Why don’t we want to be called God’s children? // Part 2: Making peace in a culture of verbal violence

I closed yesterday’s post (which should be read first for this one to have the right context) lamenting the tone and direction of so much of the public conversation about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman:

You don’t have to believe what Jesus said [Blessed are the peacemakers—they will be called children of God] or even believe Jesus is real to look at all of that and wish for something better. That instinct transcends race, creed, and all of our other differences. Unless your soul has been completely seared by so much heat and so little light, some elemental pulse of humanity in you has to know we weren’t made for this.

And yet I believe that realization creates a particular responsibility for those who do follow Jesus. If we claim to believe what Jesus said — that those who make peace will be called God’s children — it’s time to put up or shut up. The world around us is sinking into a canyon of hatred and anger and division, and we’re too busy proving that the chasm isn’t our fault to climb in and help. Either oblivious or indifferent to the fact that many of these fights aren’t even about right and wrong anymore because they have devolved into the kind of cyclical verbal violence that eviscerates God’s image-bearers and mocks the way He made people to relate to one another, we continue to use our precious words and energy to play around in the breach rather than make peace.

Let me be clear about this: there is a difference in a peacemaker and a peace-keeper. I am not suggesting that we tiptoe around patting everyone on the head, never having an opinion about anything. But if our reaction to the Zimmerman verdict or Obamacare or gay marriage or whatever else lights our fire isn’t running through the filter of the Gospel and driven by a compulsion to abandon the safety of our finely-built boat and swim alongside the people we think are in dangerous water (or just wrong), then we are fighting the wrong damned fight (and my word choice is intentional and theological). If our response to people we don’t understand, even if they have wronged or offended us, is to churn out angry or defensive words instead of graciously and sincerely seeking to understand them, then we are motivated by our own defense and vindication and not the coming Kingdom of Jesus. If we can’t identify the line between healthy conversation and futile bickering…if we are teasing out people’s anger rather than provoking them to love and real life…if we are drawing them offsides and mocking them rather than meeting them where they are and listening to them, then we are deciding that we’d rather play those games than be called God’s children.

It happens. I get it. We’re human — again, wonderful and awful. But it’s time to acknowledge it for what it is — overt disobedience to a whole pile of scripture that is every bit as problematic as whatever sin we think we’re addressing. The Bible goes after this at least as aggressively as any of the hot button cultural wars we seem so eager to fight. A sampling:

Fools find no pleasure in understanding
but delight in airing their own opinions.

Whoever is patient and slow to anger shows great
understanding,
but whoever has a quick temper magnifies his foolishness.

The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint,
and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

I confess that my journey into obedience to this part of the way of Jesus has been and remains long and difficult. I fail regularly, and my internal mechanisms are still being reformed even in areas where I have learned to keep my mouth (or computer) shut. So as is always the case, each and every “we” here is sincere.

But I think we have a problem that goes well beyond the natural margin of human error. I think it’s time to stop and ask why we have decided that these fights we can’t let go of are more important that assuming the identity and occupation of God’s children. Why don’t we believe that making peace in the way Jesus said God’s people make peace is enough to reconcile all things, including the issues that have us twisted in knots? Why can we not recognize that when we decide that the end of advocating for the right position justifies the means of repeatedly poking people with sharp sticks just to try to bleed the life out of their wrong position, we have become what we despise?

If we are preoccupied with convincing others that they are wrong and proving that we are right — especially about secondary issues of politics or culture — then we are at risk of telling a different story than the Story:

It is central to our good news that God was in the Anointed making things right between Himself and the world. This means He does not hold their sins against them. But it also means He charges us to proclaim the message that heals and restores our broken relationships with God and each other. (2 Cor 5:19)

That’s our message to the world around us, no matter how much they injure or offend us and no matter how wrong we have decided they are. It’s the only message that matters: God loves you relentlessly, and he sent Jesus not to condemn you for what you’ve done wrong, but to forgive you for anything and everything you’ve done wrong — to lead you back home and make you free. Jesus not only reconciles you with God, but he reconciles all broken relationships. He’s the one. That feeling deep inside you that people aren’t supposed to hate and hurt one another forever — that there has to be some way out of this. There is. It’s Jesus, who has done what no one else could: prove that the way to real life isn’t through conquest and getting our way, but through service and sacrifice and death. 

A few sentences after declaring that Jesus is the Great Reconciler and that we exist to announce and embody his reconciliation, Paul quotes God (speaking through Isaiah):

When the time was right, I listened to you;
and that day you were delivered, I was your help.

And then he says this:

We are careful in what we teach so that our words won’t be a stumbling block…

God’s response to the same world we’re fighting was to listen and become their help. If we are his children, we not only follow his lead, but we take care that our words do not clutter anyone’s path to God’s message of reconciliation.

If our other messages and pet arguments and causes in any way distract people from seeing Jesus the Reconciler as he is…if they make us messengers of an incomplete reconciliation…if we are causing or exacerbating broken relationships instead of modeling the full reconciliation of the Gospel, then we are not only pushing our own agenda, but we are creating obstacles to the Gospel itself.

The world outside the Church doesn’t read the Bible. It reads Christians. May it read in us an eagerness to be called God’s children rather than children of another cause. May it read in us a love for making peace that is better than our best opinions and solutions. May it read in us the willingness to listen and understand before speaking. May it read in us the courage to step into even the bloodiest of frays and point the way toward grace and understanding. May it read in us the selfless story that points to Jesus as the reconciler of all things and the hope of all humanity.

You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

A Public Statement Concerning Sexual Abuse in the Church

On the heels of my guest post on GRACE’s website in May (which I republished here), I have been part of a small group of women and men led by my new friend Boz Tchividjian who are invested in both the Church and in care for survivors of abuse. As various scandals and tragic stories continue to surface, we noticed two troubling things happening: the Church often was dropping the ball in caring well for the abused, and the Church’s public voice on the issue was quickly being narrowed to the headlines from these cases and a few public statements by evangelical leaders that, for us anyway, came up short. We were and are convinced that this is an issue of primary importance to both Jesus and the world around us, and we desperately want to see the Church articulate and embody the heart of Jesus for the abused and forgotten. We have poured some of that energy into the drafting of a public statement about this issue, which is printed below. We certainly don’t think statements like this actually solve problems, but we hope this can be a starting place for many. Our goal is to rekindle some hope that there are women and men leading the Church with the guts and compassion to do whatever it takes to love broken and hurting people, showing no partiality based on titles or positions or appearances. Prior to publishing the statement this morning, we invited a number of others to sign on, and their names are listed after the statement. We hope many of you will sign on as well, both by adding your name online and by sharing it in your own spaces (blogs, other social media, etc.). 

A Public Statement Concerning Sexual Abuse in the Church of Jesus Christ

Recent allegations of sexual abuse and cover-up within a well known international ministry and subsequent public statements by several evangelical leaders have angered and distressed many, both inside and outside of the Church. These events expose the troubling reality that, far too often, the Church’s instincts are no different than from those of many other institutions, responding to such allegations by moving to protect her structures rather than her children. This is a longstanding problem in the Christian world, and we are deeply grieved by the failures of the American and global Church in responding to the issue of sexual abuse. We do not just believe we should do better; as those who claim the name of Jesus and the cause of the Gospel, we are convinced we must do better. In the hope that a time is coming when Christian leaders respond to all sexual abuse with outrage and courage, we offer this confession and declare the Good News of Jesus on behalf of the abused, ignored and forgotten.

Through the media we have been confronted with perpetual reports of grievous sexual abuse and its cover-up. Institutions ranging from the Catholic Church, various Protestant churches and missionary organizations, Penn State, Yeshiva University High School, the Boy Scouts, and all branches of our military have been rocked by allegations of abuse and of complicity in silencing the victims. And while many evangelical leaders have eagerly responded with outrage to those public scandals, we must now acknowledge long-silenced victims who are speaking out about sexual abuse in evangelical Christian institutions: schools, mission fields and churches, large and small. And we must confess we have done far too little to hear and help them.

Holocaust survivor and author, Elie Weisel, once said, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim…silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” When we choose willful ignorance, inaction or neutrality in the face of evil, we participate in the survival of that evil. When clergy, school administrations, boards of directors, or military commanders have been silent or have covered up abuse, they have joined with those who perpetrate crimes against the “little ones” – often children, but also others who are on the underside of power because of size, age, position or authority.

It goes without saying that sexual abuse is criminal, but within the Church we also believe that it is the work of the enemy of our souls — evil, horrific sin perpetrated in dark and hidden places, forever altering lives and destroying the faith of the abused. How could such evil be present and overlooked in the body of Christ? Surely as his followers, we would do everything in our power to expose the deeds of darkness, opening the mouths of the mute, the afflicted and the needy. The Church must never hinder those who so desperately need to run to God and his people for safety, hope and truth, while also providing them protection from the great deceiver.

But we have hindered the victims. By our silence and our efforts to protect our names and institutions and “missions,” we, the body of Christ, have often sided with an enemy whose sole purpose is and has always been to destroy the Lamb of God and his presence in this world. Our busyness and inattention have often resulted in complicity in allowing dark places that shelter abuse to fester and survive.

We must face the truths of our own teachings: To be a shepherd in the body of Christ and blind to the knowledge that your sheep are being abused by wolves in your midst is to be an inattentive shepherd. To judge merely by outward appearances is a failure of righteousness. To fail to obey the laws of the land as Scripture commands by declining to report and expose abuse is to be a disobedient shepherd. To be told that wolves are devouring our lambs and fail to protect those lambs is to be a shepherd who sides with the wolves who hinder those same little ones from coming to Jesus. To fail to grasp the massive web of deception entangling an abuser and set him or her loose among the sheep is to be naïve about the very nature and power of sin. To be told a child is being or has been abused and to make excuses for failing to act is a diabolical misrepresentation of God. To know a woman is being raped or battered in hidden places and silence her or send her back is to align with those who live as enemies of our God. Protecting an institution or organization rather than a living, breathing lamb is to love ministry more than God and to value a human name or institution more than the peerless name of Jesus.

Dear church of Jesus Christ, we must set aside every agenda but one: to gently lead every man, woman and child into the arms of our Good Shepherd, who gave his very life to rescue us from the clutches of our enemy and from sin and death — who rose from the dead and called us to the safety of his side. As we follow this Good Shepherd, we will “eliminate harmful beasts from the land, make places of blessing for the sheep, deliver them from their enslavers and make them secure in places where no one will make them afraid” (Ezekiel 34:25-28). Surely it is for such a time as this that the Church has been empowered to boldly and bravely embody the Good News to accusers and accused alike, and to forsake our own comfort and position to love the hurting with an illogical extravagance.

To all who have been abused, broken, deceived and ignored, we have failed you and our God. We repent for looking nothing like our Lord when we have silenced you, ignored you or moved away from you and then acted as if you were the problem. You are not the problem; you are the voice of our God calling his church to repentance and humility. Thank you for having the courage to speak truth. May God have mercy on us all and oh may the day come when his church reflects the indescribable love and compassion of Jesus, even to the point of laying down our lives for his precious sheep.

Dated this 17th day of July, 2013.

Click here to add your voice and sign this statement along with those listed below.

Carol Ajamian, Retired

Jim Arcieri
Pastor of Community Bible Fellowship Church in Red Hill, PA

William S. Barker
Professor of Church History, Emeritus at Westminster Theological Seminary (PA)

Steve Brown
Professor, Emeritus of Preaching and Pastoral Ministry at Reformed Theological Seminary, President of Key Life Network, Inc., and Author

P. J. (“Flip”) Buys
Associate International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship, South Africa

Rebecca Campbell
Member of the Board of Trustees at Biblical Theological Seminary

Alan Chambers
Founder, Speak.Love

Kelly Clark
Attorney with the law firm of O’Donnell Clark and Crew, LLP in Portland, OR

Julie Clinton
President of Extraordinary Women

Tim Clinton
President of the American Association of Christian Counselors and Professor of Counseling and Pastoral Care at Liberty University

Wentzel Coetzer
Professor of Theology at Northwest University (Potschefstroom, South Africa)

James Courtney
Ruling Elder at Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Rye, NY

Margaret Courtney
Co-Director of Family Ministries at Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Rye, NY

Glenn Davies
Bishop of North Sydney, Australia

D. Clair Davis
Chaplain at Redeemer Seminary

Chuck DeGroat
Associate Professor of Counseling and Pastoral Care at Western Theological Seminary and Senior Fellow at Newbigin House

Mary DeMuth
Author and Blogger

David G. Dunbar
Professor of Theology at Biblical Theological Seminary

Diana S. Durrill
Pastor’s wife and Sexual abuse survivor

Michael J. Durrill
Pastor of Valley Community Church in Louisville, CO

William Edgar
Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary (PA)

Rob Edwards
Pastor of Mercy Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Forest, VA

Mr. Rinaldo Lotti Filho
Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church of Brazil (Sao Paulo)

Elyse Fitzpatrick Counselor and Author

Ryan Ferguson
Pastor of Community Connection at North Hills Community Church in Taylors, SC

E. Robert Geehan
Pastor of The Reformed Church in Poughkeepsie, NY (RCA)

Shannon Geiger
Counselor at Park Cities Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Dallas, TX

Douglas Green
Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary (PA)

Fred Harrell, Sr.
Senior Pastor of City Church in San Francisco, CA

Robert Heerdt
Chief Investment Officer at BenefitWorks, Inc.

Walter Henegar
Senior Pastor of Atlanta Westside Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Atlanta, GA

Craig Higgins
Senior Pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Westchester County, NY and North American Regional Coordinator for the World Reformed Fellowship

Justin Holcomb
Author and Adjunct Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary

Lindsey Holcomb
Author and former case manager for sexual assault crisis center

Peter Hubbard
Pastor of Teaching at North Hills Community Church in Taylors, SC

Carolyn James
President of WhitbyForum

Frank James
President of Biblical Theological Seminary

Karen Jansson
Board member of the World Reformed Fellowship Board Member and Treasurer of the Russian Orphan Opportunity Fund, USA

Kathy Koch
President and Founder of Celebrate Kids

Matthew Lacey
Development Director for GRACE

David Lamb
Associate Professor of Old Testament at Biblical Theological Seminary

Diane Langberg
Clinical Psychologist and Author

Daniel N. LaValla
Director of Library Services and Development Associate at Biblical Theological Seminary

Samuel Logan
International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship, President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary (PA), and Special Counsel to the President at Biblical Theological Seminary

Tremper Longman
Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College

Kin Yip Louie
Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at China Graduate School of Theology

Fergus Macdonald
Past President of the United Bible Societies (Scotland)

Todd Mangum
Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical Theological Seminary

Dan McCartney
Professor of New Testament at Redeemer Seminary

Scot McKnight
Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary and Author

Jonathan Merritt
Faith and Culture writer

Pat Millen
Member of the Board of Trustees at Biblical Seminary

Philip Monroe
Professor of Counseling and Psychology at Biblical Theological Seminary

Amy Norvell
Director of Classical Conversations in Bryan/College Station, TX, Pastor’s wife, and Sexual abuse survivor

Thad Norvell
Pastor at Community Church in Bryan/College Station, TX

K. Eric Perrin
Senior Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Cherry Hill, NJ

Michael Reagan
President of the Reagan Legacy Foundation

Matthew Redmond
Author

Nathan Rice
Director of Middle School Ministries at First Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Bellevue, WA

Tamara Rice
Freelance Writer and Editor

Adam L Saenz
Clinical Psychologist and Author

Karen L. Sawyer
Vice Chair and Chair Elect of the Board of Trustees, Biblical Theological Seminary and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Arcadia University

Scotty Smith
Founding Pastor of Christ Community Church in Franklin, TN

Ron Scates
Preaching Pastor at Highland Park Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Dallas, Texas

Andrew J. Schmutzer
Professor of Biblical Studies at Moody Bible Institute

Chris Seay
Pastor at Ecclesia in Houston, TX

Mike Sloan
Associate Pastor at Old Peachtree Presbyterian Church in DuLuth, GA

Basyle J. Tchividjian
Executive Director, GRACE and Associate Professor of Law at Liberty University School of Law

Laura Thien
LMHC and Board Chairperson of the Julie Valentine Center in Greenville, SC

Jessica Thompson
Author

Rick Tyson
Senior Pastor at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Willow Grove, PA

John Williams
Ruling Elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Washington Island, WI

John Wilson
Pastor in the Presbyterian Church of Victoria, Australia

William Paul Young
Author

Why don’t we want to be called God’s children? // Part 1: What I don’t know about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman

Blessed are the peacemakers—they will be called children of God.

That’s what Jesus said. I’ve lived among Christians for 38 years and a month or so, and I’ve picked up on a couple of things that seem to be sort of a big deal. Believing what Jesus said is one of them. So I’m wondering: why don’t we want to be called God’s children?

I’ll come back to that.

I don’t know what happened the night George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin. I’m not sure anyone does. I’ve read, “Only Zimmerman and Martin know what happened that night,” but I’m not sure even that is true. I’ve waded through the aftermath of many situations far less traumatic than this one and often found that the participants and witnesses tell strikingly different stories. Without exception, we are subjective creatures, and all of our experiences inform and shape how we interpret every moment of our lives. That does not mean, of course, that we should not pursue truth and justice; it simply highlights the need for a system designed to sort out the complicated convergence of subjective humans when laws are broken and people are hurt. And if we are honest, it reminds us that even our best ideas and efforts for justice are limited by our humanness. We are not robots programmed to spit out emotionless narrations of fact. We are complex beings bursting with feelings and opinions, some that we choose and some that choose us. That’s just the way it is, and it is wonderful and awful.

My sense of the nuance and complexity of these moments — including both the events of Trayvon’s death and George Zimmerman’s acquittal 504 days later — makes it extremely difficult for me to comprehend the certainty of so many of the words I’ve read and heard since Saturday night. I’ve watched people with no connection to either person celebrate the verdict as absolutely right or decry it as a mockery of justice, and either reaction seems fundamentally illogical unless those folks watched the entire trial. Please do not react to something I did not write. I did not write that deep emotion about this situation is illogical. I’m talking about that emotion being directed at a verdict rather than at the deeper, longer struggles we are tying to a jury’s legal conclusion.

A trial verdict is a very specific response to very specific questions asked of jurors about not what transpired between Zimmerman and Martin, but what transpired in the trial. I wonder how many people understand that it is not an opportunity for jurors to express their opinions about what Zimmerman or Martin did on February 26, 2012. The jury was bound by excruciatingly detailed instructions and by the laws of the state of Florida to ultimately discern whether or not the state proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Ask anyone who has served on a criminal jury whether or not their verdict was perfectly in line with their opinion of what really happened, and most will answer negatively.

The system is designed, however imperfectly, to protect against the whims of our emotions and opinions and set a high standard for convictions. That system does fail, and it is not free of the prejudices and inequities that still permeate our society. But in the trial of George Zimmerman, the jurors were not asked and should not have been expected to remedy systemic injustice over and above the facts they were presented with respect to Florida law which, for better or worse, makes it legal to shoot and kill someone for various reasons, even away from your home. They were asked and should have been expected only to determine whether or not the state proved beyond a reasonable doubt that George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin according to laws the jury did not write. This is not me criticizing those who didn’t like the verdict. I think this truth is just as relevant to those who were celebrating the acquittal. If you did not watch the trial (and I didn’t), you simply don’t know (and I don’t) whether or not the jury’s verdict was reasonable or whether it represented justice in this case based on what transpired in the trial. (If you did watch every minute, certainly your opinions of the verdict have deeper roots.)

Again, none of that is intended to suggest that people should not have reactions to the death of Trayvon Martin or to the man who killed him. I would be troubled if we did not have strong feelings about this dreadful situation. I just think we’d be wise to understand that most of those reactions have less to do with the legal nuances of a trial and more to do with the crippling fractures in the way we relate to one another as humans.

Even at our best, we are reacting to the frustration of being black and having to wearily explain again and again that Dr. King’s dream hasn’t been fulfilled just because the laws have changed. We are reacting to the confusion of being white and feeling like we are expected to apologize for our skin color, even if we don’t believe we are racist. We are reacting to the insanity of laws that encourage gun ownership in an effort to curb violence. We are reacting to the reductionist politics of gun control that blame an object for human behavior. We are reacting to our inability to shake the feeling that Trayvon’s death and Zimmerman’s acquittal reinforce what most black men intuitively know: that forty-nine years and two weeks after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, being black and in the wrong place at the wrong time still makes you a suspect, not just for the cops, but for any self-appointed neighborhood protector carrying a gun, so you better watch your back. We are reacting to our exhaustion from trying hard to learn how to speak and act appropriately with folks of other heritages and races, only to discover that we’re still offending people.

And at our worst, we’re just belligerent and unwilling to consider any viewpoint but our own, secretly rejoicing in these opportunities to crank out bombastic rants on the internet or at parties. We simultaneously feed and consume the verbal and visual anger-porn that is the lifeblood of a media whose primary bias is neither liberal nor conservative, but greed. And pissed off people sell.

This dysfunction is not limited to issues of race, violence, and justice, but that is a cocktail that offers our collective compulsion to tear one another apart a direct route the surface. The result is what we’ve all experienced over the last few days — people talking over and at one another in ways that deepen divides and move us further away from anything resembling peace and human decency.

You don’t have to believe what Jesus said or even believe Jesus is real to look at all of that and wish for something better. That instinct transcends race, creed, and all of our other differences. Unless your soul has been completely seared by so much heat and so little light, some elemental pulse of humanity in you has to know we weren’t made for this.

(Tomorrow — Why don’t we want to be called God’s children? Part 2: Making peace in a culture of verbal violence)

That time I went viral*

[This is a bit of an interlude between what I wrote last week and the follow-up post I hope to write in the next day or two.]

I don’t write this kind of post often, but there are a lot more people stopping by here than usual. A lot more. I realize that even talking about the numbers will be off-putting to some, but maybe you can trust me for a moment (even if you think I’m headed to hell for what I wrote) and believe that, though I struggle with pride and love for the wrong things (including myself) as much as any of you, I’m not looking to impress anyone with this information. It just is what it is. In the six days since I posted Gay Marriage and the Posture of the Gospel, the site has had over 25,000 hits. I know that’s all in a day’s work for a lot of writers/bloggers, but that’s more like “all in a couple years’ work” for me. My posting has been sporadic lately, and while a few posts have generated 1,000+ page views, this is something else entirely.

I like to imagine the 25,000 of you like this:

I realize it’s probably more like this:

angry-mob-simps

But if you’re still here or circling back for some reason, welcome. I’m thankful for your time and attention. Obviously I haven’t worked with any real vigor to draw this kind of crowd, but I am not flippant about the fact that a crowd has gathered anyway, at least for a moment. Surprised and a bit overwhelmed? Sure. I admit I’ve labored for days over some posts in the past, and they’ve been read by a few hundred (or a few dozen) people. This one I wrote in an hour or less with seven kids buzzing around me, and within a few hours it had been read by more people than live in the little West Texas town where I grew up (spread far the fame of the Golden Cranes)!

And it’s truly been a viral sort of effect. Rather than being a function of one or two extremely popular individuals pointing you all here, over 90 percent of the traffic is coming in from Facebook. On Monday, Alan Chambers, the long-time president of Exodus International who has been in the news lately for his apology to the gay community (followed by the decision to shut down Exodus completely), tweeted the link to my post with some kinds words and sent me a nice note. But the traffic pattern stayed the same – a chunk of referrals from Twitter, but most continuing to come from Facebook. The internets are weird, y’all. I mean, if I could have picked something to go viral about, it definitely would have been something that would make me super popular and beloved like gay marriage…

Also new to me is the challenge of sorting through over a hundred comments and many other notes sent to me directly. That experience has been a bizarre mix of encouraging and exasperating. Some have been very kind. Some have been critical, but fair. Some have sent me to hell or accused me of gearing up for the coming movement to legalize human-pet marriages (and let’s be honest, that ship has sailed…we all know people who are pretty much married to their pets). I have been fascinated by how one little post managed to simultaneously (forgive me, for there is no more precise term here) piss off people who disagree with each other completely…and to simultaneously encourage and inspire people who disagree with each other completely. I have gotten both positive and negative feedback from folks on all sides of this issue who represent a wide theological, political, and social spectrum. People are beautiful. And nuts. All of us.

I confess I remember being annoyed by popular writers who would post something, then never answer questions or remarks posted in the comments. All it took was one post going viral* for me to totally get that. And that’s weird for me. I believe in community and questions and dialogue, and yet I’m at a complete loss for how to foster and facilitate that in this context with the questions, challenges, and comments coming so quickly and from so many different perspectives (never mind trying to discern tone and motive.) Maybe it’s possible, but you’ll have to forgive me. I haven’t figured it out yet. I’m not ignoring you, and as I said, I’m slowly hammering out some more thoughts that I plan to convert to words soon. I hope that will help, but I certainly can’t promise I’ll answer every question. In fact, I promise that I won’t.

But in the interest of being human and open about my own process, I want to share what this experience already has taught me about the way I read and hear other people, especially people I don’t know. One of the most striking dynamics of this whole thing is how many people seem agitated by what I did not say. Frankly, I’ve been amazed at how much conversation there has been about what I didn’t write instead of about what I did write (and if I’m honest, “conversation” is a generous characterization of some of it).

I’m wrong all the time, so I’m not discounting the opinions of those who disagree with me, but here’s what’s strange: most of the “disagreement” left in the comments is not actually disagreement with what I wrote. It’s disagreement with what is assumed from what I didn’t write…assumptions about what I think, believe, or intend to communicate based on the fact that I did not say certain things people think I should have said. Many of those assumptions are wrong – some of them way wrong.

I think this phenomenon is symptomatic of some deeper issues we’re facing, both culturally and within the Church. But I’ll be reflecting on that for a while, and I don’t want to rush to a bunch of wild conclusions about it. For now, my receiving that kind of feedback in this case has exposed two things that are true of me in many other situations.

The first is that I’ve often demanded, even if sometimes unintentionally, that when someone deals with an important issue (and especially one I care a lot about) they say everything that I think needs to be said about that issue if they’re going to say anything about it. I’ve had very little grace to just let them say the one thing that seemed important to them to say in that moment. And especially when I don’t know that person, it becomes far too easy for me to bring all of my bias and baggage on the issue to the table and, through that filter, size that person up based not only on that very limited window into who they are, but also (and even more troubling) based on assumptions I make just because they haven’t said everything I want them to say about the issue. And it is good for me to gain that insight into my lack of grace and discernment in how I judge others. I don’t particularly enjoy being reduced to one moment or one conversation or one post that I’ve written, but I do that to others all the time. My bad. I repent. God help me to change.

The second thing I’ve realized is that sometimes I do that because it’s easier than dealing with the fact that what that person has written or said pokes holes in the boxes I’ve built around my safe ways of thinking and living. I don’t presume motives for anyone commenting on my post, and I’m not discounting anyone’s input for that reason. But it’s hard not to read some of what has been written and notice that it doesn’t deal with what I did write; it just seems to discount or dismiss it because of what I didn’t write. And while my incomplete and imperfect view of Jesus (in general and in that post) shouldn’t be mistaken for Jesus himself, there are some very clear truths and realities presented there that seem to be too easily brushed aside in the rush to gather up the caveats (which may or may not have been sort of the point of the post in the first place). But it’s hard for me to stay irritated about that (not impossible, just hard) because I’m aware of how easy it is for me to do exactly that when I’m on the other side of the transaction.

And again, I’m thankful for the reminder that I don’t want to live that way. I don’t want to find loopholes or escape routes when the comfortable rhythms of my thinking and living are interrupted by people or ideas I can’t immediately reconcile. I don’t want to shift the conversation before I’ve weighed the challenge in front of me. And I definitely don’t want to see Jesus, even if I’m seeing him in a new way, and jump too quickly to, “yeah, but…” ‘Cause I have an endless supply of yeah buts, and they almost always are weapons of self-protection, not keys to the Kingdom.

I want to test everything, certainly, but my goodness it’s easy for me to lean into (good) things like conviction and mistake my current imperfect understanding of truth for truth itself. And I’m not sure there’s a more reliable way to slowly wander away from truth than that.

Again, thanks to those of you who are new and those who are not. Thanks for the encouraging words and for the questions and challenges. I’m just a guy who has been ruined by the love of God and the life of Jesus, and I’m not going to get all of this right. I’m happy to have you stick around, but only if my fallible external processing here won’t cost you any sleep or create too much anguish for you.

If this new gig doesn’t work out…

*I used the word viral thrice in this post. My pal Ross (who has a terrific new record coming out soon that you should definitely buy) and I discussed what the official internet threshold for viral was and concluded that it probably was 10,000, which was handy since we had that conversation right as I passed the 10,000 mark. Ross suggested that if anyone ever tells us viral really means a million, we’ll just say, “Yeah, I’ve heard it both ways.”

My friend Nick Flora (who has a terrific new record that just came out that you should definitely buy) was around during this craziness, and he concurred that five digits was where one crossed into viral territory. Nick has 14,000 Twitter followers (if you count the 41 following Fake Nick Flora) and once had a tweet retweeted like 16,000 times, so he’s pretty much an expert on this.

So it’s settled, if only so I can say for the rest of my life, “Remember that time I went viral?” And pretty much everyone will say, “Not really.” Or “you had something that got to a million people?”

Yeah, I’ve heard it both ways.

Gay Marriage and the Posture of the Gospel

Perhaps because of what I do for a living, I have been asked about gay marriage many times over the last couple of years. With very few exceptions, each of the questions I’ve been asked is some variation of the same question: What is your position on gay marriage? Some ask to make sure I’m on the right side of the issue; some ask because they are conflicted about which side is right, but they feel pressure to choose a side (and to choose the right side, obviously).

I understand the desire to be right. I understand the pressure to choose. I understand that right and wrong still matter. The question that all of the questions seem to be asking still makes sense to me.

And yet the more I am asked the question, the more I am convinced that we are so collectively obsessed with position we have forgotten that Jesus has at least as much to say about posture. My observation of the Church is that we usually give our first and best energies to formulating, asserting, and defending our positions, and on our most charitable days we footnote those positions with a small-print reminder to “speak the truth in love” or some such. And conveniently, we have so convinced ourselves that our positions are right that we believe the very act of articulating them is love. Posture is mostly an afterthought.

This is a problem, and it’s not a small one.

Orthodox Christian belief insists the Gospel is necessary because of God’s position on our broken ways of living (sin). But the heart of the good news is God’s posture toward us as we continue to break things, including ourselves.

My position on gay marriage is that we ought to respond to the world around us the way God responded to us when we didn’t do what He thought we should do. Even if we believe gay marriage is at odds with the way God intends us to live, and even when we feel compelled to say so, we ought to assume the same posture toward the world that God assumed toward us (and that He assumes toward the world). That posture looks something like this:

Diego-Velazquez-The-Crucifixion-Christ-on-the-Cross-Oil-Painting

If Christians have been convinced of anything, it is that…

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

But here’s the sucker-punch of a next sentence that we tend to ignore in our myopic rush to leverage our salvation to assume and assert correct positions in the world:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Paul describes God’s posture toward us this way:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

And boy do we love that verse when it’s talking about Jesus dying for me.

But if it’s true that “whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did,” and “in this world we are like Jesus,” then the punch-line is unavoidable.

No matter how correct your position, if your posture toward a world you believe to be “still sinners” is anything other than a love that stubbornly refuses to condemn, but instead gives itself away to point to Jesus giving himself away, you are on your own. You are not standing on the truth of the scriptures or the shoulders of Jesus. Right position without the posture of God revealed in Jesus is not the Gospel.

Carry on with the discussions of gay marriage, morality, and culture. We need those conversations. Just remember that if we claim the name of Jesus, we are not ambassadors of moral positions or good behavior; we are ambassadors of a transcendent reconciliation possible only in Jesus, who made God’s love for sinners known not by a posture of condemnation, but of cross-shaped love.

A post-script word to those outside of the Church looking in: If you have been on the blunt end of a professing Christian’s position on this or another issue and were not shown the sacrificial posture of Jesus demonstrating God’s love for you, that person was not representing Jesus. They probably thought they were doing the right thing, but just as I have done dozens of times, they were confusing position, posture, and probably a few other things. They need Jesus as much as you do, and so do I. Forgive them and forgive me, please.

Depreciating humility: The importance of being the best at being right

The words below, originally published on GRACE’s blog, contain my thoughts about an issue I consider critical to the life of the Church. They were prompted by a specific situation that continues to develop, both within a particular stream of the American Church and in broader venues, including the national media. While I believe this post will make sense even if you aren’t aware of the very public issues surrounding Sovereign Grace Ministries and C.J. Mahaney, I have posted some context and the story of how I came to write this piece down below. Feel free to read it before or after continuing with this post.

I empathize with those inclined to steer clear of these kinds of dramas; I usually am one of you. I am unable to turn away this time for two reasons: the details of this story are too grievous, and I believe they expose a deeper, growing epidemic within the Church that is in utter opposition to our identity as the people who exist to say to both one another and the world: “This is who Jesus is, this is what He is like, and this is how He loves you.”


I haven’t slept well in a week. I just cannot shake some of the recent developments in the unfolding saga of apparent abuse and, by many accounts, systematic breach of pastoral trust within Sovereign Grace Ministries. So in my bleary-eyed, restless state, I have two confessions:

I am a bit annoyed that this story is keeping me up at night.

I am just as annoyed that this story isn’t keeping more of us up at night.

See I have no real affiliation with anyone involved — not the victims, not SGM, not C.J. Mahaney, and not Together for the Gospel or most of what is commonly referred to as the neo-reformed movement. While I have many friends who travel in those circles and we share some common roots, I’m far enough removed that I should be able to grieve over the harm done and move on. To be frank about it, I honestly don’t have time to be preoccupied with the drama of other churches. I am a pastor among a beautiful, healthy, but predictably flawed community of believers in Texas, and we have plenty of drama all our own, thank you very much.

Still, I can’t move past this one, and not only because of the horrendous nature of the sexual abuse allegations. I’m stuck because this is not just a story about one church or one pastor or one ministry. This is a story about what could become of any church and any pastor and any ministry. More to my point (and insomnia), it is a story about what is becoming of many churches and many pastors and many ministries.

Let me be clear, the allegations of sexual abuse in this story are horrifying, and stories like these are more personal to me because my wife was abused as both a child and a teenager. By God’s mercy she lives in remarkable freedom from the weight of those experiences, and she graciously and gracefully tends to others who are hurting and broken in those (and many other) ways. But for her and any survivor of abuse, the journey toward freedom is long and indescribably grueling. For those of us who know that road, whether from our own pain or from sharing in the suffering of those we love, stories like these still cause us to ache in a different way. There is little that simultaneously grieves and angers me more than abuse, oppression, and the perpetuation of shame by those claiming to be the Body of Christ.

But that’s not what’s keeping me up at night — at least it’s not the whole of it.

As soul-churning as the stories of abuse are, and though I have every reason to be consumed by them, there is another scratch on the record of my heart and mind that won’t let me move on, and the line that keeps playing over and over is this:

It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor [oppressed]
    than to divide the spoil with the proud.

This is the killing-me-softly, lesser known sentence following one of those verses from Proverbs we’ve paraphrased and misused for so long it no longer has much bite for us (“pride cometh before a fall”). It is a sentence that haunts me.

That began the night that Al Mohler, Mark Dever, and Ligon Duncan released their statement regarding C.J. Mahaney and the partial dismissal of the civil suit against him and SGM (of which he is a named defendant). Just before I went to bed, I read their words on the Together for the Gospel facebook page, along with dozens of comments that were removed from public view a few hours later (a bizarre, suspicion-arousing move given that almost all of them were simply civil expressions of disappointment from folks within the camp). [Edit: I have since discovered that they also edited the statement before they reposted it on the T4G website. I detail a bit of that in the post below this one.]

I read. I reread hoping I had missed something crucial. I hadn’t. And then Proverbs 16:19 began its relentless march…

It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor [oppressed]
    than to divide the spoil with the proud.

The chasm between these words and the statements released by both Together for the Gospel and The Gospel Coalition is immense. Boz Tchividjian’s important response to the the two statements rightly diagnoses much of that gap, and I applaud his courage. Like him, I believe both statements reflect either naiveté or overt blindness to the need for a deeper humility on the part of Mahaney and his friends, even if only a fraction of the accusations are true — even if only what already has been acknowledged is true.

I fear those public statements reflect the private thoughts of men who, whether by will or ignorance, are clustering around the spoils of the proud when their calling is to be of a lowly spirit with the poor and oppressed. Even if Mahaney is a victim of some false accusations, his rush back to the platform and the efforts of his friends to protect his place at the head table ought to prompt some deep, Gospel-driven questions about how insulated some of these men seem to be from the thousands of sincere, Gospel-loving followers of Jesus they lead, formally and informally.

While the temptations to love being right, to yield to pride, and to tolerate or even celebrate arrogance are always lurking for the Church universal, I believe that they present some unique challenges among a group who assumes a vanguard identity (in this case the preservation and resuscitation of the true Gospel). In other words, in a movement where correcting error is a central task, these temptations loom large. And, when they are indulged, they easily can be mistaken for virtue and become almost self-sustaining.

The cycle goes like this: The urgency of the cause reinforces the importance of being right, which further fuels the notion that the most important people in the cause are those most skilled at being right in front of the most people. And if that is true, then those people must be protected and kept on stage at almost any cost.  Question them without an air-tight case of disqualifying sin, and you risk being sacrificed for the greater cause.

It’s all very logical. And it’s very common. It just isn’t biblical.

I don’t intend to imply that this is a significant struggle for all (or even most) churches who would place themselves somewhere in this particular camp, but I believe it is sufficiently prevalent, chronic, and serious to demand a wider conversation. While the details of this case and its context matter, again, this is not an anomaly of the neo-reformed movement. Other local churches may be free of the sexual abuse stories apparently so prevalent in SGM’s history (though these too are painfully widespread), but there are many, including some of our flagship evangelical churches led by beloved, well-known personalities, who are following very similar plot lines. The church’s identity becomes deeply entangled with the names and teachings of popular Christian leaders who members of the church will never truly know (and therefore whose authority is rooted as much in personality and skill as personal character). Narrow, extra-orthodox notions of what one must believe and do to be “right” crop up. Pastors, elders, or deacons sit at the head of a relatively impermeable and inaccessible group of leaders, and, often with success and mission as justifications, become either removed or authoritarian (or, far too regularly, both).

When shepherds refuse or fail to live humbly among the people – when leaders are consumed by agendas (however noble those agendas may be) other than caring for the community of God’s people “like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 Thes. 2:7) – when pastors are inaccessible, unapproachable, or just too busy to listen to and know their people…these are not secondary ecclesial breakdowns. They are an abandonment of primary pastoral calling that signals a stunning disconnect from the evangelical ethos Jesus declared (Matt. 22, Jn. 13) and prayed into being (Jn. 17) and that John affirmed as central to Gospel identity (1 Jn. 3).

Our zeal and skill for expanding the doctrine of the Gospel simply cannot obscure or replace our humble submission to life in the crucible of the Gospel’s work — the community that the Gospel creates where the greatest become least and the last become first. (And if that does not mean that the vulnerable, the weak, and the exasperating folks in our churches get at least as much attention from us as our successful friends and heroes, I do not know what it means.)

The Church is not first and foremost an audience for our sermons and our books; it is the people of God among whom we are our real selves. If we live above or apart from that Church in any way, our doctrines and words about the Gospel become theory and conjecture, not a testimony to a truth we know by experience. As pastors, teachers, leaders, and authors in the Church, for the sake of our churches and for the sake of our own souls, we ought to weigh carefully the words of the Lord delivered through Obadiah:

The pride of your heart has deceived you,
    you who live in the clefts of the rock,
    in your lofty dwelling,
who say in your heart,
    “Who will bring me down to the ground?”
Though you soar aloft like the eagle,
    though your nest is set among the stars,
    from there I will bring you down,
declares the Lord.

If those words expose us to be drifting from the simple and clear message of Jesus, the time for coming clean — that time was yesterday. Yet by God’s mercy we have been given another day, so may we heed the prophetic call:

Repent, for the Kingdom of God, which belongs to children and the lowly of spirit who dwell among children, the poor, and the oppressed — that Kingdom is at hand.


Note: I hope to add another post soon, including my thoughts on discernment in publicly addressing allegations like those made against Mahaney and others with care for the possibility of false accusation. More to come.

Context for the post above this one: Depreciating Humility

Though I wrote this post to offer some context for the one directly above, it absolutely is not meant to serve as an objective or comprehensive summary of the events to which it refers. In fact, it is a subjective telling of both my perception of those events and the story of why I’ve written about them at all. Summarizing this very complex saga fairly and briefly seems an impossible task, so consider this my explicit acknowledgement that the words to follow do not accomplish (or seek to accomplish) that task. I defer to Google to fill in the gaps for anyone interested in doing the research to be further informed.


Over the past few years, Sovereign Grace Ministries, which describes itself as a “family of churches passionate about advancing the Great Commission through church planting” and self-identifies as “evangelical, Reformed, and charismatic,” has come under heavy scrutiny. Numerous stories of sexual abuse within SGM churches have surfaced, accompanied by descriptions of a culture in which abuse was overlooked and minimized and children were not adequately protected or cared for. The details of the allegations, both of the abuse and the way children were treated by church leaders responding to the abuse, are brutal. Some criminal charges already have been filed, and there are indications that more are forthcoming. A class action suit also has been filed against SGM, two of its churches, its school, and several pastors and leaders. Some have questioned the motives of such a suit, and I will be the first to acknowledge that litigation between Christians is always complicated and unpleasant, no matter what its motives. That said, those behind the suit insist its primary goal is to bring the truth to light and prevent similar tragedies in the future.

Intertwined in this story is the personal legacy of C.J. Mahaney, the former president of SGM and founding (again former) pastor of SGM’s original and long-time anchor church (thought it recently ceased affiliation with SGM). Mahaney is named in the suit and is accused in broad and specific ways of overseeing the cycle of negligence and shame within SGM churches (including the church he pastored). Alongside the legal issues, Mahaney faces other significant and growing criticism of his personal and pastoral dealings with members of his staff and church. His long-time right-hand-man, Brent Detwiler, left SGM in 2009 and went public with very detailed descriptions of Mahaney’s behavior, and they are complicated and, on the whole, not terribly flattering. Detwiler says he attempted to address these issues privately over a long period of time, but after being ignored and manipulated, decided a public rebuke was his only recourse. How accurate his claims are is a matter of debate. Some of Mahaney’s friends and admirers insist he has acknowledged and repented in all necessary ways and that his character is sound. Yet stories corroborating and adding to Detwiler’s continue to surface, many of them painting a very different picture. In 2011, Mahaney took temporary leaves from both his church and SGM; the former became permanent, the latter did not…and then it did after all.

About a year ago, after 30 years in Maryland and with both legal and ecclesial storms brewing, SGM and Mahaney picked up and moved to Louisville. They were welcomed publicly by Al Mohler, a friend and ministry partner of Mahaney’s and the president of Louisville-based Southern Baptist Seminary. Along with some other long-time associates, Mahaney planted Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, where he is now the senior pastor. Mahaney and Mohler are two of a number of nationally known leaders of the growing cross-denominational movement of churches who are Reformed in doctrine and whose primary public banner is a return to the centrality of the true Gospel (that sentence contains several terms that beg definition, but I am summarizing). These leaders have formed alliances — Together for the Gospel (T4G) and The Gospel Coalition (TGC), among others — and they host conferences and churn out vast resources related to their collective missions. This spring, with a lawsuit pending and many unanswered questions about the other public accusations against Mahaney, he preached at Together for the Gospel’s national conference. He was not a minor presence, functioning in both in a keynote role and as a participant in multiple panels. It’s fair to say that move raised some eyebrows, even within the camp.

On May 17, a Maryland judge dismissed the civil suit because the statute of limitations had expired for several of those filing suit. In Maryland, if you are abused as a minor, you must file suit within three years of turning 18. The dismissal was not a surprise to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, as a challenge to the application of the statue of limitations is actually part of their case. They argue that the statute is unreasonable since it takes years for most victims of sexual abuse to acknowledge and address what they endure — a fact completely void of controversy among those who deal with the aftermath of sexual abuse. They also argue that blocking such cases from continuing based on the statute actually rewards abusers and those who protect them, since their primary goal is to prevent the abuse from being reported until it’s too late for anything to be done about it. To be clear, the court made no ruling whatsoever on the truth of any claims in the suit; it simply declined to hear the case because of the statute of limitations (and, for two other plaintiffs, because they describe their abuse as happening in an SGM church in Virginia, not Maryland). On May 28, a Motion to Reconsider was filed. If the judge rejects it, appeals to higher courts will follow. The legal part of this is a long, long way from being over.

On May 23, six days after the initial dismissal, Al Mohler, Mark Dever, and Ligon Duncan, the other three founders of Together for the Gospel (Mahaney being the fourth) released a statement in support of Mahaney. When initially posted on its Facebook page (captured here), that statement read, in part:

A Christian leader, charged with any credible, serious, and direct wrongdoing, would usually be well advised to step down from public ministry. No such accusation of direct wrongdoing was ever made against C.J. Mahaney. Instead, he was charged with founding a ministry and for teaching doctrines and principles that are held to be true by vast millions of American evangelicals. [bolding for emphasis is mine]

Comments — most of them apparently from within the T4G camp — came quickly, almost unanimously expressing disappointment with the statement. More than one person pointed out that the second sentence I have quoted here (“No such accusation…”) simply is not true, pointing out numerous examples to the contrary. Others noted that the third sentence (“…he was charged with founding a ministry…”) read like a serious distortion of the allegations made against Mahaney by those who claim to have been abused in his church and ministry, then manipulated into not reporting the abuse and, in a number of cases, sitting with their abuser in order to “forgive” them and move on as though nothing had happened. Apparently uncomfortable with the open discussion on the statement, T4G pulled it (and all comments) down, later reposting an edited version on its main website. The two bolded sentences above were altered or removed, though the remainder of the paragraph was left in tact:

For this reason, we, along with many others, refused to step away from C. J. in any way. We do not regret that decision. We are profoundly thankful for C. J. as friend, and we are equally thankful for the vast influence for good he has been among so many Gospel-minded people.

The morning after the T4G statement was released, three leaders of The Gospel Coalition released a very similar statement.

Before I continue, I want to be very clear about something: I have not met C.J. Mahaney or the men who authored those statements. I do not know their hearts, and I do not condemn them. In fact, I love them. This does not prevent me from doing whatever small thing I can do to say out loud that I believe this has been fumbled, and not only in the form of the public statements.

I believe an ethos has crept into our churches (and movements of churches) that, despite our claims to take the Bible and its authority seriously (and usually literally), has de-literalized much of what Jesus actually said. At the top of that list is His very clear description of the movements and coalitions the Gospel creates: communities where the best and brightest among us are (literally) not assumed or portrayed to be more important to Jesus or His cause than the least and where the most feeble and vulnerable are (literally) treated with particular care and celebration, never condescension.

If the teachings of Jesus are taken literally, men and women of apparent significance will search for ways to dwell among and, yes, even behind the overlooked. Precisely because what Jesus describes here runs counter to both human nature and the flow of social darwinism (alive and well in evangelical culture), it must be embraced and modeled with clarity and enthusiasm by those who lead. This is not easy; I struggle daily to figure it out and trip over the inertia of what comes naturally as often as not. But this upside down Kingdom cannot be preached with any credibility until we choose to live into its reality, and that means turning in our exemptions. I love C.J. Mahaney and the men standing with him, and I have labored without hesitation to maintain a spirit of respect and charity toward them. I simply believe they are wrong, and I believe this matters too much to the Church to not talk about it.

Whether or not all claims in the lawsuit (or the accusations leveled by Detwiler and many others) are true, I found the tone, timing, and content of these two statements to be more than a little troubling, and I wasn’t alone. T4G pulling down their statement and erasing the public response (which was almost universally civil, just not affirming) only compounded that. As you can see the in screen capture of the original T4G statement, Boz Tchividjian was one of those who commented. This was the first time I had heard of Boz, though his name caught my attention because I know of his brother, Tullian, a Presbyterian (PCA) pastor and author in Florida. I also knew that Tullian is the grandson of a 94-year old North Carolina preacher named Billy whose name might ring a bell.

To be honest, Boz’s post piqued my curiosity because I knew Tullian had some loose affiliations with some of the other leaders of this movement. I want to be clear that he was not involved in either statement and he is not, to my knowledge, officially connected to either group. I don’t intend to even passively link Tullian to the statements. I just knew he overlapped their circles some, and it was coincidence enough to cause me to pay attention to what Boz wrote.

The next day (May 24, though somehow I did not see it for a few days), Boz authored what I believe is an important response to the T4G and TGC statements: Where are the Voices? The Continued Culture of Silence and Protection in American Evangelicalism. I was moved not only by Boz’s objections to the statements, but by his call to the Church to wake up and speak up. His words poked at the part of me that already was restless over what I saw unfolding. In a weird blur of gratitude and frustration, I fired off an email to Boz intended to thank him for what he wrote. I ultimately did get around to that, but only after several rambling paragraphs of my thoughts on what is happening in the Church. Unusual for me, I didn’t even bother to reread what I sent him. In fact, I couldn’t find his email address on the GRACE site, so I guessed at it, unsure if my note would ever make it to him, and hit send.

That evening, I stood in the kitchen and whined to my wife about the way this thing was eating at me. Why can’t I just move on? There’s nothing I can do about this anyway. We talked about the ever-present pastoral dilemma of rightly dividing time and attention. I expressed frustration that something like this was invading a season of deep contentment in serving among our local community. Though my love and concern for the Church universal continues to grow, in recent months I have been less distracted than ever by discerning my role, if any, in what was happening “out there.” What was happening right here — among our people and our cities — has been calling enough for me. (I even wrote about it recently.) Suddenly being so affected by something that had no obvious immediate connection to our right here was a pain. And even if this was important, what could I do about it? “Not much” seemed to be the answer. So we ate.

Two hours later, I received a reply from Boz. He thanked me for my note, said some other nice things, and asked me if I would tweak it a bit and allow him to publish it as a guest post on GRACE’s site. Honestly, I was a little shocked. I like to write, and I confess that sometimes when I write to someone I admire or would like to impress (because I’m still trying to give Jesus that part of me that wants to impress people), I hope they like what I write. But this honestly never crossed my mind when I made my raw external processing Boz’s problem.

Perhaps no one but me will find this sequence of events terribly significant, but as I told Boz, his response sounded more or less like a, “Hey, dummy” from God to me. Yet again it appeared God was doing something unexpected that I could not orchestrate myself and I was the dummy who was surprised. Though I had no idea what impact my words might have, it seemed foolish to then side-step whatever avenue I’d been offered to address something I really believe matters. And I really believe this matters.

The result, of course, is the post that was published on GRACE’s site and that now sits above this one, here on my site. I already have heard or seen numerous folks, including various pastors and Church leaders, express the same or similar sentiments. Some are happy to do so publicly; others are less convinced that what they say or write matters or they aren’t eager to wade into the fray. I understand that. I’ve felt and acted out of both before. Yet my sincere hope is that my words will prove to be but a few among a gathering answer to Boz’s question: Where are the voices?


Note: I hope to add another post soon, including my thoughts on discernment in publicly addressing allegations like those made against Mahaney and others with care for the possibility of false accusation. More to come.

Why I (still) believe in Jesus when children are killed

In December after the awful events at Sandy Hook Elementary, I wrote a piece entitled “Why I believe in Jesus when children are murdered.” Almost 3,000 people read it. Believe it or not, that’s not common for me on a blog that averages 6-8 posts a year. Now, like yours, my heart is breaking as devastating pictures, stories, and numbers emerge from Oklahoma, where a tornado has ravaged the community of Moore, including another elementary school. I considered simply reposting those words from December, as my sentiments are much the same and they seemed to strike a chord then. Some of those same words are here, but as I reflected, I also wanted to acknowledge an extra layer of difficulty and ache in these events: there is no madman with a gun to blame today. There is only this question…

What kind of God stands by while a tornado two miles wide indiscriminately devours a populated area and seems to pay special attention to a building full of terrified children?

That’s the question, isn’t it? Those of us who live by and tell a Story that an all-powerful God creates, sustains, and loves us often prefer to bury that question beneath familiar answers and the detached comfort that it wasn’t us in the path of that wicked storm. But we should stop that. The question won’t go away. We ought not do the world the disservice of ignoring or minimizing it because we are uncomfortable with the fact that, if we absolutely had to offer an answer to what this kind of event says about God, most of us would struggle to muster much more than: I don’t have the first damn clue.

To be fair, there are those who have more concrete answers and explanations for God’s motives. Perhaps there were some particularly sinful people He wanted to wipe out, and this is how He did it. It would seem odd that those people were all concentrated in Moore, Oklahoma or that many of them were in elementary school, but that won’t stop some from suggesting that God orchestrated this event for such reasons.

To be clear, I certainly believe that if God is who many of us suggest He is, then He can do as He pleases in accomplishing His purposes. I’ve lived enough in my almost thirty-eight years to understand that even my most basic assumptions about how life, death, and everything in between should happen are short-sighted and flawed. So if God is any kind of God — if He knows everything or even just a little bit more than me — surely He is able to see (even create) art when all we see is a series of chaotic brush strokes. If that is so, I do not deny that there is some divine logic in moments I experience as unconditionally tragic. And yet when Christians emerge in the aftermath of natural disaster posturing as God’s Secretary of Defense explaining the reason for His latest military strike, I confess I wonder if His next target might just be these self-appointed divine diplomats. Confidently blaming God for killing people because He’s mad at them or their neighbor by hand-picking the Bible stories that support your point while ignoring the ones that don’t seems to me a dicey endeavor.

But if I’m not prepared to declare that God was wiping out sinners in Oklahoma and considered the wider path of carnage “acceptable loss,” I’m left with the excruciating tension between immense tragedy no human caused or could have stopped and my belief that the unfolding story of God’s activity in the world is, as Tolkien tells it, everything sad coming untrue — even shootings and tornados. (Avoiding that tension, I suspect, is why many default to quick explanations.) The climax of that story is Jesus, the literal presence of the God who is Love sent among us to do what we cannot do — fend off brokenness and death.

It’s a ridiculous story by most standards, I know. And I don’t just mean the part where a God we can’t see is involved in our lives or the part where he actually shows up in our world in the form of a baby or the part where he somehow dies and rises again to save us all from our sins.

I mean the notion that death has been undone. It seems silly. Impossible. And of all days, today it seems utterly contrary to what our bloodshot, tear-filled eyes see on television. There simply is nothing about the death of school children and the hearts of parents split wide open that would cause anyone to suspect that death is undone. If anything, Death seems to be carving out new spaces in the world. We spend decades and billions of dollars chasing it down through vaccines and the eradication of diseases that plagued humanity for centuries. We arm ourselves and turn our schools into fortresses to stem the tide of its unthinkable new assaults. And then Death descends from the sky as if to mock us, a harrowing reminder that our safety is an illusion. No matter who you are or what you believe, this much is undeniable: Death is a persistent, heartless bastard.

Today is the kind of day that causes the most devout of (honest) Christians to look to the sky puzzled and shattered, wondering why. This is the kind of hellish suffering that places a seal over the hearts and minds of skeptics and unbelievers everywhere. And on days like today, the most devout of (honest) Christians understand why. If a merciful God exists and is involved in the universe at all, children shouldn’t die like this.

I confess I spent a number of years dealing with death mostly in theory and from a distance. The past year has robbed me of the option to speak about death and its undoing in abstracts. I’ve pastored three families grieving the loss of their father, sister, and daughter, including the families of two of my best friends – families I consider my own family. I’ve stood behind a microphone at three funerals. I’ve walked with Amy as she mourned the loss of one of her close friends, a thirty-nine year-old wife and mother of two young boys. I’ve cried at least once a week for months when I look at my kids, still deeply connected to the moments when death came for one of ours (and lost).

There is no religious pretense left in me when I speak of death. I know it is real. I know it is cruel.

And I can neither avoid nor fully answer the question, “Where is God when…?” But I am unsatisfied by the easy answers offered by the certain: the believer who confidently explains God’s motives or the unbeliever who insists that tragedy proves his absence. One denies Mystery; the other denies Goodness. Both are arbitrary, thinned conclusions drawn when our imaginations have been dulled and we see only brush strokes, forgetting that life is art.

So how do I believe in Jesus on a day like today? How can I still imagine that a loving, invisible God is alive and at work in a world where children and adults trying to protect them are arbitrarily slaughtered not by a mentally ill man with a gun, but by the wind itself?

Because I must.

I must believe that Death won’t be allowed to continue to eviscerate us. I must believe that better drugs and better laws are and better shelters are not our only weapons. I must believe that there is a greater victory coming than safer schools or fewer guns or a more stable climate. I must believe there is an Arbitrator of all things who sees through Death’s facades of violence and pestilence — who doesn’t discern between a gunman and a tornado as we do, but who simply sees these desperate eruptions as Death’s last gasps and, unbound by time, patiently points through them to His accomplished and yet still coming Victory. I must believe that the souls of children lost in the battle are not abandoned, but held and tended by their Gentle Maker. I must believe there is a Righteous King who will deal justly with Evil in all its forms. I must believe that there is a Rescuer who will make everything sad come untrue.

I cannot believe that life and death are arbitrary – that each child’s death will be the end of her story – that each shattered parent will be left without hope of a day when their every moment isn’t defined by unspeakable loss.

Life can’t be a story in which Tragedy and Evil and Death have the final word. There must be another chapter. And there must be a Hero.

Certainly there are other reasons for my faith, and there will be other days for describing them. Today is for this one: I believe in Jesus because I need a rescuing hero. I need to know that Violence and Death – however much they try to steal and kill and destroy – will not have the last word. I need to know that Love and Life win, and I refuse to believe they don’t.

Some say believing because I need to believe merely exposes my weakness. And they are right. I am weak. The difference between the weak and the strong is simply this: the weak admit they are weak; the strong deny it. But such strength is an illusion exposed by every tragedy and every death.

So what is stronger: fatalistic acquiescence to the grave or fierce hope that my need to believe something better than me exists simply sets the stage for a story better than the one I can write myself? None of us can fend off death ourselves. Accepting that weakness and yet believing death can be overcome — I contend this is true strength.

I believe in Jesus today because deep down in my soul, I believe Death will be undone, and the Story of Jesus putting Death itself to death is the best story I’ve ever heard. My soul says it must be true. Nothing else will do.

On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
from all faces…

Holding on underneath this shroud

Every once in a while someone will ask me what I actually do, aside from the preaching. Only a few of them seem suspicious that I’m spending my days at a secret clubhouse where vocational pastors gather to eat cereal all day, play video games, and laugh about how rich we’re getting while pretending to have real jobs. Most who ask seem sincerely curious. My answer almost always starts with, “Every week is different; every day is different.” And it’s true. There are rhythms that are consistent, but the particulars are always changing.

I usually continue my answer for long enough to notice the person who asked start to nod off, at which point I realize they wanted the short answer. I’m still working on a short answer that makes sense. When people ask my pal Ross what pastors do all week, his favorite answer is, “Listen to all your problems and keep all your secrets.” I like that a lot. It also is quite true.

Whether or not I have a succinct way of telling someone what I do, doing it is one of the great joys of my life. I haven’t always felt that way about work. In fact, I had only brief glimpses of true satisfaction and joy in my work before I became one of the pastors of Community Church. And though I loved this job from day one, the first few years were more or less me doing one thing with some familiarity and confidence – teaching on Sundays – and spending the rest of the week realizing just how much I had to learn to do the bulk of the job well. At times I felt completely inadequate and inept for the task of wading into the mud and muck of people’s lives and somehow being a helpful or useful presence. I’m forever indebted to those who have loved and embraced me as their pastor anyway.

I can’t say that I’m over all of those feelings of being incomplete. I suspect I’ll always be acutely aware of what I don’t know, where I’m not gifted, and how I just can’t help. But more recently, I’ve received this beautiful gift of being aware of all of that and not being afraid to be a pastor anyway. And some days there is plenty to fear.

Today I spent the afternoon and evening in Medical Center, an area of downtown Houston comprised almost exclusively of hospitals and other medical facilities. It’s bigger by square mileage and population than many Texas towns. My first stop was to visit with a sweet couple I’ve known since I was 12 years-old who were a constant presence in my life for many years. In fact, he retired from his job as superintendent of schools twenty years ago as my class graduated, so I’ve always joked that we retired from Crane ISD together. He now is a month removed from an incredibly invasive procedure to remove colon cancer from his body. His prognosis is good, but he has spent over a month in hospitals with various tubes running in and out of him, and he has no idea when he’ll go home.

After I left them, I walked a mile or so across Medical Center to Texas Children’s Hospital. There, I sat with a young mother in our church community whose four month-old foster daughter was being moved back to intensive care after having a catheter placed in her tiny heart. This baby’s lungs just aren’t working, and medically the deck is stacked against her in several ways. We talked and cried and prayed, begging God to prove that the odds are always in His favor and that He’s been working to give this precious girl life long before any of us – even her foster mom and dad, who couldn’t care less about the label “foster” – knew she existed.

Before, in between, and after that, I was trying to keep in touch with a friend in our church whose father is being sent home from the hospital with terminal cancer and with one of my closest lifelong friends who just found out that his young daughter has a tumor the size of an egg behind her heart, next to her spine. Nine months ago I helped lead his 42 year-old sister’s funeral after her battle with cancer. Saturday, Amy, the kids, and I will drive to Temple to see them.

Each of those situations was a mix of sadness and blessing, some skewed to one end of that spectrum and some to the other. Some of them already see God at work in ways they never could have imagined – and ways possible only because of their trials. Some don’t. After praying in the cardiac waiting room of the children’s hospital, a gentleman who was probably in his 60’s approached us and, in broken English, asked me to write down the name of the child we had been praying for. He then said, “My wife and I – we pray for her. God will help you.”

And then I knew what Jesus meant when he said the Kingdom of God is “like a single mustard seed that someone took and planted in his garden. That tiny seed grew and became a tree so large that the birds could fly in and make their nests in its branches.” Our new friend’s name is Enrique, and his tiny seed of faith reminded us that God is growing safe places beyond what we can imagine – for that sweet baby and for all of us.

I made the drive home from Houston overcome with both heaviness and gratitude. I’m not the pastor who can make sense of all – or any – of those situations, but I want to be there with people in the midst of the mystery anyway. I want those people to be my people, and I want to be theirs. I’m not a hero. That’s not why I’m describing all of this. In fact, I may not be very good at whatever I’m doing; sometimes I know I’m not. I’m just no longer afraid to be there, and I’m more convinced than ever that the choice to be there is at least half of what matters in what I do. Wanting to be there is a grace even of another kind, and it’s a gift I’ve received in surprising portions the last few years. That’s of no credit to me; it certainly is not my natural state.

As I exited the highway at the end of my drive home from Houston, my phone shuffled to one of my favorite songs: Rain by Patty Griffin. Music had been playing for a half hour or so, but I’m not sure I had heard a word of it over the thoughts and groanings rattling around inside me. But these words silenced all the noise as they told the stories I saw and entered today.

Sometimes a hurt is so deep deep deep
You think that you’re gonna drown
Sometimes all I can do is weep weep weep
With all this rain falling down

Strange how hard it rains now
Rows and rows of big dark clouds
When I’m holding on underneath this shroud
Rain

Strange how hard it rains now
Rows and rows of big dark clouds
When I’m still alive underneath this shroud
Rain

And that’s when I realized what it is I do, on days like today and on simpler days in simpler ways. And I realized that I only do it because it is what we do – those of us, regardless of vocation, who have said yes to something more than a religious identification that does something for us. We have embraced a Way that also does something to us, in us, through us.

We have known what it is to hold on underneath our own shroud and somehow come out alive. So now we climb underneath the shroud with others, and we hold on with them. We remind them that it won’t rain forever…that they’re still alive.

And together, we hold on. That’s what we do, and I’m so glad.

Am I your friend? Musings on social media and discernment

Last night I posted the following facebook status:

I just almost friended someone I haven’t seen in over a dozen years. Then I read some of his page and realized I don’t have the space in my (social media) life for his current level of cynicism. Then I realized what it was like to encounter me a dozen years ago and wondered what friends I might have now if I hadn’t been such a knucklehead.

Sorry, everybody. You can friend me now. I’m still a knucklehead and occasionally cynical, but I think it’s much more tolerable than it used to be.

At the time I posted it, I mostly was having a light-but-serious moment of introspection, both about how I judge other people now (which I do everyday – I’m a dirty judging sinner, but you aren’t, so don’t you dare judge me for being one) and about who I was and how I came across to others in another season of my life. By no means did I mean to imply that I’m free of the flaws and vices that entangled me back then or that I’m Captain Warmth N. Hospitality these days. I’m just self-aware enough to know that, by God’s grace and with much loving assistance from many people, most regularly the extraordinary woman and three little humans in my home, I’m not quite as abrasive and oozing angst as I was at various points in my history.

How we look to aliens

How we look to aliens

So all of that was swirling in my head as I posted. In the background was an inner dialogue I’ve been having for years, but at amplified volume in recent months, about the real estate social media occupies in my life. In short order, one or two of the comments on my status tapped into that subterranean well of not-quite-coherent and woefully incomplete thoughts. I began to engage those comments with one of my own, then realized I was starting my seventh or eighth paragraph…in a facebook comment. Of course this is not unprecedented for me, but this time it seemed to make more sense to mutate that comment into something more – in length, at least, whether in substance remains to be seen. So here goes.

I tend to believe social media is like almost any other “it” (non-living entity) in that it is value-neutral; it is not inherently good or bad. However, I think like all “its,” social media is riddled with potential snares. There’s no question that what someone has highlighted in these comments — the temptation to flippantly judge people’s lives and even “delete” them from ours based on what they post on social media — is one of those snares. Before I address that in particular, let me try to better explain my current struggle to discern the proper place for and use of social media in my life.

I believe the snares of this particular “it” are multiplied and amplified by the staggering pace of social media’s emergence and the blinding speed at which it grows and changes. Most of us have gone from having little to no awareness of social media to allocating large chunks of space in our lives to it in a matter of only a few years.

We all know people who give many hours of attention every day to social media – attention that a few years ago was directed at something or someone else, often actual work or people in their physical presence. We’ve all experienced “quality time” in a meeting or at lunch or in our living room with someone whose attention was at least as devoted to a 4×2 plastic rectangle as to us or the other humans in the room with them. And many of us have been those people. I have.

I’ve also watched people I never would have imagined doing so begin to almost arrange parts of their lives either around their time on social media or around how they will convey the details of their day, both major and superfluous, to their “friends” and “followers,” sometimes including hundreds (or thousands) of people they never will meet.

However innocuous it may seem, there is a transaction taking place in these moments and habits; we are investing some portion (usually larger than we realize, I suspect) of our time, attention, and possibly identity in a public representation of ourselves to people who are often removed from our lived-in-real-time-and-space lives by several degrees – a portion that inevitably cannot be invested in moments and with people who are, you know, in the room with us. We are finite. Every investment has an equal and opposite divestment.

I am not trying to make an indiscriminate run at people who like these things more than I do. I’m incredibly flawed and prone to error in all of this.

Wherever our habits or preferences, this is undeniable: as social media has exploded, we who interact with it have changed. And we have changed very, very quickly. Most historians, sociologists, physicians, psychologists, poets, and pastors will tell you that so much change so fast with so little reflection or discernment is almost always unwise. Unfortunately, many of our historians, sociologists, physicians, psychologists, poets, and pastors have so inculcated these particular changes that they do not have the time, inclination, or insight to prophetically warn us, “Hey dummies, slow down and take inventory of your lives and how you want them to be spent when you reflect on them in 30 or 60 years.” I am wrestling with my own culpability in the abdication of that responsibility.

This discussion of social media, of course, is a subset of the way we have come to engage with the internet (which is a subset of a subset of other conversations), but it is a unique one in that it is so personal. We use “friend” and “defriend” as replacement verbs for “clicking a button on a screen.” We become “followers” of other people and accumulate our own “followers.” Some of us work very hard to grow our number of followers and, I’m convinced, get lured into the most obvious and literal evils of such an endeavor. We evaluate the events of people’s lives from thousands of miles away without ever having to look them in the eye. We have fights we never would have had without these tools (and by “tools” I mean social media outlets, not the people with whom we are fighting). We capture the most tender moments of our days, edit them with sophisticated photo software to make them look as appealing as possible, then seconds after they happen, share them with the world.

Again, this is not all inherently bad, but it is a strange mix of personal and public that, a decade ago, most of us not only could not have imagined, but also would have thought was a bit weird.

Maybe I’m old, but it all still weirds me out a little. Yet here I am with active accounts on three major social media outlets, not to mention my own website and the ubiquitous-among-Aggies TexAgs.com. And what I’ve realized is that, as leery as I am, I’m still prone to being deceived and distracted by it all in ways that aren’t altogether healthy.

My life apart from social media is full of real people, real problems, and real joys. Seven or eight years ago, the real people, real problems, and real joys in my regular life were pretty much the whole of it. More recently, I’ve realized that even as I passively read the news feed on facebook or scan twitter or instagram, the people, problems, and joys of the people I encounter there are beginning to occupy internal space that used to house only a fraction of all of that.

Look how popular the facebook lets me pretend to be!

Look how popular the facebook lets me pretend to be!

I mean, at this moment I have 729 facebook friends. That’s silly – so silly that I’m including a photo just to prove it’s true. There is no way that many people actually like me, and I certainly can’t maintain that many real friendships. I struggle to maintain 10-20 with the people closest to me. And yet because all 730 of us have entered this social media contract to be “friends,” I feel a subconscious emotional pull to allow space in my life for whatever piece of their lives they happen to type in a box on a screen or photograph with their phone. Even when I scoff and dismiss people for what they post (again, because I’m a dirty judging sinner), I still give time and energy to them and to their words and feelings. It still buys up one little piece of my day and my mind.

That’s not all bad. Even on facebook, I’ve had some amazing reconnections and interactions with people I otherwise never would have talked to again about some very important things. I’m nostalgic and idealistic in ways that would surprise many given my external affect, and, at least internally, I’m painfully loyal. But I’ve also begun to passively assume that I have some sort of obligation to a lot of people who aren’t in my life aside from social media and, more to the point, a lot more people, problems, and joys than I have capacity.

Everyone has to decide for him/herself how to manage that, but for me it has meant exercising more discernment in how wide my social media net grows. Honestly, the easiest part of that is the kind of decision that inspired my original facebook status, choosing not to initiate a social media “friendship.” This was just one example of that I chose to describe publicly because it was a humbling moment that taught me something about myself. To be fair, my compulsion to share that with 729 people may merit some lengthy examination.

Often what transpires as I make these decisions is not nearly that deep, and it seldom has any more to do with the person I choose not to “friend” than acknowledging to myself that they either a) aren’t someone I actually was a friend to when we knew one another twenty years ago, and/or b) aren’t somehow meaningfully connected to me or the group of people I feel called to be engaged with in this season of life. Obviously the second of those criteria is highly subjective, but as much as I’d like to believe otherwise, I’m a highly subjective creature.

The more challenging decisions come in other areas: responding to requests from people who don’t generally fit either of those criteria, occasionally having to decide how much energy to invest in an online interaction that matters a lot more to someone else than it does to me, and the like. What will be to some my darkest confession here is that I have hidden a fair number of people from my feed over time. I haven’t “defriended” many, but I have hidden more than a few.

Of course I don’t want to be a jerk or hurt anyone’s feelings, but the truth is actually quite simple: I can’t do it all, even passively. I can’t absorb slivers of the lives of 729 people while still tending well to the people I encounter face-to-face every day and every week. I can do some of them, but not all of them.

So my choice has been to either abandon social media altogether (or at least certain outlets) or exercise discernment in how I use it. For now I’ve opted for the latter, but the former is never off the table. Obviously part of that discernment is simply self-discipline, particularly choosing to use my time well and to be present when I’m actually with people. Yet even when I engage wisely and sparingly, I sometimes am overwhelmed by the lives and thoughts and feelings of people with whom I otherwise have no relationship and who post without me and my response in mind. I’ve concluded it’s not a sin or unfriendly for me to choose not to take in some of that (hence the hiding and such).

I hope always to be ready to respond graciously and sincerely to any direct interactions with people and to moments and situations where it’s clear I’m supposed to engage despite having no logical reason to do so. Some of the best and most important moments of my life would have been missed if I blindly applied the criteria above to every possible interaction, so I have no desire to operate that way. I’m even prone to initiate some of those interactions, which means I’m occasionally on the receiving end of someone else not reciprocating my interest. And that’s okay. I’m just trying to exercise discernment and wisely apportion my time, my energy, my mind, and my heart. I don’t assume others will reach the same conclusions as they discern these things themselves. We’re all wired differently and called differently. And thank God for that.

If there is an overriding value that I hope we can collectively embrace, whatever role we ultimately give social media, it is presence. As a natural introvert who loves quiet time alone, this is a lifelong lesson for me, and my heart is often ahead of my reality. Yet I’m utterly convinced that our presence with one another – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual – is essential to our humanness; to our living.

May we all be present and live.