Dancing in the Rhythm of God’s kingdom


I’ve embarked on a new adventure with a group of friends in Miami. We recently planted a church. This came about after three years of praying and dreaming about what it would be like to share a common life of worship and mission.

“Church” has come to mean many things in our day: a building, a Sunday service to attend, an organization that functions like a business, etc. But if you read the New Testament you’ll discover the church is never once referred to as a building or a service, neither is it spoken of as an organization. The church is a living organism. It’s a community of people committed to living the way of Jesus – and committed to doing it together. Different people from diverse backgrounds are brought together by a common Father and common mission. What was meant to be simple and organic has become professionalized, hierarchical, confusing, and commercialized.

So, as my friends and I continued to pray and dialogue, we had a growing conviction that we were supposed to give birth to a fresh expression of the church today. That’s how Rhythm Church came about.

We didn’t choose the name Rhythm because it sounds cool and hip. (In fact, I almost nixed it because I didn’t want a trendy name.) We chose Rhythm because nothing else so clearly describes what we’re about as a community. Perhaps I can explain the theological impetus behind the name by talking about two things I love: DJing and dancing.
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Remember the time I almost got shot


After completing my first year of college, I moved to Leeds, England, to start a youth ministry in a church near the city center (or centre according to them). The church had recently acquired a storefront coffee shop in a rough area and begun opening it one night a week as a place for local youth to hang out. I was excited to dive in, and I knew that young folks from the inner city in England could never be as rough as those in America.

I soon learned otherwise.

My first week in the country I joined two other volunteers from the church at the coffee shop for the “youth night.” As we prepared tea and squash (an odd British fruit drink), they warned me that the youth could get out of hand at times – especially if they came in numbers – and if so, we’d need to promptly shoo them out and close the shop. I rolled my eyes as I smugly said to myself, “They just don’t know how the streets are. I’m a different story, though.”
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Diet and Discipleship


There are 850 million hungry people in the world. We feed 72% of all grain grown in the world to livestock. Both of these statements are true, and there’s something incredibly disturbing about that.

After thinking about the relationship between these two numbers (850 million and 72%), my community in Miami decided to fast from meat one day a week during Advent and Christmas. We thought this was an appropriate way to celebrate the coming of Christ. And we’re pretty sure that Mary, the mother of Jesus, would agree.

In Luke’s gospel, after learning that she is pregnant with long-awaited Christ, Mary lets loose a powerful song often referred to as the “Magnificat” (that’s the first word in the Latin version). Here are the opening lines:
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Following Jesus In a World Where Violence is Stylish


“Sex and violence are the only two things that never go out of style.” I read this line in the Miami Herald last week. It was spoken by Dhafir Harris, a man in Perrine, Miami, who hosts UFC-style fistfights in his mother’s backyard. With spectators paying a $20 entry fee, he’s convinced that these bloody backyard brawls are going to make him rich.

Well, he’s certainly right about one thing: violence does seem to be quite stylish. Our film and entertainment industries are saturated with violent images; street crimes and police brutality plague our cities; “bullying” is a growing phenomenon in our schools; and never has there been a time when we were more militarized.

What does it look like to follow the Prince of Peace in a world where violence is so stylish?
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To Future Seminarians, From a Mad Scientist


Ever since I graduated from seminary a few months back I’ve been wanting to write an entry for future seminarians. I don’t presume to know everything about seminaries nor the academic life; I simply share this as a brother who has just spent a season there. I have some friends who are planning to start seminary soon. This entry is for them and anyone else who’d like to listen in.

When I arrived at seminary I was amazed at how hesitant people were to speak of God using language that might sound devotional or emotional. It was as if theology was merely another subject like math or science, so they wanted distance between themselves and that which they were studying. I had a lurking fear that this scientific approach would rub off on me. This is what I journaled my first week:

“God, it often feels like people here would rather study you than know you. I fear I’ll be tempted to approach Christianity as a science to be studied rather than a faith to be lived out. Well, God, I’ve decided that I, too, will approach you as a science – but only if it’s like how a mad scientist approaches his work. I want to be in the lab testing and experimenting it on myself. I plan on drinking the potion and breaking the beaker over my head. I want the deep theological truths I discover here not to simply enlarge my brain but to change my being.”

Here’s my first piece of advice: approach your studies as a mad scientist. This is because seminaries are infamous for creating people with giant heads and tiny hearts.
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Out of Africa & Into the World


Africa is a special place right now – and not just because it hosted the World Cup. Africa has become the center of World Christianity. That might sound a bit wild to Western ears. We’re accustomed to thinking of Europe and North America as the Christian continents of the world. But that’s simply no longer the case. And as for the notion that “we took the gospel to Africa in the first place,” well, I’ll return to that in a moment.

In May I graduated from seminary, so now I’m doing a little celebratory trip around the world. Call it a victory lap if you’d like. Here’s the lineup: Berlin, Kenya, Cameroon, Dubai, India, Bangkok, New Zealand, and Mexico. I’ve just finished my time in Dubai and am currently in India (on a 25 hour train ride), but my experience in Africa has stayed with me. And it has stayed with me literally, too, since I came down with malaria after just five days.
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Honey, We’ve Shrunk the Gospel


Last week I was having lunch at Chipotle in Kansas City with my good friend Mike Crawford. As I’m finishing my burrito, a lady walks by and places two gospel tracts on our table. The restaurant was packed, but we were the only ones who got tractified (guess we looked like two dudes who needed the gospel). I would have said hello or asked her name, but she didn’t give me the chance. As soon as she put the tracts down she hurried out the door without saying a word or looking at us.

The irony is that just a day earlier I had preached a sermon at Jacob’s Well which included a discussion about gospel tracts (it can be heard here).

Now I don’t have a problem with this lady’s boldness about her convictions. We live in a pluralistic society where everyone from professors and politicians to advertisers and Apple try to persuade others that they know what’s best for the world. There’s nothing wrong with Christians sharing with others what they believe is public truth (the gospel). Nor do I have a problem with this lady giving us tracts – though I question what such “hit and run” evangelism techniques really communicate to those outside of the faith. What I do have a problem with, however, is the content of the tracts.
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Father, Forgive Us (part 2)


at-a-burning-cost_2This is my second post on the art exhibit I worked on illustrating the Stations of the Cross after the Holocaust which was on display this past week at the Center for Jewish Studies at Baylor University (the first post can be read here). And it’s fitting that I’m writing this last reflection on Good Friday since we see the vulnerability of God more on this day than any other. The theologian Jürgen Moltmann writes, “At the center of the Christian faith stands an unsuccessful, tormented Christ, dying in forsakenness.”

This is one of the great paradoxes in the New Testament. Ultimately Christ is victorious, but the victory is won in the strangest of ways. The cross has been described as “victory hidden beneath its opposite” (Luther). All we see on Good Friday is a man stripped naked and executed on a cross.

And for that reason, many of us don’t know what to do with this day. We’re not comfortable sitting with its darkness and death, so we skip Good Friday and go straight to Easter Sunday and the resurrection. Preachers start announcing a week before Easter, “He is risen!” but Jesus hasn’t even been crucified yet!

Good Friday is crucial, for it tells us that God is no stranger to suffering. The cross is God’s choice to enter into human pain – but when we fail to grasp the significance of this, the cross can easily become entirely and only about saving souls.
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Father, Forgive Us (part 1)


Easter week was always a dangerous time for Jews in Europe. Since Christians believed the Jewish people were responsible for killing Jesus, all the focus upon his passion and crucifixion often resulted in violence being perpetrated against Jews. By the late Middle Ages Jews had learned to stay indoors during Holy Week. This Easter season I’ve been working through how to practice my Christian faith in light of the church’s heritage of anti-Semitism. And it’s why I’m at Baylor University this week.

The Center for Jewish Studies at Baylor brought me here to install an art exhibit I’ve designed with six other artists. The exhibit – entitled “Father Forgive Us” – deals with the Stations of the Cross in a post-Holocaust world. On Tuesday I gave a lecture explaining its theological underpinnings, and yesterday and today it is open to the public.

All this really began back in the spring of 2004. I was in my last semester at Baylor and enrolled in the course “Hitler and the Holocaust” taught by the Jewish theologian Dr. Marc Ellis. Through his lectures and the readings for the course, I first faced the reality that my Christian faith does not exempt me from what was done to 6 million Jews in the Holocaust. In fact, it is precisely my Christian faith that links me with these atrocities. I’ll return to that in a moment.
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My Afternoon at MTV


I took a course last semester titled “Advanced Studies in Youth, Church, and Culture” taught by one of my favorite professors at the seminary. One assignment we were given was to be a cultural anthropologist for a day. We had to immerse ourselves in a place considered to be a hot spot in youth culture and observe what goes on there. What better place to do this than the mecca of pop culture, the holy shrine of all things hipster – MTV studios in New York City.

Somehow our professor, Kenda Dean, was able to get us tickets to be in the audience for the show It’s On With Alexa Chung. I had never heard of Alexa nor her show, but was told this was the show that replaced the famed TRL. After walking around Times Square for a while, I found a long line of youth waiting outside of the studios at Broadway and 45th Street. I joined the mass of teens, and soon two young MTV employees came outside with a clipboard and list of names.

Despite being four years over their audience age limit, I was given a bracelet (the nose ring must have made up for the beard) and led through the building to the back entrance of the show’s set. We waited here nearly an hour as cameramen and employees raced in and out prepping for the show.
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A Pilgrimage (of Many Sorts) to Israel


I’ve been in Jerusalem for the last two weeks and will be here for the rest of January. I’m taking a course through my seminary on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in Israel, and then will be traveling on my own for a week. I’ve come to the Holy Land with two goals. First, to experience the story of Jesus in a whole new way by walking in his footsteps. Second, to delve deeper into the Israeli/Palestinian conflict by seeing it for myself. What I’m discovering, however, is that these two goals are more inextricably woven together than I had previously thought.

Thousands of people pilgrimage every day to Bethlehem where Jesus was born. The same is true for Galilee, where he performed miracles, and Jerusalem, where he was crucified. Yet to truly walk in the footsteps of Jesus means more than simply visiting the places he lived. It means walking in the way of Jesus – living the way he did and being about what he was about. Following the Via Dolorosa must include appropriating Jesus’ concern and passion for justice to our own times…and that’s why I find it impossible to stand by and do nothing while Palestinians are being oppressed.
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And the soul felt its worth


This Advent I’ve been spending time in the opening chapters of Luke’s Gospel, looking at some of the characters that were present during the first Christmas. I’ve been focusing on four figures in particular – Zechariah, Mary, Simeon, and Anna – and the situations they were in when Jesus was born.

(To see Kershisnik’s painting in all its glory, click here.)

Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was a priest who worked in the temple. Offering sacrifices day after day, he knew the sins of the people were many.

Mary would have been around thirteen years old when she became pregnant. Considering the cultural climate of her day, she must have felt anxious and uncertain about the future – few things were more socially repugnant and taboo than pregnancy out of wedlock.
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A Heritage of Fire in the Belly


Christianity has a heritage of people with fire in their belly. In other words, the movement arising out Exodus and Easter is notorious for producing “prophets” – folks who see injustice and feel a burning swell that can’t be contained in their stomachs. Prophets speak truth in the face of power regardless of the consequences. They refuse to accept the status quo as long as oppression exists. Prophets echo the ancient words, “let my people go!” They are those who, in the words of Abraham Heschel, “begin to burn where conscience ends.”

I’ll be playing somewhat the role of a historian today. A few months back I posted an entry about liberation and how its roots are found in the Book of Exodus. I’d like to pick up now where I left off and tell a history of liberation, tracing its contours from ancient Egypt all the way into the present. In a future post I’ll ask what it means today, in our world of cutthroat economics and ever-growing military machines, to follow a God whose first name is Liberation. But before we can get to that question we need to do some theology and a history lesson.

Special thanks to artist and friend Matt Wideman who created this original piece of art just for this post. As you’ll soon see, this picture articulates the prophetic experience in living color.
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Beholding Your Neighbor


If ever there was a photographer with rock star status, it was Richard Avedon. I’ve grown to appreciate his work which is famous for its minimalist style – he normally positioned his subject in front of a sheer white background – and ability to bring out the personality and soul of a person through a single photograph. Beginning in the world of fashion but spreading into politics and fine art, Avedon’s high profile career included portraits of Marylyn Monroe, Malcolm X, Pablo Picasso, and the Beatles. That’s what makes his 1985 exhibit entitled In the American West so extraordinary; it consists of all ordinary people. None are celebrities and none are famous.

I gave a teaching this past weekend in Dallas that began with Avedon’s photographs of these ordinary folks. I then wrote on a board some of the different ways we are accustomed to categorizing and separating people: class, race, gender, religion, nationality, physical beauty, education, job, etc. My point was that we use these categories to assign worth and value in differing degrees. (It’s worth mentioning that when I finished speaking, an 86 year-old lady named Lois came up to me to let me know I had left out one category: age. She was quite right to correct me; western society, in its obsession with youthfulness, has by and large written off the elderly.)

To a certain extent, this is what we’re doing when we ask people, “What do you do?” We’re sizing them up, and the only reason we don’t ask what race they are or if they’re rich is because we’re already doing this with our eyes.
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Why I go to the monastery


Here’s something about me that even my close friends often don’t realize: I’m a closet introvert. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not that people bug me or that my palms get sweaty when I’m around a crowd. I genuinely love people. I love being with people and in the presence of people. But that’s not what energizes me. Solitude is. And that’s why I need plenty of “monk time.”

I get this a number of ways. Sometimes I’ll take a silent walk around the block, eat dinner alone in my room, or pencil into my calendar a morning to spend by myself. Those are the little monk times I carve into my normal schedule. But I also get extended monk time…literally. Once a year I stay a couple of weeks at a Roman Catholic monastery tucked away in the desert and canyons of New Mexico. It’s the most remote monastery in North America – a three hour drive from the nearest major airport and a driveway that alone takes 45 minutes.

I’ve just returned from my annual retreat there. And considering that I spent the previous month on the road (Missouri to England to Florida to Texas) and with people almost around the clock, I needed some good monk time. One of the brothers there, a good friend of mine, is putting together something for their website and asked me to write a few sentences responding to the question, “Why do you come to the monastery?” This was my answer:
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“In the beginning God created, I mean liberated…”


In Romans 8 Paul writes that all of creation groans to be liberated, and I contend that if you listen closely you can hear our world today groaning to be set free from many bondages.

Ever since I gave a teaching earlier this month at Jacob’s Well Church (it can be listened to here) I’ve been thinking about how fiercely concerned God is with one of humanity’s deepest longings – freedom. I’ve decided to write a three-piece post on liberation and what it means to follow a God who always sides with the oppressed. Many thanks to Kansas City local photographer, Danielle Larson, for collaborating with me on this entry by providing the artwork.

Today’s entry is about slavery, tattoos, God’s divine name, and why Exodus is the first book of the Bible. Let’s start with the last of these since that one might sound a bit ridiculous to you. At least it did to one seminary student.
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Jesus doesn’t do social justice


Jesus doesn’t do social justice, he is social justice. I mean that in the strongest sense. True social justice is defined by the person of Jesus, and not vice-versa. And I’ve been thinking a lot about social justice since I arrived in Kansas City.

Two weeks ago I packed my bags and headed out West. I’m interning at Jacob’s Well Church in Kansas City, Missouri, for the summer and assisting them with community development and the missional formation of their congregation. My first day here I began working with another staff member on human trafficking. Since the church is a part of a coalition against human trafficking, they were informed by authorities that a citywide raid would soon take place and asked to provide hospitality for the victims once they had been freed. My second day here the raid happened.
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Living Into the Future


Last Sunday morning I did a teaching in Dallas on how the story of Scripture beckons the church to live into the future. To even make sense of that statement I need to first unpack a few things.

Story is basic to all of life. All humans live within some story they believe is ultimate. The Buddhist, the materialist, the Marxist, and the Christian all believe different stories and frame themselves within those narratives. It’s popular today to speak of different “worldviews,” but this is just a fancy way of saying different “stories.” A person’s worldview is shaped by the comprehensive story they believe is true to reality; worldviews are products of stories.

Christians agree that the Bible is authoritative for our lives, but ask how exactly is it authoritative and you’ll soon hear discord. Many speak of the Bible as the roadmap or blueprint for life. Others say it is a document of propositional truths or an almanac of spiritual wisdom. I contend it is none of the above.
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My Year of Nothing New


keas1_page_013I’m an American citizen. This means last fall I began hearing that I should “get out there, spend money, and buy more stuff.” I was told this is the part I need to play as an American in helping jumpstart our economy again.

This spending solution seemed to be the one principle our government and all the pundits agreed upon. And apparently it’s what the founding fathers would want me to do.

Each week the adman insisted that there has never been a better time for me to buy a car, house, or iPhone. Here in the United States of Advertising the message is always the same: “now is the time to buy!”

So I decided now was the time for a little economic experiment. I will not be buying anything new for a year.
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The Courage to Call it Good Friday



1:30 pm - Stations of the Cross

The Stations of the Cross is a way of remembering the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus during his last hours. The tradition dates back to the fifth century and eventually formed into fourteen “stations,” each depicting a different scene of Jesus’ journey to the cross. I’ve experienced the Stations of the Cross a number of times inside churches that have them set up on clean walls. But not this time.
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Doing Missional weddings


I’ve spent the last two weekends in Jacksonville and Cleveland (watch the first 3 seconds closely), but prior to that I officiated two weddings in two weekends. The first was in Orlando for my close friend Nathalie, whom I met several years ago while speaking at a youth camp, and her husband Kevin. The second was in Dallas for my own groovy-artsy-hip sister Misty and her groovy-artsy-hip husband Brian, and I co-officiated this with their pastor Danielle Shroyer. (And let me be the first to suggest we find a better term than “officiate”).

While preparing the messages and prayers for these weddings I was reminded how as Christians every area of our lives belongs to God’s mission.

And this includes our marriages.
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Having guts…and the Spirit


Having Guts
This year for Christmas my soon-to-be-brother-in-law, Brian, gave me Stefan’s Sagmeister’s latest work, Things I Have Learned in my Life so Far. The Austrian-American graphic designer is as insightful as he is creative, and it’s easy to see why he’s Brian’s favorite artist.

The book itself is a piece of experimental art; it’s comprised of 15 booklets in a box whose cover is a cut out of Sagmeister’s face. So whatever booklet you place in the front completes his portrait in a different way, and the booklets themselves are based on various art projects he has done over the years. And although I dig the graphics, it’s his short reflection on each project that has captured my imagination.
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Domesticating the prophetic king


picture-6Last month we remembered the legacy of our nation’s greatest public prophet, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. King was the moral and spiritual leader of the civil rights movement, the movement that the Catholic monk and writer, Thomas Merton, once described as the greatest example of Christian faith in action in the social history of the United States. Furthermore, Dr. King has had a considerable impact upon me and what I want my ministry to be all about (in fact, a long clip from his “drum major” sermon was played at my ordination).

I thought it would be fitting, then, to cut the ribbon of this journal with King.
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For the Kingdom. Simple as that.


francisco-picHello friends and welcome to the site. I offer a few opening remarks to help you navigate your way around. Thanks to Francisco Donoso for this piece of original art to get things kicked off. A good friend of mine in Riga, Latvia, designed and put together this site which has a number of functions.
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