What church work feels like

There are  people who are tired of eating mush every day. They are weary and have been rejected and desperately in need of sweetness and flavor and good news.

So you learn how to make cookies where there were none.

And a bunch of people love it and say, I never knew these flavors existed! I’m alive! 

But then some other people say,

I’m hurt, why did you make cookies, you should have made chicken! Cookies are wrong, you’ve neglected all of us.

So you make chicken and some people say, about time! Thank you!

But other people say, how dare you! I can’t believe you didn’t consider us bird lovers! Here you go again always being the source of pain and division.

So you make some salad and some folks are glad and happy. One even sends you your first ever email thanking you for spending so much time getting paid poorly and not having any benefits and for taking the time to make food for people who had none.

But then a blog gets written, and it’s all about the fact that the salad wasn’t fully organic. 

You respond by saying actually, it was organic and we said that last week during announcements. 

It didn’t seem to matter, as a campaign gets started with the hashtag #keepchurchorganic. Lots of people who’ve never had your salad or who were there when you woke up early to pick the lettuce and clean it before anyone showed up start posting about how you’ve hurt them. Some people are hurt and tell you you’re wrong and can’t believe you’ve never made chicken or cookies. 

So you go to your co-pastor and vent about how much it sucks that people get the story wrong, assume the worst about you, project their pain and brokenness onto you, have expectations of you that you can’t meet, consistently let you down and flake on things they said they would do, tell you that you’re the problem, tell you how to do your job, make things up about you, expect lots from the your work but don’t want to pay for it and when you do mention that food costs money they accuse you of being greedy and corrupt, take your words and twist them, use you, cant seem to see the good in your work, take advantage of your time and heart, expect you  to have food ready at all hours of the day and night, expect you to answer for every person who made food ever, don’t respect your family or personal lives, and make you a caricature to air their all grievances onto.

And your copastor says with divine and supernatural compassion and sincere eyes, yeah those people are so broken and in pain some one should make them a cookie

And you go and make the most holy and sacred and delicious cookies you’ve ever made.

As you share them with your friends, and you too taste the chocolate chip good news and the words “take and eat, this is my body broken for you” seem to come up from within and without your soul. You remember the times you complained about steak, grilled cheese, and sea food- how those foods were all wrong.

You take another bite of the gooey goodness and a melted chocolate chip runs down into your beard.

And then you sing together some songs that your co pastor leads. And you cry, out of gratitude for getting to know so many wonderful people who let you into their pain that is also your pain. 

And You rejoice with praise and exclaim, That’s one God-dammed delicious cookie!

The Melody

The human song is a kaleidoscope of harmonies

Blinding bright

Fallen and triumphant

And only resonant in the choral room where no one is left out

A response to open eyes and to creation’s cry

Love and its adoration is all there is in the end

And so we build and destroy

Give birth and take life

And only the poets can even come close

To telling lies that point to the truth

Because there are no words

No symbolic utterances

That can capture the dimension from which our harmonies emerge

The source behind the longing

The ripple from before eternity

The hanging note humming within all

Love and its adoration from beginning to end

What was it?

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Was it the taps of fermented barely in the lobby?
Or the artsy-theater aesthetic
Maybe it was the apologetic and all-inclusive welcome video
Set to scenes of the town and magnetic melodies of mercy

Was it the organic and inspired narrative?
An identity of roots deep and branches wide
Perch, shade, and grace for the hurting and rejected
A holy family of heretics, queers, addicts, and even clergy

Was it the deconstructed and unorthodox poly-doxy?
Relationally centered on a strange old story of divine embodiment
Or maybe it was the randomly perfect group of people gathered
Eclectic, messy, and sacredly sincere

Maybe it was the willingness to follow the questions?
To challenge the norm and live in the tension
Learning to find home in the unfamiliar wilderness
Finding that the Something Beyond was there all along

Was it the fragrance of justice and generosity?
Monthly gifts to the good-seeking from outside our tribe and within
Or maybe the salvaged tires from a forgotten creek
A water table made slightly more Eden than Gehenna

What exactly was it that made this place so blessed?
Which one of these accidental saints can take credit?
Who orchestrated this symphony of souls
Out of tune in the most harmonious and heavenly of ways?


Few words carry as much weight
To some, warm feelings of affection and gratitude
Tender memories of playing catch & life lessons you never knew you needed
To others, affliction and longing
A relationship you never had, or one that you wish you could erase

It’s a mantle too heavy to carry alone
A yoke that can’t fully be lifted
Protection, provision, direction – ‘manliness’
All convoluted expectations from within and from without a culture that doesn’t know father

We imagine Mufasa, Atticus Finch, Sandy Cohen, or God himself
But we get humans figuring it out
A flawed fraternity
A cocktail of testosterone and benevolence

So our unmet images manifest mocking caricatures
The Homer Simpsons, Peter Griffins, the Al Bundy,’s
Some deserving, some not.

But inspiration is always more transformative than critique
Aspiration more valuable than defeat
Hope victorious over all that’s bleak

So this Father’s Day we proclaim
To the fatherless
or father wounded
To the father-rich
or father-called

Let us honor the pain of all those limping
AND reverently cherish the love of all those who carry the title

To all those who father
Thank you, don’t give up or give in
Keep loving with fierce tenderness in a way that reflects one of the Divine’s faces

Because fatherhood is a holy order
Not for the faint of heart
But open to all willing to walk the path of love on behalf and alongside emerging souls
That they would know the love of an Abba


Opening Day

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Breaking clouds, Spring’s warmth
A resurrection aroma in cut grass
Memories and highlight reels yet to become
Another year and hope invites to lean in

Rosters set, scorecards blank
A book of life with stories to be written
Caps on hearts and calls to worship
Familiar hymns of stars and stripes

It’s a grace to hear those words once more
After the slumber of Winter’s tomb
Like a newborn’s song, “Play ball, He is risen”
An euangelion proclamation at first pitch

Like a ripened fruit or hanging punchline
Anticipation and promise are everywhere
In each cracked bat and triumphal entry
Hosannah, Holy Toledo, Hallelujah!

Caught in the Divine rhythms and seasons
Opening day points towards our destiny
This pastime will surpass our lifetimes
Until at last we sing the anthem in Heaven’s sandlot

Let in

I didn’t know why I started to cry
It was mile 2 on the skyline trails
The cold before the atmospheric river
And the dam burst

The weight of a thousand rejections
Tears of finally being seen and loved
Souls who’ve been told they were abominations
Now cherished and free

That was yesterday
When I held a microphone, mostly just trying to make sense
Sharing a heart as flawed as any
And a hope –  blurry but bright
Stories of acceptance and embrace and a Love beyond love
All to a church of randoms becoming family
In a dark graffiti adorned pub theater

When it was over
Two hugs turned to three and four
Salty soaked eyes, torrents from the the heart
All of it sacred and holy

What a privileged
What an honor
To bear witness to a healing soul
It’s too much for me to hold

And so in the middle of mile 2
My eyes broke from the status quo
And it came out

Gratitude for being let in
Let in to the divine work in the midst of our mess
My mess

This poem was written the day after our church talked about it’s inclusive love for all regardless of gender or orientation. 



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

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

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


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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.





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: