Unarmed Empire, Book Review

A new book has come out that you should buy today: Unarmed Empire by Sean Palmer.

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Order it here!

“This book is the result of a lifetime in the church.”

So begins Unarmed Empire, the new book by Sean Palmer. Sean is an incredible story teller. He observes. He listens. He reflects. And as he writes, he tells a story that I truly believe every churchgoer will relate to on some level.

Sean loves the church. He loves what the church should be and can be. He hates what the church in many places has become.

As Sean relays stories of his experience in the church, he is quick to point out his own failings. As he is quick to state, people on both sides of the current state of political discourse have become victims. We have allowed our personal, political, and philosophical opinions dictate how we operate and interact. Instead of being a Kingdom people, we have adopted a “Pax Americana.”

If you are a churchgoer who wants to reclaim what Jesus called the church to be, this book is for you. If you have been burned by churches in the past, pick up this book to grasp a picture of what church can and should be and what some churches truly are striving to be.

Sean is calling us all to community—a community based on grace, a community based on welcoming, a community that seeks to create peace. This book is authentic. It is convicting. It is a road map for what we as a church have been called to be.

Sean is a friend. I have known him for more than half my life. As he writes, I can hear and appreciate his growth and maturity through the years. I can see the ways God has molded and shaped him; how God has used him to bring about the Kingdom without being too distracted by any earthly kingdom. Sean may not realize how important he has been to my own spiritual development over the years. And as I read his book, I was wanting to loudly proclaim, “Amen,” over and over—about 90% of the time. The rest of the time, he was convicting me to wrestle with my own sin; the ways I have given in to earthly standards in my relationships with other people.

We have lost our story. Let us reclaim it. “Christians can be right, but if we are not kind, we are wrong.” Let us be kind. Let us be welcoming. Let us be the church.

 

Stolen Jesus, Book Review

My friend wrote a book! And I highly recommend it! You can (and should) pre-order it here:

For years, Jesus was “more of a habit than a relationship.” It is my experience that this has been true for at least some portion of every Christian’s journey. Jami Amerine’s new book, Stolen Jesus, is her story of turning her habit into so much more.

Jami is honest and vulnerable. She shares from the deepest parts of her soul. (And she tells funny family stories, too!) As she details the number of false Jesus images she grew up with, she reveals an important truth: most of these images come from a good place. As I read, I remembered the ways I misunderstood Jesus because the picture I was given was incomplete.

I grew up as a preacher’s kid and even went to college to gain a degree in preaching. Yet it was not until my own experience of almost losing everything that I fully came to have a real relationship with Jesus. On my blog and in my personal interactions, I strive to achieve the same type of open story-telling that Jami utilizes in Stolen Jesus.

Jami experienced different church groups growing up. She has children ranging in age from 22 to 1. Her family fosters children. They have adopted children. They have moved. They have experienced home school, private school, and public school. They have faced family tragedy and times of questioning and worry. Yet through it all, Jami and her family have sought Jesus. Her journey is one of moving from what people tell us about Jesus to actually getting to know Jesus.

I have never shared cabbage with a friend because my breasts were engorged with milk nor have I had my dress pulled off of me my by a shopping cart in Walmart, but I have friends with whom I walk through this life together. I have had moments of extreme embarrassment knowing the entire world was watching. I know what it is like to see the looks and hear the words of the person who does not know you putting you down.

As Jami writes, our journeys are so different yet they are so much the same. I, too, have many inherited Jesuses that I needed to let go of in order to have a relationship with the one, true Jesus. She admonishes all of us. She encourages all of us. She can make us laugh and cry. Yet she is careful to say she is not the expert. All she is doing is sharing her story. And I am grateful she does.

Note: I received an advance copy from the publisher. If you are interested in reading more Jami, head on over here.

The American Swastika

The first time I attended an AA meeting, I was six days sober. I read the poster of the 12 Steps. I thought to myself (confidently), “Wow! I’m already on Step 10!”

It was not long before I started drinking again.

Is that really a surprise?

You see, I was not honest. I was not honest with myself or my condition at that time. I wanted to believe that I had evolved so much faster than I truly had. I wanted to believe that by simply removing alcohol from system for six days I could ignore the hard work of self-reflection and living sober that was yet come.

I also was not honest in my recovery with my sponsor, my wife, my church, or my friends. I still kept secrets. I refused to admit all my wrongdoing. There was one secret in particular that I kept. It related to the ways I was getting the necessary funds to pay for all of my alcohol. (Essentially, what I defined as “borrowing” the State of New York defined as “extorting.”)

I was unwilling to acknowledge completely that alcohol was simply one part of the problem. It ran much deeper than drinking too much.

And so, because of that, I did not stay sober for long. I found myself drinking again a short while later. Only this time, I drank more often and I drank much more. I kept telling myself it was only a phase; it wasn’t that big a deal; I could stop anytime—pretty much all of the excuses you have all heard in every movie or TV show about addiction ever.

Because I could not come clean, I became much dirtier.

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In our country, we have not yet fully come to terms with our disease of racism. So it really is no surprise that events common in 1950 and 1900 and 1860 and since the earliest days of our nation were occurring still in 2017.

One of the starkest examples of this is that we still allow the American Swastika to fly.

The fact that many people in the country are still okay with and supportive of the Confederate flag and other symbols of the Confederacy shows that we are not being honest. People try to wipe away the hateful words that were associated with not only the symbols but also the very existence of the Confederacy.

We must be honest. We must be honest that the Articles of Confederacy stated that non-white people were inferior. We must be honest that at the heart of the Civil War was the desire to have the right to buy and sell human beings. We must be honest that the symbols that have gone up across the country did not go up right after the war; they were erected in 1900 with the proliferation of Jim Crow. They were erected in 1950 as a protest against the Civil Rights movement. These monuments were not intended as a way to preserve history, they were intended to intimidate and remind people they should stay in their place. We have tried to keep our racism and racist meanings behind our symbols a secret for too long.

The American Swastika still flies because, as a country, we have been unwilling to admit our wrongdoing.

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And so, because of that, we will continue to face events like we experienced this past weekend. We will never recover from the disease and addiction of racism for long until we finally decide to embark upon the self-reflection that is necessary for growth. We need to acknowledge that events like this past weekend are only one part of the problem. The true problem runs much deeper.

Until we come clean, we will continue to get dirtier.

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We all must acknowledge our wrongdoing—both in our actions and in our inaction; in our words and our silence. We must learn to listen. We must learn to face hard truths. We must give up holding on to only what we want, what we like, and what we are comfortable with. We must seek to journey to a place of recovery.

And that will come only with hard work. But that’s better than walking along blindly until another tragedy occurs.

 

*Artwork from https://venneccablind.deviantart.com/art/Bree-Newsome-542842829

Asking Questions, Having Conversations

The following is a post I wrote for CenterPeace: providing safe spaces for men and women who experience same-sex attraction. For years, CenterPeace and their director, Sally Gary, have been striving to help create and increase conversations. I was honored to write this piece and am glad to share it here on my blog, as well. I would encourage you to check out CenterPeace’s website and blog.

(My post is one of series of posts written by fathers. Beginning today (Monday), Sally will also be sharing guest posts written by mothers.)

Continuing with our guest series from fathers of LGBTQ daughters and sons on Fridays, here’s a post from my friend, Paul Mathis.

Sometimes, I say the dumbest things. (According to my children, this only seems to be heightened as they grow older.)

I like to think I am a kind person; a thoughtful person; a caring person; a smart person. I know that I truly do want to be supportive and encouraging. But sometimes, in my quest to speak words of kindness, I mess up and say something that just sounds awful.

Have you ever read those posts on social media? Something like “Ten things never to say to a foster family,” or “Never say this to someone whose family member is deployed.” I read those and realize that I have said virtually all of them. Always with the best intentions. Always because I truly do care. But sometimes, I just don’t have the right vocabulary to speak into certain situations.

So when my son came to me several years ago and said he was bisexual (and later he would tell me he was gay), I did not know what to say. I came up with some non-committal response that ended with me telling him I loved him.

There is so much I wish I knew at that point. I had been raised in a traditional, conservative denomination that taught homosexuality was a sin. Although I never participated in any boycotts, I was quick to put down Disney and other media companies for their “liberal, homosexual agenda.”

Yet through all of that, I had several friends who were a part of the LGBTQ community. They welcomed me and I welcomed them. We spoke freely and openly. I can truly say I loved counting them among my friends.

But there were so many times that I would either say the wrong thing thinking I was being funny or supportive; or I would just not say anything at all because I was afraid anything would be the wrong thing.

One thing I never did: reach out to someone who could help me have these conversations. However, that was not just because of my fear; I did not know anyone with whom I could have those discussions.

My son approaching me made me so aware of my perceived inability to have these conversations. I did not know what to say. I was afraid to say anything wrong so I defaulted to saying nothing at all. I was woefully unprepared.

I wish I could go back and tell my past self that I was not unprepared. I loved my son. I still do. And it was okay for me to tell him that I was confused, uncertain, scared, and whatever else. It was okay for me to say that because I could also say without hesitation that I loved him. I loved his siblings, as well, unconditionally. I repeated that as often as I could.

I wish I could go back and tell myself that it is okay to question what I had been taught and to be okay with not having an answer. I wish I could tell myself to continue on the journey. I wish I could tell myself that I did not need to feel alone on the journey.

Here is what I cannot do: go back in time. Here is what I did do: reach out to Sally Gary and ask if I could have a conversation.

I remember well the day I texted Sally and asked if I could talk to her and say things that might make me sound ignorant and hateful. I just did not have the language I needed to have a conversation about sexual identity and orientation with my son.

Sally was welcoming. She was patient. She was kind. She was loving.

In the ensuing six years, my relationship with my son has grown closer. More than anything else, Sally taught me that I actually was prepared to have this conversation with my son because I loved him. Sally has taught countless people that conversations based in love are such a vital piece of building and maintaining relationships.

Here is what I continue to do: encourage every parent who has a question to make use of CenterPeace and all its resources. First and foremost, love your children. Second, know you are not alone. Third, continue engaging in conversation based in love and covered in prayer.

Sometimes, I say the dumbest things. But sometimes, my child hears me and knows he is loved.

I am grateful for CenterPeace and Sally and the conversations that have started because of this ministry. I am grateful for the visible support Sally has been to countless others. So when she lost her hair due to her chemo treatments I wanted to do something as a visible sign of support. My shaved head has inspired many questions. Each time I answer, I get to talk about Sally and CenterPeace!

Debating the Worth of My Existence

When news broke yesterday about the passing of Chris Cornell, I was saddened. Although I do not know him, I know his music. I love his voice, his poetry, his talent. I have spent many hours listening to his solo stuff, Soundgarden, Audio Slave, and Temple of the Dog. Knowing Soundgarden had reunited and was touring again brought a smile to my face.

I don’t really know why. Music does that to many of us, I guess.

But as more and more news began to spread, ultimately leading up to the report that it was suicide, the typical, and truly sad, predictable comments began to occur. The statements of “what a waste.” The jokes that are always in poor taste but pop up whenever something tragic happens.

I am used to this by now. In real life, tragedies happen and there is usually a manner of respect shown for the deceased and those left behind. But in social media and pop culture world, tragedies bring out the worst in people trying to bring attention to themselves.

His death is not occasion for a joke. His death is not the opportunity to decry all that is wrong with artists. His death is not the time to call it “a great waste.” His death is a tragedy. A wife is left widowed. Children are left without a father. Family members and friends will mourn his passing. And, in this instance, may even question if they played some role; if they should have done even more.

Chris Cornell’s death is no more tragic because he is a celebrity. But is no less tragic, either.

Cornell has spoken in the past about his struggle with drugs and alcohol. I do not know what his journey was like; if he was drunk or high that night or if he had been clean and sober for years. But that doesn’t matter.

But I do remember. I remember the places my addiction took me. I remember the nights when I was alone with my thoughts and it was not a great place to be. I remember the (mostly self-imposed) isolation. The days when my guilt beat me up for all the poor choices I was making and the nights when justification said “one more” couldn’t possibly make a difference. I remember receiving praise and compliments for my work yet believing in my self-talk which said I was not as good as the next person.

I was never suicidal. For that I am grateful. But there were many nights that I sat by myself and thought this world would be a better place if I was not in it. I loved my wife and my children. I loved the rest of my family. But really, would anyone miss me? Wasn’t I causing more trouble than I was worth? I was losing the will to fight to ever get well and I was hating the path that I was on.

Let me repeat: I was never suicidal. But there were a lot of days that I thought the only way I would overcome my addiction would be to die.

I don’t know Chris Cornell. He was a celebrity whose art I admired. However, maybe we can use the occasion of his reported suicide to ask people around us how they are doing—and actually want an answer. Maybe we can keep our eyes open for those who are isolating themselves. Maybe we can make sure to actually nurture relationships and not take them for granted.

Maybe we can reach out to families who are suffering loss. Maybe we can consider the power of our words and not speak them so carelessly.

Maybe we need to speak up for ourselves. Maybe you are the one who is hurting and you need to reach out for help.

I know the pain of being isolated. I know the uncertainty of wondering if my life is worth it. I know the difficulty of asking for help.

If you are hurting, please speak up. If you know someone who is hurting, please be kind.

When a tragedy occurs, avoid the temptation to “tsk” or to joke. Remember the pain that exists. Reach out and take care of those around you. Take care of yourself and speak up when necessary.

Remember that your life is worth it.

 

*The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK