“Prudence is not passivity, and caution is not cowardice”

“The future of Christianity belongs to the Thomas Merton kind of Christian, not the heirs of Jerry Falwell.”
-Brian Zahnd

If you’re familiar with the two individuals named above you’re likely aware of the opposite poles captured in this dichotomous quote.  On one hand Falwell represents the fore bearers of modern American ‘Christian” discourse, filled with nationalism and knee jerk righteousness that’s centered on perceived American family values.  On the other side of the spectrum is Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk who emphasized contemplation and thoughtful civic engagement.  As much as I’d love for Zahnd’s prediction to be right, I think we’re currently seeing something quite the opposite.  Consider this quote from Merton, penned in 1962, in the height of an imminent nuclear war.

“Here we have an issue of supreme importance in which the most vital facts are secret and in which crucial developments are rarely presented to the public in a clear, unbiased form. 

This brings us to one more grave problem.  The Christian who is misinformed; who is subject to the demagoguery of extremists in the press, on the radio or on TV, and who is perhaps to some extent temperamentally inclined to associate himself with fanatical groups in politics, can do an enormous amount of harm to society, to the Church and to himself.  With sincere intentions of serving the cause of Christ he may cooperate in follies and injustices of disastrous magnitude.

It is therefore vitally important for the Christian to control his zeal and moderate his enthusiasm for particular causes, until he can accurately estimate where these tendencies may ultimately lead.  Prudence is not passivity, and caution is not cowardice.  Impetuous and violent action must not be regarded as ipso facto heroic.  We must learn to cultivate a sound judgment in affairs that affect the very destiny of the human race. (Thomas Merton, Life and Holiness, 143,144, emphasis added)

Essentially, Merton is arguing for people, especially people of faith, to develop an ability to think through the many dimensions of their current predicaments rather than be fueled by a momentary and self righteous zeal.  Unfortunately, this is not what we see today.  Instead of calculated and thoughtful engagement, we have hashtags and twitter rants.  We’ve exchanged our nuanced mental and spiritual filters for surface layer, endorphin-laden call-outs that feel good in the moment but are found lacking when it comes to bringing about actually substantive change.   I’ve seen this in myself, I’ve seen this in my community, and I’ve seen this in our government.  To make things worse, when we see others not engaging in our collective flow of finger pointing, we projectively assume that they are complicit in a perceived offense.

But what if the most rebellious thing we can do in this moment is nothing?  Nothing in the sense that we first think and calculate before we respond?  What if we had the discipline, self control, and inner peace required to not be baited by the offense-traps circulated by social and news media?

As much as Zahnd’s prediction has yet to come to pass, I’m still hopeful that some day it will, at least in my own heart.






When feelings fade & we’re worn out; faith.

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So many of us are exhausted by the endless breaking news cycle filled with catastrophe after scandal after disaster.  When we look around our cities we see homelessness, potholes, pollution, and displacement.  When we survey our own lives, most of us  aren’t where we want to be in life.  And so our feelings evolve into cynicism, defeatism, fatigue, and apathy.   We used to care, but that didn’t seem to get us anywhere.  Things don’t seem to change for the good.  So we just stop “feeling like it”, turning to distractions that make us feel something better, and we insulate ourselves from being emotionally jaded and exhausted, settling for rhythms of life that keep us feeling good.

Our feelings and moods are pretty powerful stuff.  They can move into action or paralyze us altogether.   They are one of the most significant forces in how we make choices: “I felt like doing _______”, or “I wanted to go to _______”, or “I loved the way that he/she made me feel so I _______”.

When we’re saddened by global events we often feel like doing something about it.

When we’re angered by an injustice our mood can often drive us to speak out.

When we feel challenged by ambition and a perceived goal, we ramp up our efforts.

When we’re scared we often look for ways to minimize risk.

For better or worse our feelings and moods directly affect how we live and move in our world.   But what do we do when they’re all dried up?  What do we do when we don’t feel much anymore?  What do we do when we’re worn out?

I’ve talked to so many people who’ve entered this terrain.  They used to care more about their relationships, their careers, their faith, and the problems of the world.  But after years of going back to their feelings as a source of energy, the well has been emptied.

For those in the helping profession this might be called compassion fatigue, but I think this is more common than one category of careers, I think this is an essential part of our journeys, especially in a time when we’re bombarded daily by tragic headlines.

As I’ve wrestled through my own fatigue of feelings, reflecting back on times in my life where I was more ambitious, more inclined towards action, I’ve come to see that in many ways, I’ve lost touch with some of those early feelings, for better or worse.  Some might argue that this is a necessary part of growing up and maturing through youthful idealism, but maybe it’s not.  Maybe our feelings were never meant to carry us through the entirety of our life’s commitments and endeavors?  Maybe there comes a time when need something else to keep us going?

I recently spent time with a friend who regularly surrounds himself with the suffering of the others in some of the most dire circumstances on earth.  He’s been at it for decades.  What keeps him going is the hope of faith, something that’s hard to put into words but is an orientation of his soul around the belief that things can change.

In our world, I think we all need something outside of our feelings and moods in order to avoid apathy and lives of endless distractions.  There are dark things going on in our world, and we have the miraculous opportunity to engage them in real ways, but our feelings will never be enough.    If we rely on our feelings and moods to inform who we are than when those feelings fade we run the risk of defaulting to the norms of contemporary society.  These normative cultural currents include things like leisure, entertainment, comfort, materialism, security, and vanity.

For me, this has actually become one of the better “cases for faith”.  I need some set of values, a hope, an ethic, a story that reorients me from despair to victory and keeps me from being absorbed into the path of least resistance.  It’s not always something I feel, but it’s something that I have to choose.

In my faith tradition, this is the essence of faith, “being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see”.  Essentially in the midst of all that is wrong with the world, faith is the choice to believe in a better outcome.  Rather than avoidance or fatigue, faith is the decision to look straight into the darkest depths and believe that light will eventually shine.

In many ways choosing faith is not about having all the answers or being filled with spiritual emotions.  Faith is what moves us forward in the absence of all those things. Much like marriage vows during times of relational stress or a soldiers muscle memory on the battle field, faith happens when we align ourselves with a narrative outside our finite existence compelling us towards hope.  Deep in our subconscious we choose to live in a dimension where love wins and this choice subverts the ways we view and move in our life.

So today, with all the storms swirling around us, I choose faith even if at times I don’t feel it, even if there are many unsolved mysteries, and in spite of my human tendency towards personal comfort and security.




Punk Rock, the Prophetic Tradition, Anti-Racism, Faith Formation, Propagahndi, and More


One of the first punk rock bands I got into was Propagahndi.  I remember rocking their shirt at like 14 years old. Eventually, I gravitated towards some obscure British stuff from the 70s, largely because it was what my friends were into, but some of those early messages shaped some of my emerging worldview.

Oddly enough punk music (not including the late 90s-2000s pop-punk and main stream derivatives), always had a sense that racism was not a thing of the past, but that these ideologies still need to be confronted.  Whether it be songs calling out Nazi‘s or White Supremacists, or the branding on buttons, patches, and shirts, the message was clear: punk rock stands against racism.

From a faith perspective, punk rock was meant to be prophetic; a hyperbolic and shocking a way to call out injustice and disrupt the system.  This spirit, though often lost in our pacified American Christianity,  is seen in Jesus who was a poor minority living in occupied territory, executed by the empire, and also in his earliest followers who were called to reject “Caesar” and any systems or beliefs that oppress or dehumanize.  So yes, Jesus was and is punk rock.

As a young lad I learned about things like genocide in Cambodia and Rwanda, secret US wars and their deadly consequences, oppression of the LGBT community, racism, political corruption and more all through the words of punk rock.  In light of recent events some of those memories and melodies have resurfaced in my psyche.

Below is an example of one such song from the Canadian Punk band I mentioned earlier, Propagahndi.  Warning: it contains some very crude language, but nothing more than what our current President is well known for.  Also, I do not condone in any way killing of other human beings, but I do support the death of racist ideologies and views.  So just in case you were wondering, that’s how I interpret the title of this song.

In our current historical moment, with our current “Ceasar”, I hope and pray for lots more great punk rock.

“Swastikas and Klan-robes
Sexists, racists, homophobes
Aryan-Nations and Hammerskins
You can wear my nuts on your Nazi chins

I love a man in uniform!

Just what exactly are the great historical accomplishments of your race that make you proud to be white? Capitalism? Slavery? Genocide? Sitcoms? This is your fucking white-history, my friend. So why don’t we start making a history worth being proud of and start fighting the real fucking enemy?

Swastikas and Klan-robes
Sexists, racists, homophobes
This one’s for the master race
My brown-power ass in your white-power face

Kill them all and let a Norse God sort ’em out!”

Dear Imposter

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A while back a friend of mine who’s also kind of a counselor, pastor, and mentor challenged me to do some writing and reflection around the part of myself that is and isn’t part of me.  Often we look at our bad habits, mistakes, and missteps as forgettable aspects of ourselves that we wish weren’t there.  Sometimes we even go so far as pretending they don’t exist.  While talking this through with my friend, he made a photo copy of a letter that an author named Brennan Manning wrote to this part of himself entitled “Dear Imposter”.  In the letter Manning addressed his imposter honestly and without shame, telling the truth on himself and an aspect of his life that is both a part of him, and not his true self.  All of this was a way of bringing to light that which is hiding in the deepest shadows of our selves, allowing those cold places to enter the warmth of light.

So here is my letter written to my own imposter.

Dear Imposter,

I’m not totally sure who you are, still trying to figure you out. What I do know is that you are part of me, and you’ve been with me for as long as I can remember. I’ve never really addressed you directly, you’ve been more like a secret friend that I hang out with from time to time. We’ve had some fun times together. You’ve been there for me in moments of pain and insecurity in ways that pretty much no one else has. When I felt the deepest sadness about my body to the point of shame filled tears, you provided me escape into a world where I was longed for. When as a child dread filled my soul in the locker rooms, playgrounds, pools, beaches, dance floors, and classrooms, you invited me into a world far away from the total and utter rejection that was hurled at me in those battlegrounds. When self doubt was so crippling that I could not move, you believed in me, though I’m learning that the me you believed in is not me at all, but maybe you, my dearest and oldest imposter friend.

Having you as a friend has had its benefits, though they’ve been tangled up with with other things like the way my headphone chords get knotted and twisted no matter what I do. I can’t be certain, but I think if it wasn’t for you, I would have acted out in my non-imposter life in ways that I may have regretted. You’ve taught me many things, and given me many highs, but you’ve also confused my eyes and left wanting my brain.

Now in these days where the weight of our beautiful and messy congregation rests partially on my body, soul, and mind, your company has risen to the occasion in the midst of the loneliness of leadership and being a pastor. Whether or not I should, I feel like I carry peoples pain, peoples stories, and even people’s hope. And in my own pain and secondary trauma, you stayed faithful. You’ve given me hours upon hours of escape, alone, just you and me, riled up on pixels and spirits. You’ve grown nearer in these last few months, and our time together has grown longer and more often. We’ve toasted our glasses on many nights, enjoyed countless films, feasted often, and disappeared together through the digital threshold in the palm of my hand into that old, new, and ever expanding universe of fantasy.

Old friend, whoever you are, it’s been real. But today, as I type on the dinning table of my still young family’s condo here in a city where we have created home and ministry, I need to say goodbye. I can’t keep you in my life anymore. I know that you’ve been there for me, but you’ve also, over time, molded me in a direction that I can’t keep going.

I hurt.

Deep down.

I’m sad.

And our old hi-jinks are making it worse, not better.

And so in the words of a man who had a friend just like you, I have a goodbye gift for you. I want to take you to where deep down, in the unsearchable depths of your being you’ve been yearning to be, “into the presence of Jesus”, that some how was there all along. I know that you might get jealous and miss the times where it was just the two of us alone, but this is what I want, this is what I need. I don’t know exactly how this is going to work, especially because I don’t know exactly who you are, but I’m going to use that ancient, messy, and misunderstood word here- faith. I’m going to have faith that the words of Brennan Manning to his imposter friend can be real for us. That, “the longer you spend time in the presence of Jesus, the more accustomed you grow to His face, the less adulation you will need because you will have discovered for yourself that He is Enough. And in that Presence, you will delight in the discovery of what it means to live by grace and not performance.”

Your old friend, 



In These Rooms: A Reflection on the First Step in the Search for Health


There is this saying in recovery communities that captures something special about the  nature of trust and vulnerability that is unique to groups of people whose commonality is that they’ve all come in their ends and are looking for health.  The saying is,  “in these rooms” and it’s often used when referring to the safety and types of stories that are told at meetings.

In these rooms everyone equal and each story matters.
In these rooms you don’t need to fake it any longer, you can let our guard down.
In these rooms you won’t find judgement, just fellow pilgrims on the journey of recovery.
In these rooms you can share your failures and your successes freely.
In these rooms we’re together.

Those three words signify to many a space where we can be truly honest about our struggles, and it’s in this place of brutal honesty and confession that healing begins.

As a pastor I’ve been drawn to this concept because I think it’s an idea we all need, addicts, sinners, saints and all.  In some traditions this space was cultivated in the practice of confession and absolution, but for most of us, our lives are completely void of anything resembling these rooms.

Here is what’s tragic about this, it’s been my experience that every one of us needs this space.  We all know that we’re unhealthy and we long to tell the truth about it to another.  Our list of struggles is legion.  For some it’s addictions, others self doubt or loneliness, and others exhaustion and depression.   As I sit with people and listen, I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t have something along these lines, and often I become these rooms to others.   

See, I think we’re all trying to get healthy, but we don’t know where to begin.  Intuitively, we know that we’re walking through life with a limp when we could be running freely.   And so we go to things that promise health or distract us altogether, but leave us more tired and sick in the end.  We’re looking for something that will bring us life and nourishment but we end up consuming more junk food and empty practices.  In our search for health we usually try to do more when maybe we must need to be more.   Instead of faking it, we need a place where we can take off our bandages and just be the hurting, tired, and broken people we are.

This is what I think we can learn from our recovery friends, that the first step in the journey towards health is admitting we’re sick and finding a space to share this with others as they share with us.   As we become these rooms to others, we create a space for people to move towards health and subsequently where we can too.

Let’s stop pretending that we’re not sick.  Because it’s this act that actually keeps us from wholeness,  Let’s be a space place for others and also be courageous enough to be vulnerable with our own life.   Whether it’s with a friend, spouse, counselor, church, or recovery meeting, being and finding this space this is a step worth taking.



The Totally Unmarketable Yet Universal Dark Night of the Soul. And Lent.


This week I was talking with a mentor of mine about a workshop he’s preparing.  The topic is “The Dark Night of the Soul”.  This concept originates from the classic poem written by St. John of the Cross, a 16th century Spanish mystic who crafted his words as a way to depict a necessary and normal part of the spiritual journey.  This field of spirituality, namely exploring our darkness, is actually a deep and wide area of Christian tradition and a consistent theme of scripture.

As we discussed what the workshop would include my mentor commented on how he wasn’t expecting a big turn out.  He said something like, “The Dark Night is not very sexy”.  Essentially, talking about our deepest secrets, doubts, insecurities, and darkness is not something most of us are likely to get excited about.

At some point in the conversation we reflected on this reality in our own lives and within the churches we’ve been a part of and the following concept came up:

“If you want a church to grow, then just give people what they want”

Yuck, right?

Unfortunately, I think the mentality captured in those words is often true.   After many decades of decline, this revealing and gag-inducing quote is sadly at the heart of many modern church communities who are struggling to keep people coming back.  So many have gone after what’s most marketable and glamorous, what’s attractive, and what puts butts in the seats.  Flashy lights, polished lectures, hip branding, slick coffee bars, the coolest music, and triumphalism. That’s what sells, right?

Ironically, in my time in ministry, what I’ve found people to be most deeply craving is a space to be honest about their darkness, scars, doubts, struggles, and brokenness.   When I sit down with folks to talk about life or faith, we almost never talk about the Sunday production.  What does come up with consistent regularity is darkness.  Addictions to porn, struggles with marriage, confusion about God, deeply held insecurities, sadness, loneliness, and depression.  It’s universal in many ways, we’ve all got these areas of our lives, and we’re all longing for people to be honest with about them.  Unfortunately, many churches don’t know how to market this stuff.

Thankfully, deep within the collective subconscious of Christianity are images, stories, metaphors, concepts, traditions, and places that invite us to break our addiction to the marketable warm-fuzzies of faith, and step into the spaces of our darkness.  Lent is one of those.  It’s a season where we recognize the brokenness of our lives and the world.  As we remember Jesus’ time alone in the desert, confronted by temptation and evil itself, we go with him into this place of isolation, stripping ourselves bare of the noise and distractions that usually hide our darkness.  In the desert we go without, and it’s just us.  We stop pretending like our dark nights don’t exist, and we instead allow them to be.  In the process we see that the divine does not require us to be marketable, but embraces us wholly as we are- dark nights and all.  And in the distance we see the glimmers of Easter Sunday’s light.

It’s this lived experience that I’ve found to be pretty much universal.  So many of us have felt like we’re alone and abnormal in our dark night and as we’ve encountered this space we’ve thought something is wrong with us.  But we’re not alone and nothing is wrong with us.  This is part of the journey.  Just because faith communities have given us “what we want” in terms of triumphalism and flashy marketing, doesn’t mean that this is the whole story.  We’ve all got scars, struggles, and sins.  And it’s only when we can acknowledge the depth of our darkness that we can even begin to experience the infinity of Love’s light.

The Dark Night of the Soul

On a dark night,
Kindled in love with yearnings–oh, happy chance!–
I went forth without being observed,
My house being now at rest.

In darkness and secure,
By the secret ladder, disguised–oh, happy chance!–
In darkness and in concealment,
My house being now at rest.

In the happy night,
In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught,
Without light or guide, save that which burned in my

This light guided me
More surely than the light of noonday
To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me–
A place where none appeared.

Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!

Upon my flowery breast,
Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him,
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.

The breeze blew from the turret
As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand he wounded my neck
And caused all my senses to be suspended.

I remained, lost in oblivion;
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.

A Theology of Animal-love


A few years back we added a third member to our family, Sonny Gray Scott.  He’s a twenty pound albino and hearing impaired poodle-mix, named after one of the best players on our favorite baseball team, and he’s taught me a lot about love and life.

Maybe the idea of a dog teaching us about love and life sounds silly or sophomoric to you, but hang with me for a moment because I think our connections to other living things might actually be graduate level theology.

Within the ancient creation stories of Judeo-Christian tradition is an important framework for how humanity might have originally related to non-human creation.  In Genesis 2:15 we read that humanity (Adam, a derivation of the Hebrew word Adamah  meaning earth) is given the task of working and taking care of its surroundings.  The Hebrew words here are shamar (guard) and abad (keep) both of which could be translated with a nurturing and protecting connotation.   In fact, it isn’t until after the flood story that we’re told humanity began eating other animals (Gen 9:3).  So it could be inferred from these stories that in our original design, our connection to other created beings was one much more benevolent than our current relationship with the planet and its other inhabitants.

Thankfully, this sense of connectedness and love for other creatures has been resurrected countless times throughout the history of our faith traditions.  Here are a few examples:

-Notable sixteenth century Jewish teacher, Maharsha, describes dogs as animals of love, reminding us that the Hebrew name for a dog is “kelev” which is etymologically derived from the words “kulo lev” or “all heart”.  This takes on an even deeper meaning if we remember that it was Adam’s job to name the animals.

-Saint Francis of Assissi is said to have taken the mandate of Jesus to proclaim the good news to all of creation quite literally, leading him to preach sermons to both his human and his animal audience.  He’s quoted as saying, “Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission — to be of service to them wherever they require it.”

-C.S. Lewis was a dog owner/lover and argued against animal cruelty.

-The British institution known as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), which would later inspire the American Humane Society, was founded by devout Christians William Wilberforce and Reverend Arthur Broome based on their faith ethics.

Keep in mind that these ideas actually come up against much of Western and Enlightenment values which often seek to commodify the planet and its inhabitants. Even Descartes claimed animals could not suffer nor feel pleasure.   So, I think it’s safe to say that connecting with animals in a loving way is deeply rooted in our faith traditions and even countercultural.

Alright, enough with the history lesson, let’s get back to current times and this fluffball.


In the years I’ve hung out with Sonny I’ve been surprised by just how much I feel for him.  I know it sounds cliche, but his condition-less affection for both Alie and me is such a gift.  He’s always happy to see us and sad to see us leave.

As I’ve grown in my fondness of him and his presence, it’s increased my heart for other animals too.  Interestingly enough, it feels like my overall ability to love has grown.  Some might think that if I’m giving attention to my dog, I might have less attention to give to others, but I’ve found the opposite to be true.  Love seems to be one of the few things that only grows the more it’s given and received- and it never actually runs out.  Sonny reminds me of this.

Since he’s almost deaf, we’ve had to learn communication in a slightly different way.  It’s hard to explain but I think I can sense his feelings and I’m pretty sure he can sense mine too.  When I get worked up about something, so does Sonny.  And when he starts barking about some one walking passed our window, I can sense his stress.  It’s like there is an energy between us and it makes me wonder at just how connected we are to each other and to our planet.

Sonny relieves stress and brings me back down to earth.  His patient and unconditional affection seems truer and more noble than many of the accomplishments and vanity projects our culture seems to value.  Rabbi Levi Welton notes this saying, “the Almighty created animals before humans on the sixth day of creation to teach humans humility”.

So yeah, I’d argue that animal love is good, divine, and theologically sound.  When we care for animals in any fashion, we’re caring for vessels of the miraculous reality of life and evidences of divine creativity.  They can teach us faithfulness, humility, playfulness, and more.  And the fact that we can communicate, relate to, and even share love with them is beyond my understanding, but is something I both cannot deny and am immensely grateful for.

Here’s to you Sonny.