Living ‘Selma’ in a ‘Sniper’ World

130117191909-mills-mlk-march-story-topThis coming Monday is our national celebration of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. As I have been reflecting on his work and witness, I am convinced his message is as necessary and prophetic today as it was when he was alive (if not more!). 

We live in a culture that not only glorifies violence, but often celebrates its use against the “enemy” as the truest form of heroism and bravery. While I won’t get into the debate of whether violence is ever justified to preserve life (a much bigger conversation extending far beyond an 700 word blog post), I will say I’m deeply troubled by our assumption that violence is the only way to respond to a real or perceived threat. 

Most disturbing is the fact that the majority of Jesus followers in this country have the same assumptions about the “necessary” use of violence as the culture at large. I would argue that an objective observer would not be able to distinguish between the USAmerican Church’s ethic of violence and the ethic of the State or the culture at large. As followers of a God who looked like an enemy-loving Jesus -- who sacrificially absorbed violence rather than perpetuating it -- we’d be wise to re-examine our assumptions around violence in light of his life and teachings. 

Jesus’ take on responding with violence:

“You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven.” -- Matt 5:43-45

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too.  When they force you to go one mile, go with them two.” -- Matt 5:38-41

After being beat, humiliated, dehumanized and nearly killed, Jesus’ response to violence, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” -- Luke 23:34

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” -- Matt 5:9

These passages are often interpreted as Jesus either being a soft pushover or teachings that were not realistic and helpful for establishing a normative, everyday ethic toward violence. The reality is that Jesus was not promoting a passive response to violence, but a dignifying one. A response that would both expose the inhumanity of the abuser’s actions and amplify the dignity of the abused. 

Jesus is not just calling us away from the lure of violence, but inviting us toward the necessary, subversive, creative and costly work of peacemaking. Peacemaking isn’t a passive withdrawal from conflict. Peacemaking isn’t embracing the status quo. Peacemaking isn’t euphoric or other worldly. 

Peacemaking is a series of actions that move us toward conflict armed with weapons to heal and transform rather than weapons to destroy.

MLK not only took Jesus’ life and teachings seriously, he modeled actions of an alternative response to violence, hatred and injustice. He invited a movement of people to take the hard work of peacemaking seriously by outlining tangible actions that would expose the inhumanity of those abusing power and amplify the humanity, dignity and plight of his black brothers and sisters caught in their wake. 

As we celebrate MLK’s life and legacy, may we be reminded to take Jesus’ life and teachings seriously and repent of the ways in which we’ve allowed a culture of violence to hijack our own humanity. Because when we begin to view fellow image bearers as “collateral damage,” we are becoming less human and missing out on an opportunity to join God in the world he is making. 

So, rather than embrace an American Sniper spirituality where the Bible brands our violence, may we embrace the spirituality of Selma where the Bible is embodied in nonviolent action. This is not only our task, it is our opportunity. May it be so. 

A Theology from Below (and Subterranean Book Review)

subterraneanYear after year as my community seeks to live well in the unique soil of our little neighborhood, we discover how much our neighborhood has to teach us about ourselves, each other and the One we follow. Because real life is textured with both the beautiful and broken realities of humanity, we find ourselves formed and informed in new ways that we couldn’t have ever expected. For this reason, we make plenty of space for our theology to be shaped not only from “above” through our intellect, study and empirical insight, but also from “below” through the realities of God’s presence in the mundane of everyday. In fact, it is often this lived theology that most clearly reveals to us where we fit in God’s story that is unfolding in our place. 

The reality of having our theology developed from below means we regularly expose ourselves to darkness, disappointment and failure. The stories don’t always end the way we want them to. In our heads we may have the perfect theological formula, but in reality, the formula is often as unhelpful as our freshman algebra class. What happens when that friend you’ve been walking with for years falls back into addiction and violence? What happens when your seemingly perfect family reality get upended by tragedy? Or when despite your best efforts, your vision for what is “good” in your neighborhood turns out being the exact opposite? 

In Practicing Locality -- chapter 9 of Dan White’s new book, Subterranean: Why the Future of the Church is Rootedness -- he argues that despite the cost and potential disappointment, we have to give ourselves to everyday practice because it is only there that we will develop a “living theology.” To do theology faithfully, we must participate in the social realities of our broken and beautiful places“(pg 95). This is a theology not only informed by a textbook, but by the breath of the Spirit moving in and through a community of practice. It is for that reason Dan opens the chapter by describing the necessity of imagination. When we give ourselves to the everyday, we have to carry with us an imagination for God’s dream for the world in the midst of the inevitable disappointment, failure and darkness. As one who is part of a faith community committed to a “living theology,” we experience as much heart ache, failure and brokenness as we do joy and “success.” An imagination for not only what is, but what will be, is often the fuel that sustains us.

Dan goes on to offer a couple “tools” that can help faith communities experience a “living theology” by participating in the fabric of their neighborhood as a reflection of renewal and rooted presence. Without going into the nuances of his suggested pathways here, it is clear that Dan is a practitioner whose stories and insights could only come forth out of a life of practice. Not only does he encourage us to hold our theology accountable to a lived set of practices, he reminds us to remain in the posture of learners rather than hero’s. “We speak from where our bodies are situated. Too much theologizing and Christian living techniques are formed in the ivory tower of the Christian world, telling us what people need and how they should receive it(95).

In contrast to many “church-planting” books, he continually highlights the necessity of learning from and being loved by our neighbors in a mutually beneficial relationship. We aren’t the hero’s who have come to conquer or correct, we are simply participants in what God is already doing for the flourishing of all.  We must take a teachable posture as we are confronted by our ignorance and misplaced judgments. We must recognize our own blindness and limitations in the spaces we dwell in. We must behold, not just look (97)…walk gently and quietly so as to not stomp all over others’ sweat-soaked work. Innovation happens when a community humbly comes together to discern how to be in a place in a way that blesses the lifeworld of a neighborhood(98).

If there is a liability to this chapter, it is the introduction of so much new language. This is not only true of Dan’s book, but characteristic of a whole moment of theologians and communicators who are seeking to offer a renewed vision for how the church can be in the world. While fresh language is vitally important, it can also be confusing and a hurdle rather than an asset. I have been guilty of this myself and would love to see a growing movement with common language so as not to require the continual interpretation and reinterpretation of shared ideas. 

In the end, Practicing Locality is a refreshing reminder that we must live the stuff we talk about. Theology means little (if anything at all) if it isn’t lived out in the context of everyday life in neighborhood. Further, this chapter serves as a helpful guide to onramp individuals and communities into a lived set of practices that reflect a Jesus who didn’t come to conquer, but to give himself away for the flourishing of others. May we go and do likewise. 


This review was part of a Subterranean Book Blog Tour, which is offering a unique 40% off discount code that expires Oct 23rd if purchased at Here is the code: ROOTED

On Christian Music and the Hidden Gem We’ve Been Waiting For

I grew up with a heavy dose of Sandi Patty, Michael W Smith (Smitty) and Steven Curtis Chapman. While I still love a good Ol fashion “Go West Young Man” or “Friends are Friends Forever,” if I’m honest, I haven’t listened to “Christian” music for well over a decade. For that matter, I’m still not sure how a noun like “Christian” can be used as an adjective to describe the salvific quality of a collective of voices and instruments, but that’s a whole other conversation completely… 

I didn’t intentionally stop listening to Christian music because I had some axe to grind, I just found that it no longer spoke to the Christian story I experienced: a story of doubt despite having all the “answers,” hope in the midst of crisis and suffering in the way of the cross. 

The Collection is not only my favorite band of 2014-15, but they are needed water on the dry soil of millennials’ interest in any music remotely “Christian.” Not only is their music creative and of high quality (think Mumford & Sons meets Lumineers), their lyrics cast a Kingdom vision in some of the most compelling and stirring ways I have encountered. 

I would argue that they aren’t getting popular because they are “cool,” but because the depth of their music is offering something that goes way beyond cynicism and critique of traditional forms of Christianity and instead offers a robust and constructive way forward.  

I spent some time with these good folks a few months back, long after I had become a fan. Here is an interview I recently did with the lead singer and songwriter, David Wimbish.

1. How would you describe your music? Who were major influences?

I like to think of our music as a shy rock kid befriending some band geeks and tripping into an orchestra pit. I’ve heard people say “Orchestral Folk” frequently. My favorite is probably “Big Band Americana”, though it might not be the most accurate. I remember reading an interview with Sufjan Stevens where he talks about how brass instruments can be just as “heavy” as electric guitars. Growing up in a missionary community, I was exposed to a lot of music around the world, and learned that concept through osmosis. I think a lot of the music that influenced me was music that had the same emotions as American music, but with different textures. Many times this was Balkan Brass, Traditional Ghanian, Chinese Folk, Mariachi, etc. Now it has grown to all sorts of things -- Big Band, Classical, Folk, Psych Rock, etc. 

2. Would you consider yourself a “Christian” band? Why or why not?

I don’t think it’s healthy, most of the time, for a band to identify that way, because I think it can perpetuate the idea that there’s a gap between a thing that is specifically “sanctified” and the normal world. If people believe that a god created the earth, I would hope very much that they would dwell within his creation, and that includes music, whether it is played by christians or not. That being said, some of our band members identify as christians, and some don’t. It definitely started more in that camp, and I think, in the American south especially, it can be hard to not at least have some connection with the ideas behind christianity as it has such cultural prevalence in this area of the world. Within our band dynamic, we try to promote a space for spiritual seeking, for loving others, and for acceptance, whether it be through christianity or not. 

3. In your music, you confront some heavy themes like the death of a close friend. How does your music serve as both an expression of lament and a hope for what has come and is coming?

One of the first shows I played, when I was 13 or 14, I remember my Mum afterwards telling me, “You were very good, you have a lot of potential, but all of your songs were so sad.” I know that’s a bit of a Mum thing to say, and I didn’t have much to be deeply sad about at that time, but I realized it was an easy way to write -- songs come out of our deepest emotions and the most common and universally felt emotion is pain, I think. So I’ve been trying to find a better balance in showing my honest process in wrestling with difficult experiences, without putting a bow on them, and still writing honest songs during hopeful times. I haven’t found it yet -- many newer songs have leaned a bit on the darker side I think than ones from the past. To me, though, what is important is honesty. I think people can hear when you’re lying in a song. Not lyrically, but emotionally. We identify with honesty. And for me, especially while writing Ars Moriendi, I felt really hurt, but I also felt hopeful, and was trying hard to capture both of those.

4. A few of your songs confront experiences of toxic legalism in the Church. Rather than coming off cynical, you paint constructive and beautiful pictures of the hope found in Jesus and the reality of the Kingdom. What has been your personal journey that has led to this point?

Thank you; I’m glad to know I don’t come off as cynical. It’s something I’ve talked with our bassist about a ton, “keep me in check if my lyrics start sounding cynical.” When I was younger, my Mum was the music leader at a church. She helped grow it in so many ways, and it became a beautiful place. At one point though, she was forced out, seemingly because she wasn’t mega-churchy enough. I spent ten years of my life being a part of that community, only to lose trust in people I had leaned on. Does that mean I wasted those ten years, that they didn’t mean anything? The truth is, there isn’t a human soul that has figured out perfect peace and harmony and love with other people all of the time. So any place there are groups of humans, there will always be some sort of toxic practice or thought, it is just part of being human. But, those ten years are part of what made me who I am, just like every hard experience I’ve had. There have been many times in my life that reading the words of Jesus gave me hope that seemed to transcend the bad experiences, and give me vernacular to understand the good parts.

5. So your band has about 87 members. Tell us why and share a bit of your hopes/plans for the future.

Ha -- we may have had close to that many in and out over the years. When I started writing “the Collection” songs, it was a bit of a solo project that selfishly came out of wanting to have a band without losing any creative freedom. I’m lucky to have had so many people be committed to my songs and the vision, even before I had a good way to be committed to them as members. If I met someone that played an instrument we didn’t have, and they seemed like a cool person, I’d invite them to come play with us. We weren’t touring much, so there wasn’t much of a commitment necessary from anyone. It’s grown into more of an actual band, which I am very grateful for because it has allowed more musical and relational intimacy than I was able to have in the past, but it still centers around us being a big family. This past tour we did with 7 members, while past tours have all been with 12, and it felt very small; we kept getting in the van and asking, “Wait, who are we missing?”, though I reckon 7 people is still a pretty big band.

We love being on the road, so I think a lot of our future plans are centered around how to do that as much as possible. We’re also working on getting our album release on Vinyl, Cassette, and putting out a documentary. Maybe some new music this year? Only time will tell -- we don’t always know where to move, but we just keep moving.


NOTE: Their latest album, Ars Moriendi, is off the charts good and where I recommend starting. They are also on Spotify. 

Raising Girls in the Image of a Male God?

Here is a guest post by my favorite person in the world; Jan Huckins (my wife). I learn from and am challenged by her everyday, so I’m thrilled she put pen to paper to offer up this incredibly important piece to us all. She is often so busy living the life I talk about that she doesn’t have time to do this silly blog stuff…



At seven months pregnant, I remember walk-waddling through the narrow, congested streets of the Old City of Jerusalem as it brimmed with life, scent and color. Between my protruding baby bump and the wildly hospitable shopkeepers, I was regularly stopped and asked, “It is a boy?” Those who didn’t know English as well would just say, “Boy?!”

Each time I would answer, “No, just a sweet little girl,” and each time their eyebrows would fall in a look of pity and say, “Oh well, she’ll be a helper.” This became such a common question that before they could ask, I nearly started responding, “I’m having a girl and she’ll be an amazing helper!”

This encounter in blatant gender preference led down an eye opening and transformational path where it became clear that this reality wasn’t reserved to the Middle East, but extended around the globe. As a mother of three precious girls, my experience in the Middle East -- and the learnings that followed -- have made me cling even more to how much I value raising girls.

Having been born in the early 80’s, I loved listening to Adventures in Odyssey, knew every Keith Green song, believed every word out the mouth of my male pastor and youth pastor, supported our predominately male military and pledged my allegiance to our male presidents as we watched males play all the professional sports that ever made it to our TV screen.

It wasn’t that any of these men were inherently wrong or bad, it’s that I rarely ever had the opportunity to be exposed to females with significant influence. And when I did, it was often in our shared attempt to unpack Proverbs 31 and its implications on our biblical womanhood. I would patiently wait for my “Todd” (Christy Miller series) to be my spiritual leader and finally bring me to completion.

When I closed my eyes in church, I would always envision God being in the form of a loving and accepting father. Again, this is a good and beautiful vision, but I’ve had to begin asking the questions, “Is this the only image of God that is acceptable and true? Does seeing God only as male somehow lessen the value and significance of women who were also created in God’s image?”

As I continually wrestle through these questions while raising three girls, the implications of our image of God has become much more tangible. Will my husband and I only introduce our children to a male image of God or begin to offer a more nuanced picture of the One we follow?

For the last three decades the male pronoun of God is all I’ve ever known, but that won’t be the story for our girls. It’d be like living your whole life only knowing and loving the sun but not discovering the moon and all the purpose and glory it brings.

When I think of the image of God as mother, I think of my mother-in-law in silent strength next to women as they navigate the trauma of cancer. I think of our local midwife who has empowered and accompanied the women in our community through the beauty and challenge of childbirth. I think of the single moms who are heroically raising their kids against all odds. I think of my friends who are yearning for children of their own even as they celebrate the new life of those around them. I think of my community of women who come around soon-to-be mothers to prepare and champion their efforts during labor. I think of my own mother who gives herself to the flourishing of societies’ marginalized as a way to reassign them dignity.

These experiences have given me an expanded image of who God is, but in ways I never thought possible. They are re-birthing a vision of life, hope and liberation.

I have nothing against men and am incredibly grateful for my present, involved, and loving husband. In fact, I don’t have anything I’m trying to prove or argue. I simply want Ruby, Rosie and Lou to believe in a gospel story that celebrates both the sun and the moon. And in doing so, maybe my girls won’t only find fulfillment as wives and mothers, but as liberated, compassionate and strong girls who see their own faces in the One who gave birth to all creation.

Embracing the Greatest Challenge of My Life as Opportunity

IMG_2280Having taken paternity leave with the arrival of our twins, I haven’t “worked” in nearly two months. With that said, there has been no time for reading deep, reflective books on spiritually. No time to engage world issues. No time to be active and seek the healing of systemic injustices in our neighborhood.

No, there has been time for one thing and one thing only; being a dad

If I’m honest, it’s been a struggle. The same exhausting, under appreciated, sleepless, messy and relentless grind of parenting four kids, all of whom are four years old or younger. There are certainly moments of joy, pride and gratitude, but they are far less frequent than the ones of discouragement and delirium. 

In the midst of the fog, I had a bit of an epiphany a couple weeks ago. I found myself thinking about how I would find time for spiritual practices to be reintegrated into my life and dreaming about the intellectual growth I would experience when I go back to “work.” It was as though I was telling myself, “If you just survive this season, then you can finally get back to attending to your spirituality and formation.” 

This is when the epiphany hit; If I don’t connect my parenting with my spirituality and formation, I’m missing out on potentially the most important season of my discipleship journey. 

Changing diapers at 3am = Opportunity to choose selfless sacrifice. 

Responding to yet another 2 year old melt down = Opportunity to model grace and understanding.

Chaos of everyday life = Opportunity to embrace and live into an everyday spirituality.

Weeks/months between dates with my wife = Opportunity for me to get creative in what love and intentionality look like. 

These are all opportunities for me to choose to grow in my personal formation and live more like the One I follow. I can’t see these as hurdles to jump so I can then get back to my spirituality and formation. No, these are the very experiences that are forming me into who I am created to be. To be fully human. To be connected to the gift of life that is pulsating in every moment of everyday. To choose to live a life of self-sacrifice for the flourishing of others. 

I don’t have this figured out in the least, but I do want to give it a shot. I don’t have to wait. We don’t have to wait. We just have to wake up to what is right in front of us and be fully present there.

Maybe that is what love looks like and what the gift of discipleship means in the midst of the mundane and unglamorous realities of daily life.



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