Blog Fragment #2: The Ways Progressive Protestants Keep God at Arm’s Length


Nanowrimo is not happening for me this year, but I’m trying to write everyday in November. I’ll be posting fragments of what I write here daily. Here’s post #2

There are a thousand ways that people of my particular religious tribe (progressive mainline Protestants) have found to keep God at safe’s arms distance, especially in worship.

1) The almost exclusive use of communal language when singing or doing liturgy.

Often, communal language experientially includes everyone except the person singing it. In other words, yes, I know that God loves us, but do you that God loves you?

2) Fixation on always using theologically correct terms for God.

Yes, it is important for us to de-centralize exclusively masculine language for God. However, this over-fixation leads us to treating God as a term to be correctly defined, rather than a being to have a relationship with . (That first line in the Lord’s Prayer? It’s not really “Our Father”, it’s our “Abba” or our “Daddy”. All relational language is particularized.)

3) Publicly Praying for Everyone But Oneself

Prayer begins with our personal encounter, face to face with God, one that we are frequently afraid of naming publicly (or privately.) Prayer times can devolve into a laundry list of prayers for others or places in the world that need God’s help; because asking God for strength to personally get through a week, or to help us forgive someone we don’t like, or to help us overcome a particular personal failing requires far more vulnerability that we’re comfortable with.

4) A maniacal focus on theological and thematical correctness over embodied experience in worship.

Which hymn do you pick? The one with a slightly clunky text or not-so-great melody that connects better with that *one* line from the scripture you’re reading or the one that engages people’s bodies and emotions ? The former wins out almost every time. In seminary, I remembered noting that while we often sung songs *about* God, we really sang songs to God; each hymn a theological creed rather than a love song.

Blog Fragment #1 from “A Roll of Pictures”


For most of us idealistic dreamers, there simply will not be enough energy to carry a beautiful, God-given dream into reality, unless we can look at the people we are learning to love and  affirm their goodness completely aside from any professional ambitions that we have for them. God will not let us love our wish-dreams projected onto other people, but only the people themselves. If we use those people as a tool to further our own schemes of spiritual and professional self-making, God will burn our dreams down again and again, until we have no choice but to quit or to love.

Transformational Engagement is Hard Work

None of us have an infinite capacity to absorb the suffering of the world (and each other.) The process of transformationally engaging with the people around us is exhausting, inch-by-inch work, and unless we carefully tend our own well-being, we *will* burn out before we manage to make much of a difference.

With that in mind, take care of yourself people. (And if in your hearts of hearts, you know you’ve really been putting your best energy into Netflix and hanging out with people of your own ethnic/ideological enclave, then for heaven’s sake, come out and join us in the work.)

Need a place to start? Here’s what I (and a few of my wise friends) suggested as starting points:

1) Pray. I’m pretty sure I’d be twice the asshole I am currently without the Spirit’s help.
2) Get off social media, at least for a few hours, at regular intervals.
3) Intentionally enjoy being a dad. (It’s easy when you have a son like mine.)
4) Un-selfconsciously embrace stupid things. I have a 3DS that I play constantly, delicious epic fantasy books I can sink hours into, an increasingly fanatic attachment to basketball (I literally listen to more basketball podcasts than any other form of audio media), and a large liquor cabinet.”

Listen to novels. This helps me both during the day to disengage mentally from the work of always processing (even when I’m not engaging) AND also to distract me from my own thoughts when I am trying to fall asleep at bedtime or when I am awake in the middle of the night.”

“For myself, I try to balance the talking with the listening. Really listening, and if I can’t hear it anymore to say our loud, “This is important and I want to keep going, but I might need a break to process more.” Since the election, with difficult topics, I try to give myself and the other person that time to “digest” what we’ve been learning. I try to read as much as I can stomach to really know what I’m talking about (or hearing about) to reinforce anything I need to know. And then I play. Games, movies, songs. I try to get out of “headspace” and just be.”

Say thank you a lot
Take a walk in nature
Get some exercise

“Yogalates, walks in the woods, Netflix, essential oils, drinking water.”

“Sleep!! Even a nap midday if you can manage it (not everyone naps well or has time). A couple of hours, or a good night’s sleep always resets my stress levels. Even if stress or anxiety returns as it is bound to do, the rest can adjust your perspective.”

“Time in nature is my balm, I find it very easy to stay present during my time there. The ritual of making a pot of tea and hunkering down with a great book is so comforting.”


How Do You Stay in the Game?

I’m discovering that the work of genuine encounter and authentic dialogue is really exhausting.

If you’re actively engaged with that work, either on social media or in-person, please make sure you’re being kind to yourself. (I’ve added a few things I do below and would love to hear what you do as well.)

And, if you’re not actively engaged with that work, and have a little extra energy, would you please share the load with us?

Here are a few things I do:

1) Pray. I’m pretty sure I’d be twice the asshole I am currently without the Spirit’s help.

2) Get off social media, at least for a few hours, at regular intervals.
3) Intentionally enjoy being a dad. (It’s easy when you have a son like mine.)

4) Un-selfconsciously embrace stupid things. I have a 3DS that I play constantly, delicious epic fantasy books I can sink hours into, an increasingly fanatic attachment to basketball (I literally listen to more basketball podcasts than any other form of audio media), and a large liquor cabinet.

5 Reason Why Your Ministry Should Podcast

My Podcast Set I

1)      Podcasting is a big deal, especially with young people.

From their start in 2003, podcasts have become the fastest growing media in the United States. In 2016, 40% of all Americans had listened to a podcast, 25% listen to a podcast at least monthly, and half of all those listeners are between the ages of 12-34.

2)      Podcasting build relationships faster than print does.

I talked with an author who told me that for publishers, 5000 monthly listeners are worth the same as 50,000 monthly readers on a blog. The average listener hears five podcast episodes in part or in their entirety every week. That level of engagement allows you to quickly build community with whomever you reach.

3)      Podcasting is effortlessly versatile.

Want to post sermons? Conduct interviews with religious leaders or ordinary church people? Highlight community-created poetry or music? Share your own thoughts on current events? Anything that can be recorded can be posted easily, depending on your goals.

4)      Podcasting is cheaper than you think.

My near-professional setup cost about $150 for a microphone, studio headphones, and the world’s tiniest sound booth, plus $12 a month for a podcast hosting service that connects it to Itunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and my website.  You can edit on any average laptop and there is powerful free sound editing software that provides easy post-production polish.

5)      Podcasting is easier that you think.

Yes, there is absolutely a learning curve at the beginning. However, if you are willing to pay attention to how you setup your recording space, getting an acceptable sounding podcast doesn’t take much time, especially if you don’t need a lot of bells and whistles. My podcast, which involves theme music, separately recorded intros and credits, mixing, and editing, takes me about two hours of editing time per episode.

Want hands-on help setting up a successful podcast for your church, ministry, or creative work? I’m teaching an eight-week, hands-on apprenticeship that will take you from the basics of sound editing, to learning how to conduct interviews, to launching your own podcast, starting in September. It’s called “Podcasting and the Art of Sacred Listening”, and if you register before Labor Day, you can get a $50 discount by entering the code “PODCAST2” when you check out.

Register at


How Do You Ask for Healing?


How do you ask for healing?

There are a thousand ways.

With a hand quickly raised.

With a name, an intention,

With a printed drop of water bobbing in an ocean,

With a song and a choir of candles,

With a cry

With a plea.


How do you ask for healing?

With carefully constructed provisos and well-built justifications,

With scriptures like weapons of war and theologies that could storm battlements

With tearful bargains and promises,

With fears under rugs and questions gagged like prisoners.


And then we hear yes; and rejoice with unbelieving surprise

Or hear no, and weep in stunned silence,

Or hear nothing, and listen for the echoes of our prayer in an uncaring darkness.


How do I ask for healing?

When I have rejoiced, and wept, and listened,

As my body shakes and trembles

And my mind stumbles in deep mists;


How do I ask for healing?

When I am betrayed by flesh that is either 33 or 92,

When I lie imprisoned on my bed,

Listening to the sounds of my wife and my boy beyond the bars,

Each gift and green thing repossessed,

Until I am a spectator to my own life.


How do we ask for healing?

If not as conquerors demanding tribute from subjugated gods,

If not as lawyers presenting cases before bored judges,

If not as con-men who turn each “no” into a “yes”?


How do we ask for healing?

We ask like centurions at the end of their power;

Lepers who have forgotten even hope,

Cripples who cannot bathe in water an arms-reach away.


How do we ask for healing?

We ask not like kings, but like beggars,

Not like queens, but like divine panhandlers,

Holding up signs as cars drive by,

Knowing that every real “yes” and “no” must come from anothers lips.


And then – almost unknowing,

We fall into the mystery of love;

Which cannot always heal, but can always hold,

As it trickles through the cracks of a broken world.


For it is then,

When  broken, despairing, and blind,

We stumble into arms that embrace us when we say,

“I am not worthy for you to come under my roof,

But say the words and I will be healed.”

Christianity is a Shocking Religion

“Christianity is a shocking religion, although many of its adherents have managed to protect themselves from its terrible impact. Tears, an awareness of one’s psychic fragility, and a deep sense of peace and joy are not the most obvious marks of believers today. Yet the shock of Christianity remains: the shock of its materialism in its particularity; the shock of its calling us to a messy and untidy intimacy. It claims that the flesh matters. It insists that history (the particularity of time and place) matters. Above all it claims that, in the end, nothing else but love matters.”

Much of the discipline of the desert is concerned with keeping the shock and promise of love alive. Without the occasional abrasive brush with the unexpected, human life soon becomes a mere matter of routine; and, before we know where we are, a casual indifference and even brutality takes over and we begin to die inside.”The shock breaks open the deadly ‘everydayness’ that ensnares us and brings us something awesome and terrifying to our reluctant attention: the believer’s name for that ‘something’ is God.
God ceases to be a subject for philosophical debate, still less the object of our part-time and casual allegiance. This God is no hobby. God is felt in places too deep for words; in depths beyond ideas and concepts. God is felt in pain, sorrow, and contradiction. This, in itself, comes as shock, since we tend to make religion only of our better moments. Our worst moments tend to be repressed and denied. When that happens, we begin to lie to ourselves, and when we do, the very fabric of our life begins to fall apart.”
– Alan Jones, Soul Making: The Way of Desert Spirituality