every cell

In me, everyone has an identity. You are who you are because I AM who I AM. Because I am gracious, have faith that I will strengthen you by my Spirit who dwells in you. Even your trust is one of the many gifts of my grace. In my Son, you have everything you need. In his love, I have placed you exactly where I want you to be. I have given you my Spirit so that you can begin to see how high, how wide, how deep, and how vast my love is for you. My grace has broken your heart wide open to know the love of my Son, which is infinitely greater than anything you could imagine. By my Son’s blood and my Spirit’s power, I have infused every cell in your body with my fullness.

Ephesians 3:15-19
Letters to the Beloved

love fuels God’s kingdom

So now what? You are utterly free. Because of my grace, there are no demands on you. You may do whatever you wish because the law has no bearing on your salvation. If what I say is true, does that mean you should continue in self-centeredness and pleasure-seeking? Beloved, if you choose to live that way, I will love you no less, but my Spirit will continue the work of changing your affections. As you internalize my message of grace, your motivations will begin to change. You are already moving from self-centered hedonism to other-centered service. Servanthood is the fruit of my love growing in you. Do you want to know how to follow every rule and regulation written in my word? Simple. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.. Love is the fuel that runs my whole kingdom. When you are stuck in self-centered living, do not be surprised when you are the one who loses it all.

Galatians 5:13-15
Letters to the Beloved

come to the river of mercy

Beloved, you are blessed by the work of my Son on your behalf and blessed by my Spirit’s presence with you. I know your journey is long, and you get tired. The grime from life in a broken world covers you. Come and wash up in my river of mercy and be refreshed by my love. I welcome you in my kingdom. My Spirit invites you to eat as you wish from the tree of life and experience eternal life exactly as I intend.

Revelation 22:14-15, Letters to the Beloved

the beauty of generosity

My Son quickly dealt with their words, saying, “Why are you trying to cause trouble for this woman? What she did to me is lavish and beautiful, flowing from a heart of love. There will always be poor and needy people among you, and even if you have all the money in the world and give it all away, you will still come up short. Mary loved me right in the present moment, and trusting what I said about my impending death, she was getting a head start preparing me for burial. Wherever the good news is shared, people will hear about her because she is such a good example of other-centered love.”

Many believers are suspicious of extravagance and beauty because it seems to be an unwise use of resources. Child, you saw evidence of these conflicted attitudes after the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burned. Some generous donors came forward, offering hundreds of millions of dollars to help the rebuilding efforts. Still, people were quick to criticize, saying, “They could use that money to feed the poor.” Beloved, I care about each image-bearer and every church, but do not begrudge the generosity of others. There is far too little charity in the world, and there is far too little beauty. Together, beauty and charity give you a glimpse of my generosity.

Matthew 26:11-13, Letters to the Beloved

2021 top 10 books

The annual tradition of posting my top 10 book list continues. As of today, December 17th, I have read 93 books, so I will certainly finish the year under 100. As usual, the majority of the books I read dealt broadly with the topic of spirituality. I read disappointingly few fiction books this year. Apart from favorites that I read every year (i.e., the Harry Potter Series, the Wingfeather Saga, and The Great Divorce), I only read two fiction books–The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Dear Evan Hansen. I also read Letters to the Beloved, the book I published earlier this year, no less than four times, but I probably should not include that book in my top 10 list; however, feel free to include it in yours.

Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision by Randy Woodley
Woodley’s book was a welcome addition to my library in my ongoing study of wholeness and shalom. He explores the similarities between the biblical concept of shalom and the Native American “Harmony Way.” I have so much to learn from those outside of my limited background and this “indigenous vision” is a beneficial invitation.

Grounded: Finding God in the World. A Spiritual Revolution by Diana Butler Bass
In Grounded, Diana Butler Bass provides a well-integrated understanding of science and faith to explore why many people leave traditional religious beliefs and practices. Using metaphors like soil, water, and ground, she weaves a compelling tale of faith.

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor
One of the common themes you will discover in this list is how much I enjoy “memoirs of faith,” stories about how people come to understand God and themselves better. In Leaving Church, the author described her journey into the priesthood, pastoring in the church, and her journey away from it into a more expansive faith. She has proven to be a great storyteller in each of her books, and Leaving Church is no different.

Rage by Bob Woodward
Although I primarily read books about spirituality, I also have an unhealthy compulsion to read books about politics. Woodward is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who has written best-selling books on the last nine presidents. Rage is Woodward’s second book about President Trump and deals with his relationships with key staff members and world leaders and his unconventional ways of leading a nation.

No Cure for Being Human: And Other Truths I Need to Hear by Kate Bowler
Bowler is a witty professor of Christian history at Duke University. In No Cure for Being Human, she tells the story of being diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer at age 35 and reckoning with life and mortality as a wife, mother, and female professor. However, her book is, not surprisingly, about being human. It is a readable memoir that will stir you.

After Evangelicalism: The Path to a New Christianity by David Gushee
After Evangelicalism was the first of three books by David Gushee that I read this year. One of the foremost Christian ethicists globally, Gushee has been a reasoned voice for sincere Christian faith in a post-evangelical world. I have been uncomfortable with the label “ex-vangelical” and “post-evangelical” more accurately captured my self-understanding.

Wholehearted Faith by Rachel Held Evans
In 2019, Rachel Held Evans died following an allergic reaction to a medication for an infection. She was 37 years old. The author of four books before she died, she was a robust online presence and capable communicator. Before her untimely death, she began Wholehearted Faith, and her friend Jeff Chu finished it. It is a beautiful exploration of spirituality and wholeness. Before this year, I had never read any of her books, but the two I have read are on my top 10 list this year. I guess I will need to find the other four.

What God is Like by Rachel Held Evans and Matthew Paul Turner
The second posthumous book on my top 10 list by Rachel Held Evans is the first children’s book I have ever included in my top 10. It is a wonderful, delightful, beautiful invitation into the presence of a gracious and welcoming God. *By the way, it is not only for kids.

Faith After Doubt: Why Your Faith Stopped Working and What to Do About It by Brian McLaren.
McLaren is one of those authors Christians warned me about. For many years, I understood that McLaren and those like him represented “liberal Christianity,” which I further came to believe was not “real” Christianity. However, in Faith After Doubt, I found a spark of hope that I haven’t had for a while in the writings of a person who shows a deep understanding of the spiritual journey and a willingness to say provocative things to encourage his readers toward growth.

In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World by Padraig O Tuama.
Hands down, In the Shelter by Padraig O Tuama was my favorite book this year. O Tuama is an Irish poet and theologian. He also advocates for peace and inner work, which clearly and beautifully comes across in this stunning work. Pieces that give me a glimpse into the inner work of the writer are profoundly inviting. O Tuama discusses his journey and his relationship with God and himself.

follow the children

Until you turn from self-glorification, you will not find your way to heaven’s kingdom. Follow the children instead. They know their dependence. If not for the provision and shelter provided by their family, they are hopeless. They live with openness and curiosity in my kingdom. They do not seek to manage every circumstance because they cannot. Embrace your status as my child, living vulnerably before me, with openness and curiosity about where I have placed you.

From Matthew 18
Letters to the Beloved

some thoughts on the rise and fall of mars hill

I finished listening to the final episode of The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill today. Over the past few months, I have slowly worked my way through each of the twelve episodes and most bonus material. For those unfamiliar with this podcast, Mike Cosper tells the story of the meteoric growth and eventual death of one of the most influential churches in the United States, Seattle’s Mars Hill. Whether or not you are familiar with Mars Hill or pastor Mark Driscoll, this podcast is well worth the time it takes to listen.

Previously, I have not said much about it, but after listening to “aftermath” today, I wanted to share a few thoughts, perhaps as a part of my healing. I was once on the Mark Driscoll bandwagon–I listened to his sermons and read his books. He drew me in by his brashness and cool exterior. I also had friends who joyfully shared sarcastic Mark Driscoll quotes, aligning themselves with him. Whether we would have said so or not, Driscoll, like many other hypermasculine pastors and pundits, justified being an arrogant asshole. At the time, I was also a part of a denomination whose heroes were often outspoken and narcissistic, though they often talked about how humble they were as they encouraged people to be like them.

The thing is, many of us eventually become like our heroes. I did, at least. I remember leaving a meeting with a church member where I was the “bad cop,” and I felt proud. It was only much later that I was able to look back and see how unhealthy beliefs and behaviors like this began to affect the people I valued the most. As I have previously written, I became what I hate.

What struck me today is that I have had many of the same questions and felt many of the same torments that the staff who left Mars Hill felt. I have felt guilt and shame at the ways I mishandled others, and at the ways I overlooked how we treated people with contempt but called it love. I have felt angry at how I harmed and manipulated people in the name of Jesus. I have felt confused about who I have been and who I am becoming. I often don’t know where I fit. I don’t know if people are trustworthy, myself included. I weep for those who ignore warning signs because they believe they are protecting leaders and systems.

Many people have used the term deconstruction lately. It may describe people who have left the church, people who are trying to go back to the basics, or people who are just taking one step at a time on wobbly legs. I can be any or all of those people on any given day. Regardless, my prayer is that the way of love emerges from the rubble.

keep seeking to love

Some continually seek wholeness. Wonderful. I do not have a list of demands for you to meet before I accept you. My Son came to usher in the truth that you are welcome as you are, yet I want you to keep seeking to live a life of love. You will discover that as you align your fragmented pieces with me, you will have an impact for my kingdom well beyond your imagination.

Revelation 2::24-26
Letters to the Beloved