Love Your Neighbor as You Love Yourself

Earlier today I found myself trying my hardest not to blubber like a baby in the middle of Shake Shack. I think crying is a good and healthy thing to do. But I was kind of mystified about why it was happening. I had set up camp at a table for lunch with two clear goals: to each a cheeseburger with crinkle fries and to sit there until I finished reading the Mister Rogers biography The Good Neighbor. I crushed both of those goals and it was wonderful.

Yet as I read author Maxwell King describing the death of Fred Rogers, I felt tears welling up in my eyes. I took a deep breath, composed myself, and trudged forward. More tears. Why was this happening? King’s writing was fine, but it wasn’t particularly resonant emotionally. I knew that Mister Rogers had died. It happened a decade and a half ago. What was going on?

I grew up on Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. They aired back to back on SCETV. If you had asked me which of the two had more of an impact on me, I probably would have said Sesame Street. It’s blinding creativity combined with education, the let’s-put-on-a-show ethos of the Muppets, and its sense of humor has always been something that aspire to as I teach today. I liked Mister Rogers, but it wasn’t the show that I was anxious to show my own children. Not that there has to be a competition between the two, but they are inextricably linked in my head: the binary stars of my earliest memories of media.

Swallowed in the Sea (Jonah 1-4)

Let me be honest. I picked Jonah purely because I have never heard anyone preach on it before. I know that people have preached on it before. I shared that I was preaching about this Bible story on Facebook and I immediately had two friends from college say, “Oh, I just preached about that!” But I can’t recall anyone in my three and a half decades of going to church ever preaching about this story. And it is such a wonderful, ridiculous, crazy story. In four short chapters, you get daring would-be escapes, storms at sea, a giant man-eating fish, and cities spared destruction. I’m surprised we do not hear this story every year as a palate cleanser.

Perhaps the reason that we don’t hear people preaching about Jonah that often is that most of us see it as a children’s story. Virtually any tale involving animals is a de facto children’s story which gets us into trouble quickly as anyone who has read Noah’s Ark to an inquisitive child can attest.

In fact, my most vivid memory of the Jonah story was a children’s musical that my church did. I got to play Jonah. My job? To run in the sanctuary; the same sanctuary I was forbidden to run in through my entire childhood. Every time the title song of “Go, Go Jonah” was sang I got to sprint up and down the aisles. I got to hide in a giant papier-mâché whale that fired a confetti cannon when I got spit back on dry land. It was one of my top five experiences in a church sanctuary ever.

But we usually don’t give children’s stories much thought and that’s truly a shame because those tales are often far more complicated than they seem. Often we’ll completely miss the point because we’ve manufactured a neat and tidy moral.

A Confession

I have spent today stuck. I’m writing a sermon for Sunday. I’ve been excited about the text for a couple of weeks. But I can’t write a thing about it. I feel like I’m cracking up. Twelve people are dead in California. It has not even been two weeks since eleven people were killed in Pittsburgh. And nothing is happening. Nothing is going to change. It’s been normalized. And I am tired. I am numb. I want to scream and yell all of the cuss words.

And this isn’t the first time I’ve written something like this. That scares me. Right now, I do not like this world. It is full of hatred and vitriol. This country that is my home seems to love guns more than life itself. Or at the very least, the machine that holds guns to be America’s most sacred institution is too loud to let the cries of those mourning tens of thousands of dead be heard.

I want to run. I want to run because, where I sit right now, this is just the tip of a crappy iceberg. I want to take my sons and my wife and get away from here. Will this feeling pass? Probably. But the fact that this feeling is so suffocatingly strong right now concerns me. I’m tired of dead people. I’m tired of thoughts and prayers. I’m tired of the racists and the white nationalists. I’m tired of the Christians who either actively support this or merely stay silent. I’m tired and I want to run.


It is staggering sometimes to truly think about all the people that make us who we are. Sure there are the obvious sources: the ones who raised us, family members, teachers, mentors. But then you think about the people whose stories transformed your own journey. Or the ones who wrote a story or a song or created something that changed the trajectory of your life.

Though the celebration existed long before the American celebration of Thanksgiving, it is appropriate that All Saints’ Day kicks off this month of gratitude. It is a day when we celebrate those who have gone before us in faith and who are now part of that great cloud of witnesses urging us on as we journey forward.

Before this day comes to a close, I want to remember a few of those people who have been saints to my life. Some like my grandmother have had an exponentially larger impact on my life than others. This list is also by no means exhaustive, but simply those that came to mind as I meditated for a short amount of time. Nor are they all people I have met. And some of the names on here are not even people who were necessarily Christian, but people whose lives have in some way extended a grace to me that has enriched my faith.

Take Care

I know the world can seem like a suffocatingly bleak place right now. And in moments like this you either want to curl up into a ball or go charging into a burning building to save every last person that you can. Or maybe, just maybe you don’t know what to do. You are paralyzed by all of this. It seems too big. Too much.

So take care. Take care of yourself. Do the things that fill you with joy. Look at all the things that bring you hope. And then look at them again. Pray. Get a good night’s rest. Pull yourself away from the fire hose of bad news for just a little while. Eat well. Read a good book. Watch the show that makes you laugh. Look at the things that bring you hope again. 

Go outside. Walk or run or play. Take a deep breath. Sing the song that makes you smile whether it’s a hymn or a cheesy 80s ballad. Be with people you love. Laugh with them. Cry with them too. Take care of yourself. Because if you don’t take care of yourself, you cannot do the other thing you must do.

Where I Want to Be Today

It was the Spring of 2003. I was sitting on the top balcony of Blackwell Hall at Furman University with this girl. I liked the girl a lot. And in spite of my lifelong self-doubt, I had a hunch that she might have actually liked me too. We spent a decent amount of time on that balcony at the end of that semester; mainly talking. Once to throw things off the building and see how they splattered four stories below (I still don’t know how no one called FUPo on us for that).

When we talked, I wanted to impress her. I wanted to convey to her how deep I was or at least my college sophomore notion of “deep.” The “deep” question that became sort of our shared mantra for a time was “Where do you want to be today?’ It is absolutely the product of a 19 year old conveying, like, we need to live in the now, you know? Yet as much as it was the question of a college guy trying to impress a girl, I find myself still thinking about it 15 years later. It’s not as profound as I thought it was, but it is still a good question to ask.

I still want to be with her, my now wife of 13 years. I wonder sometimes if I asked that question with the hope that she could say she wanted to be with me so that I could be with her. I want to be with her exponentially more than I did that long ago spring. I want to be with my sons. There is a 100% chance that they will drive me insane today. There is a 100% chance that they will also do something that makes me love them more deeply than I have before. It’s maddening and beautiful. I want to be with them to let them know that they are loved, to help guide them to being people who give back to the world and not just take from it.

Will Campbell's Blues

One day the civil rights activist and author P.D. East issued a challenge to his friend, the Baptist minister Will Campbell: summarize the message of Christianity as succinctly as possible. Will’s reply, relayed in his book Brother to a Dragonfly, was not your typical Sunday school fare. In fact, his words would have scandalized a congregation in his native Mississippi if they were uttered from a pulpit.

“We’re all bastards, but God loves us anyway.”

I have been sitting with those seven words this afternoon. As a culture, we’ve been wallowing in a putrid stew of ugliness for awhile now. Every so often a new wind stirs up its noxious smell anew: a mass shooting here, a tone-deaf tweet there, a bloody battle for a Supreme Court seat that has been going on for what seems like the last half decade. Fingers are pointed. Names are called. People are hurt.

I know people who have suffered the trauma of sexual assault and harassment and the events of the past week including today’s confirmation have wounded them deeply. My heart breaks for them. In my pocket are some text messages from people I used to go to church with who are high-fiving each other that their guy got in. Christians on both sides. People I love on both sides. But we are in a cultural knife fight right now and blood is everywhere.

Trying to Make Sense of Today

I usually go with the written word. That is where I feel like I express myself best, but it just didn’t do. I tried to talk it out and I don’t know if I did a great job. I tried to explain how I’m conflict averse and how I don’t like stepping into these things but how I understand the gospel compels me to. One thing I didn’t say and I wish that I did is: I’m sorry. To my friends and people I don’t know for whom this day was gut-wrenchingly painful, I am so very sorry.

Roots Then Wings

The idea was so perfect in my head. We would cap off our youth group about why worship matters with everyone writing their praises to God on a sky lantern, which we would light and send to the heavens. Up to God. The illustration wrote itself. The visual was going to be awesome. It was going to be impactful.

It was going to be illegal.

To release sky lanterns in Tennessee you have to have the same license as someone who does fireworks display.

That’s okay. We could do something else. Something else going up. Up. Up. Balloons. But balloons are bad for the environment. Do they make biodegradable balloons? They do. I was all ready to get some biodegradable balloons and helium and then…

“Many animals mistake burst biodegradable balloons as food causing intestinal blockage and death.”

It’s wrong to destroy God’s creation in an effort to praise God.

I had to let go of the idea of going up to God. It wasn’t until later that I realized that I had fallen into a common trap. I was thinking of God as being up.

A Change is Gonna Come

Yesterday was one of those unexpected gifts. In a region where summer lingers and lingers like an unwanted houseguest, the air was cool and drizzly. It was as if Nashville and Portland temporarily switched places. I ran in the morning and I wasn’t a walking puddle of sweat at the end. Each time I went outside, I was greeted by mist and breeze. I could get used to that.

I won’t get a chance to get used to that because the temperature will flirt with 90s again within a couple of days. It will be mid to late October before we maybe (maybe) get that kind of cool weather consistently. But, my goodness, yesterday was nice. It seems like it has been summer for a year and, for a little while, we were reminded that autumn is somewhere down the road.

We need fall. I am not a fanatic about the season. I am not one of those people who loves Halloween and starts guzzling pumpkin spice lattes when they appear way too early in late August. I do like football season (although I have some growing internal conflict about the sport; another post for another time). And I am looking forward to wearing my zip-up hoodie regularly because, in my humble opinion, that is the best article of clothing that humanity has conceived.