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The Grand Paradox Media Resources


Thank you for your interest in The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God and the Necessity of Faith. This book represents many of the lessons I’ve learned, experiences that have shaped me, and ideas on faith that I want to leave to my own children as well as others with the opportunity that this book affords. I’m humbled and grateful for your willingness to support this project and pray that I may be able to return the blessing some day. Below are items some items that may be helpful in the creation of blogs, online reviews, and social media posts. If there is something you’re looking for that you don’t see below, please email me.

Ken and team

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Sample Social Media Posts

Just finished my pre-copy of #TheGrandParadox by @kjwytsma and it was a phenomenal read. Get your copy today:

.@kjwytsma #TheGrandParadox was INCREDIBLE! Blogged about it here: [insert link]

Idealized faith? You want actual faith. Check out #TheGrandParadox by @kjwytsma:

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Englewood Review of Books: Top 50 Books for Christian Readers to Watch for in 2015

RELEVANT Magazine: 12 Books We’re Excited About This Year

Small Group Resources

A small group discussion guide, parent guide, and video resources are available here.


Super short:
Ken Wytsma is a teacher, entrepreneur and author. He is the founder of The Justice Conference and president of Kilns College, as well as the author of Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things, and most recently, The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God and the Necessity of Faith — a contemporary guide to the pursuit of God.

Ken Wytsma is a thought leader and sought after speaker on faith and culture who has taught at church, universities, and conferences around the world.

A gifted communicator, Ken is known for his transparent and easy style, passion for wrestling with tough questions, and ability to help others understand their world and faith in new and relevant ways.

Ken is the lead pastor of Antioch in Bend, Oregon and the president of Kilns College where he teaches courses on philosophy and justice. Ken is also the founder of The Justice Conference–an annual international gathering that introduces men and women to a wide range of organizations and conversations related to biblical justice and the call to give our lives away.

Ken lives in Bend, Oregon with his wife, Tamara, and their four daughters.


Foreword by Eugene Cho

I’m humbled and blessed to have had someone I respect deeply, Eugene Cho, write a foreword for my new book The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God and the Necessity of Faith. Eugene is a first-rate thinker and writer, but more than that he’s a pastor with a tender heart. There are different kinds of forewords—some are long endorsements and others that lack passion. In contrast, Eugene put time and energy into creating a passionate piece of writing that, not only endorses, but adds to the quality of the manuscript as a whole. Below is an excerpt from Eugene’s forward and I can’t wait for you to be able to read it in its entirety.

We all know that there are books out there that give us 99 steps for this, 40 days for that, 7 ways for farther here, or 3 steps for deeper there.

This kind of nicely packaged formula sells because well, there’s a market for such nicely, packaged formulas. We yearn for our lives and our world to be neatly seasoned for our appetites and our desires for order and dare I say, control. Yes, we even want our God to fit nicely in our compartments, categories, and boxes for us to fully understand and perhaps, even manipulate.

Ken Wytsma doesn’t provide easy steps, pat answers, or a systematic approach. If that’s what you’re looking for, keep looking. It’s not convenient or palatable. It’s not a book that gives you clear directions – like a step by step spiritual GPS…

What kind of book is this? It’s a gut check. An honest look in the mirror. It’s one of those books that says, “Whatever. Let’s just try to put everything on the table… knowing that the table will still be messy when it’s done.”

You can pre-order a copy of the book on Amazon.

Tony Kriz on God’s Hiddenness

Tony Kriz hopes, through words both written and spoken, to give people permission to authentically feel/speak/struggle and to honestly express their faith-filled affections. He has a Doctorate of Ministry in Leadership and Spiritual Formation and teaches in colleges and universities around the country on topics of authentic faith, spiritual formation, cultural integration, cross-spiritual communication, and sacred friendship. He is the author of Neighbors and Wise Men and the recently released Aloof: Figuring Out Life with a God Who Hides.

KW: Why did you choose to write ALOOF?  Why the topic of God’s hiddenness?

TK: I have spent my life asking (and trying to live through) the questions that many people in religious spheres aren’t somehow willing or able to ask.  My last book dealt with the issue, “how non-Christians can be God’s voice in our lives.”

Before I ever wrote a word of ALOOF, I brought up the topic of God’s hiddenness often… and when I did, I was got this response: first a moment of confusion, the person’s face expressing, “are you allowed to ask that?”  Then their face would soften and their eyes would almost plead, “Would you please write about that?”

Then, when my 3-year-old nephew contracted inoperable cancer I knew, for my own spiritual sanity, I had to process, “How do I figure out life with a God who hides?”

KW: Why do you think there is so much confusion about how we hear from and experience God as Christians in America?

TK: This is a many-layered question and ultimately the answer is way above my pay-grade.  Here is some of what I have witnessed:

Generally, I am not sure our collective faith is very strong at all.  In religious circles we seem to feel the need to prop-up our faith with flowery or triumphalistic speech.  Pastors, writers and media personalities tell us that God “speaks” to them every week, then the rest of us are left with the need to emulate them, so we sound just as spiritual.

This leads to a culture of pretending.  Part of our problem is many people don’t feel free or like they have been allowed to process their stumbling faith honestly.

Where can we go to process our faith authentically?  And where will we find the vocabulary/metaphors to express it?

That is why I wrote ALOOF.

KW: What is the big deal with epiphanies?

TK: I think all transformative learning comes through epiphany.  It comes through the Aha moment.  They are the lessons that sneak up on us.  And they almost always feel like they come from outside of us, outside of our normal internal dialogue.

That is not to say that we cannot contribute to the epiphany process.  Quite the opposite.  Some people live just the sort of life that leaves them open and begging for the Aha to come.  Epiphanies, most often, happen when we are off balance.  It is those moments that feel like… like when you were a kid and you tried to walk along the top of a fence OR the first time you stepped out on a stage to give a speech.  Off-balance moments.

If you want epiphanies, here are a few practices anybody can implement.

  • More risk: take on a project that is way outside your comfort zone.
  • Travel:  this does not necessary mean going to Uganda.  There are places that are only a bike ride away that might as well be on another planet.
  • Embrace the “Other”: Our culture steers us to surround ourselves with people who look just like we do… vote like us, read like us, drive like us, spend like us, believe like us.  Befriend folks that are wholly different than you: racially, culturally, economically, philosophically, spiritually, age.

These are just some of the practices that dare epiphanies to come.

KW: Can you summarize how you think orchestrated epiphanies contributed to your spiritual journey and the way you’ve seen them impact others?

TK: I have been the surprise recipient of more than my share of epiphany-saturated experiences.  I lived with a Muslim family in the Muslim world for two years.  I worked as a chaplain at Reed College (the smartest, most liberal and least religious college in the US) for 3 years. My family has been submitted to multi-racial inner-city leadership.  We have been living for ten yeas in a multi-cultural, multi-class communal household. It has been a great life.

I did not set out wanting to do any of these things.  I literally stumbled into each one. I am convinced that Jesus led us.

One of my ways of protecting myself (if left to myself) is to narrow my perspectives, so they are small enough that I can control them.  When I fully invite the “other”, in a spirit of risk, that self-controlled narrowness softens, opens up and eventually shatters.

KW: How did you grow through the process of writing this book? How has it continued to shape your spiritual walk?

TK: It is a process that I call “narrative spiritual formation.”  It can happen out loud, through conversation, or, in this case, it happeed through the writing process.  What I do is I ask my life a question and then, through mediation, I identify all of the narratives (stories) from my journey that most contribute to that question. I often don’t even know WHY those stories are important, I just know that they are… It is like my soul knows before my brain has had a chance to figure it out.

In the case of ALOOF, I asked myself, “What are my experiences around God’s suspicious presence and maddening absences?”

Through the gift of writing each story, I discover the lessons or themes those experiences left buried deep inside me.  Many of those themes are in fact lies, long clung-to lies, which though as yet unidentified, had daily affected my life with God.

KW: What advice do you have for people who are searching for God but feel they are waiting in a long gap of hearing from God?

TK: First, and this is really, really important:  You are not crazy.  There is not something wrong with you.  You are not alone.  In fact the vast majority of the Christian experience throughout human history was spent in relative silence.  The vast majority of Biblical characters lived their whole lives with zero or very few ecstatic, tangible or otherworldly encounters with God.  Our problem is we need to stop pretending like we have been promised a God who prattles at us every day.

Second, go back and reread my thoughts on epiphanies and…

  • Try some risk.
  • Experiment with a Christian tradition that feels foreign.
  • Meditate (or “centering prayer” if you are more comfortable with that term).
  • Beg God to help you.
  • Make a friend that is nothing like you and argue with them about faith, culture, purpose and hope.

Hope Will Find You (When You Least Expect It)

Guest Post by John Sowers

I recently sat with forty inner-city children around a Christmas Tree. The children are part of a gang-prevention mentoring program. I sat among friends like Jacob and Jill and Tanner and Bruce and Jed and Marcus, who came to The Mentoring Project and said they wanted to help.

Heroes like Wayland and Ashley and TG were there, police officers working behind the scenes with the FACT program, giving troubled kids a second chance.

Each child was called to the Christmas tree.

There they received a personalized gift. Then, they named someone whom they would give a present. Here were some of their gifts:

I would give my father a puppy, because he lives alone and needs someone to love him. – Carlos, 9

I would give my grandmother a younger life, so she could be around longer and love me. – Liza, 10

I would give something special to my mentor, Mrs. Michelle, because she helps me and is always by my side. – Tasha, 12

I would give a father-and-son trip to my dad, so I could spend time with him. – Tanner, 15

Each child opened their soul to a dream.

These were pure, unfiltered, bright dreams. The light of these pure dreams warmed the room. There were beautifully awkward pauses, filled with emotion, as each child reached somewhere deep to pull out their small offering of hope.

After each child shared, they went back to their seat and were swarmed with hugs and high fives. As if the other children instinctively knew to say, “It’s okay. It’s okay.”

It was beautiful. Children cried. Adults cried too.

One adult stood up and tried to speak. “I love your dreams” was all she could say, and then she was overtaken with emotion. Without hesitation, the nearest child leapt to her feet and embraced her.

“You need a hug,” the girl said.

But I came to the Christmas party torn. I sat there filled with sadness and rage over the breaking news of the Peshawar children—the bloody shoe that could fit my daughters foot. The Sydney shootings. #ICantBreathe. Ferguson Riots. Don’t Shoot. Tamir Rice.

I was overwhelmed by the senseless horror of it all.

I didn’t feel like being at a Christmas party, wearing an ugly sweater, drinking egg nog or opening presents. This idea of Christmas felt shallow and meaningless and insensitive and hopeless. I was losing my grip on the delicate fabric of hopeful dreams, and was becoming Langston Hughes’ “broken-winged bird.”

But I found something that night. Or perhaps, something found me.

Something beautiful was coming from the mouths of these children: Hope. Their stories were laced with hope. Hope filled their pure-heart dreams. Hope was seen in their smiles and comforts. Hope in their potential, in their future, in their now.

The whispers of hope are louder than the gunshots of reckless evil. The flowers of hope blooms over the ashes of bombed-out rubble. And the songs of hope hum quietly in the fragile dreams of children, against the dissonance of terrorism and insanity.

There’s hope.

We see the madness of today and hope for a better tomorrow. We don’t know exactly how to hope or how to express it. But whether we realize it or not, we all hope and wait for Hope to return. This is our potent hope. That beyond us and bigger than us is a coming newness. A newness too powerful to imagine or express, a newness found in the fragile dreams of hopeful children. This new year, may we live in light of the hope that found us.

Re-Post: An Interview with Shane Claiborne

I’ve been doing interviews on the blog for the last few years. Interviews are an amazing way to spotlight people, ideas and often the books that intrigue me.

The interview that garnered the most positive response, by far, is the conversation below with Shane Claiborne.

Shane is one of the better humans whom I know–and everyone would think the same if they had the chance to see his heart. That is what I love about his answers below–they drip with passion.

Take a second to read this one through in case you missed it before.

Shane Claiborne is an author and the visionary leader of The Simple Way, a faith community in inner city Philadelphia that has helped birth and connect radical faith communities around the world. His adventures have taken him from the streets of Calcutta where he worked with Mother Teresa, to the suburbs of Chicago where he served with Willow Creek. His latest book which he co-wrote with Tony Campolo is called Red Letter Revolution.

KW: How does your new book Red Letter Revolution seek to resolve the conflict between Christian’s lives and Jesus’ words?

SC: The subtitle of the book captures things well: “What if Jesus Really Meant the Stuff He Said?” Tony and I simply dare our readers to re-read the Gospels, those words in red in many of our Bibles, and ask ourselves, what if Jesus meant that? Sell what you have and give it to the poor. Love your enemies. Do not worry about tomorrow but live like the lilies and the sparrows. You do start to say, if I were to do that my life would be ruined. Maybe that’s the point—lose your life if you want to find it. There are three sections of the book—one on theology, one on lifestyle, and one on worldview. But one thing that’s really important is that we aren’t pretending to have it all figured out…we aren’t pretending to be perfect. And that is one of the points in the book—people are not looking for Christians who are perfect. They’re looking for Christians who are honest. And part of the problem is we haven’t been honest about our struggles, hypocrisies and contradictions. The question isn’t whether or not Christians are hypocrites. The question is do we have room for another hypocrite in our church? And how might my own hypocrisies become a little less tomorrow than they are today?

KW: The book is written as a dialogue with you and your friend Tony Campolo. How does the conversational nature of the book shape the message you bring about justice and evangelical Christianity?

SC: The rabbis of old used to insist that we don’t learn through monologue, but through dialogue. Sometimes a student would ask, “What’s 2 plus 2?” and the rabbi would answer with a question, “What’s 16 divided by 4?” just to keep the conversation going. So the book is a rich, intergenerational conversation about what it means to be faithful followers of Jesus. Tony and I are not the same and we don’t agree on anything. I have more hair, and better style.  And we don’t agree on everything—one of the things we suggest is that a lost art of Christians is being able to disagree well.  And just as important as being right is being nice.

KW: What do you think is the single greatest justice issue missed by the majority of the church in America?

SC: It’s impossible to say gun violence is more important than immigration or either of those are more important than abortion or the death penalty. Any issue of human suffering matters infinitely to God. Having said that, I think one of the most urgent needs among Christians is a consistent ethic of life. Alot of folks who say they are pro-life are really just against abortion. To be pro-life from the womb to the tomb shapes the way that we think on all of these issues. And Jesus came to give life. He is life. His resurrection is an interruption of death and a triumph over suffering.

In a world riddled with war and violence, where gun violence kills 10,000 people a year in the US, where the death penalty kills dozens a year to try and show that killing is wrong, and where military spending is over 20,000 a second, where we have the capacity of 100,000 hiroshimas in our arsenal… it is time for a movement of Christians to consistently get in the way of death, and interrupt the patterns of violence with the love we see on the cross as it stares evil in the face.

The culture wars of our parents have left us polarized by party platforms and paralyzed between imperfect options—neither Republicans nor Democrats have a very consistent ethic of life. But perhaps we are on the cusp of a new movement—that is passionate about life—from the cradle to the grave.

Convinced that every human life is breathed upon by God and stamped with God’s image, we are ready for a movement of Christians who insist on protecting life in all its dazzling forms. This consistent ethic of life permeates and impacts every social issue—from abortion to militarism, from poverty to immigration, from capital punishment to gun control. I hope that we can decrease and eliminate abortion, embrace the immigrant and orphan, end the death penalty in the US, see poor people cared for, militaries turn their weapons into farm tools and life cultivated.

KW: As you travel and speak with different groups what questions do you find you get asked most often and what does this indicate to you about the nature of conversation about justice?

SC: I got a letter that said, “I find myself very lonely—with unbelieving activists on one side and inactive believers on the other.” I think alot of Christians who are engaging issues of justice can begin to feel lonely. Sometimes it can even feel like we have more in common with folks who are not Christian than we do with some of the folks who do identify as Christian. When Christians have often become known more for what they are against than what they are for, and for who they have excluded rather than who they have embraced it can be disheartening. But the answer to bad theology is not no theology—the answer to bad theology is good theology. The best critique of bad Christianity is good Christianity.

We cannot let the haters hijack the headlines—with stories of burning the Koran, holding signs that say God hates fags, and all that ugly stuff. We have to sing a better song. We have to create stories that make the headlines for love, for peace, for justice.  I think we are in the midst of a beautiful renewal in the Church, and the Justice Conference is a clear manifestation of that—there are thousands of us, maybe even millions—who want a Christianity that looks like Jesus again. We want to be known, as Jesus said we would be known—by our love. We are not willing to just use our faith as a ticket into heaven and an excuse to ignore the world we live in. We are not willing to be so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good. Our faith fuels us to engage the world we live in—to bring heaven to earth.

After all it’s not just about going to heaven when we die, but about bringing heaven to earth as we live. Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

KW: Who are the people who have had the greatest influence on the development of your life and ministry?

SC: There are so many.  Some are dead—St. Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Rich Mullins, Martin Luther King. And there are others who are still around—like John Perkins, he’s been like a grandfather to us. I keep finding new heroes, like Maireed McGuire who won the Nobel Peace Prize—I went to Kabul with her this year.  There are tons of folks who have influenced me whose names folks would not recognize—some of them live on my block or on the streets. One is our 80-year old wild nun in Philly, Sr. Margaret. I’ve gone to jail with her a dozen times for protesting injustice (if you get arrested, I think it’s good to have a nun by your side).  Oh, and of course good ol’ Tony Campolo. He’s been like a spiritual dad to me.

KW: Who are three emerging leaders most Christians might not know but should be aware of?

SC: There are so many I don’t even know where to start. Actually I do—go to our website and you’ll find dozens and dozens of incredible leaders, speakers, and writers. Tony and I have interviews on the site with some incredible folks—from death penalty lawyers to folks that grew up as Compassion Int’l sponsored kids and are now changing the world. You’ll find all sorts of folks who are making sure that we don’t divorce Jesus from Justice. And part of what we do is remind each other that we are not crazy. Or if we are crazy, at least we are not alone. As Peter Maurin once said, “If I am crazy it’s because I refuse to be crazy the way that the world has gone crazy.”

Why We Create Out of Brokenness

Guest Post by Andrea Lucado

I’m in a women’s class at my church on Thursday mornings. We’re studying the book Waking Up Grey, which is all about waking up your creativity. As I sat in class last week, I looked around and noticed several women crying. They were just sitting there, letting tears run down hardly wiping them away. They looked like the broken kind of tears. You know what I’m talking about? The times that you cry at little to no prompting but you can’t stop it because you just feel mushy inside and like nothing is working and you’re questioning everything? Who you are, what you’re doing. Seriously, am I headed anywhere in this life? That kind of crying.

I’m not a big public crier but even I have teared up in this class while sharing parts of my story. Last week as I looked at the other women crying, I wondered why we all felt the need to take this class on creativity in our broken states of self. Why do we feel the need to create out of brokenness?

I posed this question to my sister and her/our friend who stayed with me over the weekend. My sister made a really good point: Creating your art takes a ton, like, all the vulnerability you can muster, and when you’re in a broken phase of life, you are at your most vulnerable.

I lived in denial of my own brokenness for a long while, until I was 26 years old. Then, I went through a hard time. It was similar to other hard times I’ve had in which I was trying to fix my problem by doing and remaining busy. I went home for Christmas in the middle of this and during our Christmas Eve service at my home church, my other sister (I have very wise sisters) leaned over to me and said something simple that changed it all. She said I didn’t have to be strong anymore. That I didn’t have to hold it together and I could just rest in God’s lap, take a deep breath and rest.

That was it, the beginning of my broken journey. The first time I cried broken tears was right there smack dab in the middle of the church I grew up in yet never allowed myself to be vulnerable or honest in. I cried for the rest of the service and my extended family was concerned and people were looking at me funny because it’s Christmas and everyone is happy but God was breaking me and I couldn’t stop the tears.

Coincidentally, or not coincidentally, this was when the desire that I’ve always had to write began to overwhelm me. So much so that I knew, finally, writing was what I needed to pursue in a serious way and not in a dabbly kind of way. Many of the women in my creativity class are feeling this overwhelming desire too, though, to different degrees of seriousness. This is completely fine because creating is something we all must do whether we’re making money at it or not. Creating is spending an afternoon decorating your living room as much as it is writing a book. It’s making a card for a friend and it’s performing spoken word poetry.

I think I have so much more to learn on this creating out of brokenness thing. What I’m seeing in it now is that creating is best and most natural when it comes from the vulnerable state and true vulnerability isn’t possible until you’ve felt that broken mushy feeling on the inside, until you’ve realized that you are indeed nothing and can do nothing outside of Christ. It can make us feel so weak, but I think what can come out of it is stronger than anything we create from a place of certainty and confidence. Rather than waiting for the brokenness to subside, use it, and see what comes out.

*NEW ANTIOCH SERIES* Lessons from the Desert

The desert is metaphor throughout Scripture for scarcity, real or imagined.  Deserts can be spiritual, emotional, financial, etc. – places where our perceived lack of abundance produces anxiety and brings out the worst in us.  It’s the place where all is stripped away and we are reduced to the basic elements of trust.  As much as we resist the desert, God uses it as a purifying pathway to produce mature faith in us.

* New series begins January 4th at Antioch in Bend, online or via podcast


UPS just delivered 100 first run copies of #TheGrandParadox to our doorstep (2 weeks earlier than expected!)

About a dozen friends helped make this two-year project a reality. It wouldn’t be near as good without their help and encouragement. Thank you Ben Larson, Rick Gerhardt, Tabitha Sikich and Emily Hill.

Also blessed by Don Jacobson and Thomas Nelson (Matt, Adria, Kristi and gang) for taking me on.

Books hit bookshelves wherever books are sold and ship from Barnes and Noble or Amazon by the launch date of January 27th. I’d be honored if you could help by pre-ordering now or signing up to be a part of the Book Launch Team for a free book and perks using the fields below.

Photo Credit: my photographer wife Tamara who took the delivery and made the book seem much cooler with the help of Ashlin!

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Tyler Braun on Why Holiness Matters + A Giveaway

Tyler Braun is a writer, worship leader, and pastor from Oregon where he lives with his wife Rose and son Judah. Tyler writes about Millennials, God, faith, church, and theology and has been featured in various publications, such as Relevant Magazine and Christianity Today. He is the author of Why Holiness Matters: We’ve Lost our Way–But We Can Find it Again.

**If you’d like to enter to win a copy of Tyler’s book Why Holiness Matters, please respond in the comments section and I’ll choose a winner by January 9th! Please be sure to include your email address.**

KW: How would you best describe the holiness of God?

TB: When I first heard the term “mysterium tremendum et fascinans” (fearful and fascinating mystery) it seemed, to me, the best used in describing God’s holiness. Rudolf Otto brought this idea to light in the early 1900s, and I think it captures the essence of God’s holiness.

God is fascinating in that his holiness pushed him closer to us, becoming God-incarnate, through Jesus. God is fearful because he has wrath for those who are disobedient. And all this is surrounded by mystery, meaning we cannot fully grasp God (“his ways are not our ways”).

KW: Is holiness primarily an individual venture or corporate venture?

TB: Easily the most overlooked piece of pursuing holiness is it’s corporate need, but holiness should be seen as both an individual and corporate venture. I say both because in the Scriptures we see God act in wrath against disobedience toward both groups and individuals (examples being Uzzah and the Ark, Ananias and Sapphirah, and the cities of Sodom and Gommorah). Similarly, our lives cannot be so easily cut up into individual and corporate pieces. God sees it all and wants us to be allowing his holiness to shape us in an individual sense and corporate sense.

KW: What should churches be doing to connect with more Millennials?

TB: My worry when people ask this question is that they’ll build a church dead-set on reaching a certain age group, and in the process they end up becoming a store dispensing goods for Millennials. That’s a vision of church I don’t find to be compelling.

I think at their core Millennials desire to be known and to know. Meaning they want to have a piece of the pie. I’m not talking about handing over all the decision making power in your church to them, I’m talking about extending a genuine hand of friendship and allow that to lead to a deeper connection within your church body.

As with any age group Millennials have their own unique set of desires, but I believe it flows from meaningful connection, building to something they would call true community. Don’t worry about the unique set of desires until you’re willing to reach out to them without a set agenda.

KW: What is most frustrating to you about the faith of the Millennial generation?

TB: I see a general feeling of casualness about sin with Millennials. I say that because I often sense something similar within me. I recognize my own sin nature, so when I commit sins, or just as bad, choose not to do the thing I know God would have me to, I generally brush it aside as no big deal. And all this stands in opposition to how God views sin and how he’s repulsed by it. I’m not saying God is repulsed by us, but our actions often say how little we value honoring God with our lives.

KW: When people focus on obedience do you see it result in isolation or renewed relational engagement most often?

TB: Clearly it would be hard to say that focusing on obedience only results in one action or another, but more often than not, I see people move toward isolation. This isn’t all bad, if Jesus is our ultimate example, he would often move away from his public ministry to spend time in meditation and prayer with God the Father. He would isolate himself in order to be built into. I think the problems arise when this becomes the primary way of associating with obedience. An obedience only lived out in isolation is not what God intends.

A healthier attitude is to allow those times of isolation to give us the energy for renewed relational engagement. I think that’s obedience in a fuller sense.

KW: How are God’s justice and holiness inter-related?

TB: If we understand God’s justice to be his desire to make all things as they should be, I see it that his holiness informs his justice. God doesn’t just have love, he has holy love. God doesn’t just have justice, like many of us would say we value justice within the world, God has holy justice.

Creating Space

Photo Credit: Bradhoc, Creative Commons

Guest Post by Leroy Barber

Yesterday I talked to friend who is a white male middle-aged leader in the non-profit world and he confessed that in his inner circles there is no one who is black, and for that matter, no one of color. In his lament he was truly confessing and wanting to repent. He wants to start again.

The big question then is how. How does a white man in his 50s make new friends? It’s hard for anyone to look outside their social circles for new friends, and this is especially hard for middle-aged folks like me.

This is one of the most insidious things about racism in America. We are not friends, nor do we fully know how to engage with people outside our circles. This has caused injustice to burn out of control, racism to run rampant, and we are left paralyzed when it comes to practical ways to recover.

So how do you make friends, and friends with people of color, if you find yourself in the same place as this man? I think there are ways to start.

1)    Read books written by people of color and discuss them

2)    Routinely go shopping in a mall or store on the other side of town

3)    Watch different TV shows

4)    Listen to a different radio station

5)    Go to a different coffee shop

6)    Go see movies with a mostly black cast

7)    Attend a black church routinely (once a month or quarter)

8)    Give to an organization led by a person of color

9)    Go see a play written and performed by people of color

10) Visit the African American museum close to you

11) Go to a sporting event with a person of color at your place of employment

12) Take your church small group to a protest or rally

13) Set up regular prayer time with a person of color

14) Put your kids in an activity where they will interact with children of color

Please don’t get me wrong, we have some very deep problems and concerns to get through as it pertains to racism and injustice and these things are by no means the answer. I do however believe they may at least move us a step closer in understanding, and create space for new friendships and relationships to emerge across existing lines. This is not meant to be a checklist—and any steps should be taken authentically, not mechanically or as a means to an end—but ideas to begin engaging from a different place.

Lastly, may I also offer a final piece of a advice. Working in a place where you are “serving” people of color is not necessarily the best way to establish a relationship. I have nothing against serving, but the power dynamics created don’t make space for friendship very easy.

Here are a few book suggestions if you want to check them out:  The New Jim CrowForgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised FaithRace MattersThe Autobiography of Malcolm X and The Cross and the Lynching Tree.

Kicking Your Critics Out of the Arena

Photo Credit: Wolfgang Staudt, Creative Commons

Guest Post by Andrea Lucado

Brene Brown, much like Taylor Swift, really speaks to my soul. I talk about her here a lot, and a friend recently introduced me to a fabulous talk Brown gave at a conference for creatives. You can watch it here.

In it, she uses the metaphor of a coliseum-type arena as the place where we display our work, art, ourselves. The place where we must be vulnerable and put it out there. Whatever “it” happens to be. In the audience of the arena are many people, including the critics. Brene says that there are always four internal critics present in our arena:

  1. Scarcity – which asks, “What am I doing that’s original?”
  2. Shame – which says, “You’re not enough. Who do you think are trying to act like you belong here?”
  3. Comparison – Does this one even need an explanation?
  4. Fill in the blank

Only you know who occupies seat number four, and I think the critic in this seat rotates depending on what you’re up to in the arena. I imagined one particular person in my fourth seat that I had almost completely forgotten about. My 12th grade math teacher.

I went to a small Episcopalian high school and one of its (many) traditions was The Senior Chapel Talk. The entire school attended chapel every day at 10 a.m., and at some point during the year instead of our chaplain speaking, a senior would get up and give a 15-minute speech. I was very nervous about my chapel talk. I liked theater and choir and performing, but when it came to being on stage and acting like myself, I was terrified and had little to no experience.

I remember my dad sat down with me at our kitchen table and helped me write my Senior Chapel Talk. Then I practiced saying it aloud in front my mirror about 17 times. When the day came to give my talk, my mouth was dry and my hands were shaking, but I got through it and was so relieved when it was over. After chapel I had math class, and the first thing my teacher said when she saw me was, “Wow, I’ve never heard anyone give a speech so fast!” I was mortified. I was so nervous I didn’t even know I had talked fast and flown through my speech. Her comment echoed in my head for a long time, and since that day, I’ve always told people I that hate public speaking and I’m terrible at it.

We have so many voices like this don’t we? Maybe we have some we’re not even aware of that are taunting us from the nosebleed section, and we’re listening to them even though they’re mean. In her talk, Brown suggests replacing these voices with kind, trusted ones. With the people who love us and cheer for us no matter what and with a picture of the strong person we know deep down we’re capable of being.

One way of conquering my math teacher’s voice was volunteering to do chapel for the company I used to work for. I had 15 minutes (again) and the crowd would be 20-30 people. It sounds small but it was a really big deal for me. And you know what? I was ok. I received kind feedback and I even enjoyed the experience.

Sometimes you have to do the thing that one person told you weren’t good at in order to kick them out of your arena. They don’t belong there. Don’t let them have a seat.


Photo: Walter Brueggemann interviewed by Don Golden at The Justice Conference 2012

Blessed and humbled to receive the below review on The Grand Paradox from someone I respect and whose opinion I value greatly.

Question: What do Soren Kierkegaard, C. S. Lewis, Abraham Heschel, Dwight Moody, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Reinhold Niebuhr, Evelyn Underhill and John Paul II all have in common? Answer: They all make an appearance in and contribute to the present book by Ken Wytsma. Wytsma has taken many rich voices of the Christian tradition and has processed them through his well-informed passionate faith with a keen eye on the practical consequences of such faith for life in the world. Wytsma connects the dots between tradition, faith, and practice in a compelling way that readers will find fresh and enlivening.

Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary

Reconciliation in the Manger

Adoration of the Shepherds by Rembrandt

Guest Post by Bishop Philip Wright

“From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”  2 Corinthians 5:16-19

This chosen passage of scripture might not readily sound like one that belongs to the season of Christmas given the almost romantic attachment we have to the scene of the manger, the shepherds in the field, the choral angels, and the star in the East, thanks to popular Christmas card covers. However, in actual fact, this passage contains the very essence of the Christmas message; the Good News – the Gospel.

In much of the Christian world, what is commemorated every December 25th is a decisive moment in earth’s history when God entered that history like never before; to usher in, like never before, His act of redemption. The birth of the Christ child, the incarnation of the God-man, was to ultimately lead to that awesome scene on calvary’s hill when it appeared that heaven and earth had violently met, and the forces of evil staged their greatest attempt to undermine the purposes of God.

In the midst of this event that we must assume was of cosmic proportions, God was doing His thing; God was securing humanity’s redemption which we now have the opportunity and privilege to receive, and also in which we can now participate. God, as St Paul puts it, ‘was reconciling the world to Himself’ in the life of Jesus even as it tragically ended on the slopes of calvary, and God was doing so in a manner which defies human logic and comprehension.

So the baby in the manger was born to one day restore the relationship between God and humanity (and all creation, for that matter). The baby grew up to show us through his life, message and ministry, what that restored relationship with God (reconciliation) looks like in real terms. In the Gospel narratives we see Jesus, on a daily basis, mingling with the poor and outcast, bringing hope to the despondent, healing and making whole those broken in body, mind and soul. So often those individuals touched by Jesus had become the ‘victims’ of marred and shattered relationships, not the least of which was their relationship with God Himself. No small wonder then that, before healing many of them, Jesus would say, “your sins are forgiven”, meaning, ‘your relationship with God has been restored.’

This same Jesus, the God-man, the baby in the manger, now looks to you and I who desire year after year to celebrate his incarnation, to do the same. He looks to us to live out this life of reconciliation with each other – on a daily basis. Once again, St Pauls gets it right when he says, ‘All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.’

Indeed, we have been given both the ministry and the message of reconciliation to share with the world. It is a world so desperate for such a message and ministry. The stories that make the daily news headlines, the circumstances under which too many people live in too many parts of the world, the conflicts among individuals, communities and nations, the barbaric actions of misguided and evil groups and regimes, the pictures of the suffering of the innocent; these all undeniably point to a hurting and fractured and sad world. Into such a darkened and desolate world must shine the light of the Gospel of Christ. We are those Gospel-bearers when we do what God has called us to do.

May the gifts we share this Christmas and throughout the rest of our lives be not only those that come wrapped in paper and perhaps placed under the Christmas tree, but more importantly let them be hearts ready to forgive, ready to receive forgiveness, ready to embrace reconciliation; and may such hearts be wrapped with the very love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Mary of Bethany

Christ in the Home of Mary and Martha by Pieter Aertsen

So this was a message I’ve been waiting to teach for years.

I believe, I truly believe, that outside of John the Baptist, Peter and Paul, Mary of Bethany is possibly the most important, and oft neglected, personal story in the New Testament.

Her story goes far beyond the “Mary and Martha” tagline we usually attach to her and she shows up in more places in scripture than we realize.

Hers is a story of gender equality, pure devotion, exemplary worship, friendship to Jesus and, ultimately, honor. Jesus himself tied the telling of his gospel to the repeating of her story.

All of this is why we named our eldest daughter, Mary Joy.

I could keep going, but I’m hoping you might take the time to watch the sermon video below.

The Table Series Part IV :: Dinner with Mary and Martha from Antioch Church on Vimeo.

The Mothers of Jesus

Guest Post by Daniel Hill

Introductions matter.

If you have a great story to tell, the opening is so important. That’s true whether you see you a great movie, read a great novel, or listen to a great story being told.

Introductions matter.

When a classical piece of music is written, the opening is not finished until the end. The overture is the first piece of music that you hear, but it is usually the last piece to be written by the composer because its purpose is to include the themes that will appear later in the opera.

Introductions matter.

Nowhere is this truer than in the Christmas story. Christmas is the introduction of God in human form, and the way Jesus introduced himself sets the stage for the rest of the story. His narrative is much like a classical piece of music. When you listen to the overture you can already hear every note that is coming later on.

Where does Matthew begin the story of Christmas? It’s an intriguing choice: his introduction is found in the genealogy of Christ (see the full account here).

Without a proper lens to interpret it, Matthew’s introduction can come across as rather boring. Who wants to read 17 lines of an ancient family tree? Let’s get to the good stuff, right?

Yet there must be something so significant here (or more accurately multiple significant things). Why else would one begin the story of God’s entrance into humanity with a family tree?

If we take a step back in history, we quickly remind ourselves why a genealogy was significant. In the ancient times of this text, personal resumes were unheard of. You didn’t list your personal achievements to gain any sense of social status. The only thing that mattered was who your parents and grandparents were. So Matthew speaks the language of the culture when he introduces Jesus through a family tree.

Beyond affirming the historical reality of Jesus the person, Matthew must have wanted us to see something about God when he listed this genealogy. What was he hoping his readers would notice?

Let’s start with what would have been most noticeable to first century readers: there are five women.

I’ve done my fair share of studying of this passage, and nearly everyone I’ve read starts here. Women were never included in genealogies. Not in religious ones, and not in secular ones.

One might argue that part of the reason for this was practical in nature – generational wealth was passed on exclusively from father to son. Yet the reasons for excluding women from family trees clearly go beyond practicality. Women were not valued. They had very little social status, and therefore they were left out of the genealogy. The genealogy was part of the resume, and it was common practice to highlight the highest status names in family tree.

But now, here comes Jesus, And he is going to carefully choreograph his entrance into humanity.

And when he introduces himself, what does he do? He doesn’t just list one woman – he lists five: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and of course Mary.

Each of these women has a fascinating story but for the purposes of this blog, lets take a step back and look at it from a big picture lens.

Jesus could have introduced himself anyway, and this is how he chose to do it. If this genealogy is the overture of the symphony, then what themes are Jesus establishing from the very beginning?

Among others, the inclusion of five women in his family tree must mean:

All people matter.

All people are created in the image of God.

All people are included in the family of God.

And as true as each of those statements are, it still probably doesn’t go far enough in highlighting the nature of the barrier-breaking that Jesus was about to embark upon. He entered into a society where women were second hand citizens, but that’s never how he treated them.

Jesus continually went out of his way to value and esteem and highlight women. He treated them with love, respect, and honor. He chose them as his disciples. He relied on them for financial support. He chose women as some of his closest friends.

And he made sure that his mother – and four of her grandmothers – were listed in his genealogical resume.

May we remember the radically inclusive nature of our Savior this Advent season. May we remember the way that Jesus refused to settle for societal views of status, and instead honored both women and men for the precious human beings that they were – created in the image of God and worth honoring and celebrating.

Why Education?

I often get asked, why education?

Why a Christian grad school focusing on theology, justice and leadership studies? Why sink time, energy and money into something like that—aren’t there enough schools out there?

The answer is that education, and Kilns College specifically, is not just a project that takes time, energy and money; but, rather, it’s a passion, a conviction and a calling that commands my life. I believe education is not just a good thing, but a necessary thing.

Only a culture privileged enough to have government supplied education through 12th grade and an abundance of academic institutions to go farther and deeper takes education for granted. I have met men and women from around the world where education (and certainly quality education) is scarce who know that at a deep level it isn’t just one good thing among many, but that it is indispensable. This is true for gaining wisdom, knowledge and maturity and it is true for advancing in business and creating vocational opportunity. It is also true for theology, history, religion and faith—Christianity becomes a cut flower the minute we disconnect ourselves from the deep and sustained teaching of scripture, church history, and the intersection of faith and culture.

I believe in education. I believe in quality and advanced Christian education. I have given much of my adult life tirelessly to advance it.

Unfortunately, like the seeds sown in spring, the fruit of education is always farther down the road and manifests in a different season. It’s hard to demonstrate its value on the spot, in the moment, or on demand. Education is less a felt urgency than a needed priority.

Because it doesn’t register as a felt urgency—a burning building—education is one of the hardest things for which to raise capital and development funds.

No school is able to operate purely as a business; government schools are government funded. State schools are subsidized. Private schools depend heavily on grants, endowments and alumni associations.

Likewise, Kilns College requires outside help from those who recognize the value of education.

Kilns College needs thoughtful individuals who recognize many of the urgent problems we long to address are best dealt with through education—through the training of Christian men and women, through equipping more effective and efficient engagement in culture locally and globally, through investing into the future of the church and future leaders. Isn’t that how Jesus dealt with the house on fire when he walked Palestine?

Certainly Jesus helped and healed, but primarily he was a Rabbi… a teacher, a professor. In fact, Jesus was teaching “advanced” or graduate studies to twelve students within the Jewish system of his day. He was dealing with the contemporary by investing into the future.

As the end of year approaches, I’d humbly ask you to consider partnering with us… our vision at this point far outstrips our resources.

I know of very few organizations who know how to invest and stretch a dollar like Kilns College.

Would you consider joining us with a Year End Tax Deductible Donation?

[If you would like more information about our distance learning options, click here.]

Living the Questions

Photo Credit: Gwenael Piaser, Creative Commons

This article was recently picked up by a syndicated blog – you can read the post here, or below.

While in seminary, I ran across the author Henri Nouwen, who articulated the tension—or paradox—of faith as well as anyone I have read.

His answer, unlike most I have heard, does not whitewash the messiness of life or explain away the mystery of God. Rather, Nouwen wrote that an essential part of life is learning to “live the questions” faith engenders.

To wait on the Lord.

To pray our pain.

To accept confusion.

Nouwen’s answer resonates with the honest picture of faith I see in Scripture. Life is, as stated by my Old Testament professor, relentlessly difficult.

Jesus promised suffering in Matthew 16:24, and as testified in Scripture, those most clearly called by God and most definitively used by God often are given the most challenging circumstances.

Life is messy. God is mysterious. And accepting this tension-filled truth, no matter the circumstances, is the pathway to peace.

This holiday season, I find myself struggling to accept this as much as I have in a long time and to ground myself once again in “living the question.”

My heart hurts with the brokenness, pain and anger that characterize race issues in America and the tilted scales of justice so many experience.

My mind shuts down over global issues of war, terror and gender violence at the root of so much injustice in the world.

My soul aches for the man who called today about his nephew shot in Afghanistan, the biopsy report I received yesterday of a mother from church and the father who passed away today leaving behind a son and daughter both under the age of three—who will never have a concrete memory of their dad.

One of the things that typifies being a child is that you are often sheltered from the weather outside—from the scary, the messy and the sheer magnitude of evil and suffering.

When, as an adult, I find myself wanting to whitewash the issues, push them down below my conscious thoughts, or squeeze them out with holiday shopping and movie watching, I realize I’m simply wishing to be a child again.

The will to hide from the world.

Saint Paul said, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”

I’m struggling. I know others are struggling. I know many are struggling far greater than I.

Choosing faith, despite the messiness of life and the mystery of God, however, is the essence of biblical trust. It is the faith in the “not yet” of many of God’s promises about His reign of justice and commitment that every tear shall be wiped away.

Paul continues, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love… but the greatest of these is love.”

Life is relentlessly difficult.

As we grow older and grow up, as Christians, we can’t shrink from pain, we can’t gloss over the struggle of others in order to maintain our illusions and distance, we can’t hide or pretend.

But the term Advent points to the coming of Christ into the world. The one bringing peace to the world was needed then as now.

Ours is to engage.

Ours is to stand together in solidarity.

Ours is to suffer forward (is that not what biblical faith is?).

Ours is, as Nouwen said, “to learn to live the questions.”

And ours is to lament with the Psalmist crying, “Come, Lord! Come.”

Pastors, You’re Doing a Great Job

Guest Post by Andrea Lucado

I’m the only member of my immediate who has never worked in full-time ministry. My little sister, her husband, my dad and my older sister’s husband have all been in or are in full-time ministry. By default, my older sister and mom have also practically been on the church staff full time, as ministers’ wives will understand.

Because of this, I’ve observed a lot about pastors and their jobs and their lives. Part of the reason I’m not in full-time church work is because I know it is very very hard and, honestly, I don’t think I’m cut out for it.

In ministry, the line between work and personal life is almost invisible. That means, you are always on. Responding to a text from a distressed teen after 10pm, going to a graduation party, attending a wedding for a couple in your congregation—these are all good things and normal to the average eye, but in many ways, they are also your work. Going to stuff and having intentional conversations, it’s your job, so you have to be extra good at it. You have to be on.

My job is easy. I work during the day; I shut it off at night. I go to a party if I want to and I don’t go if I don’t want to. And if I go and don’t want to be there, I’m lame and talk to one person and leave. I’m allowed to do this, to make my social life what I want it to be. But for pastors? That’s not really a luxury.

I’ve heard crazy stories about pastors being asked to lunch by members of his congregation only to be berated for his last sermon. I’ve seen people saying mean things about pastors on the internet, shaming them for their mistakes. Getting mad at them for being human and broken, like the rest of us. (To that, all I have to say is, he probably has a daughter, and she could go without seeing and hearing cruel things about her father online.) I’ve seen hints of defeat and tiredness in so many pastors’, youth leaders’ and ministers’ lives. I’ve talked to friends who have felt burned out and depressed. The call to ministry is truly a unique call, and the work of pastors takes more from them than regular types of work.

I sat down with my dad recently to interview him for a story in a magazine. It was fun and weird to really ask my dad about his job. We don’t do this often as children, ask our parents about their day-to-day work, how they got to where they are in their careers. We care more about their job as our parents than we do about their jobs out in the world. My dad has been in full-time ministry for about 37 years. That’s a long time, but there is nowhere he would rather be. He had funny and positive stories to share. It made me think about other kind, humble pastors I’ve come across. For them to still have a positive attitude so many years into the ministry, I’m finally starting to feel blown away by that.

Everyone wants everything from his or her pastor. The single people in the church want to feel included. The married people want to feel included. The children want to feel included. The teens want to feel included. We all want our pastors to give us this special place, just for us. I’ve seen my family members get pulled in different directions and I’ve seen this happen to my friends. Rather than seeking out a place to serve on our own, we want our church leaders to do it for us. When they could really use a note of encouragement, we send them an email criticizing how that weekend’s youth retreat went. They rarely receive encouragement from the people they need it from the most: us, their congregation.

So right now, I’d like to say something to the pastors I know and to the pastors I don’t. You’re going a great job. Truly, you are. You made ten people happy last week and that left two people grumbling in the corner and that’s ok. Don’t worry about them. Don’t about us. We’re grumblers and we’re good at it. I consider your job sacred. Really. I couldn’t do it. Most of us couldn’t do it. Thank you for doing it. For listening to us and reading all the emails and creating lessons and sermons that impacted our lives. Thank you for studying scripture and reading the theology books that I don’t understand. Thank you for being at our stuff and being there for us, our friends, and our kids. Thank you for going to the bedsides of the dying and the baptisms of the living. I don’t know all that you do when you step off the pulpit, how much your job continues throughout the week, but know that your job as a spiritual leader is considered great, and you are doing a great job at it.

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