My Friend Chris is Choosin’ Jesus

It was about seven years ago that I first met Chris. He was responsible for unlocking the gymnasium where Renovatus met for worship as we prepared to launch as a new church. He was a nice guy, he usually helped us unload our trailer that carried all our sound equipment, lamps, pillows, and other random things we hauled into that gym to make it feel cosy and worshipful. Through hiking adventures together, him and his girl friend volunteering at some of our community service events, playing basketball, etc. Chris and I eventually became good friends. Our relationship solidified as he and his girl friend fiance asked me to perform their wedding ceremony. Doing weekly pre-marital counseling with them and my wife proved to be a very special time together as we got to know each other on a much deeper level. Couple that with Chris and Chrsitie committing to help us start a new discussion group focused around spiritual dialog and our friendship was in the bag. We began to know each other’s stories more fully and to walk through life together as much as we could figure out how to do so. Over the years Chris and I have grown closer together as we’ve worked through the messiness of life in pretty real ways. Eating lunch together almost weekly and being in a consistant and fairly high-commitment small group together has helped to develop our friendship into something unique and deep. I’m grateful for Chris and what he’s taught me about generosity, about intelectual honesty, and  what it means to be a friend.

I will not attempt to capture Chris’ spiritual journey very fully here because so much of it is internal and I fear misrepresenting him. What I can say is that when I first met Chris he was actively working (or was he just actively talking about it?) on writing a book about why Christianity was wrong and why God did not exist. As a staunch atheist he found Christianity to be lacking on many levels–though one of his biggest pet peeves with my tribe was the fact that we’d sit around on Sunday mornings talking about Jesus and telling him how awesome he was instead of actually doing what he said. One Sunday morning we even invited him to share with Renovatus about the incongruencies that he saw in the church. To this day I still remember his words–challenging us to talk less about Jesus and to actually do what Jesus said. Over the last seven years and over many many lunch dates Chris has asked lots of good questions about Jesus. While he’s always thought Jesus was a good guy, a man worthy of being respected along the lines of Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and MLK, he never believed Jesus’ claims of being God.

I cannot really capture any sort of process or movement toward Jesus in Chris’ story as it has been played out over the last seven years of friendship and dialog. It was more reminiscent of a slowly dripping faucet than anything else–but the faucet was almost always running. There was no question over the last seven years that the faucet was running. I occasionally (and somewhat jokingly) told Chris that if he ever chose to follow Jesus we’d better all watch out ’cause Chris doesn’t do many things half ass. He’s either all in or all out, he’s either going to do it well or not do it at all, he’s either an obsessive freak about something or he could care less. Besides laughing at me when I told him this he also communicated clearly that he really wished he believed. He wanted to believe but he didn’t, he couldn’t, and he wasn’t going to fake it. Chris also knew that I was with him regardless of his belief, that we were doing life together regardless of whether he eventually chose Jesus or not.

His wife was a believer and Chris saw the benefits of believing, but he hadn’t yet had any kind of “aha” moment that had pushed him over the edge into belief. He talked often of an “aha” moment–that intangible ‘something’, that unexplainable moment that would draw/force/invite him into belief in a way that nothing else could. And so we all waiting for an “aha” moment to happen.

Well it was while I was in Orlando back in April that I got an email from Chris telling me that he’d had his “aha” moment. Within the context of the messiness of life Chris felt invited to embrace love as a verb–to understand and accept love as something you choose. As he thought about my death (among other things) he grieved the fact that he was losing one of the people in his life who was helping him draw closer to Jesus. But why follow an apprentice (of Jesus) when he could follow the real thing? Why keep me in his sights when he could place Jesus in the forefront instead? If love is something you choose, then he could choose Jesus. There’s more that needs to be said here, but I hesitate to tell other people’s stories.
Chris knows that I love him regardless of whether he chooses Jesus…but that doesn’t in any way mean that I’m not absolutely giddy about all of this! Seriously, when I found out that he was ready to take this next step in his journey I awkwardly sobbed like a little baby. I mean, I shouldn’t have been surprised ’cause in many ways it just makes sense–this isn’t an out of the ordinary or surprise thing because it’s just the continuation of what God has already been doing in and around Chris. Neither does this mean that Chris has “arrived” or come to some kind of spiritual end–he doesn’t see this as something where he’s secured his place in heaven and signed some dotted line to avoid hell (in fact, he talks freely of not being sure what he thinks about all that stuff). No, Chris just sees something in Jesus that he wants more of and he’s willing to risk his life on it. It’s simply his next step in his journey…albiet, a very huge next step!
So in a few weeks we’re going to party. Hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, and the cool rite of passage that the church has embraced called baptism.  I get to dunk my friend under water to symbolize both the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and the choice that Chris is making to die to self and embrace the new life (resurrection) that Jesus offers. It should be quite the party, quite the celebration…and what better thing to celebrate than this?
Love you man.

The Great Homosexual Lover

This video is terrible for two reasons. Reason number one: the man is a very poor communicator. Reason number two: the man is absolutely filled with hate and misrepresents both what the church and Jesus is supposed to be about.

At one point he references Obama and says “I’m not going to vote for a baby killer and a homosexual lover!” Umm…I’m not sure if he realizes that Jesus was and and is a homosexual lover. No, I’m not going to write about whether or not I think Jesus is okay with a homosexual lifestyle because I think that this is arguable from both sides and from different angles…and that’s just not what this blog post is about. What IS NOT arguable is that Jesus loves all people, even and especially those who have been marginalized in society (which clearly includes the GLBTQ community). Those who have been forced to the fringes are those who early on were most drawn to the church, they were the ones who filled the crowds who followed Jesus, they felt drawn to Jesus and Jesus people.

I see no need to spend time calling out the people in this video because obviously the preacher and the backwards people who were cheering and clapping his hate-filled speech are not accurate representations of what Jesus people should be like. It would be like spending time and energy trying to argue against the Westboro Baptist folk–it’s both a waste of time and a waste of argument because there’s not really anyone in their right mind who needs to be swayed to disagree with them in the first place! So to spend time arguing against Pastor Charles Worley feels wasteful.

I do, however, think there’s reason to pause and remind us Jesus followers (and those who question what Jesus followers look like) that Jesus was and is a lover of all peoples regardless of race, sexual orientation, moral compass, sex, or economic status and that we are invited to do the same. It is so often easy write people off, to find reasons to be unkind, or–more likely–to find pretty sounding ways of treating people who are different from us with less dignity and respect. The whole “hate the sin love the sinner” phrase is one example of what I believe is a “pretty” way to treat people with less dignity. To look me in the eyes and tell me glibly that you hate what I do but are willing to still love me comes off patronizing and does not in any way feel like an act of love. I’m not suggesting you must like all people’s behaviors, but that phrase has an arrogant superiority to it that I believe is hurtful. It is especially hurtful because it usually emerges outside the context of relationship. Had Jesus’ first words to Zacchaeus been “Hey little man, I hate the way you live your life and your probably going to hell…but because I’m nice and loving I’m still willing to go out for coffee later with you. What do you say?” Zacc probably wouldn’t have hung out with him as he did. Instead Jesus not only treated him with respect and dignity but also showed and received hospitality from him. While Jesus did later invite Zacchaues into a new way of living, Jesus didn’t really live into that phrase “hate the sin love the sinner”. I just don’t see a reason to even use it. It feels arrogant, invasive, hurtful, assumptive, and just plain ol’ not nice. But I digress from the point…

Plain and simply: Jesus loves people. If you don’t vote for “homosexual lovers” then you’d find yourself not voting for Jesus. If you’re someone who wants to lock people up and drop food off via an airplane you’d probably not be in the same voting block as Jesus. If you’re someone who uses a stage, microphone, or pulpit to invite people into hateful living then I’m certain you’d be worshiping at a different church than Jesus. Jesus loves all people…

…now if only I were able to master doing the same…


Speaking Out

I’m sitting in bed with my wife at Mcmenamins Edgefield after sitting in the soaking tub for an hour. Not all speaking engagements are this wickedly awesome. I was blessed to be invited to share with the Renovo Church folk as they are here on a retreat for the weekend…and let me tell you, this is an amazing place to hold a retreat!

Lately I’ve been feeling a sense of invitation to share my story more. Obviously (if you’re reading this) you know that I’ve blogged extensively all throughout my journey of fighting cancer but this has been something that I’ve done from the comfort of my own home, from cafes downtown, and even as I was sitting in my hospital bed for weeks. I’ve taken few opportunities to speak, feeling as though I wasn’t ready yet to venture out in such a vulnerable way. In writing there is always a bit of separation between you and your audience, there’s time to tweak things prior to publishing (though my wife chides me for never doing so), there’s a level of safety in writing that is not found in public speaking. Don’t get me wrong, I love a microphone and I love speaking–but sharing amidst the untidiness of my story of being sick has invited me into a whole new level of vulnerability. It would be easier if I were all better. It would be easier if I was speaking or teaching about how I was healed from terminal cancer. But that’s not the story that God is inviting me to share (not yet at least). No, my story is about the struggle, about the tension, and about what it means to have hope in resurrection.

So a few weeks ago I was blessed to share with the Renovatus Church community about our Grassroots Conspiracy work and about the story that God is inviting all of us into weather sick or healthy. It was fun and I was so glad to do it. I’m in conversation with three other groups about speaking…and we’ll see what happens there. And while I still have very little time available to me after I subtract the time used up due to medical visits and my current chemo schedule (not to mention leading Grassroots, my family, etc.) I’m beginning to create time in my schedule for these (and other) speaking engagements. I think it’s important and I think it is part of what is next for me in my journey.

Contact me if you’d like me to come share with your group. My story isn’t very tidy, it’s still a complete mess, but it is one of hope, and it’s one I want need to share.

What is Grassroots Conspiracy

Movement, church, or network.

The question at hand is which one is Grassroots Conspiracy. Are we a movement, are we a church, or are we a network? You may be thinking that this is an incredibly boring question…but I think it’s worth pursuing and I think it’s answer sheds much light on how we go about our activity as a community of conspirators.

The answer is that we’re a movement. We’re not a church (not yet at least…in the sense that we use the word). We’re not a network (insomuch as intentionality and purpose is concerned). We’re a movement.

Let me define how I’m using these words just a bit.

Network: a network’s commitment is to celebrating the satellite organizations/groups associated with the network. It’s not about what ‘we’ are doing but about what these other groups are doing. A network might give advice but they do not really speak into the movements to which they are connected. Each satellite group has its own leadership, direction, and purpose. A network, as I’m defining it, is about celebrating multiple missions with at least some sense of overlap that causes us to be ‘together’.


Church: a church* is a local gathering of Jesus people who are not only committed to each other and a certain way of life, but also to a structured identity that organizes them into a public/social entity. A church exists when you have a community of individuals who choose to die together for the sake of others, when new people are entering into this way of life, and when they’ve then determined to own a shared story publicly, privately and as they move forward into the future. (a whole blog should be written about church)


Movement: a movement, as I am defining it, has a central mission–a direction that a collection of people rally around. It is different from a network because unlike a network a movement is about ‘us’, about a direction that we are moving together. A movement can (and should) support satellite groups, but it does so insomuch as they are inline with the movements direction and mission. A movement is not quite a church because it is not about the formation of a localized gathered people as much as it is about a way of life that pursues a certain direction. The distinction is subtle but I think that when lived out practically it makes a huge difference. My guess (my assumption and my hunch) is that a movement should and will lead to the formation of a gathered church where people are not only committed to a way of life but to a gathered way of life.

Grassroots Conspiracy is a movement of people who are choosing to live a certain way. We are a collection of individuals who are choosing to live scattered across the downtown neighborhoods (and a few families who live outside the downtown vicinity), prioritizing living scattered in the neighborhood doing life with and for people over-and-above gathering together often. We gather together only once a month in order to remind each other of the mission that draws us together only then to send each other out to live it. Grassroots Conspiracy works in partnership with a surprisingly large number of churches and organizations. It’s easy to do so because our commitment is to the good news of Jesus (gospel), to seeing his kingdom realized on earth as it is in heaven. At the same time, however, GC has a peculiar way that we are attempting to do life together, certain rhythms that we believe are both fitting to our context and to our story. While we are all about the kingdom and the gospel and therefore in full partnership with anything that is gospel-ish, we also recognize that these rhythms and ways of life that  are distinctively “us” will at times bring separation between us and other groups (hence the reason we’re a movement and not a network) And while we’re committing to a way of life together, I don’t see us as a church because at this point we’re not about the formation of community but to living out the gospel. My guess (my assumption and my hunch) is that this way of life will lead to the creation of a new church…but that’s not where we’re at yet. It’s a part of our anticipated future but not a part of our present reality.

Let me finally add that all of this (and if we were honest much of life) is a grand experiment. We are exploring new ideas, new ways of living, new paradigms for what it means to be church, to do church, to live like Jesus, and to die for the sake of others. I don’t expect to get it right the first go around and so we are therefore all about exploration and experimentation–trying things on, taking things for a spin, and believing that “failure” is a clear part of our future.**


* “a church” is different in my mind than “the church”. THE CHURCH is the name given to those who have committed to following the radical ways of Jesus. It is a global movement, it is massive, messy, crosses every culture. A CHURCH is what I refer to as the local and contextualized expression of this massive movement. It is local, it is somewhat definable, and it (too) is super messy.

** I should also add that I’m more nervous posting this blog than most. When you write something down it tends to be viewed concretely (as maybe it should). While I wish I were that type of person that only writes and says things that he’s certain to defend…I’m not. I work things out publicly, in dialog, with others. When I write blogs or engage in conversation I will rarely sit down beforehand and figure out exactly what I believe in a black and white fashion that I then intend to defend. I realize that this is abnormal and potentially unhealthy for a pastor/leader because we’re supposed to have things figured out…but, again, that’s just not me. I do think I can and would defend everything I’ve said above, but I think it would work better in conversation than it has/does as a blog. Regardless I see it as an important set of ideas to put out there as GC moves forward.

Caught Off Guard by Being Caught Off Guard

I’m constantly caught off guard by being caught off guard. It strikes me at the most surprising times and in the most mundane ways. I remember early on in my post surgery recovery being surprised when a character on a TV show or movie would get up and walk without a limp. My mind would automatically place on these fictional characters my own limitations (this was much earlier in my ‘learning to walk again’ phase). Not only was it shocking that they didn’t limp it was surprising to find myself making these unconscious awkward assumptions.

Even still today I often feel a similar twinge of shock. While I walk pretty normal (I do right?) and function quite highly (right?) I’m occasionally caught off guard by things that I can’t do. It’s not that I think that I CAN do them only to be disappointed when I can’t, it’s that I’m randomly faced with little things that I had forgotten I’d lost. Skipping for example. I didn’t skip much prior to surgery, it wasn’t really a big part of my life…but to know that I can’t even physically accomplish such a task is a strange thing. And it’s not that I sit around and think “Hey, I can’t skip”–it’s that I’ll see someone skipping and then instantly be faced with a thought that hadn’t crossed my mind before: “Hey, I can’t skip!”

Even further, I am shocked when I realize how quickly everything has moved. Doing our taxes brought a wave of emotion as I looked at my calendar from 2011. I was in school still. I was a part of a small group that had been gathering for many years. I was engaged in daily morning prayers with housemates. Those things feel like forever ago! I feel a twinge of…of…something. It’s just so shocking to see the changes that surprisingly occurred in a short amount of time. They were so unexpected, so unanticipated, and it feels like two completely different worlds, it feels like so long ago. But it wasn’t a long time ago.

Even more, while at the tax office we were reminded that it was exactly a year ago that Jess and I made the decision to NOT opt out of social security (clergy have the option to do so if they can justify it on certain specific grounds). We wanted to opt out because we felt as though we’d never use it ’cause it wouldn’t be around when we were old, but we felt like we could not justify opting out based on the stipulated conditions. So we stayed in. But who would have thought that only a few months later (ok, the money didn’t start coming in ’till December) we’d be partially living off of a social security disability check?! When we made that decision we absolutely did not think we’d ever need it nor be able to use it…and now look at us. So surprising. So unanticipated.

Some surprises are good: birthday parties, trips to Hawaii (leaving on Tuesday!), new friendships. Some surprises are rough: do I really need to list any more here? But surprises are a part of being human. Even further, surprises are a part of being a follower of God. My wife has always said that the two most surprising things in existence is the Spirit of God and humanity. Those two things never do what you expect, they’re always surprising you. So why would we think that when those two things blend together (church, life, neighborhood, relationships, etc.) we’ll have any ability to imagine what might be?! Why do we think that we can create bullet points for how God and humanity blend?

Our life is teaching us to expect surprises. Grassroots Conspiracy is an extension of this–it is our attempt to capture the localized story of the Spirit of God coming together amongst a specific people. God and humanity…so so surprising.