When I Was a Black Man

When I Was a Black Man

Stirring words from one of my Seminary Brethren.

Theism, After Lunch.

I have not told this story publicly, and Joelinda and I have not been sure of how/whether it was helpful to share. A version of it has been sitting in my blog drafts for well over a year. But. MLK weekend seems as good a time as any. 

You see, there was a time before Joelinda and I were dating that we had the police called on us.

We were walking through the front yard of an apartment complex because a friend, Britt, was letting us in the side door of the apartment in which she lived. We did this regularly.

We were let inside, and about half an hour later, there was a knock at the door. An officer, who I will make a point to say was very kind and professional, was called because a neighbor expressed concern about the safety of the elderly woman who resided in…

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Scorning Its Shame

One of my professors read the following excerpts from the works of Cicero in class this week, and I have been mulling them over ever since:

To bind a Roman citizen is a crime, to flog him is an abomination, to kill him is almost an act of murder: to crucify him is–What? There is no fitting word that can possibly describe so horrible a deed. (Against Verres)

The very word ‘cross’ should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen, but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears.  For it is not only the actual occurrence of these things [that is, the procedures of crucifixion] or the endurance of them, but the liability to them, the expectation, indeed the mere mention of them, that is unworthy of a Roman citizen and a free man. (In Defense of Rabirius)

There is no parallel in modern Western culture for the shame crucifixion incurred.

Western theologians have spent a lot of time, ink, and oxygen explaining the work of Jesus’ death on the cross as a work of justification, and rightfully so.  I’ve read many times that it took a divine being to bear the fullness of God’s wrath and judgement on sin.  All have sinned, all are guilty, but Jesus’ death makes us innocent.

The cross of Christ certainly means our innocence, but it also means more.

Is it possible that just as it took a divine being to bear the wrath our sin warranted, it also took a divine being experiencing one of the most vulgar, humiliating, degrading executions devised in all of history to bear the shame our sin brought us?  If Jesus exchanged our guilt for his innocence, I think he also exchanged our shame for his sonship, his identity as the beloved Son of the God who spoke yet unknown galaxies into existence.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that “for the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame…” (Heb. 12:2)  What was the joy set before him?  What did he stand to gain by dying as he did, scorning the shame of the cross?  He gained you and me.  He gained a world that he is continually, progressively reconciling and recreating to be what he planned from the beginning.

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.

(“The Love of God,” Frederick M. Lehman)

Finals Week [Ad]venting

While slogging through commentaries on this fine Saturday evening, I happened upon this gem in Hendriksen’s New Testament Commentary on Matthew:

…the sojourn of Jesus on earth must be viewed not primarily as a series of things that happened to him, but rather as the accomplishment of tasks assigned to him.  Other children are born.  They are wholly passive at birth.  He, too, was born, but he also came.  Moreover, he came with a purpose: not to take but to give, to give his soul as a ransom in the place of many, to seek and to save that which was lost.

In the chaos, stress, and exhaustion of the next several weeks, I need to take a few moments to remind myself that Emmanuel came, and that he accomplished the tasks set before him: to ransom, seek, and save us.  It is finished.

We’re not fine.

“I’m fine.”
“You’ll be fine.”
“Everything’s fine.”
“Fine, then!”

Fine. A word that almost always implies the exact opposite of its definition.

Most of us come from cultures where if you are not ‘fine,’ you keep it to yourself.  Actually being healthy is far less important than appearing healthy.  And if not healthy, then ‘fine.’ “Soldier on” and “Pull yourself together” are often the most empathetic pieces of advice we’re offered. We’re trained to believe that ‘fine’ is our default setting, and if we’re not fine, then we need to muster our courage and/or self-delusion in order to restore our fineness.

But the truth is, the default of humanity is not physical, mental, and emotional health. The default of humanity is not even ‘fine’; the true default setting of humanity is depression, anger, and volatility. It is the propensity to hurt others, both accidentally and intentionally, and to act from our own festering wounds.

The default setting of humanity is depravity.

I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a five-point, T.U.L.I.P.-picking Calvinist, but I’m on board with Total Depravity. I see it daily in the news, in my fellow seminary students, in my friends and my family, and especially myself. I see it in the in the kindest, most selfless people I know who sometimes bristle defensively and act maliciously.

The reality of total depravity has been weighing on me a lot lately. Between all of the geopolitical calamity of this summer and the “typical” heartache that comes with being human, I’ve been overwhelmed. Yet in the last week God has been reminding me of something that injects hope into my faltering spirit. He’s been reminding me that although the default setting of the human heart is depravity, the default setting of his heart is redemption.

I am not fine; neither are you, and neither is our world. We are egregiously far from fine. But we are not beyond our Father’s reach.  He is, was, and always will be a redeemer, and nothing – not ISIS, not Boko Haram, not Hamas or the IDF, and certainly not my own depravity – can change that.


I remember with perfect clarity the first time I felt totally content. I was fifteen, and it was my fourth year of summer camp in the Absaroka Mountains. Ever the introvert, I had sneaked away from a camp worship meeting and climbed to a clearing overlooking the chapel. Enfolded in familiar forest sounds, sweet, blissful peace washed over me. I was loved, I was accepted, I was safe. I was home.

Retreat HouseFast-forward nine years and I am sitting in a sweltering, turn-of-the-century mansion on Massachusetts’ North Shore. Content, more or less. Loved and safe, surely; and yet I wonder when I will go “home” again. Campus housing, no matter how picturesque, certainly isn’t it.

I have lived in many different places, and none of them are truly home. The rust-orange Boise-Cascade my parents moved into last winter houses all of my possessions—save what I could shove inside two suitcases—but it’s not really home to me.

If home is where the heart is, then I am in trouble. My heart is scattered, bits of it permenantly lodged in Anacostia, in Masiphumelele, in my late grandparents’ house, in Missoula, and in that clearing above the Boulder river where I first began to grasp God’s love for me.

I say this because I know countless people who feel the same way. We Millennials are taking our sweet time about settling down. We’re afraid of putting down roots for fear of being stuck in the wrong job or relationship or whatever; yet, unconsciously, we’ve been planting roots – loving and being loved – all along.

My heart is in a dozen different places, and as the adventure of living footloose and fancy-free subsides, I find myself wishing I could go home.

Someday, whether in five years or fifty, I will go home again. And in the meantime, I am deeply, profoundly grateful for the parade of beautiful and loving people who have touched my heart and have made me at home in their lives. I hope to pay it forward one day.

“…that he shall put them safe off his hand on the shore, in his Father’s known bounds, our native home ground.” – Samuel Rutherford

“to long for the endless immensity of the sea”

There’s an anchor for my soul
A mighty weight that holds me fast
Strong and steady against the swells
With shredded sails and splintered mast

Creaking, breaking, tearing, splitting
Havoc wreaked by storm-tossed seas
This rope and iron weigh me down
Yet waters stay beneath my feet

There’s an anchor for my soul
A mighty weight that holds me fast
Keeps me afloat although assailed
By flaming arrows and cannon’s blast

I’ve searched for harbors countless times
Sought refuge in the warmth of shallows
Lulled by sirens’ songs of safety:
Trade freedom for relief most hollow

Yet there’s an anchor for my soul
Almighty weight that holds me fast
By hope secure I am held
Free indeed on oceans vast

The Ultimate Purpose of Revelation


(Notes from Systematic Theology I with Dr. Jack Davis)

Revelation: the disclosure by a personal agent of otherwise unknown information (attitudes, emotions, thoughts, plans)

Revelation is both personal and propositional. The ultimate purpose of revelation is relationship.

I’ve been repeating these things to myself a lot lately, and not just because they were on the notes I was memorizing for my final last week.

I came to seminary to find sound answers to two foundational questions: Is God truly good? And if so, is he good enough?

See, I spent a good part of 2013 watching people I love ache, mourn, and cry out to God for deliverance. I saw pain plumb the depths of the human soul, and in those depths propositional knowledge – logical truths and facts about God – came up short. So did emotions from personal encounters with the Holy Spirit.

Is God good? Is he enough to satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts, to restore the most shattered spirit?

The ultimate purpose of revelation is relationship.

God wants to be known.

An eternal, holy, perfectly wise God is bound to have more to reveal than I could fully understand in a thousand lifetimes. His revelation is perfect and sufficient; my comprehension is not.

Still, with every new piece of revelation – propositional and personal – I am compelled to love him, trust him, and worship him more.

As I’ve grown (in the last four months, especially), my field of vision has widened, making my infinite God seem greater – more expansive and all-pervasive, yet somehow more set apart. And surprisingly, the more of his vast nature I come to know, the simpler my faith becomes. The better I know him, propositionally and personally, the more readily I trust him. I trust him because although my knowledge is not sufficient, he is. My experiences will not satisfy; he does.

Is God good? He is not just good; he is better than our best propositional definitions of goodness.

Is God good enough? The lion’s share of my experience tells me that he is, and that no one is likely to reach the limit of his “good enough-ness” anytime soon.


“Aslan,” said Anne, “you’re bigger”.
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

Prince Caspian (liberties taken)