“I Don’t Care About Being Right Anymore” (by Marshall Pickard)


Alright, confession time.

As I recently boarded a plane to Italy, I began reading Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code…

I know, I know. As a pre-teen evangelical, I promised myself I would never commit the cardinal sin of reading such a blasphemous book. But I mistakenly thought it was set in Rome (not Paris), so I gave it a shot.

Here’s a quote I found quite interesting from the book’s nerdy but awesome (Tom Hanks, ya’ll) protagonist, Robert Langdon:

“[E]very faith in the world is based on fabrication. That is the definition of faith—acceptance of that which we imagine to be true, that which we cannot prove.”

Wow. That’s some deep stuff—some philosophy that hits hard against my need to always be right.

My experience with church has been this: I was raised as a PK, so I had to be “on” all the time. Even running in the halls as a kid would result in an intervention from the deacons, and with my every move being so scrutinized, I felt more like a Kardashian than the son of a clergyman.

I’ve always loved the Lord, but I was more than happy to head off to my liberal arts university (albeit, Christian) for some time away from the dry religious season of a rough last semester in high school. Hurt too many times, I needed some distance from the family of God.

But at school, after some space to heal, I got plugged in again at a local church and eventually found myself participating in an accountability group and leading a weekly small group in my dorm. I learned that church was more about “doing life with people” and less about performing the letter of the Law flawlessly.

And yet, there still remained the question of doctrine. At my university, I was challenged to look outside my box and ask big questions about my faith. Often this left me more frustrated than I felt I could stand. With so many interpretative differences inside the church, how could I know what to choose to believe? Eventually, I basically adopted a stance Socrates would have been proud of: admitting I ultimately know nothing.

One thing I do know is this: knowing Jesus is so much more about humility than knowing all the answers.

But still answers are important because in the south, I live in a society soaked in the Christian subculture, and I occasionally find myself at odds with it. I am still frustrated at gender bias in the global church. I think Pentecostals focus too much on prosperity, but I think Calvinists focus too much on suffering. I hate how the Church responded the recent World Vision debacle, and I cringe every time I hear someone equate Phil Robertson’s crude comments from last December with “the Gospel.” I think we all talk about “feeding the poor” too much because none of us actually do it. I hate interdenominational spats and heated theological Twitter battles over unresolvable issues.

And I honestly don’t care whether you went to see God’s Not Dead or Noah at the movies or what you thought about it.

But I’m not actually angry at the Church. I just often find myself out of place—too progressive for the Church and too conservative for the world.

Visiting the Roman Colosseum this week, I thought long and hard about the suffering of Christians slaughtered in this ancient arena.

For them, the Church was their lives. It was definitely not a place where you had to have the right answers or pretend you believed everything you are supposed to believe.

For these early believers, church was a place to meet Jesus—the ultimate truth—often through the community of others who also risked their lives to tell of the goodness of God.

No offense to Rome, but after seeing the grandeur of the Vatican, I began thinking about what Jesus—the man who scolded the religious so often—would think about the production we’ve made church.

I think he would turn the temple tables of our insistence to be right, our theological debates that never get anywhere, our hurtful intolerance for one another, and the false idols we have fabricated and propagated.

Then he would turn the table back over, break out some bread and wine, and invite those who don’t have it all figured out to have a seat. In place of religious dogma, he would teach us the message of Ephesians 4:3—finding peace from all life’s questions by choosing to live in unity with our brothers.

There in his sweet company, the disillusioned Church wouldn’t care so much about being right anymore.

Marshall is currently backpacking all across Europe (the lucky guy), having spent the semester  abroad on the same trip I went on last year. Read more from him on his blog, The Train of His Robe.

Jonah, the book that got away


For some reason, I’ve always related to Jonah. Maybe because he’s one of the most overdramatic characters in the Bible, perhaps because of that VeggieTales movie, but I have a theory that everybody relates to Jonah at some point in their lives. We are all exceptionally talented at running away from things (sometimes unconsciously) and sometimes it takes major events to refocus us. (For me, this was breaking my foot. I didn’t want to move to Pittsburgh and was planning to stay in Nashville, no matter how destitute I might be or compromises I would have to make. I’m stubborn; I thought my plan would be sustainable enough solely on that personality trait alone. But then I broke my right foot and now voila, I’m here in a state where there is literally snow on the ground during the end of March. What.) 

Needless to say, I’ve been thinking and reading a lot of Jonah lately (this will most likely NOT be the last post I write about him.) For being a book with only four chapters, it’s packed with so many motifs, themes, and little nuggets of wisdom–basically it’s like the Great Gatsby of the Bible (oh gosh, what an interesting parallel analysis that would be.) I’m currently going through Priscilla Shirer’s study on Jonah, “Jonah: Navigating a Life Interrupted,” and been learning even MORE about Jonah. I’m preparing myself to be basically an expert on him. 

This morning I realized I’ve been misinterpreting the entire tone of the story. 

The Book of Jonah is not just about a guy running away from the Presence of God and the calling on his life. Despite being the title character, Jonah is just a minor player in the story. The real purpose and meaning to glean from the four chapters of Jonah is one illustration after the next of all God does to rescue and save the lost, like in the parable of the shepherd’s one lost sheep in Luke 15.

Yes, Jonah is a book that can be used to understand calling & God’s purposes for us, but sometimes even though the story is titled “Jonah” or “Kelsy,” we’re just actually tiny parts in the big story. Kind of like in a vignette sitcom like “Modern Family”: There might be three different little scenes going on, but at the end with the voiceover, you learn that they all have the same theme. 

I think you can interpret the book of Jonah in two ways: 

1) Jonah-centric: Jonah ran away, Jonah was swallowed by a fish, Jonah got to his senses and preached, (the people were saved), Jonah was mad. 

This guy was used and changed by God. His life was divinely interrupted and proves as a character study of how stubbornness, fear, and pride mix together. I think Jonah and I would’ve definitely be friends. We tend to be a little hyperbolic and lacking understanding of grace. I wonder what happened to him–I always kind of assumed he died of heat stroke & stubbornness, but I don’t think God was done with Jonah. 

2) Grace-centric: God uses remarkable events to save the lost–a raging storm, a big old fish, possible city destruction, an overdramatic prophet. 

Which is amazing. So all the “Jonah moments” we might be facing are not just about us, but used for others! God is so merciful. Jonah 3 tells us that basically as soon as Jonah finally makes it to Nineveh to tell them to repent, EVERYONE (even the animals–which, can you imagine like a camel in mourning garments?) went into mourning & repented. And then God saved them! And the sailors Jonah was riding with during the storm not only repented and started worshipping the Lord, but vowed to serve Him. What Jonah saw as terrible luck, others around him saw as finding redemption and salvation!

My high school Bible teacher would literally brag about how there’s more mentions of God’s wrath & judgement in the Bible than His love and grace. (He’s now a pastor, yikes.) If I could talk to him now, I would ask him to read Jonah again. God is abounding in love and mercy for not just Israel, but their enemies. And God is so compassionate to us too, the ones He uses to show others Himself. Jonah was pretty ticked that God didn’t just smite everyone in Nineveh there & then. The last verse of the chapter 4, God gently teaches Jonah the depths of his mercy: “But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”

If you’re in a Jonah season of life, maybe try to step outside of yourself for a moment and ask God to give you a greater understanding of what He is up to. I’m sure no matter what, it’s something big. 

(Gosh, there is so much that could be written about the book of Jonah. Maybe more next time. Also I can’t stop thinking about a literary comparison of Jonah and The Great Gatsby now.)

P90X and the Wisdom of Grace (by Lyndsey Graves)

DSC_0075 Pay close attention, because Lyndsey Graves is the writer to watch. I’m basically trying to copy her-- I’m lucky enough to know her “in real life.” Her point of view made our sometimes boring COMM classes always interesting. When she’s a renowned writer one day, I’m going to be able to say “I know her! We took that horrible Public Speaking class together!” Lyndsey has been featured Thought Catalog, Threads UK, and most recently, On Pop Theology. A recent PopTheology article was shared on Twitter by Rachel Held Evans, one of my favorite bloggers and authors! Off to Boston University to begin her Master of Theological Studies, catch her on Twitter or her blog, [To Be Honest.]

I first started exercising regularly to impress a boy. We would meet with a couple other people in his basement to practice muay thai, the style of kickboxing you usually see in MMA stand-up fighting. It was terribly romantic.

Something I really admired about him (and still do) was that he worked out every day – and not just nice 20-minute jogs. He would either spend an hour in the gym at our college, or he would do an entire P90X workout. You know how the big thing for a while was to brag about doing P90X on facebook? Those workouts are as intense as everyone said they were. Really painful. Push push push don’t stop. You feel really accomplished afterwards, but while you’re actually doing the workout, you keep going by sheer willpower and grit and being yelled at.

I impressed the boy well enough to get mono from him, and by the time I had worked my way from sleeping 16 hours a day down to 12, I was completely stir-crazy. Out of sheer boredom I took up yoga, because I could challenge myself without becoming exhausted, and suddenly I was exercising regularly for myself for the first time. As my body healed from the virus, it also became more strong and flexible, and I fell in love with yoga for teaching me to fall in love with my body. 

Yoga should be hard – you stretch a little further every time and, of course, try to balance in strange contortions – but it’s not really meant to be strenuous. It’s static; it’s silent; it’s about listening to your body and welcoming the ache in your muscles. You’re meant to keep your face relaxed, not contorted in pain, as you find balance, strength, and flexibility within yourself, through your breath. Form is everything, so you can notice yourself in order to care for yourself. Where P90X or sprinting or swimming can feel like a battle against your body to get to the finish line, you can only do yoga well by listening to your body, loving your body, and entering into the present moment.

I realize this may sound very hippy-dippy, and you may still not consider yoga to be a “workout”, all that standing around gazing at your hand in the air or whatever. The first year or so that I did it, I felt the same way – like it was something I enjoyed doing, but only kind of counted as “exercise”. Difficult though it is, It’s certainly not a sustained cardio session, and it’s not going to GET YOU RIPPED. Most people who do yoga all the time are very strong and very skinny.

I only really came to appreciate its importance after that first year, when I decided one day on a whim to join the old boyfriend and his daily-workout buddy for a session of P90X interval training. It’s probably the very most intense, go go go sort of workout I’ve ever seen, one of these “extra” options for after you’ve gotten too good for regular P90X. It was their third or fourth time doing it in a month, and they warned me that it was nearly impossible to get through and I should take a break, get some water, sit out whenever I needed. Being none too confident in my abilities at REAL SERIOUS EXERCISE TO THE MAX, I agreed with them that I’d probably collapse after five minutes.

So we started the video, wherein you do some sort of move as hard and fast as you can for 20 seconds, take a 10 second break, and then move on to the next. And I, in official exercise parlance, beasted it. I mean, it was difficult and horribly painful, but I was still going strong when the guys were extending their breaks. We were all confused by this at first. But as we kept going I realized that my breathing was significantly slower than theirs, even as my heart rate went through the roof. It had become second nature to me, when exerting myself physically, to work with my body instead of fighting against it, and to draw energy from deep breaths that tried to fill every corner and cavity with oxygen. It occurred to me then that yoga is not a watered-down, lazy man’s pretend-exercise, but that my focused and gentle practice really had brought major change to my body and its abilities to do all kinds of other things.

I am always trying to P90X my faith and my life. I worry that I’ll get lazy or disobedient, and so I try to do everything really well all the time. I read a bunch of Francis Chan books a couple of years ago and decided that really sold-out Christians should constantly be doing very difficult things. I get all strenuous about doing devotions every day, being kind to everyone, volunteering all the time, or “stewarding” my time and money and body TO THE MAX. I’m unwilling to be gentle and patient with myself.

Circumstances and my expectations for myself have made for a past year that was certainly very difficult. It wasn’t all bad and I did get stronger, but if I’d kept going the same way, I was on my way to serious burnout. Now that I’ve been given the gift of a few restful weeks at my parents’ house, I’m realizing it’s time for a yoga season. For rediscovering myself, for learning what it means to feel the stretch without overextending. For being gentle with myself the way God is, and doing the very different work of re-centering in him. I’m starting to realize that the P90X seasons of huge exertion and growth aren’t opposed to the yoga seasons of loving myself and learning calm, the way I used to think they were. The next time life requires a sprint, I’ll be centered; and I’ll be faster; and that is the wisdom of grace.

My life is the same as “The Bachelor.”

Let love be your highest goal! 1 Corinthians 14:1

There is something really odd about living with twenty random people in a different country for 3 months. Unless you’re a contestant on a show like “Big Brother” or one the “Bachelor” spinoffs, that just doesn’t happen in daily life. You get to know one another at such an expedited rate: two weeks here equate three months of “normal” friendship. There’s no time or place for facades, as you are all being thrust into new environments constantly. 

I came with a bad attitude and would often have little rants like this: “I’m a senior graduating in May, I’m not coming on the trip to make friends or God forbid, a trip family. I have that.” Of course, I only expressed those views to a select group back home, but the potency was still in effect through my actions.

I was SO wrong. And selfish. That should be said too. Where is the joy in being exclusive? Where is the growth in miserly locking up my heart? Who was I expecting to share these amazing experiences with?

Incredible, surprising, kind people live in England with me. They challenge me, make me laugh, give great hugs, and pretend to be entertained by my jokes (that’s all I ask.) 

Love doesn’t have an expiration date. Experiencing the beauty of the hearts and personalities around you (being present) isn’t transitional, like time or places. Yeah, my time at Lee and even here in the UK will end, but may I never be unloving because of that.

May love be my highest goal, grace my heritage, thoughtfulness my trademark.