At 5 years old I tried to steal $20 from my brother… but I got caught. The moment I got caught my cheeks went scarlet red, tears filled my eyes, and I was overwhelmed with regret. I knew it was wrong, and my body was doing what it was designed to do in that moment. I was blushing.
This wasn’t the cute kind of blushing that happens when someone says something nice about you and you act bashful- this is the blushing that comes when you are embarrassed and full of shame because you’ve blown it and you know it and everyone else knows it too.
At 10 years old I tried to steal a piece of candy from a pharmacy but I got caught. They called my mom, and she told them to send me home right away. When I walked into our apartment, she didn’t even look at me. It was like a perfect parenting move- the sadness I felt when she couldn’t even look at me. Brutal.
My cheeks went red again, tears filled my eyes again, and I was filled with regret. I knew it was wrong, and my body was doing what it was designed to do in that moment: I was blushing.
At 13 years old I said, “Hey everyone, watch this! I’m gonna throw this rock at Mr. Queen!” Mr. Queen was our 60-something year old P.E. teacher, who was standing about 30 feet away helping kids load the bus after school.
I threw that rock, and it hit him right in the side of the head. I couldn’t hit the side of a barn from 3 feet away usually, but suddenly in my depravity I was channeling Carl Yastrzemski… He stumbled, almost went down, then looked in our direction as he grasped his bleeding head.
Every 8th grader at my school pointed at me simultaneously. Bunch of sellouts.
He rage-walked over to me and, through gritted teeth demanded, “Why would you do that?!” My cheeks went red, and I was filled with regret, but there were no tears this time… My pride wouldn’t let me cry in front of my classmates. I couldn’t show that kind of weakness, even when I knew I had done something terrible.
This trajectory continued for the next decade, until there came a point when I could do whatever I wanted, no matter how wrong it was, and I would feel nothing. My cheeks wouldn’t go red, I wouldn’t feel any regret, and I was numb to the pain I had created. It took a while, but eventually, I forgot what it was like to blush.
It felt like freedom in a way- when you don’t have to worry about blushing any more, you can behave however you want! You can hack your conscience. It takes a while, but anyone can do it!
So, even though it was uncomfortable, the blushing was actually a good thing. It showed that I knew the difference between right and wrong.
But I’ve felt firsthand what it’s like to forget how to blush. I’ve felt firsthand what it’s like to ignore and suppress those initial feelings when they start to well up inside. I’ve mastered the art of making excuses, and convincing myself that my justifications are true.
(this is a transition)
I’m not going to say this is is exactly what is happening in the Evangelical world, but I keep bumping into Christians who seem to have forgotten how to blush. I’m not big on shaming, it doesn’t work… but I’m seeing something concerning.
Many Christians have pledged their allegiance to a President whose actions should make people blush (at a minimum). They’ve given a free pass to actions that should fill a healthy person’s heart with grief. They’ve ignored the countless lies, the bullying, the obvious insecurities and the corruptible behavior that should make all of us blush.
Unless we’ve forgotten how.
When I have pointed this out, I am typically told that I am being divisive, that nothing is wrong, and that I should be more encouraging or hopeful. It makes me wonder if they can even see what I can see. These are good people, who seem to have blinders on, incapable of seeing what is so obviously wrong.
It’s a familiar script. It comes from the Book of Jeremiah:
“They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. Were they ashamed of their detestable behavior? No, they were not ashamed at all. They have lost the ability to blush.” Jeremiah 8:11-12
They had the ability, but they lost it.
They’re saying, “Peace! Peace!” because they can’t see that they’re standing in the middle of a chaos they have perpetuated.
It’s not even intentional any more… they’ve just lost the ability altogether.
This is the only explanation that makes any sense to me, in light of the behavior I’m seeing. I can’t explain it any other way.
In my life I have earned a Master’s Degree in Stupidity, but I’ve also been given eyes to see….
that humility is better than arrogance.
that honesty is better than deceit.
that inclusion is better than discrimination.
that meekness is better than bravado.
that mercy is better than judgment.
that purity is better than toxicity.
that peace is better than war.
that the way of Jesus is better than the way of Trump.
It seems to me that most Christian I see are trapped in a prison of their own making: they want to support a President because he is allegedly pro-life, but they’ve had ignore so much to do so.
How else can we make sense of the people who are supposed to be followers of the Jesus way? It seems that many of us have forgotten who we are.
We’ve forgotten how to blush.
But we can learn again. That’s the beauty of being human- we can change. We can start today. We can, as Christians, reclaim the story that we’re a part of. It’s the only story that will last forever.
When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight.
The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.
Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.
The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.
You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken in the race of days.
At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.
You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.
Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.
Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.
Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.
Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.
I grew up in (South) Scottsdale, so I am clearly an expert when it comes to gangsters and gang membership.
True story: when I was a senior in high school, the local authorities (our school resource officer) questioned me about my involvement in a gang called “The Crew”.
I was a part of “the crew”, but we weren’t called “The Crew”, we were just a bunch of kids who hung out together, and occasionally referred to each other as “our crew” or said things like, “the crew is hanging out” or something like that… but word got to THE MAN, and they thought we were forming a gang. We embraced it.
So, as you can see, I didn’t choose the thug life… it chose me.
Because of my gang affiliation, I learned a lot about gangster life. One thing I learned was the ritual known as “blood in, blood out”.
I Googled that phrase in preparation for the scholarly work you’re currently reading, and I see that a movie and a TV series or two have come out with that as the title. Let me save you a couple hours of time and tell you what it means.
Blood in, blood out is the idea that, to join a gang, you first have to kill someone. They bleed, you’re in. Blood in. It’s as terrible as it sounds.
Blood out is the idea that, if you ever want to leave that gang, you’re gonna have to bleed… to death. Blood out. You’re out.
The whole idea is primitive and barbaric, but I respect one thing about it: the commitment level.
If you want to be a gangster, you’re in it for life, one way or the other. You’re committed to them. On the flip side, your fellow gang members are in it WITH YOU for life. They’re completely committed to you.
There’s nothing you can do to end your connection and belonging to that gang, except die.
Plus, your fellow gang members will both kill for you AND die for you.
You’re in. For life. You’re ONE until you’re DONE.
It’s a lifetime membership.
Ok, so I wish there were no gangs or violence or bla bla bla… but here’s why I share all of that:
If you’re a Christian, my theological understanding is that you’re in, and you’re always in.
Kick it old school Baptist with me for a minute— what I’m saying is, you can’t “lose your salvation” or your place in the family of God, or your forgiven’ness (that’s not a word), or phrase it however you want.
It won’t be taken from you. Nothing will be reversed or undone. The Spirit of God isn’t gonna reverse and undo and move out of you… you’re sealed and set, AND there’s nothing YOU can do to end it either.
You’re in. Forever. Feels good, right?!
That’s all true on a cosmic level, but it’s not… always… true here in the flesh and blood level.
You can be OUT of that community if you do something as simple as… change your mind about something.
If you no longer share the same certainty with your community, you may soon find yourself on the outside of that community looking in!
If you change your mind about anything from baptism to egalitarianism to inerrancy to LGBTQ inclusion, you might find yourself with some extra free time on Sundays pretty quick!
Here’s my point: when it comes to commitment, the Church is losing to the Bloods and the Crips!
It’s blood in, blood out for the gang members
It’s believe in, disagree out for the church members.
Does anyone else see the absolute craziness of this?!
There are 4,000+ religions in the world, but we’re bold enough to kick people to the curb if they don’t guess about God the same way we guess about God.
We can do better.
We have to do better.
This was originally an email that I sent to our church’s plant’s Launch Team, and then posted on social media.
I’d like to catch you up on some important details about Prodigal Church. It’s a very long story that I will make as short as possible!
First, if you know my story, you know that it was a miracle that I ever came to faith. I had completely derailed my life, made every mistake imaginable, and was actually enjoying myself. When I realized how much God loved me, felonies and all, it changed me. It still amazes me.
Not only does it amaze me, but it has convinced me that the gospel really is good news of great joy for all people. It has convinced me that if this is open to me, then it is open to everybody. If you’ve ever heard me teach, you’ve probably heard me shout that, desperate that everyone in the room will believe it and step into this reality.
So, when we announced last year that we were starting a new church, I knew that it had to be a place where anyone could come. I even said things like, “The only people who won’t be welcome at Prodigal Church will be people who make other people feel unwelcome.” That’s probably too strong of a statement but it makes the point.
It begged the question: “What kind of person would potentially feel unwelcome at Prodigal Church, or any other church for that matter?”
It didn’t take long to realize that there are lots of people who would probably feel unwelcome, specifically, the millions of people who are a part of the LGBTQ community.
A few years ago I remember having an intense emotional experience about this. I think at the time I would have called it an “issue” I was wrestling with. But it isn’t an issue- we’re talking about people: moms, dads, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles. People who, frankly, I haven’t been around much. I’ve been in full-time vocational ministry for 18 years, and I can count on one hand the amount of people I’ve talked to who are LGBTQ. They were almost never in my circles, which begged the question why? There are literally millions of Americans that identify as LGBTQ, and many of them are Christians, so why wasn’t I interacting with them? What I realized a few years ago was that my easy answers to these questions didn’t sufficiently address the complexities of the LGBTQ community.
When we announced that we were starting a new church last year, I knew that I had to resolve this. I still had a traditional view of marriage and sexuality, but my head and my heart weren’t in alignment. My heart grieved for how badly the church has treated this community, and also for the fact that I had ignored them for so long. I let easy answers keep them at bay and explain them away, but I couldn’t do that any more.
Lindsay and I have spent the past year, especially the past six months, studying Scripture, reading everything we could get our hands on, listening to various viewpoints, talking to pastors all over the country, and praying endlessly about this, and we had no idea we would land where we are. About a month ago, after spending the year obsessively focusing on this, we both changed our minds.
We no longer believe what we once did about the LGBTQ community, and we cannot create a community that discriminates against them in any way. To be as clear as I can be: I do not think that the six verses in the Bible that address same-sex behavior are referring to what we see today with monogamous, consenting, same-sex relationships in a covenant of marriage. I believe that Paul and Moses were addressing something much different. This is not the position that I had for the first 16 years of my ministry career, but it is what I believe today. I’d be happy to share the resources that have led me to this understanding.
I know that for many of you this will be a brand new idea, and quite a surprise that I have arrived here. Trust me, I didn’t see this coming either! It wasn’t until the past couple of months that I became convinced of this. Not the best timing, you could say, but we woke up every day and simply took the right next step, and this is where we are.
That being said- if this is too much of a stretch for you, I completely understand! We’ve been stretched for years, and it would be unrealistic and unloving for us to expect you to change your perspective and understanding quickly, or even years from now. You may never change your mind, and that won’t change my opinion of you.
If you have likely contributed to us financially, and this is too much of a stretch for you, I want to offer to refund your gift entirely. This may not be what you agreed to, and I promise that I didn’t see this coming when we invited you to participate, so please let me know if you would like to be refunded. Again, I will completely understand.
Just a side note: If this has caused you to question my character or my motives, I understand that as well. I’ll just say this: this won’t make things easier for us. The easy route would be to continue ignoring this, and try to build a big church by leveraging my history in the East Valley. Frankly, if we had seen this coming, Arizona might not have been at the top of our list, only because we have hundreds of people who are hoping and expecting me to be who I’ve always been and believe what I’ve always believed. So much has stayed the same in that regard, but this particular belief has changed.
Again, if you would like to explore the content that Lindsay and I have been exploring, I would be happy to share that with you. Just let me know. If you’re not a big reader, I also have hours and hours of video content that I can share with you, along with a podcast or two.
This conversation is very important, but our primary message is that there is a God who has come running off the porch to embrace us in our mess. Our mission is still to tell everyone we know about the radically inclusive love of God, seen so clearly in the life and teaching of Jesus. What will define us is our relentless pursuit of people who feel like there’s no seat at the table for them. There has been a resurrection, and that is really, really good news.
I would love to hear from you. If this update has created a fork in the road for you, and you can no longer continue with us, I totally understand, just let me know.
If this update has made you curious about all of this and you’d like to learn more, please let me know.
If this update has caused you great excitement, and you’re ready to move forward with us, please let me know.
Regardless of your response, I still have so much love, respect and gratitude for you all, whether you agree with me or not. We may not all have uniformity of opinion on this, but I know that we are united by our love and devotion to Jesus Christ, the risen King.
Love you guys,
Here is a list of some of the most helpful resources we explored as we were exploring the LGBTQ conversation.
- “Changing Our Mind” by David Gushee: https://goo.gl/ecmKDS
- “Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-sex Relationships” by James Brownson: https://goo.gl/oZ22LB
- “God and the Gay Christian” by Matthew Vines: https://goo.gl/S6jcYr
- “Unclobber” by Colby Martin: https://goo.gl/nfHDUR
- “Torn” by Justin Lee: https://goo.gl/8cT3PX
- Denver Community Church: http://www.denverchurch.org/lgbtqlearninggroup/
- Together in This: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCj7j5qgIMa9gX-apCl7h1Yg/about
- The Liturgists: http://www.theliturgists.com/podcast/2015/5/18/episode-20-lgbtq
I was a bit unsettled when Linds told me that she was pregnant. We weren’t trying, but we weren’t not trying either. But we got excited! It was our first year of marriage, and we had just moved to a new state for a new job, but whatever!!
And then we learned that it was going to be a miscarriage…
The day of the actual miscarriage was absolutely terrible. The physical pain she endured, the loss we were enduring, the whole thing sucked.
I was supposed to speak at a Winter Camp for a bunch of high school kids a couple days later. I told Linds I was going to cancel to be with her, but she told me that I should keep my commitment to them.
We had only been married a year, but I knew exactly what this little interaction was: this was a TEST! She was testing me to see if I was a moron that would go spend a few days in the woods while his new wife grieves alone. Yeah right!
“I’m not gonna go. I’ll cancel so I can be with you.” This was a test I was gonna pass.
But then she said, “No, you should go, I’ll be fine. I want you to go.” She meant it. It wasn’t a test, she really thought I should go speak.
I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to go talk about how great God was, or his plan for anyone’s life. His plan for my life had just been sucker-punched, so I wasn’t in the mood. But I went.
Four days in the woods with a bunch of high school kids… pretty uneventful. I was glad when it was over.
Then we got the bug… the baby bug.
We wanted to be parents now. So… we tried. And tried. And tried. And not to be awkward… but we kept trying. For a long time. Weeks went by… negative test after negative test… month after month, for what seemed like forever… and it just kept NOT happening.
In the meantime, everyone and their mother was becoming a new mother. Literally, moms of moms of moms were getting pregnant. Old women, young women… all of them were getting pregnant and having babies.
There were babies everywhere. Millions of them… everywhere I went we saw women holding babies, babies holding babies, babies… babies… babies.
But none of them were for us.
Our pregnancy must have been a fluke. Apparently we’re never gonna get pregnant.
Then we reminded each other that we had always wanted to adopt, even before our first pregnancy, we knew we wanted that to be a part of our story.
So… here we go!
We applied with an adoption agency, then we interviewed with them, and interviewed, and interviewed… and eventually got approved by them to become adoptive parents!
We had to take 3,947 classes to be “ready” to adopt, and we finally were, at least according to them. All we had to do was create a little profile that would go in a big book full of people that wanted to adopt a baby, and then hope that some girl picked us.
Our profile was dope. I mean… it was good. I was proud. We got all my students involved… professional graphics were created… it was money.
Then we had to wait.
At some point in that process I got a call from a buddy of mine who was a pastor. He was actually the pastor who asked me to come and speak at that Winter Camp months before.
He said, “I know you guys are looking to adopt, and that you’re working with an agency, but I wanted to tell you something. There’s a girl in our high school group that is pregnant, and she’s considering adoption. Do you want me to connect you with her?”
WHAT DO YOU MEAN “DO I WANT YOU TO CONNECT ME WITH HER OF COURSE I WANT YOU TO…” Sorry. I don’t mean to yell. But I remember thinking, “OF COURSE WE WANT TO TALK TO HER!”
And then he said, “Here’s the crazy part: she was at that camp you spoke at.”
She was there? At the camp I absolutely didn’t want to go to? She was in that crowd?
Her and the birth father were there. Two great kids sitting there, oblivious to everything I had been through that week, and also oblivious to plot twist coming in their own stories.
I asked my buddy if he would share her name with me, and he did, and we went full-on STALKER mode. Google, Facebook… blogs… we looked anywhere and everywhere for info on her. After a week or two or being super detectives, I felt like we knew her PRETTY well haha. Gosh, we’re kinda creepy! Oh well.
Then… after all of that.
I was sitting on a 55-passenger bus on the way to a Summer Camp with a bunch of my own students. We finally had everyone counted and loaded, and we were about to pull out of the parking lot when my phone dinged.
It was an email.
It went something like this…
“Hi, my name is Erin. You don’t know me, but…”
Let’s stop there for a moment, haha!
OH WE KNEW HER. We had been stalking that girl nonstop! Ok anyways…
She shared that she was pregnant… and that my buddy had given her my email… and she was wondering if we might be interested in having a conversation, because she was considering adoption.
“The baby is due November 20th.”
There’s a baby… in a belly… in her belly… SHE is talking to ME about a baby.
We want a baby so bad. And this incredible young woman is wanting to talk to us about MAYBE adopting her baby.
Due November 20th.
That might be MY baby.
I might actually get to be a dad.
Linds might actually get to be a mom.
Because there’s a baby… a real one… with a due date.
I’m on a bus… and there is a BABY!
I’m in charge! I have hundreds of kids on a bunch of buses heading across state lines for a week and THERE IS A BABY IN A BELLY WITH A DUE DATE.
I don’t wanna be in charge right now. I want to be a dad!
I’m on a bus with a bunch of teenagers going to a place where there will be hundreds more teenagers, and crappy bunk beds… and all I can think about is this baby and that due date. It was torture.
We got off the bus like 8 hours later… got everyone in their rooms, and then I said, “Hey… does anyone want to go check out the craft shop?”
I know that sounds lame, but it was a pretty sweet craft shop.
About 10 students took me up on the offer, and we walked across the camp to this massive shop.
Kids were carving things, building things, and so on. A lot of kids were painting things that they purchased at the camp. We walked into the store area where you could purchase your art supplies… when it happened.
This next part has to be a miracle, or I don’t know what is.
We walked in, and there were hundreds of things you could buy, but an entire wall dedicated to one item.
On the wall were hundreds of identical wooden calendars. Each of them were factory wrapped in plastic, and each and every one of them were set to the exact same date.
Hundreds of them. No other dates. All of them wrapped tight.
There were 365 options… you would expect January 1, or December 25, or July 4… but every single one of them were set to the date that had already been etched in my soul.
So I bought one… and I thought to myself, “This is either a miracle, or this world is evil. If it’s a miracle… then that might mean that I’m gonna be a dad…. and that that baby is gonna be my baby!”
The rest is history. That little baby became our little boy, and this little calendar became a daily reminder that miracles are possible.
I know that not every story ends like this one… but this story does! I hope it encourages you as much as it encourages me every single day.