My Life Was Threatened.

It’s true.

Just a week ago Kaile, Silas, and I sat down with my parents, Ann and Greg. We were in the Richmond near Geary and 19th at a little Indian place. Moments after we had settled in with our naan, chai tea, and tikka masala, I heard the man behind me speaking.

His voice grew louder.

And louder.

I’ll kill each one of you. But I will spare the mother because of the baby inside. I’ll f*cking kill all of you with my bare hands. You’ll bleed out instantly. You don’t deserve to live another day.

I looked across the table at my father, whose now-graven face and hazel eyes were locked on the non-gentle man issuing threats. I mouthed the words, “is he talking to us?” Since my back was to the crazed man, it seemed that turning or standing to confront him would do more harm than good. “I don’t trust that guy in the least,” came my dad’s whispered reply, still making eye contact with the man who had now stood to his feet, continuing the threats.

As my palms began to sweat, I thought through a list of possible outcomes: would he attack? Would I literally risk my life for my wife, toddler son, and 60-something parents? Am I really the pacifist I profess to be? Does self-defense count?

As the threats continued, my dad slipped out of his seat and quickly went to speak with the owner of the restaurant. In an instant he was there to gently ask the man to go about his day. My dad’s experience working in an urban pharmacy helped reinforce the wisdom of seeking a local expert, the restaurant owner.

Still breathing threats of violence, he walked out of the restaurant and down the street.


Unsurprisingly, the fellow who threatened the four earthly people who know me the most was one of San Francisco’s numerous mentally unstable denizens: likely homeless, probably addicted, surely lacking in needs that most of us take for granted.

Yes, it was startling, but no, this incident is not typical in my life. I can count with one finger the number of times this kind of thing has happened [yes, once is all].

The experience made me think of certain Psalms that I’ve never quite been able to comprehend. Take for example Psalm 140. In the NRSV verses 10-11 read like this:

Let burning coals fall on them! Let them be flung into pits, no more to rise! Do not let the slanderer be established in the land; let evil speedily hunt down the violent! 

Whoa whoa whoa.

That’s a little much, isn’t it David*?

These verses and others like them are picked over by skeptics: the Bible incites violence! How is this good advice for anyone-much less the word of God? Yeah, I get the reaction. Much ink has been spilled as an attempt to discredit Jewish and Christian faith on account of the anger found in the Psalms [and elsewhere, but that is another story].

Is it really too much? Should we toss out these angry imprecatory** Psalms and keep the nice ones that talk about quiet streams and shepherds and mountains?

I’d say no. In fact, I wonder how much violence has ceased because of these Psalms. Here’s the twist. The anger in these Psalms could just as easily be directed to the writer’s enemy. But look! It’s not directed at the Psalmist’s enemy; the anger is directed straight to God.

Indeed, many of the Bible’s Psalms came during dark times of loss. Some have come from very specific situations in individual lives. The angry emotion contained in these poetic phrases comes from lived experience, not from abstract or existential feelings.

As I write, I can almost hear a response: “good grief, Ben, most people don’t have that kind of anger, and if they do it’s just a mental instability and they probably need therapy.”

I don’t buy that for one second.

What if the anger came from a terrible loss? From genocide? From having lost a child to abduction or murder? From having seen family members shot or tortured? When human beings go through upheaval of this nature, anger is an inescapable response. You bet therapy is in order, but any therapist understands and counsels the wisdom of effectively coming to grips with one’s emotion and finding the best way to move through it.

These Psalms encourage those experiencing rage to find its proper channel: prayer.

Only in connecting to God can we become open to the true darkness within our own souls. Only in connecting to our Savior, Jesus, can we find someone who truly identifies with human loss-yet who also communes with the Father and the Spirit.

Ignoring our anger leads us nowhere, and acting on it will surely lead to further destruction. Consider the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Desmond Tutu and other leaders helped the citizens of South Africa move forward after countless acts of murder, racism, inexcusable and unspeakable hatred carried out under the banner of apartheid. Little doubt some seriously angry pray-ers sought solace in a God who is concerned for justice yet allows humankind to be his agents.

Going back to my opening story, I’ve thought more about the situation. No, I’m not praying imprecatory Psalms and asking God to avenge me. The man at the Indian restaurant probably needs some antipsychotic medications, a meaningful community, and a sense of self-worth; he needs hope; he needs Jesus.

Photo Credit: Susan Ragan of Reuters

But the experience is also teaching me to empathize, in small ways, with folks, rather unlike my middle class self, who do in fact have reason to pray their anger to God. Take for example the family and friends of Alejandro Nieto, shot numerous times by San Francisco police in 2014 at Bernal Heights Park. He was armed only with his licensed tazer that he was legally carrying for work [he was a full-time security guard]. An example from a different perspective comes from the grieving family and friends of police officers Liu and Ramos of the NYPD who were killed the same year, 2014, in their police vehicle. Neither had any connection to acts of police brutality.

There are a great many situations that lead our hearts to a pure and unadulterated anger. Resonating with the heart of God, we desire justice and for the law to do its strong work.

And yet, Scripture insists we pray our anger to God. As we do, we remain honest to the depth of our emotions yet also to the hope we have in his justice. After all, Jesus was unjustly accused and killed on account of it. And yes, in his desperate hour, he prayed that God would allow for another way, but eventually his prayer went unanswered as it turned into, “not my will but yours be done.”

God hears, yet even Jesus, the Son, did not always receive the answer he desired. But, with Jesus as our advocate, whether we are ecstatic, underwhelmed, or incensed, we still pray.

And why not start with the Psalms?




*Biblical scholarship has opened up our modern view toward the authorship of the Psalms. Some are certainly traced to David, but certainly not all. King David most likely wrote some, but assuredly not all of these artfully-crafted poems.

**Imprecatory or its noun format, imprecation, are words used in biblical studies to describe Psalms or other passages that espouse anger and violence toward the writer’s enemy.


Religion Controls People [Quick Read]

The title of this post is a complaint I’ve heard from atheist friends. To be sure, there are many instances in human history when powerful people have taken the teachings of Scripture and used them to abuse others and gain power for themselves.

I lament that my own Christian faith has been abused for purposes of control.

I lament that atheism [Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot] is abused for purposes of control.

I lament that Islam [ISIS, Al-Quaeda] is abused for purposes of control.

The common denominator here is not faith. Nor is it the systematized rejection of faith we know as atheism. The common denominator is people. Scripture teaches that though we are created in God’s image [Genesis 1:26-28] we also rebel [Genesis 3] from God. This ancient narrative finds contemporary support in the everyday: why are some people so angry? Why are some people so gracious? Why do some people seek power and wreak havoc on the earth? Why, when I look in my own life, am I such a mixture of good feelings and frustration? How can a crime boss plan and manage a complex system of drug distribution and murder then come home to his family with smiles and hugs, remaining faithful to his spouse?

Pablo Escobar. William Wilberforce. Hitler. Mother Teresa. Kim Jong II. Isaac Newton. Idi Amin. Martin Luther King Jr.; these were all humans with capacity for good, bad or mediocre lives-yet some did so much good while others worked or work for such destruction. What controlled these people? What controls me? 

Student by Wayne Thiebaud, 1968

My wife and I enjoy the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and we find ourselves returing to Wayne Thiebaud’s fascinating work. Student is one of my favorites, and much better in person. I continue to wonder how this representation of a student is absorbing the world around her. She reminds me of my mother at that age, though of course I’ve only seen pictures. How is she processing the teaching for that day? Is she just waiting to be released from class? Does she hope to someday be a teacher herself? Do her textbooks do justice to American history or are they grossly one-sided? Does she feel controlled by others?

The South of Market neighborhood of San Francisco consists of lots of control. The economy in our city is controlled by marketers and purveyors of technology. Apple, Maserati, Coach, North Face, and H&M do a great job controlling where our money goes. People are controlled by the small smoldering tubes of tobacco or marijuana they inhale hourly. I walk by desperate souls every day lying next to a pile of needles, eyes rolled back, controlled by the powerful chemicals surging through their frail, undernourished bodies.

It’s my conclusion that we are all controlled by something, by someone, by factors we hesitate to name or by forces we comprehend all too well. Thing is, we need to discern how we are being controlled and who we want to control us. When we take a close look at our lives we see patterns of health and patterns of destruction, large or small; and these are informed by the factors that control us.

Looking to my faith/religion, it does indeed control me. My faith confronts and challenges me. It flies in the face of logic to love my enemy, something Jesus was adamant about, or to pray for those who want to harm me. Jesus redefines adultery by telling me that even secretly desiring a woman besides Kaile is the same as literal cheating. These are Jesus’s commands-is it control? He says some strong stuff! Give away my money, my possessions? My time? Ouch, Jesus; can’t I just keep it all?

I’m not great at doing all these things-just ask someone who knows me for an honest account of my foibles and failures. But I’ll bet people who have known me for a long time will be able to note how much I’ve changed over my years. I regress too, but do think there’s some overall forward motion. Maybe you relate to the pattern of ups and down that a critical look at our lives can reveal.


Attempting to see things as Jesus sees them, I try to imagine a world where people all literally tried to love God but also love their enemy, to give away their time and possessions, to pray for those who sought to harm them. I’d like to live in that kind of world. 

What’s ironic is how the Christians I know are also the freest people I know. Free to feel, free to give, free to encourage, free to laugh at themselves, free to lament, free to admit failure, free to love.

So there-religion controls people, myself included.


The Moment That Changed My Life


Around 4am on October 15th of 2015 I lay, as one might expect, soundly asleep. Silas, who at the time wasn’t yet sleeping through the night, was gracefully asleep, as was Kaile. Without any prompt, I was awakened-and it wasn’t a midnight snack or bathroom visit that I needed. It wasn’t Silas crying out or Kaile bumping me that woke me. I’m a frustratingly deep sleeper, as anyone who knows me well will attest.

So there I was, awake.

And, I believe, it was all God’s fault.

To provide a brief background to the Fall of 2015, I had recently finished seminary and was working part time at a church doing music primarily, and part time at a Christian mental health hospital caring for adolescents from broken homes. During that season Kaile was staying home with Silas. But she had recently expressed that she was going to apply to several graduate programs for drama therapy, a program only three school in the United States offer. One was in Manhattan, one in Boston, and one way out West in San Francisco.

After Kaile told me she was applying, my heart was immediately not at ease. The weight of possible transition and change was heavy upon my soul. We had recently purchased a home and invested time furnishing it; we had amazing friends in the area; our families were both nearby.

Change? Now? And what about my vocational journey? We knew not a soul in any of the places Kaile was applying to for graduate studies. And there was so much gravity keeping us in the greater Grand Rapids/West Michigan area.

For much of the first half of October, I was not at all centered. I prayed fitfully, wondering about how to participate as a co-leader in my family. I spoke with a couple people about things. I peppered Kaile with questions she could not answer [how will grad school work financially? what about Silas? we have a house now, remember!?]. This went on for some time, not at all helping our marriage or relationships. I was stressed. And, quite honestly, I do not have an anxiety-prone mind. To a fault, I can be too easy-going.

But the stress remained.

Until October 15th at 4am.

Snap back to the beginning of this little tale, and there I was, asleep when *wham* I am awakened. No amount of careful verbiage will convince you that this experience dripped with the power and presence of God, so I’ll save my words. Plenty of folks, even Christians reading this may doubt me-and I understand why. What I’m saying is bold! But, I’ll remind you, this kind of stuff doesn’t often happen in my life.

Never before had I sensed God intervening in the course of my existence in this particular fashion.

Anyway, after getting up, I felt a push to go to my room and write in my journal. The theme was centered in my deep sense of peace. The tumult in my spirit was rapidly dissipating, and I felt a supportive sense of God’s presence.

Goodness, it probably sounds like I’m writing fiction right now. Hang with me!

After journaling for about twenty or thirty minutes under my desk light, I finished my task. Then I read a Psalm. I think it might have been Psalm 40-I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined and heard my cry… I will sing, sing a new song…”

Then, I couldn’t sleep, so I read a book I had been assigned during ordination that tracked a missionary couple from the early 20th century [it’s ok-you can laugh!]. Within minutes, I was crawling back in bed.

The next morning, I woke up and told Kaile that I sensed God had given me peace. She told me, “well it’s about time!” and moved about her day. My worries had genuinely dissipated, and I stopped concerning myself about possible change on the horizon. I kept moving with my studies and my work.

I had peace, now, but no particular direction.

It wasn’t until mid-November that we had realized two things: 1. the best school for Kaile was in San Francisco and 2. I learned that I also had a tiny connection there.

At the end of November, I interviewed for a pastoral position at City Church, where I now work. I spoke with Fred, the senior and founding pastor. It was a pretty terrible interview, especially looking back on it. But at the end of Fred’s West Coast day, he had sent an email with an invitation to fly out for an in-depth interview on December 12th. The next morning, I received it early in the morning, having gotten up before Kaile for work.

I wrote her a good old-fashioned note letting her know we were going to be heading to San Francisco for a possible job opportunity. She texted me back that day and let me know that her [possible] graduate school had invited her to an open house-on December 12th. Probably a coincidence, we thought. Couldn’t be an answer to prayer, could it?

After the dust settled from the interview, our time in San Francisco proved deeply meaningful. But the job hung in the balance. The school hadn’t let Kaile know whether she was accepted. And, at the end of December, Kaile conceived our second child.

Then, things began to come together. Mid-January, I got the job. Later in the Spring, Kaile was accepted into the drama therapy program. In March, our house went on the market the day we left town to find an apartment in San Francisco. When we touched down, I got a call from Dave, our realtor, letting us know we had a solid offer on our house. I then disagreed with him [the only time I’ve done this] and told him maybe we should wait until the next day before moving forward. And the next day, sure enough, two more offers came in; a small bidding war ensued, and we ended up getting significantly more money from our bungalow home than we had asked-and well beyond what any of us expected, Dave included.

So there’s those details-maybe it’s coincidence? You be the judge.

[I always include a picture in my blog posts, so here’s your image-it’s from a day trip we made this summer. We traveled south on highway 1 in a friend’s Subaru to the beach towns Pacifica and Pescadero].


With our second child two three days overdue, Kaile and I are left with some time to process our lives and how everything has come together. Just today we spoke over lunch at a favorite local spot, Sweet Maple [strange name, I know] about the strange increase of answers to deep prayers we have witnessed in our lives. We have bothered God for a long time with our relatively minor and middle-class concerns, and we are both confident to insist he has responded.

It isn’t at all typical in Kaile’s life or in mine to experience a season of such lavish gifts from God [or, for the skeptic, strategic coincidences that resemble acts of God?], but honestly, really, sincerely: it’s a season of profound answers to much prayer. It’s almost impossible to list the answers to prayer we have received since moving out West. And apparently it’s not stopping. 

In a few weeks, our family of [hopefully!] four will be moving to a two bedroom apartment in a much quieter and family-friendly corner of the city, thanks to another family moving out and leaving us with a good landlord and a great deal on rent.

In ancient times, people who experienced God set up altars [like Abram in Genesis 12:7].

In the 21st century, when an altar built outside our high rise might irrupt the neighborly vibes and compromise city ordnances, it might be more appropriate to let life events of this grandeur be engraved deeply on our souls, to blog about them, to talk and process with others about them.

I’ll return, in the future, to pounding on the *doors of heaven* as it were. I’ll return to bothering God with small issues. I’ll return to waiting and wondering. No doubt I’ll experience more of the spiritual dryness that has sometimes marked my journey. No doubt I’ll lose friends, let people down, miss opportunities, get sick, experience tragedy, have an accident. No doubt I’ll be frustrated with God, disappointed, crying out Psalms of lament as I long for answers. Can’t be sure, today, whether tomorrow will even come for me-

But for now, I’ll say thanks-and remember.

Pushed off My Bike: A True Story

There I was, on my cream colored 7-speed bike, pedaling my typical route. Turning a corner, I was cut off-a black Kia came within inches of me. The driver was on his way to the stoplight in some kind of hurry, so that’s where I saw him next.

Once the light turned green, he flew past me yet again, again with far more speed than was necessary, again cutting into my lane without a concern for my safety. Naturally, another red light waited for him ahead.

Finally, there he sat, caught by yet another red light at 9th and Mission. After all his racing and lane changes, I quietly rolled up next to him on my bicycle. And I mustered my courage and knocked on his window. As I did, I noticed the Uber sticker on the windshield. This guy probably lives far away from here and he’s in town to make a hot dollar getting San Franciscans to their lunch appointments, I thought to myself.

Mind you, I have done this before. It wasn’t my first time politely [seriously-I really try to be straightforward with people!] asking someone to slow down, quietly pleading on behalf of families and pedestrians and cyclists for drivers to lay off the gas pedal. The last time I asked was right in front of the building where we live. It was a young guy in a white Ford Mustang. He mumbled something to me, then when the light turned green he was off to the races again.

This time was different.

When I knocked on his window, my ring incidentally made contact. Without meaning it to, my knock likely sounded like a metallic cling from inside the car.

And then it happened.

As I sat on my bike, I could see the man inside angrily put his late model Kia into park. He stormed over to me, cursing. At this point, I was immediately reminded of my work at Pine Rest caring for adolescents from shattered homes. I have been assaulted a number of times before, just never in a situation quite like this.

Whad’ you do to my f*ckin’ car man? I oughta f*ckin’ kick your @ss,” he bellowed, raging his way toward me. Caught in an awkward physical position yet unsure how to respond I simply stood over my bike. Before I knew it, he was in my face-and he was a lot bigger than me. His punch thankfully turned into a shove and he bowled me over backwards, and I collapsed on my bike. I didn’t expect to need my helmet while standing on my 7-speed, but hey-I’m not complaining.


Gathering myself up from the heap on the ground that I had momentarily become, I formed a response. I was angry, but I did my best to follow through with what I genuinely felt compelled to say. “Listen, I’m sorry man, I think my ring tapped your window. I didn’t mean for that to happen. But you almost hit me three different times. Please, slow down. That’s all I’m asking you. Families live here-kids too. You can go to jail for hitting someone, and I seriously don’t want that for you.”

As I said this, I realized a small group had formed on the sidewalk behind me. No doubt we were a spectacle on an already tense corner, Mission and 9th. A tough looking black guy came over and suggested to the driver, “hey man, you don’t wanna do this, why don’t you just breathe for a second.” A woman in traffic said, “man, you get back in that car and get goin’!”

I couldn’t believe myself. I couldn’t believe the situation. Somehow I was verbally deescalating a potentially disastrous situation. At the same time, I had fostered support from folks who had watched the incident play itself out.

After my impassioned request for him to slow down, he got back in his car. I stayed, letting the gravity of the moment sink in. Moments later, he rolled down his window. “You ok man?” he asked humbly. “You just about hit me three different times, then you knocked me off my bike!” came my response, almost as unexpectedly as my initial, gentler words. “Yeah, and I thought about it and I’m the one in the wrong,” he answered, shockingly apologetic. “Please, man, slow down ok? I’ve got a little toddler son and my wife is pregnant with our second. Just slow down-seriously.” “Alright man, I hear ya.” We shook hands through the open window, looking each other straight in the eyes. And he drove off.

And, walking my bike, I proceeded to announce to the curbside spectators that the show was over.

Go ahead and make your judgment about whether I should tap on car windows-that’s fine. It’s a small thing that I occasionally do to seek after peace and safety in my neighborhood, and it’s not the point of the story.

As a Christian, husband, father, and pastor, I’m now reflecting on my own actions and the bigger picture. Clearly this guy overreacted after I made the mistake of letting my ring tap his window. And I stand behind what I said to him yesterday.

I don’t often use stories from my own life as examples of doing the right thing. Usually I’m the butt of the joke and the one learning the lesson. Read any of my blog posts or listen to any of my sermons and you’ll notice this to be the case. But this time, I really felt like I did the right thing. No, not the ring-against-the-window part. That was my bad-and I faced the consequences.

What I did right was answering gently. The ancient words of Proverbs 15:1 are right: a gentle answer does indeed turn away wrath. Had I spoken harsh words, I would have surely stirred up more anger within a harried motorist.

But the more I reflect on the experience, the more I realize my response didn’t really come from me. Not the me who has got into fights and bullied other kids in junior high. Not the me who was suspended from school numerous times before coming to a saving faith in Jesus when I was 13. Not the me who is still repenting of his judgmental attitude toward certain drivers.

No. I’m not some vigilant, neighbor-conscious hero cyclist. But my unexpected response is reminding me that Jesus really has changed my life. In 2 Corinthians 13:5 Paul asks a question: “…do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you…?”

Yeah, he is, and making a massive difference. He’s taking me on a journey toward my true self, toward the person I could be.

And he’s helping me to see that-and give him credit for it too.


Two Powerful Questions [and Mike’s Profound Answers]

Recently I shared on Instagram about a guy I met at Civic Center Park here in San Francisco.


Maybe you’ve met someone before who tugs at your heart strings. Earlier in life, I found it almost impossible to describe the feeling I get, and it’s still hard; but I’ll try. Mike was the kind of guy who, if he was being ridiculed or mistreated, I would want with all my heart to stand up for and defend. He’s the kind of guy who has clearly been through so much; no doubt he doesn’t have a place to hang his hat. Mike’s wrinkled skin, bad teeth, and dirty clothes masked a beautiful soul.

I was inspired to listen in to local wisdom and happenings in the wake of a “listening project” our church is doing. Find it on Twitter and Instagram with this hashtag: #wearelisteningsf. I’m not very good with chance or one-off encounters, to be quite clear, but my occasional personal awkwardness sometimes makes other people feel more comfortable. Our toddler son also helps, needless to say.

Whenever I’m out with Silas [19months] on a walk, I feel about 924.3 times bigger than I am. I’m not just another white 20something face-I’m tied to toddler, connected to a child with a bright and beautiful personality.


Anyway, it required an intense mental dialogue, but I finally got myself to introduce myself to someone new, and I interacted with Mike quite a while, starting with a couple powerful questions. They’re not at all original to me. To be honest, I have no clue as to their provenance.

I ask my students [I’m a youth pastor] these kinds of questions all the time, and they work for just about any conversation:

What was the best thing about today? And what was the worst thing? 

Mike’s answers perplexed and astounded me. First, he told me the best thing about his day was how he was able to get up in the morning and see the beautiful world around him. Ok, wow. He’s already exploding everything one might imagine about the underprivileged.

His response to the next question was equally powerful. I had to repeat the question because he didn’t seem to have an answer. And, sure enough, he didn’t.

Ben: “Mike, what was the worst part about your day today?”

Mike: “Well you know, there isn’t really anything to say. It’s been a good day. I don’t have much, but I’m doing alright.”

As I listened, I realized how much I have to be thankful for, how I can creatively practice an attitude of contentment and thankfulness in my daily life. Mike’s words were a massive gift to me. His words put contemporary meaning to a piece of biblical wisdom found in I Timothy 6:6. It reads, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”

Here, the author is writing to an audience who seems to be under the impression that religious practice leads to financial security [read I Timothy 6 for details!].

Mike gets it. He understands contentment. And he gets, at a deep level, the God-given wisdom of seeing everything as a gift.

And he’s helping me to get this concept too, as I listen to his experiences.

…Even though I’m not there yet.


Shamed at the Gym

Before moving to San Francisco, I had in mind a particular stereotype. I imagined a demographic of people in their late 20s, maybe 30s. In my mind they are single, high income, childless, working in tech, doing yoga on the daily. None of these things are bad, they’re just somewhat different than my demographic. 

Back then, I was trying to prepare to be around people who are in very different life situations than me, trying to imagine ways to connect, relate, encourage, challenge, unite. I imagined the stereotype in order to foster some kind of empathy-the kind I knew I’d probably need at certain moments. Like today. 

Fast forward to now. That stereotype can sometimes prove itself to be true. Today, as my wife was sick and overwhelmed [she’s 38 weeks pregnant with our second child], Silas [19 months] and I ventured down to the gym in the lowest level of our building. He likes to explore and wave to people working out. 


He was looking up at a woman doing her elliptical routine when it happened.

My toddler and I were shamed.

With headphones still in, she looked down at Silas [who was smiling and waving at her] then back at me. If looks could kill, Silas and I would both be mortally wounded or dead. She gave us both the look that said, “what the h*!! are you doing in here?” 

The look was rendered complete with comprehensive hand motions.

True, I suppose I could have held his hand for every second of our time downstairs. But to me, there was no harm in letting Silas walk around and wave/smile at the other sweaty denizens of the underground workout room. 

In those moments, I thought of lots of angry things to say to the angry elliptical lady. Part of me was sad, too, that she could respond so harshly toward an innocent toddler and young dad when all we were doing is occupying space and going about an average day.  

I left early, a bit defeated, and decided to trade in my 5 minutes on the stair stepper machine for a 16 floor hike [with Silas] back to our apartment. And now, arriving back in my daily haunt, I’m struck with how God is inviting me to grow into a more spacious and grace-filled kind of life. It’s daunting to even consider publishing how humbling the whole gym experience was, but I’m convinced it’s in those moments that growth happens. 

Only yesterday I listened to Fred Harrell preach at our church on Luke 7:36-50, the story of the woman who anoints Jesus’s feet with perfume and tears, then dries them with her hair. In the story, there is a stark contrast between the judgmental attitude of Simon, the Pharisee, and the deep gratefulness of the woman for the person of Jesus. Convinced Jesus means something to her and to the world, she gives up everything-dignity, financial security, and a good hair day-to honor him. 

Amidst the interactions, Jesus tells a story, a parable about two people who were forgiven very different amounts of money. One was forgiven a debt of 50 coins, the other 500. Jesus then asks, “which person will love the banker more?” Simon, the Pharisee who was struggling with judgmental incredulity, responds: “I think it would be the one who owed him the most money. 

Back to being shamed at the gym.

As I think about the experience, I’m reminded that God has been pretty good to me. I relate more to the one who was forgiven 500 coins than to the one who was forgiven just 50. He forgives me everyday when I have bad thoughts toward others, when I speak harshly, when I fail to recognize and treat others like image-bearers of God. And, on top of that, I have a great family, a solid marriage, family, friends, money in the bank, a place to live. 

Who am I not to extend grace to the angry elliptical lady?

My faith calls me to put down my *rights* and extend grace. But it also equips me to do so. It is only in discovering the depth of God’s grace for me that I can authentically extend it to other people. I am not an endless pool of kindness and generosity. And, quite frankly, I’m still working on how to go about extending grace to the angry elliptical lady. I’m still trying to imagine what is difficult in her life, what is challenging to endure, what prompts her frustration. I’m convinced she has a story to tell that contains loss and difficulty. Throughout the meditations within me, one thing is for sure: I know the source of grace is Jesus. 

God caught the world by surprise with his Son, Jesus. He caught Simon the Pharisee by surprise when he forgives the sinful woman who washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. He caught the people of Jerusalem by surprise when he came back from the dead. 

And now, God is catching me by surprise by forgiving my feelings of ill-will toward the angry elliptical lady.