Five Things You Think You Need, But You Don't

AM Five Things Not long ago, my wife and I felt like our family was on The Great Hamster Wheel to nowhere. Maybe you feel that way, too. You’re spending a ton of time and effort to earn a paycheck so you can give your family “the good life.” And now you have a lovely home and some neat toys, but you’re often too tired, too stressed, or too busy to truly enjoy it all.

That was us.

So we decided to try a little experiment. We challenged ourselves to check out of the consumer culture for twelve months to see how it might impact our family. Before you think we’re complete whackos, realize that our challenge did not require us generate our own electricity, make underwear out of old burlap sacks, or only eat things we could kill with our bare hands. For us, it was less about saving money and more about focusing on people and shared experiences to see if it might have a positive impact on our relationships. So we lived by a simple set of rules that were restrictive, but not too crazy.

Rule #1: We wouldn’t shop for “stuff.” Sure, we could buy consumable items (think food, cleaners, hygiene products, etc.), but if it couldn’t be used up within the year, we put in the “non-essential” category.

Rule #2: If something broke, we could fix it unless we already had a suitable replacement lying around.

Rule #3: Gifts had to be in the form of charitable donations or "experiences" to be shared.

Entering this challenge, we recognized two things. First, the majority of humans on the planet live by these rules (or even more restrictive ones) out of necessity. In fact, my wife and I had spent a year serving as missionaries in Guatemala, and experienced first-hand how anything beyond food and shelter is a luxury for those living in poverty. So our experiment wasn’t really a sacrifice.

Second, there are far too many people like us in the United States who live under manufactured stress, never realizing that our never-ending quest for more is what is ultimately giving us the feeling of dissatisfaction.

While you can read about entire 12-month journey in our book, The Year without a Purchase, here are a few nuggets we have personally found helpful to review now that we’re finally allowed to shop again.



My wife often asks me, “Are you naked from the waist down?”

As you might imagine, this question always captures my full attention. That is, until I realize that she is simply responding to my comment that, “I need a new pair of pants.”

Clothing is one of the big areas where we often confuse “need” with “want.” And I’m not the only one. The EPA estimates that each American throws away nearly seventy pounds of clothing per year.

Seventy pounds!

So, I only need those new pants if I am, as my wife says, in danger of getting arrested for public indecency. Otherwise, it’s an option. And our family was able to survive an entire year without buying a single stitch of clothing. And no one made fun of us.

At least not to our faces.


It is estimated that the average American home contains over 300,000 items, and America itself is home to 50,000 self-storage facilities. That’s over twice the number of Starbucks locations worldwide! Our problem isn’t that we don’t have enough storage, it’s that we have too much stuff.

Often times we hold onto items because we can easily rationalize their value to us, whether it’s sentimental, or tangible. We can think of millions of situations where we might need an item. Yet, miraculously, we haven’t needed the item but one time in the past four years.

If you’re holding onto something, take the "Not Much, Not Me" challenge by asking yourself these two questions. 1) “What horrible thing would happen if I didn’t have this thing in the future?” and 2) “Who would get the most use out of this thing?” If the answers are “Not much” and “Not me,” get rid of it and get a small piece of your life back.


There used to be a time when auto makers touted a three-year cycle for purchasing new vehicles. Whether that was ever true is subject to debate, but the latest research shows the average age of vehicles on the road is 11.4 years.

Today, cars last far longer than they used to, and are far cheaper to maintain. Whenever you get that urge to upgrade and take on another car payment, remember this statistic: it only costs $151 more per year to maintain a car between 6-15 years old than it does to maintain a newer auto. That’s far less than a single month of payments, and the old wheels still get you from point A to point B.


Hypocrisy alert! It’s hard for me to write this, as my family is in the process of moving to a different home. But any time we say, “our little 1700 square foot house is too small,” we know it’s all in our heads. Even though our two extremely loud kids make the place feel like an echo chamber.

But statistics show the average American home size has nearly tripled since the 1950’s. Back then, a single family home averaged just 983 square feet. Today, it’s 2624. At the same time, the average size family has shrunk from 3.5 people to 2.5. Granted, people are bigger these days, but I’m guessing we don’t need an extra 1641 square feet for our girth alone.

Bottom line: rather than asking, “What are we missing by not having more space?” I need to remind myself to ask, “What do we gain by being closer together as a family?”


Ah yes! This was one of the biggest things I learned from our experiment. When I found myself wanting to buy something, whether it was different clothes or a different car, I would have to ask, “Why do you want it?” At best, I simply wanted the item because it would make my life simpler or better. Like a four slice toaster or an ultra-thin laptop for traveling.

But often, when I dug beneath the surface, there were many things I wanted because I thought they would make me better.

I am a professional, so I should get some better clothes!

How can my clients take me seriously if I show up to our meeting in my 15-year-old, compact car?

Our kitchen table looks like it’s been bouncing down a rocky cliff since the late 1980’s and just now landed in our house. What does that say about us?!

You see, “stuff” isn’t inherently bad. What is bad is the meaning we derive from it. The instant we begin to let our stuff define who we are, that’s when we start to tell Our Maker that the way he designed us just isn’t good enough. When we start to compare the cutting room floor of our own lives with the highlight reel on Facebook or TV commercials, we start to believe that perfect is normal. We start to believe that we are “less than.” We start to believe our worth is tied up in how others perceive us.

Here’s a news flash for you. There is no bigger lie.

The truth is, whatever your life situation, your stuff does not define you. In the end, the only thing we truly need is to fill ourselves to overflowing with the knowledge that we are all beautifully flawed and wonderfully made. To see ourselves as God sees us, and then give that same unconditional love to others.

I’ll buy that.

And I hope you will, too.

* Enjoy this post?  For more, just preorder Scott's book about his family's Year Without A Purchase on Barnes & Noble or Amazon launching August 4th from WJK Press (We know... dripping with irony...but there's always the library!). And, to see more posts like this, submit your email at the upper right to receive new blogs hot n fresh to your inbox.  Or, Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @sdannemiller.  Cheers!

Incredibly Ironic Cheap-o Book Offer for Blog Followers

Hey there avid readers!  By now, you've probably figured out that I wrote a book called The Year without a Purchase about not buying anything for a year.  Some of you were there with us to follow along on the blog, and maybe even tried the little experiment yourselves.  For this, we thank you! IMG_2427

* Me visiting my book at a friend's house, since she got it before I did. But I'm not bitter.

Now we're redefining irony and hypocrisy by selling the book about not buying anything.  Our publisher, Westminster John Knox Press, has been kind enough to provide a special discount code for those who want to get in on the preordering.  So, if you have any interest, you can visit the publisher page and enter the code YEAR40 at checkout to get 40% off the cover price. (New price = $9.00 just for you!) The page even has a gigantic button to download the first two chapters for free so you can try before you buy.

That said, if you are a loyal Amazon or Barnes & Noble person who gets free shipping, you can visit their sites and purchase as well.  B&N has a slightly better deal at the time, but that can always change.

Thanks again for being loyal followers of the blog.  We're grateful.



To The Moms: My Apologies

Hey there folks!  I wrote a piece a couple of weeks ago that has spread across the interwebs like wildfire.  Or a case of herpes.  It all depends upon your perspective, I guess.  While many found the piece helpful and uplifting, some of those who read it were deeply offended. To those who I offended, I sincerely say thank you for taking the time to write to me comments or emails and let me know about it.  I appreciate hearing your perspective.  The online forum is an open one where everyone can and should participate via email or otherwise.

First off, the words on my page are mine, and I own the fact that they hurt some people, including you.  This was not the intended result, but it is indeed what happened, and for that, I apologize.  Some interpreted my words to mean that I hated crafting, that people who do it are only doing it to impress other moms, and that everyone should stop doing it because it was a big waste of time.  Again, not the intent, but that’s how some viewed it, in many cases due to the way I crafted the message.  I’ve been called a “dick”, “sociopathic”, a “sack of shit”, a "douchebag", an abusive husband, awful father, misogynist, and much more.   I haven't read all of the comments, but I definitely got the message.

My blog was aimed specifically at moms who are constantly trying to keep up with some image of perfection in their heads.  It was for the ones who see gifted moms doing wonderful things and then thinking they are not good enough because they can’t measure up.  I wanted to highlight that this competition was all in their minds because most of these people who do the fun crafts are doing it because they love it, not because they want to one-up another mom.  My wife is one of the people who created the cute little fruit cups out of a sense of obligation, staying up late and wondering why she was doing it.  This is all spelled out in the article, but my attempt at humor obscured this message for some.

The "Suzie" I mention in the article is not a real person.  She's just a caricature and not reality.    What I was trying to convey is that Suzie is good at being Suzie and she should keep doing what she loves.  Because Suzie isn’t judging.  She’s just doing it out of love.  It's the intent that truly matters.  And I honor your intent and celebrate it.  If that did not come across in my article, I am sorry for that.

With that said, I do hope you will continue reading, but I completely respect your decision if you don't.  Thanks again for your attention.

Peace to you and yours,


To The Moms: Just Stop It

Writers note:  While most have found this piece helpful and uplifting, some have been offended by it.  If you get to the bottom (or even just mid-way through) and find yourself wanting to punch your computer screen, please read my apology. I got home after midnight from a business trip last night. That’s probably why I didn’t notice it until the morning. This bag. Alone. On the kitchen table.

Moms bag

Normally, getting my kids to the breakfast table is like trying to coax a couple of cats into a swimming pool. As soon as they wake up, they hide under blankets on the couch and make strange noises. But this morning was a different story.

Audrey came out of the bedroom, wiped the sleep from her eyes, and went right to the table. She sat in front of the bag with a smile on her face.

“What’s the bag for?” I asked as I created my super-duper breakfast parfaits. Colorful layers of yogurt, fruit, and cereal.

“We got it for our end-of-year party yesterday.” She reached into the bag.

“What did you get?”

She started pulling out different items and commenting.

“Goldfish crackers… Some cookies… ooooooh! Gummy worms! And a mustache!”


The morning went on as usual, with me reminding the kids to brush their teeth, make their beds, and get a summer job. (Note: “I’m only seven” is not an excuse.) We finally made it out the door and walked to school as a family unit.

When Gabby and I got back home, I tidied up the breakfast mess before getting to work. When I reached down to pick up all of the things that Audrey had removed from her bag, I did a double-take.

moms all goodies

moms fish

moms worms

moms orange

moms cups

Every single item was accessorized. Little notes. Ribbons. Sayings. Like a professional stylist had just prepped them for the red carpet at some weird awards ceremony for pre-packaged snacks.

Follow me on this one. I truly appreciate that people have taken so much time to make sure my child felt important yesterday. Craftiness is a gift. One I do not possess. I am awestruck by the flawless execution of cuteness on these snacks. And I realize the inherent hypocrisy of my statement, since I am guilty of adding a bit of “flair” to the breakfast parfaits from time-to-time.

But for some of you, it's exhausting, right?

As the man who is married to the person who reluctantly put googley eyes and a graduation cap on all the fruit cups, I feel I am qualified to offer this sage advice to the mothers of the world who do this kind of thing through gritted teeth out of a sense of obligation.

Stop it!

Just. Stop. It.

Here’s a theory for you. There's a type of person who actually enjoys doing this kinda thing. She sits whistling in her craft room, making little doo-dads out of marshmallow fluff and fairy turds while bluebirds flit about her shoulders -- and she's having fun. Meanwhile, all the rest of the moms are like:

“$#!+. That f’in party is tomorrow, and I gotta’ come up with something cute for the kids, cause you know Susie Craftsalot is gonna’ make the Taj Mahal of lemon bars. Here, let me just slap some googley eyes and some construction paper on this fruit cup and call it good.”

So now we’re all working to impress Susie Craftsalot, hoping to measure up. All the while, she doesn’t give a flying unicorn fart what we made.  Not because she thinks she's better, but because she’s honestly, genuinely surrounded by the intrinsic joy of making creative stuff. That, or she’s too damn distracted by the little field mouse she trained to ride a unicycle to deliver her handmade, end-of-year teacher gifts.

Whatever the case, for most of you moms out there, the competition is all in your head. And so is Susie Craftsalot.   Some folks love to do this kinda' thing, and that's totally cool.  But if it's not you, then don't try to be something you're not. Because the results of our endless impress-a-thon are not good. A survey of 7,000 women show that their average stress level is 8.5 out of 10. Nearly 50% report suffering from “Pinterest Stress” – not feeling crafty enough. And three out of four say “the pressure they place on themselves is worse than any pressure or judgment they get from other moms.”

I remember when crackers used to be enough. You probably do, too. Can we get back to that place, please? Deep down, we know we’re not doing it for the kids. They couldn’t care less. My daughter didn’t even notice the adornments. But she did appreciate the snacks.

And you know what? No one will judge you for bringing a box of Chips Ahoy. Or an unopened bag of string cheese. And if they do, why do you care? Pardon my fit of cynicism here, but we spend far too much time and effort worrying about what others will think, forgetting that most don't even notice.  And those few who do are likely too self-absorbed to be a true friend to you anyway.

So stop it. No more worrying. No more needless effort.  No more made-up competition.

Because oranges are enough.

Cookies are enough.

You are enough.

* Enjoy this post?  For more, just preorder Scott's book about his family's Year Without A Purchase on Barnes & Noble or Amazon launching August 4th from WJK Press. And, to see more posts like this, submit your email at the upper right to receive new blogs hot n fresh to your inbox.  Or, Like us on Facebook.  Cheers!

What Would Happen If We Just Quit Asking?

AM Quit Asking “Remember! Take your time! It’s not a race!”

I called out to my son as he headed off to school to take standardized tests last week. We had heard horror stories from other parents about how their kids were filled with anxiety over being assessed, curling up into crying balls on the floor. To prevent this problem, we didn’t talk about the exams at all, save for this one piece of advice.

Later that afternoon, Jake came bounding in, filled with energy.

“How was your test today, buddy?” I asked.

“Good,” he chirped.

I prodded, looking for more detail. “Just good?”

“Yeah. I’m white.”


“The test says I’m white.”

“What do you mean?” I was confused, wondering if this was a new category on his color-coded behavior chart. Or maybe they had already received their test results and he was in the “white” range.

“Someone filled out the top part of the test for us. Ben was black. Arjun got Asian. I got white.”

He “got” white. Like they were handing out popsicles or something.

“But you’re not white.” I corrected. “You’re Asian-American.”

“Like Arjun?”

“No, he’s from India. Your mom is half Japanese.”

He quizzed me. “India and Japan are both Asia?”

“Yeah... I think?” Before he could test more of my geography knowledge, I added “You’re technically Japanese American.”

“But how can I be Japanese, Dad? You’re not Japanese.“ He paused for emphasis. “You’re like… pink!”

I wondered whether or not I should be offended. He continued his assessment, turning toward Audrey and saying,

“I bet I would be a lot darker if mom had married another Asian.”

To which my seven-year-old daughter replied,

“True. But I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

I wasn’t sure if I should laugh because it’s funny, or cry because it’s true. Here I was, a white dad, trying to explain the construct of race to my Asian-American kids, and they couldn’t care less about the subject. And all because of a pre-filled bubble on a standardized test. The whole episode had me wondering:

Why do we even ask the race question any more?

From an accountability standpoint, I understand why we need to know a person’s race. The Civil Rights Act was a beautiful piece of legislation. It was one of those rare times in our nation’s history when capitalism took a back seat to doing the right thing. Imagine if you owned a lunch counter in Mississippi in 1962.   Serving “colored people” might hurt your business. So the Federal government thankfully stepped in and made it illegal to discriminate based on sex, race, color, religion, or national origin. And today, capturing demographic information helps us see if particular groups of people are being denied jobs, loans, or opportunities based on the color of their skin.

It’s an accountability thing. So we count.

But not very well.

Consider a recent leadership meeting my wife attended at our church. The team was reviewing the demographics of our congregation to see if we mirrored the community where we live.   Gabby pointed to the document and noted,

“This says there are no Asians in our church.”

“That’s right,” someone offered.

She raised her hand, “Ummm… we should have at least one. Right?”

*insert awkward silence*

To be fair, my wife is like an optical illusion.  She can look Asian, Hispanic, or Caucasian depending on whether we're eating at Pei Wei, El Chico, or Applebees.

Gabby filled the void by asking, “How do we determine this information? Do we just look at people and take a guess?”

That's when someone chimed in and said what everyone was thinking,

"We definitely shouldn't be guessing."

Again, laugh because it’s funny, and cry because it’s true. All of us adults are trying hard to get it right, but still making mistakes.  There is a genuine intent to honor the experiences of others, and race plays a part.  At the same time, I'm finding that my own kids seem to be oblivious to their own race, and we’ve told them dozens of times. It’s like they have racial amenesia or something. Or maybe they’re allergic to labels.

If so, they’re not the only ones.

In the most recent US Census, “Some Other Race” was the third largest racial category chosen. And it’s not for lack of options. The form allows people to select between White, Black, African American, Negro, Hispanic, Latino, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Spanish, American Indian, Alaska Native, Asian Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Guamanian, Samoan, Chamoro, Filipino, Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander.

Yet “Some Other Race” was number three.

This has the Census Bureau confounded. They are trying mightily to fix this problem to assure people accurately categorize themselves. They’re even working with the US Office of Management and Budget to adjust the “official” race categories. I know it’s silly to imagine, but yes, there are people whose job it is to determine what races are “official” in America. And it’s rather arbitrary, like trying to determine how many squares a roll of toilet paper should have, or what name to give the latest nail polish color at the Clinique counter. Looking at a brief history of how these decisions were made in the past, I was simultaneously amused, confused, and outraged.

The funny thing is, we’ve been doing all of this counting, since 1790, and every decade the number of boxes grows ever larger, with no end in sight. In fact, Census Bureau is testing a question for the 2020 form that adds a space beneath each racial and ethnic category so each person can write in his or her own description.

Yes. A fill-in-the-blank census.

As crazy as it sounds, it is probably the most accurate measure we could have. While it’s human nature to want to put people into boxes to make sense of the world, humans themselves resist being placed into boxes. I’m not sure why this is. Maybe it’s because our egos don’t like being pigeon-holed. Or maybe it’s because the Constitution says that we’re all created equal, and labeling groups of people only encourages stereotyping and generalizations.

Or maybe it’s because God never intended it to be that way.

I know I am a naïve idealist given the current state of race relations in our country, but I believe there’s some truth in the words of Roger Rosenblatt, who, at the turn of the millennium wrote this in his Letter To The Year 2100,

“U.S. immigration officials recently predicted that by 2050 (50 years ago for you), nearly half the country's population will be nonwhite. There are more interracial marriages every year. I like to picture you all as a nice, rich shade of beige.”

It sounds nice, doesn’t it? Rosenblatt is on to something here. Maybe the solution to our problems isn’t ever more boxes to check on a census form, church register, or standardized test. Maybe what we’re truly after is something completely different. Think about it…

If we no longer asked the question, would division no longer matter?

It’s worth considering. And worth an investment of prayer and hope. That Rosenblatt’s words would somehow come true. All of us checking a single box. The human race. Created equal and treated as such. Seven billion unique expressions of the image of God.

Loving each other into oneness.

* Enjoy this post?  For more, just preorder Scott's book about his family's Year Without A Purchase on Barnes & Noble or Amazon launching August 4th from WJK Press. And, to see more posts like this, submit your email at the upper right to receive new blogs hot n fresh to your inbox.  Or, Like us on Facebook.  Cheers!

The Two Most Important Things To Teach Our Kids

AM Two Important Things I was lying in bed a couple weeks ago when it happened.


I tried to reel it back in, but the expletive was out of my mouth. I sat bolt upright, pulling the covers off my wife. She put down her book and looked at me like I was a crazy person.

“What is wrong with you?!” she asked.

Panicked, I said, “We only have six days left, and we haven't done enough!”

Somehow, in my twilight sleep, my mind flashed back to an article she read when our kids were infants. It stated that parents are the chief architects of a child’s moral compass through age 8. After that, kids begin to question the infallibility of adults in their lives and look to their peers for guidance. Even if those peers are throwing bricks off an overpass and snorting cinnamon.

So, with my son’s 9th birthday fast approaching, a sense of doubt washed over me. If you’re a parent, you’ve probably felt it, too. Silently wondering if you’re doing it right, but knowing deep down that you haven’t done enough.

The next day, I Googled “top things to teach your kids” to find out just how much I had failed. One article listed five things of critical importance. Another had twenty-seven. One even listed 100 things. It was completely overwhelming. Especially considering I still haven’t been able to teach my kids to chew with their mouths closed or apologize for farting in my lap.

However, just before my downward spiral hit rock bottom, something miraculous happened. A still, small voice in my soul broke through the malaise and said:

Just because something is hard doesn’t mean it has to be complicated.

And that voice is absolutely correct. Our problem as parents is not that we don’t have enough information - it’s that we have too much. Parenting today is like being trapped in a dryer full of “should have’s” and an “ought to’s”. The chaos spins all around us, but there isn’t a single thing we can hold onto for assurance.

In an effort to simplify parenting and get back what’s truly important, I dove into the research looking for common themes. And while there may be countless lessons we must teach our kids, I discovered two that stood out above all the rest. Two simple things that have the greatest chance of creating the society we all crave, filled with happy, productive adults that we don’t want to punch in the throat.


#1: Courage

In the age of helicopter parenting, raising courageous kids can be difficult. As the television fills our heads with fear of kidnappings and sexual predators, we grow ever more protective. We teach about stranger danger and conduct our surveillance from the cradle to the college campus using every device imaginable.

But here’s what has me scratching my head. There has never been a safer time to be a kid in America. A recent Washington Post article points out that mortality rates have fallen by nearly half since 1990. Reports of missing persons are down by 40% since 1997. Before you say, “that’s probably because we’re now watching our kids all the time!” note that 96% of missing persons cases are runaways.

So, not only is our over-parenting unnecessary, it’s also counter-productive. Our well-intentioned protection is actually creating a society of fearful, dependent adults.

Surveys show roughly one-third of professional employers today report parents submitting resumes on behalf of their child. One-quarter say a parent has called to advocate for their child being hired. And nearly one-in-ten accompany their child to the interview.

As parents, we must reverse this trend. We must give our children the courage to face adversity on their own.

Make no mistake, courage is not confidence. Kids today are more confident than ever. Even when there is no justified reason. Courage, on the other hand, comes from the latin word, “cor”, meaning “heart.” Courage is defined as “the ability to do something that frightens you,” or “strength in the face of pain or grief.”

And this is what our kids need.

Because one thing is certain in this life. Our children will fail. No matter how smart, confident or hard working they may be. But studies show that kids who are most likely to achieve their goals are those who find their true passion and doggedly pursue it. But it’s important to note that these passions are not painted on by a parent from the outside. No, they bubble up from within. And they become so all-consuming that the child can’t help but find joy in the pursuit itself, no matter the outcome.

Instilling such courage in our kids requires that we parent at arm’s length. Or farther. Offering autonomy, support, and en-courage-ment. So our kids can become who God made them to be.

In His image.

Not ours.

Yes, this is the courage we must teach. But it’s not enough.


#2: Compassion

Like me, you likely feel that you do a good job of encouraging your kids without pushing too hard. You cheer them on, teaching the value of working hard to achieve a goal. The question becomes: how might our kids interpret all of this encouragement?

The Make Caring Common project at Harvard University recently surveyed 10,000 kids. What they found is both interesting and convicting.

Nearly 80 percent of the youth in the study said their parents were more concerned with their achievement or happiness than whether they cared for others. The interviewees were also three times more likely to agree that “My parents are prouder if I get good grades than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.”


Unfortunately, this is the result when we emphasize our kids’ courageous accomplishments in hopes of reinforcing effort and building self-esteem. They interpret this intense focus on achievement as an indicator of what is important in life.

But Brad Bushman, a research psychologist at Ohio State University, cautions that how we praise our children has a huge impact not only on what they believe is most important, but who is most important. His research found that overvaluing your child’s accomplishments, especially telling them how “smart” or how “special” they are, can lead to narcissism.

And this is how courage gets corrupted.

While self-esteem is believing your worth is equal to anyone else’s, narcissism is believing you are better than everyone else. And this can be very damaging character trait. Jean Twenge, who studies narcissism, notes that narcissists tend to lack empathy and have trouble maintaining relationships.

So why does this matter?

In the end, we all just want our children to be happy, right? But virtually every research paper written about happiness shows that the two biggest building blocks for sustained joy (besides health) are 1) having meaningful relationships, and 2) serving others. That’s right. These two trump money, trophies, and trips to the beach. Every. Single. Time. But all the courage in the world won’t give you strong relationships and a servant’s heart. It takes compassion.

Compassion comes from the Latin word meaning “to suffer with.” Compassion starts with sympathy - the ability to understand a person’s circumstances. And this sympathy grows into empathy - the ability to truly feel what another person is feeling. Even if they are suffering.

And compassion?

Compassion is empathy with action.

Compassion is how relationships are built and maintained. Friendships. Teams. Marriages. Compassion is about paying attention to the quiet voices of those on the margins. Hearing them. Feeling them. And then acting as though the interests of others are just as important as your own. Even when society and the scoreboard tell you something different.

Yes, we must teach our children to have compassion like this. And this type of compassion requires courage. The two go hand-in-hand.

Courage and compassion.



As I write these words, my oldest child is now 9 years old. There is already evidence that my influence is waning. We share fewer hugs in the school drop off line. His taste in music is becoming his own. Heck, he’s even spouting slang that I don’t understand.

Still, I refuse to believe that my time is up.

Amid the slamming doors and silent dinners to come, I’m sure there will be times I’ll feel like a failure. In those moments, my head will likely become a spin cycle of “should have’s” and “ought to’s”. But in those moments, my prayer is that I can be a father who has courage enough to show love without condition and compassion enough to see them for who they are. The ones I have raised. The ones I love. The courageous, compassionate children of God.

And in the end, that will always be enough.

* Enjoy this post?  For more, just preorder Scott's book about his family's Year Without A Purchase on Barnes & Noble or Amazon launching August 4th from WJK Press. And, to see more posts like this, submit your email at the upper right to receive new blogs hot n fresh to your inbox.  Or, Like us on Facebook.

The Church Is Not Your Home

AM Church Is Not Your Home An atheist walked into three churches last Sunday.

I know. Sounds like the beginning of a great joke. In fact, you could probably come up with an awesome punch line.

But it’s no joke.

A recent Christian Today article tells the story of Sanderson Jones, the leader of Sunday Assembly – also known as the “atheist church.” Jones’ mission was to attend three London church services in one day. But he wasn’t there to debunk Christianity. No. In his words, he was just “learning from the pros.”

Jones walked away with a great appreciation for communion and prayer. While he was not converted, he was most affected by the way in which churches welcomed him and gave him a sense of belonging.

I believe Jones experienced what every single one of our churches is trying to offer. We all want to do the work of Jesus by welcoming others like guests in our home. I’ve heard that phrase a lot lately as my own church seeks to reach the community in more meaningful ways.

Like guests in our home.

It’s a wonderful analogy, isn’t it? We roll out the red carpet for houseguests. We offer them our best food and drink. We break out the fine china. Heck, we even let them use the special towels that normally stay locked behind some sort of invisible force field in our bathrooms, never to be touched by an actual family member.

In this sense, Jones is absolutely right. Christians are pros at welcoming. If welcoming were an Olympic sport, churches would be Michael Phelps, only with coffee stations and tuna hot dish. But here’s the problem:

I’m afraid the mindset behind our welcoming spirit might slowly, subtly be killing our church.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying our churches should stop welcoming visitors. And I’m not saying church shouldn’t feel like a place where you belong. What I am saying is that we need to stop viewing our churches as our homes. And here’s the reason.

While I am very welcoming to my guests, I also see my home as mine. A possession. You probably do, too. And so I create rules and expectations to protect it. I’m kinda’ particular about the grass. The mower lines should run diagonally. And the spoons should never “spoon” in the dishwasher. Kids should never eat in the living room. And I’m fairly certain that failure to use a coaster is acceptable grounds for divorce in 36 of the 50 states. These rules are our custom, and we’re unlikely to adapt quickly.

When we do have parties for others, we relax these rules. We also vacuum the carpet, mop the floor, and scour the kitchen to make things bright and shiny for our guests. All the messy stuff stays behind closed doors or tucked away in closets, just waiting to pounce on someone who mistakenly thinks it’s the entrance to the bathroom.

Finally, while those parties may be absolutely fantastic, I have to admit that they usually only happen on the weekends, and they are normally limited to friends of friends who we know will enjoy each other’s company. But during the week, the house is largely empty, save for immediate family.

Sound familiar?

Again, please don’t misunderstand me. Our churches do amazing things. We go on mission trips. We sponsor charities. We bring the gospel to people desperately in need of a “good news” story.

But the truth is, when we think of the church, we see it as ours. Like our home. A possession.

And it has to stop.

We have rules and traditions that start to take on a God-like quality in the way we worship them. Then we wonder why some see Christians as rigid and inflexible.

We primp and prime for the big party on Sunday and greet folks with big smiles, while hiding the messy realities of church life in the closet. Then we wonder why some see Christians as lacking authenticity.

We spend roughly 82% of our church budgets on staff and buildings that are only open a few hours per week, mostly for programs designed specifically for our members. Then we wonder why some see Christians as selfish.

When I work with congregations, I often ask the members what they love most about their church. And 9 times out of 10, the response is,

“It’s like a big family.”

And every time I hear this, I cringe a little.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Families are beautiful. My own family is incredibly welcoming. At the same time, we’re also loud and boisterous and overwhelming. We have inside jokes and tired old stories. If you’re spending Thanksgiving with us for the first time it can be downright exhausting. And exclusive. As an outsider, you are left to try and quickly understand decades of history and assimilate quickly.

The sad truth is, we ask our church guests to do the exact same thing.

We absolutely want them to be members of the family. We invite them warmly. But rather than meet them where they are, we ask them to meet us where we are. The result? Those who are drawn to us, and therefore drawn to Jesus, will be those who tend to worship like us, believe like us, and look like us. Threading the impossibly narrow eye of the needle.

And we wonder why church membership is declining.

But here’s the good news. We need not take up such a heavy burden. Christ never asked us to own His church or His building. No. Man was simply the rock it was built upon. Consider the scriptures:

The Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him. (Psalm 24:1 NIV)

We are here to support God’s creation. As stewards. And it’s time we recapture that call. As church leaders, we must begin to see ourselves as caretakers of sacred ground rather than owners of a house.

Because the church is not our home. We do not possess it. We shouldn’t try to tame it any more than we should try and reign in nature. Consider the parks where gates are wide and all are welcome. This is what our churches should be. Open to all at any time. Some people come to work. Others come for recreation. Still more come to rest.

The caretakers of such spaces don’t care why you are there. They only want to assure that, no matter the reason you have come, you will feel the beauty and magnificence of Our Creator. They also hope the beauty you experience will be so real, so palpable, that you have no choice but to share the experience with others. Like vacation photos of the Grand Canyon that never quite do it justice.

There are glimpses of this in our own communities. Some churches operate food pantries. Others have given up their buildings altogether to provide transitional housing for those on the margins. I think of a recent Monday night at my own church, where a dozen homeless men slept in a fellowship hall, while Alcoholics Anonymous met in a preschool classroom, and a community development meeting took place in the sanctuary. Not a single event for church members.

But the family of God was there.

So I pray today that this will be our call. That we may tirelessly look for ways to be caretakers of the church where we serve. To look for ways to use our buildings and our gifts not for ourselves, but for others. And in so doing, may the light of Christ show through our generosity. Our openness. And our selflessness. Reaching out to the family of God.

Welcoming them home.

* Enjoy this post?  For more, just preorder Scott's book about his family's Year Without A Purchase on Barnes & Noble or Amazon launching August 4th from WJK Press. And, to see more posts like this, submit your email at the upper right to receive new blogs hot n fresh to your inbox.  Or, Like us on Facebook.  Cheers!

Through The Eyes of a Child: Baltimore and Beyond

Slide1 When you’re north of 40 years old with two kids, spring break looks a lot different than it did in your twenties. Instead of beaches, beer and poor life choices that end with a misspelled tattoo, you take a Tennessee road trip with your family. While that may sound simple, it’s anything but. Allow me to explain.

Our trip started innocently enough, with a plan to stay at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. The place is known for its small army of ducks that live on the roof and ride the elevator to the lobby each morning to swim in the fountain. It’s like a fairy tale, and well worth the price of admission, especially if your room is free courtesy of some credit card points.

On day two, we rose early with our hearts set on seeing the Memphis Zoo. After a big Southern breakfast of grits, gravy and grease, we loaded into the car. As we rounded the corner just two blocks from the restaurant, I caught sight of a large sign that read:

Lorraine Motel


“Isn’t that where Martin Luther King was assassinated?” I asked.

“It is.” Gabby replied. “And now it’s the National Civil Rights Museum.”

I glanced back at the kids, still sporting syrup on their chins.

Pulling into the parking lot, I murmured, “Maybe we can just look at it from the outside?”

“Is this the zoo?” Audrey asked, amazed that the trip was so short.

“It’s a museum!” I said.

She elongated her response with a well-placed whine. “A museeeeeuuuuuuum?!?!”

“Don’t worry honey. We’ll go to the zoo in a minute. I just want to see something.”

Gabby and I got out of the car and stood outside the hotel. The kids bolted across the parking lot like a couple escaped convicts, and behaved as such, lacking only the orange jumpsuits. I looked up at the small, nondescript building. The balcony outside room 306 looked just like it did in pictures I’ve seen of the night Dr. King was assassinated.

When I looked back toward the plaza, the kids were standing at a kiosk, wildly pressing buttons. When we finally caught up to them, they were halfway through a short video.

“What’s this about?” Jake asked.

“Remember your teacher talking about Martin Luther King, Jr.?”

He nodded.

“It’s about how he led a movement to change laws so people wouldn’t be mistreated because of the color of their skin.”

Audrey immediately ran to the next kiosk. Jake, distracted, ran to catch up to her. There were a half-dozen stands in all, and they stopped at every one, watching the videos and growing calmer with each passing minute, occasionally glancing up at the balcony where King was shot. I grew nervous. Some of the images were hard to stomach. Angry people yelling at lunch counters. Fists pounding. Dogs barking. Faces marked with dripping blood.

I thought to myself. This isn’t appropriate. They’re only 7 and 8. This is too much for young kids.

When they finished the final video, we were standing right by the door to the museum.

“Can we go in?” Audrey asked.

“This isn’t the zoo,” I reminded them, hoping they would drop it.

They didn’t.

Gabby looked at me and shrugged a “why not?” I tried to manipulate the situation, feeling hypocritical based on my recent post about racism and the need to move beyond our shame.

“Audrey. There are no animals inside,” I quipped. “And no rides.”

“I know.”

“No cotton candy.”

“I know dad. Let’s go see it!”

She tugged on my arm and pulled me toward the door. I told the kids that this was a quiet place. Not just regular quiet. Silent quiet. To which they replied that they knew dad.

They knew.

And they still wanted to go.

At that moment, I heard God say,

If your kids want to go learn about civil rights instead of petting goats at the zoo for the zillionth time, then take them to the museum, you moron!

Message received.

As Gabby bought the tickets, I started to sweat at the thought of my two young, white kids running and screaming through the civil rights museum. They are nothing if not loud, irreverent, and unfiltered. Unless this was the most inappropriate museum in the history of museums, there wouldn’t likely be any Emmit Till’s Tilt-A-Whirl or Jackie Robinson’s “Bat Like The Pros” baseball challenge to sap their energy.

But then it dawned on me that it wasn’t their behavior I was worried about. This would be heavy. And messy. And real. There would be confusion and sadness and heartache and questions. Questions for which this father has no answers.

We walked through the turnstile. I took comfort in the fact that the kids wouldn’t last more than fifteen minutes. It was clear their motivation was seeing the inside of room 306, which was at the end of the tour, and the mystery pulled them along like a rushing stream.

Then something happened.

The stream stopped rushing.

And so did they.

They listened.

They read.

Audrey crouched down in an exhibit that demonstrated how slaves were chained in a 3’ x 3’ space when they were transported across the Atlantic.

We sat in the bus seat next to Rosa Parks and listened to the recorded voice of a bus driver telling her to give up her seat to a white man.

Jake watched videos of people battered and broken for daring to sit at a lunch counter.

And they were quiet. Silent quiet.

Standing next to Jake at an exhibit on Brown vs. The Board of Education, I saw a question come across his face. I knew he was thinking of his best friend at school, who is African-American.

He asked, “Dad? So I couldn’t go to school with Ben back then?”

“Nope,” I said.

He paused, then muttered, “That’s stupid.”

More uncomfortable questions came. With an innocence that fails to phrase things in a politically correct fashion. And I continued to sweat. I did the best I could, but sometimes my best answer was, “I don’t know.”

In the questions and the confusion, fifteen minutes turned into three hours.

Three. Hours.

The zoo became an afterthought. My heart swelled along with my feet. The experience was heavy, and depressing and sad. It was also hopeful, inspirational and soul-stirring. It was one of the most profound moments I have ever shared with my children.

And I almost missed it.

And this is what I think Jesus was getting at when he said:

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matt 18:3 NIV)

Too often I try and shield my kids from the ugliness of reality. I want to sanitize the truth to make it more palatable, transforming the nightly news into a made-for-Disney script where it’s easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys, and everything is resolved with the wave of a wand. But here’s the problem with that.

Kids know fairy tales aren’t real.

And what I learned that day at the museum is that we can’t reduce the civil rights struggle down to the “I Have A Dream” speech any more than we can say that the resurrection is a story about Jesus “going up to be with God in Heaven.” By doing so we turn reality into a buttoned-up fairy tale with easy answers. A concluded story that has already been written.

But reality is messy. And ugly. And heart-breaking.

Reality is Selma. And Ferguson. And Baltimore.

Reality is nails and wood. A crown of thorns. A pierced side.

But reality is also a place where we live. Where we contribute to a story with no set rules and no easy answers. One where we can help write the ending. And in this quest, one thing is certain. Healing begins with a change of heart. And our hearts will never be changed if we choose to stand outside the fray, looking on like a patron outside a museum. Unfazed, untouched and uncommitted. We must be willing to pay our admission. To abandon the fairy tale, acting like adults with all of the answers, and instead approach the messiness with a child-like innocence.

With curiosity.

And wonder.

And hope.

* Since my last post, The Shame of Silence, people have asked how they can get involved.  For Nashville residents, I have found NOAH (Nashville Organized for Action and Hope) that works for affordable housing, economic equity, and criminal justice.  For those living elsewhere, consult the NAACP website to find a local advocacy group in your area.  Finally, if you enjoyed this post, submit your email at the upper right to receive new blogs hot n fresh to your inbox.  Or, Like us on Facebook.  And, for the die hard fans, we invite you to preorder Scott's book about his family's Year Without A Purchase on Barnes & Noble or Amazon, due out August 4th from WJK Press.

The Hidden Danger In Our Favorite Hymn

Slide1 I grew up Catholic. Even though I’m not practicing today, I have a reverence for the rituals of the faith. They were imprinted on my soul at a very young age. In fact, if you look closely at my ultrasound pic, you’ll see me executing a picture-perfect sign of the cross in utero.

What’s interesting about ritual is that it can become so automatic that we miss its significance. That is, until we see it in a different context.   Take, for example, the time we were teaching our son the Lord’s Prayer. We marveled with delight one evening at the dinner table as he made it through the first half all by himself. Then he said,

“Forgive us our trash passes as we forgive those who pass trash against us.”

Even though he wasn’t perfect, we had to give him bonus points for coming up with a translation that is likely a more accurate representation of what Our Savior intended. Now that ritual has new life and meaning for me.

You’ve probably had the same experience if you have ever tried to teach your kids this famous prayer.

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.

This is hands-down, the most popular bedtime prayer in the history of bedtime prayers. Ritual. However, if your kids really listen to the words, there is a good chance they will NEVER. SLEEP. AGAIN. Think about it.

Mommy, who is this Lord and why is he hoarding souls as I sleep? Is my bed really some sort of death trap? Is someone really going to kidnap my dead body?

Sweet dreams, kids!

Recently, in an attempt to recapture the meaning behind ritual, I found myself listening intently to what is perhaps the most beloved children’s hymn of all time. It was being sung by an angelic, smiling child in church.

Jesus loves me this I know For the Bible tells me so Little ones to Him belong They are weak yet He is strong Yes Jesus loves me The Bible tells me so

Simple words and a simple melody with a simple message. Beautiful and timeless. But I was struck by something.

For most of us, it’s just not true.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying Jesus dislikes children. And I’m certainly not saying we should remove the song from the hymnal. What I am saying is most of us don’t know Christ’s love because of words we read in the Bible. No. Christ’s love is something beyond explanation that we have experienced in the flesh.

And this is where I have noticed a troubling trend. Or maybe it’s always been there. But I fear that it’s slowly becoming a ritual.

We’re worshipping the Bible at the expense of Jesus.

Christians today, myself included, recite scripture to illuminate some truth that we feel deep in our bones, hoping others might feel Christ’s love leap from the page and capture their hearts. Unfortunately, when we do this, we lock Jesus inside the Bible. Forgetting that the Bible is a book full of words.

And words can be troublesome.

Consider these “inspirational” words from a religious book that shall remain nameless. These texts were behind the killing of thousands on our soil and overseas.

Make ready to slaughter [the infidel’s] sons for the guilt of their fathers; Lest they rise and posses the earth, and fill the breadth of the world with tyrants.1

Then I heard [God] say to the other men, “Follow him through the city and kill everyone whose forehead is not marked. Show no mercy; have no pity! Kill them all – old and young, girls and women and little children.”2

Cursed is he who does [God’s] work deceitfully, cursed is he who keeps back his sword from blood.3

As we read these words, our thoughts likely turn to 9/11 and the horrific tragedy that affected the world. Our hearts also go out to those in the Middle East tormented by ISIS. But there’s just one problem.

These scriptures are from our own Bible.

And there are hundreds more like them. Literally. Hundreds.

When I look to The Good Book for examples of God’s love and forgiveness, I also encounter words of God’s wrath and judgment. It’s confusing and contradictory. But no matter how hard I thump on my Bible, these scriptures just won’t fall out and leave only sunshine and rainbows behind.

The fact is, Christians throughout history have used the words of the Bible as a weapon to justify some horrible atrocities in the name of love. From the victimization of Native Americans to the Spanish Inquisition. And while only Christian extremists would justify such actions today, we also have to acknowledge that many of us, myself included, lift verses out of context to serve our own agenda. Leaning toward the side of judgment and away from the side of love.

But that’s when we must remember that many of the words we read today are the same ones Jesus pondered and prayed over. Ritually. And His life was a perfect testament to the idea that we should let words inspire and inform us, but when we are truly connected to God, it’s our actions that do the teaching.

Christ himself saved his wrath and judgment for the righteous. The ones who were caught up in living life by The Book yet ignoring the image of God standing before them in human form. Born of God, He understood the basic premise that humanity would never truly experience the love of God unless humans learned to give that love. Freely. Without condition.

Word made flesh.

The gospel of John tells us:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

And later, the writer recounts Jesus’ arrival

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1: 1-5, 14 NIV)

And here we have all the illogical contradictions of the Bible summed up in the most beautiful logic problem ever. The Word = God. God = Life. Life = Light And this light exists in all of mankind. Made real through the example of Jesus Christ.

And for most of us, this love isn’t the result of some lines in a children’s song or words in The Book. We know the love of Christ because some human, flesh and blood, filled with light, has shown us this love and light in our darkest hour. They have ventured out beyond what is reasonable to demonstrate to us that God is alive in each and every one of us.

So today my prayer is that I can create a new ritual. Bringing the Word to life by showing others the love of Christ. With uncommon compassion and selfless service. For the broken and blessed. For the sinner and the saint. Pouring out my life like a song until all God’s children know every word.

By heart.

  1. Isaiah 14:21 NAB 2. Ezekiel 9:5 NLT 3. Jeremiah 48:10 NKJV

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The Shame of Silence

AM Shame I’m ashamed today.

Odds are you have seen it by now. The video of fraternity brothers in Oklahoma singing a racist song to the tune of “If You’re Happy And You Know It.” Certainly, the words they use are despicable. They chant racial slurs and reference lynching in such a nonchalant way that you might think they were singing about a school carnival. But far worse than the words are the intent behind them. These kids from my home state created an entire song to proclaim that African Americans were beneath them. Less than. Worthless. As an Okie myself, it’s hard to watch.

But our shared geography is not the reason for my shame.

Over the past several months the topic of race has been front and center. The death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. The choking of Eric Garner in New York City. The shooting of Tamir Rice, a twelve-year-old boy in Cleveland who was killed for brandishing a toy gun in a park.   These incidents lit a fuse leading to demonstrations, protests and riots.

This whole time, I have sat silently on the sidelines trying to wrap my head around the news reports. What happened in those fateful moments between Michael Brown and the officer who took his life? Why does a community believe that rioting is the best way to bring attention to a crisis? What might cause a police officer to fear an unarmed man? How on earth could Garner lose his life for selling unpackaged cigarettes? How could two seconds end a child’s life? How could any of this happen? And who is to blame?

In my quest for answers, I have listened to interviews and read numerous articles, and several things are now clear to me.

I understand why Michael Brown and other black men are so distrusting of police.

I understand how officer Wilson might have felt threatened enough to pull the trigger and take the man’s life.

I understand why a community of voiceless people would riot.

I understand the arguments of those who say the riots did more harm than good.

I understand why a police officer in Staten Island might have felt the need to subdue a man who was resisting arrest.

I understand that Garner died of asphyxiation caused by a police-administered choke hold.

I understand how police might feel endangered if dispatchers did not inform them that Rice’s gun was a toy.

I understand how Tamir’s parents would feel outraged at an official report saying it was their son’s fault that a police officer shot him in the torso two seconds after arriving on the scene.

Yes. I understand.

I hoped all of this understanding would make me feel better about the whole situation.

But it doesn’t. And that’s why I’m ashamed.

I have been settling for understanding. I have convinced myself that my quest for facts and a balanced perspective has accomplished something. I argue it has helped me to remain level-headed in debate and assures no one gets too riled up.

But all of my understanding has accomplished absolutely nothing.

Yesterday, I sat in an airport terminal as CNN blasted the video of the frat boys singing their song. Talking heads on screen expressed outrage. Meanwhile, a big, boisterous fella’ sat across from me. He was a giant of a man. As he sat holding his newborn baby, his wife was arguing with him about how they should have packed more diapers. Half-listening, his gaze was fixed on the TV screen when he said,

“Sheesh. Here they go again. Last I checked, this country allows free speech.”

I winced.

His wife, embarrassed, immediately said, “Shhhhh!”

Even though she wasn’t talking to me, I complied. Slowly filling with shame.

Don’t get me wrong. I had a huge conversation in my head. I labeled him a racist. I wondered what might make him so insensitive. I tried to understand his perspective. I reasoned that his parents were probably raised in the Jim Crow south. I assumed he probably had no black friends, so he was ignorant of the double-standard.

But I still said nothing. And neither did anyone sitting at the gate. We didn’t want to ruffle feathers or cause a scene. So we all just sat in silence. Most of us praying we wouldn’t have to sit next to this man on the plane. Our shared responsibility became a shared excuse to do nothing. So we let it slide.




And this is the problem with systemic prejudice. When everyone is responsible for fixing the problem, no one is responsible. I have been safely hiding behind the language of “We need to” and “They should stop”, completely ignoring my role. Owning my shame, yet offloading the blame.

And it has to stop.

For me, it starts with moving past understanding and moving toward action. For understanding alone is unacceptable.

I can understand that 27% of African Americans live below the poverty line, nearly four times the rate of whites.

But I cannot accept it.

I can understand that schools enrolling 90% students of color receive over $700 less per pupil than schools with 90% white students.

But I cannot accept it.

I can understand that blacks are incarcerated for drug offenses at a rate nearly ten times that of whites even though the rate of drug usage is fairly consistent among all races.

But I cannot accept it.

What I must accept is the fact that I am part of a broken system. An unfair system that I cannot change by myself. But silence is not the answer.

So I pray I will find ways to speak out against injustice every day. Even if I am unsure of the facts. Even if I do not truly understand. For in the end, the only fact that matters is that we are all created in the image and likeness of God. And allowing anyone to tarnish that image is to deny the God I profess to follow.

So Lord, today I ask for you to give me the strength. Give me the words. Give me the courage to lend my voice to the chorus.

Silent no more.

* Writers note:  Would love to hear suggestions from you Accidental Missionaries out there about the best ways to help.  Especially those directly affected.

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Busy Is A Sickness

Slide2 I’m busy.

I don’t know about you, but anytime I am asked, “How’s it going?” I never just say “fine” anymore. Instead, my stock response is always some degree of frazzled. The scale ranges from “busy”, to “crazy busy” to “nutballs.”

The good news is, my answer is usually met with sympathetic response, which is as reassuring as it is depressing.

“Tell me about it! We are, too!”

“I know! Isn’t it insane!”

“There’s never enough time in the day, is there?”

But something changed about a month ago. I bumped into a friend at the gym. Instead of sympathizing when I said I was “crazy busy,” he simply asked,

“Really? So what do you have going on today?”

I had to stop and think for a moment. No one has ever asked me to “describe my busy.” So I conducted a mental review of our calendar before explaining that I had a worship band rehearsal in the morning, followed by a basketball game for my son, a church commitment for my wife, a birthday party for my daughter, and a date night that evening.

His response?

“Sounds like a full day. Have fun!”

At first, I was a bit resentful. He obviously misunderstood me. I wanted to remind him how horrible all of this was. I wanted to explain how driving from place-to-place in my comfortable SUV was a huge pain in the ass. Not to mention how Gabby and I would have to split up for part of the day. Buying and wrapping the birthday gift? Don’t even get me started! And then only having an hour to get the kids fed and get ready for our semi-fancy date that evening.

Didn’t you hear me? I am busy! Sweet Baby Jesus, have mercy on my soul!

Here’s the thing. I wear busyness like a badge of honor. Only there’s no honor to be had.

Busy is a sickness.

The American Psychological Association has published its Stress In America survey since 2007. They find that the majority of Americans recognize that their stress exceeds levels necessary to maintain good health. The most frequent reason they cite for not addressing the problem?

Being too busy.

It’s a vicious cycle.

Dr. Susan Koven practices internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. In a recent Boston Globe column, she writes:

In the past few years, I've observed an epidemic of sorts: patient after patient suffering from the same condition. The symptoms of this condition include fatigue, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, heartburn, bowel disturbances, back pain, and weight gain. There are no blood tests or X-rays diagnostic of this condition, and yet it's easy to recognize. The condition is excessive busyness.

We’ve heard for years that excessive stress causes health problems. But notice that Dr. Koven didn’t say stress. She said busyness.

And it’s an epidemic.

Dr. Michael Marmot, a British epidemiologist has studied stress and its effects, and found the root causes to be two types of busyness. Though he doesn’t give them official names, he describes the most damaging as busyness without control, which primarily affects the poor. Their economic reality simply does not allow for downtime. They have to work 2-3 jobs to keep the family afloat. When you add kids to the mix, it becomes overwhelming, and the stress results in legitimate health problems.

The second type of busyness also results in health problems, but it is a sickness we bring on ourselves. Like voluntarily licking the door handle of a preschool bathroom or having a sweaty picnic in the Ball Pit at Chuck E. Cheese.

It’s busyness we control.

Self-created stress.

Ever since my conversation a month ago, I realized that my busyness is this second type. Busyness we control. In fact, many times I create rush and worry where none exists. Any typical morning, you can find me riding my kids like a couple of three-dollar mules in a sea of marbles, begging them to move faster.

“If you don’t finish your waffles in the next 90 seconds, we’re gonna’ be late!”

“Do you like being tardy?! ‘Cause that’s what you’ll be if you don’t hurry up and brush your teeth!”

The funny thing is, whether I prod or not, we always seem to get to school at the same time every day. Before the bell. And if we’re late? Nothing bad really happens, but there is still the voice in my head telling me a couple of tardies today is a slippery slope that eventually leads to 5-10 years in Federal Prison.


After my conversation with my friend, I began to notice how much of my rushing was an overreaction to my “awfulizing” in my head. Most of the time, I manufacture urgency in hopes that it will create urgency in others. Instead, it only creates anxiety, resentment and spite. Which is absolutely counter-productive. And even in the cases where the urgency is real, it’s often due to a packed schedule I created.

All of this made me wonder:

Why would a grown-ass man, with a brain and two opposable thumbs, decide to voluntarily create stress in his life?

I found the answer, and it’s not pretty.

We are afraid of ourselves.

AM sickness shadow

In America, we are defined by what we do. Our careers. What we produce. It’s the first question asked at parties, and often the first tidbit of information we share with strangers. The implication is that if I am not busy doing something, I am somehow less than. Not worthy. Or at least worth less than those who are producing something.

Now, before you start to think this is just one guy’s opinion, consider a recent study published in the journal Science. In one experiment, participants were left alone in a room for up to fifteen minutes. When asked whether they liked the alone time, over half reported disliking it.

In subsequent studies, participants were given an electric shock, and then asked if they would pay money to avoid being shocked again. Not surprisingly, most said they would trade money to avoid pain. However, when these same people were left alone in a room for fifteen minutes, nearly half chose to self-administer an electric shock rather than sit alone with their thoughts.

You read that right.



(Which is so not punny.)

Think about what this means. Just being is so painful that we are willing to hurt ourselves to avoid it.

And this is perhaps the saddest truth of all. I am created in the image and likeness of God, yet somehow that isn’t good enough for me. So I fill my Facebook feed and my calendar with self-important busyness to avoid just being. In the process I not only miss out on the peace and beauty that lies within myself, but I miss seeing that same beauty in others, because my manufactured urgency has covered it up with anxiety and worry.

It’s time I let my busyness rest in peace.

So my prayer today is this. That I stop defining myself by my doing but by my being. That I stop measuring time by the clock on the wall, but by the experiences I share with those around me.   And stop seeing my life as “busy” and instead, see it for what it truly is.


Writer’s note: For the past month, I have tried my best to eliminate the word “busy” from my vocabulary. The result? I feel lighter. Now, when people ask how things are going, I just say, “Life is full.” What works for you?

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The Sixth Love Language

Slide2 Do you and your spouse have a secret language?

I’m not talking about speaking in gibberish or anything crazy like that. I’m just talking about shorthand language. For example, anytime I am doing something stupid and my wife wants to alert me to impending doom or injury, (like when I am using a metal staple gun to attach an electrified strand of Christmas lights to our house) she’ll shout,

“One point!”

It’s in reference to the IQ test I took as a kid where allegedly (according to my mother) I scored just one point shy of “Genius” on the charts. Much like the Loch Ness Monster, the actual document has yet to surface, but the score lives and breathes in our marriage on a regular basis.

We also use the word “Babe” when speaking to each other. Like, “Hey Babe, could you pass me the sports section?” or “Hey Babe, could you at least warn me when you are going to pass gas in the car?” It’s a term of endearment that conveys affection and intimacy. Unless, say, your toddler picks up on it and starts using the same word to get his preschool teacher’s attention.

But it works for us. It’s the language of love.

Dr. Gary Chapman has written a book called The Five Love Languages. You have likely seen it. It is one of the most popular resources for spouses, showing up in pre-marital communications workshops, couples Bible Study groups, or even the marriage therapist’s office.

In Chapman’s book, he describes the Love Languages as five different ways to express and experience love.

  1. Words of Affirmation
  2. Acts of Service
  3. Receiving Gifts
  4. Quality Time
  5. Physical Touch


Chapman explains that every person has a different preference in terms of how he or she prefers to experience love. Again, a sort of “marital shorthand.” And studies show that we tend to express love in the same way we prefer to experience it. But Chapman’s main point is that we do our marriages a disservice when we express love in a way that our partner couldn’t care less about.

Being a Words of Affirmation guy, I used to spend a lot of time telling my wife how great she was all the time. But that didn’t mean a hill of beans to her unless I first cleaned a toilet (Acts of Service) and klutzed my way through a Vinyasa yoga class with her (Quality Time). Over the years, we have adopted a new language, learning how to give what the other person needs, which ensures that our limited stores of relationship energy are used for maximum benefit.

But something happened last week that made me realize I’ve been missing the most important thing of all.

A Sixth Love Language.

And without it, the other five are doomed to fail.

At the beginning of the year, Gabby quit her job to come work for my company. Now, before you think I’m all high-falootin’, please realize that LifeWork Associates has a grand total of one employee. Me. And she was going to take a massive pay cut (i.e. she works for sandwiches and compliments) to help me get some more local business so I wouldn’t have to be on the road as much. It was a change designed to help us be more intentional about life and get back to what’s important.

And over the past few weeks, I have taken significant strides to help this little dream become a reality. Made over a dozen new business connections. Worked hard to develop a plan to make writing a viable part of my career. And, I have also done a lot of Acts of Service for Gabby. Changing light bulbs, fixing the latch on the back door, feeding the kids and getting them ready for school, mopping floors, opening dozens of stubborn jar lids and smashing an untold number of scary bugs.

But when we finally sat down last night for our half-hour of decompression before bed, Gabby seemed agitated. She was miffed that I left her favorite pillow in Atlanta while on a road trip with our son. She complained that I was hogging too much room on the couch. She even made a comment about the inconsistency of my toenail management regimen.

Has she been paying attention? I thought. I am pretty amazing over here. A virtual Shakespeare of love languages. But she’s harping on how a wayward toenail cut her ankle in the middle of the night?

I was concerned about me and how I wasn’t getting my Words of Affirmation.

Then she said, “And could you please copy me on emails about the book and about the business? This is a team effort, you know.”

And that’s when it hit me. I had neglected the Sixth Love Language. The one upon which the others are built.

The Language of Inclusion.

Over the past several weeks, I had been immersed in the language of “Me.” Doing things by myself and for myself. Building contacts. Meeting new people. Finding new exciting opportunities.

But I’ve been rowing alone. With one oar. Moving forward, but traveling in circles. Forgetting that Gabby is the one who introduced me to a lot of these people.  She's one who gave me the ideas.  It's like she baked the cake, but I got to eat it.

The whole thing.

By myself.

I suspect we’re not alone. When schedules get busy and kids pull us in different directions with soccer and Girl Scouts and basketball practice, it is necessary to divide and conquer. When this happens, husband and wife experience both challenges and triumphs separately. And we communicate between interruptions using only five-second sound bytes. If this becomes the norm, it’s only a matter of time before “our life” gradually becomes “our lives.” Lived apart in the same house.

John Gottman, Professor Emeritus at the University of Washington, has studied marital satisfaction for the past 35 years. Through his research, he is able to predict which couples will stay married or get divorced with roughly 90% accuracy. By reading his stuff, I have learned two things.

First, never invite him on a double date. He’s a total buzz kill.

Second, if you want your marriage to work, it has to be built on the Language of Inclusion.

In his work with thousands of couples, Gottman found that satisfied couples have the ability to talk through even the most challenging issues with mutual respect, valuing their relationship over their own positions. And he asserts that we can’t achieve this level of respect by staying apart. We have to share day-to-day events and respond with enthusiasm. We have to develop an understanding of our spouse’s worries, hopes and dreams. We have to make decisions in partnership. And most of all, we have to be working toward the same goal, developing a shared sense of meaning in our lives. Rowing in the same direction.

And no amount of floor scrubbing or gift-giving can do that.

No. It takes commitment. Talking through tired eyes when everyone has gone off to bed. Staying curious in the midst of everyday routine. Finding new questions for which you don’t already know the answer.

Living the Language of Inclusion.

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Mommy Porn: Fifty Shades of Reality

AM Mommy porn One of the hottest books of the past four years has been E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy, selling over 100 million copies. The novel has been dubbed “mommy porn” for its vivid descriptions of explicit sex, erotic bondage and horrible dialogue.

The trailer for the film adaptation was released last July, creating more media buzz than a wardrobe malfunction. Now after seven months of marketing foreplay (which is more than even the characters in the book can stand) the movie hits the big screen just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Though I haven’t seen the movie, I did peek at a few pages of the book. And fellas, I gotta’ tell you something: if you want to try and recreate scenes from this book with your significant other this weekend, it takes a lot more than a boquet of flowers. No, this craziness requires a trip to Home Depot and a notarized waiver signed by you, your wife, and a representative from the Department of Homeland Security.

Way too much trouble.

However if you simply want to increase your chances at romance this weekend, I have penned my own version of “Mommy Porn” for my wife. I gave it to her as a birthday gift a couple of years ago, and she was overflowing with desire after the first few paragraphs.

So, today I offer this to you as a free gift. A gift that keeps on giving.

Note: The following story must be read aloud in your most sultry, sexy voice.

Fifty Shades of Reality by Scott Dannemiller

The look on her face was utter shock, but the sensation in her soul was pure bliss.  He was doing things she had never before dreamed.  This was virgin territory.

“Is this how you like it?” He asked, a grin growing across his cheeks.

“That’s right.  Just like that.”  She answered, still trying to hide her surprise.  “That’s how I like it.”

He gingerly grasped her panties between his thumb and forefinger.  She leaned back and relaxed, breathing a heavy sigh.  As she settled into the couch, he brought the delicates to his chin.

Tucked them underneath.

Folded them in half.

And placed them into the laundry basket.

A rush went through her body, climbing her spine and erupting out the crown of her head.  As he grabbed her socks, it didn’t take long for her to realize he had done this before.  He didn’t just ball them up like other guys.  No.  He took his time.  Laying one sock on top of the other, and lightly folding them over.

“So precise!” she marveled at his technique.

“I learned this from an older woman,” he confessed.

“My aunt Edna.  She says it keeps the elastic from stretching.  Don’t worry.  I’ve got this.  I can go all night.”

Her core filled with ecstasy.  She watched as the neatly folded stacks of laundry rose higher and higher.  Socks.  Underwear.  Shirts.  Shorts.  Reaching their peak.  And just as she thought they might topple over, he moved each of them to the basket, arranging them by family member so to efficiently distribute them to their final resting place.

“I’m going to leave you alone for a moment.  I need to go put these things away.”

As he walked down the hallway toward the bedroom, she watched his tight buttocks sway back and forth, disguised by his baggy gym shorts.  Her eyes were distracted by something on the right hind pocket?  What could it be?  And then she remembered…


Just this morning, she awoke to a sun-drenched room.  There were squeals of delight coming from the kitchen.  Yes, her prince had risen before her and whisked the children off to the breakfast table.  There, he had lovingly prepared a meal.  Toast.  Milk.  Fruit salad.  And yes, oatmeal.  Oh, the oatmeal.  And not the kind from the paper pouch.  No.  He was too much man for that.

These were McCann’s Steel Cut Oats.  Steel. Cut. The kind that required warm water, heated to boiling.  Heat.  Hot heat.  Then turned down to a simmer to bubble and roll.  Full of fiber and tasteless.  Nutritious.  And he had somehow encouraged the kids to eat them.  To eat them all.  All except the blob that his daughter had dropped in his chair.  The blob that now adorned his rounded haunches.  Rugged and beautiful.  Like the freshly cleaned kitchen cabinet doors he had left gleaming, scented with Clorox wipes and Endust.

As she paced through the living room and into the dining area, bleary-eyed and foggy from a good night’s sleep, his voice cut through the clutter.

“It’s just how you like it. Hot. And sweet.”

She grabbed her cup of coffee and took a sip. He had lightened it with a heavy dose of Pumpkin Spice non-dairy creamer.

A real man remembers a woman's lactose intolerance, she thought.

She glanced up at him to see his strong hands wrapped firmly around the shaft.  The shaft of the mop.  Sweat covered his brow.  He was moving gracefully.  Back       and       forth.  Back        and       forth.  To the rhythm of beautiful music.  Like Norah Jones singing the theme song to a LifeTime movie starring Meredith Baxter-Birney as a woman scorned, then finding love again after fifty.

As she watched, his graceful movements increased to a quickened tempo.  Back     and     forth.  Back   and    forth.  Back  and  forth.  Back and forth. Back n forth.  Backnforth.  Bcknfrth.  The music now more Beyonce than Norah.  His movements strong, yet controlled.   The sweat dripping off the end of his nose.

It was a stubborn stain.

Grape juice?  Spaghetti sauce?  A smashed pea?  No one could be sure.  But what was certain is that he was dominating this kitchen floor.  Unleashing his power.  And she surrendered to it.  Submissive.


She felt a warm breath on her ear lobe, waking her from her flashback of the morning.  The clouds parted ever so slightly.

“Lift your legs,” said the deep baritone.

It was almost a whisper, hardly registering in her sleepy haze.  She hesitated.  What was he asking?

“Just for a moment,” said the voice.  “Then you can relax.  Please.  Lift your legs.”

She had fallen asleep in the afterglow of the laundry.  Fading into the couch like toddler spit up.  So much had happened since the folding.  But she did as the voice commanded.

As she contracted her abdominals, finely honed by Zumba and Ben and Jerry, her feet broke free from the carpet.

It was like an orchestra.  As she moved, so did he.  Finely tuned movements.  Sliding the great machine under her heels.  The sight made the hair on her arm stand on end, like the nap of the carpet each time he withdrew the vacuum.  The pattern he left on the rug was pure perfection.  Abstract art with a purpose.  With each pass, eons of pet hair and foot falls disappeared in an instant as the high traffic area in front of the sofa was tamed.  Her muscles were burning, but it hurt so good.

“Please don’t stop.  Don’t stop!  Don’t stop!” she wailed.  “That looks so good! “

“I have to.”  He replied.

“No! But why?” she asked.  “You were almost finished.”

“Oh, I promise I’ll be back.  But I have to go.”

Anticipating, almost as if he was channeling  Radar O’Reilly in a scene from M.A.S.H., he moved toward the hall bath.   A tiny voice cried out, “Mommy!  Wipe my bottom!”  It was in that moment that she knew why he couldn’t finish.

He bounded to the bathroom, still sporting the smashed oatmeal brooch on his behind, prepared for something dirty.  Very dirty.  She knew it well.

She scanned the house to find herself firmly ensconced in Camelot.  Every room had been scoured.  The wood floors were shining.  The dust had all been wiped away.  There was a crock pot simmering on the kitchen island.  What could it be?  Pot roast?  Gumbo?  Chicken and dumplings?  It could be dishwater seasoned with floor sweepings for all she cared.  She hadn’t lifted a finger all day, and it was nearly dinnertime.

The rest of the evening was a blur of activity.  She was like the queen bee, with everyone buzzing around.  Food was eaten without complaint.  Dishes were washed and children bathed.  Bedtime stories were read while she watched HGTV in the other room.  She sat alone in her happy home, marveling at the man who made it all possible.  Her heart swelled like the giant blister that now covered her husband’s mop-pushing hand.

“You coming to bed?” he inquired.  “I’ve got something planned just for you.”

Her spine tingled.  She looked in his direction.  He had showered, shaved, and smelled like Irish Spring.  Not the old fashioned scent, but one of the new, fancy smelling-kind.  Somewhere between Old Spice and Axe body spray.

“Oh yes.” She delighted.  “I’ll be right there.”

“I’ll be waiting.”

She changed into a tank top and slipped on her favorite sweat pants that she’s worn since her days as a Kappa Delta.  She turned toward the bed and saw him.  Ready.  Waiting.  Willing.

She slipped between the sheets and turned away, unable to look into his piercing hazel eyes.  She felt a hand on her back.  It moved slowly southward, then northward again, with a subtle pressure.  A squeeze of the shoulder, a tease of the neck.  Fingers through the hair.  For fifteen minutes his hands moved all over her, from waistline to necklace, relieving the tension brought about by the everyday.  She let herself go.  Free to enjoy the backrub.

A backrub without a future.

He slowly slid over and kissed her shoulder.

“I have a headache,” he whispered.  “I love you.  Goodnight.”

“I love you, too.’ She echoed.  And, along with her gorgeous, hunk of a man, she drifted off to sleep.




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A Nation of Christians vs. A Christian Nation

AM Christian Nation I returned home from a trip to Saudi Arabia last week.

When I landed in New York, I was greeted by a stern-faced U.S. Customs agent grilling me about my travels. Next, a perfect stranger in airport security felt me up so thoroughly that I must now confess a sin of adultery to a Catholic priest. Then, I paid $17 for lunch in the airport food court, where every outlet serves a menu of soggy cardboard warmed beneath the tender glow of four giant heat lamps.

And I loved everything about it. Home sweet home.

After my meal and subsequent indigestion, I sat in the lounge waiting for my final hop back to Nashville, soaking in all of the familiar sights and sounds. College hoodies. Southern accents. Bluetooth headsets. I overheard a couple talking in the row behind me, grateful to be around a familiar language once again. As I listened, I imagined their names were Harold and Mabel. The TV news was running a story about the Charlie Hebdo attacks, with justifiably angry talking heads decrying extremism and cautioning against racism.

“What is this world coming to?” Mabel asked.

“Nothing good, that’s for sure.” Harold quipped.

I glanced back at the screen above me, enjoying their banter. A little while later, the news ran a story about Miley Cyrus, the all-too-familiar celebrity. Apparently she thought it would be a good idea to release a bunch of nude photos. But Billy Ray’s heart wasn’t the only one that was achy-breaking.

“And look at that?” scoffed Harold. “Can you believe it?”

“Good Lord.” Mabel replied. “I can’t believe we allow this kind of thing in a CHRISTIAN NATION.”



We’ve heard it so many times that the words just seem to go together. Like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Bert and Ernie. But in that moment I was struck by a harsh realization.

It’s simply not true.

Please don’t misunderstand what I am about to say. I am a Christian. Big fan of Jesus! I try and fail every day to be more like Him. And I’m not just talking about the carpentry part. Whether the task is trimming out cabinets or extending grace to others, I have a devil of a time getting it right. Still, it is a goal of mine to become more Christ-like in word and deed.

Because of this, you might think I would be on the bandwagon, lamenting the fact that we’re looking less and less like a CHRISTIAN NATION every day. Especially so fresh from a trip to a Muslim country where openly sharing my faith is punishable by death.

But I am not lamenting. The truth is, the United States is NOT a CHRISTIAN NATION. And, as Christians, there are three big reasons why we need to get this crazy notion out of our heads.

First, when we say we are a CHRISTIAN NATION, we look like imbeciles to anyone who has read a grade school history book. The founders of our nation, most of them Christians, drafted the First Amendment (and Article 6 of the Constitution) to guard against state-sponsored religion. They had lived through true persecution, and understood how faith in the hands of government can easily stray from its original intent.

Second, saying we are a CHRISTIAN NATION provides an easy way for a people of faith to shirk responsibility. While I do believe governments have an obligation to assure citizens are afforded equal rights under the law, and government systems should not encourage marginalization, that does not mean Christ-followers can leave this work to elected officials. It is up to each of us to reach out to the “least of these” and take the humble stance of a servant. Every. Day.

The third reason gets to the heart of why Christ himself did not want to be “of this world.” Jesus had seen what happens to religion in the hands of politicians like the Pharisees and the Sadducees. In fact, he saved some of his harshest words for these folks, calling them “snakes” (Matt. 23:33) and “manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh.” (Matt. 23: 27 MSG)

Stop sugar-coating it, Jesus. Tell us how you really feel!

Jesus knew we should render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but we shouldn’t want to be Caesar.

Bottom line: there is a big difference between being a CHRISTIAN NATION and being a NATION OF CHRISTIANS.

A CHRISTIAN NATION claims persecution when others don’t allow official prayers, or prohibit the use public space and funds to display the Ten Commandments or a government-sanctioned Nativity scene.

A NATION OF CHRISTIANS recognizes that although the vast majority of the population is of the same faith, there is an ocean of difference between sharing that faith and imposing your beliefs on others. You just can’t legislate devotion.


A CHRISTIAN NATION fears Sharia Law and all things Islam, labeling Muslims as terrorists or extremists, even though the majority of terror acts are committed by non-Muslims.

A NATION OF CHRISTIANS looks for places to be the healing hands of Christ in the midst of extremism, while constantly reflecting upon their own behavior to see if it, too, could be classified as extremely far afield from the loving example of Christ.


A CHRISTIAN NATION takes a protective stance, concerned about securing its borders to keep out the alien and those who don’t belong.

A NATION OF CHRISTIANS takes a welcoming stance, concerned about loving their neighbors as themselves. There is simply no greater commandment.


A CHRISTIAN NATION legislates love, making rules that govern who can and cannot commit their lives to one another, treating the marginalized as unequal in the eyes of the law.

A NATION OF CHRISTIANS sees everyone as equal in the eyes of the Lord, wonderfully and beautifully made in the image and likeness of God.


A CHRISTIAN NATION demands commitment and effort, and those who aren’t willing or able to give that effort are less than worthy, placed outside the circle of the deserving.

A NATION OF CHRISTIANS live by the mantra of Christ that those who sue you for your tunic should be given your cloak as well. Those who ask for a mile shall be given two. And those who beg and borrow shall not be refused.

Perhaps all of this is best captured in the words of the Apostle Paul, who was once a zealous Pharisee himself.

1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing  by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! (Phil. 2: 1-8 NIV)

In the end, turning the United States into a CHRISTIAN NATION might ensure that “Christian values” are more consistently displayed on television screens and “Christian principles” are more practiced in schools and assembly halls. But that simply isn’t the answer. Because a NATION OF CHRISTIANS, made up of individuals striving to be Christ-like, understands that no one comes to the faith by force. Instead, people must be drawn to the faith of their own free will. Like a magnet to metal. And in this pursuit let us all be as strong as steel, praying this prayer together.

May our joy in despair be contagious. May our humility in service be infectious. May our generosity in poverty be irresistible. And may our love and grace be offered without condition to a nation of souls who need it so desperately.

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Laugh More, Learn More

Yesterday morning was one of those rare times when the planets aligned and my children completed their chores ten minutes before they had to leave for school. Now, before you start thinking we’re amazing parents, please note that our kids’ chores aren’t real chores like churning butter, milking goats or washing laundry in a river. Aside from making their beds and putting dishes in the dishwasher, Jake and Audrey’s “chore chart” is just a list of behaviors that differentiate humans from primates. Brush teeth.

Comb hair.

Make bed.

Don’t throw poop.

I figured that the kids would use their extra time to play a game or something. Instead, Jake came up to me and said,

“My hair is sticking up and it won’t lay down.”

I looked at his head and noticed a slightly greasy spot where he had tried to plaster some stray hairs to his melon.

“You tried the hair gel?” I asked.

“Yes!” he replied, asking for help without really asking. “Nothing works!”

He tried his best to bottle his frustration. After five seconds, my slow response time got the best of him and he started bouncing around like he was choking on something. This hyperactive Heimlich maneuver dislodged a question.

“Can you just give me a haircut?”

“A haircut? We have to leave for school in ten minutes.”

“It won’t take any time at all, Dad. Please!”

Sometimes my kids say please with a demanding tone that really means, if you don’t do this, I’ll poison you while you sleep. But this was a genuine please filled with gratitude and anticipation.

“OK son. Go get a towel. I’ll get the clippers.”

I collected the clippers, a stool, and a pair of scissors and shuffled out the back door to the deck (A.K.A. Barber Shop). He met me with his shirt off and the towel draped around his shoulders. I fastened it around his neck with a Chip Clip.

“OK. Sit still,” I said.

I fastened the #3 guard to the clippers and buzzed over his ears and along the sides. I circled him as he sat on the stool, trying to get the best angle. We chatted about basketball the entire time. As I moved to the crown of his head, my peripheral vision caught a glimpse of a gray, triangular shaped object falling to the ground. It rolled across the deck and underneath the stool.

What was that?

I crouched down to look under the stool and spotted the #3 plastic guard.

Then I looked in my hand at the clippers.

Uh oh. No guard.

I stood up to inspect Jake’ head. What I saw made my heart sink. I couldn’t contain my horror.

“Oooh nooooo…” I sighed.

“What?” Jake asked.

My knee jerk response was to blow it off and say, “Oh…. Nothing!” and go on cutting his hair. But this was not an Oh Nothing moment. This was something. I had shaved a bald spot into his head the size of a silver dollar.


“Ummmmm. The guard fell off the clippers, and now you have a little bald spot.”

“Dad!” he screamed, with a hint of laughter.

“I am soooooo sorry, Jake.”

“Can I see it?”

We walked to the bathroom where he inspected the damage. He shot me an angry smile. “Can you fix it?”

“I wish I could, son. The only way to make it invisible is to shave your whole head.”

I felt sick to my stomach for my poor kid. There we were, two minutes before it was time to leave for school, and Rogaine doesn’t work that quickly. There was no fixing this mistake. He would now have to go to school and face the jeers of all of his classmates. I awfulized a scenario where his buddies made fun of his haircut. Then no one picked him for dodge ball. Then he would become a social pariah. No girls would date him. He wouldn’t get into a good college. No job prospects. So he’d spend his thirties and forties on our couch eating store-brand cheese puffs straight from the bag while endlessly playing online video games.

And it would all be my fault.

I can only imagine how I might react if someone shaved a bald spot in my head right before a big business meeting or an important presentation. I expected him to scream. Or cry. Or throw a tantrum. Instead, Jake just kept laughing at how absent-minded his dad can be.


But when we got to school, he saw roughly a hundred kids ready to enter the building. That’s when his demeanor shifted. He got quiet and pulled his hoodie over his head. His eyes got glassy. Gabby and I both gave him a hug. I apologized again, but he didn’t look at me when he said goodbye for the day.

For the rest of the morning, I imagined my third-grade son getting razzed by his friends in class and having to tell the story over and over again. It tore me up inside. I wanted so badly to make it all better.

At lunch, I picked up a chicken sandwich at Jake’s favorite fast food restaurant. As he rounded the corner of the lunchroom, he was shocked to see me. He gave me a big hug as I grabbed for his lunchbox and said, “trade me.” Instead of selecting a special friend and heading out to the courtyard (a perk of having a parent at lunch with you), Jake opted to eat with the rest of the class. He was all smiles as he led me to their designated table.

Eating lunch in a grade school cafeteria is a bit like having a picnic in a washing machine filled with sneakers and sledgehammers. I nibbled on baby carrots while getting poked and prodded by Jake’s classmates and listening to countless fart imitations. The good news is, they all seemed to have forgotten about the giant bald spot on Jake’s melon. Save for one. A little girl who was eyeballing me from across the table.

“Are you Jake’s dad?” she asked.

“Yes,” I answered.

“So you gave him that haircut?”

“I did,” I said. “Do you like it?”

She gave me a look like she had just sniffed some spoiled milk and shook her head “no.”

Other than that minor blip, Jake and I survived the grade school lunchroom intact. When Gabby picked him up from school and asked how his day went, he offered,

“Dad brought me lunch today.”

“Oh really?” she said, feigning surprise. “That sounds fun!”

“Yeah,” he responded. “I think he felt bad about my hair.”

When she asked for more information on the bald spot debacle, he said matter-of-factly,

“Matthew and Brandon didn’t even notice.  Dylan asked me about it and then we laughed. Because all you can do is laugh about it, right?”

So very true.

Later that evening, I invited him out to the garage to replace a headlight that had burned out in our SUV. I figured I would offer another olive branch of quality father-son time while teaching him the manly art of car repair that I had just learned ten minutes earlier courtesy of a You Tube clip.

He climbed onto the step ladder and gestured toward the headlight.

“Dad, can I take the old one out?”

As any parent knows, allowing kids to “help” with repairs usually means it takes three times as long as it should. It was cold, and I just wanted to be back inside the house. But I decided it wouldn’t hurt to let him give it a shot. Once he saw how hard it was to dislodge the electrical clip, he would likely defer to me anyway.

“Sure, go ahead. But be careful.”

He reached in and pulled. The clip came loose easily.

Surprised, I said, “OK. Now twist the base of the bulb and pull it out.” Then added with emphasis, “But please be careful. We don’t want to break it.”

Sure enough, he reached in and extracted the bulb, but as he was pulling it out from behind the light housing, it slipped.

“Oh no!” he said, as soon as he lost his grip.

I heard the bulb clink on some metal as it fell.   I breathed out the word “Dammit” and flashed my light into the engine, but the bulb was nowhere to be found. It had fallen through the cracks into no man’s land, unable to be retrieved without removing a bunch of parts I couldn’t even name, much less repair.

More work.

“Sorry dad. It was just kinda’ stuck in there.”

I wanted to lecture my son. I wanted to remind him that I had told him twice to be careful. I wanted to tell him how dangerous a loose piece of metal can be if it’s lodged somewhere unfortunate in an engine block.

But he was busy peering into the abyss, still trying to spot the lost bulb. And as I glanced down, I saw the spot on the back of his head. The one I had made. The one he so quickly forgot. And that’s when I learned how hard it is to hold on to anger once you’ve been offered grace.

I reached down to rub him new buzz cut.

“It’s OK, son,” I said, laughing. “It happens.”

And may it keep happening.


And again.

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4: 31-32

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AM laughing christ

The 3 Ugliest Christmas Decorations Known to Man (And Why You Should Love Them)

I heard my five-year-old niece talking to my wife in the living room. “Ooooooooooh! This one is big! Can I put this one on the Christmas tree?”

Gabby, without looking, said, “Honey, those are the breakable ornaments. The ones for the kids are on the couch. Come over here and…”

Then something stopped my wife in her tracks. She continued.

“Oh. That one? Knock yourself out, kid. Hang away!”

I came around the corner to see little Ava precariously swinging a glass ball the size of a newborn’s noggin on the end of her finger. While Gabby’s eyes filled with hope, I cringed and said,

“Careful Ava!”

She delicately hung the ornament on one of the lowest spots on our tree. The branch buckled under the weight and bent down, pointing toward the floor. Luckily, a sturdy needle grasped the ribbon to keep my Christmas treasure from shattering on the ground.

Crisis averted.

The ornament in question is one I received from a coworker nearly twenty years ago. The woman is a regular Martha Stewart and made gifts for each of her fellow employees every year. The giant glass ball is painted on one side with a bright red and green poinsettia flower. On the other side the WorldCom logo. Yes, I said WorldCom. My former employer. The one whose CEO, Bernie Ebbers, is now doing 25 years in federal prison for masterminding the largest corporate fraud in history.

Which reminds me, I forgot to send him a card.

AM Christmas WorldCom

The ornament was once a clear, gleaming globe, but has now been clouded by years of fingerprints, smudged paint, and a felony conviction. Still, it means something to me. I’m not sure why I like it so much. It doesn’t make any sense, really. I am embarrassed to have the company name on my resume. My meager 401K was decimated when the allegations came to light and the stock tanked. Yet, for some strange reason, I still love the decoration on the tree.

Each year, there is a debate as to where to hang it. If I am the one who comes across it in the box of breakables, I gingerly place it in a prominent spot, only to find it slowly move toward the back of the tree as Jesus’ birth nears. I think Gabby just wants to make sure it’s out of the line of sight of our under-the-tree nativity scene before the Christ Child finally shows up on the 25th.

Might upset the baby.

But each year this Christmas Abomination lives on, along with many other surprising decorations.

Take “Hanta-Santa”, for example.

AM Christmas Hanta Santa 2

Hanta Santa is a name I gave to this ornament after finding it had barely survived a rodent attack in the attic. Notice how the hems of his coat and sleeves have been gnawed into a lovely scalloped pattern? Luckily, I was able to tame Kris Kringle’s mild case of Hanta Virus with a healthy dose of pine-scented Lysol and a Silkwood shower. After fifty years of faithful service, you can’t just throw the Jolly Fat Man to the curb because of a frayed coat and contagion, can you?

No way. Not on my watch.

And then there the “Mistle-Toes” – a disturbing display hung in our entry way.

AM Christmas Mistle Toes

It’s supposed to be an inviting sprig of mistletoe intended to entice yuletide lovers to smooch. Instead, it’s really more of a reminder to Santa to pay his gambling debts, lest the rest of his elves will end up stuffed in a sack like this poor guy. Even though my wife refuses to kiss me within a fifteen foot radius of the Mistle-Toes, it’s still a Christmas tradition.

I know all of these trinkets are an abomination to the Pottery Barn Christmas we see in the catalogs. Heck, they’re so tacky that even the Chuck E. Cheese ticket counter would refuse to give them to a kid trying to spend his Skee-Ball winnings.

But that’s why I love them.

This time of year, every single one of us gets wrapped up in lofty expectations. We have visions of sugarplums and Christmas card photo shoots where everyone gets along. We delight in the promise of the Season. And happy memories flood our senses as we recall Christmases past.

But these memories are sanitized versions of the truth. The fully-edited movies of our lives. And we forget all of those moments that ended up on the cutting room floor. Kids complaining. Stressed-out shoppers. Overbooked schedules. Fussing and fighting. Nope. Those memories somehow got shredded or mis-filed, like incriminating corporate memos, never to be seen again.

That’s where the Christmas abominations come in.

You might think these decorations are a window through which we see our Christmases past. A way to recall happy times and treasured moments. In truth, I think these ugly eyesores are actually a mirror with which to see ourselves. They provide a reflection of reality. Reminders of bad choices. Mistakes. Imperfections. Warts on display.

Perhaps that’s what leads my wife to pack them away every January. Lovingly wrapped in old newspaper, despite how they look. Because deep down we all understand that an annual celebration of the birth of our Savior is no time to start feigning perfection. God did not come down to earth via C-section in a brightly sanitized hospital covered in pristine marble. No. Not even a hotel room. The truth is that a scared young girl gave birth to Jesus in a filthy, drafty, dirt-floor stable filled with flying bits of dust and the smell of manure.

Such an imperfect place for a perfect soul.

But it seems very fitting for a baby who grew into a man who sought out the broken and the lost. The outcast and the afflicted. The poor and the lame. All to show them how God sees their imperfection as a perfect gift.

Love come down.

So each year brings another Christmas miracle. Another chance to see ourselves as God sees us. This year, as you celebrate the Season, I pray that you proudly display your own Christmas abominations to celebrate imperfection. And I also pray that we are all able to see the beauty in the mess. This life that God has given to all of us.

And when the time comes to pack it all away in the attic, I invite you to use a little extra bubble wrap for the least of these. Because all of these imperfections need a soft, forgiving place to rest.

If only for a while.

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The One Question Every Parent Should Quit Asking

AM One Question Parents “It’s like she’s not even practicing.”

Audrey’s piano teacher was standing in front of me, giving her honest assessment. Her eyes were kind, and her voice soft, but my parental guilt turned her statement into a question. One I couldn’t answer. So I just faked a diarrhea attack and ran to the restroom.

Once we got home, I was determined to show Miss Amanda that my daughter could be the next Liberace, only more bedazzled than the original. So we opened her music book and got to work.

We sat side-by-side at the piano for all of ten minutes when Audrey began to fade. She wasn’t even looking at the notes. Her back slouched. Her fingers barely pressed the keys. I tried to be encouraging, but every half-hearted effort from her quickly depleted my well of schmoopieness.

“Sweetheart,” I said, in a tone that didn’t match the pet name . “Don’t you want to be good at this?”

She didn’t say anything. She just made a weird sound. Like a dolphin moaning. So I asked again.

“Honey. Don’t you want to be good at piano?”

“No.” She answered, with a look.

Has my six-year-old mastered the art of spitefulness?

“Fine,” I said, calling her bluff. “I guess we just won’t practice anymore. And we’ll keep wasting Miss Amanda’s time going over the same things every week.”

I got up and walked to the kitchen where my son was busy not doing his homework.

“Jake! What are you doing?! Finish your homework! We have to leave for basketball practice in ten minutes! Let’s go! You’re not even dressed!”

Not my best parenting moment. The entire evening went on like this, with me incessantly jabbing at the kids and them fighting me every step of the way. Piano. Basketball. Homework. Hygiene. Lather, rinse, repeat. A never-ending well of cajoling. I thought to myself,

They are both getting saddles for Christmas. That way, at least I’ll be comfortable when I’m riding their asses all the time.

I am not proud of it, but the simple truth is that I worry about my kids and their level of engagement. And maybe you do, too. As a dad, I frequently feel myself getting sucked in to the vortex of expectations. All the other parents are talking about great opportunities they are providing for their kids. Special summer camps. Foreign language learning. Private tutors. Music lessons. Coaching clinics. And when I hear how other kids are participating in these activities, I can’t help but feel that my children will be left behind or left out if they don’t take part. I “awfulize” a future where other kids are having fun together, solving quadratic equations and getting six-figure jobs out of junior high while mine are both sitting in the corner eating Elmer’s Glue straight from the bottle.

And it’s all my fault.

So, in an effort to prepare our kids for the dog-eat-dog, competitive world before them, we fill their days with activity. Schedule them from dawn to dusk to maximize their potential. So they can learn. And grow.

But I fear that in our quest to help them, we may actually be hurting them.

“Free time” for kids has been steadily declining since the 1950s. In one particular study, from 1981 to 1997, kids experienced a 25% decrease in play time and a 55% decrease in time talking with others at home. In contrast, time spent on homework increased by 145%, and time spent shopping with parents increased by 168%.

But is that bad?

I think it is.

A research project by Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State, looked at psychological trends in youth during a similar period and noticed a sharp increase in anxiety and depression. Our kids are more stressed out than before. And that’s not the only change. Another Twenge study shows a surprising shift in motivation over the years, with kids in the 60’s and 70’s reporting being more motivated by intrinsic ideals (self-acceptance, affiliation and community) while kids today are more motivated by extrinsic ideals (money, image and fame).

And we’re the ones pushing them in that direction.

As parents, we focus 100% of our energy asking the wrong question:

“What might we miss if we don’t take advantage of these opportunities?”

And we need to stop.


Because the motivation behind this question is fear. And the fear is all mine.

I worry that that my kids be made fun of if they don’t have socially acceptable “stuff.” I worry won’t become elite athletes unless they specialize in a sport by age ten. I worry that they won’t get into college if they don’t do well in school.

But the fears are largely unfounded.

The “stuff” issue is easily overcome with common sense. No one in the history of the world has ever been able to buy a true friend. And in the athletic realm, kids who specialize in sports are no better off than those who don’t, and in some cases, the specialization is actually a detriment.

As for the academic worry, that may be the biggest unfounded fear of all. We buy into the hype that college is much more competitive today, so we push our kids to take advantage of every learning opportunity under the sun. The truth is, in the past ten years, admissions counselors saw their average number of applications nearly double because of parents like us. We’re frantically submitting applications out of fear. Even so, colleges are still accepting two-thirds of all applicants on average. A number that has hardly decreased in a decade.

But we still believe the hype.

Bottom line: we parents need to chill out and change our questions. Here are two that can help us all gain some perspective and start finding more genuine joy in our lives.

Question #1: “What are we losing in our quest for success?”

If you are like me, most valuable parts of your childhood did not take place in a special classroom or perfect practice field. Sure, you had teachers and parents to encourage you to do your best and work toward a goal, but that was balanced by plenty of other worthwhile pursuits such as tearing apart a Stretch Armstrong doll to see what was inside, building bike ramps in the driveway, and racing leaf boats through a drainage ditch in a rainstorm.

But we’ve sacrificed these things in pursuit of an ideal, and we’ve turned our children into little mini-adults in the process. Tiny professionals who have no time for brain-building, soul-boosting play during the week, so they desperately cram it in to a weekend schedule packed with structured sports and recitals.

It’s sad.

But the bigger issue is this:

Question #2: “What’s the ultimate goal?”

Encouraging a child’s potential is a good thing. And there is nothing wrong with extracurricular activities. They teach worthwhile skills and instill core values in a child. Values such as discipline, commitment, goal-setting, and persistence. And providing these opportunities is my job as a parent.

But there is a big difference in wanting what’s best for your kids, and wanting them to be the best.

Wanting what’s best for your kids is all about the child. It’s about helping them find something they are passionate about so they are intrinsically driven to reveal the strengths that God gave them, whether in art, music, sports, writing, academics, or community service.

Wanting them to be the best is all about me. My expectations. My fears. So I yell at them from the stands, correct them after lessons, and coax them into activities that suck the fun out of childhood. And in the process, I teach them that their worth is wrapped up in how they perform. I teach them that second place is losing. I teach them that judgment is more important than love and acceptance.

And it is so wrong.

Because being the best should NOT be the goal. If I asked you to name the last five winners of the Academy Award for best actor, could you do it? How about the last five World Series winning pitchers? Last five Nobel Prize winners in medicine? I’d venture to guess, based on absolutely no scientific evidence, that only 10% of you could do it. At the most. And these are examples of people who have achieved the pinnacle of their profession. Known the world over.

And we forget them.

But what if I were to ask you to list the five people who have meant the most to you in your life? The ones who taught you what it means to be a true friend. A person of integrity. I know without a doubt that 100% of us could do it in a heartbeat. And the list would be filled with people who never had a highway or high school named after them. People who never had their name carved on a ceremonial trophy.

But here’s the kicker.

The mere thought of their faces likely makes your heart swell. Might even bring a tear to your eye.

And this, my friends, is the goal. To be on the list for our kids. So that they might be on someone else’s list someday. And no amount of fear and anxious prodding will accomplish that for us. In this constantly correcting, constantly evaluating world, there has to be space for acceptance. Space for presence. Space where time isn’t measured in tenths of a second, but in turns taken on a colorful Candyland board.

And only love can do that.

So my prayer today is that we have nothing but love to give. May we offer it daily.

Without condition.

Without worry.

Without regret.

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The Day I Dropped The F-Bomb in Church (A.K.A. Faith and Four-Letter Words)

A crazy thing happened a few nights ago. I cursed in church. Out loud. And not just “Shoot” or “Dang” or “Hell.” Nope. The queen mother of naughty words. I dropped the F-bomb right there in the sanctuary. Want to know what’s worse?

I was standing in the pulpit.

In front of hundreds of people.

With the microphone on.

AM F Bomb2

I was there to give a presentation on the devastating effects of hunger.   I shared a freezer full of facts, complete with colorful charts and graphs. Like how one in four kids in America is food insecure and how nearly half of all deaths of kids five and under worldwide is caused by poor nutrition. I spoke of food waste in our country and the estimated 30% of our food supply that gets thrown away every year, amounting to 1200 calories per person per day.


My speech became more impassioned with every new statistic I shared. By the time I was halfway through, I was truly on a roll. It was a powerful, moving talk that should have motivated even the most cold-hearted among us, yet when I looked out on the sea of faces, I saw pure apathy. Sure, there were a few receptive souls, but I might as well have been one of those late night TV commercials. Just background noise.

That’s when a hand rose in the congregation. Grateful for some interaction to distract my irritation, I acknowledged the familiar-looking gentleman sitting five rows back.

“Yes? You have a question?”

The man didn’t rise from his pew. He simply asked,

“Why do you think hunger is still a problem?”

Isn’t it obvious?!

My low simmer heated to a rolling boil. Scanning the faces once again, I offered a wake up call.

“You want to know why? Because you don’t give a F%#&.”

The words echoed through the chapel, ricocheting like a pinball off every God-loving, God-fearing man, woman and child in the congregation. I didn’t ask anyone to pardon my French. Or my English. I didn’t apologize at all.

I just let it hang in the air.

It didn’t take long for pandemonium to erupt. Women shrieked and covered the ears of their children. Elderly men, once gentle and kind, stood bolt upright and screamed “Blasphemer!” firing the words at me through stiffly pointed fingers. They didn’t really care much about hunger, but they sure looked like they wanted to cram lots of stuff down my throat. I lost control of the room. I stood there shouting more statistics as everyone bolted for the exits as if I had screamed that other F-word.


It was horrible.

But it was just a dream.

I woke up pouring with sweat. Like I had gone to bed too soon after overindulging at Pancho’s All-You-Can-Eat Mexican Buffet. I looked to my left, and my wife was sleeping soundly beside me. There was no presentation. No F-Bomb. Just a scene played out in my mind.

But my body thought it was real.

Apparently, I’m very conflict-averse, even if the conflict is totally made up. My heart was racing. I peeled myself from the sheets and went to the bathroom for a drink of water and a reality check. I looked in the mirror, trying my best to discern whether it really was a dream, or was an actual event in my life. I checked my phone for angry posts to my Facebook page, and seeing none, I knew that it was all in my head.

The next morning I was scheduled to meet with a pastor to talk about an upcoming retreat. While we were chatting over a cup of coffee, I shared the story with her. Her immediate response was to fake-write in her day planner and mumble,

“Note to self: Do not let Scott do any substitute preaching.”

Fair enough.

But this begs an interesting question:

Was it a dream? Or reality?

The pastor and I discussed it for a while, wondering what might happen if someone did drop the F-Bomb in church. Not by accident like Pope Francis did earlier this year during a Papal Blessing at the Vatican, but an honest-to-goodness, Tony Soprano style, attention-getting F-Bomb.

It’s no stretch to think that the church would empty just as it did in my dream. People would be in a huge huff, demanding the preacher resign. And I can totally see why. He’s taking the name of the Lord in vain in church for crying out loud! Right there in the pulpit! How dare he!

Truth be told, there are certain words that are inappropriate in our culture. They generate a lot of negativity. And we definitely don’t want to teach them to our kids and have them spouting them off at play dates and birthday parties. Using those words influences how others perceive us.

Bad Language = Bad Person.


There are certain things we just don’t talk about in public.


Let’s forget for a moment that The Bible is chock-full of horrendous stories. Tales of rape. Incest. Infanticide. Genocide. Sexism. Slavery. And one of my personal favorites, the story of our beloved David sleeping with Bathsheba, another man’s wife, knocking her up, and then sending her husband to die in battle to wash his hands of the whole thing. These stories can all be read aloud on holy ground, but Heaven forbid we string together a few shorthand, four-letter words to describe any of it.

That would be truly abhorrent.

But that’s often what we do. We decry things we deem offensive while simultaneously ignoring genuine human tragedy. We take our personal relationship with God very personally, ignoring the fact that He’s also the God of billions of others. So we defend God at the expense of His children. As if the Lord of the Universe is just a friend on Facebook who happens to have the same exact beliefs, opinions, and political persuasions that we do.

Hypocrites covered by the cross.

And I’m saying “we” intentionally, because the familiar man in my dream who raised his hand to ask the question?

He had my face.

It was me.

I’m the apathetic one.

In real life, I’m the guy sitting through a passionate presentation on hunger, then quickly exiting church to have lunch with my family, leaving half a plate of food to be thrown out, and rushing home to tell everyone how someone in the pulpit said something that rubbed me the wrong way.

Turning faith into a four-letter word.

And here is when I realize that my dream has come true. And the truth is ugly. But it doesn’t have to be that way. As a Christian, I pray that I can live into these words from John. The ones that call us to step outside ourselves and be Christ for one another.

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3: 16-18)

Sounds like an impossible dream, doesn’t it? But dreams do come true. And if we can turn this dream into reality, we’ll realize faith as a four-letter word isn’t always a bad thing.

So long as that word is:


How Should We Respond To The Huddled Masses?

Unless you’ve been holed up in a concrete bunker for the past few weeks, you’ve probably heard how US Border Patrol detention centers are overflowing with immigrant kids from Central America. While we’ve all been poolside sipping Orange Crush and lamenting the limited effectiveness of aerosol sunscreen, little Lupita has been traveling from Guatemala in a sweltering boxcar, followed by a fifty mile march through the desert in triple-digit heat.  It’s kinda’ like an Outward Bound summer camp adventure, only your counselor is a coyote named Miguel who demands $4000 for delivering you to a safe house outside of Tucson, provided you agree to smuggle a couple of pounds of heroin in your Hello Kitty backpack. And believe it or not, this camp has a waiting list a mile long.

There have been over 57,000 unaccompanied children apprehended by US Border Patrol since October. That is twice as many as the same period last year. Some of the children traveling alone are preschool age. It’s a crisis of Biblical proportions that is bringing the topic of immigration to the forefront.

Many Americans are taking a compassionate approach, asking the Federal government to do everything in its power to assure these children are kept safe here in the states while we evaluate their circumstances, or reunite them with their parents abroad. Some governors are even rolling out the welcome mat to temporarily house immigrants. Churches are opening their doors to the kids to offer sanctuary.

Others are adopting a no tolerance policy. Residents of towns such as Murietta, California have blockaded roads to keep these children from taking refuge within their city limits. They argue that the situation magnifies our existing border control problem that is overcrowding our emergency rooms and social services, and putting a strain on the US Border Patrol. The belief is that anyone who wants to enter our country to work should follow the proper channels which include waiting in a 5-10 year queue, ponying up hundreds of dollars, obtaining a formal job offer, and proving that no one else in the U.S. could perform the job. Otherwise, they need to go home.

As an American, I can see the validity of both responses.

As a Christian, I can’t see how intolerance wins. Whether the immigrant is five years old or fifty-five.

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Don’t get me wrong. The border situation is a real problem. Some years ago, my wife and I heard from both sides of this debate at a conference in Arizona. Local residents shared tales of gun-toting smugglers knocking on their doors in the middle of the night demanding money and shelter. The US Border Patrol told stories of rescuing immigrants near death and assuring they were sent back home safely. They also explained how they had apprehended bad guys crossing the border, bringing drugs and preying on the addicted. Some of them even intended to do our country harm.

But the truth is, the vast majority do not.

Our family has spent the past few weeks living and serving with some amazing missionaries in one of the poorest sections of Los Angeles. A place made up largely of undocumented immigrants. It’s not an area that shows up on tourist maps. It is the most densely populated neighborhood west of the Mississippi, with 150,000 people in a two square mile area. The streets are marked by gang tags and poverty.

Yet we celebrated the most joyous Fourth of July we have ever experienced, surrounded by immigrants who see their current situation as far better than their lives of the past. They basked in the glow of their freedom and opportunity, playing music and lighting fireworks until dawn. Their BBQ grills were working overtime, perched precariously on narrow apartment balconies. The coals were still warm in the morning as they left for work. Work that most Americans don’t want to do.

Picking our vegetables.

Landscaping our lawns.

Cleaning our homes.

They are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and cousins of the current wave of immigrants. Most of whom are poor and hungry, fleeing abject poverty in countries where there is absolutely no opportunity to improve their standard of living. Others are running from corrupt governments or police forces. Children face rape and death threats if they don’t join gangs and agree to participate in the violence. Coming to the United States is their only alternative.

But some argue that they have broken the law, so we should round them up and kick them out.

As an American and a Christian, I can’t help but think how wrong this is.

For one, it goes against our quintessential American “Bootstrap” belief. This new wave of immigrants is crossing deserts, dodging drug dealers, swimming the Rio Grande, and scaling 16-foot fences to find a better life. The only thing the rest of us had to do to gain citizenship was successfully traverse the birth canal while our mothers’ feet were firmly planted in stirrups north of the border. It confuses me that a culture that has a core value of hard work and determination would criminalize the former yet reward the latter.

Even if your mom had narrow hips.

Second, if we let our laws dictate what is "right", we run the risk of criminalizing compassion.  While it is true that many of our Founding Fathers were Christians, our country was not necessarily founded on Christian principles.  In fact, our closely held values of freedom are rooted in the idea that we may believe whatever we choose to believe - the separation of church and state.  When we confuse this idea, we start to believe our laws might be a good litmus test for determining what is ethical.

And it simply isn't true.

Consider this big bucket of crazy:   It is perfectly legal in most states to sell drug-free urine. While such a sale could jeopardize the health and safety of the public should, say, an addicted bus driver pass his drug screen, we chalk it up to creative capitalism and look the other way.

However, if a flesh-and-blood human being can save the life of his child by crossing an imaginary line in the desert sands of Arizona, we cannot allow it. Your peril is not my problem. Stay out of my country. The one my ancestors stole from the Native Americans and carved out of the land God created.

Using laws to define what is "right" in the eyes of Jesus is about as accurate as flipping a coin.

Finally, Christ calls us to love our neighbors. The Jesus we profess to follow based his entire ministry on transforming the law into compassionate, uncommon sense. If Jesus had been about the law, he would have come to us as a congressman. Instead, he was a humble carpenter. A carpenter who saw himself in the faces of the stranger, the marginalized, and the misunderstood. A carpenter who threw banquets for the downtrodden. He never calls us to protect our borders. Instead, he demands that we protect our hearts from callousness and shield ourselves with grace. His words tell us this is how our time on earth will be measured:

34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[f] you did it to me.  Matthew 25: 34-40

What are we so afraid of? Speaking some Spanish? Increasing insurance rates? Crowded emergency rooms? Clearly there is a cost to each of these, but it seems like a small price to pay to assure that my brother in Christ has a roof over his head and enough food in his belly. But fear?

Fear is for the faithless.

Certainly, we need to protect our citizens from danger. And some people do wish to harm us, whether directly through bomb blasts or indirectly through drug deals. These are the ones we should pursue with vigilance.

But the determined father?

The desperate mother?

The frightened son and destitute daughter?

They are here. Among us. Christ in our midst. And for them we should open our arms wide. Like a Good Shepherd. Offering a warm embrace. A safe place to call home.

If only for a while.

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There's No Such Thing As The Worthy Poor

Image* The Homeless Jesus statue in Toronto

I remember my first time like it was yesterday. I was fifteen years old. It was Christmas morning. As a gift to our entire family, my mother had the brilliant idea to go down to the Annual Red Andrew’s Christmas Dinner and help feed the needy in Oklahoma City.

You can imagine our reactions. All of us had made lists and checked them twice, and I can promise you this: hairnets and homeless people were not what any of us wanted in our stockings. But we couldn’t say no to Mom, so we sucked it up and got in the car.

All the way there, mom was saying, “It’ll be fun! We’ll meet some new people. We’ll get to serve some food. We’ll probably even get to hand out presents!”

Mom was wrong.

By the time we arrived to the volunteer booth, all of the good jobs were taken. They had plenty of people to hand out gifts and fill trays with mashed potatoes. We even offered to wash dishes, but those jobs had been gobbled up as well.

“So where else can we help?” my dad asked.

The volunteer coordinator said, “We need people to make sure no one cuts in line. You can help us there.”

“Is that really a problem?” dad asked.

“You better believe it.”

So Christmas morning 1988, our family celebrated the birth of Christ by bouncing homeless people to the back of a two-hour line. There was very little peace on Earth and goodwill toward men that day. People would tell lies to move to the front of the line. Others would send their kids as mercenaries. Each time my dad would politely tell them to move to the back. When they wouldn’t comply, we would enlist the help of a security guard who told us,

“A lot of the people could probably afford a meal for themselves, but they just want to bum a free ride. It’s ridiculous.”

The outing had the opposite effect of what Mom had intended. She had hoped we would feel nourished with the love of Christ by helping serve our fellow man. Instead, we felt jaded.

Since that time, I’ve had to work hard to shake that feeling. But it creeps up again when I’m serving food at the soup kitchen and someone complains that there aren’t enough dessert choices. Or when I’m approached by a man in the parking lot who says he needs money for gas, but I know it’s just a lie.

Maybe you feel the same way.

I’ve noticed lately how Christians, myself included, feel incredulous when we run across a person who is asking for a handout but doesn’t seem to deserve it. It’s just not fair. There are people who are worthy of our charity, and those who are not. Why would I give to an able-bodied person who could get a job when there are so many others to help? Innocent children. The disabled. The sick.  Those are the ones we are called to serve.

So we categorize the poor as either worthy or unworthy. And you know what?

We need to stop it.

There is no such thing as the worthy poor.

Don’t get me wrong. I see how the book of Proverbs is strewn with verses that trumpet the virtue of work and warn of the dangers of sloth. Hard work is indeed a virtue. And we should be leery of scams.  But the problem is that too many of us assume that because a person is poor, then that must mean he or she just isn’t working hard enough.  Though a recent Wall Street Journal poll shows these attitudes are shifting, there are still far too many of us in this camp.

The truth is, even if a person works full time at $10 an hour, that still puts them below the poverty line. And in most US cities, basic needs for a family of four costs over twice that amount. So, when we assume that poverty is the result of a person’s laziness, we run the risk not only of being wrong, but driving an even deeper wedge between ourselves and those we profess to love as children of God.


But wait! What about that other verse?  The one we've been hearing congressmen and preachers cite when referring to this subject.

“For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."    2 Thessalonians 3:10

The words are clear and unwavering. It’s un-Biblical if you fail to use your God-given gifts to make a living and support yourself and your family. Right?

Only that’s not what Paul was saying at all.

If we dig deeper, we see that Paul wasn’t necessarily condemning lazy people who were asking for handouts. He was warning people who were lazily waiting for Jesus return, and using it as an excuse to avoid putting Jesus’ teaching into practice.

Our job is not to determine who is living by the Bible and dole our rewards accordingly in an effort to win their gratitude. Our job is to be Christ’s hands and heart by following his words. The words that speak of the craziest of crazy love.

30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.   Luke 6:30-35

And this is what Jesus did. Even when exposing the sins of others, he still offered freely. He never withheld the living water. Never held back his healing touch. He gave without condition. And when we do this, we shatter the barrier that prevents us from connecting with the family of God. All of those who are created in His image:

  • The single mother living on food stamps because her paycheck won’t stretch beyond day care and diapers.
  • The man begging on the street who lost his family, leading to an avalanche of depression that he could not afford to treat.
  • The neighborhood gangbanger who joined because he had no family of his own, and now can’t leave for fear he will be killed.

Jesus’ words cut to the bone, exposing how our scorn has nothing at all to do with the “unworthy” among us, and everything to do with the condition of our own hearts. Our hearts that hold expectations of thanks and gratitude. The ones that expect a return for our investment of time and effort.  The hearts that judge the worthiness of the need.

So my prayer today is this. That I may see the face of God in the eyes of others. That I may give without condition. And in so doing, that I may finally feel the freedom of a heart that beats with the love of Christ.

For that is what our God expects of us. And that is what our God has given.

Unconditional love.

Whether we’re worthy or not.

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