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Feeling Lost and Confused? Just Stay Awake.

Feeling Lost and Confused? Just Stay Awake.
I like to think of myself as a man of action. Pressure brings out the best in me, and I’m good at responding to crisis. In times of confusion, I get organized.

So of course that’s how I responded when Donald Trump claimed victory in the election last month. I held meetings. I spoke out – on my blog and from the pulpit. I encrypted my whole digital life, and encouraged others to do the same. I changed my media consumption habits. I prayed.

I’ve done everything I know to do. My rapid response is complete. Now all I’m left with is the slow work of movement-building. Fostering community. Helping to lay an intellectual and spiritual groundwork for resistance to tyranny.

I’m finding that this work is a lot harder. I am quickly reaching the limits of my own knowledge. I don’t know what’s coming next, and it’s not clear what the game plan is. How do I continue to make a difference in a sustainable way?

As a husband, father, and worker, my responsibility isn’t simple. I don’t feel like it would be faithful for me to abandon my daily work, despite the urgency of the situation. And even if I did, it’s not clear to me where I would be most useful. That’s probably because, in many ways, I’m already doing what I need to be doing. I’m working for justice and peace in the context of my family, work, and the organic communities I’ve helped to grow over the past several years.

I’m reminded that Jesus lived – and died – in the midst of crisis. His homeland was ruled by a dictator on the payroll of a foreign power. There were constant rebellions and intrigue. Protest movements were put down with violence. It’s not surprising that many, including some of Jesus’ closest friends, expected him to confront the Roman Empire on its own terms – with military force.

What’s amazing about Jesus is that he was never reactive. His ministry was not determined by the plots and provocations of the Pharisees, the violence of Herod, or the cruelty of the Roman occupiers. God gave Jesus a unique ministry to carry out, independent of the schemes and expectations of the powers that be. In spite of great temptation to fight the powers on their own terms, Jesus was faithful in gathering a community whose frame of reference was God, not Caesar.

I believe that Jesus is calling me to this same type of ministry. Do you hear him calling you?

The kingdom of God is not merely another historical event. It does not arrive as a response to Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, or any other Caesar stand-in. Rather, the reign of God is a decisive intervention in history to heal the world. Everything else has just been a distraction.

More than any nation or ruler, Jesus is sovereign because he depends on nothing – and all things depend on him. Jesus isn’t in a hurry, and he’s not dismayed by the thrashing evil of the rulers. As his friends, we don’t need to be, either.

Stay awake. This is one of the most important commands that Jesus gives us. We need to hear and obey this command. Because the reign of God is coming like a thief in the night. It will surprise us all. There is only one way to prepare for it: Stay awake.

The good news is this: Staying awake abolishes the fear and confusion that so many of us are feeling right now. To stay awake is to maintain a clear mind and a hopeful heart. Staying awake doesn’t mean we have the solution to this mess. It just means that we are willing to wait on God to show us how to act faithfully.

Jesus asks us to stay awake – to remain attentive, available, and responsive to the movement of the Holy Spirit that is coming. We don’t have to force it. We can trust that God is at work, and will show us how to move and act for justice. Our task is to respond in courage when the way becomes clear.

It helps to be in community. Here in Washington, DC, we are gathering as friends of Jesus to support one another in staying awake. We share food and prayer. We support one another in seeking the way of Jesus in the midst of these confusing times. If you’re in our region, I invite you to reach out and join us.

Wherever you are, what are the ways that you can gather in supportive community with other friends of Jesus? What does it mean for you to stay awake, and to invite others to keep watch with you?

Related Posts:

In this Time of Darkness, We Can Be the Light

How Can I Resist the Age of Trump with the Love of Jesus?

In this Time of Darkness, We Can Be the Light

In this Time of Darkness, We Can Be the Light
It’s a dark time right now. Literally. We’re approaching the shortest day of the year. The sunshine is dimmer. These late fall days can make it really hard to keep moving.

It’s a spiritually dark time, too. I don’t have to repeat all the reasons. You know. With so much evil at work in the world, it’s hard to stay healthy and focused.

In the weeks following the election, my own health has suffered. I spent way too much time interacting on social media and reading articles about things I already knew – things I couldn’t change. Just like so many of us were glued to cable news in the days following the 9/11 attacks, I was transfixed by social media and a wide variety of news outlets.

Eventually I was able to take a step back. I recognized the death-spiral I was caught in. Social media chatter. Nonstop news consumption. An irrational compulsion to somehow “fix” this situation. It was torturing my heart and distorting my spirit.

In a moment of clarity, I disengaged from social media entirely. I knew I didn’t want to stay away forever. But my relationship to social media had to change. At this point, I’m limiting myself to about 10 minutes a day. The ideological environment out there is simply too toxic for me to spend much more time.

I also made the decision to cut off corporate media indefinitely. We have a subscription to the Washington Post, but I’ve been recycling it without reading it. This has been a big change for me. For years, the Post has been a companion with me at breakfast and lunchtime. But I’ve realized that my relationship with the corporate press is no longer healthy. Probably never was. It was long past time to break up.

I’ve learned that bad habits can’t simply be discontinued; they must be replaced with a different habit. Now, every time that I would normally read the corporate media, I instead choose to pick up a book. At first, I was reading Chinese science fiction. Then Bernie Sanders’ new book. Now I’m reading Hannah Arendt’s analysis of totalitarianism. I hadn’t fully realized how much of my time I had been giving to consuming corporate propaganda. Now, all that time is available to read works of substance. It’s truly refreshing.

I believe that we are entering into a time of crisis, beyond the memory of almost anyone alive today. I intend to be fully engaged. This is not a moment for retreat into fantasy or isolation. Yet I am also aware that we are already in midst of a spiritual, psychological, and ideological warfare. It makes sense for us to engage this fight on our own terms. Rather than be bombarded by falsehood, distortion, and scare tactics, we can choose another story.

Jesus commands his friends – you and me – to stay awake. Part of staying awake is filling our minds, bodies, and spirits with wholesome things. Now is a time to be discerning about what news sources, ideologies, slogans, and entertainment we take into our lives.

In these days of stress and urgency, I feel called to focus on real relationships with the people around me – all those people of good will who can sense that something is not right. Now is the moment to come together, to support one another in creating alternative communities of meaning. Our homes, offices, and church buildings can become places where the love and light of Jesus Christ is truly alive – not just in words, but through daily actions of mercy and resistance in the face of evil.

I know that many of my brothers and sisters are way ahead of me on the realizations I’ve just expressed. Maybe you’re one of them. Yet even if you are, I feel compelled to share, if only to encourage you. No matter how wise someone is, we all need encouragement. We all need to know that we are a part of a broader community that is living in faith.

Together, we are refusing to imbibe the gathering darkness. We are creating light-filled spaces where the hurt, hungry, and broken can gather. We are a city on a hill, which can’t be hidden – knowing full well the danger and joy this vulnerability brings.

I want to join you in these spaces. Create these spaces. Gather others into communities of trust, love, and firm prophetic witness. God is giving us a message to share. Jesus is here to teach us himself. In the midst of so much falsehood, the truth is speaking within us. Listen together with me. Pray with me. Act with me. In the name of Jesus.

Related Posts:

How Can I Resist the Age of Trump with the Love of Jesus?

Jesus is Lord. Trump is Not.

In this Election, Our Real Enemy is Fear

In this Election, Our Real Enemy is Fear
How many urgent campaign emails have you gotten in the last month? How many voices on television and social media have been telling you what a terrible situation we’re in? How many political marketers have been whispering in your ear: Be afraid. We have to fight. If their candidate wins, we will lose our country.

Regardless of our political affiliations, we are all being bathed in a sea of fear and fury. As a culture, we have been reduced to our most primal instincts – fight or flight. For years, they’ve told us that every political battle is a fight for the very survival of our family, our nation, our planet.

This propaganda is so seductive, because there is a lot of truth to it. We do live in a time of great danger for our nation, the international community, and the created order that sustains us all. There are a thousand reasons to be concerned.

The powers know this. They feed on it. We’re living in the midst of a huge, complex battle between political parties, corporations, think tanks, and marketers. They all use fear to push their agendas, because fear works. Fear sells.

We’re living in the midst of a global arms race, and fear is the weapon. The same marketers are working for both our friends and our enemies. They have terror and manipulation down to a science, and they’re throwing everything they’ve got at us. To win the election, to steer the debate, to take our country back. They will win this war, by any means necessary.

But this isn’t a war, this is a country. We’re not a battleground, we’re a community. And for quite some time now, our community and cultural institutions have been burning – ravaged by this scorched earth policy of the politics of fear.

This can’t continue forever. Fear is a limited resource, yet this extractive political industry is intent on draining it to the last drop – and beyond. All of these ideological forces – left, right, and center – are strip mining our shared consciousness. They’re sapping our strength and drowning us in a pool of fear. They can only scare us so many times before our adrenal glands dry up and we have nothing left but cynicism and despair.

The good news is that we don’t have to yield to this culture of terror. As followers of Jesus, we are given power to see through the deception. We have a solid rock to stand on, that endures beyond the froth of cable news and social media updates. He teaches us to feel the world’s pain and embrace our responsibility to participate in the healing process. The Spirit guides us in a life that is concerned, but not fearful; engaged, but not terrorized.

The future of our country doesn’t rely merely on who is elected this November, but rather on our own willingness to embody the love of God in the world. This is a question of both personal and collective responsibility as the people of God. Will we demonstrate an alternative reality to the destruction and terror that our nation and world is currently embracing?

In these times of cynicism, outrage, violence, and despair – who we will choose to be? How will we choose to respond to the fear, paranoia, hatred, and bitterness that is festering throughout our culture? How will we be peacemakers, justice-seekers, and lovers of our neighbors? Regardless of who captures political power, will we choose to live in the love and power of Jesus that casts out all fear?

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Do We Need Bigger Engines, or Better Wings?

Do We Need Bigger Engines, or Better Wings?
Flying makes me a little bit nervous. I know it’s irrational. I know you’re more likely to die on the drive to the airport than you are on the flight itself. Still, there’s something about the feeling of takeoff and landing that puts me in an especially prayerful state. The roar of the engines, the awareness of tons of steel and jet fuel surrounding me – it can all be a little much.

On one flight that I took some years ago, a fellow passenger shared a reassuring thought with me. He told me that even if all the engines were to cut out, our airplane wouldn’t just fall out of the sky. Even without functional engines, the aircraft would glide for a long time. We’d have a good chance of making a safe landing. “The airplane wants to stay in the air.”

It was comforting to realize that not everything depended on the perfect functioning of the aircraft. A lot of things could go very wrong, and we’d still have a chance to survive. In the years since I received this little bit of wisdom, I’ve realized that I can survive – and even thrive – despite the reality that things fall apart.

I think especially about the church, the fellowship of modern-day disciples who are trying to find. I consider the fact that the great engines of 20th-century American Christianity are sputtering and dying. So many of the supports that the church has relied on for generations to keep us flying have been stripped away. The money, social prestige, political influence, and a whole set of cultural assumptions that once reinforced Christianity’s predominance in Western society – all those engines are burning out.

Without a doubt, there are millions of Christians who are scrambling to preserve what’s left of those old engines. In the face of this profound crisis of values and institutions that is transforming our world, there are many whose imagination only extends to seeking more horsepower for the dying motors of 1950’s Christianity.

But what gets me excited is to think about all the possibilities waiting for us in the wings of this ancient-yet-awakening community. Can we feel the presence in the air that is just waiting to buoy us, carrying us to destinations that our man-made engines could never have reached? What if this airplane of faith wants to stay in the air? Are we ready to fly?

I am convinced that the future of our fellowship, of our movement as friends of Jesus, will not rely on the false security that for so long has smothered western Christianity. There is a life and power at work in our time and place, one that flies on the winds of the Spirit rather than the jet fuel of human ambition and egotism. Despite all appearances, there is a hope and future for the church in the developing world. This plane wants to stay in the air, if we’re willing to allow ourselves to be guided wherever the Wind takes us.

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Making Prayer Flags
Faith and just got off a plane, coming back from the Friends of Jesus Fellowship Spring Gathering near Indianapolis. I’m exhausted from the trip, but I’m so excited about what God is doing in our community. I want to share with you about what we experienced this weekend.

From Thursday night to Sunday morning, we came together with friends from across the country – coloring, composing, coloring, discussing, worshiping, singing, and exploring. It was a truly intergenerational gathering. We had folks ranging from toddlers to retirement age, and every generation in between. There was very little need to divide ourselves by age; even the very youngest in our community were able to participate fully in most of our activities.
Playing at Friends of Jesus Spring Gathering 2016
For this year’s Spring Gathering, we made a very conscious effort to be family-friendly, and it paid off in a big way. I was delighted with how our son, George, was able to connect with the children of two other families during the gathering. It was fantastic to watch our little ones become friends, and learn more about God in age-appropriate ways. We we adults learned so much from them, too. The children provided their own unique energy that shaped the gathering into something richer. Our community felt more organically whole than at any other time I have experienced. I am hopeful that this is just the beginning of a process in which Friends of Jesus becomes infused with the joy, energy, and simple honesty of children – who Jesus says we must emulate if we want to participate in the reign of God.

We are learning to see the world through child-like eyes that encourage creativity, an openness to discovery and wonder. This weekend we practiced praying in color, wrote collaborative prayer-poetry, sang together and played instruments, went for a nature walk, and created prayer flags to decorate our worship space. We ate together and shared in deep worship. We met together in in small groups to support one another as we seek to be faithful and joyful in the way of Jesus.
Worship Space at Friends of Jesus Fellowship Spring Gathering 2016
This gathering had a gentle beauty. It was the quiet, slow beauty of flowers opening and roots growing deeper. It was the blossoming of faith in the midst of challenge. We felt a deepening of commitment to face the darkness that we all experience, and a hope that God will provide us with child-like hearts to support one another in this journey.

This weekend, we re-discovered what it means to live in the image of God. Honoring the God-created child within each one of us, we are growing in compassion, joy, and the calm reassurance that God loves us and will care for us. We don’t have to be afraid anymore. We don’t have to bend to the world’s way of intimidating and distracting us. We can become children of light.
Friends of Jesus Fellowship Spring Gathering 2016 Group Photo
I’m feeling such gratitude for my brothers and sisters in the Friends of Jesus Fellowship – both those who were able to be with us this weekend and those who couldn’t make it this time. I’m encouraged by the movement that I see the Holy Spirit gathering. Little by little, the seed of God is being sown and little sprouts of life are rising from this good earth. Thank you, Jesus. And thank you, friends.

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Why is Church so Hard?

Why is Church so Hard?
For the last couple of years, this blog’s tagline has been: “Religion is easy; discipleship is hard.” I’m starting to think that perhaps this slogan is only half right. Discipleship certainly is hard, but religion doesn’t seem to be such a piece of cake, either.

I recently read a really tender, honest post from my friend Hye Sung, in which he wrestles with the fact that he rarely attends church, despite his strong faith in Jesus and his belief that Christian community is very important. What does it mean for him, and the millions of others like him, that faith in Jesus should be so compelling and yet finding healthy, life-giving Christian community is so hard? What does it mean for me that after spending years in seminary and nearly a decade in Christian ministry, I find myself resonating with Hye Sung’s dilemma, too?

Why is church so hard? For hundreds of years, the Sunday-morning congregation has filled a vital role in the life of God’s people. Yet in my generation, it may be that there are more Christians living their lives outside of the traditional congregation than those who remain within it. And many of those who remain are struggling.

We are in the midst of a monumental shift in the life of the church, one that is just as significant as the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago. Our entire culture is changing, and all of our legacy institutions – government, media, business, and the church – are straining under the pressure. We’ve set out on a new sea, but instead of oars, we have shovels. How long will it take for us to craft the tools we need to thrive in this new environment? So much hangs in the balance.

It’s reassuring to remember that we’ve been here many times before. This coming Sunday is Pentecost, when we remember the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit that formed the first Christian community in Jerusalem. Pentecost was a moment when God made a way out of no way. In the face of stuckness and confusion, Jesus drew together a new community that could speak to the spiritual hunger of the people of the Roman Empire. The old order was fading away, and it was frightening, but the Holy Spirit brought the creativity needed to bridge the gap. She revealed the new order of God.

This new order played out differently in 1st-century Palestine than it did in medieval Europe. The body of Christ looked different in the days of St. Francis than in those of George Fox. The way that the Holy Spirit is guiding us in our time, place, and culture, is bound to be different from anything that humans have ever experienced before. We’re being given new wine for the new wine skins of our day and age.

I won’t sugar coat it: These are hard days to be living in. Everything that our grandparents thought they knew is being turned on its head. We are in the midst of a great confusion as a society, and it’s not clear where we are headed. And yet there is a blessing in such a moment, the promise of the Holy Spirit to guide us into a new expression of faithfulness for our own day. Just like on that most famous day of Pentecost 2,000 years ago, we are being invited to participate in a brand new experiment, the likes of which the world has never seen.

I don’t know where this road leads. I’m not even convinced that I’ll like it when we get there. But I do have confidence that God is in control, and that the Holy Spirit has not abandoned her people. This is a time for the patient endurance of the saints, for us to be actively partnering with Jesus in his ministry of reconciliation and peace. It’s not easy, but it can be joyful. Let’s stumble down this road together.

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What Is Christianity?

What Is Christianity?

What is Christianity? Is it a collection of individuals, each following Jesus? Is it a type of culture, a philosophy that can govern courts, legislatures, and armies? Is it a radical fringe movement, at odds with mainstream culture, or is it a faith that is central to what it means to be American?

Throughout history, different Christians have answered these questions in several different ways. Some – particularly the liturgical churches – view their faith as being interwoven with the entire society. While personal conviction is important, faith is ultimately not a matter of the individual, but rather a corporate faith and practice that permeates the whole culture. In this worldview, it makes perfect sense to have a Christian president, generals, judges, CEOs, and police officers. Christianity isn’t a radical ideology; it’s the glue that holds our society together.

Another view is that Christianity is first and foremost about the individual’s relationship with God. This is the perspective that gave birth to the Evangelical commitment to Jesus as “personal Lord and Savior” – “personal” being the key word. In the most extreme versions of this viewpoint, nothing matters at all except the personal decision to believe in Jesus. Participation in any particular community, society, or even code of conduct, is secondary to the personal choice to accept his sacrifice on the cross.

Finally, there is the perspective of the dissenting church – groups like Quakers, Anabaptists, and others who have been violently persecuted for their counter-cultural beliefs. According to this viewpoint, the Christian faith is not primarily about individual conviction, nor is it a question of conformity to a large-scale, mainstream culture of Christendom. Instead, Christian discipleship takes place within a context of radical community, a community that stands outside the bourgeois assumptions of the mainstream and the violent logic of Empire.

For the dissenting church, the way of Jesus is a path of building a new society in the shell of the old. Rejecting both individualist faith and conformity to the wider culture, this perspective holds that Jesus is most authentically followed in a community that rejects common wisdom and joins Jesus on the margins of society.

Key to this understanding of the church is the lived experience of solidarity. The way of Jesus is not one that we can walk alone. In the radical community we rely on one another to find our way as disciples of Jesus. This kind of solidarity must go beyond shared identity and group membership. It has to extend into our intimate life choices: Our money, our living situations, our family. In the radical community gathered by Jesus, we don’t get to hold anything back from one another. We own nothing, not even our lives. Everything belongs to Christ, and we belong to one another.

Most of us today – including those of us in the historic dissenting churches – don’t really have the stomach for this kind of total submission to Christ in community. So we’ve ended up gravitating towards a more individualistic ethos. We value each person’s preferences and experience, preferring it to the discernment and cohesion of the group. Each one of us can live our lives our own way, and if the community has misgivings, it’s ultimately none of their business.

Given how privileged most of us are, we can get away with this. We’ve got the material resources that allow us to rely primarily on mainstream consumer culture, rather than the support of the believing community. We don’t really need each other. If we can pay rent, groceries, and Netflix, we’re good. And so we drift apart. Nothing binds us together that we can’t find somewhere else. If not at church, then maybe the yoga studio or spin class.

Is it any wonder that Christianity is disintegrating in the West? We’re just too rich and self-satisfied to prioritize one another over ourselves. By choosing individualism, we are ultimately captured by the most powerful voices of the mainstream culture – unchecked consumerism, militarism, greed, and fear. Without a community of solidarity that we truly lean on because we have no other alternative, we fall prey to whatever the imperial culture throws our way.

At this point, it’s a huge challenge to choose anything besides conformist individualism. It’s in the air we breathe, the clothes we wear, the media we consume. We’ve been atomized for so long, our communities of solidarity have been relegated to mere clubs and interest groups. And we’ve come to think of this feeble state of affairs as normal.

We’ve got a choice to make:

What is the story we want to live? Who do we want to live it with? And what are we willing to give up in order to be part of a community that distinguishes itself from the dying, violent order that we’re living in today?

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