Start with yourself. Search your heart. Where are your splinters? What work do you need to do to move toward wholeness? Whole people are doing their internal work to understand that brokenness and belovedness exist together because of my Son. Only from that integrated place can you help others on their path toward wholeness.Matthew 7:5
Letters to the Beloved
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Many of my followers have taken Jesus’s words here to mean that you should work hard for holiness, but that interpretation misses my Son’s point. Striving to become like my Son is undoubtedly wise, but you cannot achieve purity independently; I grant it. In my Son, you are already wholehearted. When you recognize that you are already whole, you will have eyes to see that I have been with you all the time.Matthew 5:8
Letters to the Beloved
Here’s what I would like to see:
more peace, less violence
more love, less hate
more gray, less black & white
more both/and, less either/or
more welcome, less exclusion
more conversation, less vitriol
more questions, fewer assertions
more beauty, less ugliness
more curiosity, less certainty
more wholeness, less fragmentation
more light, less darkness
more diversity, less homogenization
more inner work, fewer outward assumptions
more spaciousness, less bondage
more welcoming tears, less demanding smiles
more questions, fewer answers
more pursuit of wisdom, less trust in propaganda
more “is it possible I’m wrong,” less “I’m sure I am right”
more hugs, fewer fists
more plowshares, fewer swords
more circles, fewer pyramids
more kindness, less sarcasm
more downward mobility, less power-seeking
more “how can I love all people well?”, less how “can I protect my own rights?”
more true loving God, fewer wrong ideas about God.
This morning, on the best five minutes of the day with my friend Mark Halvorsen, he began by asking the question, “What is one thing you’re thankful for this year?” He was surprised when I didn’t mention the release of Letters to the Beloved. To be sure, I am grateful to see that project come to fruition, but that isn’t what I said. I told Mark that I was thankful for the difficult inner work I’ve been doing this year. Quite coincidentally, I came across this quote from Richard Rohr in his excellent book, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps:
The more you are attached to any persona (“stage mask” in Greek) whatsoever, bad or good, any chosen and preferred self-image, the more shadow self you will have. So we absolutely need conflicts, relationship difficulties, moral failures, defeats to our grandiosity, even seeming enemies, or we will have no way to ever spot our shadow self. They are our necessary mirrors. Isn’t that sort of a surprise? And even then, we usually catch it out of the corner of our eye—in a graced insight and gifted moment of inner freedom.
As I survey the past year, it has been among the most challenging in my life. Like many others, the 2020 election, the January 6th insurrection, the pandemic, and national unrest have taken their toll. Amid this broad-ranging disintegration, I have continued to work on knowing and loving myself. This inner work involves pulling ideas and beliefs off of the cluttered bookshelves of my mind and carefully examining them for elements of truth. Every person has a unique story with different shaping influences, some healthy and some toxic. I find it uncomfortable to confront my core beliefs and presuppositions, but in my experience, standing confidently in the truth is much more challenging, especially when it leads to conflict and relationship difficulties.
Looking back, there has been a cost to living from my most authentic self as I currently understand it. Some people have criticized. Others have misunderstood. Some relationships have grown cool. Some people have checked out. Others have called me names. Still, others have questioned my beliefs and even my salvation. As a life-long people pleaser, all of these encounters have been challenging, but I’m still standing.
My life looks far different than it did five years or even one year ago, perhaps especially on the outside. My journey has been upsetting for some people. If I am honest, it is often unsettling for me. Still, my journey is my own. One thing that is increasingly true is that my path is not to live to appease others but to become more deeply myself, which involves pressing into my discomfort and standing firm in the truth of who I am. I have been working with two counselors who are helping me to become who I am. I am also attending a 12-step meeting, which has also helped me on this journey to know myself. Let me conclude with the adaptation of the Serenity Prayer that we use in our weekly meetings.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change,
the courage to change the one I can,
and the wisdom to know it’s me.
A few days ago, I shared this on Twitter:
I spent several years training for the culture wars. The Christians I was learning from were clear that secular culture was the enemy. So I trained in logic, apologetics, and worldview studies. I learned the answers to confront the evil out there. Over the past five years, it has become clearer that “my team” also harbored considerable evil. Several of my faith heroes were credibly accused of gross misconduct, which they uniformly denied. I witnessed friends defend evil to protect the church. I profoundly harmed and shunned others on behalf of the church. In 2018, my eyes were opened to my complicity and I couldn’t stay. I wish I could say all has been clear since then, but I remain disoriented. I have been in good churches since then, but the confusion and internal disintegration have continued to have profound effects. I want to be involved in a faith community. And I don’t. What is true is that the evil that I naively believed was “out there” was inside as well. That is partly why I am less interested in the us vs. them approach. The church isn’t exempt. I am not exempt. We’ve all been wrong. So for now, I am trying to do my own work uncertain where it will lead.
To be clear, I know too many outstanding Christians to name. I have seen churches and Christian organizations pull together to do amazing things. For example, my friend Perry is a pastor of a small congregation and also the founder of Touched Twice United, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. My friend Peggy is the founder of Teamwork Africa, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. Both of these are amazing organizations. Countless believers have done and continue to do miraculous things around the world. I am grateful for every one of them.
However, over the years, I came to accept ideas that were not necessarily accurate, which were cultivated in the soil of an us versus them mentality. It is hard to say how much my thinking was shaped by those I was listening to and how much was shaped by my own mental life, but the fruit was division and arrogance. If I am honest, I believed Christians were better than non-Christians. The blogs and people I was reading suggested that if gays, liberals, atheists, or Muslims did something that benefitted the greater good, it was inconsistent with their own worldview. I even recall one blogger asking whether someone who was not a Christian could genuinely love others. The culture war mentality prepares soldiers to fight evil, and enemies are required, even if we have to create them.
At the same time my confidence in faith heroes was growing, evidence was accumulating of abusive behaviors among more than a handful of them. I still do not believe that the majority of Christians or Christian leaders are abusive. I do not think that most churches are evil. Still, it became increasingly apparent that many of the thought-leaders who shaped my thinking, both nearer to home and afar, could be harmful. Once I became willing to listen to stories of hurt, I also began to pay attention to my own story and listen to my own questions. I actively started to look for things like goodness, beauty, and peace wherever I could find them. I have also been sensitive to hatred, violence, and divisiveness– in the world, in the church, and in myself. And here’s the thing: the common divisions that many of us accept tend not to be particularly good predictors of goodness or evil, beauty or ugliness, peace or violence.
Having written all of that, I remain confident that many people who love me are concerned about the state of my soul or doubt whether I am a true Christian. The 2011 me would certainly have questioned the eternal security of 2021 me. Still, a large part of my own spiritual journey has involved coming to a place where I am comfortable in my own skin and believe that God’s love is far more expansive than the divisions and categories I previously believed.
I am currently filled with both confusion and clarity. I have wondered if I am experiencing a dark night of the soul. I don’t know my destination, but I am trying to pay attention to where the Spirit leads.
 Some will point out that as Christians, we should not have faith heroes, but in truth all of us have learned about Jesus from someone. Even the apostle Paul said “follow me as I follow Christ.”
 People will point out that I have often been critical of certain ideas and people. Granted. In some cases, I have acted in the very ways that I have tried to dispute. At the same time, I believe one of our tasks as humans is to speak out against divisiveness and hatred, which perhaps is divisive in and of itself.
 Yes, please pray for me, but also sincerely pray that if your understanding is wrong that the Spirit may reveal truth to you.
Turn away from the youthful drives and passions that motivated you in the past, which are often inflamed by self-centeredness, self-righteousness, and misplaced zeal. Instead, pursue wholeness, faithfulness, love, and peace, which are the marks of my Son. I have created you to live with integrity of heart, which is completeness.2 Timothy 2:22
Letters to the Beloved
Listen, Beloved: I have not destined you for wrath, but salvation in my Son. I direct my anger against things that ensnare and seek to destroy my image-bearers. I hate sin because of the way it fractures people. To restore wholeness, I will unleash my anger against all things that threaten to disintegrate you. Keep encouraging one another, remember that I am doing what is necessary to make you whole.1 Thessalonians 5:9-11
Letters to the Beloved
Larger Story’s book of the month is Becoming a True Spiritual Community, my favorite Larry Crabb book and the one I have probably read most often. His honest wrestling was one of my favorite things about Larry. In BTSC, he wrestled with what genuine spiritual connection looks like.
One of the traits I share with Larry is that of a restless spirit. He was rarely satisfied with accepting the status quo when it came to Christianity, a truism that resounds through his books. He pressed into his challenging questions, always from a desire to know the true God more completely.
I, too, have wrestled for a long time with seeking to know God better. The battle has intensified in the last few years. I am dissatisfied with the church in America. If I am honest, I don’t want to go to “church.” In many cases, we Christians don’t represent Jesus very well. I have no doubt some consider me a bitter cynic, maybe even an apostate. You may be right. God knows.
Here’s the thing: We talk about the importance of church attendance, but can we honestly say that our church rhythms model those things that Jesus valued? We gather in groups of tens or hundreds or thousands, all facing forward to listen to an “expert” in the Bible tell us what we need to know, which leaves little room to listen for God’s Spirit or share what is happening in us. Numbers of bodies, volunteer hours, and dollars determine success. Nevertheless, not a week goes by without another story of how some pastor or religious group has abused power.
I long for something more profound, but I find myself in the unfamiliar place of not knowing precisely how to put words to my longings. Still, here are some fragments:
I want to gather with people who are trying to understand and live an integrated life. A few years ago, I was involved in a weekly “integration” meeting. People from multiple backgrounds would gather for lunch and have lively conversations that mattered. Sadly, they are no longer scheduled when I can attend, and it is a considerable loss. I want to hear from people who think as I do and those who do not about how we live in a world that feels increasingly fragmented. What does it mean to live whole and holy lives?
I want to know and be known by the God of steadfast love, the one who is reconciling all broken things. I want to hear from others how they experience God and to know where they meet God. I want to share my doubt and confusion with others who are willing to share in return. I am not interested in neatly packaged answers but in acknowledging that the world is a muddled mess and that God is still bigger.
I want a community that fosters self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-compassion. Too often, well-meaning Christians reject these ideas, but healthy spirituality does not neglect loving ourselves. I want to be reminded that there is a God who loves me “without condition or reservation,” as Brennan Manning would say.
I want a community that practices love for others, especially those who are often on the fringes or even outside neatly labeled biblical boxes. I want them to know, as I want myself to know, that God loves them and to demonstrate that truth not only in word but in deed. I long for a place of radical welcome and acceptance. I want to feast around a table where people of different worldviews and mindsets aren’t trying to fix or convert one another but celebrate their shared humanity and belovedness.
I want to honor and celebrate all of God’s good creation, to look for and celebrate beauty and goodness wherever it may be found: in late-blooming flowers and early falling leaves, in gently falling snow and torrential rains, in the warmth of the sun in a blue sky and the cool of a cloudless night. God called creation very good, but sometimes I think we’ve lost sight of that truth. God invited us to be creation’s caretakers, but we have instead abused it for our own ends.
I long for wholeness. I desire goodness, truth, and beauty. I want to honor each person’s unique journey and remember that we, the human race, are traveling together, and every one of us brings something needed by the whole group. I long for fellowship with those who long for integration, wholeness, and reconciliation.
Is that too much to ask?
With a surge of adrenaline waking them up, the eleven were ready for action. They said, “Lord, is now the time to strike with the sword?” Peter cut off the servant’s right ear. Jesus stopped the retaliation. Following Jesus is not the way of violence, but peace. He said, “That’s enough.” He approached the bleeding man and, touching his ear, restored him. He did not leave the servant to suffer, even though the man was part of the mob who had come to arrest him. My kingdom is always about restoring wholeness.Luke 22:49-51
Letters to the Beloved
Instead of fumbling around in the dark, pretending to be something you are not, be who you are. Walk in the light where you will always find me. This honest, vulnerable place is where you can have real friendships with one another and with me. When you remember that my Son’s blood has cleansed you thoroughly, you will not need to hide. Come out of the shadows and be seen. When you pretend that you are better than you are or have no sin in your life, you may deceive others, but the one you have deceived the most is yourself. You cannot live long in that disintegrated state before it begins to tear you apart. Half-truths are no truth at all.1 John 1:7-8
Letters to the Beloved