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How My Faith Blew Up and I Learned to be Human Again


The industrial revolution colonized my faith, and I never even knew it.

For so much of my ministry, I focused on doing things for God. I’ve been like a child who takes a toy their parent has given them, and returns it to the parent as a “gift.” One of the first revelations I received from God was that I own nothing. I can’t produce anything under my own power. Yet my response to God’s action in my life has always been about creating return on investment. It’s so hard to receive a gift without providing anything in return.

As a pilgrim in the north of England in 2005, I experienced something life-changing. It was an anointing by the Holy Spirit. God touched me in a way I’ll never be able to describe. I felt resolute clarity that God had called me into a life of service to him. I thought I was ready to give up everything.

My first response to this amazing encounter was to dream of evangelizing Europe. I find this embarrassing to recall. Not because Europe (or America) aren’t in need of the gospel. That’s a mission I’m still excited about. But the idea that I, as someone who had just received the Holy Spirit and who hadn’t even read the New Testament yet… It makes me blush. In truth, I needed people to continue evangelizing me. I was a baby in Christ, and I needed spiritual parents – not to start a family of my own!

It’s fortunate that I listened when God guided me to enroll in a small Quaker seminary in Indiana. I spent several years studying the Bible, Quaker/Christian tradition, and the practice of ministry. This was crucial. My time in seminary broke me open in a lot of ways. I learned to listen more. I submitted my sense of personal inspiration to the discernment of a wider community. I grew in maturity and patience.

But my production-oriented, industrial mindset remained largely untouched. My ministry was still centered on what I could do for God, rather than simply receiving the gift. My focus was on how to engineer tangible results that the world would recognize. I ended up transferring my desire to do something for God into a desire to do something for the Quaker movement.

I was on fire for Jesus and his kingdom. And I knew that the kingdom of God is one of unmerited love and grace. But I wanted to merit it. I wanted to build the kingdom of God with my own two hands. I wanted to be a successful minister, like my heroes from the Bible and Quaker history. More than anything, I wanted to be a minister after the mold of Paul and George Fox. An apostolic movement-builder and church-planter. A charismatic leader who could break open whole new frontiers for the gospel. A man whose faithful preaching and example lays a foundation for community.

It would have been one thing if I had merely burned to be faithful. It would have been beautiful if my dream had to been to use the gifts God gave me to bless others. To show God’s love through my actions, to be a servant like Jesus. But I wanted more than that. I wanted more than Jesus. I wanted results. I wanted to be measurably successful. I wanted to hit those successful ministry benchmarks as defined by the early church and the early Quaker movement. I wanted to win.

The spirit of this age, of the market, of industrial capitalism, was so strong in me, I never even recognized it. I gravitated towards materials from the Evangelical world. They promised to teach me how to be more successful, more productive. I, too, could have an earth-shaking ministry just like George Fox. I could turn stones into bread and throw myself from the top of the temple. Nothing would be beyond me.

It was all a lie. No matter how much I studied the work of other ministers and applied their techniques, I never saw the kind of results I was seeking. The communities I served stayed small. I couldn’t support my family with the income that my various projects brought in. My wife and I grew burned out. Our shared ministry was beginning to feel like a revolving door of failure. The image of ministry success that I dreamed of had turned into a nightmare.

And so, at a certain point in the fall of 2014, I gave up. I was finally exhausted enough to face the truth. My dreams disconnected from reality. My aspirations seemed to be running against the grain of what God was asking of me. I had no idea what God wanted, but it wasn’t this.

I’ve spent the last couple of years in the wilderness. I’ve backed away from full-time ministry. I’ve taken on full-time, secular work. I put my time and attention into family, career, and the nuts and bolts of making a life for ourselves in this city. I’ve found friends and activities that have nothing to do with any sort of ministry objective. This is new.

These have been hard years. It was painful to step away from the work that had defined my life so completely in my twenties. It was disorienting to release leadership and allow my communities to fall apart, lie fallow, or morph into new configurations I hardly recognized. These last few years have felt like dying.

But I’m thankful. These wilderness years have been a dark blessing. Through the pain and confusion, God has been scouring out my insides. He’s challenged my industrial, results-oriented mindset. The Holy Spirit has hollowed me out and broken me.

I won’t say I’m healed. I won’t say it’s over, or that I’ve figured my life out. There’s nothing that definitive. I’m living in a not-knowing that is powerful in its ambiguity. I’m living in the desert of the Real, and all I have to guide me is the hope that God will lead me, even if I don’t know it.

For the time being, I don’t want to do anything for God. I also don’t want to do anything for principle, causes, or movements, either. Any positive impact I make, any real joy I experience, is going to come from doing things for people. Not an abstract idea of people, but the flesh-and-blood human beings who live in my neighborhood, joke with me at work, and share my commute. My ministry field is the brothers and sisters that God has placed in my life. My measure of success is the joy, generosity, and love that I bring into theirs.

Maybe someday I’ll be part of something big. But that’s up to God. Until then, I’m excited to see what small can do.

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Millions Marched. What Comes Next?

Millions Marched. What Comes Next?
This Saturday I was out in the streets in solidarity with my sisters across the country. We marched together for the freedom, safety, and health of all women. We marched in the context of a nation where a vile misogynist has recently ascended to power, whose regime threatens the freedom and well-being of women (and pretty much everyone else, too!).

It was an amazing thing to see this demonstration blossom into probably the largest single day of protest in American history. It’s estimated that there were roughly 500,000 people in the streets of Washington, 750,000 in Los Angeles, and well over 100,000 in several other large cities. What is perhaps just as impressive is that there were sizeable protests in small towns, rural areas, and mid-sized cities in deeply “red” states. The women of the United States have shown that opposition to the proto-fascist Republican agenda is strong, broad-based, and in a state of mobilization. 

In the wake of this incredibly successful march, there has been some legitimate criticism. Some have pointed out that the Black Lives Matter movement protests have been just as peaceful as the Women’s March. Yet BLM participants have been subject to police harassment, intimidation, and demonization by the corporate media. When people of color march, they’re often labeled “thugs.” Sometimes it seems like only white people are permitted to have their political disagreements heard without an immediate – and often violent – rebuke from power. 

These critiques are valid, and they need to be taken seriously. White Americans like me and my family need to do better at hearing the voices of our black and brown brothers and sisters, even when those voices disturb our comfort. White folk like me have a long way to go as we seek a movement that truly embraces the leadership of our black and brown sisters and brothers. May God inspire white Americans with a spirit of repentance and reconciliation. May the Holy Spirit break down barriers that keep us from embracing the vision and leadership of people of color.

It is critical that we lament and acknowledge these racial divisions, and our shortcomings as white people in the movement for justice. At the same time, I believe it is good and appropriate to be joyful. This weekend we witnessed a powerful upswelling of hope and resistance in the face of oppression. The Women’s March was one very important step in the mobilization of a new movement for human rights, democracy, and the restoration of the Republic.

For me, and for many of us, the biggest question now is: How do we move forward? How do we build on the gains of the past week and focus our energy towards grassroots movement-building? Because we are in this for the long haul.

During the Occupy movement, many of us came to understand that our role was to plant a seed. We couldn’t predict the long-term changes that would come as a result of our public witness. We couldn’t control how others reacted. We simply made the decision to declare the truth boldly, trusting that a power greater than ourselves was at work in the world.

The fruit of Occupy is sprouting, and new seeds are being planted. Millions of people took their first steps into the movement this weekend. Organizations large and small are finding new life and strength in this important moment. Across our nation, the friends of Jesus are being drawn deeper into a path of radical discipleship that challenges the false claims of Empire and the 1%.

Here in Washington, DC, we are gathering in homes. We’re sharing food and praying together. We’re listening together for how Jesus is directing us into concrete action for justice. This weekend, in preparation for the Women’s March, some of us took part in active bystander nonviolence training. We will continue to meet together for fellowship in homes and shared spaces. We will continue to gather for prayer, teaching, and the breaking of bread. As crisis accelerates, we are being drawn closer together in discipleship to Jesus.

We have the momentum now. In the midst of challenge, we are discovering faith anew. We welcome you to join us. Whether here in DC, or in another little community of Jesus followers, join us. Experience the fellowship that Jesus is gathering. Embrace the joy that he gives us as we seek his justice, his mercy, his kingdom.

Whatever you do, don’t stop organizing. Don’t stop gathering. Don’t stop dreaming, speaking, writing. It has taken decades – and, in some ways, centuries – for our nation to reach this moment of crisis. There is no quick and easy way out. But together we can find it. Together, we can be the light.

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Is the Gospel Just a Fairy Tale?

Is the Gospel Just a Fairy Tale?
I recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of college students about the idea of Christian nonviolence – or as Quakers would call it, “the Peace Testimony.” I was encouraged by how receptive they were to the message that the heart of the gospel is peace. We talked about how Jesus’ death on the cross is the ultimate example of how God brings peace to earth – not through violent conquest, but in a humble life that surrenders itself in order to show unconditional love to others. We considered together what it means to live our lives in Jesus’ way of peace, and how that impacts all our other commitments.

Though I had been specifically invited to speak about the Christian peace witness from my own perspective as a Quaker, I was surprised by what a wide-ranging conversation we ended up having. As our discussion deepened, it became clear that the real question was not whether the gospel is nonviolent (clearly, it is – Jesus is our peace). The deeper, more urgent question was how we might live into the radical life of discipleship that we have read about in Scripture – particularly the Book of Acts. What would it mean to live like the New Testament church today, in 21st-century America? 

I was both excited and dismayed to hear this question. Excited, because this is exactly the question we should all be asking ourselves. Christianity isn’t meant to be a dull habit, but an acute fever. If we as the modern-day followers of Jesus aren’t on fire with the passion of the gospel, just as the first Christians were, something has gone wrong. I was happy to hear that these college students were asking some of the same questions that have been at the heart of my journey for the past decade.

So why was I dismayed? Simply put, I was convicted that I had nothing to offer or invite these passionate young disciples into. After years of seeking, praying, yearning to be part of a movement of “primitive Christianity revived,” I still haven’t found it. If anything, I feel farther than ever from the life of power and beauty in community that I see in the Book of Acts. In my years of ministry, I’ve seen glimpses of the kingdom; I’ve experienced moments of power and transformation in community. Yet I had no good answer to the question, “What should we do to experience the power of the New Testament church today?”

On a personal level, I’m convicted that my own life does not demonstrate the world-shocking presence of the living Christ. I’m a pale shadow of the Spirit-filled women and men I read about in Acts. I’m also convicted on behalf of the North American church as a whole. In my long search, I’ve rarely witnessed communities that are truly living into the full gospel that Jesus invites us into. At times, it’s tempting to wonder whether the whole story of the New Testament is just a fairy tale – a beautiful story, but not applicable to everyday life.

Where is the Spirit-filled, earth-shaking, radical church of Jesus Christ today? I want to see it. I want to participate in it. I want to point others to it. I want to sacrifice for it and be deeply challenged by it. Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!

It breaks my heart how little I have to offer to the young disciples who are coming up today. Their passion and faith makes me want to be a more faithful disciple, someone who can point them to Jesus and invite them into a faithful community where they can be challenged in their discipleship. Where can I go to find this circle of disciples? What must I do to change my life so that I can be a more faithful brother to those who are coming along in the way of Jesus?

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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 It’s More Fun to Be a Maker

Why It's More Fun to Be a Maker

All my life, I’ve been curious. My mother tells a story from my early childhood, when she had just put me to bed – a major feat, since I didn’t sleep through the night until I was six years old! She was sneaking out of the room, when suddenly I bolted straight up in bed and asked: “Why do our eyeballs need to be wet?”

I’ve always asked a lot of questions, and I’ve learned a ton. Yet I’ve often allowed my own impatience to keep me from putting my knowledge to concrete use. At times, it’s seemed easier to theorize than to dig into the tedious details of application. In the face of complexity and frustration, it’s tempting to retreat to the activities that I find most natural. A life of continual growth and improvement can be exhausting.

But this challenging way of discovery is worth it. My life exists to show love to others. God has placed me on this earth to serve the people around me. That means blazing some trails, taking risks, and moving outside of my comfort zone. It means taking a long, hard look at my own low tolerance for frustration. If I’m going to be the kind of change-maker this world needs, I’d better get used to tension and ambiguity.

My friend Justin Jacoby Smith recently said that it’s “oddly liberating when you realize that you don’t have the things you need because it’s your job to create them.” While I know that he was speaking specifically in the context of the work he’s doing with Democracy Spring, Justin’s experience applies to so many areas where we’re being invited to grow. One way that we can show love for others is by forging a path. We create space so that those around us can explore their dreams and fulfill their God-given purpose.

As a leader with Democracy Spring, Justin is building the tools to help spark a mass-movement for democracy in the United States. As part of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, I’m helping to create space where a fresh spiritual awakening can take place, powering a radical community that defies the logic of empire. We are each creating according to the call and gifts that God has given us. And together we are establishing an environment where everyone can share their gifts and create a new order of compassion and justice.

This beats the superficial contentment of an easy life, any day. When our focus is love for others, why would we ever want to sit on the couch and just coast? It’s so much more fun to be a maker!

What are you making? What are the gifts and sense of calling that God has placed in your life? What are the weaknesses, frustrations, and doubts that you’ll need to face in order to unlock your contribution? What is missing from the world that you’re called to create?

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FOJF Workers+ Retreat

This weekend there were 11 of us (plus one baby!) at the William Penn House, just blocks from the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. We had solid representation from DC, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York City, and California, representing the core leadership of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship.

It felt fantastic to be together in one location, dedicating ourselves to worship and shared listening to the Holy Spirit. It was exciting to open the circle wider, inviting all of the active and committed members of the fellowship to participate in our shared evolution in Christ. I feel grateful for the attention, creativity, and joy that each person brought to our time together.

We did some fairly intense discernment about how God is calling us to move forward in the days ahead. How does the Spirit want to use us? What is the unique gift that Friends of Jesus is called to give the world? How will we need to change our lives to embrace this exciting challenge?

While we didn’t receive any shocking new revelations this weekend, there was a quiet power in our midst. Our roots are growing deeper. We can feel more clearly our shared sense of purpose. The Spirit is inviting us into a shared life of prayer, community, and prophetic action, demonstrating the reign of God through our transformed lives.

We are on the edge of something crucial. We’re beginning to understand more fully the kind of radical life change that following Jesus will require of us in the days ahead. It’s time for us to count the cost, to consider whether we are truly prepared to go all the way with Jesus. It will cost us everything – all of our sense of boundaries and control over our lives – but he has promised that we will receive so much more if we have the courage to follow him.

Are you ready to get involved in this community? I hope you’ll join us for the Friends of Jesus Fellowship Spring Gathering this May 12-15 near Indianapolis. Watch for more details soon.

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Martin Luther King Isn’t Interested in Your Praise

Martin Luther King Isn't Interested in Your Praise

I’m in favor of holidays, period. Compared to most cultures, the United States has very few festivals where work ceases and we celebrate those things that are most important to us as a society. These times of rest and remembrance are important.

I’m particularly thankful that there’s a federal holiday in the United States that celebrates the life of Martin Luther King. As one of the most important civil rights leaders of the 20th century, he stands as an icon for the struggles that black Americans have faced – and the victories they have won – during the last 400 years of hideous abuse, slavery, Jim Crow, and present-day mass-incarceration and police brutality.

As the #BlackLivesMatter movement reminds us, the civil rights struggle is far from over. The blood, sweat, and tears of our 20th-century civil rights heroes must be followed up by the clear-eyed resolve of a new generation. Ideally, celebrations like Martin Luther King Day should help to sustain this resolve, energizing us for the hard work ahead.

That being said, I suspect that King would not be too thrilled about MLK Day. I doubt he would take much solace in all the schools and highways named after him. The newly erected MLK monument – an enormous stone statue of King overlooking the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC – would almost certainly leave him cold. “What an enormous pedestal they’ve built for me”, he might say.

This past year I’ve had the opportunity to read a number of King’s sermons. Like any good preacher, in each of his speeches King brings something new to light, but he also demonstrates a deep repetition of theme. One of these repetitions is a passage from the prophetic Book of Amos, which warns of coming judgment for a disobedient nation. One of the passages that King quotes most often is Amos 5:24: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

For those who are unfamiliar with the text, these might just sound like pretty words. But if we take a look at the verses preceding King’s favorite quote, we see a different story:

“I hate, I despise your festivals,
    and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. […]
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
    I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
    and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

King wasn’t interested in symbolic victories. He wasn’t concerned about whether the civil rights movement was honored by politicians with a national holiday, monuments, and pretty speeches. Quite the opposite. He was well-aware of the human tendency to put on a big show in order to cover up our own lack of righteous living.

King knew that God hates holidays without humility, songs without sincerity. He would know that in a country where black lives still do not seem to matter to most of us, where millions of African Americans are imprisoned or branded as felons, that any celebration of civil rights victory is premature. If King were here to celebrate his holiday with us, he would ask us to show him justice, not statues; changed hearts, not new names on freeways.

As we remember the life and legacy of Dr. King, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Bayard Rustin, and the many thousands of others who have poured their lives into the struggle for freedom, let’s make sure we keep our eyes on the prize. The civil rights campaigns of the 20th century are over, but the 21st century struggle for righteousness and justice have only just begun. A few more marches and few less statues would make Martin proud.

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