Loneliness, Diversity, and Why I Actually Still Love the Church


The last few years have been what I can best describe as really weird. I started and led groups of people in ways I never thought I could, I moved away to be a part of a 2-year discipleship program, I made awesome friends, I became a man, I met different people I never thought I’d interact with and heard their stories, I endlessly wrestled with God and with my relationship to the things I grew up believing, I started getting anxiety attacks and was hit with depression for months, and even though I’m a whole lot better now part of me is still recovering.

God has stretched my perspective so wide and I’m so thankful for that but there’s times that I resent it. It’s wonderful and empowering when God shows you a new and beautiful way of seeing the world but when you look around and see that no one else is seeing what you’re seeing it gets lonely.

For example it’s hard when God gives me the desire to embrace the entire Body of Christ (any Christ follower) as the diverse bunch that it is and then to hear so much hate about other Christians from my Christian friends. They put people in boxes and say that because they do or don’t believe certain things a certain way then they are not real Christians. It makes me feel crazy for actually liking other Christians.

If we are going to be the Body of Christ we have to embrace diversity. That means diversity of beliefs, diversity of backgrounds and even diversity of emotions. The entire spectrum of human emotion needs to be embraced and celebrated in the Church. That includes doubt, uncertainty and grief, as well as faith, joy and hope. It all belongs and Christ is the glue that holds this messy Body together.

And I’m so tired of criticism of the Church that’s always aimed upward at the authorities. Most the time the authorities of the Church wind up in situations where they’re trying their best to please their congregations because of the kind of Church that we have shown we want. Criticism of the Church should first and foremost start within yourself, questioning what part you have to play, and then to those beside you. If you’re a Christian then we all are the Church.

The other day an old friend actually told me about his going through depression and coming on and off meds for it, and with a joy that I hadn’t felt in a long time I got to tell him “Me too.” When I was going through it I only had one friend that I was able to really share my darkest thoughts with so I knew the value of that. This guy apparently had no one. I’m sure the people around us in that restaurant thought we were crazy when I joyously asked him to tell me his darkest thoughts and if he knew what song he would play if he killed himself, just like I knew.

He knew. Of course he knew. And I’m sure some of you probably gawked at that last line while the rest of you were like “Yup. I would never do it but I know exactly what song I would play if I ever killed myself and exactly how I would do it.” Fortunate for my case I’ve never tried to kill myself but this is where the mind goes for everyone in dark times of their life.

And for the first time ever I was actually thankful that I went through that dark time. It was terribly lonely but now I get to use it to remind others that they’re not alone and that it’s real and it happens from time to time and it all belongs in the big and messy and diverse Body of Christ. The bar for Christians should not be happy. If anything it should be honest. That means being honest with yourself, with God, and with those around you about your junk. We’re forever interdependent creatures and we need to remain that way to be healthy.

For those that follow the liturgical Church Calendar we’re in the season of Epiphany, which started January 6th, commemorating the day Jesus was revealed to the Magi (or three wise men). It’s the celebration of the epiphany (manifestation or revelation) of Christ to the Gentiles. So let us remember that world-changing Incarnation; that moment of God embodying flesh: the sight of pleasure and pain, joy and suffering, glory and misery. And let us participate in this Incarnation as the wildly diverse Body of Christ and continue to move further into our divine humanity. Let us embrace the entire spectrum of our humanness as Christ did, leaving us with the responsibility to continue doing so. And let us be courageous and honest about who we are and what we’ve been through and be strong enough to be in solidarity with one another and say to one another what’s been called the best sermon ever: “Me too.” And let that widen our hearts and our love for the entire Body of Christ. Become people who can embrace the revelation of Christ wherever we see it. Just know that it will most likely be in the strangest places. This is our call, and that’s why I still love the Church.

Apple Cider Communion w/ The Hallway


I’m back home in Santa Maria this week for Thanksgiving. I got in town this last Sunday night and went straight to a Thanksgiving party hosted by the Hallway. The Hallway is a group I started in March of 2012 and led for a while before I moved to Orange County the following August. The group is still going today and full of new faces. I’ve never really wrote much about the Hallway publicly and thought I would finally do so. A little bit.

Most people (including me) find themselves fumbling over their words when they try to explain what the Hallway is. The most unique factor about this group is the overwhelming feeling of genuine community that you get when you are a part of it. To this day I have never been a part of any group of people for any purpose that has shared a similar acceptance, grace, value, and organicity (the dictionary told me that was the noun form of organic; boom).

It’s a place where anyone can open up about anything they are going through and there is no judgment or lowering of status. For some people in the Hallway it’s the only place that they know of where they’re actually not judged. This began in the early days of the Hallway when we decided to take Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians seriously when he says “Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.” We wanted a group that practiced genuine grace and accepted people through anything, but were also able to be honest and say “Hey, what you’re doing is kind of messed up. You should stop.”

It all started purely as a theory; a radical proclamation of wouldn’t it be awesome if…!?

And it worked. It actually worked.

Even writing those words is awkward for me because I’m still surprised that it actually worked. I’m especially surprised because when we started I had friends who weren’t in the group (and like half the people in the group) thinking I was crazy. And it actually worked.

Another huge thing the Hallway practices is a refusal to take responsibility of others’ beliefs. You must take responsibility for your own beliefs. There is no person in the group that everyone in the group is encouraged to emulate. My friend, Jacob said you’re practically forced to make your faith your own. And in doing that, I’ve seen so many people get miraculously closer to God through that process. In being exposed to other people’s honest stories of their own faith, you grow.

So this last Sunday I walked in to see my favorite familiar faces and even plenty of new ones. We ate and laughed together and then my friend, Jacob suddenly started passing out butter crackers and filling people’s Styrofoam cups with apple cider. My friends, Anthony and Garreth held our cups and crackers and joked about how it reminded us of communion. Anthony and I recalled memories of the hundreds of communion Sundays we had been a part of growing up. We remembered the classic wait as you listen to the minister explain communion and feel the crumbs of the cracker roll down your fingers. Then after drinking from the little communion cups the proper thing to do is to then grab your row’s communion cups and stack them on yours and then pass your stack to the guy who is building a stack high enough to see from across the sanctuary. We laughed at this and then I realized that everyone was holding a cup and a cracker and I asked Jacob “Wait, are we actually doing communion??”

Apparently I was the only one who didn’t realize it. And yes, they wanted to do it with Apple Cider and butter crackers. Yes, they are a bunch of weird hipsters sometimes. But I love them.

I asked if I could lead it because I had never done it before and they were happy to let me.


And I basically said this:
At the last supper Jesus said: “This is my body given to you. Do this in remembrance of me.” When he says this I don’t think he is only referring to the ritual but to something bigger at the same time. I believe he is saying “This is my body given to you. So give of your bodies in remembrance of me. This is my blood poured out for you. So pour of your blood in remembrance of me. Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice for the healing and reconciliation of this world to God. Continue my work and be my body in this world as I go to the Father.”

I believe that when we take communion in remembrance of what Christ did for us we are agreeing to take on the responsibility of being his body in the world. We are committing ourselves to give of our bodies to this work of literally re-membering (to member, meaning piece together) and putting life into a new body of Christ. We consume the symbols that represent Christ’s blood and body in a promise to then be his body. That’s why Paul says not to do it in an unworthy manner because you are taking on a huge responsibility, so don’t commit yourself to this if you’re not willing to follow through with it.


The Hallway ate and drank and I then asked Jacob to pray.

This is what I believe all Christians should see. We partake of communion out of thankfulness for what Jesus did for us, but thankfulness reaches its full completion with a promise to give the gift you’ve been given to others. Lewis Hyde points this out in his book, The Gift by comparing it to the first and last steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. The first step of Alcoholics Anonymous is to admit your problem and commit to learning how to get better. The last step is to share that message of how to get better with other alcoholics. You cannot jump from the first step to the last step as some desire to do. You must let the teaching change you first and the last step of letting it fully change you is then using the teaching to help others.

Taking of the body and blood of Christ works in the same way. We consume it out of thankfulness and thankfulness comes to full completion when we continue Christ’s work in us to others around us. And what has blessed me most about the Hallway is that they live by this without even realizing it all the time. And I am extremely thankful that God has brought us all together for such a great purpose.


My Spiritual Widening


The past few weeks have been an experience of spiritual widening. I grew up in a Pentecostal church and the more I read other perspectives and talk with others about their perspectives I cannot look at the perspective I grew up with the same way; which has been good. Of course people have suggested to me that I need to understand the foundation I grew up with before I venture off other places, so I went and bought Foundations of Pentecostal Theology and I’m halfway through. However, the more I read, the more amusing it seems to me this idea of a Pentecostal Jesus.

While at a denominational convention in Florida I met a girl who told everyone she grew up in Tennessee and has been living in Oregon for two years. Everyone was surprised because her background wasn’t evident in her voice. People asked her “why don’t you have an accent then?” She responded by saying (from memory) “It’s because I’ve lived in Oregon for so long. I lost my accent; but it still comes out when I get angry, exhausted, excited or sassy.” We actually witnessed it come out when people started making redneck jokes and she started defending her state.

Hours later, I kept thinking about how odd it was that everyone was making comments about how she lost her accent or that she didn’t have one; when in fact what she actually did was change her accent. She didn’t lose her accent and start speaking the correct way. She traded her Tennessee accent for an Oregon one, after being exposed to it so often.

I’m starting to think denominations, doctrinal and theological splits and even belief systems are a lot like accents. You can witness a person grow up Catholic and move to a Pentecostal belief system, or a Baptist move to a Catholic belief system and there’s this odd mindset of “Now I believe the right way” or “Now I’m worshipping and serving God the right way.” Even people who grew up in those communities could encourage the newcomers with similar suggestions.

But what if they didn’t switch from a wrong to a right belief system, but what they actually did is traded an old one for a new one after finding a better fit in this new context? And a pride that claims “this is finally the right way of doing things after all these years” must be careful, because we’ve all witnessed that no matter how ‘evolved’ you think you are, the beliefs you grew up with will come out whenever you get angry, exhausted, excited or sassy. When the pressure is on, what you thought you had given up and escaped will come back to remind you that the Truth isn’t so simple.

I grew up knowing near to nothing about Catholicism except for what I saw in movies and heard in jokes. So a week ago I decided to go to the Catholic Church a block from my house for Confession. I was tremendously nervous at first, but my experience in that booth was life changing. The priest I spoke to was one of the most gracious and genuine voices I had ever encountered. He encouraged me to pray for my enemies, and he reminded me that God’s love and grace is constantly pouring out on me; even when I sin. After the priest gave me more wisdom, I left that church convinced that there is freedom in breaking out of contexts to experience God in other contexts.

And so the day after that I took a one-time visit to the Unitarian Universalist Church. In brief, this religion believes there is no Hell and that all religious texts are sacred and relevant. This religion that has been around since the 60’s is filled with people from all religious backgrounds, gathered together to listen to each other’s perspectives, and join together to solve social justice issues. This very wide view of beliefs is widely far away from the context I grew up in so it caught my attention. I wanted to see what these people were like.

I enjoyed the service I was a part of and I felt more welcomed and accepted than I had felt in a long time.

What really got to me though was a moment during a hymn where I looked around and thought about all the things I’ve heard Christians say about Hell. Certain groups of Christians will say “If you don’t believe Jesus is the only way, then you are going to Hell,” and even some to more specifically say “All Universalists are going to Hell.” I looked at the faces of those genuine-hearted individuals and wondered “If those certain Christian groups are right about who goes to Hell, then the 100+ people around me are going to Hell.” It was definitely the first time I had ever sat in a church service thinking of the possibility that everyone in the service could possibly be in Hell after all this.

It broke my heart.

I know God’s practice of justice is so much higher than my understanding of justice and frankly, I’m okay to leave it up to God with however he wants to deal judgment. But lately I’ve felt convicted of confining orthodoxy. Orthodoxy comes from the greek word orthos, which means correct, and doxa, which means thinking. And lately I’ve been imagining God laughing at what we may claim as correct thinking.

A few months ago I heard Jack Hayford, a very well known Pentecostal minister speak. He told us that he no longer considers himself Pentecostal with a capital ‘P’, but rather considers himself pentecostal, with a lowercase ‘p’. He talked about how much wrong has been done under the label of Pentecostal and he cannot condone all that has been done under that label. However, the answer to things like this is to not throw away our labels, but to reclaim them for what they had originally stood for. And I can relate to that. I can happily get down with being pentecostal with a lowercase ‘p’.

Right now I’m just in a place where I am open to whatever Jesus is doing in this world and open to whatever he wants me to do next in fulfilling the duty he has created me for, no matter the context. God is bigger than labels, doctrines, belief systems, theology, and denominations. And I ask that you all pray for me during this spiritual widening that God is bringing me through and that I become more and more like the disciple of Jesus I was created to be.

Music and Solidarity


Christmas seems to be the most stressful time of the year but also the most peaceful time of the year.

The last couple weeks have been very busy and stressful and the friends from home that I’ve started losing contact with can probably tell. Last Thursday night was filled with a lot of running around, giving short answers, ignoring text messages, worrying about deadlines and bloodshot eyes. At one point in the night my church was having a rehearsal for our annual Christmas night where various members of the church performed whatever they liked. I decided to pause at one point and listen to a young boy rehearse a Christmas medley he was going to play on piano. In that moment I felt a shift in reality. Everything that was running around my brain and wrestling to make it to the top of the priority list suddenly stopped and rested. Suddenly my Christmas confusion evaporated and everything started to make sense.

I realized that’s what music is for us. It’s a voice from the other side of the chaos, reflecting on the chaos, reminding us that things can make sense when you’re on the other side. It’s a moment of solidarity with our planet as it steps outside to perceive itself for a moment. Suddenly everything we thought was dreadfully important can fit into our pockets and every annoyance disappears.

I think this might also explain people’s protectiveness of their music. My friend, David commented that if you make fun of someone’s mom, they laugh, but if you make fun of their music you practically lose the friendship. Music is our way of escape from the chaos and into a world of perception of the world, giving us a bird’s eye view of what makes sense. If you make fun of someone’s music, you are suggesting that the place of escape for them is not real.

In line on Black Friday I overheard a conversation of a guy informing his friend that this guy doesn’t like him anymore because he said he hated the band he got a tattoo of. In his defense, he said he never told him he hated the band. His defense didn’t matter though. The decision was already made.

The same night, my friend, Frank and I ran around the Best Buy parking lot meeting new people and we met a girl named Jennifer. We spent the rest of the night together and at one point we got onto the topic of music and our anxiety was released. When we would get on a topic of a band all three of us enjoyed we excitedly went on and on about the band. When we talked about a band only two of us liked the third person kind of just awkwardly stood there, aware that the moment of solidarity was paused for the moment, waiting for the next topic of relation.

I was at the Bella Terra shopping center the other day and there was a crowd surrounding the giant Christmas tree. There was a band of teenagers playing Christmas music (which I took a picture of) but their set had just ended. A girl with auburn hair, a blue sweater and burgundy tights walked on the stage and sat on a little stool with her acoustic guitar (which I wish I took a picture of). The girl played her guitar and sung about love as the fake snow fell around us from the machines above and I felt a shift in reality. Everyone around me was talking and yelling about the most random things but my mind muted and blocked them out the second the girl and I made eye contact for a short moment. It wasn’t in a romantic way but I felt a moment of solidarity with her. Random families and friends were blabbing around us while she sang a song that took us to another world; a world of reflection, a world of regret, a world of happiness, a world of peace. The world around me was forced to pause in that moment of solidarity.

The song ended and suddenly the world returned as the audience began applauding. I was suddenly thrown back into reality when I checked my phone and saw two missed calls from my friend, Candace wondering where I was.

Music matters immensely.

I am currently in an internship, taking online classes from a Bible college, volunteering in a church and the community, and studying to start a church one day. I believe God has called me to start one and be the pastor of that church. For those of you that know me you know very well that this future church is going to look different. In the years leading up to it, I am figuring out what that might look like. One of the things I am figuring out is how to connect things that we have separated out of fear or confusion.

One of those things I believe is music. If music is our way of escape then that means we live in two worlds. One is the chaotic to-do list of frustration and achievement, the other is the peaceful break from reality that is scored by our favorite song. I’ve been thinking of how to connect these two worlds. The answer isn’t worship. The answer lies in what the music actually does for people. The answer is forming a community that IS the music that brings a moment of solidarity with the world. This is what I am currently trying to wrestle with. Any thoughts of your own?

Risking the Meet-Cute

Lately I’ve been thinking, re-thinking and especially over thinking the idea of “that special someone” I’ve heard theories about. There are currently over seven billion people on this planet and many of us are in search of one.

TV and movies tell us that if another human being catches your eye then to go over and chase that person and make it happen before you lose the opportunity. It teaches us a heavy “life is what you make it” message. They tell you to hurry up or else you’ll always be wondering what could have been with that person.

However, I grew up in a Christian community where they instilled the beliefs that there is someone God has out there for each and every one of us. Supposedly there is one single human being meant for you since before birth that you are meant to find and be with when the time is right. Conveniently, this belief has given many Christian parents the easy opportunity to answer: “Well if it’s meant to be it’ll happen,” whenever their teenage children complain about a relationship or the lack of one. I know many people who use that phrase to temporarily let go of a person they can’t be with. I wonder if it’s a healthy truth or an unhealthy way of suppression. I try to not think too much about it and I’ve been too busy thinking about something else.

A few days ago I was at a banquet and I saw the most beautiful girl I have ever seen in my entire life. There was a moment where our eyes met at the same time. I felt like I was actually in a movie with the Romeo and Juliet Overture Love Theme by Tchaikovsky playing in the background for a good second that felt like an hour. A couple of passing looks occurred throughout the night that made my heart sink each time but I was faced with a dilemma.

According to the movie that I felt like I was in the next appropriate step would be to cleverly find a way to cross paths and do something that will initiate the typical romantic-comedy “meet-cute”. In all romantic comedies the meet-cute involves an awkward introduction that involves maybe someone spilling a drink on the other person or using the line “Do I know you from somewhere?”

All these clever ways to commence the meet-cute stirred in my head until I began to feel like less and less of myself. I began wondering how genuine these plans to manipulate a forced introduction were.

The beliefs that were instilled in me about “that special someone you’re meant to be with” started fighting against these desires to force the meet-cute.

I thought to myself “If God really wants this to happen then he will find a way to make our paths cross so that I wouldn’t have to go over and force it.” I was comfortable with that thought for a while as I waited patiently and shook the thought of her out of my mind. Then the over thinking kicked in and yelled “But what if God’s plan involves me purposely going over there and forcing the introduction?!”

I could easily sit there and tell myself that I don’t need to go to her because if our meeting is in God’s plan then I don’t need to and if I do go to her then I would be trying to force a plan that is strictly selfish and inconsiderate of what God might have planned. And of course the worst part is being afraid that God’s plan involves me going over there and actually commencing the clever meet-cute that was meant to happen since before birth.

So I sat there.

If I go over there and this is not in God’s plan then I would be opening up a potential heartbreak that I was never supposed to be involved in.

But if God wants me to go over there as part of his plan then I need to get up and go already.

I came to the conclusion that the potential unnecessary heartbreak made it too much of a risk. Another thing movies taught me was that it’s better to love and lost than to have not loved at all, but I believe that depends on how hard the loss hit. I believe that sometimes it is not better to have loved at all but better to have waited.

I decided to let go of the situation and focus on the people around me; the people that I am sure that God has purposely placed in my life for now. I decided to not worry about the people he has planned for me in the future if he even does at all.

That night I felt stupid not knowing if I screwed up my chance like the movies guilt-trip me of. Either way I am comforted knowing that I am still very young with a whole life ahead of me.

I don’t know how much control I have over my destiny. I don’t know how much control I should desire. I don’t know if I’ll ever see her again. I don’t know if a “meet-cute” is even the ideal way of starting a relationship. All I know for sure is that if I ever see this woman again I will have all the affirmation I need and I will chase after her. And I will “meet” her. And it will be “cute”.

My Dream of “Heaven”?

A month ago I began questioning heaven and hell. I wondered about the questions, “Why would a loving God send so many people to hell for eternity?” and “What if God’s love is so big that he lets us choose between heaven and hell even after we die?”

God’s mercy endures forever. That means forever. This deeply troubled me when thinking about people going to hell. I began leaning on the other side of things. I was ready to believe God’s love really is so big that that he lets us choose between heaven and hell even after we die. I just couldn’t grasp the idea of a loving God sending any of his own creations to eternal torment. I started bringing it up in conversations and I either convinced them of the same thing or discovered that they already believed it.

I was scared about siding with this view though because I know many Christians who literally hate other Christians who side with this view. It blew my mind that one of the most loving views of God was the most hated.

I was coming to a discipleship/internship program at a church in OrangeCounty in a couple weeks and I was especially afraid of having this view around the people there. I already knew people who were strongly against this view who I was going to be around constantly so I knew it could be an issue.

The night before I left for the program I read a quote from Demosthenes that said “Nothing is so easy as to deceive oneself; for what we wish, we readily believe.” Then I went to sleep and had a dream that changed everything.

In the dream I wanted to go to heaven/my parent’s bedroom. I knew in the dream that my parent’s bedroom symbolized heaven. I was in a hotel hallway and the door to the bedroom was a hotel door. It was about 3am and I was afraid of waking them so I kept opening the door to check inside and waiting for the right time to go in. In the dream I knew my mom had told me that I could go in and lay down if I wanted to.

I finally snuck in the pitch black bedroom and lay on the bed. My dad had left and my mom was on the phone with someone, getting ready for the day. My mom leaned on the bed and felt me with her arm and was startled. Once she realized it was me she left me alone and I fell asleep.

I woke up in the dream in the same hotel room bed I fell asleep in. I was being shaken awake by one of the women I used to go to church with. I was trying to stay asleep because I was peaceful in ‘heaven’. Staying asleep in the bed symbolized me staying in heaven. I knew that if she woke me up then I would have to really question whether I was really in heaven or not. I wanted to just stay asleep and pretend that it really was heaven.

She finally woke me up and I cried to her, “Do you know how traumatic it is to wake up not knowing if this was real or not!”

I stood up to see about seven of my friends waiting for me in the dark hotel kitchen lit by a single small kitchen light. I began crying to them saying “I don’t want to go back!” I didn’t want to admit it really wasn’t heaven because if I did then I would have to go back to Earth. I started listing all the terrible things I hated about Earth and why I didn’t want to go back to that.

They started trying to encourage me to leave by going along with pretending that it was heaven in kind of a reverse psychology way. They started saying “How else are you supposed to get other people here then? You’re still called to stay and get other people to get into heaven.”

Then they tried encouraging me by reminding me that my friends and family were supposed to buy me things before I left to the program. I told them “For me it’s not about the material though; it’s about the people!”

They said “Then you need to back then,” since they were saying I need to go back for other people and I was saying it’s about the people.

I said “But I have people here!” referring to them. “And I don’t know if heaven is even real!”

Then one friend sarcastically said “Well it obviously is since we’re having a conversation in heaven.”

That’s when I knew I couldn’t stay and live peacefully in this false heaven with the people I loved because it required pretending it was real and the people I brought didn’t believe it was real. And if they didn’t believe it was real I knew I had to face up to the truth sooner or later. Then the dream ended and I woke up.

This is how I interpreted it:

In the dream I was trying to create my own safe and personal heaven. I say safe because it was my parent’s bedroom and my parent’s bedroom represents safety. I say personal because I only had a few close friends there. If it was really heaven then everyone else (even people I didn’t know) would be there. Not even God was there.

And in my actual life I was also trying to create a safe and personal heaven; a heaven that even Hitler could get into. The people in the dream were telling me that I’m not seeing the bigger picture. I believe that’s what God was trying to tell me through the dream: I’m not seeing the bigger picture.

I do not have all the answers about heaven and hell and I still get uneasy around the people who think they do but what I do know is that my perspective is limited. For now I am fine with not having the answer. All I will be focused on now is this place. I was put here for a reason and I won’t take advantage of the time I have here by putting my energy into worrying about the afterlife.

Jesus prayed “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

This is what I’m interested in. This is all a part of my journey that is just beginning.