Suffering: A Family Affair | James 1.2-3


My brothers and sisters, whenever you face various trials, consider it all joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
James 1.2-3

These verses are so rich, it’s going to take more than one post to mine their treasures. A flattened, cursory reading can sound very callous and insensitive to the lived experience of human suffering. However, I think there is a nuanced, sensitive perspective here that deserves sitting with a bit.

“brothers and sisters…”

James knows he is going to say tough things, so he uses this intimate term on the outset. He doesn’t say “children” holding himself above those going through trials, but uses this familial term for peers under the same authority. This shows that no one–not even an apostle, not even the brother of Jesus–is above suffering and trials.

It also reminds us that this letter is not to individuals, but a community. This is a huge key to these verses (and the whole book). The encouragement to “consider it all joy” when we face trials can seem at least insensitive, if not outright abusive, apart from this context.

Suffering should be a community effort. We ought to be close enough to others that we hurt when our spiritual family members hurt. We share the burden to live this verse out. In suffering, not everyone will have the wherewithal to follow all these encouragements, so others step in and make up for what we lack in a given moment.

Others can keep hope on our behalf when we feel hopeless. They can recognize the resilience and endurance growing within us when we have no more to give. They can maintain faith in God’s goodness while we doubt God is there at all. These words are meant to mark a community at all times, not individuals at all times.

Note here that the brother of Jesus calls us his siblings, showing the unity we have as the singular body of Christ. James knows that spiritual family is deeper and more defining than natural, biological family. Blood may be thicker than water, but spirit is thicker still.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

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1 Corinthians, Chapter-by-Chapter


I wrote another post applying 1 Corinthians to the divisions and differences among Christian groups. I recognize my thesis could be a little controversial, so I wanted to show my work with this survey of the letter to show Paul’s thought on these issues.

The letter is to a church divided, so it’s interesting the Paul begins by grounding them in what unifies them. They are sanctified, exist “in Christ”, are called to be saints, and call on the name of Christ as Lord. (1:1-9). But he pretty quickly gets into the divisions themselves (1:10-17).

He’ll eventually tell us what this gospel is, but first he teaches us how to think about it. Repeatedly, Paul hits hard one main idea: you can’t think about the gospel or Christianity in the same way that you think about other sets of ideas or beliefs. When you do that, Christianity is just going to look like foolishness (1:18-2:16).

But still, Paul never challenges the divisions themselves. He does not seem to think that differing views on even important issues is a challenge to Christianity or “the gospel”, which he puts in a different category than other parts of life and faith. (Ch. 3).

The problem is not what these Christians are believing, but how they are believing it and how that gets translated in their actions and worship.

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Christianities: A Roadblock to Faith?


This is part of our youth group Lent and Easter series “Roadblocks and Reasons”, where we discussed Christian belief, the things that make it more difficult, and reasons that can sustain us.

How do we process the diversity of views within Christianity? How can something that claims to be “the” universal truth have so many divisions? What even is Christianity if it changes so frequently?

I think 1 Corinthians has the answer, and here it is:

Different “versions” of Christianity can exist, even with profound disagreements, because there is a “core” to Christianity that is consistent across groups, cultures, language, time, and space. What matters is that we cling to the Resurrection and love each other in spite of those differences.

Let’s see how Paul argues this. (Here’s a deeper dive on the book to show my work.)

1 Corinthians in a nutshell

The letter is written by Paul to a church in chaos, full of deep, substantive divisions around religious teachers, styles, and even different beliefs and practices. (1:10-13).

When Paul lists these group identities, I think we can mentally substitute different Christian denominations, like Catholics, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, or Progressive Christians. It’s not an exact comparison, but it can help us get in the right mindset.

If you were Paul, how would you go about addressing such division? For me, I’d probably tell them which faction is more right or which beliefs are most correct. I may tell them disagreement on these things denies our unity in Christ and embarrasses the faith. Others may even be tempted to propose a more watered-down faith that may be more agreeable, but gives little reason to actually believe it.

But Paul does none of that.

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Roadblocks & Reasons: A Life Update & New Series


In 2017, I had finished my Masters of Divinity and was preaching, teaching, and leading things at my church on a path towards ordination in my denomination. Some personal crises hit and I stepped back from ministry work to heal, grow, and (hopefully) mature on a number of fronts.

After years of therapy and spiritual direction, a global pandemic, and a church merger (and getting married!), I am stepping back into some ministry work, albeit in a way I never expected: youth ministry.

After some discernment and consideration, I’m now the Interim Youth Director at my church.

When I was initially asked, I admit: it was out of left field. I had never seen myself as the “youth pastor” type, or at least the usual stereotype of the adult man-child with lingering frat boy partier energy, or middle-aged men cosplaying as such. (I know that’s incredibly unfair and not characteristic of the vast majority of youth leaders out there, but it is a type.)

More substantively, I am not the kind of person that has any interest in making Christian faith more palatable, less complicated, or easier. I love making its complexity more comprehensible, but not simplified or “easier”, as if that makes youth more likely to maintain their faith. In fact, I’ve seen the opposite. The less complex and flexible your faith, the more brittle, anxious, and fragile it becomes.

(You can probably already see where this is going.)

The longer I took this train of thought, I felt more and more excitement about cultivating this in youth, how important that mindset and ministry could be, and how well suited I actually was for it.

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The Church Calendar: Jesus’ Life and Ours


In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that the Church Calendar follows the life of Jesus and tries to cover nearly the full range of human experiences. Today I want to unpack that a little bit.

The Life of Jesus in the Church Calendar

When we say that, we’re not just talking about Jesus’ earthly life. The calendar covers the whole existence of the Son of God all the way from eternity past to his future and eternal rule and reign.

  • We begin the Church Calendar with Advent. We feel the world’s darkness that existed before God ever came among us in Jesus, and we anticipate and cry out for his arrival, preparing for it in hope.
  • In Christmas, we generously celebrate that God did come as a child in Jesus and the time of his work on earth has begun.
  • Epiphany reflects on Jesus’ entire life and ministry and how it revealed the light of God to all people. We meditate on how we might reflect that ministry and light in the world today.
  • Lent focuses on sin and mortality as we follow Jesus to the cross.
  • But in Easter, we feast and sing that Jesus rose and that we live in light of this resurrection today.
  • Pentecost invites us to reflect on the intimacy of Jesus’ own Spirit within us, the gifts in our communities, and the global scope of God’s work in the world through his Spirit in us in the world.
  • That blurs into Ordinary Time, which reminds us that Jesus’ work today is quiet, and how so much of faith is lived in the mundane rhythms of time.
  • And lastly, Kingdomtide has us dwell on Christ’s kingship rule for today and eternity, and its implications for our justice work in this world now.
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What’s the Point of the Church Calendar?


Every major faith has a religious calendar of festivals, holy days, and periods of fasting and feasting– even secular humanism. There seems to be some ancient wisdom here about humans, but what might it be?

Religious calendars are a humble admission of human limits. And rather than limiting our engagement with God, I’d argue the Church Calendar expands it by addressing three problems all humans have:

1. We can’t think all the things at all the time.

Christians believe many truths at once: God is transcendent but also imminent. God is three yet one. Jesus was God and man, a servant yet the king of the universe. Humans are sinful and weak, yet are the beloved crowns of creation. Humans die but are eternal. We remember the past, fully exist in the present, and look to the future.

If you’re a Christian, you likely agree with those statements, but I doubt you can hold and reflect on all of them in your mind at the same time.

2. Our thoughts of God are always off in some way.

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Welcome to the Advent “O Antiphons” (& My “O’Fashioned” Cocktails)


Last year I learned about a series of prayers and reflection that the Church has historically used in the seven days leading up to Christmas. This is the first year I’m going to try and engage them, and I want to bring you all along. I also want to give you a bunch of cocktails to go along with them.

The “O Antiphons”

Let me introduce you to the O Antiphons, seven short Advent prayers that go back at least to the 6th-century.*

If you’ve been around religious settings during Christmas time, you’ve probably been exposed to the O Antiphons without even knowing it: the hymn “O Come O Come Emmanuel” incorporates all of them into its verses.

The O Antiphons come from the book of Isaiah, and are a series of seven titles attributed to the prophesied Messiah. Each day has a brief prayer focusing on one of these titles as a way focus our Advent longing on the God we need in Jesus. Here they are. As we get to each one, I’ll link to the post and cocktail for that day.

Yeah, there are some titles a lot of us are likely not very familiar with or know what they mean. The idea here is that you meditate on one each day in the week leading to Christmas and you pray the brief antiphon during evening prayers as a way to add focus.

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Make Kingdomtide Great Again


I need structure in my life. I need routines. They help me focus on important things I can easily overlook. That’s one of the reasons why I have connected so deeply with the Christian Church Calendar. I wasn’t raised with it, but these seasonal themes and focuses give more shape to my spiritual life where it would otherwise be amorphous.

Today, I want to introduce you all to a lesser-known–but amazing–season of the Church Calendar that I’ve really enjoyed celebrating the past couple of years: Kingdomtide.

It starts November 1st (though in some traditions it starts earlier), and yes, I made a playlist for it.

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Two Books for the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena


Nearly a decade ago, I wanted to pick a saint for myself whose life I could study and be inspired by. I ended up (accidentally) choosing Catherine of Siena, the 14th-century mystic, theologian, political activist, and (I’d say) preacher of the faith. She was the perfect choice, and today is the day set aside to meditate on her life and works.

Of all the saints I know, I resonate with Catherine’s energy the most. I really connect with the theology of some (Origen, most the Gregories, Augustine), the social and practical emphasis of others (Francis, Clare, Ignatius, Theresa of Calcutta), and the mysticism of still others (Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Julian). But only Catherine embodies for me all of these dimensions and the brashness and angst I carry with me regularly.

Catherine says and does some weird things. She overstates, goes too far, and is counter-productive in a lot of what she does. But she comes by it honestly and is clearly doing the best she can with what she knows and believes. She sharply argued with and called out Popes, rejected the leadership of church hierarchy, and followed her theology to its end, even when many called her a heretic (she has since been canonized as a theological Doctor of the Church).

And yet, with the world and people around her, and in her spirituality, she is so tender, sensitive, and romantic. There is a passion and ecstasy to her spirituality that can seem weird from the outside but so beautiful and inviting from within.

I resonate with all this. Bucking against authority to unhelpful (and often wrong) degrees, feeling misunderstood and unseen even while trying my best, phrasing things in ways that make sense to me while others stare at me in confusion, the tenderness and desire to sit with people in their pain, and the deep desire for ecstatic union and communion with God. These are all my vibe, and Catherine’s.

A decade on, I still wear my Catherine pendant daily, in order to carry her with me and keep her close. If you are interested in knowing more about Catherine’s life and spirituality, here were two of the books that helped me get to know and be inspired by her. Continue reading

A Prayer for Peace in Ukraine


O God, Creator of the universe, who extends your concern over every creature and guides the events of history toward the salvation of all, we acknowledge your strong love when you break the resistance of sinful humans and, in a world torn by strife and discord, you make us ready for reconciliation.

Renew for us the wonders of your peace; send forth your Spirit to work in the intimacy of our hearts, that we may fast and pray for nations in conflict, that enemies may begin to dialogue, that adversaries may shake hands, and peoples exist in harmony.

May all commit themselves to the sincere search for true peace which will extinguish all arguments, for charity which overcomes hatred, for pardon which disarms revenge. Shatter the proud hearts causing death and suffering in Ukraine, and bring your peace to all. We beg you, do this. Amen.

Mary: Ordained as Prophetess, Priestess, & Queen


Tanner-the-anunciation-mary

One of the beautiful things about Catholic theology is that it sees story as one of its main interpretive filters. Protestantism, on the other hand, focuses much more on historical context and the text itself.

To modern ears, the Protestant ways sounds great, but there’s one big problem: this is not how most of the biblical writers, Jesus, the apostles, the early church, nor most of church history have ever treated the Bible. They were and have been much “freer” with the text (yes, often to a fault). Catholicism’s rootedness in ancient ways of reading invites them into new dimensions and interpretations.

Take Mary, for example. Catholics see her foretold in the Old Testament just as much as Jesus is. They see her in prophecies and allegorically represented in other women. They see parallels between her and the Ark of the Covenant, the Tabernacle, and the Temple, saying they all carried the Holy of Holies within them, and were revered for it.

There are three biblical offices of authority among God’s people: Prophet, Priest, and King. Christians see Jesus as the fulfillment and highest expression of each of these, but in the Advent event, you can see Mary serving these functions as well. So today, as a Protestant, I want to sit with this and revel in some beauty and divine mystery.

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Race, Liturgy, & My Great Awokening


My wife will tell you I have a “both sides” problem. I reflexively think through hard things by trying to see them from all sides and treating them equally. But inevitably, while this makes me think I’m acting “enlightened” and “objective”, that’s largely an illusion–and quite often, it does more harm than good.

At least when I employ it, it gives me a false sense that I am hovering above the conflict and that I am not actual mired by my own bias, defensiveness, and not actually being affected by the conflict itself.

But too often, rather than nobly making space and elevating other perspectives and voices, it leads me to prioritize my own voice and simply invalidate that of others.

And that’s precisely what happened in 2012 after the death of Trayvon Martin.

After Martin’s death at the hands of George Zimmerman, I watched the struggle and lament from black America, and felt an odd disconnect. I felt like I could “see both sides” and “understand” why white America was confused why this particular moment was so galvanizing for blacks.

I wrote a blog post about my frustration that me, as a white man, did not feel like I was culturally “allowed” to speak to these issues. The post is bad. I’m still incredibly embarrassed and ashamed of it–but I’ve kept it online (with a note) to document change and repentance.

I had great friends that really laid into me about that post. They took me to task, were patient with me, fully articulated their thoughts, and demonstrated the implications of and ideas behind the things I was saying. It gave me a lot of pause and made me wonder what I was missing–because while I trusted them, I simply couldn’t see what they were seeing.

* * * *

Around that time I watched a special by the comedian Dane Cook at Madison Square Garden. His final joke of the night was about religion. To set it up, he began with “I was raised Catholic…” but was interrupted by cheers in the crowd.

He stops, takes note, and says, “Peace be with you!” and in return tens of thousands of people responded in unison with the ancient liturgical reply: “And also with you”.

Now, huge numbers of those people had probably abandoned their Catholicism long ago, and yet the repetitive week-in, week-out liturgy of their Catholic upbringings had embedded itself in their psyches so they knew how to reflexively respond in that moment to the words of the liturgy–even if they had left the Church decades prior. 

I don’t know how or why this happened, but it was in that moment that everything my friends had been telling me about race and privilege clicked for me.

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Ideas for Lent: Fasting, Prayer, & Generosity


Tomorrow, Lent begins. The Lent tradition began in the 3rd-century and is a 40-day season of meditation and repentance in anticipation of Easter celebration. Whether you are just beginning to explore Christianity, or have been a Christian for some time, Lent is a perfect season to allow God to shape your life in fresh ways.

Historically, Christians have used three broad categories of practices to engage in this season: fasting, prayer, and generosity.

These practices are external means and postures for shaping one’s soul and interior life. Fasting removes things to create space in your heart and life, prayer is a way to fill that interior space, and then generosity is giving out of the overflow we trust is there.

Below, you’ll find some brief words helping us think through these categories, followed by some ideas for how you can it in your life. Pick one, or pick several. The important thing is to try and do it consistently, and use times of frustration or skipping as a chance to meditate on your own limitations, and how God meets you in that. Continue reading