Blog Deep Thoughts

Facing the Risk of Sunsets

Yesterday, I had to go out around sunset to pick my oldest daughter up from an activity. I was backing out of the driveway and realized that I had left my sunglasses in the house. With very light-colored eyes, it’s incredibly hard to see outside, especially when the sun is low.

Not wanting to be late, I kept backing out of the drive and decided to brave the sunlight unprotected by a pair of polarized lens.

Just a few minutes later, I was happy with this decision, and in fact, I quietly prayed, thanking God that I had forgotten by my sunglasses.

Why? Because the landscape I was driving through was beautiful, and I know it would haven’t have struck me in the same way or to the same degree if I was wearing my sunglasses. (The photo below was taken fairly safely from the side of the road.)

Sometimes, we miss the beauty of life because we are so concerned with our protection or comfort, but real life, abundant and luxuriant life, is going to require us to accept a certain amount of risk and will challenge us to put down our guard and just live.

Originally posted on Facebook on Jun 12, 2024.

Blog Church Ideas Deep Thoughts

Deconstruction Permits

My wife and I were having a discussion, and, if I’m honest, I was a bit of a jerk when the topic of deconstruction came up.

After I apologized, I had to ask myself why I had such strong feelings about this topic, and I think I figured it out.

I’m angry. I’m literally furious about this, but not at the deconstruction crew.

I’m furious at the leaders and scholars who have buried Christianity in so many layers of cultural garbage. I’m in the second stage of grieving for a Church who has responded to the deconstruction movement with shame upon those asking questions and expressing doubt.

Of course, I have some frustrations with the deconstructors, too, but most of those frustrations would have been mitigated at the very beginning of this movement had the Church responded better. Rather than attack people with questions, we should have humbly listened, not just so we can answer but so we can hear the heart and hurt behind the questions and validate the person and their pain they feel.

So, I’m not sure how far I’m going to take this, but maybe I need to walk you through my own deconstruction that I went through about ten years ago.

That’s right. Like a true OG hipster millennial, I deconstructed before it was cool, before it even had a name. (If you read Blue Like Jazz or Velvet Elvis, you know what I’m talking about.)

Let me repeat that louder for the folks in the back: I deconstructed, aaaaaaand I am STILL a Christian.

Because deconstruction can be a good, natural, and life-giving process. Because deconstruction doesn’t have to be about tearing up the foundation of faith that is Jesus Christ.

In most of the deconstruction stories I have heard and in my own experience, the process didn’t begin as an attack on faith but a growing discomfort with and then removal of the cultural elements many have conflated with our faith.

I wrote about this a few months ago, but it bears repeating: culture is everything.

I don’t mean that our faith is merely cultural—i.e. a social construct without transcendent value—rather, much of what we think of as our faith is actually a cultural, man-made affectation. To be fair, just because these elements are man-made doesn’t make them bad, but at the same time, just because they are attached to our faith doesn’t make them biblical. For example:

  • Going to church to hear one person speak is cultural
  • Every song we sing at church—singing songs, even!—is cultural, as is having instruments
  • Altar calls are cultural, having only been around since the 1800s, which isn’t that long for an ancient faith like Christianity
  • Reading the Bible on our own at home and in English is cultural and also recent additions to the faith

Those aren’t bad things, but we blindly accept them as biblical. There are other examples of culture that have become part of the Church that are cultural affections, such as democracy, capitalism, patriarchy, commercialism, etc. Not all of these are inherently bad, but to some degree, they have all been accepted and given near biblical adherence.

So, if all of that is cultural, man-made additions upon the foundation laid by God, what’s left?

So much!

God is and loves everyone.
God died and rose again.
God lives, and I live because He lives and loves me.

These are the universal truths of God that should be the focus of our faith.

Yet, for centuries, we have been adding to our faith with so much cultural bunk that it is no wonder people are desperate to tear down the artifice so that they can find the actual truth of God.

Church, let’s be honest: the work of men has been too long held as the work of God, while the work of God has been minimized.

This is why, when people have begun to deconstruct, they cannot find where the cultural constructions of American Christianity ends and the truth of God begins.

Thus, they tear it all up and are left with nothing.

Tragically, had the Church, at the outset, been willing to hear their complaints and answer their questions, had the Church itself gone to the altar so that God could reveal where we had all lost our way in the morass of culture, then maybe we would have seen more true deconstruction, instead of this recent wave of demolitions.

As it is, unless the leaders of the Church in America are willing to be honest about what they and their predecessors have done in building with culture instead of Christ, then we’re going to see even more Christians declare the whole building condemned.

Background of featured image by Dakota Roos on Unsplash

Blog Deep Thoughts Showing My Work


Boredom is a blank sheet of paper. A wide open world with so many possibilities that we cannot choose one to engage with. It is literally having too much to do, as opposed to nothing.

Boredom isn’t about options: it’s about desire and decision-making.

Boredom is a result of your mind-spirit saying, “Enough of this. We want something different.” But then, providing no clues as to what different thing would be best.

It’s like being hungry but for nothing in particular, starving with a panty full of unappealing though totally acceptable food.

Blog Deep Thoughts

The Voice of God

There is a long-standing argument among thinkers, scholars, and know-it-alls online about whether or not the US was founded as a republic or a democracy. I go back and forth, and I think the best answer is that it was neither. It’s always been its own thing, a mutt government crafted from diverse and sometimes incongruous sources.

But all of that aside, the founders were clear in at least one aspect of this new government: the rejection of monarchy. The internecine system of checks and balances they created was intended to protect against the accumulation of power in one position, person, or party. (Sadly, they could not have foreseen the combined assault of increased partisanship and a diminished sense of personal shame.) Having left a society that was dominated by a distant legislature and a detached monarch, they wanted to build a government that was stable yet responsive to the people, impervious to mob-aucracy and autocracy.

We were free of kings, and we were supposed to remain that way, with a government made up of three co-equal branches of government. And yet, there is something in human nature that desires a singular authority, someone to look to for leadership and reassurance in a crisis, along with someone to blame when that crisis gets worse. When you combine that aspect of our nature with the history of the past century of major crises—world war, depression, war, nuclear power, etc.—it is no wonder that the presidency has been transformed and expanded, becoming “imperial” in the estimation of many.

Both sides of the political divide have contributed to this shift and benefited from it, so this isn’t about bad guys and good guys, your team or my team. This is about examining a growing problem in our system of governance, in which we continue to give more power and authority—governmental and moral—to a single person, returning ourselves to a time of monarchs and a potential loss of freedom for all citizens.

Which is why I am distressed by how we have turned politics into a cult of personality and elections into apocalyptic popularity contests. We campaign for our candidate with such ferocity and conviction, as if we actually believe that one single person can fix everything.

We’ve had forty-six presidents since we’ve started: if one of them was going to save us, we’d have been saved by now.

3 Do not put your trust in princes,
in human beings, who cannot save.
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.
Psalm 146:3-5

Politics is all about promises; governance is all about solutions. I really mean that. I don’t get too worked up about the potential of a politician to come through on their campaign promises—though I do worry about campaign threats—but I still do expect the government to at least attempt to solve real problems. And yet, I don’t put my faith in either princes or presidents. Our world is broken, and no person can put it back together. Sure, one or the other might make things worse, but none of them can save us.

So why do we act as if they will? Why do we so quickly turn to worship leaders who are just as frail and mortal as we are?

19 Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there. 20 He had been quarreling with the people of Tyre and Sidon; they now joined together and sought an audience with him. After securing the support of Blastus, a trusted personal servant of the king, they asked for peace, because they depended on the king’s country for their food supply.

21 On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. 22 They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.”23 Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.
Acts 12:19-23

I don’t want to put too fine a point on this, but that passage in Acts sounds like too many political rallies I’ve watched over the past two decades. I don’t blame people for getting swept up in the excitement of the moment and feeling excited about a charismatic leader, but I do worry about a trend in which we treat the selection of a national leader as a popularity contest, as a rock concert, as if a god were walking among us.

Blog Deep Thoughts

Blessed Is the Nation

Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,
the people he chose for his inheritance.
Psalm 33:12

I’ve seen this verse tossed around a lot over the past few years, usually in the context of “This is why God blessed us in the past” or “This is what we need for God to bless us now.”

And while I don’t think this is a terrible way to read this verse, I do think it’s too simplistic. God doesn’t give us formulas, magic spells, or spiritual leverage that we can use to force Him to do our bidding. So, rather than a “if-then” statement—”If we worship God, then He will bless us—I think this verse is saying something far more powerful. In part, the confusion comes from only reading the first half of the verse, which is how the verse is often disseminated. Thus, we can ascertain the truest meaning by carefully reading the whole verse. (We could even go deeper by reading the whole chapter, but this post will already be too long.)

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD…”
In the first half of the verse, we read that the nation who worships the LORD is blessed. Pretty straightforward. But what does it mean for this nation to be blessed? Does it mean they’ll be safe and prosperous, blessed by God with favorable conditions in this world? Or does it mean something even more simple: that to know and worship the LORD is a blessing in and of itself?

Could both readings be true? Absolutely! But of the two, it is the second interpretation of blessing that carries over into eternity. The blessing of a relationship with God is an everlasting blessing. Prosperity is temporal and so, ultimately, unimportant because only the eternal things truly matter.

“Nation” and “People”
Now, let’s talk about the word “nation” in the first half. In Hebrew, it’s the word gôy, which could translate as either “nation” or “people. “ The English word “people” in the second half is ʿǎm, which could also be translated as either “nation” or “people.” Why point this out? Because today we use the word “nation” as a stand-in for “country,” which adds a centralized, political connotation to the word that is almost entirely modern and Western. In the ancient, Eastern world, a “nation” and a “people” were the same thing. Thus, there is a more decentralized, organic, familial connotation. Essentially, we can think of “nation” in terms of “nationality,” which has more to do with family ties, culture, and history than politics.

“the people he chose for his inheritance”
Given all of that, since the words used to represent humanity in both halves of the verse are essentially synonymous, then it is highly likely that the second half of the verse isn’t conveying a separate message but is rather echoing and clarifying the message of the first half.

It’s not that the nation is blessed because it has chosen to worship God, but rather, it is blessed because the LORD chose it as His inheritance. He is the active party in this verse. The people/nation are the objects of His choosing and blessing.

If it is God who chooses and thereby blesses the people, then, we can stop stressing over how to make our country into a “Christian nation” so that God will bless it. That’s not where His focus lies, and so neither should ours.

God has chosen a new people, a people of His creation. The nation that is blessed to have the LORD as their God is the Church, the people of God chosen through Jesus to be blessed with eternal life. We are His inheritance now, just as the children of Israel held that place under the Old Covenant. And what a blessing it is to be chosen by God! To be loved and highly esteemed by the King!

We need to be careful to not read the Bible with a modern mindset, trying to fit the Scripture into our worldview and altering its meaning in the process. It’s a dangerous thing to do, and so very easy to do! I know I’ve fallen into that trap more than a few times—and I’m sure I’ve missed elements of that even in this piece.

In fact, you might think I’ve missed a very obvious element: “God did choose America! So we are blessed.” Where did God say He chose America? I think you’ll find that the only source you’ll find for this claim are in the writings and speeches of people trying to defend the conquest of the continent.

I’m not saying I’m not happy to be living in this country, but I’m also not going to ignore the fact that the “land of the free and the home of the brave” was purchased at the expense of others deemed unfit to be considered either “free” or “brave.” Verses like Psalm 33:12 have been used in the past to justify sins like this by pointing to the effect of the hegemonic power of a Christianized majority, which isn’t the same as being a “Christian nation.”

But more on that later. For now, I just want to remind you of the grace of God: He chooses, He blesses. He has made us his inheritance. Our chasing after some mythical national holiness doesn’t factor in.

Original American flag image from Unsplash

Blog Deep Thoughts

No Bullies in the Pulpit: What TR Really Meant

“I suppose my critics will call that preaching, but I have got such a bully pulpit!”
President Theodore Roosevelt to Lyman Abbott and others, circa 19091

This might be one of the most well-quoted things a president has ever said—if Roosevelt actually said it, since we only have Abbott’s account of it. In one compound sentence, Roosevelt very effectively summarized the primary power of the presidency: persuasion. Since the 1960s, fifty years after Roosevelt made this assessment, the presidency has been regularly referred to as a “bully pulpit.” Unfortunately, in the half century between the quote and its adoption into the political discourse, much of the original meaning has been lost.

About five years ago, I had to make a certificate for students who were doing exceptional work in our history classes. I chose to use a picture of Teddy Roosevelt with a cartoon speech bubble. Inside the bubble, I placed “Bully!” a catchphrase of the twenty-sixth president, which in his day meant “good job” or “well done.”2

But words change meanings over time, and now, “bully” only refers to someone trying to dominate, oppress, or harm another. Not the vibe we were going for.

We had to change the certificate. Not that big of a deal, in the end.

But…when it comes to discussing the presidency, experts should probably have a better understanding of what words mean.

And maybe they do. I should be careful not to assume, but it sure seems like many commentators, analysts, pundits, and even politicians think of the presidency as a pulpit from which one could bully his opponents, rather than as a terrific pulpit from which to inspire and persuade.

If we needed more evidence than the dictionary, we could examine the story Abbott told about Roosevelt’s coining of the phrase. The president was working on a speech and had a handful of people to sit and listen to a draft. Given that this anecdote appears in the February 27, 1909 edition of Abbott’s magazine The Outlook, it’s probably—I’d say likely—that Roosevelt was working on his final annual message to Congress. Today, we call this the “State of the Union” address, and the president delivers to Congress in person in January of each year, not counting inauguration years. However, a century ago, it was just the annual address, written by the president and delivered to Congress to be read by a congressional clerk. Thus, this whole scene described by Abbott probably took place in the White House before December 9, 1908, when Roosevelt sent his address to the legislature.

So, there’s the background. Now, to the immediate context of the anecdote.

Roosevelt had seemingly selected some individuals to listen to his address in order to get their thoughts on it, and as he read the address, he was offering his own commentary. Thus, after reading a paragraph that Abbott thought “of a distinctly ethical character,” Roosevelt himself interjected, predicting the criticism he might receive in response to it.

“I suppose my critics will call that preaching, but I have got such a bully pulpit!”

The accusation of preaching, or moralizing, clearly prompts the analogy of the presidency to a pulpit. We don’t really need to dig into that too deeply. It’s a fairly obvious connection, so our focus remains on “bully.” By using the phrase “such a” before “bully,” Roosevelt was remarking on the degree to which the “pulpit” was terrific, exceptional, amazing, etc., not oppressive or intimidating.

Let’s make this even easier: which sounds more likely?

“I suppose my critics will call that preaching, but I have got such a great pulpit!”

“I suppose my critics will call that preaching, but I have got such a thuggish pulpit!”

Having made a pretty strong case for what Roosevelt meant, I’d like the chance to explain the consequences of getting it wrong.

When we speak of the president in terms of bullying, of grabbing the opposition party by the lapels and demanding they hand over their lunch money/continuing resolutions, we’re tacitly acknowledging the increasingly fractious world of partisan American politics, and we’re adding to the violent rhetoric that has, over the past few years, resulted in actual violence.

When we talk about the presidency as a pulpit from which one can bully others, we are essentially redefining the job as one of intimidation, in which the president must harangue party members not in lock-step, shout down the opposition, all while holding the world hostage to our economic needs.

I don’t think anyone set out to recast the office in this way. No one sat down at a boardroom table and said, “We know why we’re all here: to conceptual transform the “leader of the free world” into an international thug.” No, I think that words have meaning, and, when we alter that meaning, we can unintentionally alter our history and politics.

In closing, having highlighted the historical meaning of “bully,” let me ask that we search for a leader who can use the pulpit of the presidency to persuade, to inspire, to convey the optimism of a “better tomorrow” that has helped to define the American people for centuries.

We don’t need a bully.

Sources & Resources
Here’s another, similar take on the “bully pulpit.”
LOC: Image of Pres. Roosevelet