Radley, Come Home


Megan walked into my office “[something something] Radley…seizure.”

Everything scrambled, static. Next breath I remember I was pulling onto my street. The ambulance and firetruck were parked in front of my house, exactly where they do not belong. I yanked open the ambulance door. Heads turned around and words flew around and I couldn’t hear anything and neither could she. I was small and helpless and out of control and so was she. Keldy knelt beside her with all her heart and soul and mind and strength poured outside of herself. She had become a cross and turned the space all around into a womb.

Radley was there, somewhere, lost behind some thick black curtain. She was thankfully now breathing but still far from responding, far from herself and from us. For all her life she has been naked and not ashamed, proudly wearing her whole soul and sin on her sleeve. But my daughter was nowhere to be found on that surface. She had sunken beneath the surface of her body and was trapped somewhere inside herself and outside everyone else, kept from entering into that middle space where love lives and people say “you and me” and “daddy” and “we,” that space where children come home. They’re supposed to.

Her body was ironed out and flexed like a toddler’s body is not. It was like the body of someone who wants to escape in a place for people who are not allowed to escape. Her hands were balled in fists and arms stretched stiff at her side. It looked like she was trying to split herself in two longways to let herself out. Her mouth was pursed and lips jerking at angles and taking turns being bitten, like if a face could have its wires crossed. The sound of her teeth grinding was louder than the voices I couldn’t hear. It sounded like a torture chamber. Her eyes were lost. Everything was. 

It wasn’t that her eyes were out of focus but overly focused. Her face looked dead serious, like a search party at sunset. Keldy’s eyes were locked into hers, knowing her, trying to remind her. Radley was looking back intently, pupils jolting in small angled orbits, scanning like a satellite in outer space looking for signals through the outer darkness. But–wrong frequency or something. There was sinking, grasping distance. It was like Keldy was yelling down from the top of a well that Radley had fallen—was falling—down, and Radley was trying her best to keep looking up to the light to make out the silhouette, to recognize the voice, to hear her name, to remember, to be known. You could tell she was fighting with all her powerful little self against the gravity of the of the night beneath. But we remained out of reach—she remained out of reach.

Jesus, where the hell are we!

We arrived at the hospital and I carried her into a sterile buzzing room and laid her little body down on a big white bed custom-made for non-working adult bodies, equipped with rubber blood vessels and wires to do the math and chrome bars for the weight of the world and flashing lights and beeping beeps and sick adults and serious sounding words. It was a scary place for a two-year-old little girl and a thirty-seven-year-old little boy trying to be a giant, trying to hold up all that weight on that bed.

She looked at my eyes the same way she looked at Keldy’s, like she was looking for a memory, looking for a mirror—lost. She just couldn’t penetrate beneath the surface where names are kept, where we see “daddy” and “daughter” and not strangers and eyeballs.  The distance of that prolonged moment is incomparable to any I’ve ever known, from this vantage at least. It feels precisely godless, which I’ve only ever known from the other side, the lost side, where my two-year old daughter should not be allowed to go. 

I knelt down and cupped my hand around her ear to block out the universe and began to tell her all the secrets about her that nobody knows but us, because only I can see them and I’ve never told anybody but her. I always tell her secrets at bedtime, when the universe is gone and it’s dark and we’re the only two voices left, because bedtime is not the only time it gets dark like that and I want her to know there are always at least two voices left. So I told her some secrets about her two middle names (because one isn’t enough for my only daughter), Jael Dawn, and a story about a rider on a white horse, the soldier of Light who makes war against the darkness.

After a while she began to loosen up. She was still not responding but no longer looked panicked like she was trying to escape her body. Eventually, her eyes began to relax and her body settled into the bed. Keldy stroked a finger down the bridge of her nose and like a light switch she was out. Keldy finally was able to recount to me the events as they took place at the epicenter of the eclipse—when she first lost her eyes along with her breath as her body seized and face filled blue—and she began to weep and I tried to hold it together so I just suffocated all over and my soul turned blue.

When Radley woke up she had risen closer to the surface. She still wasn’t identifying people by name or pointing but seemed to see more of us or more of herself in us, a step toward meeting in the middle. Keldy actually got a few giggles out of her with her customary (Canadian) Eskimo kisses. Her laugh sounded like trumpets blasting from the four corners of the earth and the roar of many waters. Then she peed a baby-pool worth of baby-pee on Keldy’s mommy-lap, or Keldy peed her pants and blamed Radley for it, and shortly after looked straight at Keldy and said “mommy.” “And the tombs burst open, and many bodies of the saints who had died were raised and they left the cemetery… and went into the holy city…and appeared to many people.” (Mt. 27:52-53). It was like that.

After that Keldy asked, “Can you say daddy?” She looked at me and her face promptly filled with bright red sadness and she began to cry as she reached out to me with both arms. I reached across the bed and pulled her to my chest and she laid her head on my shoulder and we both cried like babies and I had my servants kill all the fattened calves in the kingdom.

I held her while Keldy RN adulted with doctors and signatures and words words words and I did not put her down until long after we got home. On the way home, while holding her illegally in the backseat of my truck, I asked her if she wanted me to draw a picture of her on my phone. She nodded. She still had not called me “daddy” but I had a hunch that it was now only because she knew I wanted her to and she takes after her mother. So I was tricking her. Every time I finish drawing a picture of her she makes a request (demand), the same request (demand) every time. I finished the picture and, without hesitation, she demanded, “Draw you.”

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…and I saw the holy city and the streets of gold and unshuttable gates and all the rest…” (Rev. 21-22).

The sun was shining in full strength. I was “you” and “we” were together again (see above fine art).

Radley came home. 

Within two hours she was talking to “mommy” and “daddy.” By the end of the night she was doing the shake-your-booty dance. I don’t think I’ll ever be so relieved to see my daughter doing the shake-your-booty dance, but tonight it was life abundant.

P.S. Doc says the seizure was caused by a fever and is confident it was not epileptic. Thank you, Jesus. I’m sorry, Jesus. I did a lot more sinning and doubting today than praying and believing. But you did you anyway. Thank you.

If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 
   if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
   if we are faithless, he remains faithful—

 ~ 2 Timothy 2:11-13


Most blessed of women is Jael…
Of tent-dwelling women most blessed.

May all your enemies perish, O LORD!
But may those who love you
Be as the rising of the sun in full strength.

And the land had rest for forty years.

~ Judges 5:24-31

Course Correction: What to Do When the Church Becomes Bigger than Its God

Imagine how much bigger and more mysterious the world must have been before it got entangled in the World Wide Web, a world without Buzzfeeds that reduce our ordinary world to a series of tragic or trivial headlines and Newsfeeds that reduce our social world to a series of one-way conversations 140 characters-deep, 10,000 friends-wide. Imagine a world without Google Maps and Google Earth and Google Sky and Google Multiverse (forthcoming). Imagine what it must have felt like to not feel like you are at the center of the earth or the center of every event and every relationship on earth. Imagine a world with board games and the great big woods outback.

I wonder what it felt like to be as small as Jesus was.

Just as a thought experiment, go type “headlines” into your search engine of choice. Read the headlines. Then ask yourself the following question: “What can I do about this?” I’m thinking of specific actions that can actually address specific problems or make specific differences in my life or anyone else’s.

Here are the top headlines from a few various news media outlets (at the time an earlier version of this was written): 

There it is, folks, the “news.” These are the new things happening all over our world. Behold the newness of it all. 

“What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.”

Ecclesiastes 1:9

Just because it’s a headline doesn’t mean it’s important, that it rightly demands your attention, that it can add to or take away from your hope, that it actually deserves to be regarded as “news.” The vast majority of information incessantly being pumped through the media outlets is not designed to “inform” the public but to form cultural (and tribal) attitudes (cf. G.K. Chesterton’s sobering work, What’s Wrong with the World; also Jaques Ellul’s Propaganda), and of course to entertain. It’s spectacle, a coliseum at our fingertips. But it is certainly not news in any real sense of the word. It’s just an ever-expanding buffet of rearranged words that are used to say the same old thing over and over and over ad infinitum. It’s like Mexican food. There is nothing new under the sun. We’re just moving around the rice and the beans.

The unquenchable fires of the nightly news feed only on the world of decay, a world that requires the new to ever become old, a world that skims atop the surface of time desperately groping at what men identify as meaningful today but what moth will identify as food tomorrow. But Christians have been given a cross staked into history’s yesterday and Life raised up into history’s Tomorrow. That news has pierced the soul of the world, and it is the one thing that remains new because it is the only news that never grows old. It is the news that the angel heralded over history as “the eternal Good News…to every tribe, tongue and nation” (Rev. 14:6). It’s the eternal good news because it’s the news that makes all things new. 

It is helpful to remember that when Jesus saved the world the worldwide web didn’t even exist. News feeds were word of mouth, and the words were from mouths that were not even miked. Without even the help of K-Love, somehow the love of God managed to spread throughout the airwaves. It was even more primitive than a landline phone call, as old fashion as family dinner. In fact, not a single member of his little lakeside church had a voice loud enough even to cast a Roman vote. How they managed to function without a cultural pat on the back and a governmental stamp of approval baffles the religious right and the camel staring eye-to-eye with the needle. But as Jesus once said, it’s easier for the Gospel to get into North Korea than for Donald Trump to enter the kingdom of heaven.

So we cannot be deceived to think that the effect of the Gospel increases with an increase in volume. Besides, I don’t know about you, but I tend to avoid sitting next to the guy with the bullhorn, especially if he is carrying a Bible. The Church’s News about the Prince of Peace sounds personal, like an invitation or a confrontation, not a pep rally. It belongs at the table, not in the bleachers. If we keep blasting it out into the nation-wide airwaves, our best words, like “evangelical,” are going to keep getting distorted, bastardized under the jurisdiction of “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). And that just deepens the mess we’re in now of needing to “unspeak” about Jesus as much as we need to speak about him. God speaks in a still small voice because that kind of speech requires nearness, and God wants us to speak like him when we speak about him. When we speak about him we speak about the God who is near in Jesus Christ, and the God who is near in Jesus Christ brings near the kind of people who would otherwise remain far apart in the name of so many other names of so many other tribes and gods and herculean lords-elect.

I’m not saying it is bad to be concerned with or aware of the national scene or global scene, especially if you are in a position to do something about it–-if you’re reading this, you are not-–but I do think it is bad to be unconcerned with and oblivious to the local scene. In the words of Gustavo Gutierrez: “So you say you love the poor. Name them.” Indeed, I’m as suspicious of the religion of the liberal left as I am that of the religious right, of the man who decries world hunger but has never offered to buy a local man’s lunch, who endorses love for the world but doesn’t sit down to eat dinner with his family, who rails against abortion but doesn’t teach his son how to respect a woman, his daughter how to respect herself. The greater are our delusions of grandeur, the severer we suffer the sickness of Doestoevsky’s doctor, who

loved mankind…but…the more I love mankind in general, the less I love people in particular. I often went so far as to think passionately of serving mankind, and, it may be, would really have gone to the cross for people if it were somehow suddenly necessary, and yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone even for two days; this I know from experience. As soon as someone is there, close to me, his personality oppresses my self-esteem and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I can begin to hate even the best of men: one because he takes too long eating his dinner, another because he has a cold and keeps blowing his nose. On the other hand, it has always happened that the more I hate people individually, the more ardent becomes my love for humanity as a whole.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

The problem with actual human beings, the kind that bleed real blood (Jn. 19) and eat real fish (Jn. 21), is that they get in the way of human ideals, especially our ideal of humankind. That’s why human beings are most hatable precisely in the name of humankind. We hate Hitler so much because we love humankind so much. But if it is an ideal of humankind we are after, we are better off leaving this world to find it. If God himself cannot fix the world without first getting caught up in the thickets of its realism, then neither should we imagine an ideal world void of invasive thorns and corrupted crowns, or of some strange combination of the two. Till kingdom come in all its fiery cleansing, humans will continue to erect crosses and blow their noses. And unless we are going to join the effort of the ones holding the hammers, joining the effort of the One holding the nails will always feel small and personal, and likely at least a pain in the neck. 

The truth is, you can’t make your world different until your world becomes close enough to touch, low enough to look in the eye. That is your world. Everything bigger is a mirage. Anything more important is unimportant. And strangely enough, it is in that little insignificant world of yours, too small to see through a screen, that you will find meaning, purpose and permanence, because it is in that world that you will find God. The shepherds found God in a makeshift cradle, after all, and God Almighty himself said he’d continue to be found in little unlikely places like prayer gatherings (Mt. 18) and prison ministries (Mt. 25).  

This point is this: it’s easier to care about everything and everyone on earth than to care about one single human being. At least as far as the Church is concerned, we don’t need more initiatives than the one we’ve inherited. We just need to take the one we’ve inherited seriously. But that requires believing in a very large gap between the size of your efforts and the size of the difference it makes, but it also requires disbelieving in the size of Washington and Wall Street and Hollywood’s depictions of how heroes make a difference, so that you don’t waste all your efforts trying to change the one to look like the others or give up altogether because you don’t look like an X-Man. Neither did the God-Man. 

The kingdom of God is not revolutionary like a typical change in thrones or regimes. It is indeed more evolutionary, like a garden. Jesus may not have been as radical as Karl Marx, but he was just as practical as potatoes. Now I don’t mean evolutionary in the way Professor Whitehead meant it, nor am I talking about the kind of ‘practical’ found in the mouths of politicians or the most popular preachers. I just mean there is a certain size and speed men have tended to associate with God that God has tended to dissociate with himself. Jesus, truly God and truly Man, was somehow less divine than all the gods of the pantheon and even more human than the Greeks. He is the kind of God, in all his effortless omnipotence, who portrays himself taking a whole week to create the universe and then without apology takes a break. In fact, creation wasn’t complete until he rested from creating it–and it took all day (Gen. 2:2). To be sure, of all the things that made the post-Easter highlight reel of the risen Christ, John tells us about Thomas touching his glorified wounds followed by fish and chips on the beach. Even new creation itself isn’t complete without rest.

The Gospel thus frames the divine revolution of God’s kingdom in mustard seed packets. And these mustard seeds are not like Jack’s beans. They don’t magically produce watermelons on vines of Zigguratic proportions. The difference is both bigger and smaller than that–it just depends on how you measure, and I can’t help but think that the Church’s measuring sticks need about as much conversion as the Church’s nonmembers, and exactly as much as its members.

Unfortunately or not, the magical mustard seeds of the kingdom turn out merely to produce more mustard seeds (Mt. 13:31), which is precisely the way love works. Loving people in Jesus’ name rarely ever produces mass conversions or a moral majority. Most of the time loving people in Jesus’ name just produces more people who love people in Jesus’ name. And that’s how the kingdom of God has been forcefully advancing for over 2,000 years, longer than any nation has been in existence, and will continue to do so longer than any nation will remain in existence.

And this is actually actionable for everyone, because people really only need moderate amounts of love. What I mean is: people do not need love from the whole human race or even the whole federal government; they just need it from their neighbor, their nearest, and only one at a time. In fact, God-sized love can only fit through a funnel that is one-person wide, not because that’s how big God is but because that’s how personal God is, and how radically condescending (in the best possible sense) God’s Incarnate love is, and if it weren’t it wouldn’t be love. A cup of cold water in Jesus’ name will always be more satisfying than a free drink from the fire hydrant. A pro-life rally will always be less effective than taking a troubled young teen out for ice cream. A father who works 23 hours a day to provide for his family in the name of “love” does not have children who have 23 hours worth of daily love filling up their big house and empty hearts. Love can only be measured by its capacity to be received. So if you want to love the poor or the refugees or the least of these, find one one of them. If you can’t find one without a country, find one without home, or one without a father, or one with a father who is too busy working for his kids to bother loving them. They are everywhere, especially right next door.

If you want to join the heroic mission of God and help save the world, just make sure whatever world you intend to save is one inhabited by human beings as real and as small as you are, or at least as small as Jesus was. Even if God sends you across the globe, it will only be in order to send you across the street. But he doesn’t have to send you across the globe to send you across the street, so please don’t wait until you are called overseas to reach the nations to reach out to the neighbor next door.

If you are committed to becoming part of something as small as God’s global mission, going around town proclaiming “good tidings of great joy” to little kids and annoying neighbors, you may not encounter anything as supernatural as a Marvel battle scene, but you will encounter something as supernatural as the Holy Spirit. Sometimes that will look like kingdom-come and be as sweet as Christmas morning, other times it will look quite otherwise and be as sour as a sponge dipped in vinegar. But that’s because kingdom-come often looks quite like the opposite of what we imagine, quite the opposite direction of where we tend to pay our attention, because God cares about the people who are paid no attention, people like you, people like me, people like your neighbor, people like your enemy. But therein lies the opportunity for you to go with the Good News and see the kingdom of God forcefully advance to the ends of the earth next door.

May I offer a simple way to stay grounded in the kind of Gospel that actually touches the ground? Think about a time you received the grandest expression of love you’ve known: now go, descend from on high, and do likewise in the name of Jesus.

Be small, and know that God was too. 

Spainhour Summer Summit Challenge 2022: Kezek—The Brothers

The final 2022 Spainhour Summer Summit Challenge.

I had originally planned to take Kezek up Mt. Stone, a formidable peak in its own right, but on a whim I gave him three options: Mt. Stone, Mt. Bretherton, or (the highest peak on the eastern Olympic skyline, and by far the hardest) The Brothers. Naturally, he chose The Brothers.

We hiked up from camp at (lower) Lena Lake at 7:15 AM and didn’t get back to the truck till. 9:30 PM.

Along the way, we only saw four people doing summit attempts, all on the way out, none of whom made it to the top 😐 We saw two of them back at camp when we returned and one of them (wearing an Ironman shirt, mind you) congratulated Kezek and confessed he didn’t think he’d be able to make it. He also speculated that Kezek, at ten years-old, was probably the youngest to ever do it. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were true. But I wasn’t surprised he did it. That boy has determination built into his constitution.

At one point near the top Kezek started to get discouraged. The sun was relentless, we had had to backtrack a few times in sketchy places (due to my navigation errors 😖), and most of all he had a pounding headache. He was entering into the essential mountaineering experience—being small and out of control…and in pain. But we have a big God who is in control, so I put my hand on his forehead and begged Jesus out loud to take his headache away from him (I was getting pretty desperate to boost his morale, because things seemed to be deteriorating rapidly, so I really was begging). Sometimes it’s hard to imagine Jesus caring about one boy’s headache when nations are at war and people are dying and all the rest, but we asked and Jesus answered. Kezek’s headache went away, and it went away in such a way that he knew it was an answer to prayer. That was the turning point of the journey. Jesus is always the turning point of the journey.


Spainhour Summer Summit Challenge 2022: Radley—Mt. Ellinor

Spainhour Summer Summit Challenge. 3 down, 1 to go.

Traditionally, the Mt. Ellinor summit is the rite of passage for finishing kindergarten—so it was for my three boys—but for my daughter, we went ahead with it after preschool. Consider it affirmative action if you want, but she needed to be challenged, and she was raised with three older brothers. She has spent her whole life keeping up with (and in some cases passing) them, so I’m happy to help her in her efforts to rise above.

Radley is girl strong. I’ve raised three boys, and I’ve tested their strength. I know boy strong, and Radley is something else. Hers is of a different quality. It’s more stubborn. She’d regularly complain, and just as regularly refuse help. She wanted to know if her brothers went to the “tippity top” (the highest point on the summit: they technically didn’t—she did, and is looking forward to rubbing it in their faces when she gets home).

Her strength is also more relational. She’d whine about her legs hurting and (after telling her to suck it up) she’d ask how I was feeling. She stopped to talk to literally everyone we passed (which was super annoying but indicative of a strength nonetheless). Half the time up the trail she was having an imaginary conversation (out loud) with two of her best friends (even doing their voices). She also thanked me every time she saw a new vista or enjoyed a moment or saw some sculpted feature that inspired awe. My boys don’t do that. I felt appreciated, a nice spin on this trip.

And that fish you see in the picture below—after fishing for 30 or so minutes with no action, Radley suggested we pray for Jesus to help us fish. We did. The next three casts—no joke—we caught three fish.

On the way up, one person we passed commented (observing my five-year-old daughter tackling the challenge he was facing), “my ten-year-old son wouldn’t even do something like this—he’d be whining the whole way up.” I told him: “That’s on you, dad. Kids can do whatever they think their parents think they can do.” I think my kids can do anything. They never cease to amaze me. And with this one…God may have just broken the mold. Who knows the places she’ll go???


Spainhour Summer Summit Challenge 2022: Maccabee—Mt. Angeles

Spainhour Summer Summit Challenge. 2 down, 2 to go.

‘Two roads diverged in the woods’ and Maccabee made a third way through (with his shoes (intentionally) on the wrong feet). This kid is the embodiment of a free spirit, the spirit of wonder. If you ever take a hike with Maccabee, be prepared to go off trail and to stop at every…feature…living or sculpted, legged or pedaled.

Prepare also to be stretched and challenged about how much you think a kid can accomplish.

Summiting Mt Angeles is no joke, particularly taking an unmarked route straight up the spine to the summit. I didn’t realize it was going to be as steep and exposed as it was (or told Keldy it would be), but it (concerningly) didn’t even concern Maccabee. He was unfazed, casually indifferent about the (un)apparent(?) danger of the situation, literally stopping to catch crickets on the steepest part of the approach, but nonetheless aware and capable and strong when climbing.

We ended up clocking almost 12 miles that day and he kept a good attitude from beginning to end, even as the aches swelled throughout the hike. Couldn’t be prouder of this little warrior.

#maccabee🔨 #stop&smellthe🌹🐜🍁🦗🍂🐞🦌🦋🪨🕸🐛

Spainhour Summer Summit Challenge 2022: Ryser—Goat Lake Peak

Couldn’t be prouder of this little warrior. We hiked along the Dungeness River in to Camp Handy on Monday night and did a little fishing (Ryser caught 2, me 0).

The next morning we hiked up to Goat Lake—3,800’ of ascent—where I caught a monster trout #🎣💪🏻, then another 1,000’ to the northern peak on the ridge.

The plan was to take a “shortcut” by hiking down the ridge rather than the maintained trail, a shortcut that ended up taking at least twice as long as it would have to return the way we came. The bushwhacking was brutal, the terrain cattywampus and thick with briar patches and downed trees, leading to bloody legs and aching feet.

When we got about 1/2 mile from the maintained trail (after about 10 hours of steep hiking) Ryser stepped on a rotten log and fell straight down about 4-5’, scraping his leg, the side of his belly, arm pit, and all up the inside of his arm. He had held his composure until that point, but that was a little too much for him. I told him as soon as we got to the trail, I’d carry him out on my shoulders the rest of the way. He giggled a bit and his spirit returned to him—when everything becomes miserable, laughter is the best defense.

When we finally got to the trail, I asked him if he was ready for a “ride” out. He said, “No, I want to finish.” I asked if he wanted me to carry his pack. He said, “No, I want to finish the way I started.” I had held my composure until that point, but that was a little too much for me. He asked if something was wrong. I said, “No, I’m just so proud of you!” Ryser is a finisher #💪🏻🏁

Looking forward to the rest of the summer challenges I’ve got planned!

#prouddad #sharingmomentsmakingmemories #miserable=memorable #1down3togo

This Promise is for You and for Your Children

“This promise is for you and for your children…”

The only treasures that last are found in moments that don’t. We collect them in moments and store them in memories, and those memories make us who we are. In the end, that’s all that will be left of us. After that, nothing. All treasures will finally be offered up for safekeeping in an unshakable storehouse—every life eventually exists only as a memory in the mind of God.

Today was a treasure in the making. Each of my boys approached me about being baptized in the last few months, and my conversations with each of them became a conversation with all of them, a conversation they continued with each other. God saw fit call forth three brothers together, to give them a treasure whose value will only appreciate in days and years to come in the most salient memory that makes them who they are as children of God, as brothers in Christ. Each processed it, and received it, in their own way—Kezek was pierced, Ryser was awed, and Maccabee spilled out all over the place in the joy of our salvation.

I suppose the only memory that could ever possibly surpass it would be made the day, should they have the unspeakable privilege, that they baptize their own children. Today I remembered my own baptism more profoundly and potently than the day it happened. Today my children found a treasure and I received an inheritance. Today we buried a memory in the mind of God, together, and because of the memory it was and the God he is, one day God will dig it up, and with it the untold number of children who share it, into an eternal moment in the land of the living.

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:38-39).

Dear Pastor, You Are Not the Victim Here

—Cover photo for article in question, see link below.


Dear Anonymous Middle- and High School Youth Group from the “wealthier church” in a “wealthier town” who “gave up [your] afternoon camp activities….to serve” the many “needs” of a less wealthy church in an apparently less wealthy town:

On behalf of pastors with a different perspective and priorities than the pastor who wrote this article, for what it’s worth, I am sorry.

I’m sorry you have been publicly shamed by the pastor of this church. Since she did not have her article published anonymously (in the most widely read popular Christian magazine on earth), her words surely have or will find their way into your minds and hearts, and I suspect her moralizing criticisms at your gesture of love will be heard as disappointment and ingratitude and elicit feelings of shame and embarrassment, perhaps frustration and anger. You did not deserve public criticism from an adult, much less a Christian adult, much less a Christian pastor, for any mistakes or mishaps or deficiencies in your efforts to serve. She should have talked to you directly and immediately, giving you the chance to respond to her corrections, not about you publicly after it was too late to respond. to As a group of middle- and high school students, with leaders probably not much older, you should not have been expected to “paint…walls and the deck…the grid in the drop ceiling, tear out…bushes, put in a patio, plant flowers, clean out the yard, and put in new glass doors for the front entrance” without clear guidance and direction, and real-time correction when needed, throughout the process.

This pastor’s disappointment is the result of her unwillingness to communicate her expectations and to confront issues as they arose, not your supposedly “half-hearted” efforts. Rest assured that you did nothing to “violate” her or the members of her church. The fact that this pastor “felt violated” by your service says something about her, not about you. Nor are you responsible for her congregation’s sense of “worth.” The fact that she insinuated your service might have diminished their sense of worth because many of them “live with repeated rejection and abuse” was not only logically absurd but extremely inappropriate. You cannot, nor should you be expected, to carry the weight of a group of adults’ past abuses and rejections or present sense of worth. That’s theirs to carry, with the help of Jesus and trusted companions and counsellors, not yours—not a group of adolescents at the most critical and fragile stage in their own development of self-worth, who are trying their best just to figure out who they are in this world and, in this case, trying to do something good for a group of strangers. In spirit, however imperfectly, you did all that can ever be done to help people with their sense of worth. You served them, unsolicited, and gave them a clear gesture of love. I’m sorry she put that burden on you. I pray that Jesus will take it from you and from them as well.

I hope it does not sound patronizing or insincere to say it, but I’m proud of you. I pray that God would protect you from the barrage of curses that proceed from the mouths of fools in our culture, to which you are more exposed than any generation before you. You were made to live under the blessing of God and we, your elders—and especially pastors—are responsible for communicating God’s blessing toward you with our words and the attitude of our hearts. So, on behalf of a generation:

“May the Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

Numbers 6:24-26

Dear Reverend Jennifer Holmes Curran, I implore you to consider the impact of your words on this group of young and highly impressionable kids, and to apologize to them for, at the very least, your carelessness. Your article intended to address the important subject of power dynamics between giver and receiver and the lasting impact of the givers’ gift, for good or for ill, but it ignored the power dynamics between pastors and youth and the lasting impact of your words, published internationally, against them. You cannot qualify your way out of the impact your words will have. You cannot claim to be “genuinely grateful” and feel “violated” in response to the same gesture. Much to your point, it’s not what you say—it’s what they hear, and all they will hear from your words and memory is disapproval. Furthermore, you cannot claim that you “don’t want to appear ungrateful” on account of it being “hard to correct the helper,” and then have your record of wrongs published for all the world to see after it’s too late for the helpers to correct any of them.

It’s one thing to be unwilling to confront people directly because you are uncomfortable with conflict, which is itself inexcusable as a pastor; it is quite another thing, as a pastor(!), to be unwilling to confront people directly and then proceed to slander them publicly, calling their motives and intentions into question to be tried in the court of public opinion, much less to do so in reference to a youth group. Surely you would not do the same to the youth of your church, had they done the same. Why do you think it is appropriate in this case? Is it because they come from a “wealthier church” in a “wealthier town?” That is a hell of a way to excuse yourself from the need for any nuance in a discussion about power dynamics. You, at any rate, were not a helpless victim in this power dynamic, nor did this “missions project” involve any linguistic or cultural barriers inhibiting you from clearly and constructively addressing your grievances in real-time. You are a pastor, and they are a youth group. They see you as their spiritual authority, and some of them may very well internalize your judgments as those of the God you have the terrible responsibility of representing as a pastor. So, for future reference, when you see a puddle from a paint can left on one of your tables, either clean it up yourself or kindly ask one of the kids or their leaders to, but don’t, for God’s sake, sit there and stare at it, brooding over it because it has “stayed there for days.” You are capable, you have agency, you are not powerless in this situation!

I think it needs to be pointed out how your framing of power dynamics in this article was misleading. You began in the very first line with a caricature obviously intended to frame the entire account in terms approximating the power dynamics between rich and poor. They are a “wealthier church from a larger, wealthier town” and you are a “small, rural church that has many needs.” Let’s be clear—this is not a story about rich people hurting poor people through a careless and insensitive “half-hearted” service project. You “needed” your deck painted and flowers planted, not food and water. And the pastor from that “wealthier church” you described as “throwing around…outrageous” amounts of “dollars,” obviously intending to reinforce the caricature of burdenless wealth and privilege, was not throwing money “around” without a care in the world. He was it at you! He was throwing all those outrageous amounts of dollars at you and your church, and doing so, by all appearances, with great care and generosity. And you took it, freely, in the form of materials and labor, and then turned around and painted a dishonorable picture of him and the youth he sent into your service, but also into your care. You are a pastor.

What I see in this situation is one church giving freely and another church assuming they’re entitled to more, or at least their pastor so assumes. But you weren’t entitled to any of it, so perhaps you should reconsider your attempts to put them into a debt of your victimhood.

Dear Victimhood Culture, you are a life-sucking parasite on our society and a mental illness to the American conscience. You imprison people in the deception of perceived powerlessness, all the while training them to use their victimhood to overpower others who ever live under the threat of being charged with any manner of abuse. You blind people from seeing how those who abuse their victim status are immune to criticism, are neither responsible nor accountable, and are forever entitled to the sympathy, or at least the pity, of others. You deceive many into thinking pity is not only a form of love but the highest form of love they can receive, and so you make them incapable of intimacy and ignorant of love. You obscure the lines between actual victims and perpetrators of abuse (who should be treated as such and for whom justice should be served) and those for whom victimhood has become an identity, sometimes because of a lifetime’s worth of unprocessed pain, sometimes because they have learned it to be an effective, and a socially acceptable, way to manipulate people. Those lines have become so obscured that the situation we find ourselves in today is a world where victims create perpetrators as much as perpetrators create victims.

When victimhood becomes an identity and unprocessed pain is detached from an identified cause or specific acts of abuse, everyone becomes a potential target of the victim. In our world, a person can wake up sad every morning and by early afternoon have found the one who “caused” their pain, without irony. They are pain looking for someone to blame, and no one is safe. You, Victimhood Culture, are the courtroom of wrongful convictions, creating false victims, hiding true ones, and damning all.

Dear Christianity Today, you should be ashamed of yourselves for publishing this. Your insistence on profiting from the clickbait market of social outrage, which nurtures the culture of victimhood that suckles its toxic milk, is dishonorable and compromises your integrity. You should know better. Find better material, and a new editorial staff.

The Terror of Easter

The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb by Hans Holbein the Younger

“Religion is the opiate of the masses.”

~ Karl Marx

I used to think this claim had at least some merit. And I suppose to the degree a given religion gets reduced to wishful thinking about some version of an upgraded “afterlife,” Marx is right. But no religion reduces itself to such platitudes, despite what its adherents might at a popular level. And as for the claims of the the Gospel, and specifically the resurrection of the dead, I’m left to conclude precisely the opposite: atheism is the opiate of the masses.

If Jesus stays in the tomb, it means that the world can continue on its course, unaccountable, free of any absolutes–other than death–and so we can shrug off that nagging Voice of our conscience without consequence. If Jesus stays in the tomb, there is no Lord to answer to, no Voice from without, only fleeting, if competing, echoes from within, and at any rate all voices are moving toward a finality of silence. All fades to black.

That, to me at least, seems much easier to deal with than the prospect of the destruction of death itself, of darkness itself, the prospect that I will be raised from the dead into a light that will expose the truth behind all my words and deeds and the thoughts and intentions of my heart (Mk. 4:22; Lk. 12:2; Jn. 3:19-21; 1 Cor. 3:13; Heb. 4:12-13; et al). It’s much easier to imagine death brings a certain finality to all that I have done and not done, said and not said, all that I have thought and intended, to all the willfully missed opportunities to love and help and give and forgive, to my violence, my greed, my self-indulgence, my insistence that ‘my will be done.’ Practically, I confess, that I have repeatedly claimed lordship over my own life, so the thought that I have a Lord who will greet me in judgment to examine the substance of my confession—that Jesus Christ is Lord—is, quite frankly, unsettling.

I can’t help but think it would be far easier to make peace with death if I could anticipate a closure to all of my deeds and misdeeds, rather than anticipating that my life and my will and my secret thoughts and intentions are wide open to an eternal future, a future in which I am decidedly not Lord and death is not an option, a future from which that nagging Voice I’ve so often ignored has, all along, been issued from a throne, a throne that alone is Absolute.

There was terror that first Easter (Mt. 28:1-10; Mk. 16:1-8; Lk. 24:36-43). And I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised. The world has lost its autonomy. Death no longer affords any escape routes. Life is laid bare to an infinite existence that we know now only as a Voice, and often just a faint Whisper, but then we shall see Him face to face. And thank the living God that on that day we will stand in his presence only by grace.

What a glorious—what a terrifying—day tomorrow will be.

“Then I turned to see the Voice that was speaking to me…and when I saw Him, I fell as though dead” (Rev. 1:12-17).