Turn Down the Volume

No friends, don’t worry, I’m not getting soft in my old age. This is not going to be about turning down the volume of your music. I mean, come on, if it’s too loud, you’re too old!

Rather, I would encourage all of us to turn down the volume on the 24-hour news cycle, the “news” that appears on our social media accounts, the ranting of talk radio, and the like.

This morning, I was on my way to the gym listening to NPR as is my usual habit. They were reporting about a particular subject having to do with a particular politician. They shared the information from their point of view.

At the gym, I was on a machine in front of a TV that happened to be tuned into FOX News. They were reporting on the same particular subject having to do with the same particular politician. They shared the information from their point of view.

Now, this will probably come as a huge surprise, but they had drastically different reports! Each did a bit of picking and choosing when it came to which facts they shared, which facts they ignored, and how much opinion they added.

We could get into which news outlet tells the truth most of the time. We’ve all seen those reports that show most of our 24-cycle news outlets have a poor track record with the truth.

On my way to the office, I found myself thinking about how I need to turn down the volume. As our friends from the X-Files would remind us, “The truth is out there.” It just probably can’t be found on our airwaves or in our newspapers.

Frank Zappa has been credited with saying, “Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is THE BEST.”

We live in a world where information, knowledge, wisdom and truth seem to be defined by whoever screams their version of the truth the loudest. It doesn’t matter if your information, knowledge or wisdom contains even an ounce of truth…as long as you are loud, you will be convincing, and others will blindly follow you.

This applies to the Church as well. These days, the “voices” who seem to represent the Christian movement in America tend to be those who are the loudest. Too often, their “Christian” message seems more closely related to the Republican platform rather than to the Way of Jesus. Of course, many of the more progressive Christian voices I tend to gravitate towards seem to embrace more of a universalist, anything goes platform rather than the Way of Jesus.

Maybe, all of this just means that each of us needs to do the hard work of rolling up our sleeves, digging deep, and discovering information, knowledge, truth, beauty, and love.

Or maybe we just need to pour a pint of our favorite beverage and put on a good record because, after all, “music is THE BEST” and, in my opinion, beer is a close second!

Happy, Merry, Whatever

Last week, I was at my favorite grocery store in the greater Fort Wayne area. As the cashier and I were wrapping up our interaction, I told her to have an excellent afternoon. She replied, “Thanks! You too! And, have a happy, uh, merry, uh, whatever.”

As she struggled to find the appropriate seasonal best wishes, I found myself thinking about how we often fight the wrong fights. She was probably a little stressed out because she’s probably had customers give her an earful about the appropriate season greeting.

We Christians love to get all riled up about “keeping Christ in Christmas”…which often means making sure that people spell out “Christmas” and don’t use the “Xmas” abbreviation. We also want to make sure that the cashiers and greeters at the mega-box consumeristic epicenters (you know, Walmart, Target, Meijer, etc) wish us a “Merry Christmas” as we celebrate the birth of a God that called us to love our neighbors, love our enemies, and care for the least & the last among us by purchasing ridiculously expensive gifts for our loved ones who don’t need them because “Happy Holidays” is so offensive. This year, residents of a small town in Indiana have gone a step further and are focusing on what tops the town holiday tree.

The most aggravating part of all of these “little battles” is the fact that some view this as religious persecution! Listen, someone pleasantly wishing you a “Happy Holidays” instead of saying, “Merry Christmas” is not religious persecution. It’s someone being kind. To even hint that any of this is close to persecution is offensive.


Don’t we have better things to worry about? When God sent Jesus to earth, do you think God was hoping that we would fight this battle?

I’m just not that convinced that on judgment day whether we said “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” or used an “X” or had a cross, star, angel, or oddly shaped sculpture atop our tree will matter as much as whether or not we were generous, kind, patient, gentle, loving, gracious, merciful, and forgiving. I have a hard time picturing God gazing down upon us from the heavenly realm and thinking, “Oh no, she just said ‘happy holidays’. Oh no, their Christmas tree topper doesn’t have Christian significance. Oh no, he wrote ‘Merry Xmas’.Oh no, he didn’t join the fight to keep the cross on top of that tree.”

Maybe, just maybe, we are fighting the wrong fight.

Maybe the “X” isn’t an abomination (click HERE for more on that).

Maybe saying “Happy Holidays” isn’t so terrible (click HERE for more on that).




The Other

So, I’m reading Will Willmon’s short book, “Fear of the Other”. It’s a quick, thought-provoking read.

In the midst of perusing through my social media news feeds, and finding myself both deeply disturbed (tragic events in Aleppo) and deeply annoyed (false religious persecution in Knightstown, IN), I find Willmon’s book to be fitting.

First, let’s just say he knocks it out of the park with the first few sentences of the introduction:

“Thanks to fellow Christians Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz. If not for them, I would not have been asked to write this book. I’m serious. Competing attempts among politicians to leverage fear of others into votes for them led to the idea of a book that thinks as Christians about the Other.”

This morning, I read a passage that is challenging me to do more in an effort to build bridges with the Other I encounter on a regular basis:

“Every time we miraculously move from exclusion to embrace, it’s a little earthly experience of what one day we shall do forever. Truth and love don’t stand in opposition, and a hermeneutics of hospitality doesn’t relieve you from making correct judgments. In fact, our hospitality can be an attempt accurately to construe and to understand the Other. Christians ought to be better at building bridges than erecting walls against those we have injured as well as those who have injured us…

Sadly, sometimes exclusion of the Other is presented as a Christian virtue rather than a sin. We take upon ourselves God’s prerogative to judge, separate, exclude, and embrace as if it were our own. We label another as a dangerous threat and construct our mechanisms of defense. The separation of the world into ‘sinners’ and ‘righteous’ is a notoriously tricky business, too bound up with our denial of our sin, too caught in structures of privilege, race, and class to be done without the greater of care and humility.

That America has the largest military defense budge of any country in the world suggests that our defensiveness is costly. That we have more people in jail than any other country in the world is a great irony – or perhaps even a great sin – in this self-proclaimed freest of all nations.

I wonder if our stress on the distinctiveness of our gender, sexual orientation, or native culture contributes to a sense of a vast, unbridgeable gap between us. They can’t possibly understand us and we can’t understand them. My experience is my experience. How dare you presume to ‘know just how I feel’? Are we guilty of overstress upon the uniqueness of our personal experience and our particular identity? There are lots of ways of attempting to dodge Paul’s lumping of all us together as ‘the ungodly’ upon whom God has shown mercy for all.

Who are the “others” in your life? How can you go about building bridges?



Chreasters Are People Too…

Christmas is just around the corner! For those of us in ministry, it means we are in the midst of a busy season. The preparation, while extremely powerful, can be very draining on ministry leaders and their families.

This is also one of those times of year when we start seeing a slight increase in worship attendance. Christmas Eve and Easter brings out folks who maybe only make it to church once or twice a year.

In Christian circles, these irregular church attenders are often referred to as “Chreasters”. Let’s be honest, that’s a pretty derogatory term. It probably reveals that we don’t really appreciate having the Chreasters join us on Christmas Eve and Easter.

Continuing in the spirit of honesty, we don’t appreciate Chreasters because Chreasters impose on our normal ways of doing things. For example:

  • They park in our parking sports (meaning we might have to park farther away)
  • They sit in our pews/chairs (meaning we might have to sit on the other side of the sanctuary)
  • They dress too informal (meaning they don’t take things seriously enough)
  • They dress to formal (meaning they take things too seriously)
  • They don’t understand how we do things (meaning they don’t respect our traditions)
  • They don’t know the difference between the Bible and the hymnal
  • They don’t have the Lord’s Prayer memorized
  • They sit when we’re supposed to stand
  • They stand when we’re suppose to sit
  • They made the sign of the cross
  • They don’t make the sign of the cross
  • They don’t sing our songs
  • They are only here to make grandma happy
  • They are only here to get right with Jesus so the Santa or the Easter Bunny will give them what they want
  • They will only be here this week and then it will be back to “normal”
  • Well, it’s nice to have a full church today, but it will be depressing next week

And, the list could go on and on. We’ve all seen it. We’ve all heard the comments. We’ve seen the exchange of dirty looks when someone does something on the above list. We know the apprehension good church folk have when it comes to Chreasters (or “new” folks in general). Heck, plenty of ministry leaders have pretty poor attitudes when it comes to Chreasters too!

But me, I love the Chreasters!

We live in a day and age where fewer and fewer people have even a remote desire to be involved with anything religious. We live in a day when the “build it and they will come” projects are no longer as effective as they may have been 20-50 years ago. We live in a day where our “Christian” nation is becoming a larger and larger mission field. We live in a day where pastors and laity alike have to become missionary in mindset and action.

So, I love the Chreasters! However, I’m sad because they are actually diminishing in number.

At least with the Chreasters we have one or two shots each year to share the hope, life, joy, grace, mercy, peace, and love of Jesus on our own turf. That’s one or two more chances than we generally get with the unchurched and dechurched populations in our communities. Therefore, we should really make the most of it!

We should celebrate the fact that there are folks out there who still believe it’s important to go to church…even if it is only once or twice a year.

We should celebrate that they broke their normal routine to share part of their day with us!

We should go beyond radical hospitality when it comes to our Chreasters!

We should realize that this is a huge opportunity…because maybe, just maybe this year something will click and they will see the value in the community and worship life of the church!

Maybe we church folk should spend the next couple of weeks praying for the Chreasters…praying for our churches…praying that we won’t be jerks when the Chreasters do something on the list above…praying that all who join our churches in worship (on any given Sunday) will feel welcome, wanted, and experience God in a powerful way.

Oh, how I love Chreasters. I hope you do too!

This post originally appeared on the Tuesdays with Morris site. 

It’s Oh So Quiet

It’s been “oh so quiet” on the “Grabbing a Beer with a Pastor” blog and podcast. It hasn’t been for a lack of material to discuss and address. It’s been an intentional break to avoid drowning in the cesspool of my own cynical drivel.

So, “Grabbing a Beer with a Pastor” is back from a self-imposed break. There will be weekly (at least) blog posts and monthly podcasts.

We Can Do Better, Right?

The other day, I was driving around town and passed a church with an incredibly familiar logo. It wasn’t a denominational church with a standard, identifiable logo (like the UMC cross and flame). But, the logo just seemed familiar. I kept wondering, “where have I seen this before?”

It was the kind of familiarity that my inability to identify my previous interaction with the logo bothered me. So, I did a little investigation to see if maybe the church was associated with another network of churches that shared a logo. Nope, this is an independent congregation. I did a little more investigation to see if maybe the logo was just similar to another church. Nope, I didn’t find any other churches with that logo.

Then, while cruising through the channel guide, it hit me. This church had “borrowed” their logo from a popular cable network. Yes, there is a minor adjustment from the cable network logo. But, even with the minor, it’s all-too-obvious that the logo creator basically stole the logo. Certainly, this is a case of copyright infringement.

This brought back memories of all the terrible Christian t-shirts that are pawned at youth pastor conventions, youth rallies, and Christian bookstores. You might be familiar with some of the t-shirts that attempt to “Christianize” popular brands.

Certainly we can do better than this, right?

Certainly, with our God-given gifts and talents we can come up with something better than ripping off Doctor Who, Subway, Heinz Ketchup, Facebook, Mountain Dew, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and (as much as I hate the establishment) Starbucks, right?

Maybe the creators of these knockoff’s interpret the idea of not conforming to “the patterns of this world” as meaning that one should simply take something that’s popular and use it to promote your particular religious and theological agenda?

Maybe the creators of these knockoff’s believe that their gifts and talents are best used by stealing another person’s ideas and throwing a little Jesus into the mix is better than creating fresh and unique artistic expressions?

Listen, I’ve been part of the problem. I’ve helped create youth group t-shirts that were blatantly illegal! I mean, I had a printer one day tell me, “Listen, I’ll print these shirts for you. But, if anyone asks where you got them, you didn’t get them from me. Got it?”

But, the good Lord convicted me of these horrible transgressions and laid it on my heart to continually remind us that we can and must do better!

Christian companies that produce knock-off items can and must do better.

Churches that produce knock-off logos can and must do better.

Pastors who preach downloaded sermons and tell Jim Gaffigan’s jokes without crediting their source can and must do better.

We can and must do better.




Make America Rage Again

When I was in high school, if you had told me that members of Public Enemy, Rage Against  the Machine, and Cypress Hill were going to form a super group…well, my head probably would have exploded as I tried to contain my enthusiasm.

While I’m slightly disappointed that Zack de la Rocha has not emerged from whatever cave he’s been hiding in, Chuck D and B-Real definitely bring some passion! I mean, Chuck D! Do I really need to say more???

In our politically fueled and polarized cultural climate, we need this collaboration!

That’s Not Helpful

This week, I’ve been preparing a message on 1 Kings 19. In the passage, we find our hero, Elijah, in a bad place.

Elijah had just defeated the prophets of Baal. It was a huge victory. In the aftermath, Ahab ran off and complained to Jezebel that Elijah had ruined everything. What a crybaby! Hearing the news, Jezebel was extremely pissed because those dead prophets had told her everything she wanted to hear. In other words, Elijah was bad for business.

In response, Jezebel called for Elijah’s life.

Verse 3 tells us that “Elijah was terrified. He got up and ran for his life.” He had just come off a tremendous victory and was feeling alone and afraid. This prophet who had just reigned victorious was feeling the pressure of the threats of Jezebel.

In fact, he was so overwhelmed that, in verse 4, “he longed for his own death: ‘It’s more than enough, LORD! Take my life…”

This is a man who is at the end of his rope. He feels as though he is out of options and simply wants his life to end.

As I read this story, I found myself wondering how the Church treats those who are at the end of their ropes…

Do we create safe spaces where people can be open, honest, and real about their struggles, their feelings, their loneliness, their depression, their anger, etc?

Do we sit and listen to the hurting and broken or are we quick to offer some “biblical” advice?

Do we offer care, concern, and love for the least, the last, the lost, the hurting, the broken, the person at the end of his/her rope?

Are we attempting to “do no harm”?

I sort of wonder what would have been the reaction if some “spiritually mature” person had been there to tell Elijah that “God has a plan. God will never give you more than you can handle”? I wonder how Elijah would have responded?

When we’re at the end of our ropes, when we’re feeling the weight and pressure of all the crap that life can throw our way, hearing Christian clichés rarely helps the way those who offer them believe they will.

Shortly after college, I moved to start a new job in an unfamiliar town. I knew absolutely no one. I lived in a one-bedroom apartment surrounded by an oddly high number of anti-social neighbors. I had left a community where I was surrounded by friends and family and entered a new place where I felt totally alone. Many nights, I would lay on the floor of the apartment, gazing at the ceiling, asking myself, “What the hell have I gotten myself into?”

Add to the loneliness a dose of poor self-image. I was not caring for myself physically. I was eating poorly. I was probably drinking a bit too much (as a way to mask the loneliness). And, when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t like the view. I was miserable.

The church I worked at was great. But, I was trying to “find my way”…and I was struggling.

I attempted to find some community within a network of youth ministers. I felt fairly safe in being open and honest about my struggles. When I talked about my poor self-image, one of the network members said, “Well, the Bible tells us that ‘no man ever hates his own flesh’. So, you just need to name it and claim it and those feelings will go away. Just put your faith and trust in God. You can’t love Jesus and hate yourself.”

I found myself thinking, “Thanks for the Scripture lesson, asshole!” In the moment, I was unhappy with myself. And, the cherry-picked Scripture wasn’t helpful.

If we try hard enough, we can find a Bible verse to “fix” any problem we have. But, I’m not convinced that’s how it is supposed to work. When we’re struggling and barely hanging on, someone quoting and poorly interpreting a passage of Scripture to inform you that your feelings are invalid just does not help.

You see, I didn’t need to be reminded that Ephesians 5:29, while actually addressing how a husband should treat his spouse, can be interpreted to imply that my poor self-image and feelings were inappropriate and demonstrated a lack of faith. Sure, he was trying to help, I think. But, it just wasn’t helpful.

I believe we have to be mindful about how our words and actions can actually do more harm than good. The Christian clichés that we so readily lean on are not always helpful. We cling to them because we are uncomfortable with depression, pain and suffering. We share them because we often don’t know what else to say. We share terrible theology because we think it might help a person turn the corner.

But, in reality, we are simply reducing a persons experience and basically telling them to “get over it.”

It would have been more helpful if that network member would have said, “Hey, it sounds like you are having a rough transition. Here’s the name and number of an excellent counselor.” It would have been more helpful if he would have said, “Hey, it sounds like you aren’t happy with your physical state. Let’s meet at the gym tomorrow.”

So, the next time you encounter a friend, family member, or random stranger that happens to open up to you, ask yourself before you share, “Is what I am about to saying helpful or hurtful?” Then, proceed with caution.




James Dobson…Jerry Falwell, Jr…Pat Robertson…John Piper…Mark Driscoll…the list could go on and on…

For years, I have cringed any time these names pop up on my news feed. You see, I’ve come to find that any time these names are associated with a news story, it’s going to highlight some kind of crazy,  serious nut-job, chauvinistic, bigoted, homophobic, judgmental, and most likely politically charged statement they have made.

After they make one of their statements that tends to find its way into the national news (or at least 5 million Facebook shares), I find myself proclaiming, “Look, we’re not all like that.” I find myself doing everything in my power to distance myself from guys like those named above.

And, to be honest, I’m tired of it. I’m tired of feeling the need to differentiate myself from these guys. I’m tired of feeling the need to make sure people are aware that I don’t agree with the Confessing Movement/Good News camp, the supposed “moral majority”, the “religious right” or the so-called “American Evangelicals”.

Of course, in differentiating myself from these groups and individuals, I’m not sure I’m doing much good. Instead, I’m just highlighting the growing division within the Church.

Sure, I have people say, “Thank you for giving me hope that you Christians are not all like that.” But, shouldn’t people know that I’m “not like that” simply by the way I live my life and demonstrate my love for God and others through my every day words and deeds? If I’m doing my best to live what I believe, I really shouldn’t have to make any kind of distancing statement.

Let’s be honest, whenever I get on my soapbox to rail against the statements by those I label as judgmental, homophobic, bigoted, chauvinistic, crazy, nut jobs, I’m just being a judgmental, progressive, liberal, crazy, nut job.

Sure, there are times when Christian leaders need to speak out against the statements and decisions that are made by other Christian leaders. I mean, as a pastor, there are times to tap into that “prophetic voice”.

However, too often, we jump on our anti-Dobson posts because we’ll get more “likes” and generate traffic to our blogs. And, at this point, it probably isn’t necessary.

So, I guess I’m tired of being tired of being tired of others. I’m tired of the “us vs. them”, “I’m right, you’re wrong” games being played within the Church. It’s not a strong witness.

In the continued spirit of honesty, I’ve got way too much of my own junk to deal with to be too concerned with the ridiculous statements made by people I don’t even know on a personal level.

Maybe I should take seriously (but not literally, after all, I am a crazy, progressive, liberal, nut job) that whole story about focusing on that speck of dust in my neighbors eye while ignoring the log in my own.

A Little Cultural Sensitivity Would Be Nice

Prior to the tragic shooting in Orlando, I noticed something at the ball diamond that bothered me. Several of my daughters opposing teams coaches (that’s a mouthful) love to use gun verbiage to instruct the players on their hitting. While our coaches can come up with some pretty hilarious metaphors for hitting, I’ve been thankful they have not used any of the following I hear on a far too regular basis:

“Listen, you’ve got to get that gun loaded and cocked before you can fire.”

“Make sure that’s gun loaded and then fire away.”

“Load it, cock it, and hit that target.”

I find myself thinking, “For the love of God, can’t you be more creative? You’re talking about hitting a damn ball.”

This week, we’ve had three games. First, let me brag…my daughters team won all three games!

At all three games, the coaches used the gun metaphor over and over and over. I kept thinking, “Okay, I get what you are trying to say. But, let’s try and be aware of what’s just happened in our world. Let’s try and show little cultural sensitivity.”

In light of the events that took place in Orlando, giving the gun lingo a break seems more than appropriate.

It reminded me of the need for clergy to be aware of what’s going on in the lives of our church members, in our community, nation, and world. There are times when we stick a foot in our mouths simply because we aren’t paying attention. Now, to show a little grace, maybe there are times we get caught up in the moment and things simply slip our minds.

It’s like the pastor who says on Sunday morning, “If you ever see me out running, you better call an ambulance because I’ll probably drop dead”, the morning after one of his church members tragically passed away while finishing up a run on Saturday.

Now, in regards to the tragic events in Orlando, I’ve not said much. My friend, Andrew Draper, wrote something that really describes how I’ve felt, “Silence sometimes means that we don’t know what to say.”

As the week has progressed, I’ve found myself thinking about how the Church needs to rise up and speak on behalf of the victims of discrimination and hatred. The Church should be saying, “You are loved. You are welcome here. You are needed. You are valued. You are worthy.” We should not be saying, “We love you, but…” There should be no qualifying language surrounding our love for one another. Discrimination and hatred are not Biblical values. Unconditional love is a biblical value.

The Church needs to call for stricter gun control…even when (maybe that should be “especially when”) we serve churches where church and community members love their guns. It’s more than appropriate to call for stricter regulations when your church members are card-carrying, flag-waving members of the NRA. Clergy should be challenging the accepted norms and causing our people to think deeply.

Now, this might come as a surprise to you, but…Jesus didn’t die on a cross in order for people to own guns!


Listen, if someone needs a semi-automatic weapon to hunt or defend himself/herself, he/she must be a lousy shot. No one is trying to take your guns. No one is trying to take away your rights (by the way, stop saying that gun ownership is a “God-given right”). I’m pretty sure our founding fathers were not thinking about stock-piling mass quantities of high-powered, semi-automatic and automatic weapons and ammunition when they composed the 2nd Amendment.

In light of the disturbing number of mass shootings taking place in this nation, we have to admit that we have a gun problem. Yes, there are mental health issues that need to be addressed. Yes, there are national security issues that need to be addressed. But it is foolish to continue with the idea that there are not gun issues and ease of access issues that need to be addressed. It is all-too clear that we have ease of access and gun issues that desperately need to be addressed.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Maybe the reason the Church in the United States has struggled is because we have “become silent about things that matter” for far too long?