Experimenting Our Way With Jesus

I’m almost embarrassed to share this with you but quite a few years ago I created a bit of an experiment. I’m a bit embarrassed because the content of this experiment is slightly childish…but to my credit it was done back when Facebook was still young, new, and fresh to me. Groups and pages and “liking” things were all new ideas and concepts that I was still exploring.

So I created Pit Stains.

It was an experiment to see if something as idiotic as this could randomly, on its own, get a following. I’m not sure if having 135 followers after a few years is considered a valuable experiment or not. That’s the thing about experiments: success isn’t measured simply by achieving a goal as much as it is by what you’ve learned. The reason I’m not sure it was a successful experiment is because I’m not sure I’ve learned anything whatsoever. At the very least I still get a bit of a kick out of the drawing I made…and isn’t that enough?

At Grassroots we talk a lot about experimenting. Honestly we are not at a place where we have initiated many experiments, but at the very least it is a part of our verbiage, a part of our identity, and is projected as a part of our defining behaviors.

Experimentation is important because very little will keep a group from calcification. Over time every group will work itself toward being defined by a more rigid set of ideals, structures, or systems. While none of those are bad things, I do think that (at least for what we’re attempting to do) acquiescing to rigidity or creating a stiff and inflexible identity is unhealthy and counterproductive. When following the Spirit of God (always moving and very fluid) and working amongst and in partnership with humanity (always moving and very fluid as a whole) it is impossible to stay healthy and stagnant at the same time.

Experimentation, I believe, is one of the keys to keeping a sense of fluidity and creativity amongst us at Grassroots. It invites us to explore the words of Jesus in meaningful ways. It invites us to move past the fear of failure because in experimentation failure teaches you just as much as success (probably more actually). It invites us into a way of life defined by journey over and above destination–something that I think is hugely valuable for an as you are going missional mentality.

It must look different in every context depending on what you’re seeking to learn, who you’re partnering with, what questions you have, what stories you’re interacting with (I’m thinking here of the Jesus narrative primarily), etc. So I can’t speak much into what this all may or could look like. What I can say is that the Grassroots Conspiracy and all of its co-conspirators seek to be defined by an experimental mentality where we are continually caught up in the vastness and mystery of following Jesus in and amongst the beautiful and messy creation of God. I think I can safely say that questions and ideas will range from

  • How often should we meet together…and where should we do it and why and for what purpose?
  • If scripture tells us to care for orphans and widows what implications does this have for my widowed cranky neighbor down the street and how might the GC community shape an experiment to better live out this text within my own reality?
  • How might we follow Jesus’ words to love your neighbor as yourself if many of us struggle to love self?
  • What if, in an attempt to ‘turn the other cheek’, we gave up partaking in any violence whatsoever for six weeks? How would that shape our media choices? The Bible stories we read? The way we speak about political opponents? The way we love our spouse? The type of chocolate we purchase?
I can imagine question after question from huge to seemingly mundane where an experimental mentality could wholly change our outlook on life, on theology, on love, or on marriage. or. Or. OR it could be as simple as inviting us to not take ourselves so seriously, to let us off the hook a bit for doing everything exactly right every single time all of the time.
Maybe we should just experiment a bit and see what we learn. Who knows, maybe we don’t all have it figured out already?


If you want to read a great book about experimenting within the ways of Jesus, you must read Mark Scandrette’s book Practicing the Ways of Jesus. It is absolutely dynamite. No joke.

New Cars Symbolizing Death

We bought a car yesterday. A nice car. A car that I’d never buy. It’s a 2012 Jetta Sportwagen diesel. Jess and I would never buy this car. But we just did.

We buy junkers. We buy used Hyundai Accents, we buy old Chevy minivans with 100,000 miles on them, we buy cheap older cars. That’s just what we do.

But things have changed. Our old minivan is done. At 200,000+ miles the AC doesn’t work, the windows don’t roll down, one sliding door is permanently shut (because it’ll randomly open on its own while driving on the freeway!), the gas gauge doesn’t work, the brake lights do not work, the cruise control does not work, it needs new brakes and tires, and-oh did I mention-it’s got some engine and transmission work that needs to be done. So we knew we needed something soon. We also knew that when/if I die Jess would cash purchase a new car with her life insurance money. But I’m not dead yet…

So to make a short story shorter, in the end we realized that now was the time for me to be able to care for my wife by purchasing a car together that she was going to have to purchase on her own–to buy her “my husband is gone, I don’t want to worry about cars right now or for the immediate future, I just want to care for my children and recover” car. That “car” has good gas mileage (we hope to keep her monthly overhead costs low if/when I pass), it’s got to have space for children and their bikes/toys/camping trips/etc., it’s got to be a good quality car that’ll last her ’till our kids are in high school, and it’s got to be a newer car that won’t be breaking down often and thus demanding more of her time. She doesn’t care about bells, whistles, shiny things–just those practical things. That’s the car that we realized we must buy now. This week. Today. Ok, as it turns out, yesterday.

There’s just one problem…

I’m not dead!

That life insurance money is not there to fork over in cash for her ‘ideal’ car! How do you buy a car that you can only afford if you die? To be honest we don’t quite have the answer to that question. I won’t go into details regarding the deal we got on the car (though we got a good one thanks to an important connection) and I’ll honestly say that we’re still figuring out what it looks like to be able to afford it–but what I will say is that buying this car is messing me up. It’s messing Jess up. (and this is where I really want this blog to land)

Purchasing this car feels symbolic. It’s the beginning of a new life: a new life for a single mother who has lost her husband and has a new set of needs that demands a new type of car. It’s symbolic of me being gone and of her being alone. I almost feel like by purchasing this car I have given up on living! ‘Cause lets be honest, I’m not sure we can afford this car unless I die! I had better fork over that cash at some point during the life of this loan. Ha. When all was said and done at the dealership and we both had a moment to reflect we found ourselves honestly sad. What had we done? It wasn’t buyers remorse. No, it was the symbolism. We had just taken our first giant and tangible step forward into a post-Ryan world…and…well…it’s weird. I should probably have a better word than “weird” as a descriptor here. I’m sure real writers would use better words but at this moment it feels right. It just feels weird. It doesn’t feel bad because I know that at its core this is a moment where I was able to care for my wife in a very real way: I just freed her of having to do this whole experience on her own (and oh what an experience it was at the dealership!!). No, there was something beautiful about this stepping out together–but it was is very hard and very…weird. It feels weird to drive such a nice car–we don’t drive cars like this. It feels weird not drive a minivan anymore–we love minivans. It feels weird to call it my wife’s car–it’s always been “us”. It feels weird.

It is weird to continually try to figure out what it looks like to live in the tension of reality as it is and reality as we hope it to be. I hope that we end up having to restructure our loan because I miraculously don’t die. I hope that reality as it appears is not reality as it turns out. I hope to live and I know that God can bring this about. but. But. BUT I feel invited to step out in faith, to let go of any semblance of control by being ok with death. By being ok with preparing my wife for my death. By being ok with purchasing a car in preparation of my death. I don’t like it. It’s weird. It makes me sad. It worries me. I hate death. Death sucks. Death is the ultimate enemy. Buying new cars sucks. Car dealerships are enemies sidekicks. But (and there have been a lot of “buts” in this post haven’t there?!) my faith is in Jesus–not in healing, not in an easy life, not in a life that I expect but instead in the story he chooses to tell in and through me. If a new Jetta Sportwagen tdi is a part of that story…cool. Weird, but cool.

So…all that is to say…my wife got a new car yesterday.

Be a Ben–Really Bad Metaphor (part 3)

Today has been a glorious day…kind of. My gnarly ear infection, while rendering me rather deaf, has not caused the same pain that it was causing for the previous week. But even beyond the pain reprieve I was also blessed to spend some time with my sister and my bro-in-law Ben.

Ok, if I were to be totally honest, Ben is forcing me to write a blog about him. His self-esteem is quite precarious and I fear that if I do not write about him he might crumple in such a way that may be detrimental to my nieces and nephew’s health. So for the sake of the family I’m choosing to write about him. Remember, it’s for the kids.

Though, this does remind me of an important lesson that we should probably be made aware of. For a period of time I tried to make a series of quality metaphors that sought to transform not only the way we live but virtually everything about how we understand the world.

So with that in mind, here is today’s–Ben inspired–important metaphor:

Ben himself is a metaphor. Yes he’s human–but aren’t we all? Yes, he’s a man–but aren’t we all? No, literally we are not ALL men, but illustratively we are because we all want what all men want: satisfaction. And in this satisfaction we strive to become better men. Better humans. Better Bens. If we are able, if we achieve such a noble goal so to become better Ben’s then we’ll achieve something even more extraordinary–we’ll achieve ultimate manhood. Not a manhood as Braveheart might invite us to define it, but manhood as Ben would have us define it. Doing dishes, respecting our neighbors, eating strawberries, folding napkins, and even (if we’re lucky) downing a beer or two with friends while frolicking in the snow wearing nothing but our childhood snowbibs adorned with rainbows and old cigarette burn marks. So live, be free, frolic. Be a man, be alive, be a Ben. But don’t destroy what we’ve all been working for: equality. Equality between all peoples regardless of race, sex, ethnicity, language, nationality, economic status, place of birth, or citizenship. Equality. That’s what it means to be a Ben. That’s why today has been so wonderful– Ben invites me to a way of life marked by equality, manliness, and-above all-satisfaction. So be satisfied and drink of the sweet nectar known as Ben.

Why Adam and Eve are Ruining my Children

I think I’ve written this blog before but I’m constantly amazed at what I’ve determined is some kind of naturally born, innate, passed-through-our-genetic-makeup set of behaviors that every kid knows. I tend to credit nurture over nature for most of my children’s habits. But there are some that I know I never taught them and I’m certain that they are not teaching them in school.

I mean seriously when do kids get taught “neener neener neener” or some variation of the same? “Nah, nah, nah, nah, na na”…sticks and stones…I know you are but what am I…

It’s got to be that they’re born with it ’cause I watch my kids on the playground vigilantly and while they learn bad habits from other kids (and also graciously pass them on to even more) I’ve never heard them learn those ones. Even still, even if they did hear some of those classic childhood phrases it’s not as if they’re all sitting down together listening, reciting, and repeating together. If I know anything it’s that children do not teach children these idiotic phrases. And that’s a scientific fact! Yet here I am in life listening to my kids use them to appropriately taunt others. No, there’s got to be a better answer…and I think I’ve found it.

It’s got to be that when God created Adam and Eve he gave them two gifts that they had not eared: belly buttons and a set of childish phrases to use toward each other and their animal friends. I’m fairly certain that when Eve ate the apple from the serpent she was like “Hey Adam check out this apple I just ate from this talking snake.” And Adam was like “No thanks. I’m on the Atkins diet and I only eat our animal friends.” and Eve was like “seriously Adam? Riiiight….neener neener neener I bet you can’t eat one! Nah nah nah nah poo poo I ate more apple than you” and Adam was like “Whatever Eve. I know you are but what am I?” and Eve was like “Oh, good one Adam. I’m rubber you’re glue” and Adam was like “Rubber? Glue? Those don’t even exist in our garden utopia…hmm…maybe there is something to those whole apple thing” and Eve was like “Yeah, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you” and Adam was like “Hmm…fruit, talking serpent, naked lady, childhood taunting…how could I say no?”

and the rest is history.

Really Bad Metaphors (part 2)

This is part two in my multifaceted series of really really bad metaphors making absolutely no valuable point whatsoever. So without further adieu…a really poor illustration for life:

When me and my sisters were little my grandma always instructed us to not let the dog lick us. Dogs have dirty mouths of course. She did, however, have one alternative–one way in which dog licking was always aceptable–one way in which she actually encouraged dog licking to happen. “You can let the dog lick your ear as much as you want.” This wasn’t a joke, it wasn’t a tricky way to keep the kids from receiving dog licks. No, she was serious. And so were we. I spent much of my childhood trying to get a dog to lick my ear.

Don’t we all want to have our ear licked by a dog? Imagine in this illustration that you are me, that your ear represents your heart, the dog represents your father, and the tongue represents his love…No, wait, you’re me, the ear is your fear, the dog is God, and the tongue is the BIble…No, that’s not it…hmm…

Just like trying to get my childhood ear licked by my grandma’s dog so too we often spend much of our life trying to get our ears licked by dogs…no, that’s not right either…

Turns out there’s no metaphor or illustration here…turns out my grandma was just a bit crazy and my sisters and I looked just a bit awkward.