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Give With Purpose

Guest Post by Rachel Goble
December is a month of generosity: we give to our favorite charities, we buy presents for our loved ones and volunteer at the local food bank. The SOLD Project has developed some really creative ways to expand our giving even further – to help prevent child exploitation. So this year, as you practice generosity, check out the various ways you can take that even further. Whether it’s bookmarking the Amazon Smile page to give a percentage of all your Amazon shopping to SOLD, or checking out our trendy store for gifts, or making a donation in someone’s honor – let’s give with purpose this year.

Thoughts on Ferguson

Yesterday my friends Donna and Leroy Barber visited Antioch for a Q&A session on Ferguson and what it means for faith and race relations in America. They also stuck around for a conversation with students and others in the Kilns College community to discuss in greater depth the issues surrounding Ferguson and the deeper needs for knowledge, understanding and reconciliation regarding race in America.

Like many, I’ve watched more news in the last week than I can remember and have run the gamut of emotions. But mainly I have a deep sadness with regard to the lack of empathy that still seems to pervade much of culture regarding the dignity, worth and experience of people of color.

If I had found the voice to write a blog post in the middle of my own experience and emotion, I think it would have looked a lot like this one from my friend Kevin Butcher.

My mind and heart is a jumbled up and convoluted mess.  I’m sad and I’m angry and of course it’s about the confusion and deep and pervasive pain in Ferguson.  And if you aren’t sad and angry then I would say maybe something died inside of you a long time ago.  Because there’s a young man dead and parents who will never, ever get over it and there are businesses being burned and a whole lot of folks hating on one another and a whole bunch of others who are living in fear for their families…and so much more pain on so many levels.  But what makes me just as sad and just as angry is what Ferguson says about the state of relational affairs in our nation as a whole.  We didn’t just become a relational mess.  We’ve been a relational mess.  Ferguson simply displays the anger, tension and frustration that have been lingering beneath the surface of our lives…well, forever. Continue reading Kevin’s thoughts here.

I also really appreciate the tone and the balance of this piece by my friend David Bailey. As an African American musician and worship leader, he seeks to bring about reconciliation through songs and art. His call for broader relationship and diversity resonates deeply with me.

Are we listening? We as a Christian community have to learn to listen across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines. Our brothers and sisters in Ferguson are mourning without hope. Our brothers and sisters don’t feel heard and destroying property gives voice to the voiceless.

Now let me be clear, rioting is wrong. With that said, it’s important to understand that this type of rioting is a misplaced cry for shalom. The community in Ferguson is crying out for things to be woven back together the way that God intended them to be.

It is clear that we have a significant population of people in America who do not believe that the justice system is fair to ALL people and we have some other people who believe that the justice system is perfectly fine. No matter what your opinion is on the matter, this reality is not Shalom, therefore we need to pray…

Come, Lord, Come! Read the rest of David’s post here

Below is a short clip from Askquestions.tv from Leroy Barber – it’s a passionate plea for standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters.

In all of the debates that continue to swirl around, I keep being reminded of the late Steven Covey’s words that we should “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Quotes on Humility from Andrew Murray

Humility: The Journey Toward Holiness, by Andrew Murray, is one of my favorite books. After taking a recent spin through it again I thought I’d share a few quotes:

“Humility is the consent of the creature to let God be all, the current of itself to his working alone.”

“It is not something that we bring to God, or that he bestows; it is simply the sense of entire nothingness that comes when we see how truly God is everything. When the creature realizes that this is a place of honor, and consents to be—with his will, his mind, and his affections—the vessel in which the life and glory of God are to work and manifest themselves, he sees that humility is simply acknowledging the truth of his position as creature and yielding to God His place.”

“Christ was nothing so that God might be all–and it was his source of perfect peace and joy.”

“It is only when we, like the Son, truly know and show that we can do nothing of ourselves that God will do everything.”

“The root of all virtue and grace, of all faith and acceptable worship, is that we know that we have nothing but what we receive, and bow in deepest humility to wait upon God for it.”

“It is only by the indwelling of Christ in His divine humility that we can become truly humble”

“It is not sin, but grace, that will make me know myself as a sinner…it is only grace that works that sweet humility that becomes joy to the soul as its second nature.”

Here are some notable quotes from other theologians included in the book:

“The more humble a man is in himself, the more obedient toward God, the wiser will he be in all things, and the more shall his soul be at peace.” Thomas A Kempis

“Should you ask me: What is the first thing in religion? I should reply: the first, second, and third thing therein is humility.” Augustine

New MA in Innovation & Leadership at Kilns College

We have an exciting new Master of Arts program set to launch September 2015 (pending final state approval)! The Master of Arts in Innovation and Leadership is a unique one-year masters that will have broad relevance to teachers, pastors, non-profit workers and entrepreneurs.

I’ll just say it: THIS ONE IS EXCITING!!!

Check out the overview sheet below and make sure to reach out to Melissa McCreery at Kilns College if you’re interested in either on-site or distance options.

Worship

Photo Credit: Lawrence OP, Creative Commons

A good friend once sent me this quote from J.I. Packer on Worship:

“If worship services are so fixed that what’s being offered fits the expectations, the hopes, even the prejudices, of any one of these groups as opposed to the others, I don’t believe the worship style glorifies God.”

I really like it. It’s been a while since I’ve found myself in the theological debates about What is worship? Should we use music to worship? What style of praise and music is most worshipful? etc. etc.

When I was in grad school with a bunch of other single guys who had nothing better to do than read Nietzsche, debate Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology and circle back endlessly to conversations on the modern church — we talked about worship stuff all the time.

With Antioch growing up from a tiny church plant of 30 folks to a pretty well established church, however, I find these questions and conversations coming back up in my mind more and more.

“When does a progressive church plant need to step back and look at what silly things it is doing that need to be re-envisioned?”

“Do we do the same things other churches did that we reacted to when we dreamed of Antioch in the beginning?”

“Does our use of music and the arts really keep God at the center — does it aim at the glory of God and the reconciliation of us to Him?”

That is why I love Packer’s quote above — if our prejudices… if our fixed routines… it we fit lazy expectations… if we favor one… then our style probably isn’t broad enough or rich enough to be God’s style of worship.

Thinking about worship isn’t about solving a problem like a math equation — it is much more like making an adjustment as in steering. The value is in the repetition. The value is in asking the question. The value is in recalibrating.

The Sound of Silence: White Christians & Race in America

Guest Post by Troy Jackson

One of the most provocative songs of the 1960s is Paul Simon’s “The Sound of Silence.” The haunting lyrics, which marginalize “the words of the prophets” to “subway walls and tenement halls” are poignant when it comes to white Christian engagement in the pains and struggles of African Americans. When it comes to bold prophetic leadership for racial justice, those looking for white Christian voices have, more often than not, been met with the Sound of Silence.

The need for white Christian engagement in racial justice is greater today than at any time since the 1960s, when Paul Simon’s tune hit the charts. Why do I say this? Well, as a pastor with a doctorate in US history coupled with several years working for racial and economic justice, I have arrived at a startling conclusion: The circumstances facing young people of color in the United States are the worst they have been since the age of Jim Crow.

Before you stop reading, let me share what I do not mean by this analysis:

  1. I am not saying that all white people and white Christians are racists. Many white Christians care deeply about racial justice and reconciliation. The intentionality around race within the white church continues to grow.
  2.  I am not suggesting that overt prejudice and racism are equivalent to what they were in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. By and large, we are far less likely to participate in racist behaviors, language, and practices than we were in the 1950s. Racial epitaphs are taboo in the public arena. And legal segregation is a thing of the past.
  3. I also recognize that opportunities for advancement for some people of color are greater than at any time in US History. This is most obvious in the realm of politics, where we have had an African American Attorney General, Secretary of State, and President within the last decade.

So what do I mean? Well, when it comes to outcomes and opportunities for African Americans, things are getting worse.

Gun violence continues to plague many urban neighborhoods, and the funerals of young children and teens are common-place in many neighborhoods where work and jobs have disappeared. When added to the deaths of unarmed African Americans like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and John Crawford III, many young people of color are wondering if black and brown lives even matter to our nation, and to our faith communities.

The staggering impact of mass incarceration adds to this sense of despair. As Michelle Alexander chronicles in The New Jim Crow, a racialized execution of the War on Drugs has in fact been a war on people of color, incarcerating African Americans at unprecedented rates: over 2 million people in the USA are in prison, roughly 7 times the number behind bars in 1980. And today, there are more African Americans under correctional control than were enslaved in 1850.

Almost any statistical indicator adds to the story of increased despair by people of color in this country. The unemployment rate for African Americans remains at least 2X that of whites. Increased efforts to restrict voting through voter ID bills and limiting early voting opportunities have disproportionately affected people of color. And we could go on and on with these disparities.

So how might we respond? Let me suggest four ways white Christians should engage the growing despair and pain of young people of color.

  1. Listen: We must build relationships with people of color, and honestly care about their experiences and perspectives. The goal should not be to seek approval or validation by people of color, or that we are somehow forgiven or absolved from our racialized history and participation in what is all too often a racist nation. We listen to understand.
  2. Learn: We need to become students of our history and care about the voices of people of color both now and in the past. I recently co-authored a book called Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith that explores the historic sins of the American Church, and includes a chapter on sins against African Americans. But don’t stop there. Read The New Jim Crow, Race Matters, by Cornel West and The Autobiography of Malcolm X and The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone. Taking time to learn demonstrates care and concern.
  3. Solidarity: Even if we do not fully understand or even agree with the perspectives and views of young people of color, we can stand with them as they struggle. We are called to mourn with those who mourn. Right now, young people of color are mourning. And we should take our mourning public, standing with them as they grieve and protest and work for justice.
  4. Justice: Sooner or later, we need to start deconstructing evil systems that conspire against people of color in this nation. We need to continue to respond to injustice with charity and development, and couple this with hard work to take on financial systems, justice systems, corporate systems, and political systems that benefit from injustice and work against people of color.

The call of Micah is not to simply reflect upon justice, but to do justice. This demands risk and true prophetic ministry. Jesus’ amazing love, grace, and justice demand an end to the days when the white church’s response to racial injustice amounts to “The Sound of Silence.”

Welcome Pete Kelley!

The Table Series Part I :: Jesus Eats with Sinners from Antioch Church on Vimeo.

Ben Lowe on Doing Good Without Giving Up

Ben Lowe is on staff with the Evangelical Environmental Network and serves as the national spokesperson for Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. Ben was raised a missionary kid in Southeast Asia and now lives in community in a refugee and immigrant neighborhood outside Chicago, where he ran for US Congress in 2010. He is a graduate of Wheaton College (IL) and the author of Doing Good Without Giving Up: Sustaining Social Action in a World That’s Hard to Change and Green Revolution: Coming Together to Care for Creation.

KW: What are some positive cultural trends you are seeing with regard to justice and justice work?

BL: It’s been exciting over the last decade to witness biblical justice become a much more mainstream and integral priority across many churches and campuses. In some hopeful ways and places, justice concerns are even transcending partisan politics and overcoming entrenched conservative/progressive stereotypes. Numerous books and resources are available to help ground and sustain this growth, along with important gatherings like the Justice Conference and groups such as the Christian Community Development Association. This is all tremendously encouraging.

KW: How do you think we’ve created an idol out of doing justice?

BL: There’s a whole chapter in the book about idolatry in our activism and advocacy. It takes on many different forms—I write about how we idolize ourselves, others, or even the cause—but whenever we set anything apart from or put anything ahead of God in our justice work, we know we’re off track. Jesus belongs at the center of all we are and do and our overriding goal is always to be faithful to him. Faithfulness is how we define success as followers of Christ, and out of faithfulness comes fruitfulness (see John 15:5).

KW: What are some of the practices you discuss for helping sustain Christ-centered justice?

BL: Each chapter in the second half of the book focuses on a particular practice or theme that has been an essential part of faithful activism and advocacy for me and others through the years. Topics include loving sacrificially, being prophetic, practicing contemplation, remembering the Sabbath, dealing with opposition, investing in community, and more. These aren’t quick tips or tricks, but rather are spiritual disciplines for all of us to intentionally cultivate over time.

KW: Can you illustrate how one of those practices has been helpful for you?

BL: In the book I share about an intense burnout experience and how my path to recovery included working with mentors and advisors to develop boundaries and start taking the Sabbath, contemplation, and community much more seriously. While these practices have all been instrumental in protecting me from further burnout, having a safety net of mentors and advisors to help catch me in the downward spiral was critical. We don’t run this race alone. Seeking out mentors who can help guide us in the work God is calling us to do, and the people God is calling us to become, is essential, life-giving, and often neglected.

KW: What is your role at EEN? What message would you like to give the church about creation care and justice?

BL: I help spearhead Young Evangelicals for Climate Action (YECAction.org) and am also involved in our growing collaborations with mission agencies, relief and development organizations, and other creation care groups. Caring for creation is an integral issue of biblical justice, a matter of life and health, and a joyful calling for all followers of Christ.

I pray in particular that God will give us the wisdom and courage to face up to the urgent moral, environmental, and humanitarian challenge of climate change. We have a prophetic opportunity here to live out the love of Christ by 1) helping communities prepare for what are now unavoidable impacts, and 2) building a moral movement that will accelerate the transformation from further climate pollution to a clean economy and environment. There are much better ways forward here and I believe God is calling us to bear witness to a better world, and to do our part to bring it about. To inspire hope against fear, speak truth to power, and pursue love against injustice.

KW: As a Christian, what is your encouragement to the church?

BL: It won’t always be like this. One day there will be no more need for activism and advocacy. Shalom will be restored, all things will be renewed, and God’s kingdom will be fully established among us. But until that day comes, let us not give up on doing and sharing God’s good work, for we know it’s not in vain. We may not be able to overcome sin on our own, but Christ has done that for us. And with the Holy Spirit’s help we can overcome the effects of sin—including injustice, suffering, and degradation—wherever it rears its ugly head. Greater is the one who indwells and leads us, than the one who wrecks havoc and despair in the world.

KW: What is your hope for those that read this book?

BL: To be encouraged and empowered to persevere in following God faithfully in all areas of life and mission—particularly in being salt and light together in this good but groaning world.

Did You Know?

Did you know that Halloween (All Hallows’ Eve) is the same day as Reformation Day? On that day in 1517 Martin Luther posted his famous 95 Theses (or issues) against the church of his day. That’s because on the next day, All Saints’ Day, a large collection of relics was going to be presented for the sale of indulgences that would go to help fund the building of St. Peter’s Basilica–it was exactly this system of indulgences that Martin Luther critiqued and rejected. So as an interesting twist in history, when we celebrate Halloween, we do it on a day that was one of the biggest turning points in church history.

What Are the Most Important Spiritual Practices for Westerners?

Thank You, Paul Crouse

Paul Crouse is a former Antioch intern by way of Moody Bible institute who is a good friend and has done a lot of art for The Justice Conference and Antioch over the last few years. He just blessed me with this new art (think Aslan) which is probably the coolest piece of art anyone has ever made me–except, of course, for the various drawings by my four girls on the side of my fridge! Thanks, Paul Crouse.

Peter Harris on Christ and Creation

Our friends Peter and Miranda Harris stopped by at Antioch this past Sunday and delivered what I thought was the best message given at Antioch in eight years.

Peter and Miranda co-founded A Rocha some three decades ago and it is now the largest international Christian Conservation group in the world operating in twenty countries.

Please take the time to watch the below, not only because Peter has a wonderful British accent, but because it is one of the most coherent and biblically reasoned talks on Creation you are likely to hear.

Peter Harris :: All Things Reconciled – Christ and Creation from Antioch Church on Vimeo.

Sabbath as Resistance: An Interview with Walter Brueggemann

One of the more unique prophetic voices for many pastors and leaders I know today is Old Testament professor Walter Brueggemann. Brueggemann has a profound and simple way of highlighting narrative threads in the Old Testament as well as a poetic ability to make the message of the prophets come alive today.

Walter Brueggemann is the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor Emeritus of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary. He is an ordained minister and the author of dozens of books and hundreds of articles.

(Not only that, but he’s one of the more interesting people you’ll ever meet!)

KW: In The Prophetic Imagination, you bridged the witness of the Old Testament prophets into a passionate critique of today’s dominant culture. How does Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now both continue and focus this program?

WB: My book Sabbath as Resistance continues the contemporary critique of Prophetic Imagination. I root Sabbath in Moses and the Decalogue both as resistance and as alternative to Pharaoh who allowed no Sabbath from production quotas. The refusal to define life by productive work is a mighty act of resistance against consumer culture and its commoditization.

KW: In your writings you talk of Empire in strong spiritual language. How do you explain modern empire to listeners so the theological and cultural significance of your message is clear?

WB: I think “empire” should be expressed and is experienced as a “totalism” that monopolizes the political economy, all technology, and all imagination via control of the media. Empire allows nothing outside its domain as is evident in control of the news. Among us empire is not a nation state (not even the USA), but is the market ideology that controls everything. The NFL is the liturgic performance of that empire that ends, predictably, in violence.

KW: Often, modern listeners think of the Old Testament purely in terms of law or archaic thinking. How do you counter this so as to awaken imagination and draw out contemporary relevance in your writings?

WB: All of my writings work at showing the contemporary relevance the biblical text. To overcome such a caricature of the Old Testament, all one has to do is to read the text, most especially the poetry of the prophets and the Psalms. Prophetic poetry in Hosea, Jeremiah, and II Isaiah focuses on the pathos of God.  I think the caricature is based on a misreading of Paul in Romans and Galatians.

KW: What is your favorite Old Testament passage in terms of direct prophetic relevance to modern culture and why?

WB: The best summary text I know on the prophets is Jeremiah 9:23-24; it offers two competing triads, “wealth, might, and wisdom” or “steadfast love, justice, and righteousness.”  The choice between these two triads is the burden of the prophets and the freedom of the gospel.

KW: The subtitle of Sabbath as Resistance is “saying no to the culture of now.” What do you feel are the unique dangers of our globalized and technological world and how does Sabbath provide a counter-narrative or corrective?

WB: The danger of globalized technology is to reduce everything and everyone to a commodity that can be used, administered, and given a price tag. Sabbath is an insistence that we and all others are neighbors, not commodities.

KW: How would you sum up or describe the underlying aim or goal of your extensive writing to the church?

WB: My continuing insistence in my work is that life is possible outside the domain of Pharaoh when it is lived according to the gospel of neighborly covenant. But that requires not simply personal resolve; it also requires a radically altered economic and political practice so that social relationships of another kind become normative.

KW: What charge would you give to next generation leaders passionate about rethinking and reimagining the world through theological lenses?

WB: My charge would be to develop a well-informed critical capacity in order to see that what we regard as “given” in our society is in fact a construct. When recognized as a construct, alternatives become imaginable and possible.

Searching for a Prophet


Photo Credit: Adam Csider Photography

“Christianity did not come in order to develop the heroic virtues in the individual but rather to remove the selfishness. It is not a matter of improving yourself up to a certain maximum. Why, this can so easily be nothing but selfishness and pride.” Soren Kierkegaard

One of the struggles I have with writing is that it is a better tool for communicating self, thoughts, feelings, struggles and desires than it is of removing self. It is hard to be truly self-negating with a pen in one’s hand.

Writing is, in many respects, a mechanism by which we assert ourselves no matter how meek the tone.

Accordingly, I find myself drawn these days to quiet leaders. There is so much noise, so many ever-present voices, leaders and writers that the solitary figure going about their business in quiet captures my imagination.

These days, I’m not looking to hear one more opinion or read one more post.  Rather, I am looking for the one who has gone to the wilderness and has the authority to cut through the noise and say something that will have relevance for twenty years.

I don’t know about you, but my eyes are searching for a prophet.

But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there no longer a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?” 1 Kings 22:7

Antioch Turns 8

This past Sunday, Antioch celebrated our 8th birthday! We asked everyone to submit some of their favorite memories from their time in the community and this Sunday several of our long-time members read aloud the highlights below:

My favorite memory is…

Family communion night. Vulnerable speakers.

Watching the church body celebrate with me when I got baptized.

My second Sunday in Bend over 4 years ago when I sat in an Antioch service. I was so much in need of friends and a community and I knew I had found it in Antioch.

Watching kids, then adults play greased watermelon football at Crescent Lake church camp this year!

Antioch means changed lives–the many testimonies recently of people who have been impacted by our church.

Meeting my husband at the first Justice Conference! We were both volunteers.

The morning Ken said, “Care enough about truth to go deep with it” close to five years ago.

The announcement that Antioch has contributed over $400,000 to Bend schools.

Any time Micah grabs the mic…good times right there.

Our family’s favorite tradition of Christmas Eve Services at the Tower Theatre.

Bonfires at kinship.

Art Sundays.

Worship with Justin Lavik and Grace.

Hosting an intern for the summer and the lasting friendship it has brought our family.

Aaron Wells telling stories on stage and for the kids.

Randy Jacobs’s testimony about the birth of the mobile medical van ministry in Central Oregon.

The launch of The Justice Conference.

The closeness of our home group and how we support each other.

Seeing Linda’s smile and energy each week as we bring our children to Antioch Kids.

Having my life changed in a Kilns College class.

Watching my 10 year old daughter be baptized in the Deschutes.

Breaking bread with fellow Antioch members in home group: fellowship, food, fun!

Settlers of Catan late at night, Risk, and making some really good friends.

Richard Twiss visiting July 2012 – perspective matters! What an incredible human.

Walking into the movie theater eight years ago. I knew then it was the place for my family.

From the staff: Getting to welcome 170 interns into our family from over 40 colleges and universities; watching our online Redux videos travel all over the world, garnering over 1.5 million views; and baptizing 150 people in the Deschutes River.

It was really cool to see a lot of the corollaries to the original Antioch Dream that we wrote before the church was planted in 2006. 

Antioch at Eight Years from Antioch Church on Vimeo.

Joshua Ryan Butler on The Skeletons in God’s Closet

Joshua Ryan Butler serves as pastor of local and global Outreach at Imago Dei Community, a church in the heart of Portland, Oregon, where he enjoys helping people who wrestle with some of the tough topics of the Christian faith. Joshua oversees the church’s city ministries in areas like foster care, human trafficking and homelessness and develops international partnerships in areas like clean water, HIV-support and church planting. He is the author of The Skeletons in God’s Closet: The Mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgment, the Hope of Holy War. You can connect with him on Twitter @butlerjosh and online at www.joshuaryanbutler.com.

KW: You call the tough topics of the Christian faith “the skeletons in God’s closet”—can you explain what you mean by this?

JB: Totally. I’ve found many of us fear God is hiding “skeletons in the closet,” tough topics like hell, judgment and holy war that, if we opened the closet doors (our bibles) and looked more closely, we’re afraid we’d find that God is not truly good or worthy of our trust.

But we often feel this way, I’ve come to believe, because we have a caricature of what the gospel actually says. Popular caricatures in our culture—and in our churches—make God look like a sadistic torturer, a cold-hearted judge or a genocidal maniac . . . rather than a good and loving God.

I’ve wrestled with these topics over the years, and talked with countless others who struggle with them too. So I wanted to help folks grappling with them by “throwing open the closet doors,” so to speak, to pull these bones out into the open and exchange the popular caricatures for the beauty and power of the real thing.

When we do, I believe we discover these were never really skeletons at all . . . but proclamations of a God who is good “in his very bones,” not just in what he does, but in who he is.

So my biggest hope is to help us reclaim a confidence in the goodness of God—not in spite of these topics, but actually through them.

KW: You mention wrestling with these topics personally. What did that look like in your own life?

JB: Back in college, I had a radical encounter with Jesus that turned my life upside-down (or perhaps better yet, right-side up). I remember sharing this experience with a friend in the dorms, and his immediate response was, “So do you think I’m going to hell now?”

I wasn’t sure how to respond. I hadn’t brought up hell. I wasn’t even thinking about it. I wasn’t looking for the questions, but they found me.

Shortly after, I worked on the Navajo reservation supporting a traditional community of indigenous shepherds in a land-rights case against a multi-billion dollar international mining company. I began learning more about the many injustices my country had perpetuated against native peoples: the unending string of broken treaties, the massacres and forced migrations, the manipulation and coercion used to get what we wanted for as little as possible in return.

And like a black eye in the middle of it all was Manifest Destiny, an ideology of the 18th century that drew upon imagery from Old Testament holy war to justify mistreatment of native peoples, as if we were a new Israel conquering a new Canaan.

I was angry at this picture. It’s bad enough to say, “We knocked you down”; even worse to say, “God gave us the punch.” Talk about adding insult to injury: America’s historic declaration that God was driving the train that ran over native peoples.

And I began to wonder: what was going on with holy war in the Old Testament? Why did God tell Israel to take out Canaan? Did I want to follow a God who commanded his people to destroy the indigenous inhabitants of the land?

My gut was telling me I’d rather side with the Navajo.

KW: So how did you start to find resolution?

JB: As I began reading the bible with these questions in mind, I found something strange happening: it didn’t freak me out. It didn’t talk about these topics the same way many people, including church people, talked about them.

Perhaps most surprisingly, it actually inspired me. Whereas the popular caricatures brought confusion, Jesus brought conviction; they inspired hubris, Jesus inspired hope. The bible talked about holy war in a way that didn’t justify my country’s treatment of native peoples; it systematically critiqued and confronted it.

I think the concept of a caricature is helpful, because they do contain features of the original. But they’re often blown up or way out of proportion: President Obama’s ears are way too big, Aunt Cindy’s grin is way too wide, Marilyn Monroe’s . . . well, you get the picture.

But a caricature would never pass for a photograph. If you were to take your driver’s license and replace the photo with a caricature, the police officer pulling you over would either laugh . . . or arrest you.

Placed next to a photograph, a caricature looks like a humorous, or even hideous, distortion of the real thing.

Similarly, caricatures of these tough topics do contain features of the original. One doesn’t have to look too far in the biblical story to find that hell has flames, holy war has fighting, judgment brings us face-to-face with God.

But all we have to do is start asking questions: Where do the flames come from, and what are they doing? Who is doing the fighting, and how are they winning? Why does God judge the world, and what basis does he use for judgment?

Questions like these quickly reveal that our popular caricatures are like cartoons: good for us to laugh at, but not to live by.

KW: These topics often seem abstract or distant to us. When you say “live by,” do you find them practical for life today?

JB: Yes, we often think of these matters as more relevant to a fairy-tale world of dragons and monsters, kings and magic trees, fiery furnaces and epic battles. Fairy tales are fun but for another world, right?

In the book, however, I try and demonstrate how these topics are much more at home in our everyday world than we might think. Our world is torn apart by the destructive power of hell today, breaking at the seams and longing for God’s redemption. Our empires rage upon the earth, seeking to rule without God, and people around the world are crying out for God’s kingdom to come, longing for worship rather than autonomy, justice rather than rebellion, communion rather than independence.

In the book, we relate these topics to issues as wide-ranging as sex trafficking and genocide, American democracy and Third World dictatorships, modern suburbs and social media. We travel to places as diverse as Nigeria, China, and my hometown of Portland, Oregon; from Boston high-rises and the heights of the global economy to Brazilian cardboard shanties and displaced slums in the developing world.

We explore the cultural longings embodied in our fairy tales and the historical longings embodied in our war stories. We have respectful conversations with Buddhism, Islam, and atheism. We visit history from World War II to the European colonization of the Southern Hemisphere to the ancient Roman Empire.

And on the way, we deal with pedophile priests, cancer surgeries, pub rockers, home makeovers, and unruly wedding crashers.

Buckle your seatbelt; we’re in for a ride.

KW: What is your biggest hope for those who read this book?

JB: That we can reclaim together a greater confidence in the goodness of God.

The central theme and driving message of the book is that God is good. Not just a little bit good. Not just partially good. Not just sometimes good and sometimes not. But extravagantly, mercifully, gloriously, better-than-we-can-ask-or-imagine good.

There is a refrain one can often hear in churches that proclaims loudly and boldly, “God is good—all the time!” That is the refrain of the book.

Even in the tough topics—perhaps especially in the tough topics—all the time, God is good.

You can check out the book trailer here.

Before the Revolution

I love this quote by the late theologian Richard Niebuhr.

“Institutions can never conserve without betraying the movements from which they proceed. The institution is static, whereas its parent movement has been dynamic; it confines men within its limits, while the movement had liberated them from the bondage of institutions; it looks to the past, [although] the movement had pointed forward. Though in content the institution resembles the dynamic epoch whence it proceeded, in spirit it is like the [state] before the revolution. So the Christian church, after the early period, often seemed more closely related in attitude to the Jewish synagogue and the Roman state than to the age of Christ and his apostles; its creed was often more like a system of philosophy than like the living gospel.” H. Richard Niebuhr

One of the constant struggles I have with Antioch and Kilns College is the tension between creating an effective and efficient structure on the business side and keeping the raw energy and loose vibe of the movement side.

If these endeavors ever stall out and settle into only institutional frameworks, I don’t want to be involved.

If the Spirit of God is moving and people are being changed and influenced there has to be an element of spontaneity, randomness, big thinking and huge risks. The movement leads to passionate people giving their lives and time away as volunteers simply because they see God’s hand at work.

May the church today be less “like a system of philosophy than like the living gospel.”

What It Feels Like When You’re Drowning (A Message on Psalm 27)

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked advance against me
to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes
who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then I will be confident.

One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted
above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear my voice when I call, Lord;
be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
Your face, Lord, I will seek.
Do not hide your face from me,
do not turn your servant away in anger;
you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
God my Savior.
Though my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will receive me.
Teach me your way, Lord;
lead me in a straight path
because of my oppressors.
Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
spouting malicious accusations.

I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.

What It Feels Like When You’re Drowning (A Message on Psalm 27) from Antioch Church on Vimeo.

Messages from Antioch Church

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