10 Rules of Engagement: talking to your formerly Christian friends and family

So there is this thing that’s been on my mind; I’ve been thinking about how sometimes when we try to ‘witness’ or talk about Jesus with non-Christians, we end up having a more negative impact than a positive one. Not always of course, but often. No group is this more true with than non-Christians who used to be Christians.

So I want to throw out some ideas, some unsolicited suggestions, for how to have better conversation, how to be better friends, and ultimately how we can exercise love.

Stop trying so hard. It is alienating when you feel hounded, right? Like say your aunt can’t stop critiquing your parenting or your step brother can’t stop telling you about how you’d really be more successful in your career if you would just take his advice… You begin to feel badgered, right? You begin to expect that this is going to keep coming up and it makes you dread talking to that person. Don’t be that guy when it comes to trying to get your formerly Christian loved one to come back to Jesus. It really isn’t likely to help when the only thing you care to relate with them about is how they need to change.

Exercise Empathy. Take a few minutes to mentally step into their shoes. Imagine: you were a devout Christian for many years. You are surrounded by Christian friends and family. Upon examining your faith, you come to the realization that you just don’t believe this any more. You come out with this reality to your friends and family. This information radically alters all your relationships. You wish people could see more than the fact that you don’t believe when they look at you, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. This is very painful.
Please sit with that for a bit.
Also sit with the very real fact that while you’ve probably never been in their non-believing shoes, they have already been in the Christian shoes. They may well know more of what it feels like to be you than you know what it’s like to be them. We need to exercise a good deal of humility there.

Next, Exercise Appreciation. Now sit with the fact that we ALL want to be cared about as we are… not be disappointed in for who we aren’t. Think about this the next time you are with your non-Christian friend. Care about him for who he is. Enjoy her company. Appreciate their many good qualities- their honesty, their intelligence, their humor, their kindness. There is something wonderful about being able to appreciate people as they are, no strings attached. Be at peace in that gift.

Leave the Bible verses in your head. While it can be so tempting for us Christians to slip a Bible verse or other reference to God or Christianity into conversation, please know that your formerly Christian family member won’t forget what Christianity teaches just because you stop bringing it up. I promise, if they were a devout Christian in the past, they know the verses and all the Christian things. The Bible isn’t a book of magical incantations that, if injected into conversation, is bound to have positive effects. In fact, it is probably doing the opposite at this point.

By all means pray for for them but leave that in your head too. If they know you are a Christian and that you care for them, they likely assume you pray for them… But telling them about it when you know that they adamantly don’t believe can border strongly on being passive-aggressive. We should do it, but let’s listen to Jesus and keep it quiet.

Angry fury woman screaming man closes his ears.

It’s ok to ask genuine questions. Maybe I’m going out on a limb a bit, but I don’t think most people mind an honest question. This comes with two big caveats though. One is HONEST. Honest question. As in, we are asking because you desire to understand better, not because we are looking to start a conversation where we launch into a monologue about how they are wrong and need to come back to Jesus. The other caveat is that sometimes people want to talk about other things. Sometimes it’s ok to just talk about things that we have more in common.

Answer honest questions. If there is good dialogue happening, they may ask you questions or otherwise give you an opening to share your heart and thoughts. Do so not with a canned speech, but from a place of authenticity and openness, free from defensiveness or pressure to make something happen.

An important tag on to that is that boundaries are to be respected. Maybe it would be a good idea, when we want to broach the heavy topic of faith, that we ask if it’s ok. Like “hey, friend, I’ve had a something on my mind I’ve been wanting to ask you about regarding faith, would that be ok?” If they say yes, proceed. If they say no, don’t. No good will come of pushing through.

Don’t try to use guilt. Don’t talk about how sad Granny is because her grand baby isn’t a believer and she is worried for them. Don’t remind them that their parents are disappointed and wondering where they went wrong. Don’t tell them about how their kids are praying for them to come back to church. Not. Help.ing. Really, do we want someone’s motivation for coming back to Jesus to be that they were guilted? No way.

Lastly, be at peace. As Christians, we believe in the ultimate goodness of God, right? There is no fear in love, right? Then relax and trust the whole thing to Him. Everyone in our lives, including our non-believing loved ones, will benefit from us being at peace. It is not on us to save them. It is on us to love them. Lean on love and be at peace.

What the hell?

I’ve been feeling compelled to write about hell now for some time. It frequently comes up in conversations with skeptics and believers alike. It’s an issue many people find to undermine the idea of God’s goodness. Honestly, if you just take a few minutes to think about the traditional understanding of hell- where people suffer terribly for all time– it will probably make your heart drop and your skin crawl. One can understand why the idea of hell is an issue people struggle with.

If you were raised like in a Christian environment similar to me, an environment I would call ‘generic evangelicalism’, then you probably were raised to think of hell in terms of this eternal conscious torment (ECT, ‘the traditional view’). This wasn’t really debated, it was assumed. Hell was occasionally referenced to incentivize ‘getting saved’, but in general it wasn’t talked about all that much. My church and Christian school weren’t ‘fire and brimstone’ preaching places, but there was an underlying belief in the traditional view of hell. As a teenager I didn’t question this teaching, though I would say I had an underlying discomfort about the idea of the unsaved being burned or otherwise tormented for eternity.

At some point in my early 20’s I became aware that the ECT view wasn’t the only perspective. I don’t recall what precipitated this awareness, but it was probably something Greg Boyd said and it was definitely before the Bell/Hell controversy. The idea of a different understanding of hell drew me because of my aforementioned discomfort. Might the traditional view be wrong? I hoped so and would have to find out. I gave this new idea, this ‘annihilationism’ idea, some consideration. When I did, I found it to biblically and morally compelling.

Before I launch into what this view entails and why I find it persuasive, let me take a moment to speak about one of the most basic questions we have in our hearts and minds when we think about God. We want to know: is He good? We need to know that we can trust Him. You can fear and obey a God who you believe to be all powerful, but to truly love Him, trust Him, and find peace in Him, you need to believe He is truly good. I can’t overstate how much the traditional view of hell, especially if combined with Calvinism or restrictivism (the belief that only those who have explicitly heard and committed to Christ have hope of escaping hell), undermines the goodness of God. Before you start telling me about how “it might not look good and loving to us, but that His ways are higher“, let me just stop you to say that the Bible speaks quite a lot about what goodness and love is. The traditional view of hell certainly seems to be at odds with goodness and love as generally defined in scripture, and it doesn’t sit well with our conscience either, and that rightly concerns many of us.

So let me tell you about what annihilationism is and why I find it quite compelling:
The basic idea of annihilationism is that when the Bible says (over and over) that sin brings death and destruction, it actually means total death and destruction- annihilation. It means, as scripture says, that the wicked ‘will be no more’.

Reading through scripture, looking at all the places where sin, judgment, death, and hell as spoken of, we see this idea that judgment is actually total death and destruction. I never had realized this thing that now seems so ‘obvious’ when I read scripture, but the overwhelming idea of judgment in the Bible is DEATH:
‘The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.’
‘Don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or you will surely die.’
Phrases like perish, destroy, be no more, vanish, blotted out from the book of life, be as though they had never been, consumed, consuming fire are used over and over… and they convey annihilation, not an eternal experience of torment.
(A sampling of references for the ideas I’m putting forth: Ps1:4,6; Ps2:9; Ps69:28; Ps9:6; Ps34:16,21; Ps37:38; Nah1:10; Mal4:1; Prov12:7; Prov24:20; Heb6:8; Jude 7; Matt7:13; Matt 7:19; Phil3:18-19; 1Thes5:3; Rom6:23; 2Cor2:15-16; James1:15)

I used to read ECT into these verses. For example, I’d read about the consuming fire and because of my prior assumptions interpreted that people would eternally experience such a fire. But the verse doesn’t say that the person is forever experiencing being consumed, but that that fire consumes completely.

When you read about hell, one of the first things that gets pointed out is that the word Jesus used for hell was ‘Gehenna’. Gehenna was the trash heap outside the city. It was believed to have been a place of evil (human sacrifice) in the past and in Jesus’ day had been the place where trash was thrown to be burned up. The fires of Gehenna burned all the time, consuming all the trash that had been throw out of the city. So when Jesus speaks of judgment he refers to an actual place where things are literally destroyed.

Another thing concerning the topic of hell is that the Old Testament doesn’t have much of a frame of reference for the idea. The Old Testament is not focused much on the afterlife, but on this life. There are references to destruction and death and the grave, and references to the idea of the righteous who have dies being in a place of peace, as well as a select few passages about resurrection. By and large though, the Old Testament was much more concerned with matters of this life.

It is when we reach the New Testament that the ideas of heaven, resurrection, and new creation become a more developed theme. Along side these ideas the teaching of final judgment and hell find their place. Those found ‘in Christ’ will be raised and granted eternal life… and those who reject Christ will ultimately suffer destruction. The wages of sin is death… But the gift of God is eternal life.

C.S. Lewis and some others have spent a decent amount of time in both theological pondering and fictional writing expounding on what it might mean to completely die- body, soul, and spirit. Closely related is the idea of what it means to be human and what it means to lose our humanity. N.T. Wright said, “It seems to … that if it is possible, as I’ve suggested, for human beings to choose to live more and more out of tune with the divine intention, to reflect the image of God less and less, there is nothing to stop them finally ceasing to bear that image, and so to be, as it were, beings who were once human but are not now. Those who persistently refuse to follow Jesus, the true Image of God, will by their own choice become less and less like him, that is, less and less truly human. We sometimes say, even of living people, that they have become inhuman … I see nothing in the New Testament to make me reject the possibility that some, perhaps many, of God’s human creatures do choose, and will choose, to dehumanize themselves completely”  

Wright is suggesting, as many have, that ultimately it will be people themselves, and not God, who determine whether they are destroyed. To go there for just a moment, let me throw an idea at you. The Bible presents a couple of ideas: 1. That God is our source of life and 2. That sin and rejection of God bring death.


Now let us imagine something: say that, to use a well known metaphor, we are each a branch on a vine. Say that we decide we don’t need the vine, and hack ourselves off at the connection point between branch and vine, disconnecting ourselves from our source of nutrients and hydration. What will ultimately happen to us in this case? The branch can not supply it’s own life, and if it decides to disavow the vine, it dies and gets thrown in the burn pile.

Fire burning dry tree branches

This is an overly simple metaphor, I realize. I would be bullshitting you to say that I thought I had the issue exhaustively resolved in my own mind… and I certainly didn’t completely unpack the topic here. The Bible is a huge and even diverse book with some metaphors for judgement and salvation that push at the edges of this view, I will not argue that. However, I think annihilation captures the most basic essence of judgement in the Bible.

Before I close this out, I want to return to that core question I began with: is God good? While it is important to reexamine the doctrine of hell, I don’t think having a new perspective on hell will ultimately resolve this question. The answer to this is found in Jesus. I don’t believe God is good because I’ve fully nailed down the nature of hell (and who goes there and other related issues we didn’t even address). I believe God is good because I believe He became human, entered into our pain, bore our sin, and provided life. I believe He is good because I believe Him to be full of love. The Bible tells us that Jesus is the ultimate picture of what God is like. A God who would rather suffer the effects of our sin and rejoin us to Him than lose us. That’s the core of what I hold on to in the midst of questions about hell or suffering or justice.

Still, the topic of hell is an important one… it behooves Christians in particular to examine it and make sure that we are not weaving an unbiblical and unjust view of judgement into our understanding of the gospel. If we do, it will have consequences both in both our own hearts and in the way we express the ‘good news’ to others. We want to make sure we are knowing and reflecting the heart of Christ in all things, even in our thinking about hell.

Lastly, I want to offer a couple of resources for those inclined to look into this more:

Greg Boyd’s case for annihilationism

Rethinking Hell

Questions for Edward Fudge

Across the Spectrum, a book I’d highly recommend to anyone interested in the different ‘sides’ of evangelical doctrines.

And finally, a three part teaching on hell from Greg, looking at the parable of the rich man.

a little trust, please

I recently was talking with a Christian I know. Now before I tell you the rest, I want you to know that this is a wonderful person, someone with a thousand fabulous traits, someone I’ve learned from and hopefully will continue to learn from.

Anyways, we were having a conversation and the topic of Islam came up. The person told me that they wouldn’t trust a Muslim… and went on to say that they wouldn’t trust anyone who isn’t a believer. Now I really doubt this would play out in their life in such a cut and dry way, as I know them to be kind and friendly. In any case, I pushed back a bit and then we moved on. What they didn’t know, and I certainly didn’t mention after that exchange, was that I had upcoming plans to drive down to center city Philadelphia and meet up with a non-christian friend I had only ever ‘met’ online. Now in this case it wasn’t the kind of thing where I or my husband had real hesitations about the situation. Other than the drive into the city itself, I had a positive sense about the whole thing… but on some level it was still a trust thing. So when the idea of not trusting someone who doesn’t share my faith came up, it really got me thinking.

I don’t often hear it said quite so blatantly as I did that day, but the concept of ‘outsiders aren’t to be trusted’ is found in many (most? all?) communities. This can run along ethnic or religious or even political lines. The less genuine exposure and relationship we have with outsiders, the more suspicious we are inclined to be. We are quicker to believe the worst, to presume bad motives, and to let their extremes become the norms we assume about them. And the more sure we are about their badness, the less we feel inclined to become friends with them. If I think I know all I need to know about you because you belong to that group, then everyone will lose- and we’ve all been losing a lot I’d say.

So coming from a Christian perspective, I have a particular belief that my community is called to love. Love- a vague and packed and sometimes manipulated word. So to unpack it a bit, I’m gonna call on the love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Now there are a couple of things to note here:

First, is that this is a letter to specific people. I think we often read the epistles and feel inclined to read them like a list of rules that apply in the same way, everywhere, all the time… when in fact they were written in a specific context, to be applied in that context, and now we have the privilege of figuring out how they are to be applied in our context.

Second, some of these qualities can have legitimate tension with each other- most notably that sometimes protecting means not trusting. Wisdom and discernment need to be used in knowing how to love people. When there is deception or abuse we shouldn’t assume a blanket command to simply ‘trust’, because in that case trust is probably not loving.

Third, the overarching theme in this chapter is that love. is. IT.
We can do freaking miracles or be martyrs, but if we don’t love, we have missed the boat.

All that said, when we follow that very human tendency to not trust others just because they aren’t ‘one of us’, I believe we are falling short of love. For Christians, we are falling short of our calling. Frankly, we are hurtful to others when our reaction is to view them with suspicion.

You know what else?- we seriously miss out. Really. It is a great joy in life to get to know people who are different from me… and to find out how much alike we may actually be. When we become friends with other people we find we can learn from them and we can simply enjoy each other.

Trust doesn’t always look like meeting up with new people in the city. Often trust starts with listening to someone’s story with an open mind and heart. Sometimes it means believing that they mean what they say. Sometimes trust means sharing YOUR experience and heart. Sometime it means you stop walking on eggshells or stop filtering yourself so much. Sometimes it means a hug or a shared meal. Sometime it means not allowing yourself to get defensive. Sometimes it means working through conflict or misunderstanding and hoping that the person is gonna stick with you.

And sometimes trust means you end up betrayed. Sometimes people, both in and out of our group, trash our trust. We are people after all, and sometimes people do really shitty things. Love goes in eyes wide open to this fact of life.

But ultimately, our communities and the rest of the world will be better if we learn to be more open to ‘other people’- if we learn to WANT to hope, to trust, to persevere. For Christians especially (and I mainly say that because I am in that community and I think we are to challenge our own group first) we really have to learn to value people enough to put some faith in them. We need to live in to who God has freed us up to be. To settle for less is for us and those around us to miss out.

Distrust - trust

why Christian apologetics falls short

It’s really no secret that you can’t argue someone into a belief system. Most Christian thinkers and apologists will readily admit that there are other components that affect why faith clicks and sticks with some and doesn’t with others. But what exactly are they? What causes reading through the Bible or an apologetics book to draw some people into deeper faith and literally sends others clear away from Christianity?

Well I’m sure there are numerous factors, but I’ve got two in particular on my mind.

But first let me tell you what I think is NOT a factor. Somewhat frequently when this topic comes up among Christians I will hear this Calvinistic sentiment: “Well if people don’t believe in Jesus it’s because God didn’t predestine them to be saved. Some are chosen to be vessels for honor and others for dishonor.” It feels like a way of saying “this isn’t our problem”.

For reasons too lengthy to go into here, I think that is wrong and destructive. I think it badly misinterprets the Biblical passages referring to predestination and it tragically misrepresents the character of God. To be frank, if Calvinism is the belief that God has unilaterally predestined specific people to believe and go to everlasting heaven and specific other people to not believe and go to everlasting conscious torment- all for his “glory” and so that we in heaven would know how lucky we are to have been saved, if that is Calvinism, then you would sooner find me preferring atheism.

Moving on.

As I was saying, I have two components in my mind for why Christianity ‘sticks’ for some and not others:

1. Theology. The theology and doctrine people are presented with is going to effect the desire they have to embrace Christianity. Our theology is what shapes our picture of God. Some understandings of God paint a picture of God that is beautiful, just, sobering, hopeful, and inviting. Other beliefs about God paint a picture that is capricious, dominating, shallow, and terrorizing.

It’s not uncommon for me to hear a skeptic point to the troubling doctrine of traditional hell (where the vast majority of humanity is consciously tormented for all eternity) or the logically indefensible doctrine of Biblical inerrancy (speaking here of the claim that there is literally no error of any kind in the Bible- historical, scientific, numerical, etc, and often combined with the assumption of hyper-literal reading) as some primary arguments for why Christianity is poppycock. Now of course, if these beliefs are ultimately warranted and truthful then there is nothing one can do to combat the repelling effects of it.  However, if they are not true, then by holding to it and teaching it we are painting an ugly and/or illogical picture of God that isn’t warranted. This has genuine and long lasting effects for how the world sees Christianity and how our own children will see God when they start to wrestle and decide for themselves if they want to buy into this Jesus thing.

2. But probably even more important than theology is Christian practice. When skeptically inclined people, myself included, look at the church and see us behaving pretty much like everyone else with just a few added rules, it’s not exactly encouraging. When we behave defensively or angrily or selfishly we are sending a clear message: that our beliefs are pretty much worthless when it comes to the transforming power we claim they have. If Christianity is true then shouldn’t Christians be marked by something beautiful instead? And some are, to be sure… But often not nearly enough to leave a clear impression that Christianity is uniquely transformative.

Starting with the most basic element of Christian teaching, shouldn’t we be known for our crazy self-giving love? For our genuine generosity, forgiveness, courage, and care for all people? I dream of the day when people look at Christians and think ‘well I don’t know if I believe what you believe but I want to be like you are!’ Most everyone- Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Pagan, Atheist- knows and feels that genuine love is a most noble virtue. It is accessible and understandable to all. It is universally attractive. If Christianity is true then love should be a fruit growing particularly wildly in our lives because we have been particularly freed from that part of our nature that is selfish.

I’ve been reading two books. I had started the first one, Tim Keller’s “The Reason for God” but unexpectedly received a different one in the mail called “Preemptive Love” and could barely put it down. Preemptive Love is not a book about apologetics. It is a book about Christians living out the most radical, courageous, and self-giving elements of the Christian faith. It is the kind of book that might make one think “these people are nuts… But they are amazing.” In the end I believe lives lived like that make a far better case for Christianity than a cerebral ‘defense of the faith’ ever could. It is true that apologetics can meet an intellectual need… But it can never replace a beautiful picture of God and an inviting display of Christianity being lived out.

the agnostic Christian and her parachute

I think a lot about faith and what it means. What does it mean to believe in God? What does it mean to disbelieve? Is it a choice or is it something that happens to you solely depending on your experience, knowledge, or divine impartation?

Well in the past I paired faith and sureness. I thought my faith was as strong as my psychological certainty. Which really sucked because I’m never totally certain of anything like that… and the more I aim for certainty the more doubtful I feel.

Before I go on, I want to define a few words for the sake of this post:
(Or you can watch this short video)

Atheism and theism (Christianity in my case) are about what we believe. Atheists don’t believe in God or gods. Theists do believe in God or gods.

Agnosticism is about what we know and how certain we are.

When it comes to agnosticism it involves lack of choice… How we feel psychologically about our beliefs. How sure we are. How certain we feel.

However, when it comes to theism and atheism, I think they are ultimately choices. They are linked to knowledge and certainty to some degree, but ultimately are not altogether dependent on them. Whether or not to believe is, at least in my Christian context, a matter of whether I will choose to trust.

Skydiver jumps from an airplane

Let me give an example. When I am in a plane and contemplating skydiving out of it (something I’ve never done), I may have varying levels of certainty about if that parachute is going to open up. I simply don’t know for sure. I could change my level of certainty by reminding myself that parachutes normally do open up, that parachute packers almost always know what they’re doing, and that stuff very rarely goes wrong. Or on the flip side I could read stories of parachuting gone wrong or of all of the ways that parachutes could fail. I could look at the land below and imagine how very far down it is and how absolutely deadly it’ll be if I’m wrong. I could change my feelings about whether it is worth the risk or not by focusing on the potential reward or consequences: the beautiful ride down and the feeling of having conquered my fear or on the possibility of having a terrifying jump and going *splat*.

But in the end, the choice lies with me and whether or not I’ll jump.

I guarantee you that in that actual scenario I would never feel 100% certain (or anywhere near 100%) that the parachute will open. I am a person who rarely ever feels certain. However, I’ve learned I still need to make choices, despite my doubts.

(Side note: I wasn’t even 100% certain about marrying my husband and that was truly the most. obviously. right. thing. ever. There is just something in me that just doubts everything.)

So from where I stand, faith is about the choice you make to trust and not the level of certainty you have about it.

Now the parachute analogy does not fit religion perfectly well, I’ll grant. There is a lot of objective data about skydiving. But Christianity, well, it’s a good deal more complicated and subjective. There are no scientific studies that show the odds of the Jesus parachute failing to open.

But to make some level of comparison in my life, choosing Jesus is about jumping out of the plane despite my feelings of doubt. I’ve decided I have enough good reason to jump: The hope of a beautiful ride down. The hope of being more fully with Jesus. The hope that the Jesus way of living really is the best. The hope of landing in God’s country where he is renewing all that has gone wrong and making this world everything it was ever meant to be. Faith, to me, is the choice to hold out hope through the ups and downs. Through my moments of certainty and moments of total incredulity and everything in between.

mountain yumping

For me the parachute is less about the promise of escape and more about the promise of life, the promise that Jesus is what God looks like and that I can be with him.

Of course one needs to feel like they have good enough reason to jump out of the plane.
If I was certain that my parachute would never open and that my venture would turn into a disaster, then I would not make that leap… But, if you’ll remember, I’m rarely certain about anything. :-) So because I do feel there are many good reasons to trust Jesus and to dive out of that plane, it’s a jump I make.

at home, not at my home

The idea of ‘home’ has been on my mind lately. I love being at my house. I also love to travel and feel at home though I’m away. You see, to me, HOME is mostly a state of mind. It isn’t simply about being at my house, though my house is wonderful. Being at home’ is about being at rest, being able to settle in, if only for awhile for awhile, and being able to embrace my surroundings and the people I’m with.

Back when I was in Youth With A Mission (YWAM) I did some traveling. I went to Israel, Germany, and Mexico, as well as several cities and towns around the US (Chicago, Houston, New Orleans). I decided quite early on, probably in my trips to Mexico and Chicago as a high schooler, that wherever I went, I would be at home. I loved embracing the hospitality of our hosts. I loved exploring whatever city or town I found myself in.


I’d put on my shoes and take a bit of money and maybe a subway pass and roam around pretending like I knew what I was doing. I loved that feeling of being immersed in something big and somewhat mysterious. I enjoyed discovering. We’d check out the various neighborhoods in Chicago- visiting Pakistan, Vietnam, and Greece just by moving across the city. Or in Jerusalem I’d take a stroll through the Muslim quarter, easy walking distance from our hostel, and barter with the guy at the sandal shop. I was broke, darn it, but I really wanted those sandals and could only pay 30 shekels or whatever it was. I would go back every day trying to wear the man down until he finally caved (in an amused kind of way) and sold them to me. I ‘settled in’, made the city my own. I got comfortable as quick as possible with the streets, the people, the atmosphere.

As I said, I also loved embracing the hospitality of our hosts. Sometimes we were in church basements or youth hostels, but sometimes in homes. In Germany our hosts made us feel as though we were their own children. They were eager to show us their culture- their homes, churches, land, and cities, their amazing food and drink… and they clearly hoped we would embrace them and their homeland. We did. We felt so very embraced and we embraced back. I allowed myself to settle in, to relax, to be in the moment, to see the beauty and embrace it, to simply BE with my team and hosts and embrace them… and when we visited Bergen-Belsen and when our one host shared with us his sorrow about the war, to open myself up to that experience as well.

You see, receiving hospitality is about receiving the people who offer it. Hospitality is about making space for each other- whether cleaned up or messy, same or different, comfortable or awkward.


Another thought about being ‘at home’: being at home is about contentment. Contentment is embracing and appreciating the goodness of our ‘now’, even when we may hope for something different or improvement to our current state. It is not complacency, which is more about the giving up of hope of progress or improvement.

When I travel now I still enjoy being at home wherever I go. Whether visiting family far away or having dinner at a friend’s house nearby, I like the idea of settling in, being comfortable and at rest with the people I’m with, and embracing my surroundings. However, it was easier at 19 to do this. I was far more carefree then. I had fewer worries and fewer responsibilities. Namely, I didn’t have kids. I also had a more peaceful mind in general since my anxiety didn’t fully manifest itself until I was about 22. As I’ve gotten older I find it tougher to live in the moment. If I’m away from my kids, I find it tempting to worry about them. If I’m with them, especially away from the house, I feel the need to keep a watchful eye on them, especially the baby, to make sure she isn’t trying to go down the stairs or making a splash park out of the toilet. I am also more easily caught up in my own mind, obsessing about irrational things or sometimes becoming self conscious about social interactions.

So feeling ‘at home’ has more hurdles to it these days. Challenges I’m working on, step by step, to address and manage, but still very real dynamics inside me.

Still, I find the ‘at home’ mindset to be a worthy aim. To be present in the moment. In familiar or new places. Content. Seeing and embracing the people and the good things all around. Giving and receiving hospitality. Making room for others, complete with their beauty and flaws. It results in pure gain: The embracing of more and more of this beautiful world and the amazing people that inhabit it, and realizing the ability to be at home among them.

I am also finding that being at home is about offering hospitality to my own self: my beauty and flaws, my struggles and hopes, my spirit, mind, heart and body. It’s about making space, extending myself an invitation to breathe, to trust my God, to dare to be at home in my own soul, wherever on earth my soul may be at the moment.

photo by Liz Blick

The Supreme Court Ruling on Gay Marriage: An Invitation to the Church

Today the Supreme Court ruled that all 50 states have to recognize gay marriage. The day has come, though the writing has been on the wall for years.  My facebook feed immediately filled with emotion: rejoicing and lamenting, relief and frustration, joy and fear.

‘Love wins the day!’
‘What is this nation coming to?!’
‘Equality at last!’
‘Only God can define marriage!’
‘I can finally get married to the person I love!’

Church, I think we need to receive this ruling as an invitation.

*Side note: I know there are many in the Church who believe in gay marriage. If that’s you, you are most welcome to read, but I am speaking here more to those who don’t.*

Anyways, as I said, there is an invitation here if we will hear it:

An invitation to reevaluate our relationship to politics and earthly kingdoms. Have we made an idol of power? Do we remember that we are strangers in a foreign land?

An invitation to take a break from focusing on the speck in our neighbor’s eye and look at our own eye to see if we are ignoring some planks. Really. Let’s take a thorough and humble look at ourselves. And let’s take seriously what He shows us.

An invitation to ask why the Church doesn’t inspire respect for our message and beliefs. Is it for all the right reasons (like the foolishness of the idea that the last shall be first or the idea that an all powerful King would let Himself be crucified) or for all the wrong reasons (like the fact that we SAY those things about the last being first and a crucified King and then go and act in the opposite spirit)?

An invitation to see our LGBT neighbors as infinitely valuable and dearly loved... instead of seeing them as threats. We do not love well when we view others through a lens of fear. These are people, image bearers of God, family, friends… precious, dear, beautiful. We must see that and live it.

An invitation to ask if we could love people better if we would stop trying to control them. Being ‘right’ doesn’t mean it’s the most loving thing to legislate our rightness. Maybe someday much of our culture will share our sexual ethic… but I don’t think it will be because we got a politician on our side who makes a new law.

An invitation to repent. Of where ever we have pride, hypocrisy, or hatred.

And lastly, an invitation to fear not. We are commanded over and over to not be afraid. I think He means it. Do not be afraid. And when fear strikes us, we need to go after the fear first so we can have clear minds and open hearts towards those we are in conflict with. Then and only then do we go and attempt to address the problem that stirred up our fear.

It’s a new day, Church. I think there is much He wants to crucify, transform, and resurrect in us. We must put down our swords and our rights… and our anger and fear. Let’s follow Him down the road towards Calvary where He will do some painful work in us, putting to death in us things that need to be put to death, and resurrecting something quite beautiful.


At the start of this year I decided it would be a year of developing some good habits. I know, that sounds boring as heck, right?

But seriously, I was thinking about this sentiment I hear a lot; that who we are -our character- is formed from our habits. I think there is a good deal of truth there. I also have heard this idea that habits take several weeks of intentional consistency to really take root. So without being too crazy about it, I decided I would start developing a new habit every month. I wanted to get up early, start teaching the girls some Bible verses, work on the many books I’ve been meaning to read… and some other stuff that isn’t even at the tip of my mind right now. So I’ve slowly and imperfectly been adding some new disciplines into my life and I’m pretty pleased. It’s not been overwhelming and they are all things that add to the quality of my and my family’s lives.

Going to bed a bit earlier and waking a lot earlier has given me some kid free time to read, pray, and get myself ready for the day by drinking at least a cup of coffee before having to interact with any people.

Teaching the girls Psalm 23 has been great… to see their minds absorb such a life giving passage is it’s own reward much less whatever benefit it is to them down the road. I heard my cousins’s daughter recite much of the Christmas story from Luke 2 back in December and became quite inspired by how doable it is to teach little kids to memorize scripture or really anything.

I’ve finished almost 4 books: The Lost World of Genesis One (John Walton), Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals (a book on Biblical interpretation by William Webb), A Churchless Faith (Alan Jamison), and I’m closing in on the end of The Integrated Church (Tracey Lewis-Giggetts). All were great books on topics that interest me…

Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. -Albert Einstein 

And we can’t have lazy thinking. :)

Really though, I’m quite passionate about clear and honest thinking and I love to use my brain. Maybe too much, depends who you ask.

Still, this basically brings me to my next habit. Writing. Writing is a fabulous way to use your brain. Personally, I don’t choose to write because I love writing itself. I am choosing to write because I love learning and teaching and growing my mind. My preferred method of doing this is conversational. I love to informally discuss things with people over a drink. I love to have facebook conversations*. However, writing is tougher and can push me a bit more. Dennis Prager, the one talk radio guy I used to really enjoy listening to, would say that if you want to know if you are thinking clearly then you should write… because then you will be able to better assess if you are actually thinking coherently.

Well, I want to develop my thinking and learning and teaching skills more… So my new habit will be to begin to write at least once a week. It doesn’t matter so much if anyone reads it, though of course I do hope to write things people are interested to read and that are beneficial.

The real challenge here is finding a kid free block of time every week, because I don’t write well or do anything I need full brain engagement for when the little ones are requiring attention. However, I’m (crossing my fingers) gonna make it happen. Right now I’m able to write because Luke is home with the girls while I enjoy a delicious frappe at the cafe.

So, for anyone who happens to read this who feels like sharing, do you have habits you are trying to develop? Any advice to offer me in forming the habit of writing?

*’facebook conversations’ meaning respectful conversations between honestly curious people, not virtual shouting matches between people who already know they are right about ev.er.y.thing. and that their opponent is the devil incarnate.

It’s Not Black and White

Ferguson. At the moment there is not a more polarizing topic. My newsfeed has been loaded, LOADED, with people sharing their opinion on the topic. Opinion might be too light a word actually, as it seems many people are convinced their perspective is THE truthful perspective. The other side is too emotional-racist-angry-oblivious-entitled-biased-politicallycorrect-opportunist-priviledged to have a valid perspective… but WE see the full truth of the matter and often feel the need to make others take off their faulty spectacles see the ‘truth’ through our obviously clear lens. We are sure we are 100% right and if you disagree that makes you 100% wrong.

But I have a suspicion: ALL our spectacles are a bit tinted. All of us see through a certain lens: a lens shaped by our ideology, our experiences, our emotions (yes, even you, conservatives- EMOTIONS :D ).

But let’s go back to the experiences part.
If you’ve seen white cops provoke and pick on black men, it is darn easy to believe Darren Wilson provoked Michael Brown.
If you’ve seen police corruption, it’s easy to believe that’s what happened in Ferguson.
And if you are black and have experienced racism from white people, you have no trouble believing racism is alive and well.
If you’ve seen cops be helpful and heroic it’s easy to assume Darren Wilson had the best of intentions and was just doing his job.
If you’ve seen the justice system work it’s easy to believe it normally works.
If you’ve seen people cry ‘racism’ like the little boy falsely called ‘wolf’, it’s easy to get skeptical of cries of racism in general.
And if you are white and have experienced racism from black people, you have no trouble believing racism is alive and well…. but from the OTHER side.

These are the two dominant paradigms and they like to shout at each other about how wrong the other is over a nice high wall called a computer screen, seemingly certain that they are 100% right and the other guy is 100% wrong. And it’s hard to pause long enough to consider the other point of view… because that would mean possibly conceding our rightness.

Anyways, back to the tinted spectacles. We all have them, and they affect the way we receive ‘the facts’. By the way, yes, the facts of the case matter. But they aren’t the only thing that matters, because the conversation that is happening, the rioting, the frustration, the anger, the indignation- it’s about the larger picture of race relations in America, not just about Ferguson.

So how on earth can we ever make progress on this race thing? How do we shed light and find more clarity on this issue?
More lenses, believe it or not. Did you know that when you shine 3 flashlights, one with red light, one with blue, and one with green, on a wall you will get clear white light? You probably either knew that or you are bored with my science analogy already. Stay with me.
indexSeriously though, do you see where I’m going? Your experience, your lens, is real. It is legit… and it’s part of the picture. And if I want, I can go through life insisting that my blue lens is legit and assuming your red lens isn’t. And we will get nowhere if we all do that.

But… what if we start sharing lens and combining our colors? What if I try on your blue lens and you try on her green one? What if we affirm the truth of other people’s experiences? What if we try using all the lenses? Something crazy will happen: we will start to see more light, more colors. It will mess us up a little, because everything won’t be ‘clearly’ blue anymore. It will both complicate and clarify… and will move us closer to the truth than a simple blue lens. Because the truth has more shades than blue.

To do this though requires something a bit out of the ordinary for many of us: genuine relationship with people from other experiences. It requires diversity of friendships. And this is so hard to do online. It is far better to do over a coffee or a beer. Face to face, where I can’t forget I am speaking to a real person, where my friend can tell me to shut up and try actually listening to them, where I can’t deny the very real experience of another person.

Loving Relationship. Very anti-climactic, I realize. It’s small, it’s slow, it’s not fancy… but for anyone familiar with Jesus’ teachings, we will realize that that is often how it works. Mundane, messy, scary love… it’s how He is fixing the world.

From a Critic: An Open Letter to Mark Driscoll

Dear Mark,
I write this as a (fairly) quiet critic. QUIET because 1. I have beloved family members who attend Mars Hill and would never want them to feel that I’m taking aim at them, and 2. because I haven’t found angst driven public criticism of fellow Christians to do any good in the realms of Christian unity, edification, or in drawing anyone closer to Jesus. CRITIC for most of the usual reasons people are critical of you- attitude, leadership style, and the fact that I strongly disagree with you on most secondary doctrinal issues.
That said, my reason for writing is to let you know that my thoughts and prayers are with you and especially with Grace and your kids during what has to be an incredibly difficult time. Some people worry that any type of concern for you is at the expense of those you’ve wounded, but frankly, I think that’s bull shit. I’m quite certain that if Jesus calls us to love friends and enemies alike (from Mother Theresa to ISIS), He was including a call to love Mark Driscoll somewhere in there. Now of course, as I already know you agree, love isn’t always fluffy and nice. Love seeks the good of those it cares for. So sometimes Love can be harsh. There are times when Love calls people out on their crap. Love often speaks out on behalf of the marginalized. There are times Love disciplines. Of course, I’m not the one in the position to discipline a mega church pastor who lives on the other side of the county and I don’t particularly feel called to add my voice to the chorus of people calling you out. There was/is a place for that, but it is not for me right now- others have that task covered and I have nothing much to add to that end of the conversation. As far as you are concerned, I think my only job is to recognize that you are an image bearer of God. A son who He loves. A person with unsurpassable worth whose value was NEVER dependent on your successes or failures.
So Mark, when I see you trending on Facebook and Twitter I am trying to remind myself to simply say a blessing for you, your family, Mars Hill, and those you have wounded. May our Healer bind up ALL wounds. May He bring deep brokenness, transparency, and surrender. May He restore. May He bring a most genuine and honest reconciliation of relationships. May there be true repentance and forgiveness where there were wrongs. May you and your family be sheltered from harm. May your children experience the peace of God in a most powerful way. May Mars Hill be EVERYTHING Jesus has created it to be. May all that is hay and stubble be cleared out. May those who have been hurt experience healing and wholeness and peace in their inmost being. And so may you.
Your Sister in Jesus,
Laura Johnson


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