10 New Ideas For Laws Now That They’ve Voted The Bible As Tennessee’s Official State Book

This decision was less than inspired.

This decision was less than inspired.

If you haven’t already heard, the Tennessee House just voted to make the Bible the official state book of Tennessee. If you hear this and think “that is so freaking asinine,” congratulations–You passed the test! It’s a test that I like to call the “Dip Shit Test.” I really think that the Tennessee legislature does this sort of stuff to send a message to liberals to let them know that they are not welcome here. Here are a few more pieces of legislation that they’re working on to let non-Christians know that they need to look for another place to live….

1.  From now on all intersections will be known as “cross-sections” as a reminder of the cross that Jesus died on.

2.  Easter eggs will now only be referred to as “Resurrection Eggs.”

3.  When people get sworn in in a court of law, they will be required to say, “So help me Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

4.  The flat tire repair aerosol at people carry in their cars with them will now be known as “Crucifix-A-Flat.”

5.  Any street address that is currently 666 will have to find a new number, as that is obviously Satan’s address. Actually, you know what? You’re getting rid of all sixes. Sounds too much like sex….

6.  Police badges will be replaced by pins in the shape of Jesus fish.

7.  No more working on Sundays. It’s the Sabbath, y’all…. Businesses whose hours of operation differ from those of Chick-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby are just asking for trouble.

8.  The official state drink will now be Communion Wine (Welches Grape Juice).

9.  Moving Citations will be accompanied by requiring five Hail Mary’s and an Our Father.

10. Levitical purity laws will be checked and enforced on all new marriages. Women who are found to not be virgins on their wedding nights will be stoned to death. Also, the missionary position is the only legitimate way to have sex. People caught having any other kind of sex will be issued a Moving Citation (see #9).

Dear Tennessee House: PLEASE STOP TRYING TO MAKE OUR STATE THE LAUGHINGSTOCK OF THE COUNTRY!

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Living Generously, Even When God Isn’t Angry Anymore

Homer Simpson's contribution to the offering plate.... "We can spare it, Marge.... We've been blessed!"

Homer Simpson’s contribution to the offering plate…. “We can spare it, Marge…. We’ve been blessed!”

Earlier this year, the Church my family and I attend made an official statement of inclusion for the LGBT community. You can read about it in a post I wrote titled “What Happened When My Church Decided To Start Marrying Gay People.” Though many people were relieved and even overjoyed at this announcement, many were not…. And many of those people decided to find a new place to worship. Along with them, about half of our church’s board left. But this was something that was not unexpected–Taking a stand on a divisive issue like this comes at a price. Beyond the difficult process of saying goodbye to people you love and have been in community with, it turns out that many of the people who felt led to move away from an affirming Church are also the ones who pay most of the bills.

Many of the seats that were left empty are being filled by new people–Folks who are encouraged and inspired by the stand that GracePointe has taken. But it’s only natural that people who are just visiting and learning about our community are probably not going to be giving at the same level as the folks who considered this their church home. A lot of times it takes a while to have that sort of buy in…. So now I watch as our home Church struggles with finances as they go through this transition. And I have watched this all against the backdrop of a fight in Indiana over whether people should have the “religious freedom” to discriminate against gay people. You’ve probably already heard that a GoFundMe campaign raised $842,000 in two days to support the Indiana pizza parlor who said it wouldn’t cater the numerous same-sex couples who are lined up to find just the right pizza shop to cater their gay weddings.

It's MEMORIES Pizza?!? All this time I've been thinking it was Mammaries Pizza. I haven't been this embarrassed since I messed up that Richard Marx song, "Hold On To The Night."

It’s MEMORIES Pizza?!? All this time I’ve been thinking it was Mammaries Pizza. I haven’t been this embarrassed since I messed up that Richard Marx song, “Hold On To The Night.”

But this isn’t the first time tens of thousands of dollars have been raised in support of people who taking a stand for discrimination. People lined up around the block to show their support for Chick-Fil-A’s stance against “the gays” (I wrote about that HERE. The parallels are frightening). And they also raised a bunch for this florist in Washington who believes she is called by God to refuse service to people she views as sinners:

Something tells me she will still take money from people  who are getting married for the second time. Or drunkards. Or gluttons....

Something tells me she will still take money from people who are getting married for the second time. Or from drunkards. Or from gluttons….

What an amazing contrast. On one side, a Church struggling to make ends meet for saying everyone is welcome…. On the other side, businesses bringing in more money than ever for saying the exact opposite. And when you consider that most of the people giving money to these crowdsourcing funds were doing so because of what they believe they are called to do as Christians, it starts to read like an O’Henry story. With this kind of grand display of support for discrimination made by Christians, it starts to feel like everyone and everything that has to do with the church is full of shit. I’m sorry, there’s really no other way to say it.

For people who talk about how the Church should be taking care of those in need instead of the government, all you need to do is compare this GoFundMe page with the other. $6475 raised in four months for a struggling mom of a kid with cancer, and $842,442 in two days for a pizza parlor refusing to cater gay weddings.

For people who talk about how the Church should be the one taking care of those in need instead of the government, all you need to do is compare this GoFundMe page with the others. $6475 raised in four months for a struggling mom of a kid with cancer, and $842,442 in two days for a pizza parlor refusing to cater gay weddings.

This is not okay. We are better than this!

Is this what God is like?

Is this what God is like?

But fear is a fantastic motivator–Fear of hell, fear of punishment, fear of an angry God…. And when people paint a picture of an angry God with an itchy trigger finger, it’s easy to raise money. There are many, many people out there are still worshiping the volcano god, who requires a virgin be thrown in every so often to appease its fiery fury. It’s a very old story….. In Biblical times, when they told each other the story of Abraham hearing God’s voice telling him to sacrifice his son Isaac, the people would have been very familiar with that sort of occurrence. Human sacrifice was a common thing back then. God was angry, and in order to appease his anger, we had to sacrifice the things we held dear…. And there is nothing dearer to us than our kids. Everybody knew about the god that requires the life of your child. But what people don’t get is that even back then, the story of Abraham and Isaac is the story of God telling us, That’s not who I am. I am different.

Seriously, you guys.... Seriously? Seriously. #facepalm

Seriously, you guys…. Seriously? Seriously. #facepalm

The Bible tells another story of church leaders becoming uncomfortable with the sorts of folks Jesus was hanging out with. They started grumbling to the disciples about how much their teacher was eating with the tax collectors and sinners (By the way, “disciple” is just a word that means “learner.” Jesus was the teacher, and the disciples were the learners…. A fact that might change the way you think about the verse where Jesus tells us to “Go and make disciples of all nations….”). Anyway, as Jesus was explaining why it makes complete sense that he would be hanging out with “sinners,” he says to them, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'” It’s interesting that he would pick this one little verse from Hosea to quote to them–I desire mercy, not sacrifice. They’re complaining about him hanging out with sinners, and he says to them, “It’s not about sacrifice. It’s about compassion.” Sacrifice was based on fear, but compassion is based on love. I believe this is what was behind Jesus’ continued frustration with the Pharisees: The fact that they were so concerned about keeping every detail and letter of the law that they were missing the heart of the law. And still today, much of the Church is so concerned with the letter of the the law that they are missing the heart of the law. And that heart is love. But the voice of Jesus still speaks to us today: “Go and learn what this means….

"Love me, or else" is not the  way that a loving God functions.

“Love me, or else” is not the posture of a loving God.

We are not a people who love each other out of a fear of punishment, but unfortunately a large part of the Church still functions that way. And when we, as a community of believers, proclaim that people are loved–not because of what they have done, but because they are a child of God–we take away a big motivator.  “Do the right thing OR ELSE!” responds to fear, whereas “Do the right thing because you are loved, because you are made in the image of a generous God, and because it’s the right thing to do…. and you are being transformed into the sort of person who does the right thing even when it’s hard” speaks to a totally different audience. The second one only works on folks whose level of consciousness is at a place of leaving fear behind, but there are a lot fewer of those sorts of people walking around right now. But “perfect love casts out fear,” and the good news is that God is a God who loves us perfectly–with a love that casts out fear…. Now if we can just get people to start seeing him that way.

So if you are a person who feels inspired by a Church who takes a stand to fully include our LGBT brothers and sisters in the good news that we are the beloved children of God, maybe you’d be inspired to HELP SUPPORT IT. If you go to another Church, and your community is a long ways away from taking that step toward becoming inclusive, but you just feel like you want to help…. YOU CAN. If you feel let down by the Church and think you don’t want to have anything to do with it ever again (believe me I KNOW THAT FEELING), I want you to know that this community has healed many hearts like mine that have been broken by the disfunction of Church, and you can REINFORCE THAT SORT OF PLACE. Maybe you believe all this “God” business is just a bunch of BS, but you can still feel deep inside of you that something horrible was released into the universe when almost 30,000 people raised $842,442 in TWO FREAKING DAYS to support a pizza shop that said it wouldn’t cater a gay wedding, and now you want to dole out SOME SORT OF KARMIC WEDGIE to counteract that colossal act of communal hatred that was funded almost entirely by people who claim to follow Jesus.

Please?

I need somebody.

I don’t advertise on this blog, and I have never asked you guys to support me financially…. I might someday. I don’t know. But I do know that this church is too good of a place for them to be struggling with finances because of a decision to vocally extend the radical love of God (as well as all the sacraments) to folks who are LGBT. I give finically, but I wish I could do more to help…. At this point in my life I don’t have a whole lot of dollars to give. But we all help in different ways. If you are in a position where you are able to help, I’m asking you to consider it. You can GIVE ONLINE (There are a whole lot of ways to give, including PayPal). And if you’re not in a place right now where you can give, maybe just consider sharing this post and passing it along to a friend. Either way, thanks for reading.

Posted in 1) Jesus, 5) Not Quite Sure | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

10 Encouraging Things To Come Out Of This Indiana Garbage

If you’re anything like me, you have probably gotten more than a little discouraged by the news coming out of Indiana over the last few days. I wrote a bit about it HERE, if you feel like reading it. It is understandable to be discouraged–It’s a really discouraging situation. You might even be tempted to despair…. But take heart! It is not all bad news. There are actually some really good things to come out of all of this crap…. Here are a few:

To begin with, there are a bunch of people vocally lending their voices and support to the cause of embracing diversity and equal rights for the LGBT community. Like Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts….

Wilco cancelled an upcoming concert trying to take a stand against discrimination….

And even Seth MacFarlane got into the act….

I see where he’s coming from–It does seem to many folks like this law is taking a giant step into the past….

Except for Indianapolis, because they don't play along with the whole Daylight Savings thing....

Except for Indianapolis, because they don’t play along with the Daylight Savings thing….

Even when someone does something really gross–like a pizzeria trying to get some free press by declaring that they wouldn’t cater a gay wedding (as if)–good stuff still comes from this sad action. That good thing? The Yelp Reviews are freaking hilarious. You have to weed through some really hateful ones (from both sides), but the funny ones are worth it. There are also some funny pictures….

This pizza is miraculous....

This pizza is miraculous….

Another cool thing is this front page editorial from the Indianapolis Star. An even cooler this was this amazing letter the paper received from a man named Nick Crews who was encouraged by the stand the paper had taken:

“With the papers under my arm, I walked to Plainfield’s Maple Hill Cemetery, and found my brother’s grave. My brother, who had been a troubled Vietnam War vet, was gay at a time when being gay was a very difficult thing to be. When he died of AIDS in 1985 in a far-off city, his refuge from his closed-minded native state, some in our family were sufficiently ashamed that his cause of death was not discussed.

At the grave I opened the Star. I said, “Well, Charlie, times have changed, thank God. It turns out you were on the right side of history after all.” Then I read aloud as much of the paper’s editorial as tears would let me get through.

And today I’m doing what I never thought I’d do. I’m renewing my subscription to the Star. I’m doing this because, if for no other reason, I believe we must all support those who stand against discrimination and for inclusiveness. I do it too as thanks to the Star whose courage and right-mindedness on this issue made this moment of personal closure possible for me.”

After your eyes dry out, you can read his entire letter HERE.

And then, take a few minutes to laugh with Conan at the absurdity of it all….

Even Honey Maid graham crackers got into the mix….

Political Graham Cracker sounds like a pejorative term for a South Carolina Senator.

Political Graham Cracker sounds like a pejorative term for a South Carolina Senator.

Still, I think this one is my favorite. It’s by Kevin Siers of the Charlotte Observer….

I love Jesus.

I love Jesus.

This one gets to the heart of it. I know that it’s easy to get down when people keep representing Jesus in a way that everyone but them can see is shameful…. But things ARE getting better. A while ago (after another discouraging setback involving gay Boy Scouts), I wrote THIS POST. I just reread it, and think it still holds up (I have a healthy self-image). Sometimes losing a battle hurts, but the war has already been decided, and LOVE WINS! Human consciousness is progressing. The moral arc of the universe is long, but it’s bending toward justice. There is reason to celebrate. There is reason to laugh. There is reason to be hopeful.

Posted in 1) Jesus, 2) Politics, 3) Bathroom Humor | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Protecting Our Freedom To Not Sell Flowers To Gay People

We have to serve you if you're black, but if you're black and gay, you're going to need to find another soda shop.

We have to serve you if you’re black, but if you’re black and gay, you’re going to need to find another soda shop.

In the past week there has been an “AVALANCHE of intolerance” that has taken place. Now, you might think I’m referring to Indiana’s new law (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) making it legal for businesses to discriminate against people who are LGBT, but according to Indiana Governor Mike Pence, it turns out that that actual intolerance is coming from the folks who REFUSE to tolerate Indiana’s intolerance. I mean, you’d THINK that people who are so sensitive to intolerance would be able to recognize their own narrow-mindedness, right?!? This wave of intolerance has come not only from individuals…

but also from companies like Apple….

and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff who tweeted….

Even the NCAA, which is based in Indianapolis, is reconsidering how this decision will affect its relationship with Indiana. Angie’s List has also cancelled an expansion in Indiana over the RFRA, but I think that the idiocy of this position is best summed up by America’s Best Christian, Mrs. Betty Bowers (a woman “so close to Jesus He uses my birthday when He plays Lotto”), who tweeted…

I love it. I love it so much....

I love it. I love it so much….

So listen, I know this type of story is the sort of thing people have come to expect me to write about, but I have been trying to stay out of it. It’s just such a tired, sad, obvious wrong that I figure if you don’t already see that, chances are nothing I’m going to write is going to change that. Also, so many other people have done such a good job of pointing out the ridiculousness of this whole situation that I didn’t really feel like I had a lot to add. One of the best I’ve read is THIS ONE by Gene Robinson…. Here is a quote from that article:

Taken to their logical and extreme conclusion, such laws could allow someone to ask to be exempted from meeting the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, if that person’s religion believed (as in much of the Old Testament) that physical infirmities were the result of the afflicted person’s sin (or that of his parents), and “my religion condemns sin rather than cooperating with it.”

I mean, the idiocy of this law…. It is like an anti-axiom. But when I saw this morning’s interview with Governor Pence on ABC News’ “The Week,” I had to pass it along. Everyone needs to see this, and if my writing this gets the few people who frequent this blog to watch this extraordinary interview, it’ll be worth it. Warning: If you don’t enjoy watching politicians squirm, you probably won’t enjoy this: http://abcnews.go.com/video/embed?id=29987447

If you're wondering who that guy standing behind Gov. Pence at the signing of the RFRA, his name is Eric Miller. He is the head of the state's latest anti-LGBT organization called "Advance America." They must have used their religious liberty to keep all the black folks out of the room....

If you’re wondering who that guy standing behind Gov. Pence at the signing of the RFRA is, his name is Eric Miller–the head of the state’s latest anti-LGBT organization called “Advance America.” They must have used their religious liberty to keep all the black folks out of the room….

Now just in case you don’t actually watch the video (I can see how many of you actually click on the links–It’s a pretty small percentage of how many people read the posts…. You should all be ashamed of yourselves), Indiana Governor Mike Pence went on “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos to do some damage control after Indiana started getting loads of bad publicity for the bill that the signed into law. He plays the victim by blaming the left for being intolerant of his state’s attempts to make it legal to discriminate against people who are LGBT. He actually says the words, “Is tolerance a two way street, or not?” The interview ends with Governor Pence being asked, “Do you think it should be legal in the state of Indiana to discriminate against gays and lesbians?” After being asked multiple times, the governor could not seem to bring himself to give a simple, “No, I don’t think it should be legal to discriminate against gays and lesbians.” One can only guess at the reasoning behind his refusal to say yes or a no….

That’s about all I’ve got in me. Sorry. It’s just so freaking discouraging…. Anyway, I am reminded of probably the best article about understanding religious liberty that I have ever read. It was written by Rev. Emily C. Heath, and it is titled “How to Determine If Your Religious Liberty Is Being Threatened in Just 10 Quick Questions.” Even if you’ve read it before, you should read it again. She ends her article (and I’ll end mine) with these wise words:

The only way to ensure your own religious liberty remains strong is by advocating for the religious liberty of all, including those with whom you may passionately disagree. Because they deserve the same rights as you. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Top 10 Things a Pastor Can Do With His New Gulfstream Jet

All things are possible with God. And one of those possible things is a pastor driving around in a Bentley.

All things are possible with God. And one of those possible things is a pastor driving around in a Bentley.

Being a mega-church pastor is a very demanding job. With all those fundraisers, and book tours, and real estate deals…. Sometimes it seems like it’s almost impossible to find time to get on TV to ask people for money, let us know about their new book, and start a new capital campaign. These guys have so much to worry about! The LAST thing these men of God need to be worrying about is getting to the airport early and trying to find a seat on a commercial flight with the rest of those reprobates in first class…. Or–God forbid–even trying to wedge yourself in between a couple of runny-nosed schlubs in COACH. Lord knows the only “Coach” in the life of a mega-church pastor is his wife’s handbag….

This is a picture of the Gulfstream G650. I happened to get this particular photo off Pastor Bill Johnson's Facebook Page.... But whatever.

This is a picture of the Gulfstream G650. I happened to get this particular photo off Pastor Bill Johnson’s Facebook Page…. But whatever.

Some of you may have already heard about Creflo Dollar, the pastor of Atlanta’s giant World Changers Church International, asking for financial help to “achieve our goal to purchase the Gulfstream G650 airplane.” The G650 goes for a cool $65 million, but don’t worry–If a Church buys it, they don’t have to pay any tax on it. The G650 happens to be the same model of luxury private jet that Bill Johnson, pastor of Redding California’s Bethel Church, was “believing God for.” It’s a nice jet–WAY better than those crappy $18 million Learjets that are barely fit for those Scientologist hobos Travolta and Cruise to fly. God’s men deserve only the very best. And after 200,000 people commit to “sow” $300 or more, Pastor Dollar will finally be flying in the style he–and Jesus–deserves.

Here are some ways that a $65 million jet can be used by a pastor to further the Kingdom of God: 

  1. He can finally have a straight flight to bring medical supplies to Africa without having to lay over in Tampa.
  2. It doubles as a nice, quiet place to read the Bible.
  3. He and his wife can finally enter the Mile-High-Club on a king-sized mattress as God intended, and not some cramped, stinky bathroom. #MissionaryPosition
  4. Two words: FULL BAR! And the cool thing is that the wine in the airplane bar can be used in a pinch for Communion….
  5. The seats have really nice night lights, so you can do devotions at night.
  6. The prisoners he visits will be hella impressed.
  7. Ample cargo space can be filled with food for the homeless folks who might live near the airport. And the money they saved on the religious tax exemption can be used to start a soup kitchen to feed the poor.
  8. Able to have fun buzzing the tower with his associate pastor, Goose (Negative, Holy Ghost Rider, the pattern is full).
  9. His $5000 suits won’t come out of all wrinkly, like they do when you have to check your luggage like the commoners.
  10. Can finally prove, once and for all, that God blesses the faithful with great riches.

He works in mysterious ways, you guys…. If you have more good ideas for things that belong on this list, please post them in the comments.

Posted in 1) Jesus, 5) Not Quite Sure | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

I Hate To Tell You This, But Those Aren’t Praying Hands

prayer-emoji

Seeing this emoji as a high five is the social media equivalent of the “In Bed” game that makes fortune cookies suddenly fun.

I’m about to rock your world. Ready? Here it is: That little emoji that people think is praying hands? It’s actually a high five*. Those little lines are not some holy prayer power emanating from the hands–turns out they are a cartoon illustration of the noise that lets you know the high five made a good sound*. I understand that some of you have already heard this atomic bomb go off, but if this is the first you are hearing of this, for you, everything is probably different now. I’ll give you the natural pause that is a paragraph break ending in an ellipsis to let you recover….

This information has some serious social media implications. My time on Facebook has been made exponentially more funny with this revelation. Now, when people post something they are struggling with (sickness, sadness, loss of a loved one) and someone posts a little high five emoji, I imagine them saying, “Alright! Way to go!”

“Driving to the vet to say goodbye for the final time to our faithful dog, Samson.”
Gimme five!

“Turns out I have a strange disease that makes me bleed out my eyeballs.”
Up top!!

“I lost my job, my wife is having an affair, and this medicine I’m taking is causing a truly embarrassing amount of anal leakage.”
Slap me some skin, my brother!!!

When I saw the high five for what it was, it was a very "That's-no-moon-It's-a-space-station" sort-of feeling....

When I saw the high five for what it was, it was a very “That’s-no-moon-It’s-a-space-station” sort-of feeling….

See? Everything is funnier. Empirically funnier. And this is not to say that we should be laughing at other peoples hardships. Sometimes in life people just need to share what they’re going through and reach out for a little support and sympathy… I’m simply suggesting that maybe our response to those times should not be cute little impersonal cartoons. If you feel led to pray for someone, just pray for them–You don’t have to type six emojis. Or call them up and pray with them. Better yet, go visit them. Sit down with them and tell them you love them. Bring them some chicken noodle soup. Bring them some cooling wet wipes for their bloody eyes and leaky anus. It’s bad enough when people share a status about being in need, and the comments section is filled up only with people saying, “Praying,” “Praying right now,” “Lifting you up in prayer,” etc…. I’m not quite sure why this is so annoying to me.

This is my emoji for my feelings about reducing prayer to a one-click cartoon.

This is my emoji for my feelings about reducing prayer to a one-click cartoon.

Maybe it’s because prayer is more than a cute Emoji. What we believe about prayer directly influences and reveals what we believe about God. When we pray for God to “be with” someone, we paint a picture of a God who is not with us–at least not until we ask him to be (and even then, is one prayer enough, or do we need a whole bunch of praying hands? Are seven “Praying Hand” emojis somehow better than six?). A God who is in control of every little detail of our days can quickly turn into a monstrous thing when we are surrounded by misery and pain. A God who is in enough control to miraculously assist with the safety of the people of a town destroyed by tornado is also in enough control to have steered the tornado out of the path of the town. These are not simple questions that can be answered by a little Emoji… Especially when that Emoji is actually giving a high-five*.

*This may or may not be true. I actually have no idea…. There are some (Like Gawker) who are trying to say that it isn’t a high five (My wife doubts the chances of both high-fivers wearing the same color shirt). Others disagree. Some might tell you that it is actually called the “Person With Folded Hands” emoji, but that’s just ridiculous, because “folded hands” obviously don’t look like that. Others say it is an Asian “Please” or “Thank You.” Regardless of the artwork’s original intent, I think we should all continue to spread the rumor that these hands are high-fiving. It only makes things better. I mean, even if they actually WERE praying hands, their only proper use would be to be used ironically. Do we really want to live in a world where something as mysterious and mystical as prayer is reduced to an emoji?  No…. No, we don’t.

This public service message has been brought to you by The Boeskool. If you’d like more nuggets of wisdom like this, you can like my Facebook page HERE, or you follow me on the ol’ Twitter right HERE.

Posted in 3) Bathroom Humor | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Five Things I Learned In Prison

Bringing light into dark places.

Bringing light into dark places.

I celebrated my birthday in prison this year. Our Church is part of a ministry called Timothy’s Gift.  They go into prisons to remind the inmates that they are human, that they are not forgotten, and most importantly that they are loved by God–Not because of anything that they have done, but simply because of of who they are. When they invited people to go on the trip, my wife asked me if I wanted to go. I told her I would love to, but I had to work, and we really didn’t have the money. It was a four-day trip that took place over my 40th (I know, right? Crazy) birthday, and she knew I didn’t want a big party, so she devised that she would surprise me with this trip as a gift for my birthday. She made a “Send Chris To Prison” GoFundMe page, and within a day, more than enough money had been raised. I can’t thank the people enough who gave to support me going on this trip. I felt so loved… Though I didn’t let it go to my head, because I think some of them might have thought that I was actually being incarcerated.

I'm the tall, good-looking bald guy in the back who doesn't look a day over 39....

I’m the tall, good-looking bald guy in the back who doesn’t look a day over 39….

We drove from Nashville to Florida and visited four maximum security prisons–One women’s prison, and three men’s prisons. Like many other folks on the trip, I was nervous about what to expect. I was afraid it would feel like a trip to a zoo…. Like we would be observing some sad, dangerous animals from a distance. But it was nothing like that. What I really wanted was to GIVE these people something, but it was nothing like that either. I wanted to show them love, but instead I was shown love. I wanted to bring them hope, but I have never been as hopeful as I am right now. I wanted them to meet Jesus, but instead I met Jesus in a more profound way than I had ever before. Everyone always says that you can’t describe a trip like this–that you have to go and experience it for yourself…. But as much as that is true, I am sure the hell going to try. I can’t share everything that I took away from this Hope Tour, but here are a few of the things I learned:

You are loved. You have great worth.

You are loved. You have great worth.

TOUCHING THE HANDS OF JESUS
We were instructed early on that the only contact we were allowed to make was with the inmate’s hand (for the prisoner’s safety, as well as our own). This was especially difficult for me, because I am a bit of a hugger. At the first prison we visited, I served Communion to about 100 women. For each inmate I placed my hand beneath her open hands waiting to receive, I looked her in the eyes, I called her by her name, I tore a piece of bread from a loaf held by another prisoner, I placed that bread in her hands and said, “God loves you because of who you are. He calls you ‘Beloved.’ This is the body of Christ, broken for you.” Some people believe that in the Eucharist, the bread turns into the actual body of Christ…. I’m not sure about that. In the Bible Jesus says the words, “I was in prison, and you visited ME,” and I can tell you this: I am sure that as I touched those hands, I touched the very Body of Christ. It was one of the single greatest honors of my life.

TAKING OFF MY SHOES
One of the first things I noticed inside the prison walls was the faces of the men and women there. In my head when I imagined people in prison, I saw prisoners as outfits. I saw them as outlines of people. But they are whole people, even as they are broken. They have faces–Some of them wrinkled and weathered, some of them so shockingly young. We walked into a dorm of inmates who had made a commitment to be missionaries in the confines of the prison, past the indignity of a windowed bathroom, to inmates cheering our arrival. It was surreal. They sang us a worship song, and before it was over we were singing with them–As one body, tears rolling down our faces. And I suddenly had an overwhelming urge to take my shoes off, because it was clear to all of us that we were standing on holy ground. But as Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote,

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes.”

REMEMBERING HOW TO PRAY
After the women sang and prayed for us, we had the opportunity sit down in small groups and talk with five different inmates for about 30 minutes each. We just sat there and listened to their stories. We encouraged them and told them they are loved. Two of the women we spoke with had never had a visitor in all the years they had been locked up. One woman we spoke with told us about so many hurts…. And she said she had a goal to find a good Church when she got out (in about five years), a “real” Church–One who would pray for her. I asked her what she would want them to pray for her about, and she said, “Strength and guidance.” Now, I don’t understand how prayer works. It has been YEARS since I have said something as “churchy” as this, but I heard myself say to her, “Do you mind if I pray for you?” I have no idea what I said, but I felt like it was powerful. And sitting there in that prison library, holding the hand of a criminal, talking together with our creator…. It felt as natural as breathing or laughing or falling asleep.

I climbed up two rickety old ladders to get to a dusty old balcony to get this shot. There were more than 400 prisoners who heard a message of hope.... As well as some really kick ass music.

I climbed up two rickety old ladders to get to a dusty old balcony to get this shot. There were more than 400 prisoners who heard a message of hope…. As well as some really kick ass music.

LETTING GO OF MY BURDEN
As I was walking out of one of the men’s prisons, I was carrying a 40-pack of bottled water on my shoulder. It was a hot day, and it was getting heavy…. So I decided to start asking people if they were thirsty. And as my burden got lighter and lighter, what I can only describe as the voice of God whispered to me, “Why don’t you think about that for a moment.” So many of us are burdened with hurts. And fear. And shame. But as we meet others in their place of need… And we give of ourselves… And as we stand with the broken and the vulnerable, we truly discover what it means to love and be alive and be free. In letting go of the things we have, we find what we’ve been needing. In standing with the broken and the and the vulnerable, we are actually standing with Jesus….

“I DO NOT CONDEMN YOU EITHER”
A big part of the message we were bringing was that these people are not defined by their worst mistakes. And that is true for you as well…. Whoever the “you” is who happens to be reading this right now. Not only does God know you, but God knows you AND God loves you. When the angry crowd was ready to stone the woman caught in adultery, Jesus silenced them with the words, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” After everyone left, the story goes on, “Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” Many times when people use this passage as a picture of God’s giant Mercy and Grace, people who believe that point of the Bible is eliminating sin will focus on the “sin no more” part. But when you read it again, you see it says, “From now on….” First comes the knowledge that he does not condemn. That he is on our side. That we are loved…. THEN–“From NOW on”–comes the “sin no more” part.

It’s just like in the story of the Prodigal Son–It was a story of TWO sons. One who made some really bad decisions, another who stayed at home and did all the right stuff…. But neither of the sons knew their identity. And all of us–whether we are on the inside of a correctional institution, or whether we are outside working like a slave–ALL of us need to know our identity. And that identity is this: We are the beloved children of God. He knows us AND he loves us. Nothing my children could do could ever make them not mine and not loved. And God does a way better job of loving his kids than I do….

If I have done even a halfway decent job of describing this experience, please know that it is a poor substitute for the ACTUAL experience. If you ever have the chance to go on one of the Timothy’s Gift Hope Tours, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Please watch this video for a better understanding of what they are trying to do:

This trip has changed my life and my heart. If you are inspired by what Timothy’s Gift is trying to do, you can support them RIGHT HERE. It was in every way amazing, and just in case you are worried, there was never even one moment where I was afraid for my safety. I joked on the bus ride about trying to check things off of the list in Matthew 25 (“When I was hungry, you fed me. When I was thirsty you gave me something to drink…” and so on) in order to try to get into Heaven, and a new friend (this amazing woman here) said, “Maybe it’s not a list of stuff to do. Maybe it’s where we go to find him.” When we feed the hungry and we get people clean water, and when we invite in the stranger and we get people clothes who need them, and when we take care of the sick and we visit the prisoner…. Maybe we are literally encountering Jesus.

Maybe…. Who knows. But what Shane Claiborne once said sounds really true to me–now more than ever, “Most good things have been said far too many times and just need to be lived.” We can’t know about loving the poor by hearing about loving the poor.  It is the difference between hearing about chocolate and tasting chocolate. It is the difference between seeing a picture of a mountain and actually standing in front of that mountain. It is the difference between hearing  about Jesus and touching Jesus’ hand.

Now, if you want to give me a really amazing 40th birthday gift, share this post….

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The Coolest Way To Save Someone’s Life

Yesterday I saw what is probably one of the most beautiful pictures I have ever seen. It wasn’t of a sunset or of some untouched mountain lake…. It was a picture of a woman–a mother–embracing a young woman and pressing her ear to her chest. She is listening to a familiar sound. It is the sound of her son’s heart–a son whose life was taken 18 years ago–A steady beat that is alive and well in the chest of a woman she had never met…. At least not until that day. Here is the picture:

This is what it looks like to hear your son's heart beating inside of a person whose life he saved.

This is what it looks like to hear your son’s heart beating inside of a person whose life he saved.

The meeting happened this past Valentines Day (which also happens to be National Donor Day). Vicki Brannon is the mother of Matthew McIntyre, who died in 1996 after being accidentally shot by a friend. A day later, Matthew’s 14 year old heart was given to 13 year old Jennifer Lentini. Jennifer arranged the meeting with Matthew’s mother as a way of saying, “Thank you.” You can read more about this amazing reunion (and see more of Tim Boyle‘s powerful photography) if this article from the Daily News.

Every girl I knew in high school loved this movie with their whole being. How surreal to watch it now with daughters of my own....

Every girl I knew in high school loved this movie with their whole being. How surreal to watch it now with daughters of my own….

I had tears in my eyes as I showed this story to a coworker today, and she told me a story of a childhood friend whose father had died while she was still young. The father was an organ donor, and his heart went to a man whose life was saved by this simple act of generosity. Years later, when this friend’s sister got married, the man who had received her father’s heart agreed to walk her down the aisle. The family can be thankful that I was not at this wedding, because no one would have been able to have heard any of the ceremony over the sounds of my very loud sobbing. That story is so freaking beautiful. For the life of me, I cannot think of one reason why someone wouldn’t want to be an organ donor. It is such a purely good thing. It is completely good.

Here are some things you might not know about organ donation:

  • Every day, 18 people die while waiting for organ transplants.
  • One person who donates their organs after they die can save the lives of up to 8 people, and drastically change the lives of 50 more.
  • Every major religion supports organ donation.
  • Just about anyone, regardless of age or medical history, can be an organ donor.
  • No one is ever going to get “lesser care” just because they are an organ and tissue donor. This is a ridiculous myth. The only time that donation is even considered is after every single thing that can be done has been tried and the patient has died.
  • People who have donated their organs can have open caskets at their funeral, and they look exactly the same as if they didn’t donate.
  • In some states it is not enough to simply sign the back of your drivers license. If you want to be registered as an organ donor, you can CLICK RIGHT HERE and be taken to a handy map where you can click on your state and resister.

It is so easy, and there is no easier way for you to possibly save someone’s life. Refusing to be an organ donor is like finishing a meal next to a starving man, and insisting your scraps get thrown in the trash. And the other cool thing is this: If we all decide that this is something we ALL value as a community, YOUR life might end up being the one that is saved someday. YOU might be the man walking down the aisle next to a young woman whose father’s heart beats within you…. YOURS might be the chest with the ear pressed against it, listening for a familiar rhythm….

Organ donation is like the ultimate form of recycling.

Organ donation is like the ultimate form of recycling.

For my day job, part of what I do is educational puppetry for elementary-aged kids. We used to do a program on organ donation. It was so very sweet. The kids who saw our presentation got to meet a little girl whose brother had died and donated his organs, saving the lives of multiple people. They also met a young boy who had cardiomyopathy and was close to death, but whose life was saved because the family of a girl who died cared enough to talk about becoming an organ donor. We almost never do this program anymore, because teachers and parents were afraid that it was to much for the kids to deal with. But I think that behind that fear is subtile lie that we tell ourselves when we avoid talking about death. We all walk around like we’re going to be here forever. But we’re not. We’re all going to die someday…. We might as well go out being a hero for someone who needs the stuff we don’t need anymore. Stuff that can let someone see for the first time, stuff that allows someone to take a deep breath without the help of a machine, stuff that can send the very essence of life through our veins…. Talk to your kids. Talk to your loved ones. Register online. Be a hero. Be an organ donor.

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I Doubt The Homeless Folks Who Slept At My Church Last Night Care About Our Stance On Gay Marriage

You know the law: Two moms enter, one mom leaves.

“You know the law: Two moms enter, one mom leaves…. with some bread.”

Like many places across the country, bitterly cold weather is moving into our area. There’s even talk of snow…. Which, in this part of the world, means that most people start thinking about a few things: Worrying about bad roads, hoping for school closings, and trying to get to Kroger before they run out of bread and milk. I made the mistake of stopping by a Kroger after Church yesterday, and the bread aisle was one shopping-cart-collision-with-a-mom-having-a-really-bad-day away from turning into a scene from “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.” For most of us, the cold weather is little more than an annoyance we must endure between the time after we leave our warm houses and the time it takes for our cars to warm up. But for some people, a stretch of cold weather is way more than an annoyance.

Yesterday at our Church, a man named Steve stood up and told the congregation that he needed our help. As he told us about the cold weather coming this way and the desperate situation that the homeless community in Nashville faced, he seemed visibly shaken. He talked about how there were more people on the streets than there were beds at the mission…. But he didn’t say it like someone telling a congregation a statistic–His words had the urgency of someone who was worried about his friends. And that’s probably because many of those people needing a place to stay WERE his friends. And so he asked for our help. And after the service was over, he was surrounded by about 30 people who were asking what they could do. It was unorganized, and it was beautiful. There is nothing so holy in a Church service–no prayer, no song, no bread and wine–as a time when someone in need is surrounded by people asking how they can help. 

And so, once again, our Church made some make-shift beds out of the chairs in our sanctuary. They had people show up with a bunch of blankets and pillows and toiletries. Some other folks brought some amazing food. The whole scene looked like this:

And what's really cool is that any church with some cushy chairs can do something like this!

And what’s really cool is that any church with some cushy chairs can do something like this!

A kid from our Church set up a Snuggling Station, just in case the people who were staying there needed some snuggles.... [Cue me crying]

A kid from our Church set up a Snuggling Station, just in case the people who were staying there needed some snuggles…. [Cue me crying]


Our Church is in the suburbs in one of the wealthiest counties in the country, and there aren’t nearly as many vulnerable people in that area, so we picked up folks from downtown Nashville and drove them out to our church to sleep. I’ve got myself a really nice 1997 GMC Safari that fits eight, so I volunteered to be a driver. There was a young woman named Lindsey who had found the folks who needed a warm place to stay and introduced them to me before I drove them out to the Church. I think I expected…. well, I don’t know what I expected. I guess I expected more B.O. in my van (more than normal, that is), but most of the folks just smelled like campfire–Which makes sense, because it was cold during the day too. Cigarettes are definitely a currency in those circles. There were things that people needed that I never even think twice about–A bandaid, a comb…. well, I’m bald, so…. anyway, but you get my point. I was just surprised by how normal everyone was. From the people needing a place to stay, to the people taking the lead who were in relationship with those folks, to the people who were working together to make it happen–They were all just regular folks, doing nothing particularly spectacular. But everyone together was something…. beautiful. It was Church.

Some of you who read my stuff regularly already know that my Church came out in support of LGBT inclusion recently. I wrote about it HERE (and if you haven’t already, you should go watch the updated link at the end that explains how you can completely value scripture and still end up as an open and affirming Church). Through this painful process, there have been a lot of people who found it necessary to find another place to worship. It’s weird, because you don’t want something like this to divide people, but also it’s something that is important enough to take a stand on…. So I get it. But as I looked around our sanctuary, transformed into 20 beds for people to sleep on, I couldn’t help but think about how little the people staying there probably cared about our Church’s stance on LGBT inclusion. If someone is giving you a hot meal and a sleeping bag, you probably don’t care if they believe God blesses same-sex marriages.

But I LIKE saying stuff....

But I LIKE saying stuff….

So I’m thankful tonight for all the regular people–People on both sides of this whole “gay marriage” debate–who take the time to cook some food, who take the time to gather some blankets, who take the time to go buy some pillows, who take the time to stay at the Church all night long…. And I’m thankful for the chance to meet some new friends, and sing some Journey song in my minivan with people I’ve never met before, and even hear the sad stories of kids kicked out of their homes and families…. But today I am especially thankful for those regular people–For Steves and Lindseys who are in relationship with folks most of us have thrown away a long time ago. I’m thankful for the ones whose hearts break when the weather gets this cold, the ones who are spurred into action, the ones whose passion inspires the rest of us to get a little less comfortable. And I’m really thankful for the Church.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Shane Claiborne’s “The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical”:

“I had come to see that the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor…I truly believe that when the rich meet the poor, riches will have no meaning. And when the rich meet the poor, we will see poverty come to an end.”

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5 Things To Do Instead of Going To See “50 Shades of Grey”

Calling this woman "Plus-Sized" is like calling Jimmy Walker obese

Calling this woman “Plus-Sized” is like calling Jimmy Walker obese

It’s Valentines weekend! And I have to tell you, it has not felt like a good week for a guy trying to raise two beautiful daughters…. Or a son, for that matter. We’ve got the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue making a huge step forward for woman’s rights by putting a “Plus-Size” model in their magazine. To the right is a picture of what “Plus-Sized” looks like. But really, no one has ever accused the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue of of being a force of good in the world when it comes to bettering the treatment of our daughters and wives and sisters and mothers…. So I suppose that’s not really TOO surprising. What is far more surprising is how so many women have bought into the idea that there is nothing wrong with celebrating the crap-fest that is the “50 Shades of Grey” phenomenon.

50ShadesOfGrey_600x_AnastasiaSteele_21

Doesn’t make sense to me either.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post called “50 Shades of Skank” that detailed my thoughts about this. I talked about going to a strip club in college, and having the realization “I am so much better than this.” I compared it to eating at a Shoney’s and looking around at all the actual plus-sized people around you, and thinking, “What the hell am I doing here?” While talking about the movie coming out this weekend (based on the book that sold over 100 million copies!!), I have realized that the issue might not be as clear as I thought it was when I wrote that older post. I don’t have time to go into all of that complexity–I have to wake up early tomorrow–but I remain convinced that this book, this movie, and all the hype around it is just the lowest common denominator of our humanity, and it is a net loss for all of us.

The only thing keeping Christian Grey from being a complete horror story stalker is the fact that he is rich and good-looking. Imagine an unattractive man saying things like these to a woman:

“…if you were mine, you wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week after the stunt you pulled yesterday. He said it then and all I could concentrate on at the time was being his. All the warning signs were there. I was just too clueless and too enamored to notice.”

“I like the control it gives me, Anastasia. I want you to behave in a particular way, and if you don’t, I shall punish you, and you will learn to behave the way I desire. I enjoy punishing you…I need to control you.”

“If you struggle, I’ll tie your feet too. If you make a noise, Anastasia, I will gag you.”

A lot of people have pointed out that the difference between a stalker and a suitor is often how attracted the person who is being pursued is to the one coming on to them…. SNL poked fun of this phenomenon years ago (Crap, it won’t embed. Oh well. Click and watch).

I don’t know if there’s anything I could say to change the minds of people who believe that stuff like this in harmless. I just believe it makes us less than what we were before we saw it. That’s really what porn does. It makes us all less–especially the variety that exploits and degrades. In my life, I have had plenty of experiences with pornography, and I can tell you that it never made me feel more enlightened or closer to God in any way. I think most of us deep down have an innate sense of the counterfeit-ness of porn, and the sense that we are diminished by it instead of being strengthened….

So here are 5 things to do instead of going to see “50 Shades” this weekend:

1) Watch this review of the movie. It is, in the reviewer’s words, “quite simply the worst movie I’ve ever seen.” Another telling quote from the review: “It’s domestic violence dressed up like erotica, and there’s one thing this movie IS NOT, it’s erotic.”


2) Talk to your kids about it.
Here is an AMAZING article titled “Fifty Discussions to Combat Fifty Shades” written by Dina Alexander, MS. It isn’t enough to just decide we’re not going to see it–We have to talk to our kids about WHY it’s so messed up. She starts out with the question “How can a critically ridiculed book, with a weak plot and ridiculously pathetic characters make so much money? (If it is salacious and/or controversial and/or marketed accurately, anything can make money.)” And then she goes from there…. Every parent needs to read this article.

3) Watch this beautiful video about Real Women. And then let your kids watch it. It shows four women who agree to go through photoshopping into “cover girls.” It is inspiring and beautiful for all the right reasons. Here is a quote from it: “Once someone else has done your makeup, and someone else has done your hair, and someone has directed the way your body looks, and then taken your imperfections…. There’s not much left of who you really are.”


4) Make a donation to a Domestic Violence Shelter instead.
 There is a Facebook community called “50 Dollars Not 50 Shades.” They describe themselves as “a grassroots, women-led campaign, encouraging people to boycott the 50 Shades of Grey movie & give a donation to domestic violence shelter/agency. You should like them. And then, if you can, consider giving some money to some people who are actually trying to HELP women. I come from a family profoundly affected by domestic abuse. The people running these shelters need your money way more than the folks profiting off of 50 Shades….

5) Share this post. And share posts like it. Use the little bit of influence you have to try to make this world a little less messed up. Keep up the good work! 

And as a post script, Happy Valentines Day to my beautiful wife. Thank you for being such a strong and loving and wise person in my life. Thank you for your perfect body that somehow managed to create and birth three perfect kids. Thank you for being able to smell bullshit from a mile away. Thank you for all of your complexity and opinions and stubbornness and humor. And thank you for being absolutely nothing like Anastasia Steele.    I love you!

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