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.

Top 10 Turntables [for Fun *and* Information]

I do not often write about gear. In fact, this is the first time. It’s simply not a significant part of the vision behind my blog. However, I have found a way to justify it. Within the world of theology and Christian practice there is this subcategory that I love called aesthetic theology.

While the phrase may sound complicated, it may not be so difficult to comprehend. Think back to a moment when your senses were overwhelmed with a surreal gratefulness and you just had to write or pray about it. Or maybe consider a time when you were at church worshiping and something about the hymn resonated with a deep part of your being and you simply felt at peace in God’s presence. If you’re someone like me who loves the outdoor world, think back to a time you saw a cascading waterfall or sweeping mountain vista, then think about the goosebumps. Love it or hate it, that powerful connection we feel to God through our senses and our imagination is called aesthetic theology.

For me, music is indeed a vital aspect of how I connect to God. I wouldn’t want to project this feeling on others, but I would certainly think plenty of folks would resonate with how I feel. Music, by its very existence, is a tiny clue, a step in the journey of understanding and trusting in the presence of our great God.

To justify writing about musical equipment, a guy needs reasons! Yes, vinyl happens to be one of my several hobbies, but I also need to keep my blog on point! Ok, on to the turntables.

The factors that go into my list are several, but in descending order they include quality, value, aesthetic appeal, and reasonable cost. Toward the end of the list, I compromised on the reasonable cost factor.

If you’re willing to put together a few hundred bucks, you can make one of these tables work long-term for your home audio situation.

1. Pro-Ject Debut


Without a doubt, you’ll come across Pro-Ject when you take seriously the search for a quality turntable. The Debut series has been an enduring product line that has diverse options for any number of needs. Starting at $299 for the Debut III and ranging up from there, these Austrian-built ‘tables will suit the needs of most listeners and integrate well with any home audio system.

I personally own a Pro-Ject RM5 SE, another stellar performer in the sub-$1000 range, so you may consider my choice biased. However,, a respected  also loves the Pro-Ject as one of their best-rated options. A host of other reviewers agree, including Stereophile and UK-based HiFiChoice. It outperforms the other tables they review, and though selected another table as their “number 1” it was because of price, not sound quality.

Another fantastic choice if you like the Pro-Ject Debut is the Music Hall MMF 2.2. It’s made in the same factory but has some great features, even though it’s a bit more expensive. For the record [pun intended], years ago, when I first got into viniyl, Music Hall was my first love-but they led me to my soulmate, Pro-Ject.

I wanted to give a solid nod to Music Hall since I didn’t officially list one of their tables.

2. Rega RP1


The British are fanatics about vinyl. Made in southeast England, about 120 RP1 units are hand built daily to meet the demand of listeners around the world. This particular table is rather similar in design to Pro-Ject’s Debut, with a single plinth [the big square part of the turntable that everything is mounted on] and hidden motor. It’s $299, which is ragingly cheap for a solid product from a reputable company.

The Planar 1 is another great choice from Rega.

3. U-Turn Orbit


I would be remiss not to mention U-Turn’s Orbit table.  Made in the greater Boston area, and again, with a single plinth, they utilize an exposed belt. This adds visual appeal while maintaining the isolation of the motor. Oh-if you aren’t sure what isolation means, no worries, I’m not some elitist. Motors makes a small amount of noise that can carry through to the needle, and since the needle vibrates to produce sound, you don’t want your motor interfering.

Starting at $179, this is probably the market’s cheapest ‘table that is a serious contender in terms of quality. The tonearm is the low point, in my opinion, but the overall design is solid and needle upgrades are always an option if you are looking for more nuanced sound.

4. Edwards Audio TT1


Reinforcing every stereotype [pun intended] about our British friends, this table is strikingly similar to the Rega RPM1’s no-frills design. That’s because the companies are related somehow. Unfortunately, I cannot tell exactly how. Go figure it out, I didn’t take the time.

Regardless, the TT1 is a great table. It comes with an acrylic platter, which is good both sonically and visually. The big issue with this ‘table is with its solid feet, it does not provide much sound isolation. Meaning, you’ll need to keep this thing on a heavy, solid table and away from any vibration.

5. Audio Technica AT-LP120-USB



To my eye and with all my biases, this ‘table is hideous. Really, it’s a table meant for DJs both in features and appearance. However, I wanted to include it on my list because of two reasons: it’s a direct-drive ‘table [the motor attaches straight to where the record sits] and it does USB recording. I’m not personally interested in either of these two options, but some folks want to spin/scratch and do DJ work. Others want to record and import their vinyl collection to their computer so they can stick the songs on their portable music player.

Indeed, there seem to exist two kinds of vinyl listeners: 1. those who enjoy the tactile aspect of having a hard copy of their favorite artists and 2. those who used to listen to vinyl back in the day who now want to combine the portability of an iPod with the nostalgia of their favorite tunes. I fit into the first of those two categories. It goes back to that aesthetic theology factor; when I take the time to dig out records and fire up my tube amp, I just love every little detail that composes the experience.

So, against my will, I’m including this hideous monstrosity on my list. At $249, it’s fairly cheap, and it gets the job done. For all you no-nonsense folks out there who aren’t concerned about appearance, this ‘table does come through. I can’t tell where it’s made, maybe Japan or somewhere in China. Not sure, the corporation is enormous. If you’re looking for something more attractive from Audio Technica, check out the AT-LP5. It’s a bit more expensive but a lot less hideous.

6. Gramovox Floating Turntable


Made in Chicago, Gramovox prioritizes aesthetic appeal and simplicity. Yes, the ‘table sits upright, but that’s it’s one unnecessary-yet visually arresting-aspect. It’s purely minimalist design, very tactile, quite lovely with a walnut case. The other big thing about the Floating Turntable is that it is an integrated system, which means the speakers and pre-amp are all rolled into one. For $499, you get it all. 

For some, this is great. Others, however, want to upgrade these components. If you want to upgrade, you are in luck-the integrated system can be bypassed. But why would folks want to do such a thing?


The pre-amp in particular is an important part of a system because it boosts the tiny signal from the needle and makes it loud enough for the amplifier to boost to the speakers. In other words, it’s a bottle neck within the signal path [the signal path is the route from the needle, through cables, through a pre-amp, though an amp, through more cables, through speakers, and eventually to your ear].

People spend money on amps, speakers, cables, needles, and pre-amps because all of these matter for overall sound.

Fortunately, with its bypass feature, the Floating Turntable doesn’t force you to use its integrated speakers, pre-amp, and amp. This is one beautiful yet functional American designed and built ‘table.

7. Trntbl by Vnyl


Ok, elites will hate me for listing this one, but hey-don’t hate, just read. This ‘table streams music. And it only streams music. Meaning, there are no cable outputs. To me personally, this is a big turnoff. But to others who prefer using Bluetooth speakers, it’s great.

The social features are where the Trntbl really shines. The unit identifies music it is playing-straight from the record-and allows the user to share this with friends or followers. Or, you can connect with others via Spotify and your friends can listen in to your music.

The Trntbl is available only for pre-order at $351, so it is yet to be tested extensively, but it appears to have decent components. Again, the quality will almost assuredly not compare with Pro-Ject or Rega, or even Audio Technica, but it has some interesting features that will surely stand out to certain listeners.

8. Pro-Ject RPM 10 Carbon


Twice I’m listing a ‘table from Pro-Ject. Why? It’s an incredible product. Yes, it’s $2999, and I get it, you have sticker shock. But this is one powerful and eye-catching means for spinning records. Look at that carbon fiber grain, the massive thick plinth, the belt, the sheer size. Plus it has an outboard motor which, just like an outboard boat motor, means the motor sits completely separate from the ‘table itself. The platter, where the record sits, is gorgeous and heavy. Gorgeous, because… well… people [like me, anyway!] love beauty. Heavy because it allows the records to play evenly without fluctuations in speed.

The RPM 10 comes with a heavy base to further isolate it from any sound or vibration in the room or neighborhood. Yes, jackhammers and construction equipment can indeed affect a needle. Plus, the base looks sick.

Oh-and did I mention? It’s tonearm is the carbon fiber Pro-Ject 10 cc. It’s essentially an upgraded version of the one that my RM 5.1 came with [props to me?].

9. VPI Classic


A new old-stock Classic table is currently around $2800. Yes, paying close to three grand may seem like a lot, but I include this bad boy in my list because it’s a beautiful example of an enduring company that really cares about the details. Like the Pro-Ject RPM 10, it’s a true audiophile table. I mean, for goodness sake, it’s 65 pounds!  

Made in Cliffwood, New Jersey, VPI is a robustly American company using an old-school paradigm that prefers all-American components. They stick to their principles, and yes, they have expensive ‘tables. But the Classic is an enduring legend within the audiophile world.  My father in law, John, has sold [and loves] audio equipment professionally and recommends this ‘table for the price point. Yes, it costs as much as a used ’01 Toyota Corolla. But can that CD deck compare with this hoss?

I think not.

10. Origin Live Sovereign MKIII Turntable


Don’t go buy one of these unless you’ve got way to much money-and no kids. It’s $7300, and that doesn’t even include a tonearm! But it’s one gorgeous, powerful machine. I won’t say a whole lot about it, but if you’re curious you can go learn more about it on your own. Once you’re into this $5,000+ category, there are a surprising abundance of options, and all of them probably have some great characteristics. Most of them look like something from the set of Alien or the new Halo movie. You half expect the tonearm on this one to morph into a laser or photon cannon. But, after reading the specs carefully, I’m afraid it does not.

Like fine wine, if you connect this ‘table to the same pre-amp, amp, and speakers, most of us couldn’t much of a difference between this and any of the budget models in my list. But then again, folks who buy this table are going to buy all of their gear commensurate with the turntable’s quality.

And they, unlike me, probably don’t have toddlers around. 

This is only one of many elite ‘tables out there that are visually and sonically arresting.


Personally, I’ve hit my sweet spot. With a beyond-entry-level Pro-Ject RM 5.1, Jolida tube amp, and great inherited speakers and sub, my system is rocking. I doubt if I’ll change much, if anything. Maybe I’ll get a better pre-amp at some point or get fresh speakers, maybe a new set of tubes, but that’s way down the road.


My system looks good, yeah? I’ll fish for a complement. I’m not above that. Not a good picture, but a great system. I hid the pre-amp and all wires underneath, naturally.

Now if I were someone out there with a few hundred bucks looking to get a solid system going, there are numerous choices in my list. I listed the Debut first because I really do think it’s the all-around best choice for the money, well ahead of the U-Turn on quality [see where the Debut strides far ahead of both U-Turn and Audio Technica]. I felt like I had to list models from Rega and Audio Technica because they’re perennial picks for good sound and enduring quality. The Floating Record player from Gramovox was a playful decision, as was the Trntbl, though they are both great for particular situations.

There may be a few folks out there with $5000-10,000 [or more] to sink in to a system, so I threw in a couple highlights from the very-high-end options that exist. There are so many out there, and it’s not really my area, so I only listed a couple.

A great many more ‘tables are out there that I didn’t list, spinning or maybe even scratching away. Can’t list ’em all, I suppose.


Enjoy music, folks, especially vinyl. May it, almost like a sacrament, remind you of the God who created the folks who creatively designed these machines, who created the folks who make the music that they faithfully reproduce. 


The Spiritual Significance of Leaving

The Spiritual Significance of Leaving

When I was little, one of my friends moved away. After I began to feel the loss, I complained to my mom. “Mom, I want just one friend who will never move away.” She wisely responded by suggesting that maybe people get married for this reason. I still missed my friend, but she made a good point.

Regardless, when close friends leave town, it’s never really an enjoyable experience. I certainly don’t have an easy time with it at least. It’s really rough saying goodbye to people who mean a lot to us.

During my senior year of college, this hit hard for me. I was looking out my bedroom window onto the campus of Spring Arbor University as it glowed with that perfect combination of moonlight and some strategically-placed halogens. I thought for a long time that Fall evening about the relationships I had built during my time there. And soon, life would necessarily pull each of us away from one another.

I was pulled to Grand Rapids. Other friends headed other directions. Some stayed a bit closer, sticking around Southeast Michigan. One left for Virginia. One left for Louisville.

Leaving is hard.

More recently, I’ve had some newer friends leave. A few weekends ago, we had one goodbye event on a Friday evening then got up the next morning for a goodbye breakfast. One family left for California for a new job. The other couple left for Scotland to pursue education.

Did I mention leaving is hard?

Over the years, I have realized that some friends seem to stay friends over the long haul. And that fact seems to soften the blow. If I bear in mind that we will, in fact, see those people again, it seems to prop me up psychologically. But it’s not enough for me. I wanted to push further on the topic.

grey skies

After a little thinking, I’ve been left with two distinct impressions. First, that we deeply miss one another when we are apart reveals the importance of human relationships. Because we have that feeling of absence, the strength of our relationship is underscored. Proverbs 17:17 is spot on: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” [NIV].

Second, I am reminded [and this may seem like a leap, but stick with me] of the reality of death. At 28, I have experienced the loss of just a few family members and friends, and I am sure plenty more pain is ahead for me on the death front. In Ecclesiastes 3:11 it says this: “God has made everything fitting in its time, but has also placed eternity in their hearts, without enabling them to discover what God has done from beginning to end” [CEB]. That same chapter talks about seasons for pretty much everything, including celebration, mourning, and dying.

So we’ve established that God has created all people to think long-term. Now check out this, from Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”

In summary, mourn away; leaving is hard, and death is far worse. But don’t forget that hope remains. Revelation 21:5 tells us this: “behold, I am making all things new.” And that’s Jesus doing the speaking.

The Top 10 Things I Learned in Seminary [#10]

Having graduated from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary early this month, here are a few of the things I’ve gained. This is my second post. They are out of order, except for the last few.


It’s extremely helpful to know Hebrew when it comes to reading peoples’ tattoos.

The other day I glanced down at my new friend’s tattoo. Her name is Camille. Her tattoo looked almost exactly like the one below, except it didn’t have the little vowel dots, known as “vowel pointing.”


It spelled out a three-letter word. S – L – H would be the Anglo equivalents. I thought about what it might mean for, well, I don’t know, probably 3 minutes. Finally those long classes spent poring over Hebrew text came back to me. “Selah,” I said to her. “That’s cool.” She looked at me as if I was some kind of mystic, like I had just read her future. Nope. It was just those handy #seminaryskills.

We talked about Hebrew for a few minutes and about the concept of Selah. It is used in the Psalms as a directive, as a musical term meaning “pause.” That’s a concept we could use in our world, whether or not we’re reading the Psalms.

And hopefully we are reading the Psalms, meditating deeply on them, praying them, taking them to heart, and writing them on our soul.

Try reading through Psalm 8 a few times, slowly. Seriously. Just try it.

The Four Calls of a Pastor

What the heck do pastors do?

Sermons, right? That’s what they do. They sit around and think of sermons all day. Well, that is certainly a part of pastoral work, but there is more. In John Stott’s influential book on preaching, Between Two Worlds, he references Samuel Voldeba, who lectured at Calvin Theological Seminary here in Grand Rapids, MI. They were published after his death under the title, “The Pastoral Genius of Preaching.” They contain a simple yet wise explanation of the role of the pastor:

1. Feeding

Pastors are to give nourishment to spiritually hungry people, people who are suffering from a lack of direction, a questioning of identity, a concern about eternity.

2. Guiding

Pastors point the way toward the mission of God seen most clearly in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son. This is the implementation of the Kingdom of God – the tangible presence of God through the Spirit, given at Pentecost.

3. Guarding

Pastors are to name the powers that be: myths of scarcity and meaninglessness, untruths regarding money and fame as the hallmarks of success, sexuality as power over others. Pastors name evil and seek to steer faithful people away from attractive yet insidious ends.

4. Healing

Pastors attend to the many wounds people suffer in the maelstrom of human existence. People do terrible things to one another, and pastors help introduce and re-introduce the reality of God’s healing work for all people.


God is Making All Things New

“Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men an women! They’re his people, he’s their God. Death is gone for good-tears gone, crying gone, pain gone-all the first order of things gone.”

-Revelation 21:5a, MSG.

People of faith in Jesus often think of this verse and it’s ramifications for the future. And how important this is! And yet, God’s work is now just as it is yet to be. Look down at your hands. Go ahead. Do it. How often are your hands used to help? To comfort? To give? You are a living answer to prayer should you respond to God’s work in you.

Certainly our best intentions are nothing apart from God’s redeeming work within us, but we can rest assured that he is using his gathered people – the church – to do his work. May we be found faithful as we seek to make our neighborhoods, our relationships, and our offices new, anticipating the full completion of these things at Christ’s return


How the Christian Church Responds to the Adam Lanza Tragedy in Newtown

During this Advent season 2012, most of the Midwest is overcast and gray. Michigan is no exception. I was aware of this as I shuffled past Kindergartners on my way out of school at C.A. Frost Environmental Academy here in Grand Rapids. Looking forward to Science Fridays with Ira Flatow, I turned on the radio in my hatchback. Recalling a text message my girlfriend had sent me earlier during my lunch break, the shock was lessened.

The shock remained, pulsing through the minds of everyone I have been in contact with for the past several days. 26 persons, 20 of whom were young children, gone in an armed maelstrom. In presidential fashion, Obama announced, “God has called them all home. For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on and make our country worthy of their memory.”

These words initially strike us as encouraging and thoughtful. I would like to deeper their meaning and do my best to speak to the situation theologically. The key question lies in discovering the response of the church, and subsequently of the faithful Christian, to the tragedy. Obama’s words help prime questioning hearts within people everywhere.

A family pauses at the vigil to remember and grieve.
A family pauses at the vigil to remember and grieve.

Entering this quandary begins in framing how the church responds to tragedy. The church, and Israel, has always been defined by the community it consists of; Israel was identified by their communal decisions under God. The church is defined by Israel’s hope, the Messiah or Jesus, and our Christian hope is our identity. The New Testament intricately describes how the community of believers collaborates to embody the message of Jesus’s kingdom come [Acts 2:42-47]. All the while, we, the community of believers, anticipate the fullness of creation made new [Revelation 21].

Back to Obama’s words: “God has called them all home.” This statement implicitly presupposes a God who caused these deaths. A theodicy is not necessary here, but to be clear, God mourns these losses. The young man, Adam, was free to exact his own will on others, sadly, and we grieve the losses. So does God. Jesus, the Son of God, suffered with us [Isaiah 53, Gospels]. God is greatly grieved for loss of life and the wickedness that causes it [Genesis 6:5-6]. He knows the length of our days, but clearly he does not seek to shorten them.

Back to the response of the church. This past Sunday, at Grace Episcopal, the church in which I have served for going on four years, we lit a candle and prayed for the families and individuals in Newtown. We lifted up our concerns and cares before the God who comforts and heals. We did it first as a community of faith, collectively pleading for God to reach into lives. We did it also as families and individuals with varying opinions and emotions. We long for God to make all things new, and do our best to keep praying the prayer Jesus taught us, “on earth as it is in heaven.”

We desire things on earth to be as they are in heaven, but we simply do not understand the evils made explicit in the Newtown tragedy. Nor can we comprehend the systemic evils that beset the planet we share. We do what the church does best: we pray, encourage, grieve, listen, and repeat the cycle. For the children, the parents, the families, the extended families, for Adam and his mother who is also gone. May the grieving families in Newtown know that the church, the common people of faith in God throughout the nation and world, is praying. And may they know that the God of the universe is also grieving, but also making all things new in the end.

The names of the departed are below. May we continue in prayer.

The names and ages of the children are as follow:

Charlotte Bacon, 6
Daniel Barden, 7
Olivia Engel, 6
Josephine Gay, 7
Dylan Hockley, 6
Madeleine F. Hsu, 6
Catherine V. Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
Jesse Lewis, 6
Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6
James Mattioli, 6
Grace McDonnell, 7
Emilie Parker, 6
Jack Pinto, 6
Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Avielle Richman, 6
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison N. Wyatt, 6

And the names, ages, and job titles of the adults are as follow:

Rachel Davino, 29, Teacher
Dawn Hochsprung, 47, Principal
Anne Marie Murphy, 52, Teacher
Lauren Rousseau, 30, Teacher

Credit for the list of people and the picture goes to International Business Times. Their article, from December 15th 2012, is here.