A Refuge in Egypt

Per Wikipedia, Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville is designed in style of Egyptian Revival architecture. It is not a style you normally see especially for a church. But the good folks at Downtown Pres really went for it. The painted interiors, the oasis-in-the-desert stained glass windows, and even the crosses with Horus falcon-like wings evoked the banks of the northern Nile. As my brother and I sat in the pews staring at this church unlike any we’d ever seen, there was only one way that two kids born in the 1980s could compute it: “It’s like we’re in the desert world from Super Mario Bros. 3.”

The reason that my brother and I were crammed into a padded pew into downtown Nashville on a Friday night was we were attending The Liturgists Gathering, a two-day assemblage centered around the eponymous podcast on science, faith, and art. It was all kind of a head trip. I told Taylor as we walked back to our car the first night that I felt like I had just drank from a firehose. Not only was there myriad of interesting topics discussed, but the sheer diversity of the gathering—from conservative-leaning evangelicals to spiritually-inclined atheists to everything in-between—is unlike anything in which I have participated.

What is the common thread for such a motley assortment of people? As “Science” Mike McHargue, one of the podcast’s hosts, said on Saturday morning, it was rejection. Most of the people in that room had been turned away from or had to leave their church at some point. The reasons weren’t all the same nor was the intensity of that rejection. For some of us, we still felt comfortable in a church even if the type of church we attend is markedly different from our earlier homes. Yet for others that rejection was violent and there was no safe sanctuary to be found in a place of worship.

The Skeleton Key in a Doctor Who Recap

I don’t watch Doctor Who. It’s a show I’ve always intended to dive into, but the sheer volume of episodes is so overwhelming that I have done little more than sample. But I do read Doctor Who recaps on the internet because my siblings and their spouses are big Doctor Who fans and I want to be conversant with them.

None of this is really about the space and time traveling British hero. It’s about a random line in a recap of this past week’s episode (by Caroline Siede) which centered around a 17th century witch hunt:

Once you’ve murdered a couple dozen people under the auspices of doing God’s will, it’s hard to admit you may have made a mistake. So the only way forward is to double down, rope more people into your violent system, and do whatever you can to justify your twisted sense of morality—both to others and to yourself.

Reading that, I heard the click of an unlocking door. If you have known me for any period of time then you know that one of the things that has vexed and haunted me for so long is how people who claim to follow Jesus can commit all sorts of actions that are diametrically opposed to Jesus’ teachings.

In God's Country (Philippians 2:6-11)

It might be late November, but for the church calendar, this is the last Sunday of the year before everything starts brand new next week with Advent. Advent is a season in which we are thrown to and fro through time as we look back to the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, the birth of Jesus, and towards a future in which we pray that God will make all things right. Yet before we get there, we have this last Sunday which is known as Christ the King Sunday or Reign of Christ Sunday. I confess that this is one of those topics about which I immediately said, “I’m going to talk about that and I have no idea how I’m going to talk about that.”

Talking about royalty is difficult; especially in this country where we don’t have much of a frame of reference for kings. Not having a king is kind of our whole deal in the United States. That is where we started as a country and as such, I think we’re kind of resistant to the idea of any kind of authority.

Everything I know about kings comes from this strange mixture of Bible stories, U.S. History, the musical Hamilton, whatever the situation is with Great Britain and their royal family, Disney fairy tales, and the Super Mario video games where the king is apparently an absent father who perpetually permits his princess daughter to get kidnapped by a fire-breathing turtle dragon. In my mind, kings have either been silly or fictional or existed so long ago that it is a challenge to make heads or tails of them. How do you and I talk about Jesus reigning as king in our present context?

A Short Story About a Minor Miracle

After finishing my book at lunch yesterday, I went to Parnassus to get a new book (shout out to my seniors from last year for the gift certificate). After lingering among the shelves for as long as I could, I made my selection and headed to the cashier. After handing my book to the woman behind the counter, she noticed my Furman shirt.

“Did you go to Furman?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“I spent some time there as a child. My father played football for VMI and growing up we used to go to all the games they played.”

We then had a nice little chat about her dad, how her father used to always encourage her that there would be a next year (VMI is traditionally not great at football), and I talked a little about my sons and the lessons we try to instill in them. It was a short conversation; maybe two minutes. It was not anything that is going to set the world on fire. We wished each other a good afternoon and I stepped out under the bright blue sky with my new book in hand.

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.