Time to Take a Knee

It has been nearly fourteen months since Colin Kaepernick first knelt during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner prior to the start of his team’s games. The decision not to stand during the national anthem, as he has repeatedly stated, was in response to the on-going epidemic of police brutality and the inequality that he and other people of color experience in our country on a daily basis.

Last week at a rally in Alabama, the president called Mr. Kaepernick, and other professional football players who have since joined the protest, a vulgar name and encouraged the owners of the teams to fire them. But he did something else that night as well. He took control of the narrative and completely flipped it, leading a significant portion of our country to believe that these players were kneeling in protest of our national anthem, the flag, and the men and women serving in our military.

This was never about any of that, but it is very telling that so many people have misinterpreted football players protesting inequality and racism as football players protesting America.

When Kaepernick began his protest during his team’s first two preseason games last year, he did so by sitting on the bench. He then consulted with a couple of military veterans about his protest, not wanting to show any disrespect to those in the military, about the proper form his protest should take. They advised him to kneel alongside his teammates rather than continue to sit by himself on the bench. Military members kneel during the funeral of a veteran when they present a flag to the veteran’s next-of-kin. As a person of faith, I kneel frequently to pray and the church that I grew up attending has a rail on which people kneel as they receive the elements of the Eucharist. Kneeling is a sign of respect, not disrespect, and it was specifically chosen as a form of protest in order to show respect to our country and all those who have sacrificed for it, while also getting his message across.

Criticizing others for disrespecting the military is an interesting position for someone who verbally attacked Khizr and Ghazala Khan while campaigning for president. The Khans are the parents of American soldier Humayun Khan, who died in a car bombing in Iraq in 2004 while trying to save the lives of fellow Americans. He also belittled Sen. John McCain while on the campaign trail for being captured and tortured as a prisoner of war.

The juxtaposition is quite jarring. If you’re a black man respectfully kneeling in order to initiate a conversation about race in America you should be fired. If you’re a white man openly mocking the sacrifices others have made for this country you can become president.

Of all people, Christians should be the first to raise questions about our relationship to the government and where our allegiances lie. Members of the early church struggled to be both citizens of Rome and followers of Jesus. Peter and John were brought before the rulers of Jerusalem and ordered not to continue spreading Jesus’ message of hope to the hopeless and liberation to the persecuted. They answered they could do no other than tell the truth about what they saw and heard (Acts 4). In another incident, Peter is again brought before the rulers and tells them, “we must obey God rather than human beings” (Acts 5:29).

Throughout scripture we are reminded not to worship idols so that we not misplace our allegiance for the object rather than that which the object represents. The prophet Daniel is celebrated in Jewish and Christian traditions for refusing to obey the command of the empire to worship an idol and pledge allegiance to anything other than God. As a result, he was forced to endure a blazing furnace. As a result of Kaepernick’s actions, he has had to endure fiery, misguided criticism and hatred.

As people of faith, we must be careful to ensure that our appreciation for the great things our flag represents does not become worship of the flag itself. Among those many things the flag represents is the freedom of speech, and in exercising that freedom Kaepernick continues to be burned. Perhaps the time has long come for us to take a knee ourselves to acknowledge as well that our allegiance is not to the empire or to an idol, but to the Prince of Peace who brought liberation to the captive and justice to the oppressed.




A Place At The Table

(The following manuscript is from a sermon that I, Andrew, delivered at my home church in Altavista, VA on Sunday, June 25)

One of our weekly rhythms during Mission Year was to host a hospitality dinner. Every Saturday night we hosted people in our home for dinner: neighbors, friends from church, co-workers at the service sites we were volunteering at, or people we randomly met in our adventures around the city.

One Saturday night in particular still stands out to me. In order to fully understand the chaos that ensued there are a couple of things you need to know. The first is that in our little house the dinning room was also the living room. It comfortably fit our team of four and two other people; maybe a third guest if we really squeezed in tight. The second thing is that the only thing cooling our house in the Houston heat were 3 window unit ACs. One in our bedroom, one in the bedroom of the other couple we lived with, and one that somehow was suppose to cool the living room/dinning room as well as the kitchen. Needless to say they struggled keeping our home cool when it was empty, let alone full of people talking and moving around.

Kelly’s dad happened to be visiting us this particular weekend and we had invited over the Carter family from church for dinner. Terry, Ava, and their sons Zay and Jabari.

For those of you keeping track at home that’s 5 guests we’ve now invited into our tiny living dinning room. So we certainly deserve some of the blame for the resulting pandemonium. They ended up being about an hour late and as they’re texting us leaving their house they ask if it’s okay if they bring their other older daughter, who we didn’t even know existed. Of course we said yes, which not only meant packing everyone in a little tighter, but also threw off our meal count. We had splurged for meat with our tiny budget and had bought just enough for everyone who was originally coming. Well, the Carter Family shows up and introduce us to their daughter who also has her toddler daughter with her? So now we’re up to 7 guests. It turns out that the adult daughter didn’t like fish, which meant we actually did have enough for everyone, but also that she didn’t really have anything to eat.

We gave up on having people sit at the table and just had everyone sit around the living room area on the couches and chairs. At some point Zay and Jabari’s cousin randomly shows up in the middle of dinner to take the boys to a movie and the toddler is running around squealing. And if all of this isn’t chaotic enough – let’s throw in a couple of cockroaches that literally came out of nowhere on the wall directly behind our guest’s heads. Folks, let me just tell you that everything really is bigger in Texas. So we spent a good part of the meal playing a game amongst ourselves, trying to find a way to kill the roaches on the wall behind them without drawing attention to the fact that there were roaches on the wall behind them. And Kelly’s poor Dad – he’s pretty extroverted and usually a people person, but about half way through the dinner we noticed that he had gradually slid his chair back into the corner of the room; completely overwhelmed.

But you know what? Looking back on it, that dinner was one of the most fun, and certainly most memorable hospitality dinners we had all year. I learned a lot in Houston sitting around that table, or on the couches, listening to the stories, experiences, and perspectives of people who came into our home as acquaintances, or complete strangers, but always left as friends. I discovered something that I think pastor and author Sara Miles articulates best when she writes,

“there’s a hunger beyond food that is expressed in food, and that’s why feeding is always a kind of miracle.”

In order to understand what she means we have to turn to the creation story in the book of Genesis. God, in God’s infinite wisdom, creates humanity. We discover that the reason we were created is to be in relationship with God. We are relational beings created to be in a relationship with a relational God. After giving the breathe of life to the first humans it only makes sense that the next thing God would do is give them some basic principles for how this relationship is going to function.

God does exactly that by explaining to them that every living creature, every seed-bearing plant, and every tree that has fruit with a seed in it has been given to them for food. Everything that God had spent the past week dreaming up, then forming, creating, and bringing into life was created to feed humanity. It was created as a means of sustaining us and giving us life. God makes food central in our relationship. The very act of eating is a daily reminder of our own mortality, right? We eat, because we are not God and we need food for sustenance. I think this is what the Psalmist means in Psalm 34 when he writes, “taste and see that the Lord is God.” Eating is a spiritual exercise. To eat, to be alive, to know God and be in communion with God are all one in the same thing.

God calls this way of being and relating to one another good, and it was good…for about two minutes until we flip over to Genesis chapter 3. In that passage we see the brokenness of humanity on full display as sin enters into the world and I don’t think it is any coincidence that the first sin involves eating. If eating is central to our relationship with God it makes sense that the serpent would choose to attack it. The sin is that they ate for their own sake. They tried to change their relationship with food in order to be fully independent of God. They falsely believed that food had life in itself and that by eating apart from God they could become like God.

There’s a hunger beyond food that is expressed in food.

I think there’s something to the fact that Jesus chose to spend his last few hours on earth sitting down at a table eating. There was still much he could have taught the disciples and more they clearly needed to understand, but he didn’t set up class to lecture them. They didn’t have an all-night study session attempting to cram every last bit of information or parable detail. He didn’t give them some sort of standardized test to see if they remembered enough to be trusted to carry on his message. Instead, they sat down around a table together, ate a simple meal, broke bread together, and shared a glass of wine. Jesus knew exactly what the disciples needed that night. He knew that it was about more than a meal; that eating is about extending hospitality and making room for others to find life by sharing in our own. He knew that was exactly what they would need to sustain themselves through the next several days as their entire worlds got turned upside down.

Eating isn’t only about extending hospitality though. Sharing a meal is also an invitation to enter into communion and be reconciled with each other. It wasn’t just a group of friends at that meal. There was one among them who Jesus knew would hurt and betray him. This is why part of our Eucharist liturgy is about confessing the times we have fallen short and asking for forgiveness. The Eucharist is about the work of reconciliation; which is all fine and dandy when they are people with whom we have a lot in common. Churches tend to be pretty homogenous places, where people have more in common than not. Often I wonder if the people we really need to be reconciled to are the people who aren’t sitting in the pews. Reconciliation to people who look like you, or believe similar things as you, or tend to vote in a similar way as you isn’t necessarily difficult. It’s difficult to extend that same hospitality to people you disagree with or even feel betrayed by.

Imagine how much less divided our country would be if we all reached across the political aisle and invited someone over for dinner who voted for the other guy or the other girl. Imagine how much you could understand about the Black Lives Matter movement if you sat down around a table where everyone wasn’t white. Or the mutual understanding and appreciation that would happen over a meal shared by people from different economic classes. Maybe the real work of reconciliation doesn’t lie within the walls of the church, but beyond it. Maybe the altars we really need to come before to receive the bread and the cup, the body and blood of Jesus, look a little less like altars and a little more like dining room tables.

There’s a great scene in the first installment of the Harry Potter that I think illustrates the magic (pun intended) that can happen when we share a meal with someone different from us. In one of the early scenes in the series an 11-year-old Harry Potter is visiting the zoo for his cousin’s birthday. Harry’s parents were killed when he was a baby so he’s grown up living with his aunt, uncle, and cousin who are very abusive toward him. They continually insult him and force him to live in the little cupboard under the stairs. Being muggles, or ordinary folks without magical powers, they have intentionally kept the fact that Harry is a wizard from Harry. So Harry has no idea of his true identity when he enters into the reptile house at the zoo on this fateful day. He comes across the exhibit of a Brazilian Boa Constrictor where his obnoxious cousin is banging on the glass trying to get it to move. When the snake doesn’t move the cousin gives up leaving Harry at the exhibit by himself. Believing that he is talking to no one other than to himself, Harry apologizes for his cousin. He’s shocked when he realizes the snake understands what he is saying. Harry then proceeds to ask if the boa constrictor misses it’s family back in Brazil. The snake replies by pointing to the display next to the exhibit that reads: Bred in Captivity. “That’s me as well,” Harry says. “I never knew my parents either.” Instantly the glass on the exhibit disappears and the snake is free to leave its cage.

When we are able to relate to another person and empathize with them the constructs that divide us cease to exist. The walls that have been built between us disappear. And just like the snake who is set free so to do we experience our own sort of liberation in these moments. Who are you going to invite to dinner?


Rolling Waters


A couple of weeks ago, Kelly and I headed north for my sister’s graduation. Being only a few hours away from Niagara Falls at that point, we decided to make a weekend out of it since it would be a new experience for both of us. It is quite easy to see what makes the falls such an attractive place for tourists and nature enthusiasts alike. As cliché as it might sound, the pictures we had seen our entire lives really did not do it justice. As I sat across the river from the falls, amazed at their beauty and power, the words from the prophet Amos slowly worked their way around my head.

Let justice roll down like waters

It has become increasingly difficult to hold this verse in tension with the realities I continue to witness in our country since the presidential election. Too often in the last seven months, it has felt like it is the waters of injustice, rather than justice, that are rolling down upon the marginalized and oppressed in our country. “Build the wall” chants continue to reverberate in areas of our country, and a federal budget plan was just put forward that proposes taking critical programs and support away from already vulnerable individuals and families. As a result, it has become impossible for me to continue to ignore my own privilege.

I identify as white, straight, Christian, and male. I have documentation stating I’m a citizen of this country and to my knowledge I have no pre-existing conditions that would make health care under the American Health Care Act inaccessible to me (although with the absurd list of what would qualify as a pre-existing condition, it wouldn’t surprise me if the fingernail I broke moving my sister out of her apartment after her graduation would count). If there is anything that I have learned since the election it is this: the changes that need to be made in our country to make it a safer, more equitable place for everyone don’t start with banning certain demographics of people or “fixing” our inner city neighborhoods by reinvigorating the war on drugs.

In order for justice to roll down like the waters of Niagara Falls (some 750,000 gallons per second), the change has to start with me, and people who identify similarly to me, learning not only to claim our privilege, but then to do something about it. Donald Trump isn’t the producer of the racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia, and the wealth gap in our country that have become more evident since the election. He’s the product of those very fears, misconceptions, and prejudices that have been part of the fabric of our country since the first European settlers arrived at Jamestown in 1607. Justice doesn’t just start rolling down like the waters of Niagara Falls. It starts long before with tiny water molecules gathering in Lake Ontario before starting the journey down the Niagara River, gradually gathering more and more water along the way as the movement gets stronger and more rapid. This is the work before me and people like me and I believe it is how we Make America Great for everyone for the first time and not just for some people Again.



When the Good Samaritan is Your Neighbor


If you’re part of the Christian tradition then you have probably heard the story of the good Samaritan more times than you can count. A man is traveling along a road when he is beaten, robbed, and left for dead in a ditch. A couple of people who would have been held in pretty high regard as model citizens by the society of that time come across him and go out of their way to avoid helping him. Then a man, a lowly Samaritan, despised by much of society, happens upon him. The Samaritan bandaged the man’s wounds on the side of the road, helped him up upon the Samaritan’s donkey, and took him to an inn to recover, even giving the innkeeper some money to cover the expenses of his stay at the inn.

My wife and I recently purchased a home and moved into a modern day Samaria. Right here in the capitol of North Carolina. Ask a random person downtown what they know about my neighborhood, and they will likely have to ask you where it is, because no one bothers to learn the names of the neighborhoods in my part of the city. Once they get an idea of the general area which you are talking about, then immediately it becomes clear that their only familiarity with my neighborhood is the reports of drugs, shootings, and other criminal activity that get covered by the news. While you may be hard-pressed to find anyone to admit it, a lot of people operate under the assumption that nothing good can come from there.

But I’m discovering that I have a lot to learn about being a good neighbor from the Samaritans that live on my street. Last week, one of my neighbors mowed our front lawn because he was “in the zone and feeling good.” On Friday morning, I awoke to discover that another had already taken our trash to the curb, and the sun hadn’t even come up yet. On Saturday, I took my dog Jack for a walk, and we ended up running into a group of kids from my street playing several blocks away at their aunt’s house. They were pretty excited to see us, running down the street, waving their arms while yelling to get our attention and make sure we stopped. Immediately they recognized how hot Jack was from our walk, and all six of them scrambled back to their aunt’s house attempting to be the first one to find a container (in this case the pot from an old rice cooker) to fill with water for him. Half of it sloshed out in their haste to get back to us, but Jack didn’t seem to mind. As Jack gratefully lapped up the water these six kids — the oldest of whom is no more than ten — had brought him, the phrase “small things with great love” from Mother Teresa struck me in a whole new light.

Samaritans make the best neighbors, because the secrets to the art of being a good neighbor are usually hidden in places like Samaria. You just have to pay close enough attention. Come travel through my neighborhood and see for yourself.

From Sour to Sweet

Confession: I didn’t give anything up for Lent this year and I don’t feel bad about it.

Instead, I baked loaves of sourdough bread every Sunday for communion at my church, Southeast Raleigh Table. It’s a time consuming process; beginning Friday evening by feeding my sourdough starter to “wake it up” and begin the process of growing it from a half cup to the two cups needed. That involves some time again Saturday morning and Saturday evening so that everything is ready to begin baking at 6 a.m. Sunday morning. The process has helped me to slow down, be more intentional with how I use my time, and reflect on the previous week.

We often have one loaf leftover, and I have been blessed to hear stories of how the abundance has been enjoyed. Couples stopping to grab some wine and cheese on their way home from worship to go along with it or families serving it alongside their Sunday evening soup or sharing it with neighbors. I think that type of thing was what Jesus had in mind when he said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

On Sunday, we said goodbye to the sour taste repentance and confession leaves in our mouths and instead enjoyed the sweet taste of forgiveness and redemption alongside some warm, freshly baked milk-and-honey bread. This Easter season, my hope and prayer is that we all would experience the sweetness of our communities and country being redeemed around us by the one who laid death in its grave.


Harry Potter & the Traitor

About a month ago I started reading the Harry Potter series for a third time. I’m taking it chapter by chapter and listening to each episode of the Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podcast as I go along. I’m trying to find deeper meaning in the stories that were as much a part of my childhood as peanut butter sandwiches (I’ve long thought jelly was overrated) and poptarts. Only the highest quality of culinary delights for me! But I really do think there is a lot more depth to these stories than the typical children’s story and 10+ years after reading them for the first time I’m uncovering new meaning in the words on those worn-out and crinkled pages.

One of the themes that I’m still sitting with is empathy. As I’m sure most of you know, Harry is orphaned and placed under the care of his abusive aunt and uncle who want nothing to do with him.  When Harry’s babysitter suddenly breaks her leg his aunt and uncle have no choice but to take him to the zoo with them for his cousin’s birthday. While looking at the exhibit for the boa constrictor Harry realizes how much he has in common with the snake. He spends the vast majority of his time in the cupboard under the stairs. The snake lives in an equally unsuitable aquarium. Harry is isolated and alone. As is the snake. Harry knows nothing about where he comes from or who he is (spoiler alert: he’s a wizard), because his parents died when he was only one. Likewise, the boa constrictor was born in captivity.

At this exact moment when Harry realizes how much he has in common with the snake a strange thing happens. The aquarium glass literally vanishes. Personally, I think this is a great metaphor for empathy. When Harry is able to empathize the thing that was literally separating them ceases to exist. Harry’s ability to relate to the snake erases what was dividing them. Oh, how I wish there was more of this in our culture today. Our inability to empathize with “the other” has divided us, creating a sense of fear and of being threatened that is feeding the current political narrative. The best thing about this scene though is that the snake escapes. Without the glass holding it back the snake is free to slither out of the reptile house and presumably out of the zoo. Through sincere empathy what was once oppressed is now set free.

Today, Maundy Thursday, a day when we commemorate Jesus’ last supper with his disciples and the love he was able to show to an individual he know would betray him, I think it is important that we hold onto empathy. It’s easy to hate Judas for a single despicable act and in the process lose sight of the fact that he was a human being just like us.  When we lose our ability to be compassionate toward and empathize with one another we become fragmented segments of something that once resembled beloved community. The presidential campaign and the months since the election have shown us just how segmented and divided we are as a society.  In light of that I would like to share with you a poem I came across recently entitled Two Mothers.

Long time ago, so I have been told,
Two angels once met on streets paved with gold.
“By the stars in your crown,” said the one to the other
“I see that on earth, you too, were a mother.

And by, the blue-tinted halo you wear
“You, too, have known sorrow and deepest despair…”
“Ah yes,” she replied, “I once had a son,
A sweet little lad, full of laughter and fun.”

“But tell of your child.” “Oh, I knew I was blessed
From the moment I first held him close to my breast,
And my heart almost burst with the joy of that day.”
“Ah, yes,” said the other, “I felt the same way.”

The former continued: “The first steps he took-
So eager and breathless; the sweet startled look
Which came over his face – he trusted me so.”
“Ah, yes,” said the other, “How well do I know”

“But soon he had grown to a tall handsome boy,
So stalwart and kind – and it gave me so much joy
To have him just walk down the street by my side”
“Ah yes, “said the other mother,
“I felt the same pride.”

“How often I shielded and spared him from pain
And when he for others was so cruelly slain.
When they crucified him – and they spat in his face
How gladly would I have hung there in his place!”

A moment of silence – “Oh then you are she –
The mother of Christ”; and she fell on one knee.
But the Blessed one raised her up, drawing her near,
And kissed from the cheek of the woman, a tear.

“Tell me the name of the son you love so,
That I may share with your grief and your woe.”
She lifted her eyes, looking straight at the other,
“He was Judas Iscariot: I am his mother.”

~Author Unknown


There’s a stool.

Kelly here! In the spirit of Lent, I’ve been pondering the shedding of self, being intentional with my lifestyle in order to let God in more fully. I thought about how much lighter I feel when I free myself of possessions I don’t need (even when it’s initially hard to let go of those things), and that inspired this post. I originally wrote this as a journal entry in November 2016. Since a few months have passed between writing this & posting it as a blog, updates are at the bottom of the post.


Why is dealing with tangible stuff so hard?

There’s a stool.


This stool was in my kitchen as I grew up. It’s beige, tall, lightly padded. It has a couple small tears in the top that I remember examining for no reason. Its steps lift up and out of the front in a sturdy but smooth metal way. I spent a lot of time on that stool as a child, adolescent, teenager watching my mom cooking and simply being present there, on the stool.

I haven’t thought about the stool in years – probably in 5 years, since Ben & I sorted through things in Mom’s house on San Pedro. I may have glanced at it in Ben’s guest room closet a couple times since then, without a second thought of want or love.

Recently I was on the phone with Ben, & he explained how he’s going through stuff & planning to donate things, & he wanted to check with me about some things before donating them. He described the chair & I struggled to picture it. I really struggled to remember what it was he was talking about. I got a clearer mental image of it once we hung up, feeling silly that I couldn’t picture it before. Ben had said he would send me a picture of it too, but that didn’t happen that day.

Flash forward to this evening – Ben calls to catch up, we revisit the conversation about him going through things & donating things (he’s off work this week, so the bulk of it is about to happen), & he sends me a few pictures. Our old Easter baskets, a duffel bag I don’t need – and then I pause. That stool.

I literally had not thought about this tool in 5 years and all of a sudden, it felt precious. I thought of all the time I sat on it, of how the steps move, of examining the tears but one in particular, of how the bottom step says Cosco which is only one letter off from our childhood cat’s name Cisco. (I’d thought about that cool fact a lot.) I was wholly unprepared not to be able to say “donate it” easily. I typed out a text: “Ah, yeah! Lots of memories with the baskets & that stool, and it’s actually harder than I thought it would be after seeing the pictures to say ‘go for it’… but yes, go ahead and donate them. Thanks again for checking with me first!” … and I couldn’t send it. I pictured it in a kitchen of a future house, pictured me smiling each time I saw or used it. I pictured a house of simplicity, but with that stool that I can use to bring back memories. I read a book about decluttering for good that argued you should only keep things that bring you joy, and this stool (that I’d long forgotten about) all of a sudden was something 3 hours away that brought me joy & could continue to do so – would continue to, I was convinced.

But I’ve been of the mentality of simplifying. Of freeing myself and Andrew & Andrew’s parents’ basement (& thus Andrew’s parents) of the burden of stuff – of my stuff, gathered throughout the years, strategically organized into storage when my mom passed away and I had no other place for it. During Mission year, I felt the freedom of few material possessions, not even many clothes, comparatively. I felt ready to go through things more deeply & purposefully. My clothes are finally all in one place, with me in our apartment – that’s a big step actually, and I’m planning on creating a minimalist wardrobe. I read a book about tidying up for good, like I said, and I’ve been obsessed with the tiny house movement – not that a tiny house is right for us, but an intentionally small one is.

So why the heck did all that turn around when I saw the picture of the stool? Why was I crying when I talked to Andrew about it, knowing what his thoughts would be? Instead of continuing that text with “…but yes, go ahead and donate them,” I continued it with “…can I actually think about the stool for a couple of days maybe? Feel free to donate the others.” And I can hear my own uncertainty in my words. It wasn’t that I had to have it; I was struggling with what to do. Ben said that was fine, and I sent, “Thanks! It feels ridiculous since I haven’t thought about that in years, but there’s something about it that I love just from seeing it daily growing up.” Ben said, “I know how it feels, that’s why it’s been here for five years.” “Hahaha guess so.” “Lol lol.”

In a way I think that’s one of the most real conversations I’ve had with my brother in a long time. That simple “I know” reminded me that I’m not alone. What I was feeling really does feel ridiculous; it feels stupid to care so much all of a sudden about a piece of furniture that – yeah, carries memories, but – I hadn’t thought about in years. It’s ridiculous. But is it? At the same time, it makes so much sense to me… I just can’t describe it well to people with a different life story.

Is it ridiculous to care about a stool I grew up with? No.
Is it ridiculous to want to keep something that reminds me of my childhood and feels familiar? No.
Is it ridiculous when I haven’t thought about that thing in years? Maybe.

But the truth is that visual reminders of happy times are so treasured to me. My life is absolutely a happy thing right now. But there are scars from family stuff in 2007 & through college that make it hard to focus on things before then. It’s not hard to remember that I had a wonderful childhood, but it’s hard to remember specific memories (maybe also because I just have a bad memory).

Seeing that stool took me back to simple, happy times. If people keep things due to attachment to the past or anxiety about the future, I think my wanting to keep/repossess this stool is out of attachment to what was (simple, happy) and hope for the future.

The bottom line is I don’t need the stool. I knew that as I wrestled with it, I had the hunch more when I went to blow my nose after talking with Andrew, and it’s been my mentality as I write all this out. I don’t need the stool, but I actually don’t think it’s ridiculous that my thought process happened as it did. It felt ridiculous realistically, but knowing myself & my story… I don’t think it was actually crazy. I think it makes sense for me to struggle with attachment to things. It doesn’t make sense to Andrew, my practical husband, and it won’t. It’s a struggle, but I’m not mad at him for that. A future Kelly with many less tangible items will truly be a freer Kelly, but the road between here & there is going to be rocky – I’m coming to grips with that, and I really don’t think there’s anything I can do about it but keep leaning in and moving forward bit by bit.

So I think making a decision with “hope for the future” in mind means letting go of the stool this time, & thanking it for serving me so well when I did use it frequently, making memories. I can still picture it in a future kitchen & I’ll struggle with that until I forget about it again (probably not that long from now), but if we find the need for a kitchen stool down the road, we’ll probably find another well-loved one at a thrift store, ready to help make new memories. Here’s to forward progress & making careful, conscious decisions that get me closer to where I want to be. Because, honestly, I don’t want to be in my house & feel surrounded by what was & is no longer. I want to create a new space with decorations reflecting our style, ready for those treasured moments to happen. Moments & memories are ultimately about people, not belongings. I’m ready to let go of things to make space for love & experiences & new life, and I will need to remind myself of that often. And that’s okay. ❤


  • Ben donated the stool, and ultimately I did feel good about that.
  • At the turn of the new year, I decided something for me to hang onto in 2017 is “live simply.” To me, simple is local, not tech-y, joyful, genuine, clean, natural, neighborly, healthy, and creative.
  • A few weeks after I wrote that journal entry, we realized buying a house after our 6-month apartment lease made more sense than renting somewhere again, and now we’re homeowners! Why is that relevant? There’s no room in the kitchen for a stool. 
  • Now that we have a place of our own & we’ll be here for the foreseeable future (aka, I never want to move again) it’s much easier to say adiós to things – things that have been in storage as well as things that I’ve carried with me. I still pause for a moment when there’s even the slightest bit of emotional attachment, but when I can’t think of a good place for it in the house, it’s easier to let go. I love the space that we can now call home, and I don’t want to clutter it up with things we don’t need. It’s easier to breathe with open air and some bare floor, table, wall space… even a little extra closet space thanks to today’s trip to the thrift store with donations. I’m loving making those careful choices of what fits the style we want to give our space, even if that means that many of the things I’ve had in storage from Mom’s house don’t make the cut. Like I said, here’s to forward progress & making careful, conscious decisions that get me closer to where I want to be.

Trusting in Holy Water

(This was originally a sermon I, Andrew, was going to preach at my home church Sunday, January 8, but the service was canceled because of snow. It’s been reworded slightly & published as a blog.)

Have you ever done a trust fall before? Where you stand in front of another person and fall backward into them hoping, trusting, that your friend will catch you before you hit the ground. It’s a common team-building exercise that is intended to help people begin to trust one another.

When I was a junior at JMU I was blessed with an opportunity through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship to co-lead a freshman guy’s small group with my friend, Alex. During the first few weeks of the school year, when all of the guys in the small group are complete strangers and haven’t had the opportunity yet to make many friends, Alex and I devoted a lot of time to helping this group of complete strangers begin to know and trust one another. For one of our first meetings I suggested to Alex that we spend some time as a group doing trust falls as a way of casting our vision for the small group and the type of community we were trying to cultivate. Alex liked the idea, but for him it didn’t quite go far enough (pretty typical of our relationship). For him, leaning back into another person’s arms didn’t accurately convey the depth of trust we wanted our guys to have in each other. It wasn’t risky enough. Instead of gently falling backward into someone else, we asked our guys to take turns, one-by-one, standing on top of a 4-foot tall garbage can outside the dining hall and falling completely off the trash can into the locked arms of the group below. One-by-one each of us fell into the arms of the group, trusting completely that they would catch us before we slammed into the concrete below.

On the Sunday in which we remember Jesus’ baptism I think this serves a good metaphor for the sacrament of baptism. Falling off a 4-foot tall trash can into the arms of some people you know really well and others who are complete strangers is what it is like to be baptized and I think the events of Jesus’ own baptism can make that clear.

First, let’s look at the place Jesus chooses; the Jordan River. If you’re picturing a large, mighty, body of water with lots of rapids that’s not the correct image for this segment of the Jordan. Instead, the spot along the river that scholars widely believe to be the site of Jesus’ baptism really isn’t as much a river as it is a large creek. There isn’t really anything extraordinary about this stretch of water near the Dead Sea. The current moves slow. It’s not very wide and it’s not overly deep. In fact it’s a pretty ordinary little stream, yet this is the site that Jesus chooses to symbolize his entrance into public ministry.

Another thing to note is that the head of the river begins 380 feet above sea level, but as it snakes back-and-forth 156 miles through the Sea of Galilee the river cuts deeper and deeper into the earth. By the time the waters get to place where Jesus is baptized the river is over 1,300 feet below sea level, making it the lowest land depression on earth. You can almost imagine Jesus traveling from Galilee along the river descending lower, and lower, slowly making his way down; down to the lowest point on the entire planet where you can stand and still be on dry land. Even the name of the river itself is symbolic because it is literally translated as “the descender.”

I don’t think it’s any mistake that Jesus chooses this location to be baptized.

I also don’t think it’s any mistake that Jesus chooses John the Baptist to do the baptizing. John wasn’t the famous televangelist of the day. He wasn’t even really well liked. In fact, John was despised. He was pushed to the margins of society primarily by the religious leaders of the time, people God had entrusted to proclaim good news to those on the margins and liberate the oppressed. But in this story it is religion that does the oppressing and Jesus is making a statement against that by giving John the Baptist this honor.

This is the backdrop with which we have to understand this sacrament. A story overflowing the images and metaphors of service, humbling oneself, and sacrificing our places in the center of society so that more and more room can be made for those on the margins. These are the marks that being washed with holy water leaves on us.

This is what it means to be baptized.
It’s not easy.
It’s costly.
But that’s how God chooses to work in the world.

In the United Methodist Church we ask candidates for baptism to answer a few questions. One of those questions states, “Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?” Do you put your whole trust in God’s grace? Not a little bit. You’re not sticking your big toe into the water. You’re being fully submerged, or allowing yourself to fall completely off a trash can into the arms of strangers. You’re committing to putting your whole trust in God.

As people privileged in a number of capacities, putting our trust in God liberates us to ask two critical questions – two questions that as we continue to read further into the Gospels we find Jesus asking everywhere he went:

Who is power forgetting?
Who is religion oppressing?

As believers baptized into the life and ministry of Jesus we have to allow the answers to these questions determine the groups of people we seek to love and serve because they determined the people whom the one that we confess to follow loved and served. After being baptized Jesus looked around each village, town, and city he found himself in and asked himself: Who is power forgetting? Who is religion oppressing? And then he gathered those people and he ate with them and he listened to them. So he found himself eating with lepers and bleeding women and the poor and prostitutes and tax collectors. He just gathered these people and broke bread with them.

When Kelly and I were in Houston with Mission Year one of the most rewarding weekly rhythms we had was hosting a weekly hospitality dinner. We’d invite people into our home for dinner every Saturday night: friends from church, co-workers from our service sites, neighbors from the marginalized community we were living in, or random people from the bus stop. The first couple of months we could not get anyone to show up. We’d invite several people each week who would never commit, or would cancel at the last minute, or just flat out not show up. One of these people was a woman who went by the name of Goldie Pearl. Goldie lived under the overhang of a mostly vacant strip mall adjacent to the grocery store we shopped at and I can only assume she got her name from her large afro that was dyed a golden yellow. After a couple of weeks of smiling and saying hi as we walked past her on our way home loaded down with bags full of groceries we realized the irony of our actions. Here we were trying our best to seem friendly, struggling under the weight of our grocery bags to lift our hands and wave to someone who was uncertain where their next meal would come from as we walked right past them. At 80 cents per person per meal for groceries we certainly didn’t have much, but the weight of the privilege of what little we did have literally kept us from being in relationship with someone who was forgotten and oppressed. So we did the only thing that I think followers of Christ can do in that situation: we took our privilege, as seemingly small as it might have been, and used it for someone else at a cost to us.

Unfortunately we never actually were able to get her to come to our house for dinner. She always stood us up. Come to find out the loaded down shopping cart carrying all of her belongings was just too much to haul all the way down the street to our house. So we saved room in our budget to splurge for her favorite McDonald’s meal and one cold, rainy Saturday night we ate with her under the overhang of that abandoned strip mall.

Who is power forgetting?
Who is religion oppressing?

Back then Jesus gathered those people and broke bread with them. We gathered one person and broke Big Macs, greasy French fries, and Coca-Cola.


Who is power forgetting?
Who is religion oppressing?

What would it look like to gather those people, to eat with them, and to listen to them? What groups of people would we find ourselves sitting across the table from? Putting our whole trust in God could look like us saying, “You know, my voice has been heard enough. Why don’t I create a little more space for the voices of immigrants, young single moms, people of color, the financially poor, and others to be heard.”

In 2017 let’s commit to being a better Church, where the vulnerable find allies and refuge and hope and where we step back and let the forgotten lead us. It’s risky business, but that’s the work we committed to do when we were baptized. It’s comfortable and easy to be with folks who look and love and think like we do, but remaining comfortable requires no trust and it leaves little room for the Holy Spirit to work. That seems like a God-sized New Year’s resolution worth making in this new year.


May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all in 2017.

She is Love

Hello! Kelly here with a quick thought.

This year I’ve grown into a broader understanding of who God is. He is Father, She is Mother, God is neither male nor female… but we call God “him” all the time, anyway.

I’ve been stretched by using feminine pronouns a little more when referring to God – mostly in my personal quiet times, and just a bit in conversing with other people. Because, well, people don’t usually call God “she.” But shouldn’t we, at least as much as we call God “he”?

A few years ago, Andrew and I were in his car listening to music. As I listened to the lyrics of Parachute’s song “She is Love,” it reminded me of God.

I actually said, “Man, this would be so perfect to describe God if it said ‘he’ instead of ‘she.'”

Andrew: “God’s not a man anyway… It can still describe God by saying ‘she.'”

Me: “Well, that’s true! I guess it can. But it’d still work better if it said ‘he.'”

It feels kind of ironic now, looking back at that moment and that conversation! – and remembering how clear-cut my view of God was at that time. I heard that song again this year and treasure it so much more now, as I am spending more time considering God as Mother in addition to Father and embracing Her love more deeply through that.

Check out the lyrics & audio:

I’ve been beaten down,
I’ve been kicked around,
But she takes it all for me.
And I lost my faith,
In my darkest days,
But she makes me want to believe.

They call her love, love, love, love, love.
They call her love, love, love, love, love.

She is love, and she is all I need.

She’s all I need.

Well, I had my ways,
They were all in vain,
But she waited patiently.
It was all the same,
All my pride and shame,
And she put me on my feet.

They call her love, love, love, love, love.
They call her love, love, love, love, love.
They call her love, love, love, love, love.

She is love, and she is all I need.

‘Cause when that world slows down, dear.
And when those stars burn out, here.
Oh she’ll be there, yes she’ll be here,

They call her love, love, love, love, love.
They call her love, love, love, love, love.
They call her love, love, love, love, love.

She is love, and she is all I need,
She is love, and she is all I need,
She is love, and she is all I need.

She’s all I need.

Meet Maggie!

In just a few short weeks our journey with Mission Year will come to an end. However, our journey with Mission Year’s core values (faith, community, service, partnership, neighborhood, diversity, solidarity, and justice) is really only just beginning. Kelly and I remain as committed as ever to living out each of these values and we’re excited that we won’t be doing that alone!

We’ll be moving to Raleigh, NC at the beginning of August with our friend, and Mission Year team member, Maggie. The 3 of us are going to continue to live intentionally together and once we’re in Raleigh will be looking for an under-resourced neighborhood to live in and love. Over the course of our lives Kelly and I have been privileged to know a lot of really incredibly people and Maggie is right up there with the best of them! She’s got a heart full of love and a soul set on justice. Just being in her presence is an encouragement for both Kelly and I to continue growing in our faith. It’s been a blessing getting to know her this year and we’re thankful our journey together will not end in just a few short weeks.

In order for you all to get to know her better we thought we’d give her a few questions about herself to answer…

Where are you from?

I am from a tiny town an hour north of Chicago called Johnsburg. My high school was surrounded on three sides by cornfields if that gives you any feel for the size.

What is one of your favorite childhood memories?

Oh gosh. I grew up with three sisters so as you can imagine, we’ve had some crazy times. I would say one of my favorite memories is playing “president” with my grandma. The game consisted of my grandma pretending to be the president of the United States, and we would play different people who were coming to meet with her about “important issues” (probably not that important in the grand scheme of things…).

What are you looking forward to in Raleigh?

SO MANY THINGS. Obviously my number one answer is living with y’all. I have absolutely loved getting to know your hearts and can’t wait to continue to live out the Mission Year values together. I also think that having a less rigorous schedule will allow me to attend more community meetings and partner with more organizations than I got to this year, which makes me excited.

What are you passionate about?

Women’s rights. Harry Potter (thanks Andrew). Equality. Simple living. French fries (especially with cheese). Laughing. Living intentionally. Listening.

What Hogwarts house are you in?

Much to Andrew’s dismay and Kelly’s delight, I am a Gryffindor through and through.

What is your biggest takeaway from Mission Year?

Well this is a hard question (c’mon guys). For real though, in a not cheesy way, Mission Year has transformed my life. I’m not saying I’m perfect in any way (and if I did I have confidence that you guys would erase it haha). However, Mission Year has made me embrace the mess that I am, and it has reminded me that God made me exactly the way that I was supposed to be made. It has shown me that justice is about making a lot of mistakes but continuing to get back up and try again. This year has shown me the value in listening, in being present, and in loving people for who they are. I really can’t speak highly enough of the life altering experience that Mission Year has allowed me to partake in.

What is a fun fact about you that many people don’t know?

I’m going to cheat a little on this question and give my fun fact even though a lot of people already know it. The first day of the summer after my eighth grade year, my best friend and I decided to have a sleepover. It’s important to note that I have a slight history of sleep walking, but it was never a big deal and I never went very far. However, the next morning I woke up with a broken foot and a lot of questions. Her mom came in the room and told us that one of her stairs was broken…and then it all started coming back to me. I had been dreaming about flying, and I remember hanging off her banister thinking, “I can fly so it’s cool if I let go”. And the rest is, well…history.

What is your favorite TV series?

Eeps. So many great choices. I’m going to have to go with Parks and Rec, just because I am a huge Chris Pratt fan and my sense of humor is pretty childish (as in, I think it’s hilarious when people fall).

If you could base your life around a phrase, what would it be?

This one is pretty easy for me, because Kelly and I sat down and wrote ours together. Something that I’ve recognized about myself during my time in Mission Year is how passionate I am about women’s rights. Therefore, my life phrase has become “Remind women of neged.” Neged is the Hebrew word that follows the word Ezer in Genesis 2:18. The common translation of these words name Eve as “a helper suitable for the man” or “a helper fit for the man”. However, a direct translation of this word (along with the prepositions included before and after it) is “a helper whose power is equal to that of the man”. This changed everything for me, and I want part of my life’s journey to include reminding women of the power that is innate to their created being.