Tag Archives: Pop Culture

A Pastoral Posture toward Social Media

My undergraduate degree is in chemistry.  My desire was to be a doctor, but the Lord had other plans.  I’ve sometimes wondered, “Lord, if this was you plan, couldn’t you have led to me to an easier degree?!” But maybe God did that so I could learn one fact that I actually think about a lot: darkness doesn’t actually exist.  Darkness is simply what it is not; it is the absence of light. When light enters into the darkness, the darkness no longer remains, because darkness cannot exist where light is. 

This must be significant when we think of how many times in the Gospels that Jesus either called himself Light or said that his followers are to be a light. This is a world that has significant darkness to it.  As Christians, it is our job to be light, God’s light, in those dark places. 

One of the places that may seem the darkest today is social media.  All we have to do is look around Facebook or Twitter or any of the other social media sites to see our worst impulses. Name calling, mocking, divisiveness, so many areas of division and darkness.  I have many friends who have gotten off social media completely, and I can’t say that I blame them. The Bible warns to us avoid such pointless division. (Titus 3:9 – “But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.”) So we should all log out and delete our apps, right?  Maybe. But maybe not.

As a pastor, as I’ve seen more darkness and division on social media, instead of giving it over to the darkness completely, I’ve felt compelled to shine a little light, especially in the days of COVID, where my friend list will be the largest congregation I preach to.  And that is what I’m doing: I preach.  Now, anyone who knows me knows that I preach a little different. I may think of it as preaching, though to the average person on social media, it may not look like that. But just like every sermon I preach, I’m trying to point to Jesus, and I do the same with my use of social media. It just may not look or seem like a sermon. Frankly, I think that says more about our sermons than it does about my social media usage. 

With my social media presence, I try to do a few different things.

  • Be transparent. First and foremost, I try to be transparent.  About the only compliment I really appreciate is when folks tell me I don’t act like a preacher. What that means is that I just act normally. Folks aren’t used to their preacher acting like a regular person, and we preachers don’t always put down our guard enough to act like normal people (which we are). So, I make fun of myself.  I talk about music or wrestling.  I make fun of friends.  I admit when I’m tired or sad or angry.  I post authentic things that are actually happening.  It is real.  So, when I talk about Jesus, that is the same thing. Real. 
  • Don’t take myself or life too seriously.  I want to make people laugh. I believe we’ve all just gotten too self-conscious.  I want to “preach” without being preachy or condescending.  I never, ever, ever, want to talk down to anyone. We should point to truth with a twinkle in our eye. Many of us have forgotten how to laugh or lost our joy and our ability to find joy in life.  I want people to laugh again. 
  • Help people think.  This may be my main goal. I try to never tell people what they have to do, or even what they must believe.  I remind them of what Christians believe, or what the Bible says, or what our church teaches. I try to help people do their own theological reflection. If you and I impulsively react to everything nowadays, then no one thinks. One of my goals, especially on complicated and controversial issues, is to help people to think for themselves, in light of what Scripture and church teaching show us. 
  • Focus on grace, grace, and more grace.  The world is so hard today. We need beauty, we need grace. We need hope.  We need peace.  I want us to do what Paul wrote in Philippians 4:8 – “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  I want to help us focus on what is good. 

John Wesley would go where the people were and preach to them.  He preached in the fields, in the streets, wherever they were. That’s how I try to see social media.  I want to shine a light: provide some biblical commentary, some laughter, some realism, but always, hopefully, a little light.

The world is dark today and has always been.  But there is and has always been light and beauty. That’s the space we should operate from.  We have an obligation to shine light on social media and all throughout our lives.  We have a call to be salt and light in every area.  May it be so.

Featured image courtesy Jon Tyson via Unsplash.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Testimony, Conversion, and the Search for Genuine Faith

There are quite a few opinions about a recent celebrity in the spotlight for a high-profile conversion to Christianity. Or an alleged conversion to Christianity, depending on your point of view. Which celebrity it is doesn’t matter as much, because any time a celebrity joins anything, the people who belong to the faith or organization are thrilled. It’s like getting an endorsement or like a draft or trade in professional sports: “we got so-and-so! Maybe this year we’ll finally make it to the playoffs!”

Many devout believers – whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Mormon, or other beliefs – are used to being somewhat out of step with popular or dominant culture. So sometimes language of piety can dress up what may be a simple gut response: “we finally got a cool one!” Like a trading card game, the secular materialist kid slides his celebrity card to the Christian kid, and the Christian kid is relieved, because she’s recently lost several trading cards to the messy-mystical universalist kid.

Yet other believers are genuinely excited at the news of any testimony of conversion, and that’s a good thing. They don’t care about the “trading card” feel of it, because they’re genuinely just as thrilled when they hear testimony of conversion from the clerk at Dollar General. Take Fran: an elderly woman I encountered while working in a nursing home. She had a contagious, off-kilter laugh and a contagious, off-kilter love for Jesus, and she wanted everyone who came into her room to know that Jesus loved them. It is a zany follower of Christ who sees the call for assistance with bathroom needs as an opportune moment to talk to people about Jesus. And people like Fran don’t care if it’s an aide in a nursing home or a rapper married to a reality show star, they just want you to know that Jesus loves you and that they love you. People like Fran don’t see faith as a giant Pokemon challenge to, “catch ’em all,” collecting conversion trading cards for a stronger deck.

High-profile converts to any religion tend to attract extra scrutiny, and usually questions are raised about whether it’s genuine. People of a certain age will remember the controversy about fiery Watergate figure Charles Colson’s jailtime conversion. But whether testimony of following Jesus Christ is genuine isn’t a new question generated by the entertainment industry highlighting celebrity lifestyles. The early church dealt with this question, and leaders often counseled prudence, care, pastoral sensitivity, and community accountability. They weren’t dealing with a global celebrity conversion, a testimony of a religious experience given by someone with a history of giving and rescinding high-profile support to other high-profile figures; they weren’t dealing with a testimony by someone with a history of making sweeping, grandiose claims sometimes consistent with certain features of some mental illnesses.

Or maybe, in a way, they were. Maybe the early church did encounter these kinds of dynamics. Converts within the early church may not have had millions of fans spread through every time zone, but they certainly had parallel influence in their own world. During Jesus’ own time, one of his followers was Joanna, wife of Herod’s steward – broadly speaking, comparable to the Chief of Staff’s spouse. There were plenty of other powerful people who were public – or even private – followers of Jesus. (When Nicodemus went to talk surreptitiously with Jesus at night, you won’t read Jesus saying, “now, Nicodemus, you believe in secret, but when are you going to go public?” It’s worth some mulling.)

Later, when blinded Saul-turned-Paul gasped to others of his vision of Jesus, he wasn’t believed by some because he was so renowned for his violent persecution of early Christ followers; they were afraid of him and thought they were being trapped. They didn’t easily trust his testimony of conversion. There was deep skepticism and some understandable fear of what might come next.

Things got quite bad for Christians, whether their background was Jewish or Gentile – Nero’s treatment of Christians is infamous. And so one of the challenges in the early church was quite painful: what to do with people who denied their faith during persecution – physical torture with threat of death – and then came back later, apologizing, saying they really did believe? During a time marked tragically by martyrs, imagine losing friends and loved ones, surviving, then gathering for worship on Sunday and seeing someone who was alive because they had denied Jesus. What do you do with that? What approach does the church take as it hears their story? Early church leaders didn’t wholesale reject people who, in the face of horrible suffering, had denied Christ. And yet – what does it mean to testify to genuine faith? Could they believe these remorseful people rejoining their gathering – or, like the fear about blinded Saul, were they being trapped?

That very same terrorist-turned-missionary Paul gave pragmatic advice sometimes in his letters, a reminder that sometimes we need to appeal to the earthy wisdom of common sense even while practicing spiritual discernment.

So how should Christians respond when anyone testifies to converting, when anyone declares that they now follow Jesus? And how should Christians respond when someone does that who might, in your own congregation, elicit a sense of suspicion or hesitancy?

*Watch and wait. Be as “wise as serpents and as gentle as doves,” a phrase that reminds the hearer to be both kind and shrewd. This attitude might take at face value the first time; then exercise caution the second time, watching for growth; then employ healthy skepticism the third time. Just as not everyone who calls a church for emergency assistance at the holidays is scamming, and not everyone who calls for emergency assistance actually needs help, so it is with testimony of personal religious experience. In the case of benevolent funds and people asking for assistance, good policies usually reflect the reality that some are genuine while others are not, and the dynamic is similar to people who testify to conversion. Sometimes they’ve genuinely encountered God; sometimes their peers became people of faith so they went along with it; sometimes there seemed something to gain by professing Christianity – dating a particular person, or gaining trust in the business community, or gaining trust from a suspicious spouse to maintain cover for the real thing they want to continue unhindered. So with kindness, and with shrewdness, watch and wait.

*You can celebrate genuinely, without flippantly assuming that someone who claims profound life change is now completely mature or spiritually, emotionally, and mentally healthy. It might look something like this – “That’s great. I’m happy they’ve had a significant experience of some kind. I don’t know the details, but I’m sure that like everyone else they’ll have some tough patches and will need a lot of support and community along the way.” And you smile, and thank God, and pray for the person, believing in God’s power to transform – and knowing that transformation is a process that extends beyond a moment.

Postures something like this give an uncomplicated benefit of the doubt, without making it sound like the community of faith will immediately benefit from this conversion, which is what an attitude of transaction or gain implies – the “We got so-and-so in the draft!” kind of responses. The Church as an organism doesn’t need any high-profile convert to legitimize itself. Rather, a posture like this acknowledges that the spiritual life is challenging; not everyone who initially responds will continue on the path. It’s like the parable of the seed scattered on the soil. Some sprang up quickly but wilted in the heat, other seed got choked out by weeds, but a little – a fraction of what was scattered – took root and grew strong. So celebrate seedlings: not as tally marks for what you can grow, but as fragile new plants needing care and support.

*A person’s value doesn’t come from whether or not they’re on your “team.” People aren’t a draft pick that will help vault your faith into the end zone. People aren’t just an asset gained because they can bring their existing platform to your congregation. A celebrity and a Dollar General cashier are both humans made in the image of God whether or not they ever darken the doorstep of your church. Their value doesn’t change when they decide to follow Jesus. Their value won’t change if they stop believing in God. Their value doesn’t change whether they lose their fortune or win the lottery. Do we treat people like individuals with a particular story – or are we prone to reducing the complexity of personal lives into a transaction?

People can tell when you’re trying to recruit them. When you want to add them to your deck as a handy asset. And if they can’t now, they will later, when their profession of faith is scored into a total for a post-holiday social media post about impact made – for the Kingdom… Don’t exploit peoples’ spiritual lives like this. You don’t know if they’re vulnerable and easing into a faith community after a horrific experience in a church – or if they know an eager believer makes a handy character witness for their upcoming legal needs! Celebrities, star athletes, business gurus, single parents on disability, the guy working the gas station register, the shopping cart collector at Target: each one is loved by God, and the value of each person isn’t determined by whether or not they’re on your team. Love people more than you love what they can do for you.

*Continue to remember our belief that people can turn to God, find faith in Jesus Christ, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, be transformed. Christians believe change is possible.Through Christ, the jerk can become the nicest person in town. Through Christ, the embittered can become thankful and gracious. Through Christ, the addict can find sobriety – one day at a time. Through Christ, the egotistical can become humble and helpful. Dramatic conversion stories sometimes appeal to people so deeply because people are so desperate to hope and believe that real change is possible. Even in the lives of the most obnoxious people you know, even when the most obnoxious person you know is in the mirror. God makes all things new and there is nothing out of God’s reach. God’s not intimidated by your stench and God’s not waiting for you to clean up your act. While we were still smashing the window or lying or feeding our ego, Christ died for all of us who were so unlike God (to paraphrase Scripture).

In Paul’s letter to Christians in Rome, we read, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. ” (Romans 12:9-13)

What else are we to do in a broken, hurting world, but to, “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer”? When we see people desperate and hungry for God, we pray for them: we joyfully hope, we’re patient when it doesn’t go well despite our hope, and we remain faithful in praying. It’s part of loving others. It’s part of what it means to believe – not in a person’s own ability to change, but in God’s desire and ability to bring transformation anywhere and everywhere. When we hope with joy, when we’re patient, when we stick to praying with perseverance, then we can freely practice generous hospitality. Not so that we can hashtag it for social media fodder, not so that we can collect a rare celebrity trading card for our faith deck, but because we love people; we love them more than we love what they can do for us.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Dear Millenials, I Was You Once

Dear Millenials,

I was you once.

People wanted to know what I thought. They wanted to know what I wanted to buy. They wanted to hear what I was looking for in a spouse, in a career – in a faith group. They talked about me in the news, they studied me to see which way I was likely to turn, they taught older people in churches about me: how to attract me, keep me, and prepare me to take over.

They were glorious days.

It was 2003.

I was the future of The Church, and The Church was going to crumble without me. (And I wasn’t even male!) Books were written by the cartload about Generation Y and the Emerging Church. What was emerging? Everyone wanted to know. No one knew exactly what, philosophically, postmodernism was (or wasn’t), or how, culturally, it would play out. The new Millenium was still pretty shiny, not long out of its box, and some trends were emerging. Trends were emerging, and they needed to be analyzed and utilized, stat, with urgency, or This Generation Would Be Lost, The Church As We Knew It Would Die, and We Would Fail the Great Commission While Also Failing to Be Cool Enough to Make It Attractive.

These were the days of corduroy and pseudo-bowling shoes, of iPods and the war in Iraq, of Gilmore Girls and emo music. The internet was still new-ish, a high school student named LeBron James was ready to join the NBA, the iPhone wouldn’t come out for several more years, Ellen DeGeneres was launching a new talk show after lying low for several years following the firestorm of her public coming out in 1997, and Mark Zuckerberg was still on good terms with the Winklevoss twins, though not for long.

The world was changing and the message was clear: adapt or die! We’d all seen You’ve Got Mail. We knew that print was dead and everything could now be done online. We knew that church services needed to be rich and multi-sensory, with dim lighting or mysterious incense or immersive participation. We knew that authentic expression of our emotions was important. It was time for conventional wisdom to be overturned. Generation Y was tired of The Church doing it wrong and squandering wasted opportunities.

From about 2003 to 2010, books kept churning out on Generation Y and the Emerging Church.

You see, we knew.

Except of course we only knew a little. The internet was going to be everything – but now, Amazon has brick-and-mortar stores. Immersive sensory worship was going to replace shiny fake productions – but now autistic people find immersive sensory worship intolerable. We thought we were authentic; but scandals lurked, hidden in our hip worship environments.

But it gets worse. It’s not just that we were only partially right – or perhaps, that we were right, but with limited perspective.

No, it got worse. You see, you came along. And the problem isn’t that Millenials are a problem. The problem is that you were the new us.

Youth pastors tossed their books about Generation Y into the trash, church leaders forgot about the Emerging Church, and front office workers started lining up conference speakers who could explain about the new generation we would all need: the Millenials. Generation Y turned 30, started buying infinity scarves at Target, and began to broadcast themselves in a million and one podcasts.

But these? These are the days of skinny jeans and mermaid hair, of Snapchat and protest marches, of Girls and Hamilton. Smartphones are still new-ish, LeBron has left Cleveland for the second time, virtual reality sets are popular Christmas gifts, the Obamas have retired from the White House, Ellen and Portia are a popular Hollywood couple, and Mark Zuckerberg left Harvard long behind to testify before Congress about how his social media platform could be hijacked by foreign interests to impact U.S. elections.

Now you are the future of The Church, and The Church is going to crumble without you, books are being written by the cartload about Millenials. What is emerging? Everyone wants to know, you see. No one knows exactly what will play out. Trends are emerging, and they need to be analyzed and utilized, stat, with urgency, or This Generation Would Be Lost, The Church As We Knew It Will Die, and We Will Fail the Great Commission While Also Failing to Be Cool Enough to Make It Attractive.

Enjoy it while it lasts. Generation Y will meet you at the Starbucks in Target when no one talks about Millenials anymore. We’ll show you where the infinity scarves are. If that sounds cynical and snarky, I can point you to a number of books that will delve into Gen Y and our cynicism.

Millenials, I don’t think that publishers are to blame for the popularity of the unending cycle of demographic-expert-books that church leaders fall on in a piranha-like feeding frenzy. The emerging generations aren’t to blame, either. I didn’t ask to be studied and written about, and neither did Gen X, and neither have you, and whomever follows you.

No, North American Protestants are pretty obsessed with emerging youth culture. I could blame the Baby Boomers, but that seems like something they would do to their parents, and it’s probably part of my generational quirk to not want to do anything a Baby Boomer would do.

No, Millenials, it’s not your fault that church leaders will hang on your every word until you turn 30 and disappear as the next new generation comes along with its wisdom. And you know, some of your input will be really valuable. Some of it, I’m sorry to say, will turn out to be bunk, like the late 90’s trend of wearing JNCO jeans or pastel butterfly hair clips.

The solution I think, Millenials, is to ignore the somewhat condescending flattery – I wasn’t indispensable, and neither are you – and instead to receive the weighty gift of living in community. That may mean sitting in a church service not specifically designed for your preferences; it may mean adapting to someone else because a relationship with them is worth having, even if it’s framed in ways you don’t intuitively understand. It means families with young kids, and elderly widows. It means rural settings and pick-up trucks. It means single women in their 40’s and urban gardens. It means patience, and sacrifice. There is so much to be gained by listening: not hashtagging or snapchatting, just listening: listening to people is one of the best gifts any emerging generation can give.

In Youth is an Idolone pastor touches on some of these truths. She concludes by celebrating the gift of intergenerational, multigenerational living, writing,

 If you want your church to have the vitality and influence of young minds, young faith, young energy, and young joy, then invest in spiritually mature adults with a passion for pouring into young lives. Give spiritually mature adults a vision for seeing their age as a calling. In fact, I’d argue that this is the greatest gift of eldership: it is in shepherding the next generation. Elders must learn to listen and shape and young adults must be bold in seeking out older adults who can shape them.

You already know, Millenials, just how much we all need each other. If there’s anything that will just become more true in the next ten years of your life, it’s that. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that you’re indispensable to any faith community. Because none of us is. But believe everyone who tells you that community is indispensable as part of the Christian faith. You and I aren’t always assets, our thoughts and feelings aren’t always reliable, and older people aren’t always liabilities, and their thoughts and feelings aren’t always unreliable.

The Church is always worth engaging in – but not because only you can save it.

I was you once…

And I really hope you’ll stick around after the dust settles and the next generation moves in. We need you – just not for the reasons we say. We need you, only – and completely – in the way that we need 65-year-old’s, and four-year-old’s, and 41-year-old’s.

We need you because we love you: not because of what you can do for us. So we’ll continue to need you after your moment in the spotlight has passed. Because we’ll continue to love you then, too.


Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ The Pastor’s Almanac: A News Rundown for Tired Reverends

It’s Monday when most clergymembers attempt to hide, read, or decompress. A few with churches large enough to afford a staff prefer post-game analysis on Mondays, parceling out Sabbath follow-up’s and sketching the week ahead. Many pastors enter Monday with a need to refuel – even the extroverts.

And while the calendar reads January 29th, it can feel like a year’s worth of news and activity has already taken place. Here, then, are some big-picture, faith-related news highlights from around the web to soak up as you tend to your locally spent soul.

This winter a new CBS sitcom called “Living Biblically” is premiering on Monday, February 26th. An early preview indicates that the tone will likely be similar to the popular NBC show “The Good Place,” which that network touts as “a comedy about becoming a better person – in the afterlife.”

According to CBS, “Living Biblically” “follows Chip Curry, a modern-day man at a crossroads in his life who decides to live strictly in accordance with the Bible. With the help and support of his non-believing wife Leslie, his co-worker Vince, his boss Ms. Meadows, and his self-proclaimed “God Squad” of Father Gene and Rabbi Gil, Chip will try to navigate the waters of a spiritual journey of biblical proportions.”

Executive Producer Johnny Galecki, known for his role on the hit show “The Big Bang Theory,” noted, “I’ll say there are a number of people involved with the show who are devout in their beliefs, and we do have consultants of the cloth who keep us broadly accurate. And I say ‘broadly,’ because it’s, again, so personal, and very few things mean the same thing to everyone in the Bible.”

Producer Patrick Walsh observed, “I think religious people are not given credit for having a sense of humor, and I think non-believers are not given credit for being curious about religion and wanting to know more about it. We get into some pretty interesting topics on this show, and that is a goal, to serve an underserved audience, I think.”

Facebook is changing its algorithms again, and it will affect engagement between your church page and its followers. While Mark Zuckerberg explains that the social media giant is attempting to support “meaningful interactions,” the move from less news, ads, and videos visible on a user’s newsfeed to more content from friends and family comes after an outcry about the spread of fake news on social media in the past several years. The shift is described in a New York Times article, which notes that the change “would prioritize what [users] friends and family share and comment on while de-emphasizing content from publishers and brands.”

The size of the publisher or brand doesn’t matter, however, so content coming from entities ranging from global news corporations to the Baptist church down the street will be “de-emphasized.”

Recently Christianity Today issued a helpful model for addressing this new reality with its recent boosted post to followers. Click here to see how they’re guiding followers through the transition to keep their connection strong.

Speaking of Facebook, The International Social Justice Commission of the Salvation Army is holding a Global Interactive Summit on Refugees and Displaced Peoples today, January 29th, and tomorrow, January 30th. Drop in for the multiple 90-minute sessions scheduled this evening and tomorrow on their Facebook page, which features live streaming and the ability to type questions in real time. Speakers from around the globe are sharing their not insignificant expertise, joining via video from far-flung locations like Australia, London, and Hong Kong.

So far the content has been rich and varied, revolving effortlessly around the theology of migration, pragmatic response, and personal experience.

View live stream of the scheduled sessions here. You can learn more about times and speakers here.

The phrase “Kesha at the Grammys” isn’t one you’d normally find in a news roundup for pastors, but bear with me. Last night when pastors were waking up from post-preaching afternoon naps, the Grammys aired on CBS. Of the many (hit and miss) performances by musicians, one stood out.

In the wake of the #metoo and #timesup movement, which has seen a cascading avalanche of fallout in every profession (including ministry), the singer’s personal anthem of grieving her experience of sexual assault was charged from the moment she walked on stage. Sometimes a pop culture moment crystallizes the mood of a movement or culture; that’s what happened last night when Kesha was joined by other famous vocalists in a moving rendition of her song “Praying.”


For the many pastors dealing with double or triple the normal number of counseling appointments; for congregations dealing with the loss of clergy leaders who abused their positions; and, most of all, for church members who have carried around hidden trauma for far too long, this is a vital moment.

On a different note, a variety of seminaries, publishers, and pastors have come out swinging after recent remarks by American Calvinist theologian John Piper about women in ministry – and the academy. 

Wesley Seminary in Marion, Indiana, Tweeted, “Wesley Seminary celebrates the Lord’s call to vocational ministry on the life of women as well as men. Women are welcome in every program we offer, including our MDiv and DMin, and we embrace women in leadership in all areas including our administration, faculty, and staff.”

Asbury Theological Seminary quickly jumped in as well on Twitter, asserting, “All degrees at Asbury Seminary, including M.Div., are open to men & women. We encourage men & women to live, learn, worship & preach, affirming full participation in pastoral leadership, scholarship, & ministry. Share the female leaders, teachers & pastors who shaped you.”

Missio Alliance has posted Rev. Dennis R. Edwards’ response to Piper’s statements, called “Why I Needed Women Seminary Professors: A Response to John Piper.”

Finally, amid the more explicitly faith-based tv shows emerging on the classic networks, a popular book by a famed Christian thinker and author is making the transition to the big screen this spring. Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” hits theaters March 9th. Directed by “Selma” director Ava DuVernay, the film includes familiar faces cast as the mysterious figures Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Who.

You can read Madeleine L’Engle’s reflection on faith and the arts in, “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art.”

Now is the time to sit down and read (or re-read) the classic novel for yourself or with kids before the movie comes out.

We’ll conclude our varied, though not exhaustive, lap around the web here.

As you prepare for the awkward juxtaposition of sacred and secular coming up – Ash Wednesday/Valentine’s Day and Easter Sunday/April Fool’s, let us know in the comments what creative maneuvers your church is taking this year.

Justin Gentry ~ A Fiction of Hope

“One of the biggest roles of science fiction is to prepare people to accept the future without pain and to encourage a flexibility of mind.” – Arthur C. Clarke 

This month Star Trek: The Next Generation turns 30. (I know, this fact made me feel old too.) I can still remember as a kid watching Star Trek with my dad. I had no idea it was nerdy; it was just something we did. Much has changed in the last 30 years but science fiction of all kinds has been a constant thread in my life. 

Science fiction is good for us. It gets us thinking creatively about the future and what could be. Star Trek specifically has influenced real life in fascinating ways: anyone who has opened a flip phone or experienced a needleless injection has Gene Roddenberry to thank. 

Star Trek’s influence doesn’t stop with gadgets, either. The original Star Trek aired in 1966 with a multiracial and multiethnic cast. It was the first television show to feature a multiracial kiss.  One of the main characters was portrayed by a Japanese American man who, at the age of five, was caught up in the Japanese internment during World War II. The USS Enterprise also featured a Russian on the bridge – right at the start of the Cold War. 

Star Trek was bleeding edge social commentary at the time. It imagined a day where humanity made peace and came together for the common good. It might seem campy or cheesy now, but at its heart these stories are sincere. 

I believe being optimistic and sincere is godly work.  

There is, of course, the gibbering tentacle monster in the room. In the last few decades, popular tastes have shifted from the optimism of Star Trek and its relatives to the pessimism of the dystopia and the post-apocalypse. In these worlds, humanity has failed some great challenge and as a result, we have a scorched earth, a totalitarian regime, or zombies – sometimes all three. 

Right now, dystopias are a box office smash. While the new Star Trek movies struggle to make their money back, movies like The Hunger Games and shows like The Walking Dead are incredibly popular. The new Star Trek show isn’t even on broadcast television – it’s available only on CBS’ paid membership website. 

Somewhere along the line, the future went from fascinating to fearful. Audiences more readily buy a future where humanity is broken and messed up. Our future is no longer bright. In these stories, we cannot reach the stars. 

Recently at a conference, science fiction writer Neal Stephenson discussed an essay he has written entitled, “Innovation Starvation.” In it, he laments that the world we live in was built on an infrastructure made in the 50s and 60s. We don’t dream big anymore 

Stephenson was confronted by a university professor who essentially said we stopped getting the big stuff done because writers like Stephenson stopped telling us we could. Creatives, artists, and dreamers were the ones slacking off.  

Stephenson took this to heart and created Project Hieroglyph, a group whose purpose is to create science fiction that will spur innovation in science and technology. 

So how can we look at this from a Christian perspective? 

We certainly have our own pessimistic speculative fiction. We have an entire cottage industry that celebrates a persecution complex and predicts a violent end to the world. In this, we are no different than the larger culture. We are so drawn to pessimism because pessimism at the end of the day is easier. It is easier to look down than it is to look up. 

Yet Christ calls us to be something different in the world, and I think it starts with how we feed our imaginations.  

What we dream of has power. When we only imagine fears about tomorrow, tomorrow looks like something to be afraid of. Many of us don’t fear the future for any rational reason: we fear the future because we have been told that it is scary.  

What if it doesn’t have to be? 

As we approach 2019, the year when the original Blade Runner is set, I hope we realize that the world is not as bleak as we feared it would be. It has its problems – we still don’t have our flying cars – but there is still so much good – so much grace – in the world.  

What do you believe about the arch of human history? Some Christians believe that the world is inevitably getting worse. Essentially, they believe that scarcity is our future. Ultimately, we won’t figure out our problems and we will fall so badly that God himself will have to save us again. 

Other Christians believe that we have some agency in this. They believe that we have the God-given power, and therefore the responsibility, to make this world better, to bear the grace of God into it. Essentially, they believe that God has already saved us and that a more whole world can be made from the tragedies all around us.     

I don’t know which side will ultimately be proven right. I do know which side I choose to be on. I know which one I am called to.  

I want to spend my life imagining a better world for myself, my children, and the future of our species. I think regardless of how this ends, that is the sacred work Jesus is drawing us into. 

Whatever happens, I look into the future wide-eyed and eager to see what unfolds. Will you join me? 


Guest Post ~ Steve Beard ~ My Joshua Tree

Thirty years ago, I drove 500 miles with college buddies to see U2’s “Joshua Tree” tour stop in Houston. “I can’t change the world / But I can change the world in me,” Bono had sung on a previous album. Young and idealistic, I believed it then. Strangely, I still believe it today. I’ve never forgotten that night – nor the long drive back to get to class the next day. U2 was recently back in Houston to mark the anniversary of the album that arguably handed them the keys to the kingdom of global rock stardom – #1 album in 23 countries. I’ve written extensively about these Irishmen over the last 20 years, but this full-circle “Joshua Tree” tour still triggered moments of emotional daggers-through-the-heart, tribal fist pumps, and Pentecostal hanky waving – transcendence.

The album concept was titled after a prickly and ungainly desert tree named Joshua by settlers because it resembled the Old Testament prophet’s out-stretched arms toward the heavens and deep roots – strangely symbolic for an Irish band from a country divided with sectarian barbwire and religio-political quagmires. Raised by a Protestant mother and a Catholic father, Bono lived the brutal divide. With the loss of his mother at age 14, he grew up under the weight and anguish of tragedy. Then there was the whirlwind of a charismatic revival among some of the bandmates and the stirring of a struggle between rock ‘n’ roll’s narcissism and an unseen kingdom where the first shall be last and the backstage passes are given to those who honor humility as a prime virtue.

Through all this, Bono remains rock ‘n’ roll’s most effective spiritual provocateur. He sees every stage as a pulpit and every coliseum as a cathedral. He talks breezily about the theological superiority of grace over karma to jaundiced rock journalists, launched the humanitarian One Campaign (one.org), and recently wrote the foreword to the Bible paraphrase The Message. “My religion could not be fiction but it had to transcend facts,” Bono wrote in a foreword to the Psalms in 1999. “It could be mystical, but not mythical and definitely not ritual.” 

U2 has sold more than 170 million albums, collecting 22 Grammys along the way. This world tour features a stunning visual spectacle with a 200 x 45 foot high-def LED screen choreographing imagery with the music. For me, three vitally essential images stood out.

First, a Salvation Army brass band accompanied U2 during the haunting “Red Hill Mining Town.” Never before played live, the song is about the devastation and helplessness of an unemployed miner. “Love, slowly stripped away/ Love, has seen its better day.” The Salvation Army is the most reliable global Christian symbol for faith in action – soup, soap, salvation, and loud music. Under the 150 year old banner of “Blood and Fire,” this ministry – operating in nearly 130 countries – has extended the hand of grace to the down and outers, prostitutes, alcoholics, morphine addicts, unwed mothers, and victims of human trafficking. The original plan was for a brass band to play at every stop on the tour, but the film of them playing in the Santa Clarita Valley of California provides a keen juxtaposition about U2 identifying with the historic message of Salvation Army founders William and Catherine Booth that help is only a drumbeat away (salvationarmyusa.org).

“This was a privilege to be a part of and so much fun to film,” Jacqui Larsson, a member of the ethnically diverse Salvation Army band from Southern California, told me. “It was great to represent The Salvation Army to such a wide audience. We have already heard a few stories of how this video has had a huge impact on people’s lives in a way we had never expected.”

In a long list of poignant moments, the second occurred when we were introduced to Omaima Thaer Hoshan, a 15-year-old Syrian girl in a refugee camp in Jordan. In the midst of the chaos of her circumstances, she voiced her aspirations and hopes for a better tomorrow. A gargantuan banner with her face is passed hand-to-hand throughout the stadium. It’s a not-so-subtle reminder that there is a hellhole on the other side of the globe. At bare minimum, pray for her safety and be grateful you are not where she is.  

Lastly, during a visual montage of notable female politicians and musicians (Sojourner Truth, Patti Smith, Angela Merkel, etc.), one stood out as a sister-in-arms with U2’s sonic art. Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-1973), a personal heroine, was the undisputed queen of rock and gospel music, shredding an electric guitar and boldly taking her sanctified skills and songs outside the four walls of the church – taking church to the people. Keep the faith, she would say to U2, and rock on. Bono has called “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” an anthem of both doubt and faith. Whichever side of the coin you’re on, it continues to reverberate in the souls of saints and sinners alike. In the midst of uncertainty, it is anchored in redemption: “You broke the bonds / You loosed the chains / You carried the cross / And my shame / And my shame / You know I believe it.”

Bono sometimes mentions music producer Quincy Jones’ observation about waiting for God to walk in the room while making music, letting him fill in the blanks. It’s true. Sometimes. On occasion, divine intervention occurs with albums and concerts. Thirty years ago, I sensed the raucous epiphany during “Joshua Tree.” It was sweet relief, most recently, to experience it all over again.

Reprinted from Good News Magazine with permission.

Cole Bodkin ~ The Better Place: Part III

Note from the Editor: This is the third in a series of posts on dystopian entertainmenteschatology, and the state of the church.


The Great Barrier Reef

A few months ago, an online news article quickly went viral with its title Obituary: Great Barrier Reef (25 Million BC – 2016). Though not yet factual, it definitely caused consternation and raised awareness of the endangered state of the Great Barrier Reef.

This immediately reminded me of renowned consultant Alan Roxburgh’s book Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood. In the opening chapter, he recounts of a majestic experience of snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef only to learn later from his marine biologist friend that within a generation it will all be gone. Unfortunately, according to his friend, the pollution damage is irreversible. Notwithstanding, it was hard for Roxburgh to come to grips with this, because he had been swimming in the reef and had seen it teeming with life.

This made Roxburgh reflect about the current predicament facing the “Eurotribal” churches in the West and their various forms (seeker-sensitive, megachurches, and so on). Within just a generation, it can all be gone. Poof. Added to the extinction list.  

Consequently, Roxburgh suggests that in lieu of wasting so much energy on church-centric questions that seek strategic, pragmatic solutions with the goal of keeping and getting more people in the doors, instead we should come alongside God’s mission in the neighborhood. We need to be asking more missional questions than ecclesial.

Like the Great Barrier Reef, there is much at stake when anything is endangered. Are various forms of church endangered, as Roxburgh suggested? Is the gospel endangered, as John C. Nugent suggests in his book, Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World is Killing the Church.   ? Regardless, if indeed our hopes are misplaced and the story we are telling is wrong, then both the gospel and church are in danger.

Shark Tank: Everyone Has a Cause

Moving downstream to shark-infested waters, consider the ABC show Shark Tank. The premise is that entrepreneurs have one shot to pitch their company before a few millionaire/billionaire “sharks” in hopes that one of the them will be lured into taking the bait and investing in the entrepreneur’s business. In one episode a millennial was emphasizing his company’s social cause, when Mark Cuban interrupted and remarked, “Yeah, but everyone has a cause.”

Cuban noted that almost every company nowadays has a great cause or effort they are trying to work towards, reduce, or eradicate. In other words, he was highlighting the popularity of world betterment. As we saw in the previous posts, Christians used to attempt to get people to escape this world (heaven-centered view), but now we try to save the world (human-centered view) or do our best until God eventually saves it (world-centered view).

Why Fixing the World is Killing the Church

In the podcast Crackers and Grapejuice: Talking Faith Without Stained Glass Language, UMC pastor Jason Micheli interviewed Nugent about his book; toward the end, he posed a really interesting observation. He says,

During the Enlightenment, Christianity legitimated itself by trying to demonstrate how it is reasonable. In the 20th century or even earlier, maybe, we tried to legitimate Christianity by showing that it was useful, so ministry became one of the helping professions. I’m wondering if the emphasis on social justice, now, is a way of justifying our existence to a world that doesn’t believe what we believe (26:10-26:37)? [1] 

Nugent agrees with Micheli’s question. Saving or fixing the world, and our involvement in that endeavor, is extremely popular right now.

We sing it.

We read it.

We watch it.

It’s the story that everyone wants to tell.

Yet is it the story that God wants us to tell? 

Don’t think that Nugent’s argument is against fixing the world, or railing against those who do so. Not at all. What we see in Scripture validates this desire. God wants the world to be a better place, too, and one day God will restore it; however, Nugent argues that that is a task ultimately reserved for the powers/rulers and authorities (presently) and God (future). The unique vocation that God has called his people to do, however, is different. 

Stained Glass Windows

The origins of stained glass windows are fascinating. Stained glass windows were created for the purpose of visually depicting the story of the Bible for the mostly illiterate onlookers. Functionally, the reflections of the stained glass windows shined out into the streets. The beautiful artistic representations helped those outside the church get a glimpse of the overarching story and its main characters within.

A few years ago I was in a church with gorgeous stained glass windows showcasing Christ and the Gospel. Upon further inspection, though, I noticed that—whether by ignorance, mistake, or design—the light from the windows didn’t reflect the story of Christ out into the world.

“What kind of message is that sending?” I thought to myself.

Later it dawned on me that in a culture in which Christendom is (slowly) fading, it’s just as important, if not more, that the light of the Gospel penetrates into the soul of the Body of Christ. If the love, light, and life of Christ does not saturate the gathered body, then what exactly is the church witnessing to, and why would it invite others to join into the new humanity created by Jesus if, in the end, it’s no different from the old world order and structures?

Reinvesting in the Church

In the last section of his book, Nugent highlights what the better place looks like in action by examining discipleship, leadership, fellowship, family relationships, friendship, vocation, missions, and witness to the powers. At the conclusion, Nugent warns of two potential pitfalls with this kingdom-centered vision of the church as the better place: isolationism (insularity leading to complete withdrawal from the world)and utopianism (naively attempting to create an ideal society). Both are to be avoided if a church is to fully embrace, display and proclaim the kingdom.

The appendix provides some great questions divided into four topics: struggling with your church, helping those outside the church, taking social justice seriously, and striving to remain faithful. We’ll look at one question and answer from each section to conclude this post and series.

Struggling with Your Church

I’m going to combine two practical questions in this section:

I am part of a progressive church that wants to save this world or I am a part of an inwardly focused church that mostly ignores the outer world. How is a kingdom-centered approach good news for my church?

For the progressive church, the good news of a kingdom-centered approach is that the world doesn’t need you to save it, and you will continually fail because the church wasn’t designed with that purpose in mind. Therefore, take rest that you no longer have to bear the burden of exhaustion! Since God has already begun saving the world by creating a new one (the church), you can now get on with the task of embracing, displaying, and proclaiming the kingdom and new world order made possible in Jesus. [2]

For the inwardly focused church, the good news of a kingdom-centered approach is that you can still “become the body of Christ” because a church that exists only for itself and does not engage in God’s mission is not a church at all. So you can “rethink your approach to the world” by asking questions such as, “How can we as a church body creatively show our community what God’s kingdom is like?”[3]

Helping Those Outside the Church

Is God at work in nonbelievers who make this world a better place by feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and welcoming strangers?

One of the points that Nugent belabors is that God is at work outside of the Church, too, including nonbelievers and political powers. Nevertheless, “[w]e must not assume, however, that just because God is doing something we should get in on the action. We are stewards of the gospel. Whether we like it or not, worldly powers rule the nations, not us.”[4]

Taking Social Justice Seriously

What about human rights? Should Christians seek to make sure people’s rights are properly protected and respected?

Without a doubt, the church should be concerned about the dignity of all people, but the church should be different in that it is the place primarily where justice and dignity are displayed. Our witness, therefore, will look different determining on how the wider society views biblical justice either accepting or rejecting it. [5]

Striving to Remain Faithful

How do we sustain a kingdom-centered church life?

Sustainability happens through regular gospel proclamation, big picture metanarratival (re)telling, and the congregation regularly soaking itself in Scripture and the kingdom-vision set forth by Jesus. Additionally, fervent love among believers is vital, along with fraternal admonition and repentance. Finally, a robust vision of the priesthood of all believers is crucial for kingdom-centered perseverance. [6]

What do you think of the kingdom-centered vision of the better place? Does your church embrace, display, and proclaim the kingdom of God? Does it function like an embassy of the kingdom of heaven?

[1] Crackers and Grapejuice: Talking Faith Without Stained Glass Language, episode 33, 26:10-26:37.

[2] Kindle Location 3650

[3]Kindle Location 3674

[4] Kindle Locations 3765-3767

[5] Kindle Location 3844

[6] Kindle Locations 3901-3932


Cole Bodkin ~ Review: Silence Unbroken

The Hero’s Journey

American mythologist Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) was renowned for his ability to compare ostensibly opposing worldviews, philosophies, and religions through the lens of mythology. What Campbell discovered was that the human experience could be reduced down to a single concept: the “monomyth.” In other words, all human traditions have an archetypal pattern with thousands of variations, which basically tell the same story: the hero’s journey.1

The hero’s journey involves as many as 17 stages and centers on a man or woman who goes on an adventure, is confronted with a crisis or resistance inevitably resulting in a decisive battle, and ensuing victory, which forever changes the hero(ine). At the conclusion of the hero’s journey, the audience is charged—through the power of the tale’s rhetoric—and implicitly beckoned to pursue their own personal quest. Once applying his method to various stories, movies, and books, one sees the merit of Campbell’s work and how the monomyth accurately portrays much of the common human experience.

And we Americans? We love the hero’s journey. We starve for it. It’s all around us. It’s part of the very fabric of our society. We are drawn to it, sing, it, celebrate it, and deep down in the inner recesses of our hearts, we ultimately want to be a hero.


Journey and Resistance

In Martin Scorsese’s recent film Silence, based on the novel by Shusaku Endo, Father Rodrigues learns that his mentor, Father Ferreira, has allegedly committed the egregious sin of apostasy. Though Christian persecution was pervasive in 17th century Japan in which the novel is set, Rodrigues and Garupe, Ferreira’s other mentee, could not possibly conceive of any scenario where their mentor could commit such an act of infidelity. Hence, they must depart immediately on their quest to investigate and (dis)prove any legitimacy of these claims.

Upon arriving in Japan, Father Rodrigues and Garupe realize that the persecution against Christians is much more severe than they had ever imagined. Yet, this will not stop our hero(es). The tandem duo is surreptitiously brought into a village full of Christians to whom they immediately minister in secret. At this point, we begin to notice that their mission—to recover or disprove the alleged news regarding Ferreira—is slightly modified and expanded: to tend to a desperate flock. To be sure, much is to be commended for their care amongst the despairing congregation; however, once the heat turns up, and the antagonist, The Inquisitor, discovers subversive Christian life in this village, a realization begins to surface: our hero’s quest has become extremely complicated and convoluted, and he has some cracks in his armor.

Without spoiling too much, I contend that characters in the biblical text begin to emerge in Rodrigues’ imagination: Pilate (the Inquisitor), Judas (Kichijiro), and Jesus (Rodrigues). Our hero develops a complex and compares his struggles and hardships with those of Christ. Without a doubt, trying to be like Jesus isn’t a bad thing. Imitatio Christi is good – yet we have limitation in our imitation. There are some things that were only intended for Jesus to undertake (e.g., die for the sins of the world). As Silence unfolds, Rodrigues’ romanticized illusion of martyrdom intensifies. Is he really the savior of this flock? Is he on a mission or a conquest?2


Wabi-Sabi 3

Legend has it that an aspiring disciple of the Way of the Tea, Sen no Rikyu, sought the tutelage of a tea-master, Takeeno Joo. First lesson? Tend the garden. Rikyu, with delicate precision, presented an immaculate garden before the tea master, but not before shaking a cherry tree, resulting in the perfect garden being scattered with a few random leaves.

In the 15th century an aesthetic and worldview in Japan began to manifest. Rikyu was revered as one who embodied its very essence. Wabi-sabi originated as a reaction against the popular lavish depictions of beauty in art at that time. In contrast to predominant forms of the day, wabi-sabi emphasized imperfection, impermanence, finitude, and authenticity.

A contemporary example might help us to understand. In the recent TV show The Man in the High Castle, there is an entire episode in which Nobusuke Tagomi (Trade Minister of the Pacific States) repairs a broken white coffee mug. We’d probably expect him to use some sort of white lacquer to distract any attention from previous cracks; however, he doesn’t do that. Instead, Tagomi uses what looks like a gold lacquer to highlight the imperfections (which is very wabi-sabi of Tagomi).

In Silence Rodrigues’ romantic vision of Christianity is one that exists as if there are no cracks. Filled by lofty propositional truths, and a God on a high and mighty throne, Rodrigues does his best to muster up strength to remain faultless. Continuing up the path of the hero, he repeatedly fails to recognize the cracks in his armor.


The Way of the Saint 4

Not all literary gurus agree that Campbell’s analysis of the monomyth—an all-encompassing existential metanarrative with variegated threads—is entirely accurate. In lieu of the monomyth, Frank J. Ambrosio has argued there are actually two paradigms: the way of the hero and the way of the saint. Whereas the hero is on the path towards the goal of achieving self-fulfillment and glorious honor, the saint is guided by love and a responsibility towards the other and one’s community. Both the hero and the saint are on the same quest—the meaning of life—but arrive at two different conclusions.


From Hero to Saint? (SPOILER)

At the dénouement of Silence, Rodrigues is brought face to face with his mentor, the alleged apostate Ferreira. Up to this point, Rodrigues had witnessed multiple Japanese Christians suffer torturous conditions and death. Doubt is at a fever pitch. Rodrigues even tells some of his flock to step on the fumi-e (image of Jesus) to escape this unbearable situation; our hero, however, would not concede.

Reminiscent of a stubborn athlete, our hero will not budge. And just like a coach (or person in charge) disciplining the stubborn player, by making the whole team suffer for the one who thinks they are in the right – paining the player to no end – likewise, the Inquisitor causes the village to suffer because of Rodrigues’ refusal to recant.

But the confrontation with Ferreira proves a formidable challenge. Despite Rodrigues’ stalwart attempts, Ferreira appears to be a goner.

Or is he? The once-priest tells him Japan is a swamp. The gospel will not take root in this land. The “Christians” there aren’t really Christians but syncretists (an aside which raises a host of questions regarding contextualization).

Later that night, our hero is presented with the greatest challenge. After complaining about the loud snoring, Rodrigues is informed that the sound is actually coming from the suffering of other Japanese Christians. This is the breaking point, and the most controversial scene in the movie. Ferreira invites Rodrigues to engage in the hardest act of love he will ever face—to trample the fumi-e—and thus end the torture. As declared by his opponents throughout, he is assured it will only be a “formality.”

A fumi-e tile, or “stepping-on picture,” shown to suspected Christians in 17th century Japan. This piece has been on display in Nagasaki.

As Rodrigues gazes upon the fumi-e, the silence is unbroken. The voice of Jesus whispers, “Go ahead now. It’s all right. Step on me. I understand your pain. I was born into this world to share men’s pain. I carried this cross for your pain. Your life is with me now. Step.”

And so in deep despair, Rodrigues relinquishes the pursuit of victory – the hero’s journey— and accepts defeat for the sake of love. He steps on the fumi-e. Rodrigues undergoes a Christian version of wabi-sabi; through weakness, his armor is cracked and filled by the power of Christ. Effectually, he participates in the death of Christ, and begins his journey anew toward the way of the saint.

Or maybe that is my hope? I desire that in the end Rodrigues was faithful despite what appears to be apostasy. Could it have been just a matter of formality? What even is apostasy? Is it just a declaration, an assent? What about being a functional apostate in the day-to-day without publicizing it? Could it be just an example of “alternative facts”?

There are so many questions raised by this film, and ultimately I think what we desire is resolution and certitude. But only one thing is certain to me in this film (as I suspect in the book): it’s a shroud of mystery. The world of Silence isn’t clear-cut black and white, but full of grey and confusion. Maybe Rodrigues was a hero, a saint, or both?

The conclusion of the movie remains murky. One of the more heartbreaking consequences is that our (ex)hero-saint must spend the rest of his life exiled in Japan without the fellowship of other believers (even this statement can be scrutinized, for I suspect that a touching reunion and reconciliation with Kichijiro (“Judas”) in the final scene may suggest otherwise). With few exceptions, God ultimately calls, gathers, and sends Christians out together as the communion of the saints, not in isolation.

My one-year-old daughter and I try to walk to the park whenever it’s warm enough to go see the ducks at the pond. Yesterday we saw an aberration. After visiting the pond almost daily for the past three weeks, we saw a stranger to these parts: the heron. Sticking out like a sore thumb, this majestic bird immediately grabbed the attention of my daughter, but this time she didn’t say, “duck.” She knew it was different and mysterious. As we observed for a few minutes, we noticed that although the ducks, geese, and heron inhabited the same pond, it was clear that the heron wasn’t welcomed. A few geese even hissed at it. Staring quietly as mere bystanders, we watched the heron remain by itself, all alone, in the marshy-like terrain, and in that moment I was reminded of Rodrigues.



Viewer discretion advised. This film is rated R for violent content.

Click here to watch a conversation with Martin Scorsese on faith and film recently hosted by Fuller Theological Seminary.


  1. I first heard this concept from Pastor/Author, Tim Suttle: https://vimeo.com/133293651
  2. This blog was helpful in identifying these themes: https://contrarianravings.wordpress.com/2017/01/05/i-was-not-silent-i-suffered-beside-you/
  3. See J.R. Briggs Fail (Kindle location 1905)
  4. Suttle, ibid.

Fiction in the Pulpit: Preachers’ Favorite Books

Note from the Editor: Following our series of posts exploring theology and literature51b22z84kl-_sx331_bo1204203200_from Steinbeck and the prophet Jeremiah to Jane Eyre, Jane Austen and John Wesley to the poetry of Mary Oliver – we asked several pastors and preachers from various Wesleyan/Methodist denominations what works of fiction have had the biggest impact on them personally.

Here are some responses:

Probably something from childhood: A Wrinkle in Time, especially Meg Murray, feeling awkward but finding herself and fighting for love. – Dr. Beth Felker Jones 

516c6guqlal-_sx329_bo1204203200_Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God – Rev. Yvette Blair Lavallais

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. I am now reading it to my boy. – Rev. Edgar Bazan

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelha, although there were a few books that I read as a kid that influenced me as well! Narnia series count? – Rev. Rob Lim

I think about Gilead by Marilynne Robinson a lot. – Rev. Jennifer Moxley 51hvstieoal-_sx289_bo1204203200_

The Little Engine That Could – Rev. Kelcy G.L. Steele

Hinds Feet on High Places. That would be my number one. – Rev. Carolyn Moore

*What works of fiction would you include? Leave answers in the comments below.

Michael Smith ~ From Aldersgate to Holland Road

Let us go to the Holland Road.

On May 24th, 1738, John Wesley reluctantly attended a meeting in Aldersgate. Someone read from Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to Romans. Sounds awesome right? But Wesley shared this concerning what happened to him that night.

“… I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

For me, as a Methodist, this is an important day to celebrate. It is important to tell the story of what God can do in a person’s heart, and because of that work, the world could be forever changed.

The story and message of Aldersgate can easily become forgotten if we are not careful.  Though many churches may carry its name, many also in our movement have forgotten its power.  It is like this with a lot of things in our history.  Take for instance the name Asbury.  People in my neck of the woods hear that and only think of the town where Bruce Springsteen got his start.

We know that it is something much more.  I wonder if we are going to tell the story today – how might we make it come alive?  I submit to you another road – “The Holland Road” by Mumford and Sons.


“Holland Road”

So I was lost, go count the cost,

Before you go to the Holland road,

With your heart like a stone you spared no time in lashing out,

And I knew your pain and the effect of my shame, but you cut me down, you cut me down


And I will not tell the thoughts of hell

That carried me home from the Holland road

With my heart like a stone and I put up no fight

To your callous mind, and from your corner you rose to cut me down, you cut me down


So I hit my low, but little did I know that would not be the end,

From the Holland road well I rose and I rose, and I paid less time,

To your callous mind, and I wished you well as you cut me down, you cut me down


But I’ll still believe though there’s cracks you’ll see,

When I’m on my knees I’ll still believe,

And when I’ve hit the ground, neither lost nor found,

If you’ll believe in me I’ll still believe


But I’ll still believe though there’s cracks you’ll see,

When I’m on my knees I’ll still believe,

And when I’ve hit the ground, neither lost nor found,

If you’ll believe in me I’ll still believe


As people who are walking the road of faith, let us point out particular places and stops along the way where God can meet with us.  Let’s travel the roads that will invite us to come to the end of ourselves that we might find Christ in us, to truly be the hope of glory.  Whether you prefer Aldersgate Street or the Holland Road, start walking and be transformed.