Consent, Control, and Christian Grey

Before you read further, you should know:

  • I tried to read Fifty Shades of Grey.  As an ardent egalitarian and Jesus feminist, I vigilantly began reading on a mission to get to the dark heart of this whole Grey phenomenon.
  • Unexpectedly, I was somewhat compelled by it.
  • I stopped reading because I was actually starting to enjoy it.
  • I also didn’t particularly want to read about the painful stuff.
  • I dislike people who write about books they’ve never read.
  • By that standard, I’m not entirely convinced I should have written this post.
  • However, I guess I am 33% more qualified to write about Fifty Shades than most Christian bloggers.

If any of this irritates you too much to continue reading, I totally understand.  Cheers! :)

Fifty Shades

I. Grey

I’m guessing your newsfeed has already been blown up about this book-turned-movie.  You probably read enough articles and posts to know how risque Fifty is.  You likely know some of the NSFW details from the book’s extreme BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadomasochistic) elements.

I believe the real danger of Fifty Shades, however, is less in the sexually explicit material–which is a dime a dozen in Hollywood–but in the glorification of causing women pain.

Hopefully, no one would openly make light of domestic abuse or advocate the type of “punishment” Christian Grey dishes out.  Then this begs the question:  why would millions of women, strangely including grandmothers and conservatives, find their own degradation attractive enough to keep turning the pages of Fifty Shades?

What do women see in Anastasia Steele that they wanted to emulate?  What do they see in the abusive Grey that they deem worthy of worship?

Despite its many flaws, the book has a bizarrely seductive pull to it; somehow I found myself sympathizing with Anastasia and developing a curiosity about Christian.

Like I said, I only read a third of the book.  I didn’t stop, however, because it was so poorly written or too sexual:  I stopped because it was so utterly intoxicating.

Thankfully, I put the book down before too much of the weird stuff happened–that is if you don’t consider Christian pinning Ana’s cellphone, stalking her, asking her to sign a nondisclosure contract, or taking her virginity only moments after showing her his “Red Room of Pain” weird.

Not exactly the kind of stuff that usually makes an ideal Valentine’s Day film…

Still, as violently opposed to every ounce of the book as I should have been, I was somehow enticed.  When I realized how much I really wanted to keep reading, I knew it was time to put the book down.

The marketing of this franchise could be partially to blame.  Christian’s money and infinite resources give the book covers and movie trailers a ritzy vibe.  Accompanied by an incredibly well-done and decently mild soundtrack (that I admittedly haven’t stopped listening to), advertisers brought a glamorous Gatsby attitude to a film about control and subjugation.

II. Darker

Honestly, I think Fifty Shades plays into something so engrained into our cultural mindsets that we are almost blind to it:  sadly, our society still views relationships through a patriarchal lens.

If you are unfamiliar with this terminology, patriarchy is the strong bias toward male leadership prominent in almost every culture throughout almost all of human history.

It’s the notion that being a man makes one physically and emotionally stronger and therefore more apt to control a kingdom, an organization, a people group, or a woman.

And even though many of us have become aware of this form of prejudice that is sooooo prevalent in our religions, our governments, and our overarching cultural narratives, this belief system still sometimes subtly creeps into even the most justice-minded consciousness.

Why?  Because, despite the leaps and bounds into mainstream opinion that feminism has recently made, sexism is absolutely everywhere.  From our history books to our sacred texts, from the private sector to male-dominated legislatures, and from pulpits to the blogosphere, misogyny and objectification and inequality are pervasive.

To be honest, I’m not sure why Fifty Shades shocked so many people as the trilogy is the logical end of a patriarchal society and the systematically unequal treatment of women.

Many clergy and places of worship who demonize Fifty Shades are just as guilty of perpetuating a weak view of women–theology that paints women as dependent on and submissive to men.  In some Christian traditions, female leadership potential is frequently limited in relationships and in ministry using scripture.

We’ve been taught that it is noble for men to lead relationships and that it is romantic for women to submit.  This ideology doesn’t sound exceptionally dangerous in theoretical terms, but in the hands of broken and selfish humans, non-mutual submission teachings can easily be abused.

However, manipulation doesn’t have to look as grandiose as Christian Grey’s Red Room of Pain or as institutionalized as gender discrimination in the Church.  Sometimes it is much more subtle…and even consensual.

Fifty Shades supporters have argued that the series isn’t necessarily degrading to women because Ana consents (she literally signs an agreement) to her role as the “Submissive.”

But just because a relationship is consensual doesn’t make it healthy.  Someone can consent to being demeaned, used, or taken advantage of, and that isn’t sexual liberation.

It’s time that we start rejecting the whole dominant/submissive false dichotomy. Relationship isn’t about competition, ya’ll.  Real love IS NOT overbearing, unequal, partial, hierarchical, one-sided, demanding, possessive, exploitive, or belittling.

III. Freed

Fifty Shades of Grey wouldn’t be nearly as successful if people like you and me never felt lonely or unwanted or misunderstood or distant from the people we love.  The sexual brokenness that leads us to use or be used by someone is simply rooted in the need to be loved and wanted, and in this case, it has led millions to idealize a fictional sadist.

Chains and whips definitely don’t excite me, but feeling powerful and feeling desired does, so who I am to cast the first stone?

What if I am Christian (the controller)?  What if I am Anastasia (the controlled)?  Too often I have used others for my own selfish gain or compensated for my insecurities by allowing someone to give me a false sense of worth.

We’re spending so much time criticizing these literary characters, but I don’t think the Church is examining our own hearts and truly seeing the sexual dysfunction that has been overlooked or justified in our lives.

Basically I stopped reading the book because I was too overwhelmed by my own dark capacity to manipulate or be manipulated.  Maybe the path forward is in seeing potential for similar depravity within our own lives and deciding to stand for equality instead.

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P.S. This (click here) is BY FAR the best piece I’ve read on Fifty Shades.  Gets at the heart of why this series might be so interesting to folks, going all the way back to Edward and Bella.

Creative Extremists: On Selma and Institutional Inequality


Oprah places activist Annie Lee Cooper in Selma // from

When I watched Selma this past Sunday, I was too shocked to even cry.

Watching bodies being thrown by bombs and gunshots, seeing beautiful faces slammed against the asphalt and beaten bloody with billy clubs, and hearing white men jeer at protestors–black and white alike–was almost more than I could handle.

I kept cupping my hands against my face in terror and whispering, “Oh, Jesus.”

If I’m being truthful, my gut reaction was absolute shame.  I couldn’t stop thinking:  I don’t want to live in a country where this happened.

But what made me even sicker was the realization that I do live in such a country.  Fifteen years into a new millineum, entire systems of oppression go uncontested, and blatant acts of prejudice and bigotry are still pervasive.

Like a police officer choking a man gasping “I can’t breathe” with his dying breath.

It’s easy to watch a movie portraying scenes from fifty years ago and be horrified by both the perpetrators of injustice and those who sat blindly by and let it happen.  It’s much more difficult to critically think about the issues on which you and I are on the wrong side of history.

Selma took place in the 1960s, so walking down the street you could still pass someone who cursed or attacked those protestors.

Throughout time, these people (hopefully) changed their minds and saw the error of their ways.  Still, in the history books, their images and hateful words are forever bound to the crippling prejudice of their generation.

I wonder if had I lived in that time in the South and been as inundated with regional hatreds and historical heirs of superiority as the angry antagonists of the Selma story were, would I have followed Dr. King?

Rich with biblical allusion, his prophetic words peak deeply to our spirits today.  But for some in that time period, his teachings on equality–now staples in American religion–would have sounded too controversial.

What modern movements of the Spirit have we been blind to or, God forgive us, discounted?  What issues in our nation are breaking God’s heart right now?

I could take a few guesses–systematic poverty, wage inequality for women in the workplace, ethnic prejudice, high divorce rates, the murder of human fetuses, the treatment of sexual minorities as second-class citizens, drone strikes, military torture techniques, etc.

Discrimination and prejudice hurt God’s heart because they demean God’s own image in us–the Sons and Daughters.

Every day, we must continue shifting our mindsets from fear to love, from injustice to equal opportunity, from blind ethnocentricity to vibrant diversity, from superiority and judgment to humility and gracious acceptance.



However, a major problem we face, as the characters in Selma did, is that the institutions created to protect us often perpetuate injustice themselves.  Our schools and universities, our courts and legislatures, and our churches still neglect the wellbeing of all for a select privileged.

Like Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Something I’ve been convicted by recently is how important it is not to entirely give up on “the establishment” and therefore surrender our power to influence it.

If young Christians are tired of the way churches stigmatize sexual minorities and people struggling with mental illness, the last thing we need to do is abandon the mainstream church.

If women are tired of being disenfranchised in the political sphere, we need strong female candidates not to dismiss Washington but to keep running for office.

If social justice activists are sick of unfair income distribution, they must collaborate with the private sector and demonstrate corporate responsibility as new way of doing business.

Protests are powerful, but resistance only goes so far.  What is needed to dismantle corrupt systems is creative and redemptive action from within these institutions.  We need to be agents of restoration within our schools and churches and courts and city halls.



Let’s spend less time demonizing our opponents, as that only widens the gap of misunderstanding.  To win the hearts of those who–out of their own fear and limited vision–persecute others, we must stand with firm commitment to our standards, unified hearts, intentional acts of love, and radical humility.

Dr. King, I believe, recognized that strong rhetoric influence minds and spirits but that purposeful actions shift cultures.  Both art and politics–demonstration and activation–are necessary.

That’s what Selma taught me.

I’ll leave you with these words from his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which speak to my spirit as strongly as they did the first time I read them in my eleventh-grade English class:

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus and extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you…

So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime — the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth, and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation, and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.


My Faith Evolution: The Search for Silence

The last few years have been a roller coaster of faith, as I explored expressions of faith like pentecostalism, calvinism, liturgy, the emergent church, postmodern Christianity, and more.  Today I’m sharing how I found my place, for the time being, in the Episcopal church.

If you’re just now joining us, you might want to read Part I “Days of Fire” and Part II “Flirting with Calvin” first.

Search for Silence

Part Three of Three

When we left off, I was finally deciding, for the sake of my mental sanity, that maybe God was bigger than the unnecessary binary of predestination vs. free will.

But much to my chagrin, the influx of my questions didn’t stop there, and over the next year and a half, I took the measure that many millennials and fed-up churchgoers are choosing these days–a couple steps back from traditional evangelicalism.

The things I clung to as truth for so long came into question for the first time in my life.

Those days, I spent church services lost in the webs of my own mind:  Do I agree with this theology?  Why do I need to jump and shout in worship to prove I love Jesus?  And while I’m on that subject, would Jesus, the accuser of the religious, really have come to establish a new religion?

Would a loving God actually send a young girl in an unreached people group to hell because she had never heard the name Jesus?  Why are Christians so hell bent (excuse the pun) on the idea of God sending people to hell? What if hell doesn’t even exist?

Why doesn’t anyone seem to notice contradictions and incorrect historical facts presented in the Bible?  Why can’t we admit the Bible was flavored by the preferences of human (and very male) writers?  Is the God who condones genocide, misogyny, and execution in the Old Testament the same God who gave Himself up for humanity in the New Testament?  Does Scripture really have to be “inerrant” for it to be relevant truth?

Why do the traditional understanding of certain Bible passages and the historical opinions of prominent Church fathers so violently malign the equal image of God found in women?  Why does the Church promote the discrimination of LGBTQ people and people with mental illness?  What if God created the earth through the process of evolution?  Why do our theological differences so often drive us to division?

And the question that reverberated loudest through the caverns of my consciousness:  why am I not allowed to ask questions? 


Spending three months in Europe only exacerbated my unsettled thoughts and opened my eyes to my own American theological biases.

I visited the grave of Peter in the Vatican, walked through the cave where St. John wrote his Revelation, stood on Mars Hill–where St. Paul delivered his address to the “Unknown God,” and heard a woman sing “How Great is Our God” standing in the Ephesian amphitheater from Acts 19.

But it was in the rituals of Anglican evensongs–worshipping in thousand-year-old cathedrals–that I heard the gentle whisper of the Spirit unlike ever before.  What I experienced was ancient yet bordered the precipice of something new and extraordinary for me.

In those moments of humble amazement, in particular, taking Eucharist in King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, I discerned a tangible connection with saints thousands of years before and after me–and the Lord who made and loved them all.


Upon returning to the States, I became quickly disgusted by the exuberance of American evangelicalism.  The unnecessary noise, the distaste for history and tradition of any kind, the preachiness, the often superficial conversions, and the obsession with favor and money zapped my energy.

It was like tasting medicine or being visited by a traveling salesperson each Sunday.  Certainty and doctrinal ideology were to be worshipped.

The constant internal questioning had become too much, but what smothered me most was the feeling that I couldn’t express my doubts within my current faith framework.  I was quickly running out of air.

When I tried to talk to people, I felt like others couldn’t bear the weight of my heavy questions.  Friends held interventions with me, convinced I was too close to the edge of orthodoxy.  Their good intentions only left me in shame.

The summer was filled with draining Sundays and many desperate tears on my pillowcase.  On and on and on, my thoughts would fire off, and I had been left in the isolating asylum of my criss-crossing theologies.

I had lost my peace.

Then I finally understood:  what I needed for continued spiritual growth was a season of quietness.  For the longest time, I had been making up for my own lack of sincerity with charisma, and I wasn’t satisfied anymore.  I hadn’t been true to the evolution of my heart.

So I left my comfort zone far behind and found a small Episcopal church close to my university.

The echoing hymns, the poetic liturgy, the glimmering stained glass icons, the exaltation of the Gospels, the paradox of the service’s complex simplicity, the warm smiles of new friends–it was all so beautiful and mystical.  In sitting still, clearing my mind, and taking the holy Eucharist, I met Jesus again.

A friend recently told me, “A change of position will always change our perspective,” and I totally believe that what I needed in that season was a shift in vantage point.

Maybe you are different than me and grew up in a liturgical church.  You might be tired of the rituals and the creeds and need a breath of charismatic air.  Or perhaps you’ve always been nondenominational and should try the mainline for a while.

Who knows? Maybe you need to listen to a megachurch online or serve the homeless or take a theology class or study the monastics or reread the gospels.  Whatever the change, I have confidence you’ll discover it and have the courage to make it!

I’ve changed so much over the last four years, and I know I haven’t found my journey’s end yet.

My advice to you is to never be afraid to question, to grow, to evolve.  That doesn’t mean you have to leave your church or your denomination:  it just means you should take an opportunity to look beyond your little religious box for the answers your heart craves.

Pursue your peace:  it’s so worth finding.
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Train of His Robe’s Best of 2K14

Wow.  What a year it has been.

IMG_3858Up until 2014, my blog (despite my good intentions) had been nothing but a hobby pushed to the side.  I only wrote infrequently, and I had very little traffic when I did.

But then the new year came, and I shipped myself halfway across the globe to study abroad.  People began to read my blog in increasing numbers to hear stories from England, Scotland, Ireland, and Greece and the lessons I learned through an indescribable semester.

After returning to the States, I kicked my interest in blogging to the next level with my Gettin’ Personal month and buying the domain.

Next, we tackled tough topics during the Exploring, Sex, Gender, and Identity series, including personal stories of my own struggles with gender stereotypes.

During October, I embarked on the 31 Day Challenge and posted every day for the month of October.  31 Days of Unexpected Spiritual Encounters was a wild ride, and some posts weren’t as good as others, admittedly, but I grew infinitely with writing confidence.

31 Days also incorporated travel stories from myself and some phenomenal friends in the Finding God Abroad series, and I also celebrated 10,000 all-time views on the blog.

Now 70+ posts later, I’m celebrating a successful year showcasing some of 2014’s superlatives (in order of most views)!


5) Most Timely Post:  Feminist–Why It’s Okay to Call Yourself One


This post came shortly after Emma Watson’s HeForShe talk at the United Nations, and it was such a joy to help people combat their misconceptions of feminism.  If you’ve ever struggled with this F-word, this is the post for you!

4) Most Taboo Topic:  Worth Waiting For?  Why Abstinence Doesn’t Equal Sexual Purity

Worth Waiting For?

This was the first post in what I refer to as my Sex Trilogy.  Talking about intimacy and virginity was a little uncomfortable for me, but hey, it’s about time the Church got real and started talking about sex!

3) Closest to Home Issue:  Chemo, Advent, and Kingdom Come

Advent, Chemo, and Kingdom Come

Talking about my mom’s cancer was admittedly pretty difficult.  Christmas was very different this year, and as thankful as I am for all the kind words and prayers, I know the road ahead will be long for my momma.  Continued prayers are beyond appreciated.

2) Most Talked About:  The Perks of Egalitarian Dating

The Perks of Egalitarian Dating

This post was about my dating relationship with Caroline Eaton, who you can find on The College Cosmopolitan.  We did a crossover, and it was the first time we had really gone public with our relationship on the blogosphere.

It was also a brief introduction to the theology behind egalitarianism–the practice of mutual submission in a romantic relationship.  What was so surprising is the negative feedback I got from a small group of people who were furious that I suggest a model for marriage other than patriarchal doctrine of male headship.

However, the negativity actually had the opposite effect:  I decided to write about defying gender stereotypes more often!  Don’t get bitter; get better.  :)

1) Most Vulnerable Post:  MAN UP

Man UpI wrote this in Paris, but two months later, I was nauseous as I was almost too anxious to actually post it.  For me, it was sooo personal publicly dealing with the gender stereotypes and assumptions I’ve dealt with my entire life.

It was by far my most popular post ever, and I’m so grateful for the kind words and support that you guys showed me after this.

I even had a person I didn’t know approach me while I was walking through campus and say how much this post meant to him.  There’s nothing that cuts through shame like the simple affirmation:  “I’ve felt that way too before.”


Now for some personal favorites!

Most Enjoyable Journey:  Surprised by Jack

Surprised by Jack

Most Beautiful Memory:  Sacred Silence \\ Holy Hush


Most Poetic:  A Prayer of Undoing (which goes really well with BURNOUT)

A Prayer of Undoing

Cutest:  Because I’m the Only One!


Best Travel Reflection:  Ireland, Instagram and Illusions About International Travel


My blogging goal for the new year is authenticity, so get ready for some 2015 realness coming your way!

Also, I started a Facebook page, and I’d be so appreciative if you’d like it for convenient access to new posts and old favorites.

Thanks for hanging out with me this year!  Much love and happy 2015!

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My Faith Evolution: Flirting with Calvin

If you’re just now joining us, I’m sharing how I as small-town pentecostal boy went off to college and added and subtracted from my faith.  I finally reached the conclusion that I didn’t have to be defined by labels or denominations and that I alone had the power to craft and create my own unique perspective on spirituality.

The last post left off on my jumping and shouting in my non-denom pentecostal church.  I was happy and full of faith, but things began to get a little bit trickier when I was introduced to a belief system called Calvinism.

You can read Part I of My Faith Evolution, “Days of Fire,” here.


Part Two of Three

Most ecosystems–schools, corporations, churches, industries–have their own set of jargon and buzzphrases.  At my private Christian university, it’s all about intentionality and community.

After a year in the dorm with best friends in Residential Life, I was pretty head-over-heels in love with the idea of “living in the context of Christian community.”

My sophomore year, I began leading a small group on my dorm floor and participating in midnight dorm prayer nights for purity and unity in the lives of our guys.  It was a time of passion for Christ and hope for one another.

Yet change was in the wind, and my happy-go-lucky, I’m-going-to-change-the-world approach to faith was about to be challenged by two words: John Calvin.

Like any good evangelical male, I joined an accountability group that met weekly.  It was an interesting collection of guys–some I was very close to and others I had never met.

Side note:  Contrary to what your youth pastor might tell you, confession isn’t a great approach to fostering friendships.  As I wrote about in “Keep It Casual:  Why Oversharing Doesn’t Equal Closeness,” your level of (emotional, physical, spiritual) intimacy should never exceed your heart connection with the person to whom you are sharing.

However, almost everyone in the group was a Calvinist.

For those who aren’t up on your church history (I don’t blame you), Calvinism is a type of Christian thought most popular in the Presbyterian denomination and other faith traditions labeled “reformed.”  While other leaders from the Reformation are highlighted in this understanding of scripture, the system gets its name from theologian John Calvin.

While I won’t insult John Piper by attempting to explain this theology in detail, I do know enough to say that this school of thought revolves around a few central ideas that easily fit into an acronym.

T-Total Depravity (humans are bad, yo–original sin and all that)

U-Unconditional Election (God doesn’t pick his “elect” based on their merit)

L-Limited Atonement (Christ’s Sacrifice is only effective for those who accept Him)

I-Irresistable Grace (Those who God chooses will inevitably find Him)

P-Perseverance of the Saints (once saved, always saved)

One of the primary pillars of this ideology is the concept of predestination.  This belief holds that only certain people can get into heaven–those who God “foreknew” before the foundations of the earth.

Because this belief system is pulled so heavily from sections of scripture and church tradition, the movement has a reputation for being very grounded and intellectual.  The Coolvinist guys I know are super smart and read theology much more often than I do, so I always felt intimidated when I would disagree with them.

Because even though I found lots of this stuff in the Bible (try Romans 9), once I started paying attention to the implications of this theology I was beyond horrified.

As pitiful as this is, I remember being mentally incapacitated for an entire weekend after the ramifications of predestination finally clicked in my mind.

I sat in my room in the dark for hours, muttering stuff like, “Wait, wait, they think God makes people do bad things and then damns them for no good reason…?!”

Yes, that’s a totally incomplete representation of Calvin’s teachings, but that’s all I could understand at the time.  I spent the next semester and summer investigating these claims and asking many, many questions.

My days of blind acceptance of my preconceived notions was quickly coming to an end.

I hashed through this stuff so many times with my friends, and I would obsessively think about whether or not each premise might be true.

What if everything I thought I knew about God was wrong?  What if He really was wrathful and vengeful?  Had I just painted over the aspects of my faith I was most uncomfortable and taken out the hard stuff?

And the question that haunted me most:  if many of my smartest friends subscribe to this theory, then am I stupid for not believing a word of it?

Because these notions of predestination and original sin are so strongly supported in portions of scripture and propped up with the opinions of foundational church fathers, was I out of my mind for subscribing to Arminianism–the belief that anyone can choose God out of their own free will?

What emerged from this time of absolute confusion was an acceptance that I would probably never fully understand God.

Socrates said he was the wisest man because he didn’t confess to know anything.

While I don’t know anyone willing to admit they don’t know anything, I came to realize that mystery is what makes faith in fact faith–choosing to accept something without certainty or proof.

It was during this season that I finally admitted to myself that God could actually be multi-faceted and more complex that a simple doctrinal checklist.

Maybe each one of us is only exposed to one aspect of His character at a time before discovering another one of his equally important and equally true sides.

This is why you can have good friends with whom you disagree in regards to theology or politics or music or whatever.  There’s so much more to learn–so many more angles to examine–and we can only do that properly by hearing our brothers and sisters out.

Life-changing truth isn’t found exclusively in ancient documents and philosophies:  more often, it’s found wrestling through issues and ideas in the context of intentional community–where the people matter more than the theological positions.

That’s why the body of Christ is so beautiful:  it’s a kaleidoscope of diverse opinions and origins, from every tribe and nation and ideology, all united under the banner of Truth and Love.

This little tangent, however, was just the beginning of my “questioning phase.”  Things were about to get a whole lot darker.

To Be Continued

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Advent, Chemo, and Kingdom Come


It was the day before Thanksgiving when we got the bad news.

I could tell from my mother’s tone of voice–the way she held her breath–that something was wrong.  When she clicked the button and ended the call, fear began twisting in my stomach and overwhelming my mind.

She has cancer.  Stage III.

The rest of that night is a blur, and as we gathered around our table the next evening for Thanksgiving dinner, as grateful as I was for my many blessings, I couldn’t help but wonder how much everything was about to change.

My mother starts chemotherapy today–just a couple days before Christmas–and now nothing feels certain anymore.

So although we remain incredibly hopeful–she’s a fighter if I’ve ever met one–you could say that the Christmas spirit hasn’t exactly fallen in my heart yet.

One of the most neglected aspects of many Protestant and secular celebrations of the Christmas season is the observance of Advent.

Honored in liturgical traditions, this period leading up to Christmas is a sort of holy pause—a waiting time pregnant with expectancy—when we contemplate the Old Testament’s hopeful promises of the coming Messiah and sit in anticipation for the Second Coming.

This is the time in the dark when we eagerly squint to see the advent (“coming”) of light—the making of all things on earth as they are in heaven.

But for now, things aren’t alright.  My mom has cancer, and that’s not okay.

And it’s okay to think that’s not okay.

I know the world isn’t as it should be.  From harrowing accounts of racial violence coming out of Ferguson and NYC, from misogyny to homophobia, from short-term illness to incurable diseases, from genocide and torture reports and infighting and income inequality and hopelessness and depression and little kids going to school hungry and people waiting for the death penalty and soldiers dying overseas and car accidents and CANCER, this world is not alright.

Advent isn’t a season to skip over harsh realities with gingerbread cookies and holiday specials.  It’s an invitation to sit in the pitch black and see a small candle in the distance, lapping up the darkness.

In times like this, hope feels like a luxury we shouldn’t afford ourselves, but it’s all we’ve got.  And it’s enough.

I’ve never felt such a dramatic tension between darkness and light during the holidays as I have this year, and although things will inevitably grow darker, I’m finding such beauty in the shadows.

Because without the long night, we’d never know morning.

Our joy is this: the Light is on His way, and as we wait in the intermingling of our fears and questions, we still find His promises to be true.

Now that doesn’t mean that we ignore facts or whitewash over pain.  We recognize all the bad but don’t let ourselves become totally overwhelmed by it.

In the midst of temporary circumstances and incessant changes, He is faithful and constant. Christmas is coming, and all things can (and will) be made right.

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This Christmas, as you spend time with your family and friends, thank you for keeping my mother and every heart that hurts in your prayers.

I’ll be praying for you as well this holiday.  Let Heaven come.


My Faith Evolution: Days of Fire

Part One of Three

Anytime I take those silly quizzes online about “What type of Christian Are You?” I always get something along the lines of progressive or Anglican.  I think those kinds of questionnaires are entertaining, but I find labels in general to be far too limiting.

So I’ve currently deemed myself an “Episcopentasmatic,” some strange combination of Episcopalian, pentecostal, and charismatic in addition to a bunch of other add-in theologies I’ve picked up over the last couple years.

It’s by far an understatement to say that I’ve changed drastically throughout my collegiate experience–from a burned-out PK to a rambunctous pentecostal to a confused doubter considering calvinism to a “I feel God all around me” type to now someone who delights in liturgy and Eucharist.

I deeply cherish my Assemblies of God heritage, from wild encounters of God’s presence at youth camp to the freedom to express our spirituality through art and dance.  The Spirit weaved a beautiful story through my foundational years as I learned and grew more about the Lord.

We knew we were “crazy” in the eyes of most Christians, but we didn’t hang from chandeliers or anything.

When it came time to enter college, I was pretty sure about what I believed and why I believed it.

Coming from the Bible Belt and moving less than two hours down Tennessee backroads to a Christian university, I figured my theology wouldn’t be questioned all that much.

Boy, was I wrong.

Unfortunately, the first semester of freshman year was characterized by a general distaste for church.  I shopped around a little and tried stuff from non-denominational to Southern Baptist but wasn’t really satisfied anywhere.

Being a pastors kid, what I really needed was a brief escape from formal church.  Where I ended up finding breathing space was through the inspiring words of C.S. Lewis and 3 a.m. theological conversations with my hallmates.  I was presented with a variety of unique perspective from those guys, a mix of freshmen that included a Oneness Pentecostal and a Mennonite (…which is a pretty significant doctrinal divide).

My second semester, my spirituality took a sharp turn when I discovered a pentecostal-charismatic non-denominational church family that I adored.

From college-group house meetings to early morning/all-night prayer meetings, my heart felt a flutter of excitement and new possibilities.  I started fasting, highlighting every biblical “promise” I could find, and posting scriptural declarations around my room.

Whereas I was familiar with the distinctly pentecostal focus on speaking in tongues, I was introduced to other charismatic gifts like prophecy, which was totally foreign to me at the time.  This new dimension of faith–the prophetic–amazed me, as men and women of God I revered spoke words of destiny and hope over my life.

Suddenly, IHOP didn’t just stand for that pancake place anymore, and anyone who didn’t feel like they could run around a sanctuary during a praise break just wasn’t experiencing freedom in Christ.  During that season, my prayers were bold and specific, and the word “revival” was frequently on my lips.

I discovered Jesus Culture and Bethel Music who took me to beautiful places of deep spontaneous worship.  I still absolutely love both of these groups and consider their music to be some of the best in the worship genre.

This is also the period of time in which I started my blog, so if you look back through my archives far enough, you can find pretty over-the-top evangelical posts with pretty corny titles.  You’ve been warned…

Now I still consider myself a charismatic at heart, and although my theology has taken some dips and turns along the way, I will always treasure my pentecostal roots.

There’s something about the movement that truly takes the words of Jesus seriously–that the Kingdom of God has in fact come, that heaven on earth is a real possibility, that healing and wholeness do in fact flow from God’s broken hands.

However my days of unwavering faith were quickly coming to a close, as uncertainty was ushered into my life with one word:  Calvinism.

To Be Continued

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I know, I know, it has been a while since you’ve heard from The Train of His Robe.  

Apologies for that, but between Thanksgiving, a couple concerts, finals, and major procrastination (aka starting Glee on Netflix), my blogging life fell to the wayside.

But the good news is that now that the holidays are upon us, I’ll have ample time to catch up on all the ideas that have been taking up space in my brain.  And believe me, there’s a lot of good stuff coming your way!

Also, the title of this blog post is a direct reference to “My Egalitarian Evolution,” a post in which my friend Caroline Kindiger shared her story of growing up in a conservation complementarian household and moving to a more egalitarian approach to relationships and ministry.  Check it out here!