An Early Taste of Christian Nationalism

After my sophomore year of college, I lived at home with my parents at their lovely 3 acre homestead in Big Rapids, Michigan. Big Rapids, or BR as we came to know it, is a university town in West Central Michigan, an energetic little corner of the world surrounded by thousands of acres of rolling farmland and deep woods. The city itself sits on the Muskegon River, the second longest river in Michigan and arguably the most beautiful, though the Pere Marquette and Au Sable rivers are also lovely.

During that college summer back in Big Rapids, I worked as a youth ministry intern at the church I had grown up in, a larger evangelical church filled with people who changed the course of my life.

Indeed, my early years in church shaped me dramatically. I’ve even written letters to many of the people who left an indelible mark on me, had conversations with those who formed my sense of identity and my spirituality.

In church I learned about Jesus of Nazareth, an ancient Jewish man who made his way into human history as a person, yet also as the Son of God. Not everything, but almost everything I experienced in church was positive for me: from the friends I got to know to the places I traveled for service projects to my participation in various levels of leadership, even as a young person.

I also got to know people deeply. I asked a lot of questions. One summer evening after a youth event we had planned [was it tubing on the river?] I remember chatting with a couple, we’ll call them Harding and Justine. As we sat outside by a campfire in the breezy yet comfortably humid air, we watched the mighty Muskegon river flow by. As we chatted, 4th of July plans came up, and I recall asking Justine a theological question:

Justine, I said, if it came down to a choice between following Jesus and submitting to an American ideal that compromised your faith commitments, what would you choose?

My question was hypothetical, of course, but it arose in the natural flow of conversation. Whatever it was that prompted me to ask, it came from that conversational context, not from thin air. Justine was a spiritual mentor of sorts, and had taught me a lot about what discipleship means, and I sought her wisdom.

Her answer has taught me a lot about the culture of Christian Nationalism. Staring into the fire, then back at me, she responded swiftly:

Ben, she said with conviction and energy, to me, following Jesus and being an American are one in the same. We are a Christian nation, so I don’t ever have to choose between one or the other, and I don’t think I ever will.

I left it at that. I probably grunted something along the lines of huh. Internally I was a bit stunned. How could it be that your faith would never come into conflict – or at least come to bear – on your citizenship in a nation state?

Ironically, there were many in my church fighting the so-called culture war, talking about everything from dismantling Roe v. Wade to electing George Bush, and everything in-between from gay marriage to post-9/11 wars in the Middle East. There was a clear sense of political identity in my church, and few democrats could be found. And the ones who stuck it out were pretty quiet.

So from that angle, there was the irony of a “Christian nation” holding up the value of abortion rights. But a nation’s morality isn’t exclusive to a 1973 Supreme Court decision. It’s far deeper than that. How about chattel slavery that ended just over 150 years ago? Jim Crow? Lynchings? Displacement and genocide of indigenous people? Structural racism, redlining in our cities, sundown towns that didn’t allow black folks after dusk? These actions are not compatible with a Christian nation narrative.

But Justine genuinely believed America is a shining city on a hill that offers a fine example to the watching world. Overlooking the egregious national sins, America was – overall, I guess? – good. That was the narrative.

An example of the conflation of American power and Christian symbols: Christian Nationalism. Note the red/white/blue cross underneath the flag. The Dixon for Governor political sign covers it, but it reads hate at the foot of the crosses. This house is about 8 blocks from where I live in southeast Grand Rapids, Michigan. There are other examples around town of similar lawn displays. One, near Burton and Breton, features an American soldier kneeling at the foot of the cross.

A quick google search of Christian Nationalism will yield far more imagery than my neighborhood snapshot, so if you’ve got the stomach for it, go check it out.


We could, perhaps, have a conversation about the many good things America and Americans have done. That could perhaps be helpful, but not necessary here. America has produced a whole lot of incredible people; that goes without saying. A list of faces, black, white, and brown, is scrolling through my mind’s eye – and likely yours too. It’s not my aim to paint America as all bad, only to suggest that if we do think of ourselves as a Christian nation, we have a lot of sin to repent from. This is why any Christian should rethink the concept.

To broadly characterize America as a Christian nation is an astronomical leap [think back to slavery, genocide, racism, unjust wars, etc]. I’ll leave it to the academics to do that demographic classification, but on the anecdotal level, it strikes me that there’s a generational gap between those who grew up primarily in the 20th century and those who came into the scene later – perhaps starting with the postwar years and continuing into the present.

Justine was part of that older generation. That generation had celebrated as America did its difficult work in Europe supporting the Allies and helping defeat Hitler. They had seen suburbs spring up and schools flourish as the American economy roared into full gear in the 1950s. They had seen church participation soar, and communities flourish. Or, at least, they saw some communities flourish. After WWII, it wasn’t really until the 1960s that Americans began to struggle on a broad level with our national sins. The Civil Rights movement, coupled with Vietnam’s trauma and a host of other factors, forced Americans to grapple with our morality.

Of course Justine and her generation saw all the abundance from a position of privilege: they were white. If one does their homework on race in this country, it’s easy to see how the majority of black and indigenous folks as well as other minority groups simply missed out on much of this, even to this day. [Do some further reading on your own if you disagree, and perhaps we can talk about it.] I will leave that sociological work to the academics, but I’ve learned enough to see that as someone racialized as white, I’ve had some serious advantages.

On race, I’ll add this: I don’t love being classified as white any more than the next white person. Feels like I lose my other identities and get swallowed up in a big boring cloud of other people I don’t relate to. But it’s real. It was a trade our European ancestors made to differentiate between slave and free: all persons from most of Europe with a lighter complexion came to be known as white, even my darker Eastern European ancestors on my dad’s side who immigrated three generations back. That was codified into law [more on that here]. And for the most part, those Europeans surrendered their former cultural identity for a newfound racialized identity as white and American. And white was, in the American system, racially superior. [Hence that little term white supremacy].

In my own spiritual vantage point, all people – black, white, brown – are made in God’s image. This should go without saying for every Christian in every place. For American Christians, we experience uniquely American problems – our own national sins and tilted systems. Racism in all its ugly forms – structural, systemic, managerial, personal – haunts us here in America, and its insidious effects gave Justine and me and white folks in general a whole lot of privilege.

Lots of white folks see the ugliness of racism, and understand it to some degree on a cognitive level. We recognize that we cannot experience the kind of racism our black and indigenous friends, and of course many Asian Americans and other people of color have felt. But we can read, listen, learn, grow, and advocate. And at the least, we can recognize people of color often have a very different experience in America. White Christians in particular, if we want to follow our Jesus who sought to free the prisoners and set the oppressed free, should perhaps consider what that looks like today [Luke 4:18-19; Isaiah 61:1-2, 58:6].

Back to the summer evening conversation with Justine by the river.

As surprised as I was to hear the sentiment that American ideals and Christian ideals always meshed together for Justine, something about her response resonated with how many, many people in my area viewed their faith. It was strange, but it made sense in my context. They seemed to see themselves as Christian Americans, not American Christians; the Christian part modified the truer identity: American.

America first is the vantage point, and faith fits in fine with that message: Let’s make America great again! Vote with your feet! Love it or leave it! We stand for the flag; we kneel for the cross!

Of course this may be gross caricature of what conservative voices stand for overall, but there is certainly some truth in these brief political statements. I do know some incredibly thoughtful conservatives, and I value our many conversations even if we don’t always see from the same angle. And yet, Trump politics have poisoned the waters ever since 2016, so sadly polarization has increased dramatically.

And Christian Nationalism persists, now bolstered with Trump’s embrace of his religious supporters. People are writing more books on it, including a woman at my church. Kristen’s book, Jesus and John Wayne, is an outstanding historical sketch of how we have ended up with Jesus is my Savior Trump is my President t-shirts.

There’s a difference between having a deep appreciation for one’s place of birth and aligning it wholesale with one’s faith identity. There’s being grateful on the one hand, and idolatry on the other hand. Justine seems to have a real appreciation for her experience in America, and there are some aspects of that which strike me as good: she’s grateful and feels part of a larger community that she sees as doing good [now, as I’ve mentioned, there are a host of problems with that].

Wherever it is we come from, we are not called to hate our country. But Christians are called to a kingdom not of this world – an allegiance to Christ and his kingdom.

Getting deeper into theology, the Jewish Scriptures, which we Christians also see as foundational to our religious identity, contain a list of ten commandments. After a reminder that God is the One who brought the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery, the first command reads like this: you shall have no other gods before me [Exodus 20:3, NRSV].

The second is similar: You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above or that is on the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them [Exodus 20:4-5a].

First God gave Moses a short, simple command. But the second command enriches and makes the first a bit more explicit, explicating the dire importance of centering YHWH, the God of Israel, as their exclusive deity.

Biblically speaking – a way of speaking most Evangelicals appreciate – we are to worship God alone. You can’t split your worship two ways, to God and country, just like you can’t serve both God and money [Matthew 6:24]. But in our religious circles ancient and modern, idols spring up that distract us from God. On a personal level, I deal with the same challenge. I get distracted. So I’m not criticizing as a hypocrite; I admit I have my foibles and a host of inconsistencies. But as one who has experienced the embodied practices of Christian Nationalism, I’ve seen it for what it is. I’ve written on gun culture too, a close parallel to Christian Nationalism with roots in the same soil.

Perhaps future believers will call me/us out for my/our own idols, or for ways in which in which I/we have clearly strayed from the teachings of Jesus. Right now, I am calling things as I see them. And there’s a whole lot of devotion to country that gets in the way of devotion to Jesus.

I write not to simply critique nor to write a history. That has already been done. I write in hopes that slowly [or quickly?] Evangelicals might detangle nationalism from an otherwise beautiful Jesus-centered spirituality.

With God, all things are possible, according to Jesus. So I’m hopeful. I know so many Christians who are noticing the nationalism problem and properly categorizing it as an idol – or perhaps we could call it syncretism. So may the books and conversations help reveal the goodness of our Christ; and may we recognize nationalism as a departure from genuine, radical faith that puts Jesus at the center – not Jesus and anything or anyone else.

I’ll close with the words of Jesus*. The same Jesus, by the way, who I first got to know through some folks who really, really loved America, but who also helped me follow him, who helped me listen to the Holy Spirit and turn my life fully over to God. My own story is, like any other Christian’s story, a testament to God and the work of the Spirit Christ unleashed in the world. Despite some idols, Jesus showed up and changed my life, and he keeps doing it all the time.

Now, those piercing words:

Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him. Mark 12:17

*For the closing words from Jesus, I chose the ESV translation, a current favorite among American Evangelical Christians.

a walk to lake michigan

As Michiganders seem to do, I went camping a few weekends back at a beautiful spot on Lake Michigan. The spot was between Ludington and Manistee. Kaile and I had decided to bring all three of our kids, so there we were, energetic and lively and ready to be outside. The future basketball team that is my offspring and life parter have a way of occupying a lot of .

It was my turn to care for Junia the first morning, so I went to sleep with a small amount of dread: when would she awake? She had been in the habit of waking up as early as 5:30am, so I was concerned.

Then morning came.

The time came even swifter than I had feared, and she was up and exceedingly ready to begin her our day by 4:50am. Nothing worked to get her back to sleep, so amidst my grogginess I made a snap decision: we would go the big lake.

I wasn’t, however, prepared in the least for what I experienced.

Carrying my delightful youngest child, we had the entire beach to ourselves for a couple hours, and it was an unexpected homecoming. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that lake has meant a lot to me over my lifetime. Years ago, it was Ludington I would always go with family and friends for beach time. Sometimes we’d go out by Muskegon where my grandparents lived. More recently we have done visits to Charlevoix, Petosky, Frankfort, wine tastings on the Leelenau Peninsula, spent long afternoons in conversation by the water. I have the geography of the lakeside cities nearly memorized.

But why were my eyes filled with tears, tears weighted with joy, renewal, hope?

Nothing new was happening per se; a reentrance into an old kind of familiar is what I experienced. That big lake, the one I first mistook three decades ago to be an ocean, greeted me once again: first with morning sun, next with a humid breeze off the water, and later with the majestic sight of a bald eagle surveying the landscape, wings spread wide on a warm swell of air.

But there was something new. This time, I was witness to Junia witnessing all the splendor of the created order.

Those molecules of water, a few of which once nourished Jesus himself, now swirled before us, pounding the sands of the lakeshore. Those grains of sand, which Abraham couldn’t count either here or in his ancient world, gave way slightly under our bare feet. That humid wind, felt especially on the day of Pentecost, cooled and refreshed us.

But may chief delight was Junia’s tiny eyes, her exquisite expressions as she took it all in, beaming with delight at each insect and plant before her. Like Mary and Joseph, I am in awe of not only the delicacy and power of creation, but even more so of the offspring I can hardly believe to be in my care for these fleeting years – and that I had some part in creating.

And so, my awe at all of this leads me to wonder. My wonder has led me to curiosity. My curiosity, as I observe so many signposts of divine presence, directs me toward faith. My faith points me to gratefulness.

And more often than in years past, my gratefulness has led me to a host of good things, awakening me to the large God-created world, alerting me to the endless opportunities to give to others, enlivening me to live as if the New Creation is already fully here, revealing to me how light is overcoming the darkness that persists.

So may your light come, Lord Jesus: even in me, even in my family, even in my church, even in my city, even in my country, even in my little planet in my little corner of the galaxy. May your light come.


on the eve of your baptism, dear daughter

Junia, my dear daughter, today is the eve of your baptism.

I am taking a moment to write to you and express a few thoughts before that big day, for your sake in the sense that you may someday find this old post and find some meaning in it, and for my sake as well as I process the profound experience I see tomorrow to be. I hope it’s okay with you that I’ve shared this broadly. I asked you about it recently and you didn’t seem to mind too much, and seemed more interested in your magnetic drawing pad at the time.

Your baptism, Junia, will be a beautiful experience. Whether or not it’s something that a person believes in to any degree, the aesthetics are superb: you, Junia, ushered into a particular community of faith, and we your family and church believing God will one day draw you into deep relationship, directing you to live out a fulfilling life with Jesus at the center, love as the functioning principle, all in an economy of grace that is freely given [though it was rather costly on the part of Jesus, who paid a whole lot to distribute that grace].

Perhaps you’ll cry during the baptism. Or maybe you will coo, mildly, at Pastor Karen as she marks you with ordinary water imbued with sacramental meaning as those of us looking on respond with some oos and aahs of our own. Hard to say how it will go, but this talk of water and faith makes think about my own baptism 20 years ago.

Continue reading “on the eve of your baptism, dear daughter”

Quiet Pain & the Hope Ahead

We live in a culture that prizes success and achievement. We are dazzled with powerful athletes who swim, run, climb, or otherwise amaze the watching world. We scroll through social media feeds and like the posts that are positive and inspiring. Maybe we experience pangs of jealousy when it’s a picture of precisely what we ourselves are apparently lacking.

Meanwhile, our quotidian lives unfold: work, class, maybe kids, whatever we have going on. And there is quiet pain, hidden sadness that does not fit the mold social media offers. In the lives of all human beings – and I do not believe this is universalizing – yes, in all our lives, there is pain, loss, hurt, or even the subtle, caustic overwhelm that comes COVID isolation. There’s regret and all the dark wondering that often accompanies it [did I marry the right person? what if I got that job?].

We look to articles and the experience of others for help and advice, and answers flood in faster than we can absorb the breadth of their perspectives. Sometimes it’s to our edification. But often we are left feeling no better than before. Advice and answers seldom do much good for our souls when what we really desire is to be heard, seen, cared for, loved. Sure we want answers and direction for the path forward, but not from a place of abstraction. Rather, we want someone who gets us.

Quiet pain, the kind that doesn’t fit on social media, exists in my life. Today, my son wanted a snack, so I asked him if he wanted Dino gummies or cinnamon buns. He opted for Dino gummies, but as he gobbled up his last gummy he demanded cinnamon rolls too. The answer was a gentle no, repeated a number of times. This spiraled him into a tantrum that took – and yes, I watched the clock – 10 minutes [the record is 50 minutes by the way]. I did the right parenting thing to offer an option, and yeah, I gave him a nice snack that he got to choose. But he’s small, he’s young, he’s learning. I don’t want him to go through the yelling and crying; my heart aches with him. It’s also frustrating, though, since his 10 month old sister is asleep upstairs. It’s quiet, hidden pain that isn’t making any headlines.

Continue reading “Quiet Pain & the Hope Ahead”

an open letter to a beloved church

A little over three years ago we were marooned.

Having moved across the country for a meaningful job [ben] and graduate school [kaile], I was suddenly let go from my job. And it wasn’t just me, it was five of us staffers at City Church in SF. Big changes in the church budget that year meant big changes for us.

Several exhausting interviews later, I was on the phone with two incredible, gifted leaders: first Suzanne Magno, then Susan Van Riesen. Instead of battling me on the complicated theological issues of our day, they listened and asked a few honest, relevant questions to assess the journey I/we were on, and how following Jesus was going.

Early on, I had the sense that God might well be leading us into a new community. Palo Alto Vineyard Church was ostensibly a strong, united, convicted, God-honoring, Christ-centered, Spirit-led community of faith.

The past three plus years have proven that to indeed be the case.

Today I am taking some much-needed time to reflect on exactly how I/we have been shaped during these delightful, tiring, exhilarating, nerve-wracking several years of growth and formation in the way of Jesus. First I will share a few aspects of our church that have shaped me the past few years. Then I will share some parting comments, observations – even some exhortations – to a few select groups within our community with whom I have been in close touch.

So first, some observation on how I have seen how God has uniquely called our church.

Palo Alto Vineyard Church, in my experience, has been:

1. A spiritually optimistic community

By spiritually optimistic, I mean our basic prayer ethic is simple and unapologetic:

boldly ask God what is needed.

A lot of Christians, and I count myself in this group, are a teensy bit hesitant to boldly ask  the Holy Spirit to direct a decision, to heal a wound, to change a heart. Why? There is a fear that we might not get an answer, that we might not see the healing we want to see, that we might not experience the transformation we desire. Continue reading “an open letter to a beloved church”

Destination: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Over the past couple months, I’ve been slowly sharing with friends here in Silicon Valley about the decision Kaile and I have made about moving back to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Here is a bit more about that decision-making process.

the Willard avenue home. Kaile is holding Silas

Taking a look back at our 2016 move to the Bay Area, it was probably the best decision we have ever made. It was so clear we were supposed to be here, a God-directed step. A meaningful job was available for me, a graduate program in therapy for Kaile. On top of that, we put our house [pictured here] on the market during a February, 2016 apartment hunting trip to San Francisco. It sold within 24 hours after a brief bidding war, and we downsized to a 450sq foot apartment in downtown San Francisco.

Once we arrived, it was joyfully challenging. Culture shock was one aspect, sticker shock another. Urban energy, pacific breezes, and incredible views of the city and bay from our 15th story window inspired us. Meaningful interactions with folks at the church I served confirmed how we could make San Francisco home. Bike rides and walks I’d take with Silas and Kaile made me feel like at least a portion of every day was vacation. We made more, spent more, felt like imposters some of the time, and gradually adjusted to our new setting.

The grit and grind of city life felt right. No longer living in the shadow of Detroit or Chicago, we now lived in one of the country’s best-known cities, with all its opportunities and pain, all its beauty and all its brokenness. We were so palpably aware of our newness yet so ready for whatever awaited us. Continue reading “Destination: Grand Rapids, Michigan”

restraining my judgments: pandemic version

A few days ago I found myself at a new park, Calabazas, a city park in Cupertino just south of Apple’s famed headquarters.

I had been up since just after 6am with our two rowdy preschool boys. Having already coached them through a short hike at a nature preserve, this was my second stop of the day. My face held the emotional and physical exhaustion from the full day with the littles; my forehead was a knot.

As we explored the park, a small remote controlled vehicle approached, followed by a man. From behind his mask, he appeared to be within a few years of my age. Soon, another man appeared, manning the controls of another dust-spewing vehicle.

Naturally, the boys were fascinated. What 3 or 5 year old kid wouldn’t be?

I had to make sure the boys didn’t get hit; the vehicles were fairly large. As I coached the boys on avoiding them, I also had to explain that they needed to stay in a certain area – an island made up of a large tree and its roots. There was some struggle for them to listen, but for the most part we seemed to be getting along ok, the boys happily watching the small trucks as they sped around, tumbling over rocks, hopping over berms.

There was some mumbling, a sense of discontent that I began to pick up from the two men. As another joined, I could hear a few of the complaints. They were unsure whether to speak directly to me or confront my kids, but internally I realized they felt some claim over this place and that we had unknowingly impinged on a remote controlled ritual.

“Buddy, come on, that’s the only jump in the neighborhood!” one of the drivers said brusquely through his face mask, barely looking my direction. This was the first comment that clearly marked out their position.

“I understand” was my terse response.

Walking down to where the boys were, I let them know it might be a good idea to find a new place to play. It was dusty, loud, and I was feeling the awkwardness of getting in the way of their fun, their afternoon activity – driving little remote controlled cars.


As I walked out with Silas and Maelin, part of me was still perturbed at the man’s comment. The one jump in the neighborhood? Really? Glancing around, I noticed countless places to drive the little vehicles – and we were there first! For heaven’s sake, it’s virus season and I have three kids to raise, a marriage to maintain, and a full time job.

You’re a grown man driving a remote controlled car, and you can’t let a tired dad soak in the afternoon with his kids without verbally staving him away from your precious racetrack? 

Amidst those thoughts, I tried to imagine their situation. What are their lives like? And what is their experience amidst the pandemic?

Maybe, even though this clearly isn’t the only jump in the neighborhood, it’s the best one. 

Maybe rc cars is the primary – or only way – these guys connect as friends. 

Maybe they have no idea what it’s like to raise kids. 

Maybe they’re fighting depression, anxiety. 

Maybe they’re single.


I could be totally off. Maybe they’re just jerks. But whatever made that guy want to come take over my spot at the park, they had a high value for driving their little cars.

COVID-19 related challenges also fit squarely into this interaction at Calabazas Park. If those gentlemen do indeed lead single lives, the pressures [and joys] of parenting are simply unknown to them. If my experience is, in fact, entirely outside theirs, no wonder there is confusion.

My faith tells me I’m supposed to bear with other people’s burdens. It’s right there in Galatians chapter six, go look it up. In this case, I found myself the one who needed to assess the needs of the car guys and parent accordingly.

One chapter earlier in Galatians, Paul speaks to how we can sum up God’s call on us with one simple concept: loving others as we love ourselves. Jesus takes it a step further and calls us to love even our enemies. 

Enemy love was the tipping point for me, but my spiritual guides leave me with no excuse, so I yield [even if I’m a bit resistant as I do!].

Drive on, remote controlled car guys.





5 Lessons the Pandemic is Teaching Me

Not many of us were planning on waiting out a pandemic, but here we are. And here’s what I am learning.

1. No person is an island [even in quarantine]

The illustrious English poet John Donne penned these words several hundred years ago. The exact phraseology fit with the time but is no less striking all these centuries later: “no man is an island entire of itself.”

Paul wrote to the church in Rome, …none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 

Ultimately, we belong to God. And God has entrusted us to one another, each of us with different roles to play.

It’s impossible not to witness the myriad ways we depend on one another for virtually everything. Several weeks ago I discovered, to my delight, that Jester D, a garbageman who has taken to Twitter, was honestly and defiantly letting the world know how he was sticking to his post, continuing his job, serving his city.

Everyone supports this kind of dedication. In the same way, we are all noticing how much we depend on the stockers, managers, and cashiers at our local grocery stores; our nurses and doctors; our mail delivery people; our church communities; our pastors; our families and dear friends.

My prayer and hope is that the pandemic we are experiencing allows us to humble ourselves, practice gratitude for all people and all things, and establish new patterns of interdependence that we needed all along – though we mightn’t have known.

2. Being a good neighbor really counts [and not just when things are rough!]

It’s hard to list the support my family and I have received over the past six weeks. Of course some of the care was because of Junia’s entrance into our family, but much of it was strictly virus-related.

Suddenly the topography of human relationships matters just a little more. 

I have imagined what it might be like months or years from now if a pandemic were to hit the planet but with a higher casualty rate. What if human lives on the planet were taken not in the tens of thousands but in the tens of millions? What if economies were not only challenged or shaken, but leveled entirely?

On a podcast I listened to a few days ago, the guest – a survivalist – shared how his fellow survivalists maintain a saying that seems to promote zeal for their cause: “America is 9 meals away from anarchy.” That’s about what we have in the fridge right now, to be honest, and beyond that we depend on farmers, grocers, truck drivers, and everyone else in the supply chain. If things got desperate, the scenario could be really frightening.

These awful thoughts occasionally haunt me.

At the same time, there is much to celebrate. Supply chains are holding steady [though on a personal note, I still haven’t found toilet paper], people are getting creative, and there are some good signs of resiliency coming into view.

However the pandemic is playing out for us, the place we live has become all the more important. Neighbors have become vital – much more so than before. I pray and hope this becomes a new normal, especially for those of us with a stubborn sense of independence [read: me].

3. Being informed is good [binging on news is not]

That pretty much says it all. It’s easy to scroll away through articles and social media feeds. We are all looking for answers, for hope, for an end to this strange quarantined existence.

My mom said it this way: “I haven’t kept up with the news as much recently. I mean, I can’t change anything!” 

True, mom. At the same time, she is making a difference!

She and my dad are doing all the same things any other responsible person is doing: hand washing, masks, distancing practices, limited trips, only the essentials. That’s what most of us are doing.

And the sum of our efforts, we pray and hope, is making a difference.

Watching the news is helpful to the extent that we gain information about how to care for our neighbors. Beyond that, it can become an obsession, and it can lead to anxiety and unhelpful fears. It can even be, simply, an unhelpful distraction.

Get the facts, and get on with your best life possible right now.

4. Good parenting seems about 1000% as important as before [and every minute is an opportunity to grow]

I have had several bad moments recently, moments of impatience with my sons. There are some big ways I can improve my parenting, before the pandemic – but more so in the present, since there is even more time with the littles.

My wife has really impressed me with her skills. She has all three kids on her own several days every week, allowing me to quarantine in my office and crush the work I have to do.

What I am doing isn’t terribly complicated. I’m listening to Kaile’s insights, breathing deeply, getting down at their level, putting a hand on their arm as I speak to them, using some Love and Logic ideas, and making sure they know my rules are for their good.

There are lots of moments when I hear myself wonder – almost out loud – whether things will suddenly click, fall into place, work out. It’s when they’re both crying, when they run out of the gate against my order, when things are rough. Other moments are quite the opposite – an unexpected kiss on the cheek from Silas, a special toy or drawing that Maelin makes for me. There is a lot of good to celebrate.

I am doing my best to follow through and be consistent, and trying to have fun. I love my littles a lot, and parenting strategies are all the more useful during this unprecedented time we are experiencing.

The parenting strategies help me love them more.

5. Grace is more important than ever [for myself as much as for others]

God’s grace seems exceptionally generous right now.

Whatever failures, foibles, sins large or small, God forgives. Jesus showed up on planet earth and took grace so seriously that he was willing to die to ransom us from evil [see the New Testament!].

Of course this doesn’t mean we abuse the grace – by no means! Grace leads us to gratitude, and gratitude leads us to action. It’s a response.

But back to grace.

As many of us come up against the limits of our own resiliency, it is family and friends and God who often grant us grace.

Yet there is also the need for we ourselves to accept the grace.

Too often we know, cerebrally, that there’s grace. But we don’t always grant ourselves the grace we cognitively know is available.

I wrote more extensively on this grace thing recently. Grace a gift God is giving us that we need to receive, unwrap, and begin to use

about every day, by my estimate.


speaking to our soul amidst chaos

For several thousand years, the Jewish community and, was time has gone on, people from all faith backgrounds have resonated with the Hebrew Psalms.

It’s hard not to connect when we hear how ancient people interacted with a living God. Every emotion, from love and longing to pain and loss, finds its expression somewhere in the corpus.

The beginning of Psalm 42 has really connected for me recently:

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
    so my soul longs for you, O God.

2My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
    the face of God?

Growing up in West Michigan, I saw my fair share of these creatures; the local species is the whitetail variety. On many occasions I have witnessed deer licking up fresh water from a stream or still pond. The text here recognizes the subtle difference between these creatures and myself, at least as far as I could comprehend, for I had and still have more than enough water and food; but I long for a larger sense of connection to my maker, not just the next meal. Maybe that’s true too for the creature too; but I suppose for now, at least, I cannot know.


Also, seemingly unlike the woodland creature, I am sometimes crushed with sadness and acquainted with loss. Virtual church, for all our efforts, isn’t the same as the sustaining gift of person-to-person connection. Virtual hugs are not real hugs, as nice of a gesture as they are. FaceTime is nice, it’s just not quite face time. For all our talk of health, I do think we should consider our mental and spiritual health alongside our hand washing habits; it’s not an either-or but a both-and. No apology for that digression!

Returning to both our physical, spiritual, and mental health, it is impossible not to wonder where God is in all aspects of our wellness.  Continue reading “speaking to our soul amidst chaos”

the meaning of home

Every weekend since we moved to Silicon Valley, we notice moving trucks in our neighborhood.

The San Francisco Bay Area is transient. There is so much here! It’s incredible! There are few places in the world where one can make hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, yet drive a half hour or less to surf. Or hike. Or check out an amazing museum. Ir have a world class meal. Drive a couple hours and you’re in the Sierra Nevada mountains – Lake Tahoe has limitless fun [though it typically comes with a hefty price tag].

The Bay Area has its challenges, to be sure, but one look at the topography is enough; it’s drop dead gorgeous.

one of Lake Tahoe’s beaches [credit: benedek/Getty Images]
There is a reason people stream from across the country to live here. It’s an amazing place to live, pure and simple.

Pearl 6101 [credit: Patricia Chang]
San Francisco skyline from the west looking east [credit: Unsplash/Hardik Pandya]
Once they get here, however, the difficulties can be intimidating for people from any station in life. A couple years ago, 46% of Bay Area residents were planning on leaving within a few years. But why leave?  Continue reading “the meaning of home”