Good Vs. Evil

You may not believe it but I’m not actually a big Disney buff. Our family does Disneyland well, it’s become an important place in our story, but I’m not actually into Disney as a whole. But regardless of everything, regardless of their business practices, regardless of their enormous piles of sweatshirts and bling, regardless of all of that there is one thing that Disney has always done well and got right: good vs. evil.

From early on Walt Disney had a keen ability to capture the whole good vs. evil narrative. Maleficent, Ursula, the evil queen from Snow White, Scar, Jafar, dragons, evil step mothers…Disney knows how to personify evil and they know how to capture that battle between the two. Last night, for the first time since high school, I was able to watch Fantasmic (thanks to John and Dawnette who saved us amazing spots!) which is essentially a water show that captures this good vs. evil narrative. (I don’t want to ruin it for you…but Mickey wins). It’s an awesome show and I was so glad that not only was I able to see it but my kids were too…and they loved it!

But it got me thinking–do you buy into this reality? Do you buy into a world that is defined by a massive good vs. evil battle? For most of my life I think I would have answered “yes”

But I’m not sure that I do. I think that the framework of “good vs. evil” is too simplistic and makes it too easy to compartmentalize the world as I experience it. If I only have two categories to place things in “right” and “wrong”, “good” and “evil”, “my team” or “the other team” then I always know where I stand, I always know where you stand, and I’m always at a vantage point to make that judgement call. I mean, what person is not able to easily observe that Scar is evil to the core? It’s simple! It’s easy. But is it accurate?

Life is just not that simple! Is It? Is cancer evil? Clearly! But at the same time I’m seeing the story of me getting cancer literally transform the world around me. So does it go in the ‘evil’ box? If it does belong in the ‘evil’ box then I have to at least observe that God is willing to dip his hand into the ‘evil’ box, pull things out, squeeze some goodness out of them, and then drop them back in. Which then begs the question: how totally evil was it in the first place? (I still tend to think it’s pretty evil-as evil as you can get-but I also feel compelled to recognize the messiness of even this stance)

And what about people? I can’t place people into the evil box because that defeats my whole foundational belief that each person is originally created in the image of God. People are not evil–they’re beautiful. Tarnished maybe. Broken maybe. Making terrible choices maybe. But not evil. There’s got to be hope even for Ursula right?

What about in the spirit world? What about this idea of Satan, of demonic forces, of spiritual beings that are opposed to God and to who He is and what He represents (goodness, et al.)? At the very least we’ve got to concede that these things/beings are evil in every way right? Well, to be perfectly honest I don’t think I’m up for the task of fleshing out this topic while sitting in the Disneyland hotel with my family asleep around me. I’m certain I’d have to think too hard and it’d require way too much of it. I can say that my understanding of the spirit world is not as cut and dry and clear as I once thought it was. At one point in my life I could have explained everything to you as if it was obvious, cut and dry, clear information that God, the Bible, and your mom had spelled out in black and white letters. I no longer see things that simply…nor do I claim to have a mastery on the topic as I once probably ignorantly would have claimed! Is the Devil and idea or a literal being? Is hell a tangible location or more of an absence of realty? Metaphors or plain speech? I’m not sure!! But let me at least see if I can’t rip off a few ideas that I think I’d defend in my Disneyland bed:

  • The world is broken. I mean, come on, we can’t look around and not recognize that things are not as they should be. We may disagree as to why or how (is it ’cause Satan and his minions are actively fighting to hurt and destroy? Maybe.) but I’d press hard to find someone that wouldn’t recognize that things are broken.
  • God fights for you. The idea of the incarnation (big awkward word to say that Jesus became a person with all of its messiness–he went to the bathroom, had to shower, ate olives, etc.) if it says anything it tells us that God is willing to do whatever it takes to bring us hope in the midst of a broken world.
  • God gives his Spirit. Whether or not one believes in a whole system of spiritual forces, of angels, demons, etc. I think it’s pretty clear and makes a lot of sense that God has promised His Spirit to the world–that Jesus made the claim that he needed to go, to be done with his activity on our behalf SO THAT his Spirit could come and work from within his people. There are huge implications to all this that I don’t claim to understand, but I think it’s a promise worth holding on to and I think they’re some implications that are worth pursuing!
  • God wins. Again, I’m not claiming I fully understand what he’s fighting against, but I do know that there’s no question, beyond a shadow of a doubt, without hesitation–God’s got this one in the bag. That’s what this whole idea of “the kingdom of God” that you’ll often see me write about is referring to. The kingdom of God is that ultimate reality where God wins and where everything is finally as he intended it. It’s the reality that we are invited to live into today while knowing that it won’t be fully realized until God chooses to restore all things to their original purpose and intended beauty. But he does win. Brokenness isn’t our ultimate reality.

So what if instead of holding onto a “Good vs. Evil” framework we instead cling to a much more messy and undefinable best vs. better view? Or one that invites us to view things between a life vs. death framework? Does that work? Does Disney have space for that? If we began to make our decisions and to view our existence through lens of good vs. best or best vs. better will we just fall into a sea of nothingness with no rudder to guide us? (I’m seriously wondering here. I’m not asking a rhetorical question that I’m now going to answer) I’m confident that good vs. evil is often and usually too black and white and simplistic to provide us a framework for healthy living that is marked by a way of love because the God that I’m coming to know too often takes ‘evil’ and turns it into something amazing. I think that there are things that lead to death, or said better, there are things that do not produce life–and I think those things are worth opposing and fighting against. We could call those things evil if that’s necessary.

I wish everything were as simple as Fantasmic. The dragon is obviously evil–he has no dreams of one day raising a family, he wasn’t abused as a child thus leading to his destructive lifestyle. Mickey is obviously completely good. Mickey doesn’t have a backstory of sometimes yelling at his wife, he’s never clocked in early at Disneyland before he was supposed to. And in the end everything in Fantasmic is as it should be: Mickey wins by doing an awkward dance with his wand and a few sparklers. It’s easy. It’s simple. It’s good vs. evil and good wins.

I wish life were that simple. Trust me. I’d be doing an awkward sparkler dance right now and rid me of this cancer! I’d zap it on those evil people who clearly were not created in God’s image. It’d be easy. Simple. Black and white. Good vs. Evil…

If only…

Theology Matters

Theology matters. It might sound boring or distant or academic or fill in the blank, but I think the reality is that how we understand God (god, gods, goddess, or the lack thereof) and their relationship with the world defines much of how we ourselves understand reality.

Randomly and without regard for attempting to create a complete or whole list of any kind, here are some random pieces of theology that I’ve been mulling over lately that are important to me.

  • Death isn’t a doorway into a new reality, it is an obstacle that has been overcome. Death is something that attempts to have a stranglehold on our reality that, through Jesus, has been defeated. It’s not an entrance into a new world it’s a pain that’s been incapacitated and left as vulnerable and hallow. We often seem to think in terms of death as a right of passage when in reality it’s an extension of hell that Jesus decided to do away with. I say ‘extension of hell’ because it’s the outcome of our brokenness, of the fact that our bodies are falling apart, it’s a reality that we weren’t necessarily intended for…let me explain more in bullet point numero two.
  • Everyone in their right mind believes in hell. Ok, maybe everyone doesn’t believe in a subterranean place that stinks of rotten eggs and is filled with fire (did I just describe the Fire Swamp from Princess Bride?) But to live in the world and not see or experience hell is to be ignorant or incredibly distracted. Pain, suffering, injustice, addiction, cancer…hell. Hell on earth is a reality, it’s right in front of us, and to deny it is to deny the opportunity for its opposite to be true–namely hope, peace, restoration, transformation, beauty, compassion, forgiveness, healing, love…all those things that wage against hell in all its forms.
  • God doesn’t make shit. I know, I know, I could have said that a different way–but I think claiming the truth that God absolutely does not make crap is the best and most poignant way to be reminded of a number of essential truths that we often mask over. First off, you don’t suck. We might be broken (see bullet point numero two) but we are created in the image of God. God did not make a mistake in making you. Christina Aguilera might have got something kind of a little bit right: you are beautiful. Secondly believing that God doesn’t make shit reminds us that his creation (dirt, sand, sea stars, naked mole rats, etc.) is not something that’s just going to waste away and be destroyed. This world isn’t worthless, it’s not going to be burnt by fire one day as we move onto to some disembodied heavenly place. God isn’t a destroyer, he’s a restorer. Why would he destroy something that he has deemed good? No, God restores things! He restores them to their original purpose and intended beauty! Both our broken bodies and the breaking world he’s given us will one day be restored as he intended them to be because you don’t burn a Picasso if it gets spaghetti sauce on it, you restore it.
  • It’s all about a story. Theology and doctrine is less about bullet points (ironic bullet point eh?) and more about a story. The Bible is not a map, it’s not a rule book, it’s a story. It is an epic and grand narrative that we have been invited to participate in. When we try to reduce it to static bullet points what we’re trying to do is reduce it and remove it from it’s messy context. The reality is that there’s nothing we know about God that isn’t somehow a metaphor and there’s nothing we know from Scripture that isn’t from within the context of messy humanity. This doesn’t mean that snapshots aren’t ever appropriate (pictures still speak a thousand words right?) it just means that we must understand their place and identity. To stare at a picture is to recognize that it was taken amidst a scene, that it’s capture a slice of an event, of something that happened. Bullet point doctrinal statements or theological positions are still-frames within a movie…an epic movie…a movie where we’re invited to act in the fourth installment of the series.
  • Good news is good. If following Jesus isn’t good news for you and for those who are around you then somethings broken. Joining in the Kingdom of Love is a good thing that should be good to you and those around you. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s not hard, I’m not saying that it doesn’t come with a cost, I’m not saying that life might even get tangibly worse in some ways once a person decides to join in the Jesus way…but pain and good are not enemies. Hard and good are not opposed to each other. Many of the best things (friendship, marriage, good food) come at a high cost. But following Jesus, choosing to live into the narrative of Scripture (see previous bullet point), and living a life that dares to lean into the ways of the Kingdom of God should not only be incredibly good news to you but it should be good news to those around you…it’s just the nature of the beast…isn’t it?

I could go on for a while though I think with every bullet point I might be digging myself a bigger hole as I give individuals more things to react against or disagree with! Theology is important, it oddly shapes us as we shape it (and vice versa), it helps us to live into and live out of a reality that can be wholly transformational…or, as I think we see very clearly in different places, theology can be wholly deceptive, destructive, and hurtful. This is why it is important to be a part of a safe community of people where you can hash this stuff out. Find a church, find a friend, find a book club, find a place where you can talk through and figure out what story you’re living out of, what story is defining you, and what story you’d prefer to define your future.


It's Enough: Paying Bills and Finding Jesus

This photo was taken almost exactly one year ago as Vancouver got its first snowfall of the season. India, who loves the snow, ran to the window and sat there in her own little world admiring the beautiful falling snow. As she sat there we heard her murmur to herself “It’s enough” only to then later exclaim to mom and dad “It is, it’s enough!”

Tonight I was blessed to worship with the Renovatus Church community. They’re an amazing crew in general and for a period of time are spending their Sunday evenings reading and listening to the words of Jesus. Tonight the dialog was built off of Jesus’ words and this photograph of India.

For all of time humanity has been looking for answers, most often for easy answers. Generally our questions are about wants, needs, necessities, and preferences. How can I get what I want, why don’t I get what I want, why did I receive what I did not want? The way the narrative of Scripture was written (at least the portion read tonight) was such that the crowds of people were dying for tangible signs of God’s reality, they (like their ancestors) wanted God to meet their needs. So Jesus met their needs with bread and meat. Quite a few thousand people ate bread and meat till their stomachs were filled. But bread and meat were not primary on Jesus’ mind.

Later as he continues to dialog Jesus makes a strange point by saying that HE is in fact the bread/sustenance that they’re looking for–that satisfaction, that their needs and wants are not going to be met by bread and meat (whether it falls miraculously from the sky, is handed over by the hand of Jesus himself, or is found through hard work or labor).  Jesus makes the audacious claim that he is enough. If you’re looking for bread and meat that’ll actually satisfy you’ve got to look at him. Oddly, though, it wasn’t that he was inviting people to look TO him for provision but instead to look to him AS the provision itself.

Needs Met

Over the last eight months my family’s needs have been in amazing ways. Financially speaking we are in a strange place. Major medical bills aside, if we were to make enough money to make our budget and pay our monthly co-pays/medicines/non-insurance covered visits/etc. we would make too much to qualify for our partially subsidized health insurance. So our options are: keep insurance and don’t pay for medicine or be uninsured with my prescriptions. Quite the pickle! (I could go into more detail, but that’s not the point) What has allowed us to make it is that there has always been a small amount of money trickling into our savings account through family and friends generosity. That extra non-salary income has allowed us to make ends meet. Here’s the cool part though, at least on four occasions our savings account has gone down to zero only to be replenished with varying amounts within at least 48 hours. Each time we scrape the bottom of the barrel there seems to be another shovel full of flour to be used for baking.*

And while that’s all awesome and I’m overwhelmed by the beautiful reality of it…it’s not the point. Not everyone who goes through our situation is taken care of by friends and family so effectively…and who’s to say that if this doesn’t drag on that eventually bankruptcy or something financially painful isn’t a part of our future?! The point is not that God has promised to provide us enough bread and meat!

Is He Enough?

The question that Jesus invites us to ask and answer is…is he enough? Am I satisfied with finding my hope in a resurrected Jesus? Am I satisfied in the invitation to follow him, to live with him, to die with him? Is Jesus enough? If everything else in my life fails is Jesus still enough? Is there hope beyond life being tidy, beyond things working out (as I think they should), beyond getting better? I think there is. I think that’s part of what made Jesus so radical–he was wholly connected to the pain and reality of this world while completely transcending it. He provided bread and meat but he invited people into a deeper reality–a more real reality (good grammar right?).

When India was staring out that window there wasn’t all that much snow on the ground. But it was enough for her. Even if it melted that afternoon she was willing and ready to take joy in what was given. I too want to take joy in what’s given, to find satisfaction in what I receive. Even if it all melts away before I’m ready I want to choose to be disappointed by hope than to never hope at all. But hope, true hope, is not founded in what we receive but in who we are given to or who gives themselves to us.


* (Late Addition) Let me clarify some by saying that through it all we are still working as employees of Renovatus as one of their daughter church plants. While things are moving slower than intended due to my health we have continued the work and continued drawing a part-time salary. Some have questioned where our income comes from and if it will ‘mess insurance things up’ if they send the church money. The answer is no, we are always in need of new financial partners to support Grassroots Conspiracy. If you’d like to join you can do so here: . Hope that clarifies!

Bastards, two dads, unplanned pregnancies: the Birth story of Jesus

What a crock! Have any of you paid attention to the lyrics to “Away in a Manger”? Really? Jesus didn’t cry as a baby? Have you ever bucked hay before? Try sleeping in it! You ever see a baby that never cries? That song is just one example of how we have romanticized and thus taken away some of the power of Jesus’ birth story.

How cool is it that Jesus was the bastard child of an unwed teen mom? How cool is it that Jesus has two daddies? How strange is it that Jesus was poor? That he grew up as an illegal alien? That he spent his formative years in the ghetto? That he pooped his pants as a baby. That Jesus had to be potty trained. Potty trained!

The story of Jesus’ birth is not a romantic pretty story of God coming to meet his subjects. No, it is a story that completely captures the experience of humanity in so many ways. When we dull it over we ruin the reality of the story. We miss the beauty of the gift.

Here’s the Christian birth narrative–

A divorced God* decides the only way to bring hope and restoration back to humanity is to work within it. So he sends himself in Jesus as an unplanned pregnancy to a poor teenage mom. He was a child who had to not only hold the tension of having that stigma but he also held the tension of having two dads, one was Joseph and the other was Yahweh–both fathers, both real, both belonging to him. He was born in a barn ’cause apparently daddy number two wasn’t on good speaking terms with his family in Bethlehem. Their impoverished family soon had to flee to Egypt where he grew up as an illegal alien until he was able to return back home to Nazareth–a place that you NEVER want to live and always want to be leaving. It’s the ghetto, it’s Detroit (sorry Detroit).

We’ve missed the story and I think we’ve missed out because of it. Christmas season should propel us to reorient our lives not only around the ideals of the Kingdom of God but around the manner in which that Kingdom was brought to earth. Single moms in our neighborhoods must be cared for! We can’t give them the ugly eye when their kids act up with the store, we must extend grace! The ghetto can’t be avoided as a place too dangerous for us in the burbs (or wherever you live) because Jesus grew up there. That’s his hood…and I  if I were you I’d try to go where Jesus goes ’cause I think he was on to something. Whatever we think about gay marriage maybe we should have space to honor any two individuals regardless of gender who want to love on a child–Jesus seemed to do alright. Maybe we should be gentle with those who come across our border because like Jesus it’s quite possible they’re running from hell on the other side. Maybe the Christmas story is even more than just a season of giving (though that’s pretty frickin’ important and totally fits the story too) but it’s also a season of reorienting our view of humanity because of how Jesus chose to redeem all of it…even Detroit.


* All throughout the Bible a metaphor is used referring to God as a jilted lover. As someone who has given his bride (us) everything only to have us turn our backs on him and demand a divorce. Even though he repeatedly says that he hates divorce (’cause divorce so often sucks. We know that) he, in fact, within the metaphor (and everything when talking about God is in fact a metaphor isn’t it?) is a divorced and hurt groom still waiting for things to be made right. God totally gets divorce and thinks that it sucks.

The Scars of Humanity

To be human is to be wounded–it is to have scars. Scars are just mile-markers in a story and to be human is to have an active part in the telling of yours and others’ stories.

The massive scar on my back is an often hidden testimony to my surgery over the last month. My limp is a memorial to my fight against cancer. In the Jewish scriptures their ancestor Jacob walked with a limp and it reminded him (and everyone else) of his struggle with God. Jesus has scars on his wrists and his side that bear testimony of his being human. Gandhi’s physique told a story. Mother Teresa’s crippled feet capture that she always gave away the best shoes to others while keeping the worst for herself. Her feet (and her shoes) told a story about her life. Scars. Markers. Memorials.

I’m not placing myself as an example next to Jesus, Mo T, Gandhi, and Jacob as if I’m anywhere near their level of sacrifice. That’s not the point. No, I’m actually placing all of us next to that lineup because like those icons we all bear the scars of being human. We carry with us baggage from how our mom or dad parented us, from how a family member inappropriately touched us, from the death of a friend, from depression, from an epic fight with God, or from an innumerable list of things that scar our bodies, our hearts, our selves.

We are scared people and we need not be ashamed of them. They are a part of us but they do not define who we are. Think about scars. What do you do with a cool scar? You show it off right? You’re proud of it. You’re not proud of a scar because you’re proud of the fact that you don’t use proper knife safety; no you’re proud of it because its in the past, because you’ve moved past it (though its not left behind), you’ve overcome it (though it has left a mark).

I like the term coined by the late Henri Nouwen–we all have opportunity to function as wounded healers. We’ve got scars and scratches of many kinds–but we proudly own those stories as a part of our past, as a part of who we are. We are all wounded. Some of us are being defined by our wounds, we’re living out of the story that caused those cars and thus are dying from them. Some of us try to pretend like we aren’t scared and thus live in awkward ignorance and have little story at all. All of us, however, are invited to live as wounded healers.