Last Sunday, my church made me very uncomfortable (and that’s OK)

On Sunday, I walked into my church, dropped Elias and Adeline off at their classrooms, grabbed a cup of coffee, and found a seat in the auditorium. I was early, so as I waited, I scanned my Instagram feed and soon learned via one of the photos I saw that the church service I was getting ready to experience was apt to make me very uncomfortable. In fact, I was already uncomfortable.

It wasn’t the topic that caused me to feel uneasy or the obnoxious light show they often display, but rather the special guest they invited, somebody closely connected to a Christian organization that I think is toxic, a company that I personally find gross and impossible to support. At first, I silently panicked, scrolling through the Rolodex of sporadic thoughts running through my brain:

I’m offended.

I shouldn’t be offended.

I need to leave.

I don’t want to pull the kids out of their classes.

Should I pull the kids out of their classes and leave?

I don’t want to make a scene.

I sort of want to make a scene.

I’m offended but I don’t want to be offended. But why do I feel offended?

Having somebody like me as a member of your megachurch can’t be easy—I fully realize that. It requires a lot of grace, trust, and humor. I’m survivor of church abuse. I still carry baggage. While I’ve grown a lot, sometimes, when caught off guard, I can quickly fall back into making uncomfortable experiences like the one I was encountering last Sunday all about me, about me being hurt, about me not feeling safe, about my church not considering me. On top of that, I often write about church abuse. So yes, sometimes having me as a member of your church is a big ole pain in the ass.

But Pete and I have chatted about this a good bit. And despite our differences of opinions, he and I are friends and we trust each other. (He’s quite honestly one of the friendliest and sincere people I know).

But trust is a funny thing. Because trust doesn’t mean that I’ll never walk into an uncomfortable church experience. Trust doesn’t mean that I get to control or even influence the decisions my church makes. Trust doesn’t mean I’m entitled to become offended and voice my offenses in whatever way I want.

Trust means that I can be me. I don’t have to like every decision my church makes. Trust means my church and my pastor are free to make choices and decisions that might offend me. Trust means that, when necessary, we can talk about things. Trust means that our differences in opinions do not define our friendship.

Trust means that if something makes me uncomfortable, I can simply walk out of the service and sit in the lobby and play Words With Friends.

And that’s what I did.

One person, an employee of the church, asked me if I was okay. I sighed. And I hesitated.

But trust means I get to be honest.

“I’m not really okay at the moment. I’m not a fan of fill in the blank.”

She smiled, “that’s totally okay! We all have our likes and dislikes. And that’s okay.”

And that was all that was said. I didn’t tell her what made me uncomfortable. She didn’t ask. We sat their and chatted about kids, school, life for the rest of the service.

And you know what? I felt OK. I was OK.

And then I picked up Elias and Adeline and went home.

Trust isn’t always an easy journey, especially when it involves a church, friendships, and personal feelings and baggage. But trust gives me permission to not make every decision that my church makes about me. Trust gives me the ability to feel safe and listened to even when I disagree. Trust means that I don’t have to be one the congregation’s “yes people”.

Trust allows me to write this blog post…

I love my church. I don’t love it because I always agree with every decision the leadership makes. I love it because I trust the people making those decisions, even when they decide to invite a special guest from an organization that I don’t like.

Apparently, mini skirts talk…


I found this vintage pamphlet at Christian Nightmares. I Googled its title because I was curious what mini skirts talk about.  I found Don W. Hillis’s text at Here’s a short excerpt:

Unless I am misreading the situation we seem to make our wearers a bit self-conscious. At least the girl who wears me is always tugging at my hem. Though I am not an expert on human nature, this appears to indicate some kind of complex.

I have also noted that we miniskirts have the ability to attract a good deal of masculine attention even at church. At first I took pride in the fact that men are fascinated by my pattern and color design. However, just this morning I heard the preacher say that this was not really what the young men (some not so young) were looking at. Though I was all ears when he started to preach, “The Appeal Of A Miniskirt,” I was embarrassed before he was through.

He claimed that the miniskirt does not appeal to the aesthetic. According to him, there are dozens of other dresses more beautiful than I am. His blanket statement that miniskirts do not make an aesthetic, academic, economic, moral, or spiritual contribution to their wearers left me with a feeling that I was not such a great Christian after all.

He said the only appealing thing about me was my appeal to the flesh. Then he spoke for ten minutes on the carnality of human nature. He publicly accused me of contributing to the lust of the flesh. I felt a hard tug on my hem when he said that!

That’s a mouthful, even for the 1970s…

You can read the entire text here.

2 Truths About ‘Being A Writer’ That Nobody Talks About


A long time ago I performed a 3-minute skit at a mega-church in Washington DC. After the fourth or fifth service, a talent scout approached me, handed me his card, and said, “You, son, are an actor… we should talk… How about Wednesday? I’ll call you.”

That 45-second one-way conversation changed my life for nearly three days. I’m not kidding. Those words—you, son, are an actor—sang over and over in my brain like an annoyingly catchy song. By Sunday evening, I was daydreaming about what my life as an actor would be like, contemplating whether or not I’d be forced to move to New York City or L.A. By Monday afternoon, I had started to describe that short conversation to friends as being my “Road to Damascus” experience, like a calling from God.

By the time the talent scout called me, it was late Wednesday afternoon and I was a nervous wreck. We talked for 7 minutes. He stroked my ego a bit and then he started talking to me about his “amazing acting courses…,” courses that would take my “raw talent” to the next level. Even thought I knew I was being politely swindled, I signed up for his acting courses, partly because I can’t say no but also because I really wanted to believe that I was an actor.

But I wasn’t an actor—not really.

I mean, I’m not horrible when performing in a church skit but that hardly makes me an actor. Of course, the talent scout knew that. But he just needed me to believe that I was an actor long enough to get me to sign up for his $300 acting classes. And it worked.

But that’s one of the woes of being a creative—I turn into a giant sucker anytime somebody, especially a somebody with a fancy title, uses my creative nature as a gateway into my soul which is in close proximity to my wallet.

As a blogger/writer, I can’t help but notice how many “experts” use the same kind of lingo to wield wannabe writers into buying their books or signing up for their courses, they twist the truth just enough to make it seemingly true for all.

There are two lies that I see most of all.

The first lie is this one: “YOU ARE A WRITER!”


Because the truth is 98 percent of us are not writers. It doesn’t matter that we feel like writers or that somebody who writes tells us that we’re writers—we’re probably not writers. And that’s okay.

Now, the reasons why most of us aren’t writers vary: Some of us can’t write. Some of us shouldn’t try to write. Some of us feel like writers but aren’t capable of constructing complete sentences. Some of us have nothing to write about. Some of us have the chops—that is, we’re technically capable of written communication—but we lack any unique voice or passion or work ethic or good idea. The reasons why 98 percent of us probably aren’t writers goes on and on and on.

And again, that’s okay. We don’t have to be writers. Probably not being a writer doesn’t mean we shouldn’t blog or journal or purchase Moleskine notebooks. It simply means we’re probably not a writer, at least, not in the way we might have hoped or have been told.

The second lie is this one: “YOUR STORY IS ENOUGH!”

Or “All you need is your story.”
Or “Your story is a powerful tool—use it well!”
Or “Just tell your story! The world will listen.”

I really wish this were true. I really wish that all we needed was our story to make people interested in what we have to say or do or write. But it’s not true—not for 98 percent of us. There was a time when I wished that all of our stories were the kind of stories worthy of books or well-known blogs or TED talks. But honestly, considering how heartbreaking and difficult those kinds of stories usually are, that’s a terrible wish. Most stories that get written in books or read by millions on blogs are the kind of stories that nobody should wish on anybody—there filled with struggle and death, loss and hardship, depression and disease—those stories are lived every day but they usually aren’t the stories that people hope they live.

But for the most part, the majority of our stories are all pretty unspectacular, just everyday kind of stories of common struggles or experiences that aren’t bad or boring, just not the kind of stories that most people really want to read about because their too similar to the stories they/we are living.

In order for most of us to be able to use our ordinary stories, we must have a secondary ability—we must be able to tell our stories in a way that makes people laugh or utilize our stories in a way that helps people learn something useful or compound our stories with the stories of other people in order to inspire.

That our stories are likely not enough to make us the most interesting people in the room is okay, too. While it goes against our culture’s obsessiveness with individualism, the truth is, most of us aren’t Moses. Sure, that’s not a sellable truth. That truth won’t sell books or classes or get you to sign up for conferences. But nonetheless, it’s indeed true. It’s the realities that 98 percent or more of us are living every single day. And that’s okay.

Still, today we are inundated with people who tell us that we are all writers with profound stories that we must tell the world about. Because that’s what we’ve been trained to want to hear. That’s because that’s the kind of message that sells books and ideas and it’s the kind of message that builds platforms and fills up auditoriums.

Neither of these lies means that we should stop writing or stop telling our stories. It just means we might need to edit our expectations, to live in the truth that is true for 98 percent of us.


How to survive Christmas with your conservative religious family

This week on That God Show, Benjamin L. Corey and I offer advice and lessons-learned about how to have a happy holidays while spending time with your conservative religious family.

It’s almost Christmas! One of the biggest stress points for many of us over the holiday involves spending time with our families, who are less than happy that we no longer share their worldview. So how do we do it? How can we still enjoy the holidays while navigating these difficult family waters? Benjamin L. Corey and Matthew Paul Turner sit down in this special Christmas episode to help you develop a game-plan to get through those challenge family visits.


So… how do you survive? What’s your best advice?

Let my Jesus go (enough is enough)

As you may have heard, a recent poll found that American Christians are more likely to support torture than non-religious Americans. The poll, conducted by Washington Post/ABC found that 69 percent of white evangelical Americans “believe the CIA treatment was justified.”

Are we surprised. I’m not. I wish I was surprised. But it’s par for the evangelical course in this country.

But my gosh, enough is enough. Right?

Hasn’t ENOUGH been ENOUGH for many many years?

I mean, like so many of you, I’ve long been tired of watching Jesus get dragged through America’s evangelical mud. And for some reason, 2014 has felt more exhausting than most. I mean, how far are America’s evangelicals willing to take Jesus in order to maintain (or keep safe) their cozy straight white American middle-to-upper-class lives? American evangelicals hate when other groups poke fun or mock Jesus in the public square, all the while crucifying Jesus themselves with their beliefs, fears, and actions.

How far will they go, friends?

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of American evangelicals owning the copyright on Jesus in America. I’m tired of them treating Jesus however the hell they want to.

Way too long ago, they confiscated Jesus, stealing him away into their camps to use him as a foundation on which to stand up for or stand up against whatever best fits their own needs, their own desires, their own worldviews, and their own economic gain.

How long are they going to hold Jesus hostage in their theopolitical clutches?

How long are they going to abuse Jesus with their intolerance?

How long are they going to speak with their lips of Jesus being a healer and then use him as a weapon against the poorest Americans?

How long, friends?

So to the American evangelicals who believe that Jesus would support the unrestrained use of torture on those that they or the American government deem our enemies, I say, let my Jesus go.

To the American evangelicals who have long mixed Jesus into every aspect of their political agendas, I say, let my Jesus go.

To the American evangelicals who think Jesus would approve of their church’s sexist bylaws and the misogynistic culture they protect, I say, let my Jesus go.

To the American evangelicals who think Jesus would promote, honor, give two cents about their right to own guns, I say, let my Jesus go.

To the American evangelicals who use Jesus as an excuses to be racist and refuse to listen to the stories of people whose lives/experiences don’t line up with theirs, I say, let my Jesus go.

To the American evangelicals who downright homophobic, just a little bit homophobic, or think they’re homophobia isn’t homophobia, I say, let my Jesus go.

To the American evangelicals who use Jesus as a foundation on which to promote financial gain, financial prosperity, or so-called financial peace, I say, let my Jesus go.

To the American evangelicals who believe Jesus loves illegal immigrants but would send them home in a New York minute, I say, let my Jesus go.

To the American evangelicals who use Jesus as an excuse to harbor abusers and silence victims, I say, let my Jesus go.

To the American evangelicals who think Jesus has ordained America’s earthly power as sovereign and without boundaries all in the name of keeping us safe, I say, let my Jesus go.

To the American evangelicals who make Jesus into a bag of unbelievable magic tricks and spiritual hocus-pocus, I say, let my Jesus go!

To the American evangelicals who still believe in the war on Christmas, think Left Behind is a biblical concept, and share those terrible Christian memes on Facebook because they think Jesus would be proud, I say, let my Jesus go.

You’ve enslaved my Jesus for too long. You’ve used my Jesus for your agendas for too long. You’ve mixed my Jesus with your hateful platforms for too long.

Let my Jesus go.
Let my Jesus go.

My Elfin’ Problem: An ‘Elf on the Shelf’ Confession

Apparently a lot of people who are parents hate Elf on the Shelf. And trust me, I get it. Or at least, I got it.

In 2009, I hated Elf on the Shelf, too. Heck, two weeks ago I sort-of-kind-of still hated Elf on the Shelf. I didn’t really hate the idea, I just made fun of it when my kids weren’t around.

In fact, when Jessica informed me that we were joining what I thought was the godforsaken elfing craze, I rolled my eyes and voiced with unmeasured passion my displeasure in the idea.

I knew I was fighting a losing battle considering my wife’s face was bursting with an uncanny amount of excitement, a kind that is a fortress to my negativity.

“Our kids will love it,” she said. “And it’ll be fun.”

It’s likely that I rolled my eyes one more time right before going on small rant about the concept being silly, shallow, and too popular and the toy and book being ridiculously expensive. Jessica just smiled and said, “it’s cute and fun and you just wait and see, mister…”

A few weeks later on the first of December, Elias was introduced to Sam, our elf on the shelf. He was only 3 and a bit of a doubter at the time, but soon, he was seemingly enjoying Sam’s daily antics. And though I kicked and screamed a little bit (sometimes a lot), I eventually participated in the nightly “moving Sam around our house,” helping to convince my son (and in the years that followed, Adeline, too) that Sam their elf was magically traveling 3313 miles to the North Pole each night, informing Santa about who in our house was being naughty and who was being nice.

God only knows what Sam has told Santa about me over these past several years. Though I’ve gone along with the whole elf routine, chances are, Santa puts me on his naughty list because I’ve long been a cynical jerk about the elf.

But last Monday—December 1—that changed. Last Monday I became a huge fan of #ElfOnTheShelf, a diehard advocate for our little Sam. Why? Because of what happened that morning when Elias darted from his bed, down the stairs, in hot pursuit of finding Sam. In the days leading up the first of December, as Jessica reminded Elias and Adeline of Sam’s soon-coming arrival, both of them became overwhelmed with excitement. But especially Elias—every time somebody mentioned Sam, his 6-year-old face lit up like the Christmas tree section at Target.

As he hunted for Sam on that first morning, I witnessed Elias’s imagination—pure and untouched by cynicism and/or reality—run wildly around our house. Then, when he discovered Sam sitting on our dining room table with a note addressed to him and Adeline, he shouted in delight, “He’s here! He’s really here!! Come see!!” The expression on his face was so filled up with belief and joy, it almost appeared unnatural.

I have to confess that his childlike wonder brought tears to my eyes. Partly because he’s my kid and I adore him, but also because I haven’t felt that kind of unbelievable joy since I was a kid and it was a glorious sight to behold.

Nothing washes away cynicism like seeing childlike wonderment. I mean, it’s a kind of redemption that is unexplainable until you experience it and it washes your soul clean of what ails you. And that’s what happened. I fell in love with Sam. I’ve started looking forward to moving him around after the kids go to bed. And I delight each morning in hearing Elias and Adeline search the house until they find their little elf.

This morning Adeline came downstairs and said, “You wanna hear the big news, Daddy?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Sam was in my room! And guess what he was doing?”

“Tell me.”

“He was hugging on my Cinderella doll. He’s so funny.”

“He is funny, isn’t he?”

“Yeah, I love Sam being here.”

Is Elf on the Shelf a cheesy popular holiday trend that’s possibly shallow and sometimes annoying? Sure. But it’s also just toy elf with a made-up story that inspires the imaginations of my kids… and I’d never want my grownup cynicism to harm my kids’ spirits.

As their daddy, I want to be a champion of their imaginations, an inspirer of their creativity, and a proponent of their childlike joy-filled delight.


A second typhoon: the Philippines needs our help

On November 8, I walked the streets of Tacloban City in the Philippines, photographing a candlelight vigil to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan’s deadly rage. With more than 100,000 people participating in the memorial, it was an emotional experience to behold.

For some, the citywide memorial of the tragedy that had happened a year before was a somber experience, one that focused on the thousands of people lost in the storm; for others, lining their streets with candles that night was a celebration of hope and restoration, one that focused on their city’s survival and determination to rebuild.

But today, as yet another massive typhoon roars toward the Philippine Islands, those who mourned and those who cheered are likely united in fear of the monster that’s coming to their shorelines today.

Forecasters predict that Typhoon Hagupit (known locally as Typhoon Ruby) will make landfall sometime late Saturday. What they don’t know is whether or not the storm will hit the islands as a category 3, 4 or 5.

But in many ways, the storm’s numbers are unimportant. One-to-two-hundred mile-per-hour gusts are a huge threat to Tacloban; indeed, a cyclonic storm of any size hitting this city and its surrounding areas right now, amid a community that’s still healing, still rebuilding, is devastating.

Thankfully, unlike in the days leading up to Haiyan’s arrival, those living in the most unstable areas are heeding the warnings and evacuating. Some reports suggest that 500,000-plus people have left their coastal communities for higher and safer ground, the country’s largest peace-time evacuation in recorded history.

But as I witnessed firsthand in November, these are a people in process. Many of them are living in homes still under construction. Others have yet to begin rebuilding because they are still out of work and can’t afford a new home. On Leyte Island, which includes Tacloban City, many residents lost their farms and businesses to the storm and, as of last month, were still trying to figure out what their next venture will be.

Though the Filipino people are brave, hardworking survivors, Typhoon Hagupit will no doubt make their road to rebuilding more difficult and put their future sustainability in question.

Which is why I’m writing: because the people of the Philippines need our help. For the last year, World Vision has spearheaded the relief and recovery efforts in Tacloban, and will continue to do so. But this forthcoming typhoon is a major setback, a large and costly wrench in the process to rebuild and restore.

With Hagupit bearing down on the Philippines, World Vision staff have pre-positioned enough food and hygiene kits to provide immediate aid for 5,000 people. Other supplies, including tarps, water purifiers, and solar lamps are also stockpiled.

Would you please consider helping us by donating to our Philippines Disaster Relief Fund? Your gift will help us ensure that we have the necessary resources to continue the rebuilding processes for those hardest hit by Typhoon Haiyan.

Together we can show God’s generous and unconditional love to the Filipino people, and graciously help renew their spirits and rebuild their lives.

Click here to help.

Can Jesus Heal America’s Racist White Evangelicals… Maybe?

Late Monday night, author Jen Hatmaker posted about Ferguson on her Facebook page:

What happened in the comment section of this post is mind boggling. As Jen’s audience–a gathering of mostly evangelical white women, many of whom seem to walk a line between conservative and progressive thinking–engaged in a cultural and spiritual debate about race, the conversation attracted a wide variety of opinions, many of which showcase just how ignorant some Christians are about their own racism.

The debate started okay, with a handful of reasonable comments.

But then Elaine decided to ask this: Do you for one second truly believe that officer Wilson shot michael brown because he was black? Apparently she wasn’t the only one who thought that was a valid inquiry–at last count the comment had 79 likes.

And then Jill chimed in: Perhaps we should listen to the precious mother (that I know personally) of an officer that has been shipped to St. Louis for this very moment. Your lack of wisdom in intentionally enflaming (sic) an already bad situation is devestating (sic) …simply devestating (sic again).

And Brenda: And how about the Caucasian population that is continually having to pay for mistakes our ancestors made years ago. Drop the race card. It is a weak, lame, and OLD excuse.

This comment by Rachel had, as of this posting, 40 likes: Ferguson isn’t about race. It’s about a thug attacking an officer of the law. End of story. Why don’t you put yourself in the shoes of the families of law enforcement officials? Because the fear they feel is just as real…

And then Einsteins offered a sexist plea to Jen’s husband, Brandon: Brandon please save Jen from herself! She is way over her head and digs only deeper! I like you Jen I do! Take heed and listen to wise council. Delete all your posts and tell us your kids stole your phone as a joke and posted these Crazy comments

And Brandi… It’s the black people in the community that made this about black and white

Gina: This is not about race. Most of the witness’s that testified were African American!! This is about a kid who did not respect authority and was a thug.

Melanie: Until the black American community takes ownership of their problems, nothing will change. How about this- don’t steal and don’t commit violent crimes. That would be a start.

Brian: This was never a racial issue. The people of the Ferguson community made it a racial issue…

And it goes on and on for a 1000 comments. Some of the comments left on Jen’s post make these comments above read like Hallmark greeting cards. But it’s always there, sometimes subtle and sometimes blatant, the racism is littered throughout.

This is just one conversation. But I think it’s a telling conversation, one that offers us a glimpse as to how people who identify as Christian engage the topic of race.

With fear?

Without compassion?

With seemingly no ability to see that what’s happening in Ferguson is just one part of a much bigger story/problem, one that’s been a part of the American story for many many years…

Without humility?

Honestly, evangelicals have been engaging the topic of race with and without a lot things for a very long time.

But this comment thread might also showcase reasons why Sundays are still so segregated. And also show why evangelicals are some of the worst champions for racial reconciliation. To be honest, we might be the least equipped community of people in America to talk about race or help with reconciliation. Because we still haven’t learned equality and reconciliation in our own churches, communities.

Even those of us who are open to the concept or desire to see it happen don’t really know how to make it happen.

And I think that’s because, from this country’s beginnings, evangelicals have been a part of the problem when it comes to America and racial reconciliation–perhaps the biggest part of the problem. If you think I’m exaggerating, go study your American history.

At best, we’ve been two-faced about this issue. In my book, Our Great Big American God, I write a good bit about this topic.

America’s God was a grand participant, a reason to fight for equality, and an excuse to fight for the right to own slaves. God aided both sides. Leading up to the Civil War , America’s God was a two-faced deity working with both the North and the South. God was for slavery. And God was against slavery. God’s name was praised among the slaves. And God’s name was praised among the owners of slaves. God was pro-equality. And God was a complete and utter racist. God helped preachers and politicians in the South form messages and rhetoric that suggested slavery was good. And God helped countless slaves find passageways toward freedom.

Like the terrible and unnecessary death of Michael Brown is just one thread to a much bigger cultural problem in the United States, I think the comment thread on Jen Hatmaker’s Facebook wall is also a small thread to a much bigger evangelical problem when it comes to race.

Like we have for a 150+ years, many of us continue to stand in the way of racial reconciliation, fighting it at every turn.

Like we have for a 150+ years, many of us refuse to listen to the stories of the black community–really listen.

In her post, Jen wrote: We are a part of an important generation, one who might be ready to start listening humbly and maybe even move beyond to something more like racial healing and justice. Generations before us have done this hard and brave work in other arenas, and now it is our chance. What important work lies in front of us.

And she’s right. There’s much work to be done.

But I fear that many of us are far too evangelical to do what truly needs to be done in order to change.

Can Jesus heal these evangelicals’ racism? Maybe. But not as long as he’s a part of the excuse for being racist.