Thursday, June 30, 2011

Quaker Wisdom

"But there is a wholly different way of being sure that God is real. It is not an intellectual proof, a reasoned sequence of thoughts. It is the fact that men experience the presence of God." - Thomas R. Kelly

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

In anticipation of July 4th...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


"My favorite phrase for spiritual leaders is based on the word astronaut. Naut means "sailor" and astro means "stars." An astronaut is a "sailor of the stars"; a cosmonaut is a "sailor of the cosmos." Spiritual leaders are "pneumanauts"--sailors of the Spirit--based on the Greek word for "spirit" (pneuma). The Scriptures say that there is one thing predictable about those who are born of the Spirit: You can't tell where they come from or where they're going. The only thing that's predictable about pneumanauts--the living masters of the invisible--is that they're unpredictable, they're windblown, they're pneuma-organized. How unpredictable is your life?" -- Len Sweet

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Thoughts on the Cycle of Exclusion and Reaction

Yesterday Carla and I went over to the Half Price Bookstore in the Capital Hill area of Seattle. While there, we noticed some type of street fair a couple of blocks away, on Broadway, and decided to walk over and take a look. We found ourselves in the midst of the Capital Hill Gay Pride Festival. As we walked through the streets blocked off for the Festival, we saw extremities of behavior that I never would have expected to encounter on a city street in daylight. I could not condone some of the behavior I saw--and it made me uncomfortable--but I was not shocked or offended, as I once probably would have been. Instead I was reminded of something I've learned, which is that when people are excluded and pushed to the margins, they create their own culture. It becomes a counter-culture. That counter-culture is a reaction against the dominant culture that spawned it. Often, members of a counter-culture go to extremes to define themselves and act out against the dominant culture which they feel excluded from.

When Carla and I used to do jail ministry, it was not uncommon to hear an inmate say "Well, since I'm going to Hell anyway, I might as well live it up while I can." Such statements were a fatalistic reaction to seeing oneself as no longer acceptable to God or society.

Yesterday I also finished a fantastic (and classic) book entitled Man's Rise to Civilization: The Cultural Ascent of the Indians in North America by Peter Farb. Farb's sweeping book explores Native American cultures from prehistoric times up until the 20th century. The book also documents some of the outrageous, inhumane and, frankly, evil treatment imposed upon the Indians by European settlers from the 1500's to the present. One thing that lept out though was how--almost universally-- when a tribe encountered Europeans for the first time, the Indians welcomed the strangers with kindness and generosity. It was only later--after being repeatedly taken advantage of and mistreated in the most heinous ways--that the Native Americans became hostile. The more they were pushed out of their lands and into the margins by the newcomers, the more they reacted.

I've also been reading The Journal of John Woolman, a Quaker who lived in the American Colonies--in what is now New Jersey--in the mid-1700's. Last night I read about some of Woolman's experiences among the Native Americans. Woolman wrote that he had "...for many years felt love in my heart towards the natives of this land who dwell far back in the wilderness, whose ancestors were formerly the owners and possessors of the land where we dwell..." and that he felt drawn to visit them. "Love was the first motion," he wrote "and thence a concern arose to spend some time with the Indians, that I might feel and understand their life and the spirit they live in, if haply I might receive some instruction from them, or they might be in any degree helped forward by my following the leadings of truth among them..." What a difference in Woolman's attitude from that of so many other settlers and missionaries! Woolman journeyed into Indian territory and did so at a time when war was brewing. There had been several reports of native bands attacking White settlements in the area he went to. Just to the West, an English fort had been overrun by a war party and the occupants killed. Indian warriors had appeared in a native settlement ten miles away from where Woolman was, showing scalps cut from dead Whites and declaring that it was time for war.

Woolman wrote that shortly after hearing this news he came out of an Indian dwelling he was visiting to find an armed man waiting outside: "Perceiving there was a man near the door I went out; the man had a tomahawk wrapped under his match-coat out of sight. As I approached him he took it in his hand; I went forward, and, speaking to him in a friendly way, perceived he understood some English. My companion joining me, we had some talk with him concerning the nature of our visit in these parts; he then went into the house with us, and, talking with our guides, soon appeared friendly, sat down and smoked his pipe. Though taking his hatchet in his hand at the instant I drew near to him had a disagreeable appearance, I believe he had no other intent than to be in readiness in case any violence was offered to him."

Woolman recognized that the man was brandishing the tomahawk as a reaction. The dominant culture had caused his people much pain, suffering and deprivation. The hatchet wielding Indian had a "disagreeable appearance", but rather than being shocked or offended, Woolman approached him, invited him in and became his friend.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Remote Control War

This is a very timely and very troubling documentary about the current use of robotic warfare; its future and its moral implications.

Friday, June 24, 2011

New York Legalizes Gay Marriage

Uh oh. This can only lead to..........more married people.

Feisal Abdul Rauf

In early May a group of us went to hear Feisal Abdul Rauf--the Imam of the "Ground Zero Mosque"--speak at St. Mark's Episcopal church in Seattle as part of a conference called "Confronting Islamophobia." The video of his speech that night is now online. This is a godly man and a peacemaker.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


I was laying in bed last night thinking... Humans have been around for a couple of hundred thousand years (they've been here in North America for roughly 40,000 years). In that time, it is estimated that 96,000,000,000 people have come and gone. Nearly all of them simply sought food, shelter, safety, community and peace with their god(s). To obtain these basic things, on any given day, was success. By the measure of the vast majority of all humans who have ever lived, I am very fortunate. I really don't need anything more.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Noise (by Rob Bell)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Father's Day Remembrance

I had two fathers.

The first was the father of my childhood and teenage years. He was a faithful and good provider for his family. He was generous to his kids. He took us on road trips to Disneyland and the Grand Canyon. He could make us laugh so hard it would hurt. He was somewhat driven and impatient. He could be competitive and pugnacious and brutal in his honesty. He accomplished many exceptional things, yet tended to see himself as a failure. He was often frustrated. He had a short fuse and an explosive temper. Sometimes when I exasperated him (as I often seemed to do) he would call me "stupid" and "useless".

I loved him, but I also feared him and raged at him and rebelled against him. As I grew, I too became angry--at him and at the world. But one day shortly before I moved away from home--after he and I had one of our confrontations--I sat alone in my room brooding, and God spoke to me. God showed me that when my father was a boy *he* had been called "stupid" and "useless". Those voices continued to play in his head--and sometimes they spoke through him to me. This revelation broke my heart for my father and gave me compassion. I resigned that the cycle would stop with me. Those voices would not carry forward to my children or my children's children. The anger in me evaporated.

My second father was the father of my adult years. He was a man who had been softened by time and by a crushing bout of mid-life chronic depression. He came through the other side of it with more patience and serenity, but still retained a wicked sense of humor. He had a very low tolerance for bullshit or for discrimination against people. He went out of his way to help people and had a knack for making them feel accepted and liked--including me. He spent many hours running, hiking and riding his recumbant bicycle in the foothills and mountains of Colorado. He told me once that his philosophy of life was to "just roll with it." He doted over his grandsons. When he died, his memorial service was packed with people. I heard people say that he had made them feel valued.

Both fathers were, of course, the same man. His name was Maurice Peter Coleman, but everyone called him "Mo". I am proud to be his son and grateful for all he did for me. I am proud of what he accomplished and who he became. I miss him very much.

Silence and Light

Here's my attempt to describe in song what occurs during a Quaker Meeting for Worship.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Fretting Over Phoebe

This is an essay by Dr. Michael Bird (PhD, University of Queensland). Dr. Bird is Lecturer in Theology at Crossway College in Queensland, Australia. His research interests include the Gospel of Mark, Pauline theology, New Testament theology, and evangelical ecclesiology. The essay was posted on the website of Christians for Biblical Equality.

"I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me" (Rom 16:1-2 TNIV).

I love messing with my students. Yes, I know it catches them off guard, but exposing their assumptions and ignorance is both enjoyable and actually educational too. When I get to my Romans class, I ask the students four questions:

So who actually wrote Romans?

"Paul," they immediately reply in chorus.

"No," I retort, "Who physically sat down and penned the letter to Paul's dictation?"

Blank faces, deep thoughts, then some bright spark will blurt out, "Oh, oh, that guy, what's his name, um, Tertius."

"Correct-a-mundo" comes the teacher's approving reply who points students to Romans 16:22 which says, "I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord" (Rom 16:22 TNIV).

Moving on...

So who delivered the letter to the Romans then? Who was Paul's envoy?

Confused faces, odd looks: how can they be expected to know that?

"Turn with me to Romans 16 then" and together we read the text.

Then we have a cool discussion about the meaning of "deacon," "benefactor," and the role of letter carriers in antiquity. It gives a good starting point to talk about Christian ministry and patron-client relationships in the context of the Greco-Roman world.

"So then, if Phoebe is a deacon, Paul's benefactor, and he trusted her to take this very important letter to the Romans, then Phoebe must have been a woman of great abilities and good character in Paul's mind. Do you agree?"

Heads nod in agreement.

And if the Romans had any questions about the letter like 'what is the righteousness of God?' or 'who is this wretched man about half-way through?' who do you think would be the first person that they would ask?

Eyes wide opened, some mouths gaping, others looking a bit irritated.

Then I provocatively add: "Could it be that the first person to publicly read and teach about or from Romans was a woman? If so, what does that tell you about women and teaching roles in the early church?"

The end result is an "Aha" moment for some students, confusion and frustration for others.

Then comes the big question...

Think about it people. This is Romans—Paul's letter to unify the Roman churches and to prevent a potentially fractious cluster of ethnically mixed house churches from ending up like Galatia where there were painful divisions over Law and Halakhah—the oral interpretation on how exactly to obey the Law. This is Paul's effort to return to Jerusalem with all of the Gentile churches behind him. This is Paul's one chance to raise support from the Roman churches for a mission to Spain. This is Paul's gambit to answer rumors about his ministry that he's either anti-Law or anti-Israel. This is Romans, his greatest letter-essay, the most influential letter in the history of Western thought, and the singularly greatest piece of Christian theology. Now if Paul was so opposed to women teaching men anytime and anywhere, why on earth would he send a woman like Phoebe to deliver this vitally important letter and to be his personal representative in Rome? Why not Timothy, Titus, or any other dude? Why Phoebe?

Some students nod in agreement, others flick through to 1 Timothy 2:12, others sit back and just think.

I'm careful to make the point that this is not the be all and end all of debates about women in ministry. There are other texts, contexts, and interpretations that we have to deal with. This text won't answer questions for us about who to ordain either, they have to be answered elsewhere. But I point out that taken at face value, Paul evidently had no problem with women having some kind of speaking and teaching role in the churches. I think Paul's commendation of Phoebe and her role as letter-carrier to the Romans shows that much. What is more, we should also commend women like Phoebe today!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Donuts for the Duck, Duck, Damned

There is a fantastic piece over on about the theological similarities between Westboro Baptist Church and Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle:

"I get lost in my mind..."

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Man of God

"Jesus said 'Blessed are the meek'
Jesus said 'Turn the other cheek'
Jesus said help the poor and the weak
If He lived today he'd be a radical freak"

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

So, the Dalai Lama walks into a pizza shop and says...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

An Unexpected Message

My mother is perhaps the most energetic person I've ever known. Even now, in her late-70's, she walks two miles a day, does water aerobics, travels (she is at a cottage in France as I write this), maintains her house and bakes large quantities of British delicacies (sausage rolls, cornish pasties, scotch eggs, etc.) for various organizations and causes.

When my father used to call her from work, he would ask what she was doing and she would describe her activities ("Oh, I've cleaned the basement and now I'm making a few dozen scotch eggs for the Daughters of the British Empire fundraiser."). He would reply with a chuckle, "Well, I'm glad to see you're keeping yourself busy."

It has been several years since my father died. He was 59 and healthy. His death was sudden, unexpected, and devastating to us. My mother dealt with it--and with being alone in an empty house--by throwing herself into various projects. One day, as she was working in the kitchen, she heard my father's voice. It was so clear and audible--as if he were standing behind her--that she whirled around, only to see no one there.

What she heard him say was, "I'm glad to see you're keeping yourself busy."

As a Christian, I have no theology for this. But I know that when my mom described it to me, she wasn't making it up. I also know that it gave her great comfort and reassurance in those first shaky months of widowhood and helped her to find her way forward. I have no theology for it, but I am thankful for it.

Friday, June 10, 2011

N.T. Wright talks about how to read the Bible

The Inward Light

"God gives to every human being who comes into the world a measure of the divine spirit as a Living Witness and a Light to be inwardly guided by. Those who learn to heed the promptings of this Light within them come to be "saved" - that is, they come into fullness and wholeness of life and right relationship with God, themselves, and one another.

Those who resist, ignore, or otherwise deny the workings of this pure spirit within them, though they make a profession of faith, are "condemned" - that is, they become alienated from God, from themselves, and from one another. The chief end of religious life, therefore, is to hearken to and act in accordance with the promptings of the Inner Light in one's life."

--From 'The Inward Light: How Quakerism Unites Universalism and Christianity'
by Samuel D. Caldwell

Monday, June 06, 2011

Exploring Ekklesia - Redux

In September of 2003 I began this blog by posting a "manifesto" (for lack of a better word) entitled "Exploring Ekklesia" ("ekklesia" being the Greek word meaning "a gathering of the called-out ones" and typically translated in the New Testament as "church"). At the time, I had just left a leadership position at a Vineyard church. The post was, in part, a reaction against perceived shortcomings that I had experienced within the "institutional" church (which, for me, had been mainly Vineyard and Vineyard-style non-denominational charismatic churches). But it was also a description of a way forward that I believed (and still believe) God was leading me into. Subsequent blog posts are chronicles of that journey. I have grown past some views that I posted years ago, but I have left those posts in place to serve as mile markers. I have always found it disingenuous to rewrite one's history.

Eventually, this "exploration", which is chronicled in my blog, led my wife and I to become Quakers. As I read back through that very first post I can clearly see those Quaker seeds, even though I knew next to nothing about Quakers at the time I wrote it.

Back then I was also fixated on the idea of house-based churches. I surmised that having a special building dedicated to church gatherings was a waste of resources and a symbol of formality and institutionalization. I eventually came to realize that there are pros and cons to meeting in homes, just as their are pros and cons to having a building.

Here is an excerpt from that very first blog post:


Many believers all over the world have been, or are beginning to, reevaluate what it means to be “ekklesia”, and to strip away centuries of man-made traditions to get back to the essence of what “church” really meant to the early Christians. This “back-to-basics” way of being the church is referred to by names such as “Relational Church”, “Simple Church”, “non-Institutional Church”, “Open Church”, “House Church”, “Believer’s Church”, “New Testament Church”, etc.

Regardless of what it’s called, the basic elements are pretty consistent. Listed below are some of those elements. I would encourage you to look up the scripture references given:

· Meeting in houses, as the New Testament church did, or in other locations that don’t drain resources, but foster a sense of family and connectedness. (Acts 2:46-47, Acts 8:3, Acts 20:20, Rom 16:5, 1 Cor 16:19, Col. 4:15, Philem. 1:2, 2 John 10, etc.)

· Gathering in open, mutually participatory meetings, rather than as a passive audience listening to sermons. Moving from an “organized” to an “organic” form of Christianity. (1 Cor 12:4-14, 1 Cor 14:12, 26, Eph 4:16, Eph 5:19-21, Col 3:16, Heb 10:24-25, 1 Pet 4:10-11, John 13:35, etc. Note how often the words “one-another” and “everyone” appear in these texts.)

· Moving away from the unscriptural division of believers into “clergy” and “laity” castes, which has been the norm in church for centuries, and instead learning to function as a body that is directly under the headship of Christ. (Eph 1:22-23, Eph 4:16, Col 1:18, Col 2:19, 1 Tim 2:5, 1 Pet 2:9)

· Having a plurality of Elders (mature believers) who lead through service, example and supportive guidance as opposed to the “top-down” leadership style of the one-man pastoral system which is not present in the New Testament. Pastoring is not an office or position, but a function performed by those believers who are gifted by the Holy Spirit. (Matt 20:25-28, Acts 20:17, 28, 1 Tim 5:17, James 5:14, 1 Pet 5:1-4)

· Endeavoring to make decisions by Spirit-led consensus, which means giving each person in the fellowship the opportunity to provide input and learning to wait in prayer together, listen together and follow the Holy Spirit together, seeking to learn God’s council and the depths of His heart for the church and the unsaved when making decisions. (Prov 15:22, Prov 24:6, Acts 15, 2 Cor 8-9)

· Placing an emphasis on fellowship – really getting to know one-another and showing love in tangible ways. Encouraging one-another to fully interact as the parts of Christ’s body that the Holy Spirit desires each of us to be. (John 13:34-35, 1 Cor 12:4-31, 1 Cor 13, etc.)

· Using finances in biblical ways such as giving to the needy in our communities and helping one-another out in times of difficulty. (Acts 6:1-7, Acts 11:27-30, Acts 24:17, Rom 15:25-28, 1 Cor 16:1-4, 2 Cor 8:1-15, 2 Cor 9:1-12, 1 Tim 5:3-16, etc.)

· Sharing the Lord’s Supper (Communion) as a meal, as it was done by the New Testament church. (Acts 2:46, 1 Cor 10:16-22, 1 Cor 11:18-34).

· Studying the Bible together in an interactive, participatory dialog as opposed to a lecture-style monologue. (Read Acts 20:7-11. Note that in v. 7 where it says that Paul “spoke” or “preached” the actual Greek word is “dialegomai” which means to dialog, to discuss, to reason together. This is consistent with the interactive
teaching style of that day.)

· Prayer. Learning about what’s going on in one-another’s lives and taking time to pray for each other. Expecting God to move powerfully and speak to us as a

· Worshipping God, not just through the musical performance of a few, but with anyone being capable of being the “worship leader” at any given time (1 Cor 14:26, Eph 5:19-20, Col 3:16). Exploring expressions of worship with the idea of learning to follow one-another as we corporately follow the Holy Spirit’s leading. Including, but also going beyond music and learning together to worship God with our whole selves and entire lives.

· Evangelism, which takes place not through programs, but through pursuing relationships. Not by inviting people to a church service but by inviting them into our homes.

· Including the children and youth fully in the fellowship so that they can be mentored and fed along with the adults.

The core of what I wrote still remains my view of what church ("ekklesia") ought to be. In the seven and a half years since I posted this, I have learned much; experienced both tremendous disappointments and times of glorious joy and revelation; made many friends (and lost a few) and have (hopefully) become a little wiser, more patient and more gracious. Most of all I am grateful for the steadfastness of my traveling partner, Carla. Together, we have often been awestruck by the guiding presence and rock-solid faithfulness of our Lord.

Friday, June 03, 2011

"...shining like the sun."

"In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. … This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. … I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. … At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak his name written in us … like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely. . . . I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere."

— Thomas Merton, from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The Next Thing

God really spoke to me through the story of Maggie Doyne. Or rather, God reminded and reconfirmed to me something He has been speaking to me a lot about recently.

If you're not familiar with Maggie Doyne, please read her story here or watch this video. You will be inspired by this remarkable young woman.

Ok, did you read/watch her story? It seems to me that her amazing journey can be summed up by this phrase: Be faithful to the next thing.

When Maggie decided to take a year off after high school before going on to college, she had no idea that in a few short years she would be living in Nepal and running an orphanage and school which she built. She had no grand plan. In fact, she took the year off because she had no plan. But here's the way her story unfolded:

* She went on a 3 month backpacking expedition with an organization called LeapNow (
* When it came time to decide what to do with the next 3 months, she asked a mentor where she could make a difference and work with kids. She was directed to India. She went.
* In Northern India, she kept encountering young Nepalese refugees. An opportunity opened up to accompany a teenage girl back to her war-ravaged village in Nepal. Maggie went.
* In Nepal, she saw more orphans. One little girl in particular captured her heart. She decided she could help that one girl by paying her tuition for school.
* Next she provided for a few more young girls to go to school.
* Next she had her parents wire over her life savings ($5,000.00) and bought a piece of land. She assembled a team from the local community and dug the foundations of what would become an orphanage.
* Realizing she would need more money to complete the job, she used her return ticket to fly home and begin working and fundraising--beginning by babysitting and having garage sales. Within 5 months, she had amassed nearly $60,000.00.
* She returned to Nepal and finished the orphanage.
* She created a non-profit organization.
* More money came in. She was awarded $100,000.00 by She used the money to build a school.
* She is now 24 years old and has formal custody of 40 Nepalese orphans. Her school employs 14 full-time teachers and has 230 students, who also receive a hot meal each day.

Who knows what the "next thing" will be for Maggie Doyne or what, in another 5 years the aggregate of all those little "next things" will look like? Jesus taught that whoever could be faithful with little could also be trusted with much. Maggie Doyne seems to be living proof of that.

And this is exactly what God keeps saying to me: Be faithful to the next thing. I don't need to see the master plan. I just need to be faithful and step out into the next thing that God is putting in front of me. I can do that. God has shown me what the "next thing" for me is. It's not so hard to discern just that. And, it's a little scary, but doable. If I'm faithful to it, that's enough. The results--the bigger picture--is in God's hands.

I can do the next thing. When I focus on trying to do the big scheme--the grand strategy--I end up going nowhere. But I can do what's next. My friend Jude has a great saying, which he has said for years: "Just show up." I love that. I can do that. I can be faithful to the next thing.

Thanks Maggie.