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What Would You Do If ISIS Killed Your Child?

I recently read a blog post by a US Army chaplain, who talks about his struggle with Jesus’ call to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. In a military context, he regularly finds himself asked some version of the question: “If ISIS killed your child, would you pray for them?” His answer? “Yes, while I am on my way to kill them.”

I understand this answer. It’s my natural answer, too. When others wrong me, I want to strike back. I want revenge. There’s something deeply human in the idea that we can somehow restore a measure of order, balance, and justice to the world through violent retribution.

But for people like that army chaplain, and for any of us who claim Jesus as our Savior, Lord, and Teacher, this is not an answer that we can ultimately accept. Jesus has commanded us to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us. The meaning of Jesus’ words are clear, unambiguous. If we take the Bible seriously – and, more importantly, if we take Jesus seriously – we must embrace the way of love for enemies.

Jesus’ actions are even clearer. Through his saving death on the cross, he demonstrates for us the way that God handles the sin, darkness, and horrible injustice that has spread like a cancer in our world. Jesus died for us while we were still sinners, apart from God. Jesus died for us when we were his sworn enemies. Jesus’ death was no accident. We killed him.

Yet God in Jesus demonstrates a reaction that is so foreign to our broken human nature. Where we rush to seek bloody vengeance, Jesus allows his death to become a doorway to forgiveness, healing, and transformation for we who have been the murderers.

In Jesus, we discover that our own rush to judgment and violence is a reflection of the fallen order – the darkness that God would free us from. When we become friends of Jesus, when we choose to follow him, we are led inevitably into an encounter with the cross – and that cross disarms us forever.

Nevertheless, we are called to a certain kind of warfare. The life of a disciple is full of struggle, since we are called to go against the grain of the surrounding society. History has shown time and again that many who choose to follow the way of Jesus will be subject to trouble, persecution, even death. In the midst of this challenge, our war is one of selfless love that stands firm in the face of hatred, evil, and darkness – exposing it to the light for all to see.

Violence, oppression, and all sorts of evil hide behind a veneer of respectability and authority. The role of the prophetic church is to issue an invitation to see what’s really happening behind the curtain. As disciples of Jesus, we are given authority to unveil Empire, challenging all the powers and principalities that twist our society and harm our communities.

And when they come for us, when they slander and attack us, we have only one defense: prayer for enemies, and the courage to continue our powerful witness in the face of social pressure, threats, and violence.

Is that the kind of church you belong to? Do you want to? I’d like to invite you to join us for the Friends of Jesus Fellowship Fall Gathering (October 7-10). We’ll be exploring how we can actively, imaginatively, and faithfully follow Jesus in a chaotic and broken world. Registration is open now. I hope you’ll consider attending. Together, we can live more deeply into the way of courage, the way of the cross, the way of Jesus.

Related Posts:

There is a Spirit which I Feel: The Cloud of Witnesses

How We Can Wage Peace Amidst the Chaos

Theology is Great, But What I Really Need is Jesus

When I was in seminary at Earlham School of Religion, I was able to spend all my time studying and pondering the nature of God, Jesus, and the community gathered around him. I considered deep questions of meaning, reflected on Quaker history, and came to a more settled understanding of the Bible and Christian spirituality. I visited a wide diversity of Quaker churches and gatherings, gaining greater insight into who we were as a whole.

Since completing my time at seminary, my life has changed. Slowly, gradually, my life has shifted away from the kind of full-time reflection I enjoyed at ESR. I got married, had a child, and took on full-time employment. Life is very full. I don’t have the mental, physical, or spiritual space to live the kind of deeply contemplative, studious life that I experienced in seminary and in the years immediately following. I hope I will again someday, but I suspect it won’t be soon.

As my life has shifted in a less contemplative direction, my existential curiosity and angst has not diminished at all. If anything, the press of daily life, work, and child-rearing has made issues of meaning, purpose, and legacy even more urgent. I’m growing in my experience of what it means to support others as a husband, father, and resident of the city where I live. It’s full-fledged adult life in all its freedom and responsibilities, joy and stress.

And after a decade of asking hard questions and drinking deeply from the Quaker tradition, I’m convinced of this: All I really need is Jesus – a real, intimate relationship of discipleship with him amidst the noise and clatter of everyday life. I need him to guide my day, even as I’m in the midst of it and can’t see where I’m going. I need him to make my responsibility clear to me, even when it’s inconvenient. I need him to bear God’s love to me, even when I feel lost and unworthy.

For me, any theology beyond Jesus’ death & resurrection is a luxury – something that, while nice to have, I probably don’t have time for most days. I can’t live without Jesus, though. I need his cross to engage with tragedy. I need his resurrection to overcome it.

I need to experience Jesus’ sacrifice first-hand, in my daily surrenderings. I need his resurrection to hold me together when the confusion and pain seems like too much to bear. I need his guiding hand, giving me faith in a victory beyond the compromises and losses of daily life in this world.

I don’t have God figured out. I don’t have the Bible memorized. I can’t tell you how the Trinity works or explain the systematic theology of the great theologians. Probably never will. But I do know I need Jesus. I need him to heal me, hold me together, and guide me in the little steps I must take to be faithful amidst the day’s work.

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Do You Have the Courage to Face the Horizon?

Discovering the Hidden Power of Slow Time

Do You Have the Courage to Face the Horizon?

Micah y el Horizonte
When I was a young man, I didn’t worry about the things I do today. I had a whole different set of concerns. As an adolescent and early-20-something, I was anxious about whether I’d ever make it to real, independent adulthood. There was so much unanswered. Would I marry? Would I have children? What would my vocation be? Most of all, I worried about finding my place in the world. What was the purpose for which I was born?

Maybe there’s never a complete and final answer to some of these questions. But over the course of the last decade, I’ve gotten a much better idea of what my life is to be, and who I am to spend it with. My longings and questions have been answered in strange, surprising, and marvelous ways. I’d be a fool not to realize how much I’ve been blessed. This life is fantastic.

Yet these blessings have not come without a price. I’ve found a community, a family, and a home. I’ve also discovered a whole new set of anxieties. As a young man, I was focused almost exclusively on what I could experience and discover. But now that I’ve gained so much, my attention is increasingly centered around the possibility of loss. Rather than an adventure to be risked, I’m tempted to treat my life as a fortress to be defended. Instead of embracing the gifts I’ve received, I often grip them tightly, guarding them from every threat (real and imagined).

That’s no way to live. I know this, because my 19-year-old self reminds me. I remember how he laughed in the face of challenge. For him, it was all about the adventure, the possibility. (Of course it was – he didn’t have anything!) My adolescent self was so alive, and vibrant, and fearless. It’s almost painful to remember having feelings that strong, hopes and dreams so ardent and bright.

Of course, my adolescent self also had a tendency towards selfishness and poor impulse control. He didn’t play well with others, and he came across as a know-it-all. These days, I may burn less brightly, but I have some perspective that makes me less difficult to live with.

Still, I yearn for the fire and passion I experienced when the world was just one wide-open horizon. I wonder, could I live with that kind of fearlessness again? With all the experience I’ve gained, with all the blessings I’ve received, how would it feel to live with nothing to lose? What would it mean to let go of my need to preserve and defend my comfortable lifestyle?  How would it feel to fully trust God, to release my grip on life and trust that he will provide for whatever comes next?

I’m sitting on the cliff’s edge with my 19-year-old self, looking out at the horizon. Anything is possible, if I’ll just relax, take a breath, and let go. Here I am, Lord. Where do you want to send me next?

Related Posts:

There is a Spirit which I Feel: The Cloud of Witnesses

You Can’t Escape What You Were Made For

You Can’t Escape What You Were Made For

Sometimes I wonder: Would I have chosen to follow Jesus if I really understood what it would mean? When I experienced the call to become disciple, I was eager. I quickly said, “Here I am, Lord, take me!” It’s fair to ask whether my enthusiasm was more a product of ignorance than piety.

Following Jesus is the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced. Of course, it’s also been the most joyful, invigorating, and life-giving experience. But the raw, furious challenge of this path cannot be downplayed. If I could have seen how this was all going to play out, I’m not sure I would have been so gung-ho about giving my life to God. At the very least, I would have asked a few more questions!

It’s terrifying to think about how little I know of what lies ahead of me, and what this path of discipleship might cost me. In my experience, walking with Jesus is like taking steps out into the darkness, with nothing to lean on except faith that there will be solid ground where my foot lands.

Over the last decade that I’ve been following him, Jesus has led me to places I never imagined. I’ve been challenged beyond my limits, and I’ve found a whole host of ways to stumble. Yet somehow, against all odds, I’m still here. Despite everything I know about how challenging this path is, I keep returning to the way of Jesus. I can’t resist the call of my heart.

That’s not to say I don’t try. Sometimes there’s nothing I wouldn’t like more than to give up. It feels like it would be a relief to try to salvage an “ordinary” life out of this hot mess we call “ministry.” But in spite of all the pain and disorientation, I resonate with the experience of the apostle Paul, who said, “woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!”

There’s no escaping what you were made for. God has called you for important, challenging work. Even if it costs you everything in the eyes of the world. What’s the dream that God has planted in your life? Somewhere deep inside, you already know the answer.

What will it mean for you to live in hope, even as you step out into the dark?

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Discovering the Hidden Power of Slow Time

How to Find the Holy in the Ordinary

Discovering the Hidden Power of Slow Time

I was recently looking through some old papers when I came across a note to my parents, from one of my elementary school counselors. Among other things, she remarked that I had a “low tolerance for frustration.” I had to laugh: to this day, learning to deal constructively with frustration remains one of my key growth areas. 

All my life, I’ve been an activator. I’m someone who starts new projects, blazes new trails, and asks disruptive questions. This personality is great when things need to change, but it can be a challenge when the status quo is actually working pretty well. When all the system needs is a few tweaks, it’s easy for me to get stir-crazy. My innate sense of urgency, my desire for sweeping improvements, can often be a recipe for frustration.

I’ve burnt myself out more than a few times. I’ve had a vision and pursued it with confidence, only to find that the world doesn’t change as quickly as I want it to. Like many young people, I’ve overestimated the impact I can have in months while underestimating what can be accomplished over the course of years. 

My twenties were a deeply educational decade for me. I’ve learned that human communities are complex systems that require care, nurture, and consistency over time. Sudden revolution is rare. When it does occur, it often ends badly. The safer, more loving, and more effective course of action often involves long periods when – at least superficially – it appears that nothing is happening.

For me, real wisdom lies in being able to tell the difference between living and dead silence. There are times of stagnation, when there really is very little going on behind the scenes. In times like these, the status quo needs to be shaken up. But there are also times of dynamic tension, periods when real growth is taking place behind a façade of normalcy. In moments like these, the challenge is to accompany the community through this slow, subtle transformation. It’s time to water the seeds, not dig up the ground to re-plant.

These “slow times” are where we live most of our lives. These are the long stretches between revolutions, when we watch a new paradigm emerge and grow to fruition. They’re times that call for what John of Patmos referred to as “the patient endurance of the saints.”

What does it mean for me to live in slow time (or, perhaps, “ordinary time,” as our liturgical brothers and sisters might put it)? How does my attitude and posture need to change in order to patiently endure the long stretches between revolutions?

Living in the slow times is hard. Israel wandered in the wilderness with God for forty years, Jesus spent forty days fasting in the desert, and the early church spent centuries enduring persecution in the midst of a hostile and unsympathetic empire. All of these journeys involved suffering, doubt, and intense spiritual wrestling. Yet, it was in this slow-cooking environment that the full character of God came to be revealed in Israel, Jesus, and the early Christian fellowships. Through endurance in these slow times, they were equipped to shine brilliantly before the world when the kairos moments finally came along. 

As I explore what it means to live in the slow-cooker of patient endurance, I’m finding unexpected joy. Slow time is primarily about people, not ideas. It’s about friendship, family, and community. It’s about growing roots and branching out, finding myself in relationship with the people in my neighborhood. These slow times are an opportunity to witness what God is doing in the world, just beneath the surface, despite the fact that everything appears to be “stuck” and immobile. Even in these times, the Spirit of God is hovering over the waters.

Do you experience time this way? Can you sense the difference between fast and slow times? Which kind of time do you experience more frequently? What are the ways you can live more fully into God’s invitation for you in the midst of slowness, challenge, and stuckness? Where will you find joy?

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We Can Have So Much More Than Happiness

Do We Need Bigger Engines, or Better Wings?

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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The Difference Between Doubt and Despair

Are We Living in the End Times?

What the Orlando Murders Say About America


We were without internet at our house over the weekend. On the one hand, it was a super-frustrating first-world problem. On the other hand, it meant that we weren’t on social media for the first couple of days after the shooting in Orlando. All things considered, I’m sort of grateful that our connection chose to fail when it did.

When we finally heard about the killings, all I could feel at first was a great sense of weariness. Exhaustion at watching this pattern play out once again. So many young lives taken, families left in tatters. Ideological battle lines drawn – about terrorism, gun control, race, and religion. So many senseless murders in America, and we’ve learned to cope with it by racing immediately to our familiar camps. So much pain, and we numb ourselves in a cycle of outrage and finger-pointing.

These mass murders are starting to feel normal, even inevitable. It’s like having a nightmare where everything is moving in slow motion. We know exactly what comes next, we can see how this all ends, but we can’t find any way to stop it.

Except we do know how to stop it. It’s no mystery why 49 young people were able to be obliterated by one sick individual. We live in a nation that has enshrined access to lethal firepower as a constitutional right. Can it really come as a complete shock when someone given over to evil chooses to use that right to take the lives of his brothers and sisters? When we as a country value the right to bear arms more than the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, what do we expect to see happen?

What happened in Orlando is not an aberration. It is a reflection of who we are as a nation. Our country has been at war continuously for longer than many of our citizens can remember. Before the AR-15 assault rifle was used by civilians for depraved mass shootings, it was first used by the United States and its allies to “project power” across the globe. For generations, black Americans, LGBT folk, and many others have been brutalized by a culture of police brutality and mob violence. Random acts of hatred and terror aren’t a new problem; it’s a part of our DNA as a nation.

In the face of what happened in Orlando, many of us are tempted to rush to easy political fixes – for example, advocating for moderate changes to US gun laws. Others of our fellow citizens are succumbing to racism and fear-mongering, calling for bans on religious and ethnic groups. Both of these responses are predictable, but neither address the root of what is ailing our country.

I believe that it is time to move beyond the superficial politics of the Democratic and Republican echo chambers. Debates over gun rights, “radical Islam”, and the differences between a hate crime and a terror attack are noisy, and it’s easy to get sucked in. But a deeper question remains, and it must be answered before we can truly begin to heal as a nation.

Are we ready to acknowledge the spirit of domination and hatred that has gripped our society, which is the source of the cancer of murder that is spreading into our schools, churches, and night clubs?

The horror of Orlando is a mirror on our spiritual state as a nation. Are we ready to look? Are we prepared to engage in the personal and social transformation that will be required for us to emerge from this culture of death?

Related Posts:

Are We Living in the End Times?

Could Empire be a Good Thing?