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Social Media Advice from Uncle Screwtape

Guest Post by John Sowers

The other day I took my iPhone into the Genius Bar for some work. When I turned my phone back on, I received a series of strange texts, each one cryptically signed, “Screwtape.” At first I thought it was a joke, so I played along, texting back. But the more texts I received, the more I realized it was no joke. Here are some of those texts…

***

Dear Wormwood, if you cannot divide them into new denominations, have them write angry blogs and sarcastic tweets to one another. As you learned in training, sarcasm is a Greek word meaning “tearing the flesh.” Make them so determined to ‘win the argument,’ that they tear at each other, like sharks at feeding frenzy. – Uncle Screwtape

Dear Wormwood, do everything to keep him disconnected from the Voice of the Enemy. Every morning, rush at him with a thousand voices. Tweets. Texts. Instagram Likes. Make him feel a small buzz of approval whenever he gets a “Like.” Soon, he will live for an invisible audience instead of those right in front of him. He will believe to be ‘connected,’ but will be utterly alone. – Your Affectionate Uncle

Dear Wormwood, have your patient become a ‘spiritual critic.’ Make him into a misguided whistleblower writing open letters and airing out his theological rage on Facebook. Twist and use him. Whisper accusations in his ear, like leprous distillments, straight from our Accusing Father below. – Screwtape

Dear Wormwood, I see you are having success with this ‘critic’ idea. I am giddy with impish delight! Your patient feels superior to others and will never learn to serve. He has forgotten Grace extended to him by the Enemy and is religiously competitive, believing, like the Pharisee, ‘I am not like other men.” – Your Proud Uncle

Dear Wormwood, your patient is interested in compassion and justice? Do not lose heart. Convince him to build a social media ‘platform’ to make a name for himself, like those at Babel. Soon, he will have insatiable lust to for superiority and will love fame more than people. He will reach for the heights, lusting for the Throne. – Screwtape

***

I think Uncle Screwtape is right. Not about the content of our online discourse, but the tone and the posture.

Somewhere along the way, it became fashionable for us to be spiritual critics and blog trolls, to fire off tweets and write angry open letters to one another. Our critical, knee-jerk reactions have taken us a long way from the Prince of Peace. When we act in this way, we are more like the Accuser – the “Father Below.”

So Beware! If your social media tone is anything but love, you may be walking lock-step with Uncle Screwtape’s wishes.

The Grand Paradox Parent Resources

Guest Post by Linda VanVoorst

Kids ask lots of questions. They are curious about seemingly everything! Their curious little minds can’t help but question. Teaching kids to live the way God desires also prompts many questions. Often, the answers seem paradoxical.

Imagine a young boy asking his dad “Why do you work so hard, dad?”. His dad might answer something like “I want to do my work well.” The boy extends the logic and says “And because you work so hard, we will have lots of money!”. To the surprise of the young boy, the dad says “Not exactly. You see, I work hard so we can meet our needs and help meet the needs of others.” The little boy might furrow his brow as he tries to formulate his reply. “So you mean you work hard so you can give your money away?” If the dad is honest with his son, he might say “Exactly. It’s not easy. It would be awesome to spend all our money on new toys, big TV’s and vacations. But God wants us to care about others like we care about ourselves. So, we use some of our money on ourselves and some of our money to help others.”

Living the way God desires doesn’t always make sense, especially in light of our culture. Kid logic recognizes that! However, I believe kids can grasp the importance and value of faith. Simply put, faith means loving God and living the way He desires.

I also know that kids can ask questions that often leave parents tongue-tied, making it hard to explain the importance of faith in God and His ways.

As The Grand Paradox was being written, I started to dream about practical ways to begin a similar conversation about faith with kids. How can we teach kids about the messiness of life, the mystery of God and the necessity of faith? How can we begin to answer the questions that kids ask about faith? How can we equip parents to teach kids to live the way God desires?

We had some pretty grandiose ideas, but soon realized the answer was quite simple. First, we needed to figure out what questions kids were asking, then we needed to help parents answer the questions being asked. We thought we could do this and hoped we could make it fun for both parents and kids. Who says living by faith should be boring?

We started by surveying a bunch of kids. When they were not around their peers, we asked, “What is the most confusing part about living the way God desires?”

Stop for a minute. How would you answer?

Their answers were consistent. Nearly every kid we surveyed answered with one of the following questions:

Nobody lives like a Christian. Why should I?

What is God up to?

Why am I here?

Why should I go to church?

We asked kids to elaborate about their question so we could make sure we answered the questions correctly. Then we got to work answering these four questions in a way that explains the beauty of the paradox. After a lot of head-scratching, bible-searching hours, we created a parent resource to accompany Ken’s new book, The Grand Paradox.

This parent resource provides four fun, yet to-the-point, guides designed to help adults answer the four questions listed above in a manner that makes sense to kids while not sugar coating the necessity of faith. For each question, the guide offers:

1. In Other Words: Kids speak their own language. The question is unpacked so parents understand the nature of the child’s question.

2. Important Truth: Keep it simple. There is one important truth we think kids need to know. Here you will find the words to assist you as you help your child understand the necessity of the paradox.

3. In the Bible: Kids want proof. Show them that God desires this type of faith by looking at the suggested story in the bible.

4. Check It Out: Kids often learn best when engaging their senses. Do the suggested activity to help kids wrestle with the important truth.

5. It’s Been Done: Read about a real-life hero who has lived out the important truth! Dream about living out the truth, also.

6. Ask God: Check out this short prayer in light of the important truth.

Each guide also relates to a chapter in The Grand Paradox. If you need more insight to answer the questions that might arise, check out the chapter referenced at the top of each question guide. We hope this hands-on guide aides you as you teach the kids in your life about the messiness of life, the mystery of God and necessity of faith! Download a FREE copy here.

Justice Kids Parent Resource Overview from Ken Wytsma on Vimeo.

Conquering in Apocalyptic Style

Photo Credit: Marcovdz, Creative Commons

Guest Post by Sam Adams

When we were thinking up possible classes to offer at Kilns College this past Jan-term I came up with the idea to offer a course on the Apocalypse, that is, the book of Revelation. Capitalizing on the cultural fascination with everything “post-apocalyptic” from zombies to dystopian fantasies, the timing seemed right. I called the class, “The Book of Revelation: History, Politics, and Social Justice.”

In preparation for the class I was frequently asked whether I was ‘post-trib,’ ‘pre-trib,’ or ‘mid-trib.’ If you grew up as I did in the shadow of Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth, or, more recently, in the aftermath of the Left Behind series, these questions seem obvious. (If your only exposure to pop culture’s interpretation of the Apocalypse is the latest offering starring Nicholas Cage–don’t worry, you’re not even on the map!) But, I reminded my friends, those positions assume the rapture, an event not in the book of Revelation. Go look. It’s not there.

What is there are seven letters to seven churches in Asia Minor. Each church (actual, historic churches, mind you) is told to conquer. Now, if you read the book of Revelation looking for what Christians actually do in the book, you will be hard pressed to find anything remotely resembling what we would think of when we think of conquering. There are no battles where Christians are swinging swords or beating people over the head in some sort of final, holy war. Rather, you see Christians enduring, suffering, praying, remaining faithful, refusing idolatry, removing themselves from Babylon’s (Rome’s) unjust economic system, and bearing faithful witness to the point of death.

This last point is key. In the great heavenly throne room vision in chapters 4 and 5, in the midst of dramatic worship around the throne of God, we are presented with a scroll. The scroll is sealed with seven seals and there is nobody in heaven or on earth or under the earth who is able to open the scroll. No one, that is, until John’s bitter tears are interrupted by a voice. It is one of the elders and he says, “See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered so that he can open the scroll and the seven seals” (5.5b NRSV).

Now we will see conquering. The Lion is here. But—and here is where the surprising transvaluation happens—John looks and sees, not a lion, but a lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered. What he expected was a regal, powerful force who had conquered in the usual way. What he saw was the Lamb slain, the Son of God, the crucified Messiah. What he saw corrects what he heard and implies that conquering is understood according to the faithfulness of the Lamb, a faithfulness even to the point of death.

Note here that the word “slaughtered” in verse 9 (“for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed…”) is the same word as in the next chapter where, with the coming of the first horseman, we are told that people would “slaughter one another” (6.4). The slaughter that happens to the Lamb is not likely the slaughter of sacrifice, it’s the slaughter/murder that might very well happen to faithful witnesses to God’s kingdom. It’s the slaughter that John expects his churches to be confronted with as they seek to endure faithfully and bear witness in the midst of a hostile empire.

The book of Revelation is resistance literature. It is written to a church struggling to remain faithful in the midst of an imperial power that rules through economic injustice, military might, and hegemonic cultural dominance manifested in the cult of emperor worship, what we might today call ‘nationalism.’

Here’s the rub and why we need Revelation today: the Roman Empire could seem hospitable rather than hostile. The Pax Romana, the peace of Rome, was alluring and welcoming. Because of this, the language and vivid imagery of apocalyptic was needed to shock the churches into a posture of faithful resistance and patient endurance. Today, rather than long for the Pax Americana, John’s apocalypse encourages us to resist the allure of a peace that is not really peace.

The end of history is, after all, in the hands of the one who conquered. The one who conquered is the one slain for his faithful witness. It is in the Lamb’s faithfulness, even to the point of death, that we learn what it means to conquer.

On Sale NOW for $2.99

Thomas Nelson has generously opened up the digital version of The Grand Paradox for a launch sale price of $2.99 (off of the sticker price of $22.99).

That’s the cost of a cup of coffee and a $20 savings off the hardback!

I’d love for everyone to benefit from it: just click here to get your copy.

Sabbath – The Forgotten Commandment

“Sabbath, in the first instance, is not about worship.
It is about work stoppage. It is about withdrawal from the
anxiety system of Pharaoh, the refusal to let one’s life
be defined by production and consumption and the endless
pursuit of private well-being.” ― Walter Brueggemann

The Desert Series Part IV :: The 9 Commandments and 1 Suggestion from Antioch Church on Vimeo.

***JUST RELEASED***

Life is messy. God is mysterious. Faith is still possible <–Tweet that

Today is the official launch day for The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God, and the Necessity of Faith.

Thank you to all who supported this project… from those who helped in crafting it within the Antioch community to the folks at Thomas Nelson who steered, edited and packaged a pretty rough work into what it is today.

Question, would you be willing to help with the launch today? If so, here are two things that would be helpful:

  1. Order a copy on Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble to help our launch day stats (which helps move things forward)
  2. E-mail a pastor, influencer or friend who might benefit from the book. My prayer has always been that it might simply be used to change lives and encourage men and women in their pursuit of God.
Thank you in advance for your help and support!
Ken

Why Women Should Read The Grand Paradox

Tamara has been telling me throughout the process of The Grand Paradox coming together that she believes it is a book that can encourage a lot of women and moms.

She’s begun to find others who agree with her take on it, which led to our first ever joint interview by Angie Tolpin.

Check out the video interview below if you have 10 or 15 minutes and read Angie’s thoughts on her blog here (along with a book giveaway opportunity).

Rick McKinley on The Answer to Our Cry

Rick McKinley serves as Lead Pastor of Imago Dei Community. He and his wife, Jeanne, and their four kids moved to Portland, Oregon in October of 2000 to plant the church. Since then, Imago Dei has been voted one of the Top 25 Most Innovative Churches in the Country by Outreach Magazine and Portland Monthly Magazine named Rick one of Portland’s 50 Most Influential People. He is the co-creator of Advent Conspiracy and Love Portland. He teaches on topics such as holistic mission, leadership, and spiritual formation and serves as President of The Waterhouse Network. Rick has authored five books including the recently released The Answer to Our Cry: Freedom to Live Fully, Love Boldly, and Fear Nothing.

KW: What do you feel is unique about the message of this book compared to things you’ve written about in the past?

RM: Much of what I’ve written about in the past is about our place in the Kingdom and our invitation to participate in the Kingdom. This book unpacks and uncovers the mystery of the relationship that we are invited into, at the center of the Kingdom, which is relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

KW: In the Answer To Our Cry, you share a very personal story involving your daughter. How have the difficulties of life and the challenges you’ve faced as a father shaped your understanding about how God responds to our cry and the messiness of life?

RM: Yeah, I mean it might be better to ask how it hasn’t. It shapes every aspect of my life. It creates points of frustration and confusion where you’re wondering “why God?”, “why is this the case?”, and “do you care?”, and “are you involved?” It creates a whole other set of places where you become aware of God, and what it means to belong and to be named as son, without the ability to sort of tell God how great I am. He calls me into barren places where I worry and I hurt for her but also places where God says “I’m going to launch this deeper work in you about trust and hope and about what’s real and what matters.” Which actually has nothing to do with writing books and those sorts of things.  It’s belonging. Being a part of her and her being a part of me.

KW: You have a D. Min in Homiletics under Haddon Robinson, how has the act of preaching and teaching on Sunday morning shaped your understanding of what Scripture says about God’s response to our cry or vice versa?

RM: I think getting up every week and opening up the bible and saying is this true, what does it say about God, about me, about you, and then striving to honestly bring ourselves before that text, whatever it might be this week. It forces you to not come up with your own ideas or trust in your ideas but it forces you to ask better questions and deeper questions. Then there’s having a congregation that is amazing and kind of sniffs B.S. from a mile a way forces you to be honest with the text. The text is more honest with us than we are with the text. It also forces you to say “yeah you don’t get by on cheap pithy statements.” You have to answer is this true, true to life?

KW: What is the biggest barrier to finding freedom in our lives?

RM: Us. I mean it’s our sense of love for self instead of love for God. It’s our fear of danger of what that deep sacrificial intimate jealous love really is. It’s this lie that we can protect ourselves and keep ourselves safe and secure in our own little narcissistic world that we create for ourselves. For everyone it looks different but it all comes down to I don’t want to risk my heart on that big of an invitation. I’d rather just sell out.

KW: How do you see this manifested in the lives of those you have met and done life with?

RM: I’ve known people who are daring and courageous enough to risk their heart on the love of God and let their personhood and their vision of the world get reoriented by that grace. Letting go of sin and selfishness and tasting a deeper thing.

KW: What are some of the ways we misdiagnose our hunger for true, biblical freedom and how does that feed into the dysfunction many of us feel in life?

RM: I think there is this deep longing and desire for everyone to taste some sense of freedom, but we have these faults whether you call them idols or quick fixes or whatever. It’s much easier to run to some appetite of the flesh whether booze or drugs or sex or whatever to get me free from this stress, from whatever that moment is that I’m in. So culture is really good at creating idols and worshipping them. But there is that deeper freedom we know we are made for and its kind of scary

KW: Most Christians talk about the Gospel but think it’s something that describes the moment of conversion. How should the Gospel shape our everyday life and lead to the fullness of freedom you discuss in the book?

RM: I think evangelicals have misplaced the gospel as this thing they experience at the moment of conversion. Which is true, they believe something about Jesus and that changes their life. But the gospel isn’t something that you walk away from, like now you’re on your own to grow. It’s the place you keep coming back to, you keep repenting, you keep submitting, keep surrendering keep receiving, keep responding to his grace. So the only way I’m going to love like I’m supposed to love is if I go back to the gospel. The only way that I’m going to surrender, and obey, and serve, and be humble is if Christ births that in me. Otherwise it’s just a work of my own processing and my own energy toward being a better person as opposed to the miracle of fruit bearing that is supposed to happen by the spirit.

Justice as a Theological Necessity

This blog post recently appeared on the World Vision blog — it’s a topic that I get asked about a lot so I thought I’d re-post it.

——————————————————————————————————————————–

I often use the phrase “Theology of Justice.”

In fact, it was one of the founding ideas and goals of The Justice Conference—to discuss and promote a theological understanding of justice.

But what does a “theology of justice” mean?

Simply put, it means that our understanding of God should compel justice. And our understanding of justice is one of the ways by which we are meant to understand God more clearly.

Read the rest on the World Vision blog.

#TheGrandParadox Thunderclap

I’ve never done a “Thunderclap” before, but my publisher encouraged us to set up a Thunderclap for the release of The Grand Paradox next week.

Thunderclap.it is a website where people can simply “join in” to a big launch post or campaign that pushes out all in one moment–hundreds of tweets and posts on the same thing in an instant.

Joining the Thunderclap campaign for The Grand Paradox is relatively easy (and kinda fun!)

Will you consider joining?

Follow the link here and learn more about the campaign.

The Tragedy of Self-Appointed Prophets

Guest Post by John Huckins

The world is swirling with issues.

Picking up my phone and opening my news app each morning is being met with more and more dread each day.

When something hits the news, it is fascinating to watch people jump onto social media and begin “yelling” out their answers for how to heal our broken systems.

Of course, there are almost always at least two completely different opinions for how these problems should be fixed, which typically leads to people drawing lines in the sand, picking their stance and not budging. Relationships often fracture and a polarized a world gets more polarized, rendering it immobilized for the work of reconciliation.

Whether it’s on our Facebook page, Twitter feed or around our table, I assume most of us can think of an interaction where this unhelpful and potentially destructive reality played out.

So, does this “yelling” of our opinions actually help heal the broken systems and the people whom those systems are breaking?

I’m all about using our voices to call out injustice. By offering a critique of power and a hope for those on the underside of it, the ancient prophets did this beautifully throughout history.

But, in a globalized, virtually interconnected world, I’m concerned we have too many self appointed prophets (which, by definition is NOT a prophet), and not near enough practitioners.Far more constructive than a verbal or written argument is actually doing something.

I don’t think the world needs more armchair advocates…especially when our arguing or defending leads to the fracture of real life relationships. I’m not saying we all need to passively waltz around the world’s issues. No, I’m proposing we actively engage them in two ways:

1. Healthy, constructive discourse that doesn’t require we all agree to remain in relationship
2. We spend less time talking, and use our best energy to actually do something

What this world needs are people who are willing to role up their sleeves and get dirty. And not for a week or a month or a year, but for the long haul.

The world needs people embedded in the center of these conflicts equipped with the practices that make for peace. These people don’t have time to debate solutions on social media because they are already hard at work making the solutions a reality. They don’t have to transplant themselves to the center of the issue, because they are already embedded in it. They don’t have to seek the approval of their constituency, because it’s not about their reputation, it’s about the flourishing of those they have been called to serve.

They are sharing meals with the forgotten in their neighborhood.

They are building lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with those of other faiths who we are often taught to fear.

They are sitting at the hospital bedside of the family who is suffering loss at the hands of unjust people and systems.

They are in the churches, schools and homes of our black and brown communities to listen, learn and support.

They are in detention centers and deportation shelters to pray with and look in the eyes of those in our society’s shadows.

They are encouraging and walking with our faith and political leaders as they navigate the potentially compromising positions of power.

It’s a way of life that is costly. It is not glamorous. And it often comes without our desired outcomes being met in the short term and, potentially, not even in the long term.

This is the work of a trained, strategic and intentional community of Jesus followers who are prepared to move to the center of our society’s conflicts with the weapons to transform rather than destroy. It’s the gritty, subversive and costly work of peacemaking.

More than ever, I believe the work of peacemaking is discipleship. It’s the long hard road of the cross that will lead to the flourishing of others and allow our deepest calling to meet the worlds deepest needs. May it be so.

————–

NOTE: The work of The Global Immersion Project is to train and mobilize the kind of people I describe. We call them Everyday Peacemakers. To learn more or participate in one of our international or domestic trainings, go here: http://globalimmerse.org

The Grand Paradox Media Resources

Greetings!

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.

Sincerely,
Ken and team

Product Photos

Sample Social Media Posts

Just finished my pre-copy of #TheGrandParadox by @kjwytsma and it was a phenomenal read. Get your copy today: http://amzn.to/1J3xUHO

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

Idealized faith? You want actual faith. Check out #TheGrandParadox by @kjwytsma: http://amzn.to/1J3xUHO

Reconcile with the foundations of faith in a mysterious God in #TheGrandParadox by @kjwytsma: http://amzn.to/1J3xUHO

Please use the hashtag #TheGrandParadox in all social media posts.

Square Images for Social Media

Rectangular Images for Social Media (Best for Facebook)

Reviews

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.

Bios

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.

Short:
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.

Headshot

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 www.redletterchristians.org 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

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