Archives for category: hope

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I’m thankful for my good friend Jason Evans, with whom I’m co-writing and cross-posting this series.

Dan and I met several years ago while we both lived in San Diego. We became fast friends; both of us were Christian leaders that were hopeless music fans, particularly of punk rock and hardcore.

After this contentious, fractured election season, the two of us were messaging each other. The rhetoric before and after the election has been disheartening, to say the least. So much hope is put in the office of president. Yet, as Christians, we place our hope in another leader, Jesus of Nazareth. For us, this hope makes us more present to the brokenness and needs of our world today, rather than just trying to hang on until we die and go to heaven.

As we begin the season of Advent, we thought it appropriate to reflect on why we’ve given ourselves to this unKing Jesus and why we feel some things are worth revisiting during this post-election and pre-Christmas season.

Though we increasingly just look like average dads1, we’re both punks at heart. So, we’ve decided share our convictions through that lens. Punk rock is much more than a music genre. There is an important ideology that lies within it that you might miss if you’ve only listened to the Sex Pistols on the FM radio.2 In fact, in our adolescence it was punk rock that kept our faith alive and would nudge us deeper into our callings as Christian leaders.

We both might say that we are Christian because of punk rock. Dan remarked recently to another pastor that the DIY hardcore movement of the 90s was an essential part of his spiritual formation (more on this throughout the rest of this series).

We’re calling this series, “Out of Step” which we are borrowing from an old song by DC hardcore band, Minor Threat.

What Would Ian Do?  
In late 1980, two young men started a record label in Washington DC called Dischord Records. Since then, Dischord Records has released over 150 albums from a variety of Washington DC-area artists. The label has never entered into an agreement with a major record label and has remained fiercely independent to this day.

One of the label’s two founders is Ian MacKaye. MacKaye was a member of the band that provided Dischord its first release, Teen Idles – a DC hardcore, straight edge, punk band. Not long after the demise of Teen Idles, MacKaye formed a new group, Minor Threat. For three intense years, Minor Threat played countless shows, touring across the nation and spreading their straight edge message.

Straight edge, an ideal that grew rapidly during the 80’s era of punk and hardcore, encouraged abstinence from sex, drugs, smoking and alcohol. The proponents of straight edge encouraged punks to think clearly about social responsibility and personal development.

Four years after Minor Threat split up, Ian formed a new group, Fugazi. Labeled as a “post-punk” group, fusing elements of punk, dub and jazz, Fugazi has released seven albums, and toured extensively both nationally and internationally. Even before words like “punk” and “indie” were used extensively in popular culture, Fugazi and Dischord Records were committed to operating their business in a different way.

Fugazi has always maintained a ticket price of five dollars for each performance though, given their popularity, they had many opportunities to charge far more than that. Dischord has consistently ensured that the bands on their label make a fair share of profits and provided fairly for record label staff. In a time when record prices soared, Dischord always sought to be frugal and fiscally responsible in order to keep their prices as low as possible so that young people with little money could afford their releases.

For the entire music industry (and beyond) Ian Mackaye has helped redefine success by refusing to tread the well-worn path. Through his identity as a musician and a business owner, Mackaye has defied market principles and creative definition. But more than simply critiquing the system, Ian Mackaye has also created alternatives to it.

We, as followers of Christ, could learn a thing or two from MacKaye’s example. Sometimes, we need to pause and ask ourselves, “What would Ian do?”

Out of Step with the World  
As David Foster Wallace describes in This is Water, sometimes we need to take a step back and try to comprehend the cultural air we’re breathing. It does not benefit us to keep paddling down the same stream if it’s going to eventually dump us headlong over a waterfall.

In work, finances, business, relationships, and even recreation, our culture assumes that Newer! Bigger! Faster! is the best way to live. At the same time, many Western churches (and not only megachurches) have adopted the “more is better” mentality.3

Scarcity tells us there is never enough, that if someone else gains then I must be losing. Scarcity creates a constant, low-grade fever, a gnawing worry that we won’t have enough. Scarcity points the finger at the suffering and oppressed, blaming them for their condition. Scarcity screams get all you can, while you can. Scarcity is the walker among us, always consuming but never satisfied.

Advent tells us a completely different story, one that is out of step with this world. Advent heralds the coming of our unKing Jesus, whose generosity was so great that it frustrated, annoyed, and drove mad the scarcity brokers of his time but delighted and enchanted the marginalized and broken. Advent reminds us that, paradoxically, life is found in giving all we can, just as our unKing Jesus gave himself away completely. Advent pulls back the curtain to show us there is a better way to live, a way of freedom, grace, and wonder.

In the Book of Acts, Saint Luke writes of the early church, “There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” Instead of scarcity, the Early Church practiced generosity, putting into practice the Jubilee and Sabbath principles that Jesus echoed at the inception of his ministry from Isaiah. They functioned on an economic paradigm of abundance. They were determined to make sure all had access to what they needed.

As MacKaye writes in his history of Dischord Records:

In the beginning it was basically a volunteer arrangement as there was no money to pay anyone, but by the early ’90s we were not only able to pay everyone, but also able to provide them with health insurance and other benefits. I’ve always considered this one of our most important achievements. Most businesses, including record labels, have used profits (or at least the fear of losing profits) as their guideline for operations. Because we have tried to approach the label as a mission of documentation as well as a community-based entity, we have managed to avoid many of the industry-standard practices. The fact that we are able to help support the people who work for us as well as pay royalties to the bands seems to be proof that such an approach is possible.

Perhaps MacKaye’s example can help us, as followers of Christ, reimagine what success looks like and help us reclaim the heritage of the Early Church. Like punk rock, the Early Church did not simply critique and challenge cultural norms, it offered an alternative. A generative community, whether the Early Church or punk rock community, is shaped by particular values and habits. Over the next three weeks we will share a post a week on our blogs that explores countercultural community, practices and ideals all through the lenses of our Christian faith and punk rock. We hope you will read and engage. May this season of Advent become one of abundance, generosity, and wonder as we celebrate our unKing Jesus.

Let’s go!

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1. These days, before heading out to a show, Dan’s daughter (wisely) reminds him, “Please don’t hurt yourself.”

2. Simply reading the word “punk” might evoke the mohawked miscreants of the fictional band Pain playing “all the way from the hills of Hollyweird” in this particularly surreal episode of CHiPS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLyMjIccjL4. Pro tip: The song borders on listenable if played at 1.5x speed.

3. Bill McKibben offers an important critique in his book, Deep Economy (Times Books, 2007).

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I returned recently from my second trip with Living Water International to Nicaragua to help bring clean water to a community in need. It is so humbling to be a small part of what God is doing there to demonstrate His love & care for the world.

Jorge, the team leader in Rivas, Nicaragua, told us a heartbreaking story about the reality of the water crisis. Recently, after completing a well, an elderly man from the village told Jorge he was very grateful, but that the well was two years too late. Jorge found out that the man’s wife had died two years earlier from water-related disease.

As a friend from our church community shared in his testimony this past Sunday, as we spent the week in the mud, digging and drilling for clean water, we could sense God saying to our new friends there that He has not abandoned them.  Despite the staggering statistics (almost 800 million without access to clean water, over 2 million water-related deaths each year), we know that God has not given up — and neither have we!

When the church answers the call to action, being willing to get our hands dirty so that others can live, our living sacrifice paves the way for the Living Water of Christ to flow.

Learn more about LWI’s work here:

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After our church services on Sunday, I spoke with a father whose son recently suffered an unexpected (and unjust) setback in his future career path.

This father shared with me how he counseled his son through the disappointment.

He, too, had suffered a similar setback early in his career. However, instead of letting it derail his sense of purpose, he rolled with it, bloomed where he was planted, and continue to seek God faithfully. His words were so wise:

“Son, your career is a means to glorify God. If He shuts one door, then you’ll be able to glorify Him through another. The most important thing is to honor God with your whole life.”

As a dad, I want my daughter to be resilient, to be able to bounce back from the inevitable disappointments and frustrations that will come her way in this broken world. I want her to fight the temptation to walk away or give up when life hurts. The truth is, I know I have to model this kind of holy resilience for her to catch it.

Friends, don’t give up. 

Light will break through this night. The fog will be lifted by the morning light.

The cross of Jesus Christ could have been the worst kind of disappointment: when hopes & dreams we had dared not speak were dashed apart in betrayal, darkness, and shame.

Instead, from the shipwreck of our lives, we see how far God will go in relentless pursuit of His beloved people. The cross tells a simple story: God has not given up on you.

And when Jesus emerged from the grave on that first Easter morning, we hear God’s voice again: You are alive and free.

You are not bound by sin and brokenness and death. God has hopes and dreams for you. Let this be your story and your song.

Wake up O sleeper

The season of Lent begins next Wednesday, February 13th.

As we enter this season of reflection and repentance, may all who are laid low in the dust be brought to life through our Savior.

From The Brilliance, Dust We Are And Shall Return:

I would encourage you to consider engaging a Lenten fast in which you make room in your heart for more of God and turn your heart outward to bless those in need.

Perhaps the Water for Water project from Living Water International to help bring clean water in Jesus’ name to some of the one billion people around the world who don’t have access to clean water.

Michael Gungor, writer of songs and melter of faces behind the umlauted liturgical post-rock musical collective Gungor, just put his arm around my shoulder and reminded me why I’m doing what I’m doing.

Figuratively, sure, through his just-released book The Crowd, the Critic, and the Muse: A Book for Creators — but the truth is no less real simply for the fact that I can’t name-drop him as a friend friend.

I suppose I was already predisposed to like The Crowd, given my fondness for banjos, harmonized guitar solos, and swelling strings (all of which Gungor has in spades), but I was not prepared for the gut-level response I would have from the opening pages in which Michael describes his burnout and the pain it caused the people he loved the most.

Before I go any further, let me recommend this book — for creatives of all stripes (musicians, visual artists, graphic designers), pastors, and church leaders — not for its ability to teach you how to write a killer worship anthem (although Michael could help you with that) or how to get your song onto Christian radio playlists (see Appendix 3: A Snapshot of American Christian Music for help with that), but for the way it ushers in the hope that comes alive when our eyes are opened and we realize our God is here.


We are all creators. Those of us engaged in church work must be reminded of this again & again: We are called to build, rebuild, restore, redeem, and reconcile — to create, not destroy — in partnership with the living Christ all that sin has broken.

The common idea that there are some people who are creative and some who are not is a myth. So on some level, we are all artists. We are all creators.

In our little church community, we try to cultivate the God-given creativity in each of us for the cause of redemption. We believe that when we dream alongside our Creator, restoration becomes reality.

While “art” is notoriously difficult to define, Michael’s words sound a call to the Church to reclaim the God-given power behind it.

Art matters. It is not simply a leisure activity for the privileged or a hobby for the eccentric. It is practical good for the world. The work of the artist is an expression of hope. Art, along with all work is the ordering of creation toward the intention of the creator.

Throughout The Crowd, Michael injects these potentially heavy topics with humor and joy. From his first robot-crafted guitar to his description of  the (I’m still not convinced he’s real) stylings of The Emotron, Michael demonstrates a self-deprecating humor that is often missing from conversations about Art, Purpose, and Meaning.

The Christian music industry might play by “safe for the whole family” formulas but followers of Christ are driven by something much greater than fear:

In this story, my imagination is set free as it envisions the earth as part of the creation that will someday be set free from its bondage to decay. This is a framework in which one can anticipate the arrival of Beauty’s fullness. It is the anticipatory painting of a room that will eventually be lived in. It is the present feeding and clothing of those who are to eventually be clothed and fed. Art is not a distraction from human meaninglessness, but part of the burgeoning newness that gives our existence a hopeful and sacred meaningfulness. It speaks of incarnation. It is a future hope taking root in the present. It is a view that the Creator has not given up on his creation and an invitation to join the sculpting of creation’s dirt into something that God might breathe his very breath into.

Sounds a lot like something John wrote many years ago: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.” – 1 John 4:18-19

As we seek to love God and God’s people — particularly those of us who are called into various forms of church leadership — we must hold fast to hope. Otherwise, we will burn out, becoming jaded & cynical.

The Crowd, the Critic, and the Muse is a gift to those of us who believe this is not the end, that God has not given up on the world, and that we’re called to reflect His boundless, creative joy in all of life.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free as part of a book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The statistics can crush us, if we let them sink in.

Every year, over 3 million people die from water-related disease. 

Every day, water-related disease claims the lives of 5,000 children under the age of 5, or roughly one death for every 15 seconds that pass.

Over 800 million people around the world do not have access to clean water.

I do not want to live in a world where kids die for lack of access to clean water.

As a follower of Christ, I firmly believe that God’s heart aches for the suffering.

It has been a dream of mine for several years to participate in a well-digging trip. This past summer, I was privileged to lead a team from our church community in partnership with Living Water International to dig a well for a community in need in Granada, Nicaragua.

I love the work and ministry of LWI. Through clean water projects, LWI shares the living water of Jesus to bring the true hope that changes everything.

On a personal note, there are very few things as satisfying as collapsing into bed at night, completely exhausted from giving it all for the Kingdom.

This Kingdom of God is near: In the hard work of digging through the mud and hauling pipes, in the laughter of speaking broken Spanish with giggling kids from the neighborhood, in newfound friendship working side-by-side with local community members.

I learned so much from Jorge, the leader of the Rivas LWI team. His patience and humor helped guide our team through a week filled with plenty of challenges. From a ministry perspective, I deeply appreciate LWI’s approach of training, equipping, and consulting with local leaders. Rather than showing up with all the answers from an outside perspective, I believe effective and God-honoring ministry is founded upon a posture of humble listening and genuine partnership.

We are looking forward to continuing our partnership with LWI. We’ll be sending a team to Guatemala this year, and another team to Nicaragua next summer. It’s a privilege and joy to be a part of God’s redemptive work in world, to share the living water of Jesus and a cup of cold water in His name to those in need.

This post is the third in a series about our church community’s recent trip to India in partnership with Justice Ventures International.

I’m not sure if was the heat/humidity double-punch combo, the growing realization that injustice permeated so many levels of culture around us or, perhaps, the jetlag playing catch-up with me, but my first thought when arriving in Kolkata was, Can we go back to Chennai?

While Chennai is a massive city in its own right, the humanity stacked upon itself throughout Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta) can make it seem like a small town in comparison.


In Business for Freedom

Our team had the privilege of working with Freeset for a couple of days while in Kolkata.

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