I Am Communed with my Creator

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
~ Galatians 2.19-20

Hey Philly! I’m hosting an epic House Show on Friday. You should come.


I’ve been a little busy recently, but I thought I’d drop a quick post and let everyone in the Philly area know that I’ll be hosting a house show at my place this upcoming Friday at 7pm. There will be opera, fiddles, harmonies, sing-a-longs, food, drink, cider, cheer, and merriment. (Oh, and maybe a little celebrating for my recent engagement.)

It’s been far too long since the last time we had one of these shows, but each has been better than the last. It all started when I first moved into this house in Center City Southwest, and we noticed that there were some birdhouses nailed to our back patio fence (above). And so, The Birdhouse was born, and the music followed shortly thereafter. This time around, we’re having the following artists perform:

Come support the artists and have a good time. For all the info, check out the Facebook Event page.

For Advent 2013: a Free Liberti Prayerbook & Devotional


As of this past Sunday, the Christian Church finds themselves in the season of Advent. I don’t know about you, but this season has snuck up on me (admittedly, I was a little occupied). I’ve been working on a new Advent Mixtape, but it’s not done (you can find last year’s here). I have an idea for an Advent series, but I haven’t fully thought through the concept (see past series here). I’ve had devotionals and reading plans set up on my phone to do, but I haven’t done even one day of them all this week.

But one of the beauties of the Church Calendar is that it doesn’t depend on us. The realities pointed to in these weeks are objective realities that happened (and are happening) in spite of us, and not because of us. Another beauty of the Calendar is that it happens every year, so even if we don’t engage one year like we’d like or hope, there’s always next year.
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Urban Lessons: Why cities will kill your soul.

paul-philly-skyline-2I just completed my first trimester of seminary (round 2). I took a class class on Urban Christianity that, while it may not sound like a difficult and comprehensive graduate course, really was demanding at every level. So much so, in fact, it has really changed a lot of the ways I’ve thought about the city and how humans relate to it (especially Christians).

The class really caught me at just the right time. To a certain extent, even before coming to this class, I “got” it. I had imbibed enough Tim Keller and Church Planting material to understand the centrality of the city in the story of the Bible. Further, my church is now my fourth urban church plant, I go to church and live, literally, in “Center City” Philadelphia, and I work in the midst of the brokenness of the city, seeing the extremes of its beauty and brokenness in ways that few people do in their everyday lives.

And yet, especially due to the rural roots of “certain people” extremely close to me (haha), I felt I needed to engage in this class to develop a far more nuanced view of the city. And I think I got that. Over a few posts over the next couple of weeks, I’d like to share some of the lessons I’ve learned through this time. I think some of these things are lessons that all of us cool urban twentysomethings could do well to internalize.

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A letter from & to a friend on the occasion of her Baptism

baptism-foot-waterThis weekend, I received this wonderful note from a good friend, inviting me and others to her Re-Baptism in one of the rivers of Philadelphia. With her permission, I’m posting her letter and my reply to it below. No matter your precise theological views on second baptisms, I hope you find this exchange to be encouraging to your soul.

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Hello dear friends,

As many of you know, I grew up in a church for much of my childhood and adolescence, and was even baptized around age ten into the covenant family of the Presbyterian church I attended. While I respect this baptism as a symbol of the faith tradition I was born into and grew up with, at ten, I had never struggled with any doubts or questions that have been such a part of my adult faith journey.

In my life, I have found it so easy to get hung up on theology and technicalities (What does it mean if I don’t believe in penal substitution? What exactly does the divinity of Jesus mean?) and my despair at the state of our world (Why does God let horrible evil things happen?). I’ve spent a long ten years questioning and doubting and not knowing. To be honest, not much has changed. I still despair over the evil I see and I still haven’t figured out how how everything works. But I’ve come to believe that that’s just what it is to be human–to be me. It doesn’t somehow cancel out my faith.
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This weekend, I’m being ordained as a Deacon. And I can’t wait.


I noticed that I could see the slowly turning fan blades above us in the reflection of his freshly shaven head. His blue eyes and silver goatee turned up to me quickly, recovering from almost choking on his salad.

“What did you say?”

I had just told him that I felt I had a sense of where God wanted my spiritual life to go next. I was a 20 year-old college student, the president of my campus ministry, and I hung out with my pastors all the time. More importantly, though, was the fact that I was crushing really hard on this girl that wouldn’t date me. Only later would I realize that this was a bigger factor in what I said than anything God had said.

“I want to become an elder at our church.”

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Are you cool enough to raise kids in the city?

Halloween-RittenhouseFor my “Urban Christian” class, we’ve been looking into family life in urban areas. I was asked to comment on the challenges and benefits to raising kids in the city. Because it’s almost Halloween, I decided to use this incredibly cute picture as well.

Let’s face it, if you’re not already raising kids in the city (and probably even if you are), the idea of doing so can be terrifying. But, thinking about it, I wonder if this has less to do with the nature of cities themselves, and more to do with the lack of precedent many of us have when thinking through raising kids in the city.

This leads to two dynamics: fear of the unknown, and so concerns about safety, money, education, and child “corruption” by the wider culture arise because of the limited exposure most of us have to anyone that has done this before and come out the other side. This leads us to have to rely on stereotypes and caricatures of the city to inform our fears and concerns.
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How to End Homelessness (this is what I do for a living) [VIDEO]

philly-rowhomes-neBelow, you will find a brief documentary that was done at my wonderful job, Pathways to Housing, to highlight the work that we do. It features many of the clients and coworkers I work with, and I had the chance to be present for a few of the film shoots. It is so beautiful and well-done. I’m so happy to share with you all a part of me that I don’t really talk about much in the rest of my life.

(Also, if you’ve lived in Philadelphia for a few years, you might recognize some folks in this video that you used to see on the street. But now, they have housing.)

I have spent most of my time in the field of social work pretty disengaged intellectually and emotionally. The older, more subtly coercive model of social work marked my previous companies, and the way the work was structured definitely played more to my weaknesses than my strengths. This left me in a constant state of feeling like I was terrible at my job. And so, it was just easier to not invest much of myself into it at all.

And so I’m only now learning how much of a difference it makes to love and adore your job. This is where I’m at now. I’m at an amazing company with amazing people doing amazing work that produces amazing results. I feel I’m good at my job, and I feel like I’m flourishing professionally, intellectually, and emotionally in it. There’s so much hope and excitement over my work. Here a couple of things I’ve recently heard clients say:

“When I was homeless, I felt like an animal, stuck in a concrete jungle. I only came out to eat and survive. Now that I have housing, though, I feel like a human again. It feels good to be human.”

“I haven’t been homeless my whole life, but I’ve always been a human being.”

And so, though much of my writing (and conversation) is centered around religious, political, and church things, I’m happy to share a little bit of how I spend 40+ of my hours each week. I hope you are encouraged and that you are offered a little bit of hope in the midst of our urban brokenness.

How Liturgy Shapes & Makes Us


UPDATE: I posted a brief history of liturgy and its movements.

A couple of nights ago, those that help lead and facilitate the worship service at my church met to discuss how we should continue to grow and remain faithful to our mission in the city of Philadelphia through our liturgy and music. It reminded me once more of how much I love being a part of this church and its tradition, and how excited I am to live life with these people.

Meditating on these discussions about our liturgy, I was reminded of the myriad of ways that the structure of one’s worship service forms the people that sit there each Sunday. I thought of how liturgy functions. If you go to a church, it has a liturgy: some structure that proclaims a certain story and shape of existence, and it changes people to fit into that shape and story.

And this got me thinking of a document I wrote up a couple of years ago to help train and encourage those leading liturgy at our church. In it, I wrote about six “facets” of the diamond that is liturgy. And that’s what I wanted to post here today.

These are some ways that liturgy acts to shape us. After each thing, I’ve given a sample topic and tried to show how liturgy functioning in that way can speak to and shape someone in that area. This was originally meant as a guide for people that introduce the service and try to acclimate people to the liturgy.

I hope this reminds us that liturgy matters, and being intentional about your liturgy is such an important part of leading and ministering within your church context. If you don’t serve as a leader in this aspect of your church’s life, and don’t really speak to liturgy formation, I hope this helps you recognize the formative nature of your church’s liturgy, and that it helps you connect to and engage with your church in a deeper, more intentional way. For more on this, I could not suggest more highly James K.A. Smith’s book Desiring the Kingdom.

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My Walk to Church: One Shot, Two Ways (a photo sermon)


For those new to  the blog: each week, I try and write a “photo sermon” based on the themes of the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge. This week’s theme is “One Shot, Two Ways“, which is a silly title to describe taking two shots, from the same place, at the same time, but trying to make them very different.

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Whenever I walk to my church, it’s one of the strangest experiences for me. I grew up in the South, when Sunday morning was a time of slow traffic, long lines at Donut shops, and lots of people milling around as they meander their way to their respective churches.

Not so, in Philadelphia.

As I walk down the few neighborhood blocks that stand between my house and the city center, I’m quite often by myself. I occasionally have my heart sink when I see a woman making the “walk of shame”, where she’s walking home in the same dress and heels from the night before, trying to fix tussled hair and making sure all of her personals are still in her purse as she walks. It could just be the time of morning and a potential hangover, but she never looks happy.

I usually see runners. They enjoy being able to run on the city streets in the cool of the morning with no annoying pedestrians to dodge. I also see a fair share of dog owners, still in pajamas, annoyed that their pet couldn’t hold it for a few more hours and give them more sleep.

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Last night, I broke bread with Kenny G [a blog classic]

Today, I was reminded of this story, so I thought I’d repost it. I hope it encourages you as you head on into your weekend.

Channeling my inner stereotypical-broken-hearted-teenage girl, I went to WaWa last night to pick up some Ben & Jerry’s (Stephen Colbert’s “Americone Dream”, in case you were wondering.  I’ve written before about the spiritual experiences both  B&J has brought me.). I had just gotten off work and was about to head home, pig out, and catch up on some TV. I pulled in, got some gas, and then pulled up to the side of the actual store to get my ice cream.

I saw the usual poor guy sitting on the pavement on the side of the building asking everyone that passed by for their spare change. The usual little battle happened inside my mind: Oh God, I’m going to get asked for money aren’t I? Okay, what walking path can I take that keeps me just far enough away from him that he doesn’t actually ask me. I’d rather say nothing than have to say no and feel bad later. Ah! What am I thinking! Stop it, Paul! Why are you so heartless? This is not the Gospel. Serve him.

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Car Theft, Domestic Violence, & a Musical: a weird day

Yeah__this_just_happened._Go_Philly.Yeah, that’s my car there in that picture. This afternoon, my car got broken into.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This was one the oddest days I’ve had in a long time.

Every day this week, mainly for work reasons, I’ve had to get up anywhere from one hour to an hour and 45-minutes earlier than I normally wake up. I’ve also been staying up later than usual all this week. I have been a zombie, for sure.

This morning I had to wake up crazy early (to me, at least) to pick up a client and get them to court for a domestic violence case. They had been the one abused, and they were to testify. This is one of the most difficult things for abuse victims and support was definitely going to be needed.

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It’s Still Easter: a Theology of Color [photo sermon]


This week’s WordPress Photo theme is “Color“. Rather than simply writing about different pictures I’ve taken, I’m instead trying to write “photo sermons” based on these topics. In these posts, I want to try and use the photo itself as my “text”–trying to see how God reveals himself in his “other” book, in addition to the Bible.

In our last photo sermon, I talked about how I love that Easter comes around Spring time and so the natural world beautifully reflects the spiritual truth being celebrated. Also in line with this truth is the fact that Easter–just like Spring–is not just one day–it’s an entire season in the Church calendar.

It takes time for beauty and truth to get into and blossom within our souls. It takes preparation and anticipation for the roots of our hearts to quicken like the trees around us–to feel life coursing in them once more.

This is beautiful. And it doesn’t need to be this way.
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Bad News: I live across the street from the best coffee shop in America [casual fri]

ultimo-coffee-cortadoBad news for my wallet, that is.

Yesterday Philly.com reported that food website The Daily Meal announced that they had found Ultimo Coffee to be the best coffee shop in the country.

(Annoyingly, you have to sit through their slideshow of the 32 runners-up before getting to  the Ultimo feature. So, in my opinion, you’re better off clicking the Philly.com article.)

Anyway, people that know me know that I’m kind of a coffee snob, and I can honestly say that I really do love Ultimo Coffee. I even giddily posted on this blog when I knew their second location, conveniently located across the street from my house, was about to open.

It’s an amazing shop with amazing people, atmosphere, and of course, coffee. I’m proud to be on a first name basis with most of the baristas and the owner (as well as secretly being the Foursquare mayor of that location). It’s certainly my favorite shop in the country. It’s great to see them rightfully being recognized.

If you live in Philly, I can’t encourage you enough to go to one of their two locations. If you’ve never had it before, I’d be more than happy to buy you your first cup. I’ve had the honor of doing so for many friends.

Go Philly coffee scene!