to broaden their framework.

Watch For the Light: An Advent Devotional , Assorted Authors
I was given this book by a mentor of mine and I’ve thouroughly enjoyed it.  It’s a daily devotional for the Advent season that includes authors like Bonhoefer, Barth, L’Engle, and more.  Lots of great insights and fresh/old perspectives on the eternal significance of Christmas.

Previous Reading Lists for Reference:
2017 Book List
2016 Book List
2015 Book List

When Hell is Not a Metaphor

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There’s a slight chance of rain next week
Until then, orange skies and pierced lungs
Down here our breath is poison
Where are you God, where were you?

It’s so  much worse up there
I heard the flames moved at 100 yards per second
They had no way out
Hundreds missing and tens of thousands homeless now
Where is your protection?

Hell manifest in space and time
And it’s not a metaphor, I wish it was
And we have nothing
Our prayers seem fleeting

Around here everyone’s on edge
Hearts nervous and dread creeps
Things are not right
And we’re in it together

Everything looks like the movies
The ones after The End
We’re sucking in scorched trees, homes, and life
Wondering, how much longer?

The list more than tripled last night
The souls they can’t find
What is their fate?

I drive past my neighbors in the tent cities
Pressing the gas to get us indoors
Keep the baby and dog safe
That’s number one

But what about them?
What about the thousands we pass by without their own indoors?
They’re enslaved to this air
The air that gives life, filled with death
Do you even care?

And we’re hundreds of miles away
From the burnt down town
Where the heavy smoke of Hell’s despair hovers
And it’s not a metaphor, we wish it was

God I know this will pass,
But why not sooner?
How much longer will we drown in this harsh moment?
Lord, be who you are
Because your children suffer.

——-

This poem was written to process, pray, and honor those affected by the Camp Fire.  Here is one resources to find ways to support them, but there are many other ways:

https://sacramento.cbslocal.com/help-2/

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Vocation

Sacred sadness
That’s how they named the color of paint that adorns a pastors office
Somehow it’s always there
The cafes, parks, homes, and theaters
These walls, this air, holds it all
Pain, hurt, desolation,

but also the shrill and fresh cries of newborn life

They don’t really warn you, how much it will be
And they never told you that you’re stronger than you thought
You can carry it, most of the time

Not because of the ivory tower in which learned to divine
But because of the divine presence in the shitstorms, foxholes, and hospital beds

Is there anything as holy and blessed as this life?
One in which I get let into the deepest darkest nights and encounter the luminous warmth of resurrection flame?

Bruised cheeks, emptied bank accounts, hungover mornings, unknown loves, grieved dreams of family lost, assaulted and all left out in the dark alone-

These are the stories of these walls.
I’m not sure how but they are me.
I am the paint that hears, absorbs, and loves

God grant me the strength to see it all as sacred and holy.
Let me love more than I thought I could.
Though I’m always a little bit sad,

your glimmering hope makes the sorrow joyful at the same instant

Dear Pastor #2: a liturgy (written on a phone, on a plane)

Pastor,

You may say it well but it’s not enough

This pain won’t let me hear

It’s too much and it’s too little, no matter how sincerely you try

You’ve un-surfaced these scars yet again and their depth drowns out all else

You missed the mark and your words fall short of being a balm that heals

You’re all wrong, just by default, your skin, your voice, your body

You are the problem that triggers these wounds so deep, and there’s nothing you can do

That Sunday I entered the sanctuary, it entered me, and this sacred mess spun around

Communication in words and symbols will always fail

Amplified thoughts both dilute and stab all we’ve carried here

Is there even a way to speak a truth that won’t offend and stir?

I don’t know

So in the mean time I’ll assume the worst and project my past, and make you the caricature I’ve been told you are

I’ll conclude you’re wrong and declare your shame without inquiring of your own pain

It’s not valid anyway

Whether you already know what I’m trying to say or you actually said what I claim you didn’t, isn’t something I care about

Because what I need is beyond all that, an impossible ask that I still expect

I need you to hold all my burdens because if you don’t, who will?

I need you to say what I want you to, and afterwards I need you to be ok with me saying you didn’t or you did it wrong

Cause I’m lost and tumbling and tossing in this world of suffering

The currents so strong you’re sure to drown no matter how well trained your strokes

So what’s the point? Why do you try? What were you hoping to do?

———

Child,

I’m sorry, and I love you, and your scars are beautiful here.

I can’t make it better and I’ll surely mess it up, but I hope there is something more

I hope what’s stirred is exposed for love and the divine will find you there

I pray to God that I don’t get in the way and that you’ll encounter the holy still

That all I say and all I am may only serve as a rope of life

Climb, push, throw, and forget as long as you make it to the shores

——-

All,

God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things that we can, and the wisdom to know the difference

A Prayer of Gratitude

The below prayer is from my final retreat with a cohort of early career pastors from around the country that I was privileged to be a part of.  For the past year we’ve gathered together quarterly to share lives, be encouraged, and practice spiritual formation. As we closed our time together were asked to write a prayer/psalm of gratitude which we would each read aloud around a snowy campfire at Glen Eyrie Castle in Colorado.  It was a beautiful and memorable moment.   For me, my prayer of gratitude includes the four things I’m most thankful for at this point in my journey: our new child, my wife, our church, and the cohort itself.

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“To the one who has given us everything we can behold through, from, in and for love.

We say thanks in words that go beyond language

Thank you for the gift of flesh from my flesh, for his transcendent smile, sheer ecstasy and joy. I do not deserve to bear witness to such heart melting, pleasure giving, heaven pointing love.

Thank you for the grace of my wife. For her strength, peace, constant friendship and the endless ways life is more full because of her.

Thank you for the miracle of a church that came out of our dreams, where the margins are embraced and the centers are challenged both into deeper, condition-less love. Where you call our messes beautiful, sacred, and holy.

For the unreal, unearned opportunity of this ministry cohort. For the gift of being served, loved, seen, believed in, inspired, refreshed, admired, challenged, and nurtured by you through these co-laborors

For these gifts, this bounty and for all those things not mentioned we give thanks and say, praise god from whom all blessings flow, praise him all creatures here below, praise him above the heavenly hosts.”

Amen amen amen.”