October 2015


“One purchases immortality through generosity; and, by giving the perishing things of the world, receives in exchange for these an eternal mansion in the heavens! Rush to this market, if you are wise, O rich person! If need be, sail around the whole world.”

                        – Clement of Alexandria

For any of you who might have been living in a cave for the past ten years or so, Facebook is a an amazing website with about a billion users, where you can find long-lost friends, stay uncomfortably connected with the day to day minutiae of their lives, and like their cute pet pictures

In many ways, Facebook has been a genuine gift to humanity. For me, and probably for many of you, I’m able to keep relationships going that otherwise would have been consigned to the dusty high school yearbooks of history, and sometimes renew friendships in a way that would never have been possible before.

There is, of course,a rather shadowy underside to the Facebook Experience, which is that it brings a whole new level of anxiety producing social calculus to every acquaintance you meet in real life.

Here’s what I mean:

You meet someone at a social gathering,you talk for a few minutes, and you think, “Hey, I think I’d like to get to know this person, but I’m not sure how much they want to get to know me!” and so now, rather than waiting queasily for the next in-person social interaction, you immediately segue into what some call “Facebook stalking”, but I prefer to call social media investigation.

You find out if they’re online , you see how many mutual friends the two of you have, you check their about page, do you both post sunset pictures, do your politics agree, do you both love Battlestar Galactica? Maybe you gain a little courage, you hit like on one of their public pictures, you make a comment on a mutual friend’s status that you think they’ll like. (This is all done surreptitiously as possible, because, while you want to know them, , you don’t want them to know that you want to know them.) The goal is the day, when, after being impressed by your strategic succession of likes, public status updates, and smart comments, they decide to send you a “friend request” and your social problem is solved.

Some of you skip right through all this, and friend people with the wild, kamikaze abandon of a starving college student at free pizza night, but for others of us, stalking people, hoping to become their friends, is just the latest way that technology has given us to express our social anxiety.

All this Facebook-inspired social calculus points us to a spiritual reality as well:

Sometimes, we treat God in the exact same way

Imagine if God were on Facebook:

We meet God somewhere, maybe in worship, but quite possibly out in nature, or in conversation with friends, and we think “Hey, God seems kind of cool, I think I might like to get to know God!”

We sing a few songs in worship and hope that God hears and likes them

We read a couple books and hope that as we change our likes and preference, God might pay attention and start to like us

We try to hang out with other people who God also seems to like, in hopes that God will notice all the mutual friends we just seem to have

We do the equivalent, basically of liking one of God sunset pictures, maybe even write a comment, “So inspirational, you might even say…divine ;)”

And hoping that the end result of often years meticulously calculated spiritual anxiety is that God likes us in return.

We know that God is not at all picky, God shows a promiscuously puzzling ability to not just like, but love everyone who God comes in contact with, no matter how many obnoxious cat videos they post.

We know that God wants to get to know us, perhaps even a lot more than we want to get to know God, and that all it takes is a willingness to sit down, and start having a conversation.

We don’t even have to have a good opening line.

If you sometimes have a hard time just saying “hello” to God, consider this your invitation to start. Pray the Lord’s prayer in your own words. Say “thanks” next time you see a beautiful sunset or an act of kindness. When you meet someone in need, ask God to give them a little help.

Just say something. You may find out how eager God is to say something in return.


“Years ago, someone told me that humility is central to the spiritual life. That made sense to me: I was proud to think of myself as humble! But this person did not tell me that the path to humility, for some of us at least, goes through humiliation, where we are brought low, rendered powerless, stripped of pretenses and defenses, and left feeling fraudulent, empty, and useless- a humiliation that allows us to regrow our loves from the ground up, from the humus of common ground.” – Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

Work at laptop

The Internet can make jerks of us all at times, but there is perhaps no place where that’s more true than on Facebook, where our postings, (especially our political ones) are filled with unthinking vitriol that we would never share with others in person. More than that, the way we do politics on facebook is often spiritually poisonous, making us worse people in the process.  Here are a few ways to make sure that you’re doing politics and Facebook in a way that’s good for you and for the people around you.

1. Read smart people who you are likely to disagree with.

The epistemic bubble is real[1]. You do neither your spirit nor your intellect any favors if you only read people you that you agree with. This is especially true if you’re highly engaged and passionate about the issues of the day. The more engaged you are, the more you need to read people who you are likely to disagree with.[2]

2. Never post anything to Facebook that you wouldn’t say to someone in person.

If you post something from a website entitled, “Conservatives Are Ruining Our Country”, consider this: Would you say, “Conservatives our ruining our ruining our country” to your Republican friend around the dinner table? If you post an article that states that all people on Obamacare are lazy takers, would you call your friends who are on Obamacare lazy takers if you took them out to coffee?

If you would, I both admire your guts and think that you need therapy. But, if like me, you know you wouldn’t, then don’t use the internet as an excuse to let your inner troll out. People get hurt that way.

3)  If it doesn’t make you a more loving person, then it actively harms you.

 If reading your favorite partisan pundit makes you fear or hate other people more than you would otherwise (conservatives, liberals, southerners, gays, immigrants, people on welfare, etc.) then don’t read them and don’t share their posts, even if you agree with them.  Love is the ultimate Truth. Anything that leads you away from that is a lie, even if it seems factually accurate.

 4) The fact you’re right doesn’t mean that you can be a jerk to those who are wrong.

 Just because you know you’re right doesn’t give you a right to be a jerk to everyone else. Treat people with the same respect that you would want to be treated with if you were (and I’m sure you’re not, but just pretend with for a moment) incredibly wrong something as well.

Pretty simple right? Listen to people you disagree with. Treat others like you want to be treated. Run from hateful people like the plague. And for heaven’s sake, don’t be a jerk.

 Thoughts? Questions? Pushback?





[1] Epistemic Bubble: Reading only people and information sources you agree with, the end result being that new information and differing opinions become more and more difficult to be integrated into your worldview.

[2] There is an important corollary to this as well. Before you post or comment on an article, read it first.

“Do not hurry as you walk with grief; it does not help the journey. Walk slowly, pausing often: do not hurry as you walk with grief. Be not disturbed by memories that come unbidden. Swiftly forgive; and let Christ speak for you unspoken words. Unfinished conversation will be resolved in him. Be not disturbed. Be gentle with the one who walks with grief. If it is you, be gentle with yourself. Swiftly forgive; walk slowly, pausing often. Take time, be gentle as you walk with grief.”  – Andy Raine


It’s exactly a year to the day since the Vine ended, one of the most ash-grey moments of my life.

I don’t know why, but up until this point, I have felt very little about all of it. I did not experience anything but bone-weary relief when the Vine closed. I did not mourn when we sold our house, moved from the city that we had tried to call our home. I did not cry when we said goodbye to our friends, smiles on our faces like paint on cracked plaster.

I don’t know exactly why that all changed this last weekend.

Perhaps it was simply this year mark.

Perhaps it was being on a retreat with my new faith community, seeing the faces around me, and thinking about the people who are no longer in my life.

Perhaps it was having the retreat led by the pastor of a new church, one I had helped out during their opening worship gathering, in the very same weeks that the Vine was drawing to a close.

Perhaps it was the Taize music, bringing back nights and morning in a tiny house in our early years: two couples praying, over-full on hope; all those dreams painful rubble just a few years later.

But, for the first time this weekend, I wept.

And I missed it.

I missed the best moments of the church I tried so desperately to plant, of the times when I saw people come alive, when I watched friendships blossom, when I experienced those giddy times when I knew we were undiluted outpourings of God’s goodness to our world. I miss those moments when I felt like I had discovered an expression of church that didn’t require all the backdoor institutional compromises, one that felt like the purest offering of love that I could lift up with my life.

I miss my house. This is perhaps the most visceral of my losses. It was a glorious home; one that offered us the very best of what gave us life and the very best of what we hoped our lives would be. I miss our hardwood floors and big windows. I miss our double sized living room, our working fireplace, our wall to wall bookshelves. I miss the meandering curve of our second floor hallway and my office with its slate green walls, contemplative windows, and solid wood-block of a desk. I miss our quiet bedroom, our hopeful sitting room, our lead glassed windows, our small hidden cabinets. I miss the promise of our empty third floor, decorated with the prayers and hopes of our friends and family, waiting for a future spring, full of guests, children, and joy.

There is much that I don’t miss: the suspicious water spots on the ceiling, the sloping pitch of the floor, the sinking feeling, as our dreams slipped through our hands, that we really couldn’t afford a place like this and still build a life together.

Still, I know we will never live in a house that beautiful again.

And –  I miss, I miss my city, which still feels like home.

I miss the unpretentious beauty of its old houses.

I miss the downtown in all its struggle and hope.

I miss our friends: the young hipsters, the idealistic boomers, the dirty-fingernailed street people, the beautiful children, and the good hearted business owners.

I miss the trees and the lakes.

I miss the farms.

I miss the feeling of roots, of love for place that grew from stilted practice to effortless habit within me.

While its landscape is scarred with trauma and hurt, while often the very crosswalks and stop signs taste of bad memories, of deep doubt, of creeping, bitter disappointment, while I don’t know that I could ever have been more than a dancing puppet of my best self there, I still miss it.

I miss it. I miss it. I miss it.

I feel like I’m at a pause right now, catching my breath on a journey to somewhere. And, I admit, this pause is indeed a pleasant, peaceful, healing one.

But there are days I look back at the road behind me,

See the shape of that stillborn future,

And weep.

“By the rivers of Babylon—

   there we sat down and there we wept

   when we remembered Zion.

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,

   let my right hand wither!

Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,

   if I do not remember you.”

Psalm 137

“I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

– Ephesians 3:18-19

I had a mystic experience about a year ago.

Now, before I go any further, I need to assure you that I am not one of those types of people who see images of Jesus on my toast in the morning or believe that God sends me the winning lottery numbers on the bar ode of my groceries.  Nor was I trying to have a mystic experience, having left my breath meditation and visualization exercises at home where I felt they safely belonged.

I was in a place that, for all of you introverts, probably would seem much closer to hell than to heaven: in a subway car, headed back from a Red Sox game at Fenway Park, crammed in with a hundred other people like sardines in a tin can, but only if the sardines had Red Sox caps and been marinating in cheap beer for the last four hours. And, while you might say that I was returning from the closest thing to a religion that we have up here in New England, this was certainly not prime me-and-Jesus time.

Instead, I was aggressively staring out the window with the well-honed defense mechanism of any introvert who suddenly gets trapped with a bunch of loud, well-lubricated strangers, contemplating the city as it rolled past me.

“Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We would like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet, it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability — ​and that it may take a very long time.”

– Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I’ve discovered one social constant with my invisible chronic illness.[1] When there’s not a visibly horrible deformity for people to latch onto, there’s always one question that bubbles beneath the surface. “Are you sure you’re really sick and that it’s not just in your head?” I’m here to tell you: yes I’m sure; and while I may look like I’m just fine, there’s a mountain’s worth of adaptations I’ve made to make sure sure that I can pass as normal.

Here’s what you need to know about my invisible chronic illness that you wouldn’t know by immediately looking at me.

1) There are days I wake up and just don’t have it.

 Some days, I wake up, and I just don’t have it. It may have to do with another interacting illness or a bad night’s sleep, but sometimes, I can sleep, exercise, eat well, and still wake up without being able to function.[2] Here’s the exciting part: I can’t always predict when these days will happen. It’s like playing Russian Roulette with your body. Most of the time the chamber’s empty, but occasionally, all your plans will have to be chucked out the window.[3]

2) My normal is not your normal.

        When you say, “How are you doing?,” I will probably answer, “Okay.”[4]

Sometimes that’s because I’m lying through my teeth.

Most of the time, I’m genuinely telling the truth. It’s just that my “okay” is very different than your “okay.” When you have an invisible chronic illness for a while, you develop a new “normal”, one that is “okay” for me, but you wouldn’t consider “okay” for you.

So what does my normal look like? Here’s one example.

When you ask me to do something, I may say yes, but I’ll be paying for it a lot longer than you will. For instance, I moved earlier this summer. It was a crazy, chaotic, stressful week, one that involved a lot of coffee and a lot of boxes. It would have been an exhausting for anyone. The difference is this: you take a few days off, grab a few extra cups of coffee, and power onwards, no harm done. For me, it is now a full three months later, and I’m still not back to what I was before I moved. Don’t get me wrong, I’m improving, but there’s a good chance I won’t be back to normal[5] until Thanksgiving.

 3) My time is my most valuable gift.

I don’t get a lot of A-level days and I don’t get a lot of A-level hours. I work like a fiend whenever I’m feeling good, because I don’t know when that will change and how much my plans will be disrupted as a result.  If I commit to something with you, especially if it involves disrupting my sleep, having multiple long days in a row, or giving up the good part of a workday, know that I’m giving you a huge gift.

 4) I’m probably not getting better anytime soon (and I’m okay with that.)

There is no one more invested in my health than I am. There is no one who has done more research about my illness than I have. This is just my reality. I’ve learned to live with it, to adapt within its limitations, and find joy in a life that is more physically limited than most. My guess is that I’ve probably heard of whatever medical remedy that you discovered on Good Morning America, and there are good reasons why I haven’t tried it, or why I did and it didn’t work for me.

I’m not miserable either. My illness has offered me great gifts.  I’ve learned the value of stopping and resting, which is something that this type-A personality would never have learned if I didn’t have my face rubbed in my limitations all the time. I’ve learned compassion for the elderly, because I have the energy of someone much closer to seventy than to someone who’s thirty-two. I’ve learned to be sympathetic to outsiders, because my illness has often made it difficult for me to form friendships and be accepted by my peer groups. There are substantial ways that being sick has made me a much better person that I would ever be otherwise.


In other words, next time you see me (or the millions of people like me), just remember:

Yes: I’m actually sick.

        No: I’m not getting better anytime soon.

        Yes: I still live a meaningful life.



[1] “Wait, Ben, you’re chronically ill?” Yup. Since I was nine.

“You look fine to me!” Of course I look fine, that’s why we call it an invisible chronic illness.

[2] And no, it doesn’t matter how much extra coffee I drink, whether I take an extra nap, or whether I’m using your latest exciting herbal concoction.

[3] Even more exciting: I may not know whether I’m chronic-illness-tired or just-plain-tired until I’ve tried a few cups of coffee and attempted to start my day.

[4] If I’m doing poorly, I’ll probably just say, “I’m sick.” Ironically, I find that people find it far easier to be compassionate when you have a cold then when you have an invisible chronic illness.

[5] What is that normal? See point one.

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