Matthew Johnson

Author's details

Name: Matthew Johnson
Date registered: March 3, 2012

Latest posts

  1. UMC Lead: Let’s Talk about Sex: 10 Questions with Bromleigh McCleneghan — July 25, 2014
  2. UMC Lead: Reading Scripture Doesn’t Need to Stink — April 29, 2014
  3. Live More to God: Ministry Templates and TextExpander — March 2, 2014
  4. UMC Lead: Coffee and Punk in the Bible Belt: 15 Questions with Kevin Veitinger — February 28, 2014
  5. Live More to God: Prepositions — October 25, 2013

Most commented posts

  1. Defending Housing for All in Lake View — 1 comment

Author's posts listings

Jul 25 2014

UMC Lead: Let’s Talk about Sex: 10 Questions with Bromleigh McCleneghan

Original post at


UMC LEAD: Hi, Bromleigh. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me for UMC LEAD. Your writing is all over the place: The Christian Century, Ministry Matters,  Fidelia’s Sisters. You’re even writing with me at Portico Collective. But I know you’ve been preoccupied with a bigger project these days.

McCleneghan: Yes, I’m working on a book for Abingdon Press. The working title is Like Nitroglycerin: Sex, Love, and Faith. It is exploring issues of love and sexuality, and what it means to be a person who hopes to live as God calls us to live. I’m trying to give an answer for what that all looks like and what makes that complicated. The church tends to talk about love and sexuality as if they are clear cut, but my sense is that is not the case. If that were the case, we’d have it all worked out.

Which clearly, we don’t. My social media feed is filled with evidence of that on a daily (and even hourly) basis. Will this book help the church reframe those conversations? Is that your audience?

My hope is that the theology and the ethics, and the consideration of ideas will be useful enough that clergy might be interested in using it with groups in their churches, or even just for their own learning and growth. I also hope that seminarians would see it at a tool for them and their own self reflection. But largely it is for an audience of layfolk — Christian as opposed to anything else — but not necessarily deeply churched. It is primarily looking at issues of sexuality and romantic love outside of marriage.

Was there a moment or revelation that made you want to wrestle with such a heated issue?

I started reading about Christian sexuality and love when I was in my 20′s. And it all said, “Anything that happens before you are married doesn’t matter. Anything that happens outside of marriage is lust and a sin.” And that was so denigrating to all the wonderful experiences I’d had. By the time I got married, I’d been in love three times, and each of my prior relationships was critically important in helping me to become the person that I am today. So I want to do this work so people can be empowered to claim the value of their experiences.

When did Christianity become so concerned about sex?

Well, we’ve always had concerns and questions going back to the story of Adam and Eve, so this has been a part of our story for a long time. Of course, there is always a difference between the conversation we have and what we practice.

The early Puritans whom we know as being stringent around sexuality had plenty of premarital sex; there were a lot of pregnant brides in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. And for a long time, marriage itself was, and still is in some places, an economic privilege. So, we’re not being particularly honest when we say that love, sex, and marriage have always gone together in the same ways.

Part of the big noise now is that sexuality has become the battleground for larger questions like, “How we interpret the Bible” and “What does it mean to be created in God’s image?” and “What is the Christian life supposed to look like?” The divide in regards to sexuality has been reflective of other divides, particularly in American Christianity.  We’re just really focused on sexuality because it is interesting. Far more people have a position on human sexuality than have one on how to read the Bible.

You gave the Puritans as an example of the divide between teaching and practice. Today, we’ve got folks like Bill Cassidy. Why does this kind of thing continue to happen?

We see trouble when we try to pretend that we’re something we’re not. We have conflicting needs as human beings. We long for security, we long to be surrounded in a community that gives us meaning, we want to be supported, we want to have increasing intimacy and openness. But sexuality comes from a different need. We exercise our sexuality out of our need to feel alive, dynamic, and vital. That is the erotic side and it requires instability or uncertainty. I sure love kissing my husband, but I rarely doubt whether or not he’s going to kiss me back. You know, there’s not the same mystery about it. So, we need to recognize that humanity has these conflicting needs. The problem is that we try an assign different times in our life to one of those, or we just say that erotic side is all bad. We try and tuck it away, or shove it in the corner, and that doesn’t work very well. So, instead, it ends up coming out in ways that are not healthy or ideal.

I’ve had a chance to look at some of your early chapters and was struck by the way much of the church’s teaching around sexuality is done as an attempt to create a healthy marriage, that it is the only thing that is important about sexuality, in fact. As United Methodists, we seem to have done this, too, with our rule about “fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness.” Aren’t there other things about relationships that we should be focusing on, too?

Absolutely. To simply collapse marriage, which is a huge and wondrous thing, into the same category as sexuality, which is also a huge and wondrous thing, but not exactly the same, seems to be missing the point. So, as leaders, what I believe we should be doing is a little more parsing. We should be more honest about where we are in our own experiences. For a whole host of reasons, pastors don’t convey what they believe about sexuality in their churches. So, people then assume that there is only way to think about it because they aren’t hearing any differently from their leaders. So, we should be more honest in our reporting.

You do just that in the book, sharing some of your own experiences with readers. What was that like? And what did your husband think when you told him you were going to write these?

This is my second book. I wrote one about parenting with a colleague of mine (Hopes and Fears: Everyday Theology for Parents and Other Tired, Anxious People), so I’m sort of practiced around talking about things that I hold close and dear to me in public ways. I try to be really reflective in my narrative voice. I think that is an important modeling of how to do theological reflection on one’s own experiences. It is easier, though, to talk about how you relate to your kids.

In this book, the subject matter is different, so my husband has been my first reader. My intent is not to share things that are private to our relationship, so he gets veto power in a way he wouldn’t for other projects.

Also, a lot of these stories are told from a time before he and I were together. There is a huge emotional distance from them for me. I’ve only told stories that I feel okay telling that are also fruitful for theological and ethical reflection.

You also surveyed a bunch of your friends and colleagues for this, right?

Yes. I loved the survey. I put together all the things I wanted to know from people, posted a link, and had 300-some responses. This allowed me to tell less of my own stories, so not just my husband but also my parents would be less concerned about how many [personal] stories got into the book. [laughs]

It was really amazing to see the stories people shared. I think of my own experience as being not wildly out of the ordinary. Most people have stories of love. Most people have stories of some hurt, of crossed wires and missed connections. There are some universal kinds of experiences, but we don’t really talk about those in the church that often. We say “fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness,” and that’s all we ever say. So hearing those ordinary stories from others is helpful and validating for all of us.

Were you surprised by the level of their sharing?

Yeah, I was amazed at how vulnerable people made themselves. I was also really distressed by how much hurt people have suffered. Out of those 300-some responses, 99 said they’ve experienced some sort of sexual abuse or harassment. There is a lot of bad stuff going on. And it shapes us, but the good news I saw was that you can also recover.

So it sounds like sexuality is something that people want to talk about. What will it take for us to have these kinds of conversations in our faith communities?

I think it requires a couple of things. First, it requires a carefully cultivated sense of safety within the community. And that is hard. I’ve been at administrative council meetings where people yell at each other about carpet, and think, “That is the last group of people with whom I’d share anything close to my heart.” So, as a church, we have to get better at talking about easy things before people will be willing to talk about the difficult things. I also think we need to be able to hold ambiguity more lightly. One of the things about our sexual experience is that a lot of them are fine, or they weren’t fine, or they were wonderful. And we in the church have a problem with that. We want people to decide if it was good or bad. And we also really need to clarify where the hope is. Just because things are complex doesn’t mean they are devastatingly bad. Just because it is hard doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile work. So, finding ways to speak grace into people’s sexual experiences is important.

What is a word of grace about human sexuality that you would want to share?

One is we don’t have to control everything. Those who love their lives, lose them. We don’t have to have everything go exactly as we anticipated. We don’t have to worry so much about protecting ourselves. When we start to let go of our fear, we can open ourselves up to the joys of intimacy and vulnerability, of being seen, and known, and loved as we really are. The other is that Jesus came that we might have life. God wants life to be good, and enjoyable, and lovely, and wonderful, and awesome. God didn’t make us to suffer.

Thanks, Bromleigh. We’ll keep an eye out for the book next year.

Thank you!

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Apr 29 2014

UMC Lead: Reading Scripture Doesn’t Need to Stink

Original post at

For those of us in the United Methodist tradition, scripture is supposed to be primary. Many people I work with, however, don’t want to go anywhere near it. On the surface, they will say this because they find it boring. Or difficult. But, what I’ve encountered is that these challenges mask their real aversion: they fear of the sacredness of it. Many people are afraid they are going to break it, or that they are going to get it wrong and upset balance of the universe (or their pastor/parents/partner/etc.). I, and other faith professionals, shoulder a lot of the blame for this. With our academic and seminary-trained approach to scripture, we turn Bible study into an elite activity, leaving little room for anyone save the dogmatic “nameandclaimitism” of fundamentalists.

I want the people I serve to know the book that is supposed to define us, and I want them to know it as a story. I want them to know that it is sacred because they are included in it. The story of scripture is about us. It is about our lives and families. Because of this, it isn’t supposed to be inaccessible. And reading it isn’t always supposed to be an academic exercise. It is open to interpretation. It is open for us to play with it and within it. Here are five ways I encourage the people I work with to make scripture something they want to engage:

5. Paraphrase It

When I was a kid I was given a Good News Bible, which was not an “word-for-word” translation, but rather “idea-for-idea.” I also remember a copy of The Living Bible, which was a paraphrase, in my home growing up. While each have their upsides, what they lack is the understanding that the people in our communities can bring to the story; they are missing the images that resonate with them. So why not skip the intermediary and encourage them to paraphrase it themselves? A great place to begin is the Psalms. Each are songs and prayers that lend themselves well to personal language and experience. Rivers can become bike trails, enemy combatants can become the person at the desk across from you, outcries for the nations can become laments for your family and friends. If they do one a week and you never know … they may get published like Eugene Peterson did with The Message.

4. Read It Out Loud

Like C3P0 getting the Ewoks up to speed in Return of the Jedi, many of the stories of scripture were shared in the oral tradition for thousands of years before somebody decided to write them down. Much of the Bible is good storytelling that predates the stuff that all the cool kids are doing at the bars these days by a couple of millennia. Encourage the reading of the stories out loud in people’s homes, and have them listen for what they hear differently. Encourage them to find the humor (there is plenty of it!), reading it out loud to practice their delivery. Read the letters out loud, and think about them being shared that way originally, and how the people reacted when they heard them for the first time.

3. Animate It

Anyone who has suffered through building an Ikea entertainment center or spent 20 minutes on Instagram knows our culture is way-over words. So, encourage the translation of the stories from scripture into pictures. Break out the crayons and the sidewalk chalk. Or, dig those action figures and dolls out of the closet; have them tell the story. Because, face it, Toy Story Woody, Barbie, Spawn, and Wonder Woman would be awesome together in the resurrection of Lazarus. I’d watch that on YouTube … a lot.

2. Dramatize It

Got a group of people around? Do a little readers theatre. Break up the stories of the Bible into parts. If people want to be serious about it, the book of Job works really well for this as it is full of classical-type monologues. If people are in a melodramatic mood, they can choose one of the gospels and take turns being the Pharisees. And if they just want to be silly, they can pick one of those “begat” lists and improvise what each person may have been like going only by their name.

1. Personalize It

Finally, if people are ready to have an intimate (and likely challenging) moment with the scriptures, encourage them to substitute themselves for a character and tell the story in the first person. Because it is isn’t as easy to be hard on Judas for his betrayal, or Sarah when she laughs, when they are us. But it is also humbling to read and hear our name come out of Jesus’ mouth: “Anne, do you love me? Then feed my sheep.”

I’m sure you have your own ideas, too. What makes scripture relevant to you? How do you encourage people to engage their Bibles? Be sure to share in the comments below!

Photo by Kate Sumbler/Flickr/Creative Commons

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Mar 02 2014

Live More to God: Ministry Templates and TextExpander

Original post at

I occasionally want to write some nerdy ministry posts and I felt like this one needed to be next. It is difficult, however, to write about using TextExpander without being able to show it and I'm not going to spend the money on ScreenFlow to shoot a video. So, bear with me as I'm typing this up instead of videoing it and I'm probably not going to edit before posting.

Other pastors have been talking about using templates in ministry to aid efficiency. I've been using them for some time but now I've added a power-wrinkle to them. Sometimes, we have to use the same format for different things like a first-time guest email or a worship service. My workflow for that was using the find/replace function in most text editors. That didn't take very long, but I knew it took longer than I liked. In walks TextExpander. TextExpander, for the uninitiated, is an app that will take a simple keystroke and expand it into the full text you want. For instance, instead of typing my whole name out, I can type "nname" and "Matthew Johnson" will appear on the screen. Or, when I'm writing for my dissertation prospectus, I can type " eent" and "entire sanctification" will appear. TextExpander is perfect for lazy writers like me.

One of the best features of TextExpander is that the user can create auto-fill forms. I'll use the example of the template I use when I get ready for a funeral. When I was an associate pastor, I followed the lead of my senior pastor who was an amazing teacher when it came to caring for the grieving and leading funeral services. He used a document he created from the 1964 Methodist Church Book of Worship. I still use it and, as I mentioned earlier, I used the find/replace feature to change the names and pronouns. No more, though. I created an auto-fill snippet that looks like this:

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 12.34.52 PM.png

You can use the %fill:% language to create a pop-up form that looks like this:

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 12.35.33 PM.png

The great thing about this is, when there are two or more %fill:% items that are exactly alike, it fills the others as you type (I typed my first name and part of my last name for %fill:name% to show you).

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 12.57.40 PM.png

I also use Markdown, so the asterisks you see indicate that the words are supposed to be in bold. Using Marked, I can preview the rich text and export to PDF, Word, or just print directly from Marked.

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 12.36.32 PM.png

I can't recommend templates or TextExpander highly enough.

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Feb 28 2014

UMC Lead: Coffee and Punk in the Bible Belt: 15 Questions with Kevin Veitinger

Original post at

foundery logo

MJ: Kevin Veitinger. Thanks for making time this morning for the first UMC LEAD Forum Friday. You’ve got an exciting new ministry going in Savannah, Georgia, called “The Foundery.” Tell the LEADers and readers about it.

KV: Sure! The Foundery is a project of the South Georgia Conference. We exist as a new church start. We also exist as a coffee shop; full-functioning, 120-hour-per-week coffee shop. We also have a branch of ministry to the artist community in Savannah. Savannah has the the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). Their campus is scattered across downtown, and we are right across the street from one of their buildings. So we have what we call “The Conservatory” where we offer gallery space in exchange for volunteer hours. And we do other things with open mics and film. And the fourth piece is what we are calling “Community Cultivating.” We are going out into our neighborhood, doing asset-based ministry, looking for stories, and gifts, and graces within our community, and looking for ways that we can connect people together.

MJ: So, it is church, coffee, conservatory, and community. Clearly you are skilled at alliteration. Why is doing this kind of ministry important to you?

KV: I moved here [from Florida] about eight years ago to take a youth ministry job at a local church, but one month in I got fired. Looking back on it now, I was already on burnout. It was a really bad experience. I think I wanted to get fired. So then I left the church. I was done. I had started the ordination process but quit that. I stopped participating in any congregational life at all. And I decided that my new lot in life was going to be a manager at Starbucks.

It was there that I saw that there’s a large group of people here in Savannah, and across the Bible Belt, that are underserved by the church. It is a subculture that the church doesn’t get. The church has not done a good job of reaching out to this emerging generation of artists and creatives. So part of it is a recognition of that community’s need to be served and my calling to be with them.

The other half — the why the coffee shop — when I was at Starbucks, I came to the realization that God had been using me there. Folks hurting reached out to me. They saw me as a safe person. These people had been hurt by the church and so had I. So I recognized that a coffee shop offered a context, at least here in Savannah, where people were willing to be honest, build relationships, and be in community. It was a great third place where they were willing to be known and get to know people.

MJ: Planting a non-traditional, para-church in the heart of the Bible Belt must not be an easy thing. How have you gone about getting the people in your Annual Conference and Savannah to share in your vision for The Foundery?

KV: I’m stubborn. This has been a five-year project. But I really believe in what I’m doing. So that is a big part of it. I’m also in the only place here in the USA where John and Charles [Wesley] really lived. And Savannah Methodists are really proud of that. So I spent a lot of time reading about the early, pre-denominational Methodists. And I found what I believed to be a huge corollary between what I thought would be effective here and what those early Methodists were doing. So I played to that sense of history, using all those terms and ideals that most of us got really excited about when we were in seminary. And I was able to articulate in a way that made it translate to what we were doing at The Foundery.

When Veitinger isn't slinging coffee he's playing drums in his punk rock band.

When Veitinger isn’t slinging coffee he’s playing drums in his punk rock band.

MJ: There is a statue of John Wesley there in Savannah. Have you defaced it yet by putting a big Foundery sticker on his forehead?

KV: I have not. I have some friends that are yarn bombers, and I keep telling them that I will pay them to knit a big sweater that says “The Foundery” on it, and put that on him. That hasn’t happened yet. But I am waiting. My hope is I can convince one of them. It is also hard to do anything secretive to that statue. There are always people in that square where it sits. It is also really tall. He is immortalized in Savannah as a much larger figure than he was in real life.

MJ: That is true for how many of us see him, I am afraid. So, getting to this point has taken quite a bit longer than you had envisioned. What were the biggest roadblocks to The Foundery, and how were those overcome?

KV: There were a few, very different roadblocks. The first was doing very different, non-traditional ministry in the Bible Belt. And not just the Bible Belt, but South Georgia. We are the slowest part of a denomination that moves very slowly. So it took a long time to get people to trust me. It didn’t help that I was from Florida. There was a sense of distrust that this random guy was here trying to do this strange thing. So what I learned was the importance of building relationships.

The most frustrating roadblock was dealing with the City of Savannah. You know, we don’t take business classes at seminary. I wish I would have. That was a huge roadblock. Not only my ignorance, but also a city that was making it extra hard for us. And the lesson I learned from that was hire the lawyer first. There is just a lot to know about starting up something like this. And the only way to overcome that is patience.

MJ: What do challenges like those do to your faith in organized religion or, ultimately, your faith in God?

KV: I already had a pretty jaded view of the church; both a love and hate of the church. I love what the church could be, but get very frustrated by the way it plays out in the world. I think that I’ve learned a lot about patience, prayer, and our role in these strange visions that God leaks into our heads. So it has been more positive than negative.

MJ: We first met at the EmergingUMC2 conference in late 2009.  The conference was held in Indianapolis and hosted by this wildy-wonderful church/community-space hybrid called Earth House Collective at Lockerbie Central UMC. There was a vegetarian restaurant in the basement, A coffee bar and art gallery on the main floor, and a concert and worship space above that. How much of your idea for The Foundery had already been conceived at that point, and how much was inspired by Earthouse/Lockerbie?

KV: I think there was quite a bit there before that event. But in talking to Mike Oles up there — and we still talk from time to time — I think he really helped me with the arts part, and helped broaden my view of ways in which we could interact with the arts community. That experience, and the relationship, certainly helped tweak and clarify a lot of the ideas that were pretty ethereal at that point.

MJ: When Earth House/Lockerbie Central closed in 2012 due to what their leadership determined was an “unsustainable model,” what lessons did you take away from watching that happen that have helped you at The Foundery?

KV: One thing that I always picked up on was a struggle there between them, their district, and their annual conference. It always seemed to be tenuous. And I realized, to do The Foundery, I had to have a good relationship with my district, especially the other pastors in downtown Savannah where we are. Just a second … [On cue, one of them knocks on his office door.] So I learned this couldn’t just be a Kevin project. It needed buy-in from others.

MJ: One of the things you’ve been doing in Savannah for a while is serving as campus minister for SCAD. A student there even made a short documentary about your troubles with getting The Foundery launched. Seeing that campus ministry is on the chopping block all over the denomination, what would you say about its value to those who hold the ax?

KV: It breaks my heart that funding cuts to campus ministry are even being talked about. Campus ministry has been a huge part of keeping us vital. It is one of the best ministries that we do as a church as far as bang for our buck. But it may be time to look at some other ways to do that.

MJ: Could ministries like The Foundery be another (and maybe better) way to do campus ministry? You’ve got some company on that front with what Mike Baughman is doing in Dallas with Union.

KV: I think in some contexts, absolutely. I think one thing that bothers me about campus ministry is age segregation. So often it does more harm than good as far as uniting the church. I’ve wondered for years what happens to those who stick around in the town where they go to school, because they can’t stick around in the ministry that was so important to them. What they get is a stuffy place where there isn’t much for them. So what would it look like to make our campus ministries be more like a church plant on a college campus? I think we need to try that.

The sharpest barista in town.

The sharpest barista in town.

MJ: Now, I have to ask … the uniform. I get the ties. I wore those bagging groceries. But what’s with the vests? Are you all members of the Jerry Herships fan club or something?

KV: I had this concept of what I wanted the feel of the coffee pub to be — a turn-of-the-century pub plus a foundry — and my friend told me that was “steampunk” (which I’d never heard of), so I looked it up and and it seemed to be the right fit. And I looked at a lot of old photographs and paintings of what those old bartenders wore, and they all wore vests.

MJ: They also wore amazing mustaches. Are you going to grow one like mine?

KV: Many of them did. But I don’t grow a mustache very well. It definitely wouldn’t look like yours. It may look too much like a creeper ‘stache and then nobody would come in. [laughs] I have some employees with really great facial hair, though. I do have my awesome [mutton] chops.

MJ: You put on that tie and vest during the day, but at night you put on a clerical collar to play in an f-bomb-dropping punk band. And, occasionally, you emcee roller derby. How you keep your pastoral identity in the midst of all of that?

KV: And I also coach high school soccer. If we are to call ourselves “Wesleyan” then our pastoral identity is based in that oft-quoted phrase “The world is my parish.” I’m called Rev. Kev everywhere. People around town call me that. The girls on my team don’t call me coach; they call me Rev. Kev. The folks at roller derby call me Rev. Kev. To me, being a pastor is so much bigger than being encased in a Christian ghetto and only paying attention to those who put money in our collection plate. I can’t comprehend living out this vocation without being in the community. And I’m not talking about Rotary. And that affords me the opportunity to engage in conversations with people who will never darken the doors. Pastors becoming insular is the reason we are declining as a church. Not just the UMC, but the church in general.

MJ: Knowing you were a punk fan, last time you were up here I took you to go see Chicago’s legendary punk rockers Naked Raygun.

KV: Yes. It was life changing!

MJ: What is it about punk rock that resonates with you, and do you think the church can learn anything from punk culture?

KV: One of the issues the church has is that we are the dominant culture. In the Bible Belt especially. But, throughout history, the church has been most vital when we’ve been present in culture, and willing to stand against the parts of it that are oppressive. Punk culture is made up of people who aren’t willing to conform to the dominant culture. They aren’t afraid to call bulls#*t when it needs to be called and celebrate what needs to be celebrated. The Sex Pistols had a lot of interesting things to say about the Queen. So, a lot of the themes of punk culture are our themes. They are Jesus, “sermon on the mount” stuff. There is a great marriage there. We should recognize that we should be just as vocal and angry as they are. And we should also be ready to say something about that, because we do have something to say about that.

MJ: On top of all this, you are married. You’ve got kids. How do you make time for a family life while doing the hard work of launching something like this?

KV: I think at times I really fail at that. But, I try to include my kids in the things I do. I try to include my wife in the things that I do. All of this is a part of my life and I want them to be involved in all of it, too. But I do make time. I set boundaries. I didn’t go to soccer practice yesterday because my wife had oral surgery and needed some help, and the other coach could handle it. I make sure I have people I can trust, so that when I can step away, I step away. One thing, I think, that pastors do that gets them burned out is that they don’t trust their leaders. We need to trust others in order to be able to step away.

MJ: What would you offer to the innovators and entrepreneur-type faith leaders as the most important bit of wisdom you’ve discovered in getting The Foundery up and running?

KV: I would say, if you have a vision that you really believe God has put on your heart, then trust God to have given you the ability to do it. And, not only be patient, but be stubborn. Don’t give up. I think a lot of times, we throw our hands up and we say “This isn’t going to happen. The system won’t let me. I can’t do it.” And we start questioning our ability. But if we can get past some of the roadblocks that will all change quickly. And, finally, sometimes we don’t see the fruits of our labor until many years later. And we have to be OK with that.

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Oct 25 2013

Live More to God: Prepositions

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I never liked reading an essay or hearing a speaker begin with, "The dictionary defines..." What a rotten way to begin a thought, right? Maybe it is rotten, but I actually had to look up something tonight in order to write down what was on my mind. The title of this blog comes from the Francis Asbury quotation over there on the left. You can take a second to read it if you'd like. I'll wait.

I've been using a pencil and a piece of paper during the last couple of weeks to map out what I want this blog to exist for. I don't really want to write about the random things I think about. I want it to have focus so that I can discipline myself and get down to writing. One thought that keeps recurring is, "Why not the holiness Francis was talking about in that quotation?" It's a decent question. My dissertation is going to be about sanctification in the Wesleyan tradition. Why not blog about it, too? Or is that too narrow a focus?

Being the slightly distracted person I am, I left the holy part of the quotation and started fixating on the "live more to God" part. That's an odd choice of prepositions, isn't it? I tell people all the time when I'm teaching the Bible that the prepositions are the most important words in any passage. I get strange looks from time to time, but if you were nursed by the inductive method like I was in seminary, you'd probably agree. Why, "to"? Why not "live more for God" or "live more in God"? Those make a little more sense, especially if you take our religious jargon into account.

I did what I despise. I looked up "to" in the dictionary. The funny thing is, "to" is a pretty versatile preposition. Most of the definitions made sense.

  • "Identifying the recipient of something." God receives my life.
  • "Identifying a particular relationship between one person and another." Living to God identifies the relationship involved in living.
  • "Indicating that two things are attached." There's a candidate for a discussion on holiness.

The one I liked the best was "expressing motion in the direction of". Brian Russell, Asbury Seminary professor and friend, once talked about repentance in terms of "realignment". The Hebrew word for "repent" basically means "to turn" (that's a bit simplistic but it'll work). Turn toward what? Turn from what? Answer: turn from sin and turn toward God. It's a simple (at least in theory) realignment of our hearts with God's heart. When you're off course in a boat, you've got to turn the wheel until you've realigned yourself with the course that's been set. Is this not what it means to express motion in the direction of God?

I think, despite the slight embarrassment for having to look up a word I've been using since I started talking, that I'm finding the focus for writing I've been looking for. What does life look like when it's sailing in a Godward direction? How do we realign when we get off course? Those are questions I want to dig into for life and if they spill into a blog, great. I'll see what happens.

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Sep 05 2013

Live More to God: Joy and suffering

Original post at

There's a lot in this post by Jared Wilson that resonates with me because of what we're going through at our church. Let's pray, friends, for one another and for healing.

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