Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

November 16th, 2015

green doorOne of the teachers of the law came and asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

I recently got invited to visit Northeastern Louisiana, which just happens to be the place where I lived for the first decade of my life. I was originally scheduled to do a lot of speaking, but things changed and I found myself with a fair amount of time on my hands. So, I took the opportunity to drive through my old neighborhood.

What a remarkable place it was. I drove past houses and remembered names I hadn’t thought of in years. The Myers. The Allisons. The Morans. The Clemons. The Starlings. The Smiths. The Morgans. The Watsons. The Youngs. The Seals. The Whitmires. The Sartains.

These were our neighbors. We all knew each other. Most of the dads worked together. The kids went to school together. We went to church together. We were neighbors.

That’s such a wonderful word: neighbor. It comes from the old word “nigh” — as in close — and the old word “boor” — as in to dwell. Your nigh boor is the one who dwells close by.

And think about that winsome question: Won’t you be my neighbor? Few things in life feel as good as being invited into that kind of relationship.

Dave Runyon wrote a book a couple of years ago called The Art of Neighboring. Dave is a leader in his church, and he talks about having a crazy idea. He and several other church leaders started to wonder how they could actually make their community a better place. They went to see the Mayor of their city and asked him. His response was interesting.

The Mayor told Dave that what makes a great city is more than good infrastructure. Of course, that’s important, too, but lots of places have good infrastructure but lack something vital. He said the most important thing is to have a lot of really good neighborhoods. And the key to good neighborhoods — again — is more than swimming pools and tennis courts; the key to good neighborhoods is good neighbors — people who are committed to living neighborly.

When a city has good neighborhoods filled with good neighbors, crime goes down. The elderly are cared for. At-risk youth becomes less at-risk. Yard work gets done. Property values go up. Test scores soar. An extraordinary amount of social problems would be significantly reduced if people were committed to living as good neighbors.

People trump programs. That’s what the Mayor told Dave.

Maybe when Jesus told us to love our neighbors, he was onto something. Maybe this wasn’t just a platitude that fits nicely on a bumper sticker. Maybe he knew this was some kind of keystone habit for making the world a better place.

He certainly gave this idea a lot of airplay. It wasn’t peripheral to his message. Jesus wanted us to understand quite clearly that it is impossible to love God without loving people. This is why he tied the command to love our neighbors to the command to love our God. The two cannot be disconnected.

Of course, we could have a long conversation about what exactly it means to love our neighbors, but at the very least it must mean to want what is best for them. To love anyone is to intend good for them. St. Paul would state it negatively, “Love does no harm to a neighbor.” Stated positively, love seeks good for a neighbor.

Of course, neighboring has changed since Jesus’ time. They did not have garage door openers. And they did not have indoor lighting and electricity. People spent more time outside back then, and this brought them into more regular contact with their neighbors. Up until the past century, houses were designed with front porches. I know some of you probably have a front porch on your house, but there was a time when people actually sat on their front porches and talked with the people who lived in the house next door. After World War II, things changed, and people started spending more time in the backyard with a high hedge or privacy fence.

All of this makes it more difficult to love your neighbor. You have to be a little more intentional about it. And one of the things that surprises me is how few churches are actually talking about this. Dave Runyon had a conversation with an Assistant City Manager who told him that from their perspective, there’s no noticeable difference in how Christians and non-Christians neighbor. What an indictment. Shouldn’t people who follow Jesus be the best people in the city at loving their neighbors?

When I was growing up there on Love Street in West Monroe, Louisiana, no one had to tell me how to be a good neighbor. I watched it happen. We borrowed a cup of sugar. We pitched in to do big projects. We helped. We watched. We noticed.

But now? We don’t. At least I don’t. And I haven’t for a very long time.

I’ve recently been spending time with a woman who lives in a neighborhood where they do this. They get together. They know one another. They talk. They have dinner together. They watch each other’s kids. In other words, they neighbor. It’s remarkable, and it’s kind of sad that it’s such a rare commodity — especially in a place where there are so many churches filled with so many people claiming to take Jesus seriously.

All I know is I want that. I want neighboring. I didn’t know I was missing it until I experienced it again.

I wonder what might happen if we who wear the badge of Christianity stopped trying to convince people that our way is the right way, stopped trying to get people to vote for our candidate, stopped trying to lobby for laws that give us favored status and simply got serious about loving our neighbors.

I realize this won’t solve all of our social problems. But what if Jesus was onto something? What if that bit about loving your neighbor as you love yourself — what if he really meant that? And what if it might do something — like help create the kind of neighborhood where things are the way they’re supposed to be?

Love your neighbor this week. Go on. I dare you.


Photo Credit: Buzac Marius

Praying for Our Enemies

November 14th, 2015

church window“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Jesus)

I’m guessing this isn’t going to be a popular thing to talk about. It never is, but it’s going to especially difficult to think about in light of the horrific events in Paris. Still, this may be the time we need to hear Jesus’ words the most.

Love your enemies. That’s what he said. And he did not stutter.

He also said, “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

This wasn’t a peripheral message for Jesus. It was central to who he was and what he did. St. Paul reminds us that, “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son.” Jesus came to people who were hostile towards God, and he didn’t come to kill us or condemn us. He came to love us.

Paul internalized this so deeply that he would go on to give this advice: “Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse…. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone…. Never take your own revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay’ says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink…. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Christians simply must admit: the call to love our enemy is not optional.

This is also one reason why the idea of America being a “Christian nation” is problematic. We have to think very carefully about wanting our nation to embody Christian ethics on a national, political level. Turning the other cheek is, after all, an indispensable part of the Christian ethic.

I realize that part of living in a fallen world is the reality of legitimate, human governments who are often called upon to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and ensure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity (anyone else find themselves singing the song?). When they are called upon to do these things, they often feel compelled to do so with the threat of force. Violent force. And, according to the Bible, this may be a legitimate, God-ordained authority.

Still, this is hard to reconcile for me, as an individual, to reconcile with the words of Jesus and St. Paul. The idea that I might be the one to pull the trigger, to throw the switch, to push the button, to extinguish a life — even the life of my enemy. I’m talking about me — as one individual Christ-follower. I don’t know that I could do it. But I understand that the government may be called upon to do so.

So, please understand that right now I’m not talking about our national response to ISIS. I’m not talking about foreign policy or military intervention. I’m not talking about the French government or the United Nations or Donald Trump’s suggestion that we ought to just, “Bomb the shit out of them!”

I’m talking about you. As a Christ-follower. And me. As a Christ-follower. And our churches — who will gather tomorrow and wonder what ought to be done, what can be done, and what a Christ-honoring response might look like.

My suggestion may not be very popular, but it’s drawn from the very words of Jesus.

Pray for your enemies.

If you cannot muster the strength right now to do good for them — to give them food and drink — you can at the very least pray for them.

If you can’t find the words for yourself, I offer the following prayer — composed by Dr. Richard Beck:

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
we tremble before this cup,
give us the strength to drink it,
this: our prayer for our enemies.

And we confess
that we are but dust,
we do not have the strength to carry this burden.
So fill us with your Holy Spirit.
May your Spirit intercede for us in this moment. 

For nothing draws us to this prayer.
And we confess
that we kneel before you
more out of obedience than grace.
Obedience to the one who commanded us to love our enemies
and pray for those who persecute us.
We pray for our enemies
because the love of Christ compels us.

Father, we pray for our enemies. We pray for ISIS.
And in doing so we face in this moment
the terrible mystery of our faith.
The stumbling block.
The scandal of the cross.
Give us your Spirit, Father,
so that we will not falter in this, our great test, to carry the cross.
Give us the strength to carry the burden of this love.

We pray for our enemies. We pray for ISIS.

We pray for their repentance, their conversion and their salvation.

We pray, dear Father, that you carry these words, through your Spirit, to our enemies.
We pray that these words pierce their hearts and trouble their souls.
Father, may your Spirit move in the hearts of our enemies
to hear these words:

Dear brothers, hear the Word of the Lord.

No more. No more.

Dear brothers, repent. Repent and believe the Good News that the Kingdom of God is in your midst.

Dear brothers, the Kingdom of God is there in the faces of those you kill and rape.

Dear brothers, the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom you seek, is there weeping, pleading in front of you.

Dear brothers, can you see it?

Can you see through the lies of the Evil One?

Dear brothers, my God, your God, the God of Abraham, is a God of peace and love.

So no more, dear brothers, no more. Do not do this terrible thing.

Repent, and believe the Good News.

We are all children of God.

We are all brothers and sisters.


For God is a God of love.

Father in Heaven, carry these words,
by your Spirit 

carry these words to our enemies.  
Wound them with our love and yours.
Photo Credit: Kathy Hillacre

How to Eat

November 5th, 2015

porn tenderloin supper club“Eating is not merely a material pleasure. Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is of great importance to the morale.” (Elsa Schiaparelli)

I like to cook. I like to eat. I like good food.

When I travel — which is quite often — I try as hard as I can to never eat someplace I have in my own hometown. That means I don’t eat at Chili’s or Applebee’s or TGIFriday’s. Don’t get me wrong. I have eaten there. I just try not to.

I’d rather eat where the locals eat — get me some of that local cuisine. Let me taste what this particular region has to offer in the way of food and beverage.

This is not merely some bacchanalian impulse for me. This is more than indulgence run amuck. I do have self-control. I even use it on occasion. Rather, eating and drinking for me has taken on a very soulful quality. I’m trying to be mindful of what I’m putting into my body and how I’m doing so. This isn’t wanton gulping and slurping (okay — maybe sometimes it is). This is an awareness that receiving food and drink is a gift. I have come to feel a sense of respect for it.

There was a time when I, like so many others, would hurry with food. I rushed through the grocery store, piling the cheapest and quickest items into my basket, scurrying home to rush through the acts of meal preparation, consumption, and cleaning — checking these off my always too full to-do list.

But the more I read about other cultures, the more I realized how foreign and strange — how uniquely American and recent — this kind of behavior is. I don’t want to nuke something unrecognizable in the microwave and sit in my couch tweeting, emailing, or watching TV. I want to linger leisurely with friends and family over a luxurious meal.

I remember a friend who was a fan of science fiction telling me once that one day we’d have food pellets. They would be extremely nutritious and virtually tasteless. Then we would never have to waste any time on meals. At the time it sounded expedient and efficient. Now I can hardly conceive of what he meant by wasting time. Is it wasting time to dice onions? To watch them turn translucent in the oil? To smell the mirepoix reducing in red wine?

How is it a waste of time to pass an evening in the company of good friends, enjoying rich conversation and inside jokes, sipping deeply from the draughts that make one’s life expansive? To slow down, to take care of your body, to connect with other people?

A meal is not a waste of time — at least it need not be.

I have come to believe that it is simply impossible to enjoy a happy and centered life if we’re always eating in a hurry. There’s even research suggesting that people who enjoy food more tend to eat less of it, because they feel satisfied enough to stop before they feel engorged.

What follows now are some tips on how you might come to enjoy food and mealtime more. Take what you find helpful and leave what you don’t. This isn’t any kind of authoritative list. This is just from me to you.

First, eat actual food. Here, I am borrowing from Michael Pollan who recommends eating food that your grandmother would recognize as food. Eat whole foods. Eat simple foods. He says five ingredients or less, but I’m willing to give some wiggle room — just watch the list of non-foods sneaking their way into your system. Avoid nonundelows (NON-dairy, UN-sweetened, DE-caffeinated, LOW-fat).

Second, eat less food. It’s normal to want to eat more of something that tastes good. I get it. But if you overindulge at every meal, you end up feeling out of control, unhealthy, and sluggish. Furthermore, if every day is a feast day, then you lose the ability to really enjoy days that are supposed to be feast days (Thanksgiving, Christmas Dinner, Birthday Celebrations, etc.). Eat good food, eat less of it on a consistent basis, and then eat more of it less often.

Third, eat different food. I know it’s easy to eat the same things over and over again. And I know most main dishes come down to the same four things: cow, pig, chicken, or fish. But experiencing new things can be a rush, and you can enjoy food on a whole new level if you approach it with a sense of curiosity and, even, adventure! Try something different. Try duck. Or sushi. Try Indian food or some spicy Korean Kimchi. Live a little!

Fourth, make food with other people. Sure, we’re all busy, and the idea of laboring over a hot stove for hours at a time might not sound appealing. But it takes on a life of its own when you involve other people. Get your family involved, or invite your friends over to cook. I’ve noticed that when someone else is helping with the chopping, there ends up being a lot of chatting. Pretty soon a bottle of something is opened, and music is playing. Dancing ensues. Laughter. Who knows where all that might lead — certainly not to monotony! And all because you invited someone to help you make a meal.

Now, I understand that very few people are able to devote hours and hours to preparing and savoring dinner every single night of the week. Kids have activities. There are meetings to attend. But no one is saying this is an every night occurrence. Schedule a couple of nights a week where dinner isn’t an interruption to everything else you’ve got going on; on those nights, let dinner be the thing that you’ve got going on. See to it that there’s nothing else you have to rush off to. Make your sole objective on those nights the preparation and enjoyment of a fine meal.

You might not be a good cook. You may lack confidence. That’s all beside the point. The point is to slow yourself down enough to immerse yourself in the experience. Tune in to the smells going on in your kitchen. Listen to the sounds. Feel the textures. Taste the flavors. Be fully present.

Someone once told me that food is just fuel. They suggested a lot of health problems in our society could be solved if we’d stop trying to think of food as anything else. I disagree with this entire premise. Food is more than fuel.

Humans are not gas tanks waiting to be filled. We’re not machines. We are passionate persons who seek pleasure, and there’s nothing wrong with that so long as we seek our pleasure from healthy sources. Food is energy — literally. And few things give us more energy than connecting with others. I say combine the two. That’s how to eat.

Remember That Time We All Watched CNBC?

November 4th, 2015

John Purple Headshot Dec 2014Okay, it’s been a week now. Most of the folks involved have had adequate time to calm down. I think I have. So, let’s talk about that one time we all watched CNBC and see if we can figure out what happened.

To begin with, this two-tier debate format — with a JV squad coming out first and then the Varsity Squad taking their turn — that’s been terrible. And the worst thing is that it shows the stark contrast between what kind of conversation you can have when the stage isn’t littered with 15 candidates. Once again, the pre-debate debate was vastly superior in terms of content and civility. Those guys actually talked about policy. And…three of the four talked about climate change as if it were an actual thing. Republicans. Talking about climate change. Shocking.

And then the main event got started, and…oy vey….

I believe if you’re running for a chance to negotiate with China or Vladimir Putin, you should probably be able to handle a little heat from the moderator of a debate. I believe the job of the moderator of a debate is to hold the debaters accountable — make them answer the question and abide by the rules and all that. But this…this was a group of hacks trying to see who could be the most obnoxious. I remember a time when journalists were cautioned against ever becoming the story. Those days are long gone.

At points it seemed like the CNBC personnel were intent on doing the job of the SNL writing staff. Did they really begin with, “What’s your biggest weakness?” Yes, they did. That’s not even a question I would ask the interns I used to interview.

Did they actually ask Donald Trump if he running a comic-book version of a Presidential campaign? Yes, they did.

Did they really ask Jeb Bush if the reason he’s not doing well in his party is because his party is stupid? Yes, they did.

Did they really ask Carly Fiorina if she planned to reduce a 70,000 tax code to three pages by using really small type? Yes, they did.

Did they really ask Senator Rubio if he is running for President because he hates his job? Yes, they did.

The tried everything — bullying, interrupting, “gotcha” questions. I think they even pouted a few times when things didn’t go their way.

Now, I’m not here to endorse any of these candidates, but c’mon CNBC. You’re supposed to be journalists. You guys were trying to start a fight up there, and I guess I get it. You’re not really journalists; you’re capitalists. You’re there to drive up ratings, so you can sell advertising. You trying to manipulate these candidates into fighting with each other reminds me of parents who tell their kids, “Are you gonna let him call you names like that? Go on. Hit him.”

It was a weak and transparent attempt at bear-baiting. Shame on you.

Eventually, the candidates surprised the moderators by — instead of turning on one another — turning on the moderators. If I’m being honest, I’m pretty sure the candidates took this as an opportunity to avoid answering some hard questions.

Notice was served last week to all future moderators of future debates: Go ahead and ask tough questions, but when your partisanship shows itself in the rude tone you take, we will all make fun of you. We will boo you. We will call you on your nonsense.

As for the aftermath of the debate, Jeb Bush is done, and if he doesn’t know it yet his handlers do. They’ve come up with a new slogan: Jeb can fix it!

Am I the only one who is thinking about Bob the Builder now?

That little stunt he pulled, trying to jab at Marco Rubio, his former protege, did not help him nearly as much as he must have thought it would when he mapped it out in the greenroom. Beyond alienating the French, he looked awkward and decidedly unfunny. And then he got judo chopped by an obviously well-prepared Rubio. It appears the student has become the teacher now.

I like Jeb Bush. I bet he’s a really affable guy in person. I can’t imagine him being President — especially now.

Ben Carson has plummeted in the polls. Fiorina as always bounced up after a debate but won’t stick for very long. Meanwhile, The Donald keeps doing what The Donald does the way The Donald does it.

If I had to guess, here’s where I’d land:

  • Trump for President
  • Rubio for Vice President
  • Ben Carson as Surgeon General
  • Lindsey Graham as Secretary of State
  • Ted Cruz as Attorney General

But it’s early, and there are many miles to go yet. Too many unknown between now and next November. It’ll be interesting to see how it all shakes out.

One thing’s for sure, CNBC is never getting another GOP debate.

Transcending the Party Lines

October 29th, 2015

middle aisle“If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to born both within ourselves and within the world; we would know that the Kingdom of God is what we all of us hunger for above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for. The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it.” (Frederick Buechner)

So, imagine Jesus of Nazareth — itinerant preacher — standing up to preach. Someone shouts out to him, “What’s your plan to deal with this blasted Roman occupation?”

That was the main concern of the average citizen in Israel. Is God punishing us? Is God waiting for us to rise up? Is there some lesson we’re supposed to learn from this? Do we humble ourselves? Do we arm ourselves? What?

Jesus responds with this: “You’re thinking about this the wrong way. The Empire of God is available to anyone who wants it right now.”

What in the world does that mean?

Jesus certainly doesn’t mean what a lot of us think he meant. He’s not talking about going to heaven when you die. He’s not talking about living in a mansion just over the hilltop in that bright land where we’re never grow old.

Jesus is saying, “You’re preoccupied with the oppressive kingdom of Rome and the oppressed kingdom of Israel. But what about the kingdom of God? Have you given much thought to that?”

To which, the people gathered there to listen might have thought, “Isn’t the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of God the same thing?”

And this is where we aren’t so much different from them. We like to have things divided neatly into categories. We like “this” and “that” — “these” and “those”. We really like “us” and “them”.

Jewish people are the good guys. Roman people are the bad guys. Before them, Greek people were the bad guys. Before them, Medo-Persian people were the bad guys. Before them, Babylonian people were the bad guys. Before them…you get the picture, right? “We” are the good guys; “they” are the bad guys. It’s “us” against “them”. You can substitute just about anyone for “them”.

Americans are the good guys. Illegal immigrants are the bad guys. Or Muslims. Or, before the Muslims, the Soviets. Or, before them, the Japanese. Or the Germans. Or the Italians. Or the British.

How about this one: Republicans are the good guys. Democrats are the bad guys. Or — if you’re more Libertarian in nature — establishment parties with career politicians are the bad guys.

Protestants are good; Roman Catholics are bad.

Evangelicals are good; Mainline Protestants are bad.

Conservatives are good; Liberals are bad.

My brand is good; every other brand is bad.

It’s “us” against “them”.

But this Jesus guy — he keeps talking about how God’s kingdom is not “us” against “them” — it’s inclusive. He says it’s for everyone. He doesn’t mean Romans, does he? Or Greeks? Medo-Persians? Babylonians? Assyrians?

Is the kingdom of God for Republicans and Democrats? Can Libertarians get in? Roman Catholics? Surely, the kingdom of God isn’t for Mainline Protestants (most of whom we know are registered Democrats) with their liberal theology disguised as social justice?

Maybe you misunderstood what Jesus was saying.

No time to ask a follow up clarifying question. A Roman soldier comes along to disperse the crowd that had gathered to hear the message. Some in the crowd linger for a moment — just in case Jesus asks them to kill the Roman guy — who is not one of “us” after all. But he does not. So you move along. A little disappointed. You were hoping to hear more about what this Jesus fella had to say.

A few days later you get your wish. You hear he’s down by the water’s edge speaking to a large crowd from inside a small boat. You rush out to hear him, and he’s talking about the people who will be blessed.

“It’s not going to be the ones who already have money and power; it’s the poor, the ones who have nothing. It’s not the loudest or the strongest; it’s the meek, the ones who reign their power in and use it for the benefit of others. It’s not the ones who kill their enemies; it’s the ones who turn the other cheek, pray for people who oppose them, and work for peace. These are the ones who will be blessed in God’s kingdom.”

This is odd to you. This kind of sounds like a Zealot and an Essene and a Herodian and a Pharisee all rolled into one. But then he also sounds like someone who would be despised by each of those groups. To which party does this Jesus of Nazareth belong? He’s impossible to pin down. Somehow he sounds both right and left — but he also sounds neither right nor left — at the same time.

It’s as if he’s intentionally transcending the party lines, rising above them and pointing to something beyond what both “us” and “them” are working for.

Something bigger.

Maybe even something better.


Photo Credit: Marija Hajster

Politics in the Time of Jesus

October 26th, 2015

urban cross“The greatest sin of political imagination: Thinking there is no other way except the filthy rotten system we have today.” (Shane Claiborne)

To begin with, Jesus was a Jew. That part gets overlooked more often than it should. Jesus was thoroughly Jewish, and that had an effect on how he behaved. He knew he was operating in a Jewish political milieu. So, I’d like to help us figure out what that political situation looked like, and how it affected Jesus’ message and behavior.

The Jewish people had been under foreign occupation for centuries by the time Jesus arrived. Beginning in 586BC, the nation of Israel had been passed around like a hot potato — from the Assyrians to the Babylonians to the Medo-Persians to the Greeks and, finally, to the Romans. It was a highly strategically-placed piece of real estate — with two major trade routes running through the land. Anyone who wanted to get anywhere had to travel through Israel.

I believe this is why God placed them there. It’s certainly why foreign powers were interested in that particular spot. More on that another time.

The Jewish people wanted to be free, to live in their own land without foreign interference. No one likes to be occupied and dominated, but this was something more. Jewish people considered it some kind of affront that Gentile nations ruled over people who believed in the one, true God. They couldn’t figure out why this was allowed. That question grew more and more intense as Romans attached to their Emperors titles like “The Divine Augustus Caesar”.

There was never a concept like the “separation of church and state” for them, but they couldn’t imagine why their God would allow their “state” to be fused with the wrong “church”.

Various groups forged various answers. The Zealots, for example, suggested that they were being oppressed because they had grown passive and lazy. Perhaps if the people could shake off their fear and apathy, if they would rebel against their oppressors, God would grant them victory — like he had given the little shepherd boy David against the mighty giant Goliath. Then the whole world would know that there is a God in Israel!

On the other hand, Herodians and Sadducees thought this was naive at best and suicidal at worst. They figured there was some other lesson to be learned — perhaps about how to cooperate with your captors. Go along to get along. Make the best of the situation. Play the game and figure out the politics.

The Essenes thought both of those solutions were too focused on the material world. They believed that geo-political systems were inherently and irretrievably corrupt and should be shunned altogether. Their solution was to withdraw from the world as they knew it and build an alternative communal society out in the wilderness.

The Pharisees disagreed with all of the above. They believed this was all some sort of divine punishment. They believed that if everyone would just obey the law meticulously enough, God would send them a Deliverer — a Messiah — who would liberate his people. There were actually some who taught that if everyone in Israel would keep the law in its entirety for one day — if they could go one day with no one committing a single sin — the Messiah would appear and set things right. This is why they detested sinners — hookers, drunks, Roman collaborators — so much. These lowlifes were the reason everyone else is suffering under an oppressive and ungodly government.

These were the major groups vying for political power in the time of Jesus. Much like the political parties of our day, they argued and pointed fingers at one another. They spoke past one another. They were committed not only to forwarding their own agenda but defeating the agenda of their opponents. Alliances were formed. Promises were made. Talks would break down. Bonds would dissolve.

The Zealots would carry out an act of terrorism. The Herodians would denounce it immediately, vowing their allegiance to Rome and saying, “These are the actions of a fringe group of radical fundamentalists. They do not represent the majority of peace-loving, law-abiding Jewish people everywhere.” The Essenes would use this as a justification to retreat and withdraw further into themselves. The Pharisees would scold everyone and say this is God’s punishment for tolerating the sexually promiscuous in our midst, “We need stricter laws about what goes on in people’s bedrooms. And on the Sabbath — maybe we should forbid the sale of wine before noon on the Sabbath!”

The question that nagged at the hearts and minds of the general population of Israel was this: “Which of these groups is correct? We’re in a political and social mess, but which solution is the best? How do we get free from the oppression of the Roman empire?”

These are political questions. And it’s into this mix that a carpenter’s son named Jesus begins preaching — first to just a few but soon to thousands of people.

Now…what’s he going to say?


Photo Credit: Louis Moncouyoux

What the Politicians Aren’t Telling Us

October 21st, 2015

John Purple Headshot Dec 2014“Liberal and conservative have lost their meaning in America. I represent the distracted center.” (Jon Stewart)

Donald Trump is now into the second act of this bid for the Presidency. The first act was titled, “I’m here, and I’m yuuuuuuuge.” The second act is titled, “I’m not kidding.” We’ll just have to wait to see what the third act will be called. My guess is this is going to be an old-school, Shakespearean five-act play.

Can we be honest about something? If Jeb Bush had Donald’s numbers — for as long as Donald has had them — we’d be saying this race is over. But everyone from the media to the Republican Party itself seems to want anyone but Trump. And I think I know why.

Donald Trump — love him or hate him — will not be controlled. He will not be reigned in. He will not follow the rules. And — I think this is what bothers the media most — he won’t let them drive. He answers the questions he wants to answer. He won’t be thrown off his message. He won’t allow media folks — whether George Stephanopoulos or Jake Tapper or Megyn Kelly — to control the interview. That’s frustrating for them, and it shows. The idea that they’d have to deal with him for four years must keep them awake at night.

Still…he leads every poll everywhere. The only other GOP candidates I hear mentioned are Dr. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. I get the impression that Bush and Marco Rubio are content right now to sit in the middle of the pack and draft for a while. Huckabee only makes the news for the wrong reasons. Jindal, Kasich, and Cristie are mentioned together as “the seated governors” (who would have ever thought Cris Christie would be a wall flower in this election?). Cruz has been forgotten. Same with Rand Paul (though no one tell his rabid fans — they’re run to watch on social media — seriously…they’ve instantly declared him the “clear winner” of both debates immediately after they were done).

Have I missed anyone on the Republican side? There are so many it’s hard to keep track.

But the world’s attention these days has turned to the left side of the aisle with the first Democratic Debate being televised last week. There were no big surprises. Most people believe Clinton looked the most presidential. Bernie Sanders did not look like a raving lunatic. Martin O’Malley made a good, strong showing. But no one walked away having made a dent in the status quo.

Jim Webb’s announcement yesterday reduced the field by one, and I think it’s interesting. If Romney was a reflection of yesterday’s Rockefeller Republicans, Webb was equally out of step with today’s Democratic party but would have fit in nicely the party that nominated JFK. The right has gone further right, and the left has gone further left.

And this brings me to the thing I wanted to talk about — mostly because no one else seems to want to talk about it.

This election isn’t about gay rights or abortion or getting us out of a war in Iraq or Afghanistan or Iran or wherever else it is we are at war. This is not about education or energy or creating jobs or free college tuition or anything else. Not really. Not fundamentally. This election is an exercise in PoliSci 101. This election is about whether or not you want more of your life centrally controlled and regulated by the federal government.

And this is what the politicians aren’t telling us. They’re telling us about their experience and their ideas. But they’re not telling us about the fundamental difference between the two parties.

One party is fundamentally committed to a large, strong, centralized, federal government that controls more and more of the social programs in our nation. The other party is fundamentally committed to a small government that does very few things and leaves the rest to either the general public or the private sector.

So, if they were being honest, the Democrats would simply say, “Don’t you love the stuff the government does for you? The highways. The traffic signals. The public schools. The Army. The Post Office. Unemployment insurance. Social Security. The FAA with all of their air traffic controllers. Aren’t those all working well for you? Why not allow the same people who are running those programs to run more things?”

We can compare ourselves to Denmark all we want, but no one wants to mention how high the tax rate is for the average middle class Dane. Half of their GDP comes via tax revenues. The top rate is above 60% and there’s a national sales tax (consumption tax to you, Mr. Huckabee) of 25%. That’s how you get free college tuition and day care for working families. It’s not free. You pay for it with taxes.

And that might be a legitimate choice. That’s how we’ve chosen to fund our standing Army and our police force and the bridges and tunnels and all the other stuff we rely upon every day.

But no one wants to say this, and I’m not sure why.

At some point in time the GOP candidates have to say this in plain English: “The United States government is ill-equipped to run a healthcare system for 320 million people. Look at what has happened to the US Postal Service over the last couple of decades. Once the private sector created competition with a federally funded program, FedEx and UPS destroyed the US Postal Service in terms of both price and efficiency. We should look for other solutions for healthcare and education and a host of other social programs.”

Of course, this would force the GOP to admit that they’ve betrayed their underlying philosophy of smaller government. It would force them to admit their duplicity over wanting to be social engineers — governing who can get “married” but claiming to want less interference in the daily lives of citizens.

Both parties have a problem on their hands. Neither party has lived up to its principles. Neither party has been honest about itself. The parties are supposed to reflect the terms “liberal” and “conservative” in their approach to the scope of governance. It’s like we’ve all forgotten that — which is why we have such a largely distracted middle.

In Praise of Small Steps

October 19th, 2015

path to the lake“Each step you take reveals a new horizon.” (Dan Poynter)

For years now I’ve been listening to business and leadership gurus tell me that I have to know my big, ultimate, overarching purpose before I can get anything done. I’m supposed to start with WHY. I’m supposed to know my vision and let that determine my strategy and tactics. Everything I do should be done with the end in mind. If it doesn’t move me closer to my Big Hairy Audacious Goal, then I’m not supposed to do it.


I’ve watched a lot of my friends become so paralyzed by this kind of analysis that they never do anything. They’re stuck gazing at their own navel. They spend years trying to figure out what their “One Thing” is, and they bog down on a dead-end job or servicing a cul-de-sac of a contract, living a life that does not service them.

It’s not that these ideas are bad. Once you know your purpose in life, it’s an amazing feeling to align everything you do. But I’m coming to the belief that clarity like that only comes after action — not before. I’m growing more and more convinced that you’ll never figure it out without going out and doing a bunch of things.

What’s worse (and I know this from personal experience) if you don’t develop a bias for action now, when you do find your One Great Purpose you’ll find it nearly impossible to engage in it because you won’t have the momentum you need to jump on board. No one goes from sitting still to surfing a wave. You’ve got to be moving when the wave shows up.

The snow doesn’t go from zero to avalanche. The wind doesn’t go from zero to tsunami. Something starts to slide first. Some butterfly flaps its wings. Everything starts with a small movement.

So…if you have no clue what your big thing is — or if you have a hunch — or if you’ve had an epiphany and you know for sure what you want — the solution is the same: start small.

Sadly, this is the total opposite of what a lot of us have heard for a very long time. We’ve been told to Launch Big, to go big or go home, to take a giant step, to leap, to reach for the stars. But most of the success I’ve seen, both personally and from surveying the landscape of entrepreneurial experience, has started with small steps. More often than not, those small steps were taken with no clue as to where they might lead.

Sure, in hindsight, we all like to say, “I meant to do that.” And it sometimes feels that way. When you actually get to the peak of the mountaintop, you’ve been climbing the path for so long it’s hard to remember what it felt like when you took that first step. But if you could travel back to the beginning of the journey with some of your heroes, you’d discover that they stepped out into uncharted territory. They knew they wanted to go somewhere, but they didn’t exactly know where. They didn’t know their “why” — they couldn’t articulate their vision.

What set them apart and what set them up for success was that they weren’t willing to sit around and think about it. They took a step. They didn’t think about something. They didn’t talk about something. They did something.

They made a phone call.

They sent an email.

They wrote a sentence.

They took one small step that started something sliding. They flapped their wings. They generated momentum. They learned that taking one small, imperfect step today is more effective than taking the perfect step tomorrow — because if you’re waiting to take a perfect step, tomorrow will never come.

As of August, I have been blogging for 11 years. It’s only been in the last six months or so that I’ve figured out what I want to be when I grow up. I’m a writer and a leadership consultant. I help people stay calm, so they can connect better with God, with others, and with themselves. That’s it. That’s my big thing.

It’s driven me crazy for more than a decade. I had hoped it would find me, but I wasn’t content to sit still and wait for it to show up. It didn’t occur to me in a dream. It wasn’t some sudden realization. It was borne out of me getting tired of not having an answer. I determined to figure it out by doing things.

I went to Graduate School. I became a research assistant for Ken Boa. I shadowed Reggie Joiner. I traveled to Ecuador with Compassion International. I worked as a ghostwriter. I wrote curriculum. I served as a pastor.

I also did some terrible stuff. I engaged in work that was not worthy of me. I did things that did not make me more alive. I did things that were soul-numbing. I took on clients and helped them just because I needed the money. I worked with people who lacked integrity. I did work for which other people took credit. If there’s a misstep that could be made, I’ve made it, and I paid a price for it.

But all of these steps — right or wrong — were crucial elements in getting me to where I am today. Moreover, no one of these steps would have gotten me here. I had to do each of them to get where I am now.

And my point here is that I didn’t wait for clarity. If I had waited, clarity would never have come. I took small steps — oftentimes into a dark unknown. I knew the steps would lead somewhere. I simply had no clue where they would lead.

So, that’s my story. Now let me ask you about yours. Where are you going? You’re trying to sneak a peek at the end of the story. You want to read the last page to make sure everything is going to be okay, that you’ll live happily ever after. You want to know how it’s going to end before you begin.

But life doesn’t work that way. Those characters you read about in the Bible, they had to live the same way we do: one verse at a time. The clarity, the certainty, the success — they all come after you move. If you want them, you’ll have to muster the gumption to take the first small step. It will require a mixture of both courage and caution. Courage to jump into the unknown. Caution to do it in a small way at first.

You don’t have to sell your house. You don’t have to cash in your 401k. The big, grandiose moves are hardly ever the ones that pay off big. Small investments, made consistently over time — those things pay big dividends.

Do something small today.

Keep doing it.

Get better at it.

Eventually, the rest of it will work itself out.

Of course, I realize all of this is easy to say. I also know from personal experience that it’s hard to do. But, as I’ve mentioned above, I help people stay calm so they can connect better with God, with others, and with themselves. That often involves helping people discover what it is they want most out of life. This isn’t just a passion of mine, it also happens to be something I’m pretty good at.

If you’re starting to feel like you might want some help, I’m available. Leave me a note in the comments section, and I’ll shoot you an email. Together we can figure out what your best next step could look like. This could be the very thing that creates the momentum you need to uncover the One Great Purpose that’s already at work inside of you.


Photo Credit: Tanguy Sauvin

How to Help

October 16th, 2015


“I don’t want to live in the kind of world where we don’t look out for each other. Not just the people that are close to us, but anybody who needs a helping hand. I can’t change the way anybody else thinks, or what they choose to do, but I can do my bit.” (Charles de Lit)

I recently found myself in a conversation with a friend — we’ll call him Jim. The conversation had somehow or other gotten tense. I didn’t mean for it to go that way. It just turned. It began to feel hostile. It sounded like Jim was accusing me of something.

I paused. I took a breath. And in that moment it occurred to me that the topic at hand — which we’d been discussing in purely hypothetical terms — was something about which Jim felt very passionately. There was something going on beneath the surface. Jim had gone through something similar to our hypothetical topic. I should have remembered that. He was still very hurt and angry about the way things had gone.

More than that, though, I began to realize that Jim was holding onto his anger and hurt. He had been wronged by someone whom he had loved and respected, and now he had an overwhelming urge to convince me that this other person was wrong and shouldn’t be trusted.

I tried and tried to help Jim see things differently, but that quickly became an exercise in futility. Jim had his mind made up. He was determined to be angry and hurt. It was as if this was what he wanted. He was committed to it, and all he wanted from me was validation.

Later, as I processed through that conversation, I was reminded of times I’ve done the same thing. I spent years fuming, feeling like a victim. Any threat to that comforting sense of self-righteousness only served to further stoke the flames of anger within me. When I eventually found the wherewithal to let go of that grudge, I felt frustrated at how much time I had wasted. I had unnecessarily injured myself.

This was one of the reasons why I wanted to help Jim so badly. I wanted to help him get out of his own way. I wanted him to do what I had failed to do for far too long. Seeing his stubborn commitment to remain bitter reminded me of how embarrassed I had been when I realized that the only person I was imprisoning with my refusal to let go was me. I had enjoyed being a victim, receiving attention and pity from others.

That internal conflict — those mixed-up emotions and motives — made it impossible for me to offer Jim any sort of unbiased support. Jim needed to come to his own conclusions and make his own decisions if he was going to resolve this. I had judged myself, and I was judging Jim.

It’s impossible to help someone you’ve judged. People do not open up to genuine help when they feel like someone is looking down on them. No one wants to have your baggage projected onto them — even if your intent is to help them.

Also, no one can be coerced into believing something if they’re not ready to believe it.

So, how can you help someone? What is it that actually helps people create internal change when they act as if they don’t want help?

First, you must check yourself. Does the other person need help, or are you just trying to fix something from your own past by fixing them? Why are you so attached to their choices? Perhaps this is an area of your own life where you still need healing.

Second, let their choices be theirs. Their challenges, their choices — these are their lessons to learn, and they must learn them at their own pace. There’s an old proverb that says, “You cannot wake someone who is pretending to sleep.” I take that to mean you cannot help someone who does not really want to be helped. All you can do is love them until they’re ready and willing. Love them until they learn to love themselves.

Third, stop judging them and encourage them instead. Plant seeds. Ask questions. Talk less. Listen more. If they don’t want help and you find spending time with them to be draining, limit your time with them. Put tools in their hands to help themselves, show them how to use them, stand back, and be there to love them when they fall down. Repeat as necessary.

Fourth, stop trying to make them do what you want them to do or be what you want them to be. You can’t decide what’s best for them. You cannot love someone and try to control them at the same time. You can only choose for yourself. Sometimes the best help is to let someone figure it out on their own. Heal your own stuff so the other person can see that healing is possible.

Fifth, let go. You’re not responsible for them. You’re responsible to them for what you choose to you and how you choose to live. Focus instead on your own well-being. Draw good boundaries so you can be stable enough to support them when/if they ask for it. Refuse to manipulate or interfere with their journey. Butterflies need the strength they develop breaking out of the cocoon in order to fly. If you help them break out, they’ll die.

Sixth, letting go doesn’t mean cutting them off. Letting go just means refusing to manipulate them. Letting go also means accepting them for who they are — warts and all. You may decide that it’s not safe for them to be in your life, or you may choose to limit your time spent with them. If so, communicate this to them in a way that lets them know that their actions impacts other people. But, patience is a virtue. Never underestimate the power of someone who sticks with it, even through tough times.

Finally, remind them that there’s an unlocked door ahead. They’ll walk through it when they’re ready. They may need you to remind them of this periodically. Nag them gently with this information.

In a follow-up conversation, I tried something different. I spent my time asking Jim questions. I tried not to speak a single sentence. I tried to just ask questions. One of the questions I kept coming back to was, “So, what are you going to do?”

Eventually, Jim said, “You went through something like this, didn’t you? How did you handle it?”

I got to tell Jim what I regretted. How I’d been so eager to cling to that unfair treatment for so many years. How I’d allowed it to shape my identity. How I’d ended up missing out on a lot of life by doing so. I acknowledged that he’s a different person in a different stage of life than I was at the time. I told him I can’t make any assumptions or judgments about his particular situation or what’s right for him. But I did tell him that I wish I’d let it go a lot sooner.

I hope that by owning my junk I may have inspired him to do the same. I’m coming to believe that one of the best ways we can help others is by continuing to help ourselves in their presence.


Photo Credit: Christopher Campbell

He Speaks

October 13th, 2015

John Purple Headshot Dec 2014I had the opportunity to be on the radio with my good friend Eric Metaxas yesterday, and — as a result — I have a lot of new folks checking out my blog (and my twitter…and my Facebook). Most of these people know me as a writer, and that’s one of the things I do. It’s one of the things I love to do, in fact, and I’m planning to do a lot more in the coming months with a couple of book ideas getting ready to be pitched by my literary agent extraordinaire, Jason Jones.

But wait…there’s more!

Did I mention that I also speak?

Yes, friends, I do a lot of speaking for various groups — churches, schools, non-profit organizations, businesses. I do conferences and retreats and youth rallies. As a matter of fact, I’ll be speaking in a couple of weeks at the Discover Youth Rally in Monroe, LA. Then I’ll head to Dallas, TX, for the Preaching Initiative. A couple of weeks after that I’ll be preaching for Piedmont Church in Macon, GA.

So…as you can see, I speak.

Now, suppose someone out there wanted me to come speak at their place. How would they do that? Well, I’m glad you asked. I’m in the process of overhauling my website. When it’s all shiny and chrome it will have a page where you can send me a request. In the meantime, I suppose you could just leave me a request in the comments section.

If you’re not sure what you want me to come talk about, let me share with you some of the topics I often address.

5 Truths Every Parent Needs to Know: As a Sr. Fellow at the ScreamFree Institute (and a certified ScreamFree Instructor), I got the opportunity to travel literally around the world and back, speaking to parents of all ages and stages, in different cultures and different socio-economic situations. One thing I’ve learned is that every parent loses it from time to time. But I’ve discovered 5 simple truths (simple — not easy) that every parent needs to know. This 90-minute workshop could give you the keys you need to have the calm household you’ve always wanted but maybe never thought possible.

How to Talk to Your Kid about Sex (Before Someone Else Does): Research has shown that most parents believe they have talked to their kids about the birds and the bees, but most teenagers cannot remember having that talk. Either we’re not really talking, or they’re not really listening (or probably a little bit of both). I know. It can be awkward and uncomfortable, but the truth is someone is going to tell your sweet, innocent, little child about sex. It might as well be you. This hour-long talk offers honest and age-appropriate tips for how to have one of the most important — and most difficult —  conversations you’ll ever have.

What a Divorced Guy can Tell You about How to Stay Married: No one walks down the aisle and says, “I do” thinking that one day they’ll have to hire an attorney to communicate with this person standing next to them. But it happens. It happens too often. It might seem strange to have a divorced guy come talk about marriage, but there are some things only those who have gone through the pain of divorce know about marriage. This 90-minute talk can help you and your spouse stay both calm and connected so you can be the spouse your spouse always dreamed of.

Note: I have done the above topics in explicitly Christian contexts and in completely secular environments. I can also do extended versions of these topics in a retreat setting or spread out over a weekend. 

The Leader’s Edge: Very few people are what could be considered “natural born leaders”. Instead, most of the top leaders in our world made the most of their innate abilities and cultivated the skills they’d need to take the next step. In this 90-minute presentation, I’ll share with you the leadership lessons I’ve learned watching some of the most innovative and strategic thinkers in the world up close and personal. Some of it may sound counter-intuitive, but I guarantee you’ll come away with a better understanding of what it takes to be a next-level leader in today’s world.

The Place You Want to Work: Aside from our homes, most of us spend most of our time at work. Alas, this is not always where you want to be. Workplaces are often filled with more politics and drama than prime-time TV. It doesn’t have to be this way. This 90-minute message shares an understanding of why your work is the way it is — and how to change it for the better…even if you’re not the leader.

Note: In addition to these public presentations, I do a fair amount of private coaching and consulting for leaders. If you think you might be interested in improving your leadership and the environment in which you work, leave me a message in the comments section. 

The Multiplication Weekend: Most churches in America are either plateaued or in decline. They want to grow; they just don’t know how. Often, churches resort to doing things the way they used to do them, hoping this will bring back the kind of growth they once experienced. It hardly ever works. I believe your church could grow and could be healthy. I believe you could do that with the resources you currently have. It just takes a shift in perspective. In one weekend, I believe I could help you shift the paradigm of your leaders and core members and change the trend-line of your church.

The 90-Day Turnaround: I am available to partner with a limited number of churches, taking the gist of the Multiplication Weekend outlined above and implanting it into the DNA of your entire congregation. This would be a 90-day partnership, involving a weekend visit at the start, a series of coaching consultations via Skype and/or FaceTime, and a weekend visit at the end. Think of it. In just 90-days you could turn the culture of your church completely around.

Note: In addition to all of the above, I just love speaking for local church groups. Call it a pastor’s heart. Blame it on my upbringing. I don’t care. I have a heart for the local church. If you’re interested in having me come visit, don’t let money be an obstacle. If I have a free Sunday, I’ll do everything I can to make it work. I want to help people, and I believe the local church is God’s plan to change the world. Leave me a message, and let’s see what we can work out.