Monthly Archives: August 2016

Our Smores Were Made With Slave Labor

As I was making smores the other day, I read this article, (one of several I’ve read recently), about how our chocolate is made. Here’s one telling quote from an article on the topic in the Daily Beast.

Many of the children are sold into slavery, some for less than $30; others are kidnapped or tricked into thinking it’s a real job, the complaint alleges. Once there, the children are allegedly trapped on isolated farms, threatened with physical abuse, required to work when they are sick, and denied sufficient food….

Mistrati…said he witnessed child slave labor firsthand—and believes it can be stopped quickly. “Mars, Hershey, and Nestle have had every opportunity to stop the trafficking of children and illegal child slaves,” he said. “I have seen small children, 6 years old, being trafficked from Mali to Ivory Coast. It was so heartbreaking to watch. But the companies have not had the will to end it for many years. Only empty words and expensive advertising instead of using money to pay back to the children on the ground in West Africa.”

So, if all of us would agree  that child slave labor is unequivocally evil, then why do we walk into stores looking for smores and leave having sponsored the exploitation of children? As Peter Rollins points out,  it’s not that we don’t believe in child labor, it’s that we only believe that we don’t believe in child labor.

Take the example of buying chocolate from a corner shop. If I know, or suspect, that the chocolate is made from coco beans picked by children under the conditions of slavery then, regardless of what I say, I believe in child slavery. For the belief operates at a material level (the level of what I do) rather than at the level of the mind (what I tell myself I believe). And I can’t hide in supposed ignorance either for if I don’t know about how most chocolate is made it is likely that my lack of knowledge is a form of refusal to care. For the very fact that there is Fair Trade chocolate, for example, should be enough for me to ask questions about whether other chocolate is made in an unfair way.

This is the moral danger of living in the most powerful nation in the world.  Our way of life is predicated upon the exploitation of others for our gain, whether that be driving cars whose ecological cost is paid by other regions of the world, buying ten dollar jeans made in a sweatshop, or getting a cheap chocolate bar made by child slaves.

We have to actively work *not* to harm other when we participate in our economy. Sometimes, doing so may be just plain impossible. I hope that this genuinely troubles every time you roast smores in your backyard during these waning days of summer.

It genuinely troubles me.

After saying all of that, I opened the cabinet in my kitchen today and what do I find?


Here’s hoping we all learn how to do better.



Trey Hall


Trey is one of the most thoughtful interviews I’ve ever done. I was impressed by his authenticity, grounded in the twelve step tradition, and his ability to hold his own beliefs so charitably. In our polarized society (and polarized church), Trey embodies the wisdom of what it means to embrace a common humanity that transcends our differences. Enjoy!

[buzzsprout episode=’412911′ player=’true’]

Trey Hall On How to United Methodist Can Resist Schism

I’m a little late to the party, but I love this piece by Trey Hall on how United Methodists can resist schism.

Of course it’s how we deal with the conflict that makes it redemptive or toxic. So as we continue to engage the ongoing set of questions and concerns around human sexuality, let’s do it as maturing disciples of Jesus. For Christ’s sake, let’s be careful with the accusations we make and the metaphors we employ.

For example, let’s not assume, as some do, that because someone has a more conservative hermeneutic when it comes to sexuality or wishes that an openly lesbian Bishop had not been elected, they are a blatantly homophobic hater or a hard-hearted hypocrite. A good faith approach both inspires a genuine openness to hear how someone thinks and feels about the subjects at hand and expects that the other’s journey is as complex as ours.

On the other hand, let’s not assume that supporters of the election of Bishop Oliveto (I quite joyously am one) are petulant children chomping at the bit for church schism (I quite emphatically am not). Let’s not assert, as some have, that the Western Jurisdiction has willfully sent divorce papers to the rest of the Church. The aforementioned good faith approach of actually listening to the testimonies of others will probably dissuade us from such a simplistic charge.

He goes on to make some truly great suggestions about how we can keep our conflicts from being toxic and can also keep from becoming ecclesially myopic in the process.Like Trey, I support fully including GLBTQ people in the life of the church and believe that their sexual orientation is a gift from God. That being said, I’m also aware that I’m in no greater danger of being an asshole than when I know I’m right.

More on that later, but until then, can we all try to remember that, when following Jesus, humble love is always in and judgemental self-righteousness is always, regardless whether we’re right or wrong?

If you’re interested in hearing more from Trey, my interview with him launches next week, where he talks a lot more about what it means to create post-ideological spiritual community.


I read this story today in Common Prayer: A Liturgy For Ordinary Radicals. I haven’t found a better one to sum up where I’m at in my journey right now.

“Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’ Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.’ ”



Sometimes, the most spiritual moment of my day is sitting next to my son on the playmat.

Michael has me a lot One is that everyday miracles happen; and that they’re actually pretty easy to spot. I just have to stop checking my phone and watch, as he emerges, legs kicking, hands grasping, into personhood.

Morgan Guyton

 I’ve never interviewed a guest so willing to say “I don’t know” or “I’m working through that” as Morgan. If you’ve ever wondered what the interior life of an blogger in the public eye looks like, Morgan gives a vulnerable, honest, open window into the spiritual blessings and challenges of his vocation. I hope he inspires you to greater authentic vulnerability in your own life, just as he did for me.

[buzzsprout episode=’407525′ player=’true’]

You Have to Love the Hustle

One of the absolute best articles I’ve ever read on building a platform by Carol Howard Merrit.

I know people who have fantastic ideas, great platforms, and even book deals in hand, but they don’t ever get the work done. I’ve heard of writers who go out in the woods and magically give birth to a tome after two weeks without human contact. I am not one of those writers.

I’m a mom who cooks food, does dishes, walks a dog, and cleans a house. I travel enough for speaking and teaching, so I’m not keen on leaving my family for any more than I have to. My daughter goes to school in the morning and my husband serves a ministry in the evenings, so I only have an hour or two of time alone. So I work in the morning or in the midst of chaos. I often have to stop mid-sentence to find my child a clean t-shirt, or to reply to our dog’s plaintive whine. But I work at least eight hours, six days a week. Before writing was my full-time job, I wrote from 4:30 to 7:30 am. Then I edited when I got the dishes done and the house clean. I usually got in five hours a day.

Everyone loves the idea of writing a best-selling novel (or insert your favorite idealized endeavor here.) However, in order to be a successful artist, you really have to love the hustle.

In my experience, what’s the hustle?

  1. Spending an hour writing a blog post that gets twenty views.
  2. Spending more time coordinating schedules with your podcast guests than you do interviewing them.
  3. Endless nitpicky audio editing through that podcast where the sound files just don’t stay synced up.
  4. Shameless self-promotion when you’re still not sure whether you know what you’re doing.
  5. Demi-desperate, almost-begging for people to please, for God’s sake, make a comment on my post, write a review for my podcast, *anything* to let me know that my efforts are not simply disappearing into the ether.

If your project aligns with your passion, then the hustle is tolerable, even fun. (Anyone who’s ever done nanowrimo, the ultimate in hustle-practice, knows exactly what I’m talking about.) If it’s not, then no matter how well-planned or noble your goal, it feels like a slog through creative hell.

I Am Not a Church Geek

For most of my life I have been a church geek.

I devoured books on theology, worship, liturgy, biblical hermeneutics, ecclesiology, the mechanics of church growth, coaching, et. al, et. al, and et. al with passionate abandon. It was my unfortunate habit, as my long-suffering wife would tell you, to read a book and then get so excited about a passage that I’d run downstairs, interrupt her in the middle of whatever she was doing, and read it to her.

When the Vine ended nearly two years ago, I figured that, once the dust had settled, I could blend my prodigious book-appetite and my hard-won wisdom into something that the experts called a “platform”, which, if I got it high enough, would allow me to shout my opinions loud enough that other people would hear. (After all, I happen to have many opinions, even very strong, well-informed ones on most of the hot, re-shareable topics that dominate church culture nowadays: denominational politics, the spirituality of the nones, the mechanics of connecting with your community, et al., et. al., and et. al.)

With my lovely little podcast starting to grow a little bit, and the 101 mechanics of social-media platform building now learned, I was pretty sure that I was just a consistent writing routine away from my new media career as the “Spiritual Frontiers Guy” beginning in earnest.

I’m giving yet another go at regular blogging, thanks to the encouragement of my old writing group back in Massachusetts.

As I sat down to write, you might therefore imagine my surprise to discover that my passions have been entirely rearranged.

I’ve brainstormed. I’ve made lists of hot takes (okay, not hot, but at least pleasantly warm takes) on sharable issues, combed my archives for pieces that I could dust off, left behind a trail of draft posts abandoned two paragraphs in, had countless pep-talks while walking telling myself, “You can do this!” or “You want to do this! (Right? Right?)”

And despite all that, I can’t seem to manage more than a few idle sparks on the issues that have set me on fire for the last half of my life.

It’s rather like waking up in your house, only to discover, when attempting to plop into one’s favorite armchair, that someone replaced all the furniture overnight, and you’re pretty sure that the old stuff isn’t coming back.

And, in it’s place, I find new things that fascinate me:

The island where I live: the singing of the trees when I walk the dog in the morning, and the cast of utterly memorable characters that inhabit this place.

My boy, and the revelations of fatherhood.

The love of God and the quest, in the words of one Desert Father, to “become all flame.”

Re-discovering my own little long-forgotten wells of joy.

The thoughtfulness of the people who are still out on those spiritual frontiers that I have left.

The ways that the goodness of my friends, especially my non-Christian ones, have taught me about the goodness of God.

The thousand small ways that people find to create beauty and show kindness to one another; and the ways that life springs up in the most unlikely places (even churches.)

It feels as if God is forcibly ejecting me from my church bubble, saying, “Look! Can you see that there’s *so much more* to life?”

I’m not a church geek anymore.

What am I now? Who knows. Maybe I’ll write my way there.