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Blog

Some of my written words, thoughts, and ramblings. 

To Love God IS To Love People
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Love God, Love People. It’s like every hipster church’s vision statement. Amirite? It’s a great summary of the Christian faith. 

When asked about the greatest commandments, Jesus responded by saying the first and greatest commandment is to love God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind. He then goes on to say that the second greatest command is to love one’s neighbor as oneself. In summary, Jesus says that all the law and the prophets can be condensed to these two commands. 

Cue trendy vision statements galore. 

What if loving God and loving people were not separate things, though?

New Testament scholar M. Robert Mulholland argues exactly this. The text, he says, could be translated “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Another way to say this is to love your neighbor as yourself.”

Thus, loving God and loving people are the same thing. 

To love God is to love people.

Loving God expands our love for people while loving people is how we love God.

God's Not a Dude.
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God’s not a dude. 

Maybe you already know this, but I think we still need reminders of it. God isn’t a ‘he.’ God isn’t gendered. 
I realize this goes against how we often speak of God. We use ‘he’ for God all. the. time. Countless English scripture passages refer to God as ‘he.’ Many hymns and worship songs use male pronouns to speak of God. Over and over in sermons and prayers, we hear preachers reference the Divine as a male. 

If you’re a churchgoer, take a tally the next time you listen to a sermon, read a psalm, or recite a prayer in the liturgy. How many do you get? 

For many reasons (patriarchy, maybe), using male pronouns to describe God has become the norm. However, I think we should change that. 

God transcends gender and referring to God as a male, limits the Divine, in my opinion. 

We know Jesus was a male, so, yes, referring to Jesus with male pronouns works. The Spirit is often described with female pronouns in Greek, so remember Spirit isn’t a ‘he’ either. (side note, why do we always put a definite article (the) before Spirit? It’s not the God or the Jesus, but we say the Spirit.) God, Jesus, and Spirit are not an ‘it’ either. Such a word seems to take away the personal nature of the Divine.

Language is expansive. God is even more so. And using expansive inclusive language to speak of the Divine Infinite is quite honoring.

While in seminary, I first heard a fellow classmate read aloud a passage of Scripture as she changed the language of ‘he’ to God. At first, since I was reading along, it seemed so jarring, but it also made complete sense. We were not reading about a male, but about the Ultimate Divine One. 

The time I tried this while working in a church, I got a slap on the wrist. Working to rewrite a vision and mission statement with the pastoral staff and elder board, I suggested we change a portion of the phrase from “His world” to “God’s world.” Afterword, I was pulled aside by an elder who told me in all his 60+ years of being a Christian he had never heard God wasn’t a male. This actually surprised me since 60 years gives you good odds you might. Yet it also saddened me since it sounded like a narrow approach to God.

He then warned me that I needed to be careful with how I spoke about God around people. I tried to share that I simply wanted to make sure a name for God was used rather than a gender but his response was a repeated warning. 

Yet in my sermons, prayers, and writing of liturgies since then, I have practiced using non-gendered language to describe God. It is quite a simple change that has powerful implications as it can expand our understanding of God.

God’s not a dude. God is greater than dude. God is God.

Free Advice for Pastors and Preachers
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Here’s some free advice for my fellow pastors and preachers. It came to me after I visited a church recently. 

If you’re a pastor, if you’re a male, if you’re trying to be relevant or hipster and connect with your congregation, please for the love of Jesus, don’t ever share in a sermon you are circumcised. Ever. Times sixty trillion.

I saw a pastor do this in his sermon. I almost had a heart attack. And rather than thinking about Jesus in church all I could think of was a random pastor’s man parts. I should probably go to confession. And therapy. 

Some things should never, ever, be said from the pulpit. This is one of them. 

Another thing you shouldn’t say from the pulpit is that the main point of your sermon is “exegetically and theologically incorrect, but it makes for a great point, so I’m gonna peach is anyway.” 

This is why I will only be a one-time visitor to this church. 

So, just some free friendly advice for all you out there.

I Am With You Always. Yes.
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As I was doing today’s Morning’s Office, a passage from the Gospel of Matthew was one of the readings. It’s a well-known text, Matthew 28:16-20. It reads, 

Meanwhile, the eleven disciples set out for Galilee to the mountains where Jesus arranged to meet them. When they saw him, they fell down before him, though some hesitated. Jesus came up and spoke to them. He said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them the commandments I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.

I love how sometimes you will read a familiar passage from the Bible and become completely befuddled by it. I can’t tell you how many times I have read a passage and immediately thought, “What? I don’t think I have ever read this before. I never noticed this. Wait, this is really in here?”

Today, I was struck by the first two sentences stating that the eleven disciples fell down before Jesus while some others hesitated. Were they falling down in worship? Why did others hesitate? Were they afraid? Unsure? What were they thinking? I don’t think I ever noticed those sentences before. 

If we are familiar with this story, we have probably heard a sermon or teaching on the later phrase “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” Often, we are taught the command in this sentence is “go.” Preachers will preach that we are to go evangelize, go do ministry, leave home and go to another country to bring the Gospel message. On and on the sermons can go.

What’s interesting, though, is ‘go’ isn’t the command. It should be translated, ‘while going.’ The command is actually the word ‘make.’ While going, we are to make disciples. And, preachers preach about making disciples. Like, times a million. Of course, it is what the local church should be doing, making students and disciples of those who wish to follow the way of Jesus, the way of love. 

But what struck me the most this morning and what I think might be better news than the command itself comes at the end of the passage where Jesus says, “And know that I am with you always, yes.” 

Why haven’t I heard a preacher preach that for 35 minutes on a Sunday? That’s what I need to know, experience, and remember. Most days, I forget that or simply do not believe it. Most days I don’t think I live as if this is true. But, if is it true, it changes everything! 

The God incarnate, the invisible God made visible, is with me always. Yes. 

The Divine isn’t some distant deity but instead is as close to us as our very breath. Present with us always, through all things, in all things. Yes. 

How about that for some good news? Yes.

Exploring the Spiritual Life in Public
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In my younger and well-intended-but-ignorant-conservative-evangelicalism-slipping-into- fundamentalism Christian days, I used to love listening to the Bible Answer Man. It was a call-in radio program where Hank, the Bible Answer Man, would answer any and all questions about Christianity, the Bible, and faith.

Hank knew it all. He had all the right answers. He shot down certain beliefs and religious traditions, pointed out fallacies, proved Christianity to be true, and knew the Bible better than the back of his hand. He was what every Evangelical wished they could be. Thus, why I listened regularly to Hank. I, too, wanted to know all the answers.

Entering seminary, I assumed I’d learn enough to answer any question. Early on, however, I learned that I don’t have all the answers and probably never will have them. Seminary taught me just how little I actually knew. And, it didn't’ give me all the answers. Instead, it taught me to ask questions; about the text, about the context, about the original languages, about textual variants, about ministry models. Rather than avoiding difficult texts or topics, we were challenged to dig in deeper. But, it didn’t mean we always found an answer. Sometimes it was a theory or two while other times we discovered more questions.

The longer I have been a pastor the more I have realized I still don’t have all the answers. In fact, I think I have a lot more questions. As I study the text, explore spiritual practices, and listen to people’s experiences in life, I find myself with fewer answers and the realization that maybe I often ask the wrong questions.

Maybe I’m not supposed to have all the answers and knowledge, and maybe you’re not supposed to either. Maybe the more we contemplate the Infinite One, the more questions we find ourselves asking. Maybe exploring the Infinite One is more important than having answers about the Infinite One.

Recently, I was listening to a podcast of a former pastor who was sharing feedback he had received after a presentation he had given. The audience member came up to him and said, “I didn’t come to get answers. I came to watch you explore in public.”

“I didn’t come to get answers. I came to watch you explore in public.”

It got me thinking, exploring, and asking questions: What if this was how we understood a sermon? What if preaching wasn’t a way to give congregants answers, but instead a way to communally watch someone explore the spiritual life in public?

Instead of treating preachers and pastors as the ones with all the answers, the defenders of dogma and doctrine, the protectors of a particular faith, the gatekeepers of the godly, spewers of spiritual cliches and tweetable truisms, chaperones for the sacred, or judges of the heretics, what if we viewed them as people who were asking deeper and more human questions and allowed them to do that in public?

What if preachers, instead of being known for wearing expensive sneakers in public, were known to explore the spiritual life in public? What if they explored the character and dimensions of the Divine and, as congregants, we simply got to participate in that act?

What if pastors and preachers were never supposed to have the answers in the first place? What if they were simply to be people, like you and me, who ask the honest questions we are also asking, get us thinking together, and create the space so we can open ourselves up to the Divine?

What if a sermon wasn’t supposed to be simply an affirmation of what you already believe, but a chance for you to ask the questions and voice what you hope to someday believe?

I have a sneaking suspicion such preaching could move sermons away from simply giving spoon fed answers to an inclusive and participatory spiritual experience and event. I also think preachers would be less concerned about saying something that might offend and more able to say what congregants have been too afraid to actually voice. And, maybe such preaching would allow us to open ourselves up to the transforming Presence of the One always present to us.

I think that’s what I need in a sermon. And, I think that’s what I want to do in writing a sermon.

But again, I don’t have the answers, I just want to ask the questions and explore the spiritual life together in public.

Mysterious Spiritual Fire
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What is it about a campfire that is so mesmerizing? What is it about a campfire that compels you to contently stare at it for hours? It has the power to draw you in and captivate you. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard a friend say that they could sit around a campfire for hours.

There’s something mysterious and mesmerizing about it. I’d venture to say there is even something spiritual about it.

Throughout the ancient scriptures of the Christian tradition, every time there is a flame or fire, it symbolizes the presence of the Divine.

A pillar of fire leads God’s people through the wilderness. A fire burns on a completely waterlogged altar after Elijah prays for God’s presence. Small fires, like tongues of fire as they are described, are upon all the Apostles at Pentecost, symbolizing Spirit upon each of them.

Within some Christian communities, lighting a candle symbolizes the presence of God. During the season of Advent, the lighting of the candles symbolizes the Light that God brings into the world. To pause and light a candle during a spiritual direction session, for instance, is a way for people to become aware that God is with them.

A core principle of the Quaker tradition is the idea of the Inner Light. Quakers maintain that within every human soul there is a implanted an element of God’s Spirit and Energy. This Inner Light helps each of us to discern between good and evil as well as connects us with every other human. And, it is through this Light that we encounter the Divine.

Jesus is also described as Light. One Apostle describes Jesus as the true light that gives light to everyone. Jesus identifies himself as the Light of the world. He even goes on to claim that those who follow Jesus are the Light of the world.

This isn’t only within Christian circles, however. Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, symbolizes the miracle of God’s providence through lighting the Menorah. In the Hindi tradition, using the Sanskrit word, Namaste, can mean, “The Light within me honors the Light within you.”

So, maybe the reason fire is so mesmerizing is not simply because we’re all pyromaniacs, but instead, is a spiritual experience. Maybe it is awakening us to the truth that there is a Light, the True Light, within each of us. Maybe it is mysteriously connecting us with, and opening ourselves up to, God.

Staring at Trees
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Most mornings, while silently drinking my cup of coffee or eating my morning breakfast I spend a few minutes staring at a tree outside of a large window in our third-floor apartment. It’s one of those billowing trees that has a huge trunk that branches into a large circular crown of leaves.

I don’t really do anything while I stare at it. I let my mind think about what it wants to think and try to be aware of the present moment. Most mornings, the moment doesn’t last too long as my toddler son usually comes running out of his bedroom to greet me and the day.

I’ve sat in front of it during all four seasons now. In summer it’s a deep green and in winter it branches are grayish brown bending in all directions. In fall it shows off by changing a vibrant spectrum of colors. At the time of writing this, it seemed as if green buds grew over night. I could have sworn they were not there a day ago.

I’m no arborist, so I can’t tell you if it’s a maple, oak, chestnut, or a sycamore tree (I literally just googled “types of big trees” in order to write that former sentence).

What I can tell you, though, is staring at a tree has been scientifically proven to reduce your blood pressure, lower anxiety, and bring a sense of calm. Other studies have shown simply looking at an image of a tree can allow our parasympathetic of the central nervous system to calm our entire body.

In Japan, they have even instituted what is known as Forest Bathing, which is just known as being in the presence of trees, because it increases calm and promotes bodily health.

I don’t know about you, but I sure am open to having less anxiety and more calm in my life.

So, if today is stressful, jam-packed with meetings, emails, and to-do lists; or if this season of life has been overwhelming, overly busy, and difficult; or if you want a moment to connect with your soul, I encourage you to go outside and stare at a tree for a few minutes. Go take a Forest Bath.

I can’t promise it will be magical, but I can promise it will bring a sense of calm. And that in itself can often be life-changing.

Cardinals and Spiritual Awareness
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I’m not much a bird watcher, but since elementary school, my favorite bird has been the cardinal. I think it became my favorite bird solely because it was the state bird of Illinois, where I grew up. I try to watch them for a few moments anytime they catch my eye.

While I was in graduate school, a couple of cardinals lived in a tree by the back entrance to seminary building. When I was alone and walking into class, I would try to mimic their call (I’m such a nerd). I’m not much of a bird whistler, but I swear we were communicating. The bird-human synergy was real, I tell you.

The other day as I was walking across campus to my office a cardinal flew within a couple of feet of me. It stopped me in my tracks and, for a split second, I thought it might attack me. I tried to watch it continue its flight. As I did so, another cardinal chased quickly behind it. They were cooing and cawing at one another as if they were friends playing in midair. I paused for a moment to see I could tell where they were going.

Even after they were gone, it was as if their presence was still in the air.

It was the moment after the cardinals flew away when I became most aware of their presence. It was as if in the stillness I was most present to them.

At that moment I caught myself praying, ‘thanks, yes.’ It was the moment I tried to cherish before entering my office to start a day full of meetings.

This experience reminded me of the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. In the story, Elijah is told to go stand on a mountain and God’s presence would pass by him. The text then reads,

“There was a great so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.”

In the silence is when Elijah became aware of God’s presence. It’s as if Elijah became aware of God’s presence after God’s presence has passed by him. God was in the stillness.

What I love about this story is that awareness and stillness allow the opportunity for a spiritual encounter.

I could have easily been looking down the moment those cardinals flew past me. I could have been texting on my phone, lost in a technological world outside of the world in which I was standing. With tunnel vision, I could have been rushing to catch up on an already busy day.

I could have been unaware of what was present before me and missed the Mystical in the stillness.

Of course, would my day really have been much different if I did miss those cardinals? To be honest, probably not. I’d have one less blog post, but I doubt the day would have been too much different.

It did get me thinking, though, about how much we tend to miss when we are not present and how often we are distracted by other things making us unaware of what’s around us. Someone on their phone unaware of where they’re about to walk into you. Someone stopping in an aisle with their shopping cart unaware that you’re trying to get the can of chickpeas behind them. I see it in others, which probably means it’s rampant in my own life.

If awareness is the beginning of the spiritual life and I often tend to be unaware, then how unspiritual is most of my life? How many Divine encounters am I missing by not being present to what is happening around me?

I once heard a colleague say that “What has your attention, has your affection; what has your affection, has your heart; what has your heart, is what you worship; what you worship, is your God.” He then asked, “What has your attention?”

Is it the present moment? Is it the beauty around you? Is it a technological device in your pocket? Is it a nagging thought or a stress-inducing worry? Is it a notification, an email, or the desire to immediately know how many people liked your post?

Don’t numb yourself from the present moment. Don’t let yourself become unaware. Don’t fill the silence with noise. Don’t miss the birds in flight.

You just might miss an encounter with the Divine in the stillness.

An Analogy for the Church
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I wanted to share a simple analogy I have found to be very compelling.

I’m fascinated and slightly fearful of our bodies, as you can read in my former post, Good One God. I’m no doctor nor have any formal education in the health industry, so my assessment might be partially incorrect. Yet, from what I have been told, this is pretty phenomenal.

As you might have learned from a biology lesson in elementary school, our blood cells flow from all parts of our body into the heart where it is pumped into the lungs. Blood needs oxygen to survive, so in the lungs the depleted blood cells are brought back to life and become fully oxygenated.

This re-oxygenated blood is brought back through the heart where it is then pushed with such force that it travels to the extremities of our bodies. This life-filled blood travels to our toes, fingers, legs, muscles, and organs.

This re-oxygenated blood brings oxygen, literal health and life, to parts of our body that desperately needs oxygen, health, and life.

As such blood reaches the margins of our bodies, it very quickly though, becomes de-oxygenated. It gives away its life and health to other parts of the body. So, it must return back to the heart and lungs in order to get oxygen and life.

This oxygenating life-giving rhythm occurs every thirty seconds in our bodies.

I think this is an apt metaphor for our participation and spiritual life within a faith community or church.

Every week, we participate in a rhythm where we gather together, we recite ancient prayers, we sing songs of our hearts, we hear the Gospel proclaimed, we let the truth of ancient Scriptures wash over our lives, we wait in silence for the Divine’s voice, and we partake of the Eucharist or Communion.

Every week, we gather together, in ancient looking cathedrals, converted warehouses, or long-standing sanctuaries, …. to be re-oxygenated. We are drawn back into the center where we can encounter the Divine, our Life, and are then sent out into our own circles to declare this Presence in the world.

Then, we are pumped out, pushed out, sent out to bring God’s Presence and Love to all who need it. We are scattered from our sacred sanctuaries to the oft-forgotten margins where people are longing for oxygen, for life, for healing, for freedom, for good news, and for love.

We are not the Oxygen, of course. We are the vessels for the Oxygen.

We are not the Life. We are conduits for the Life.

I need this rhythm. I crave this rhythm, actually.

I don’t know about you, but after a typical week, I can honestly say I need to be re-oxygenated. I become depleted quite quickly. I need to return to the heart, to the Center, to be reminded of truths that can revive my soul.

I crave this rhythm because something mysterious happens. Every time I return the center, to the heart, something happens within me. My soul is refreshed, restored, transformed, even when I don’t feel it on a Sunday. I can’t always explain how it happens, but I can say it does happen.

I recognize that some of us haven’t experienced such a re-oxygenating community, though.

Perhaps instead of being a place that brings life, we have been a part of communities that suck oxygen and life right out of us. Maybe it was life-giving for a season and then it seemed as if the rug was pulled out from under you. Now, you’ve been left out, burnt out, depleted, abandoned, forgotten, and left on the margins. I’ve been there, too.

But, be encouraged. The extremities, such as our feet and hands, don’t need to go to the heart to find true oxygen and life. Oxygen is brought to them. Life finds them.

The same is true for you. You will be found. Life and Oxygen will find you. God isn’t only found in a church sanctuary but is as close to you as your very breath.

This is also why I love the song “You Will be Found” from the musical, Dear Evan Hansen. Tears. Every time I hear it.

When you discover God has found you, that moment will be the most oxygen-rich breathe you’ll ever take for Life has found you and filled you.

Nathan Albert
A Digital Declutter: Decisions
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What does it finally feel like to enter back into the world of social media after a 40-day break?

Welp, to be honest, I don’t think most people realized I was gone. It also appears I didn’t miss much of anything (Sorry to that friend who thinks I might have missed something). If I really think about it, it makes sense. With over 1000 friends on Facebook, how many of them do I actually know are active, taking a break, never posting, or posting constantly? If one of my friends left, I probably wouldn’t notice either.

Logging into Facebook I had a lot of missed ‘happy birthday’ notifications. Within minutes, I caught myself getting sucked back into numbly scrolling as well as a desire to log back into it a few minutes after I closed the window. After not checking Facebook for weeks, I checked it seven times within the first hour of logging back into it. I also got pretty riled up after checking one of the clergy groups I’m a member of where there's an endless stream theological debates.

I think being on Facebook for a little over 12 years is more than enough time to be on Facebook for one lifetime. Some of my Facebook friends are actually better as memories than friends and being off Facebook compels me to keep in touch with friends more regularly. I’ve come to think that life is actually better without Facebook.

Twitter welcomed me back with three new followers all of whom I think are spam. One is from India, one has “Jesus” in his handle, and the final one is smoking weed in his avatar. I received two likes on a post the day I left. I didn’t even want to start scrolling and try to read people’s 280 characters. I knew I would get lost in a rabbit hole that would just anger me.

Although I love the speed of Twitter, the ability to connect quickly with others, and to almost instantaneously know of key events as they’re happening, I don’t think it’s a tool that truly adds value to my life. I’m thinking I might call it quits with Twitter, too.

When it came to Instagram, I came back to 5 spam follow requests and a bunch of hearts for my previous posts. Within seconds, I was annoyed at the advertisements every 4-5 posts. To be honest, that will be the deciding factor for me if I keep the app. I also think I am going to mute everyone’s Insta-story, except for my wife’s because she puts up the best videos of our kids and I’m clearly biased.

So, at the moment, I’m going to keep it (I do need to use it for work) as I enjoy seeing pictures of friends and family from afar. Because of this, though, I have unfollowed all businesses, celebrities, brands, and some acquaintances in hopes of streamlining my experience.

I deleted over a dozen apps from my phone for this 40-day declutter and now have no intention of re-downloading them. At present, I have 33 apps on my phone, which is much less than I once had. I’d prefer to delete more, however Apple won’t allow 11 apps too be deleted. I have really enjoyed using my phone less. And, I plan to keep using BlockSite as a way to keep myself productive at work and avoid the temptation to hop on social media or infotainment sites while I could be getting work done.

I’ll also keep up with my blogging and writing as this has given me great joy. To be honest, since I have been less distracted with social media and being tethered to my phone, it’s as if I have become aware of life around me and creating content is much easier and enjoyable.  

I’m trading in likes, retweets, followers, and the pursuit of building a platform for, what I hope will be, more easeful living, better face-to-face relationships, and better productivity in life and work. I’m convinced, though, that it is worth it.

A Digital Declutter: Lenten Log Off
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As I have blogged previously (and elsewhere) I am starting to question whether social media is good for us and if social media and technology adds value to my life, at least enough value to keep it. So, during the 40 days of Lent, I decided to do a “Digital Declutter” based off of the challenge Cal Newport gives in his book.

I deleted all optional technology from my phone, which included all social media, news, email, shopping, etc. For me, this included the following apps on my phone: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, New York Times, News, Gmail, Marco Polo, Amazon, YouTube, Yelp, Trulia, and a handful of others that I rarely used. I also set up blockers on my browser to include all new, social media, and any other “infotainment” sites.

With Lent’s conclusion, I thought I’d share some reactions from my 40-day social media declutter experiment.

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Within the first few days, I found myself trying to go to particular sites or constantly refreshing my email. I’d open my phone only to find the app gone and on my laptop, the website blocker would show me a fun reminder. See the pictures to the side.

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After a few days, I noticed the amount of time I use my phone drastically dropped from two or three hours a day to, on average, an hour. Some days I have used it as little as eight minutes. I even got to the point where I decided to leave my phone at home while my family went out to run errands.

Not checking any news sites has meant I’m a bit out of the loop and I have come to embrace that. Luckily, family members and friends have informed me of big events happening in the world. The biggest events have been the burning of Notre-Dame, the release of the Mueller report, the election of Chicago’s new mayor, and the college admissions scandal. All of this I learned from friends or coworkers, but each time had to ask them to give me more details.

Without the news and Twitter, I have become less irritated at Trump and less frustrated at politics. It’s been vastly refreshing. Without email on my phone, I don’t feel the need to always respond and be ‘on the clock.’ When I’m home, I’m home and not seeing if any new emails come in. I’ve also tried to only check email a couple of times a day while at work and I will share more about that in future posts.

And, when I come up with a funny tweet or a sentence that I think would get a lot of likes on Facebook, I just tell someone instead. Or laugh to myself about it. In all honesty, I feel as if there is less noise in my world. And, I don’t fear I’m missing out on anything. I think my so-called missing out is actually enabling me to be fully present and aware to people around me, especially my wife and sons.

It’s as if social media has become an obligation that takes up more of our time and mental energy than we realize. And, it seems as if we never really thought through the ramifications of saying “yes” to initially signing up.

I want to use technology rather than have technology use me.

I want to be face-to-face with people rather than face-to-phone around people.

I want to be aware rather than addicted to impersonal technology.

I want to be mindful rather than mindless scrolling.

In a future post, I’ll share a bit more about how it felt to log back onto social media and the decisions I’ve made about ending my relationship with social media.

A Digitial Declutter: The Background
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Join me for a trip down social media memory lane.

First, there was Friendster (does anyone else remember that?). I’m pretty sure the site consisted of making a basic profile and finding your friends’ profiles. There was also Xanga, which was one of the first blogging sites. Then came MySpace and the stress of choosing your Top 8.

Once they tanked, though, Facebook came along, which I couldn’t join until I was in graduate school with a .edu email address. All we could do was to speak about ourselves in the third person and ‘poked’ people.

Then Instagram hit the scene and all you could do was post pictures with really bad filters. There were no stories, no DMs, no comments, no ads, and no ownership by Facebook. At about the same time, I signed up for Twitter before hashtags became popular.

Things started to snowball. We moved to Tumblr, Reddit, YouTube, Periscope, Snapchat, Vero (which was popular for a weekend), KIK, Yik Yak, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Medium, and Marco Polo. I’m sure there are countless others that young people are using which I know nothing about.  

It’s barely been 10 years since social media hit the scene. The majority of my life, I didn’t use nor had any need for social media. I had many other forms of media and plenty of space to be social without the use of technology.

But there’s been a shift in how we use and react to social media.

We’re tethered to our devices. Perhaps you could say we are enslaved to them like the podcast episode, A Cellular Exodus, does. Most of us pick up our phones 6-7 times an hour with an average of over four hours using our phones. Our bodies now experience phantom vibrations falsely thinking we got a notification. We feel an underlying sense of anxiety when we forget our phones at home or if we don’t get an immediate reply to our post.

Places where we once went to people watch (airports or parks for instance) we only watch our phones. If you take a moment to notice, we are all looking down at our phones. At intermission of a theatrical performance, I attended recently, I looked around and the majority of people were looking at their phones. As I walk across the campus at work, most of our students are looking down. When going out to dinner, countless kids are sitting with their families watching an iPad as their parents talk.

Now that technology and social media has been out long enough, we are finally starting to the positive and negative impacts of if. Studies are now conclusively showing that the more people use social media, the less happy they are, the more anxious they are, and the more depressed they become.

Personally, I’ve been questioning the value of social media. Is the time spent on it worth it? Do it significantly add value to my life? Is it keeping me from being productive in any other area? Am I a better human because of it? Am I aware of how social media makes me feel while I am using it? Or am I caught in a trap of mindless scrolling and numbing liking and retweeting?

In the coming few posts, I’ll be sharing about my 40-day “Digitial Declutter” from all social media and optional technologies, how it has impacted my personal and professional life, and what changes I will be making in the weeks ahead.

Stay tuned for what’s next. And if you’re still using social media, go ahead and like, share, or retweet it.

Reconnecting Ligaments
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Do you know what makes me throw up a little in my mouth? Religious cliches.

Here’s one that gets my insides gurgling: “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship.”

Now, I realize some people love religious cliches. They can be a good mnemonic device or a way to understand complex theological themes. But for me, most religious cliches overly simplify the Profound and the Divine Mystery. Similar to metaphors they can be helpful at first, but they always break down.

For a season, I attended a very contemporary seeker-sensitive evangelical megachurch that loved this cliche. One sermon series was on the negative aspects of religion in comparison with the positive aspects of Christianity as a relationship.

I remember that the preacher translated and defined “religion” as bondage. He surmised that all “religious” Christians and other religions brought spiritual bondage, but true Christianity because it was a relationship instead of a religion, brought spiritual freedom. Religion, then, was a bunch of rules one had to obey. Christianity, though, was a relationship developed by love.

Of course, I get the sentiment of the above cliche. Christianity does promote a personal and knowable God, union with the Divine, and personal spiritual transformation. So, yes there’s a relational element to the Christian religion. Moreover, God is also relationship, as the doctrine of the Trinity teaches.

Additionally, I see that throughout Scripture there were religious leaders who followed the rules and the law but missed the relational opportunity with the Divine. They lived a religious life for the wrong reasons, following rules but missing God’s Presence.

But, all cliches breaks down. Christianity is a religion. At its worst, Christianity as a religion has put a lot of people in bondage; spiritually and emotionally. At its best, Christianity as a religion has connected people to the Divine. It is also relational. As are other religions.

Such a cliche is one way to think of religion. Recently, I was reminded of another way to think about religion.

I have been slowing working my way through Fr. Richard Rohr’s new book, The Universal Christ (Seriously, go buy this book. It is utterly profound, powerful, and a game changer in the way we understand the Christ). He notes that religion comes from religio, which means to re-ligament or reconnect. Isn’t the image of religion as reconnecting ligaments bloody, bodily, and powerful?

In the book, he describes the essential function of religion is to radically connect us with every thing and every one. Religion then, specifically the Christian religion, is to re-ligament or reconnect us, to the Divine. Additionally, Christianity helps us to be radically connected to all of creation, to other people, and to ourselves.

I love this view of religion. And maybe this is why Christianity is even more important today.

I don’t know if people in our culture feel as if they are in some sort of spiritual bondage and need to find freedom. I assume most won’t respond positively to religious cliches, tracts, and answers to questions they aren’t actually asking.

However, I do think many people in our culture crave personal and spiritual connection, desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves, are dissatisfied with the false promises of individualistic pursuits, want to experience the beauty of a healthy creation, and hope to be deeply known and loved no matter the risk.

For instance, we live in an age where we have countless devices, technologies, and platforms whose goal it is to connect and reconnect us with others. Studies are now showing, though, that the more time we spend on social media platforms, designed to ‘connect’ us, the more lonely, anxious, depressed, and unhappy we become. The tools designed to connect us have actually become barriers to developing deep relationships and a fulfilling life.

This is why I think Christianity is exactly what we need.

We need a tradition that radically reconnects and re-ligaments us to every one and every thing, as Fr. Rohr says.

We need a faith that connects us with the Divine, with each other, with creation, and with our very souls.

I guess you could say we really need a religion void of cliches but one that radically and mysteriously reconnects ligaments.

Nathan AlbertComment
Sundays When I Don't Feel It
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Some Sundays, I’m just not feeling it. Church that is. Mind you, not all Sundays, not most Sundays, but some.

I realize it might be odd, or even alarming, to read those words from a pastor, but it’s the truth. Some Sundays, I’m just not feeling it. My guess is, for many of you, some Sundays you’re not feeling it either. I think it’s good that we admit that. Sometimes, it’s nice to visit Bedside Baptist, Pillow Presbyterian, Under the Covers Unitarian, Church of the Bedsprings, or Snooze and Sleep Synagogue.

Some Sundays, I’d prefer to stay at home in my pajamas and enjoy one (ok, six) more cups of coffee. Some Sunday, I don’t feel as if I have words to pray or a song in my heart to sing or if God is going to be near. Some Sundays, I’m just not feeling it.

But, not feeling it has compelled me to love the liturgy.

At its essence, liturgy means ‘the work of the people.’ Some say it can mean both ‘worship’ and ‘service.’ Liturgy is also used to describe the guiding and organizing principles of a church’s worship gathering; the rituals and traditions within the service.

Some churches have a formal or traditional liturgy while others are informal or contemporary. For instance, the Episcopal and Catholic churches follow a formal liturgy, while usually,  non-denominational evangelical churches follow an informal liturgy. Every church, though, follows a liturgy.

At some point in my spiritual journey, even though I was raised in a church with a formal liturgy, I came to believe that such a liturgy was too rote, too formulaic, and too void of spiritual fervor. I settled in churches with an informal liturgy and stayed clear of formal church services. And, unfortunately, I came to believe such a liturgy was the better way to do church. I was wrong.

Recently, though, my family started attending an Episcopal church and the formal liturgy of its service has been beautifully refreshing. It’s been life-giving and soul-reviving.

We didn’t initially attend because we wanted a formal liturgy, though. We went because we wanted a church with a woman pastor, and in a city that boasts about 450 churches, there are only about six that are led by women, so that made our choice easier.

What we’ve discovered in this church is depth, beauty, richness, and mystery within the liturgy. What has become abundantly clear to me is that when I’m not feeling, it’s best to participate in the liturgy.

I have found the liturgy isn’t too rote, too formulaic, and too void of spiritual fervor. Instead, it is mysteriously mindful, refreshingly remarkable, richly spiritual, and deeply theological. The liturgy is exactly what I need when I’m not feeling it.

When I don’t feel it, I say the prayers of my ancestors, of those who have gone before me and recite the words Jesus instructed us to say; I affirm the ancient creeds, the foundation of my faith, and the truths on which I build my life; I confess my sins corporately and hear the absolution from the priest; I connect myself to the global church, to my sisters and brothers around the globe, as we recite the same words and prayers.

When I participate in the liturgy, I find these are the prayers, words, affirmations, and truths my soul has been longing to pray, voice, and affirm.

The liturgy moves me from not feeling it, to saying it, to affirming it, to believing it, and to living it. It forms me, molds me, and ultimately, transforms me. And the most mysterious thing about the liturgy is that we do not simply participate in the liturgy, we do not simply do the liturgy.

The liturgy is done to us. It is a tool that opens us up to the transforming presence of the Divine. I don’t know about you, but I need the liturgy, whether I’m feeling it or not.

Nathan AlbertComment
Live into New Ways of Thinking
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We don’t think ourselves into new ways of living. We live ourselves into new ways of thinking.
— -Fr. Richard Rohr

I love this quote from Fr. Richard Rohr, the Franciscan friar who founded the Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico. When I first read this sentence a few years ago, I quickly underlined it and wrote it down in my journal. Oddly enough, the quote made me think...in a new way and have come to see the truth behind his statement.

Reflecting on my own life experience, it does not seem that thinking, by itself, is strong enough a catalyst to bring me into new ways of living. Sure, I think I should work out more, but rarely has that gotten me off the couch. More often than not, I have found that I live myself into new ways of thinking.

For instance, living in Chicago, New York City, and London has brought new ways of thinking about the beauty of diversity, the importance of inclusion, the reality of gentrification and income inequality, and the importance of working for the common good.

Living with a family in the slums of Bangkok, Thailand allowed new thinking about Thai culture, the Buddhist religion, incredibly delicious Thai food, and my role and responsibility as a global citizen.

Living with stress has ushered me into new ways of thinking about the benefits of meditation, centering prayer, silence, and solitude for emotional health. Living face-to-face more often than face-to-phone has changed the way I think about needing to use social media and technology. Living into my strengths and successes have given me greater insight about, and graciousness with, my weaknesses and failures. Living and practicing new spiritual rhythms has given me new ways of thinking about the Divine.

Even though I’m a Northerner now living in Virginia, I have yet to live into new ways of thinking about the use of the word “Y'all” though. #sorryNOTsorry

My guess is that if you think over your life, there will be many instances where you lived yourself into a new way of thinking. One of the things I have seen while working in college ministry with young adults is the need for rhythms and practices that allow students to live into new ways of thinking.

Many students (and many of us) lack practices that allow them to respond to the fast-paced, technologically obsessed, and hectic culture in which they find themselves. Many of us are enslaved to our devices, never putting them away, always hoping for the next notification to arrive, and increasingly uncomfortable with being alone. In the fast-paced connected culture in which we live, we crave moments to slow down and disconnect, but simply do not have the resources, rhythms, knowledge, or experience to do so.

Sadly, I see many individuals lack practices of silence and solitude, centering prayer and meditation, and ancient contemplative spiritual practices that have proven to bring personal wholeness and well-being, emotional awareness, and spiritual health and transformation. This has been my journey over the last few years and also why I joined a Transforming Community with the Transforming Center.

One of the exciting projects I have the privilege of working on is a new opportunity for students to live into new ways of thinking through our campus’ Spiritual Wellness and Mindfulness Residential Learning Community.

In partnership with Residence Life, this community will allow students the opportunity to explore personal and spiritual rhythms that can decrease stress and anxiety, increase the ability to have a well-balanced life, learn self-care patterns, develop healthy technological and social media use, and experience communal support and accountability by peers and staff.

Through practices such as yoga, meditation, centering prayer, and other ancient spiritual rhythms, our hope is that students will live themselves into new ways of thinking about developing self-care, maintaining balance, increasing spiritual engagement, using technology, and discovering community and accountability.

I look forward to learning how these students will live themselves into new ways of thinking. And my hope is that we all continue to live ourselves into new ways of thinking for the benefit of our souls and for the good of our neighbors.

Nathan AlbertComment
"Our Voices are Joined Together"
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My son has a cute bedtime routine that includes praying for his train set and his baby brother as well as singing a song of his choice. For about two years, we sang “Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight.” Let me tell you, nothing makes you love a song more than singing it every day for two years. In the last few months, however, his repertoire has increased and now includes, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Feliz Navidad, Angels We Have Heard on High, Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, and the Doxology. Mind you, he doesn’t know all the lyrics to these songs, but he’ll sing along with great gusto.

We had some family visiting recently who joined us one night during this bedtime routine. When we got to the singing, he wanted to run through much of his repertoire. As we all were singing a Christmas carol, in February, he blurts out, “Wait. Stop. Our voices are joined together!” The look on his face was one of utter amazement and sheer enjoyment. It was as if it was the first time he realized that multiple voices singing together can make one voice.

Then after a dramatic pause, he lead us right back into the middle of the verse.

This moment reminded me of a podcast interview with Davin Youngs who is a voice teacher and creator of the Voxus Experience. In the interview, he cites a study in which researchers found that when a choir creates music by singing together, the heartbeat of each choir member syncs with one another. The act of singing and breathing together has the power to physically unite individuals. How crazy is that?

I think this is one reason why concerts can be so powerful, or spiritual even. I remember seeing my favorite musicians perform at the House of Blues in Boston. Afterward, the gentleman sitting next to me sat still staring at the stage as if he was stunned. Eventually, he turned to me and said, “I’m not a religious person, but that, that was a spiritual experience for me.”

And it’s true. There is something indescribable and mysterious about concerts. They can be artistically and spiritually rewarding experiences that do something to us at our soul level. As research shows, something happens to people as they gather, breathe together, and sing. Whether they know it or not, people are being physically united at their deepest level.

This is why I believe singing together in a church environment is so powerful and important for those who follow the Christian tradition. Our coming together, breathing together, and singing together can unite us at a deep level. Our hearts can literally sync. We are united physically and spiritually in ways we can’t do on our own.

Outside of those moments in church, there is much that will divide us; race, class, and gender, for instance. We are often divided by age and ability. Sometimes our own anxiety, loneliness, or stress levels hinder us from being with people. Increasingly, we are much more face-to-phone than we are face-to-face. And, if we’re truly honest, I think our hearts actually crave being synced with other hearts more than it craves a ‘like’ or ‘follow.’

There, in that congregation, we are vulnerable with one another. We breathe together. We sing together. We recite the truths of our faith. And in response to such vulnerability, something mysterious occurs. Our voices begin to be one. Physically, our hearts begin to beat together. Spiritually, our souls begin to be together. What once had the power to keep us separated is no more and at our deepest levels, we are united. A mystery created by the Ultimate Mystery.

And for those of us who believe that when we gather together the Divine Spirit is present in our midst, it is one of the ways we live and move and have our being. It is one of the ways we are present to the One always present to us, united to the Breath (ruach or pneuma for you Hebrew and Greek fans) that is as close to our very breath, and one with the One God of our faith.

Profound. Beautiful. Mysterious.

“Wait. Stop. Our voices are joined together!” My son’s declaration was just the beginning. So too are our hearts and souls.

Nathan AlbertComment
Good One, God.
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I was recently reminded of a time a handful of years ago while living in New York City, my best friend and I went to see the Body Exhibit. If you don’t know, the Body Exhibit is a touring museum exhibit in which cadavers have been put through a polymer process that turns them into a sort of plastic mannequin.

These bodies are out in open, displayed in a variety poses. You can stand inches away from them and view all the intricacies of the human body; veins, tissues, blood vessels, and more. Some of the polymered bodies have no flesh, some are just muscles. In some sections, all that remains are the blood vessels or the nervous system. And other bodies are fully dissected laid out to view in detail.

Some people love that sort of thing. Then, there’s me.

I had to give myself a little pep talk before entering the exhibit. I had all these thoughts racing through my head. I started playing the ‘what if’ game. Do you know that game? What if I throw up in there? What if I faint in there?

And of course, the ‘what if’ game always spirals out of control: What if I throw up in there? What if I faint in there? What if the bodies come back to life? What if a random nervous system starts chasing me? What if the bodies come back to life, start attacking me, making me throw up and faint? AH!

No joke, there were multiple times while looking at bodies that I made sure to casually lean against a wall, you know - playing it cool- but also using that wall as my contingency plan in case I was going to blackout.

So, here we are going around this exhibit and my best buddy, Jeff and I were standing in front of this polymered plasticized fleshless body. I was trying not to be grossed out. Jeff, on the other hand, starts whispering: “Good One, God.”

He was bouncing around that place like a kid at Disneyland, body after body, exhibit after exhibit, “Good One, God. Oh, Good One.” He’d look at me with the ‘Isn’t this amazing?’ smile. I looked back at him with the ‘I might pass out, this is weird, I’m gonna fake it like I’m loving it’ smile.

But slowly, perhaps because I was under Jeff’s influence, I started to see the exhibits in a new way. I moved from looking at creepy polymered bodies who would attack me, to seeing the beauty of humanity and witnessing the miracle of creation. Body after Body, creation after creation, Good One, Oh, Good One, God.

Then, by the time we left, since my mind was full of meditating on a miraculous creation, everything around me I saw in a new light. We walked out of that museum to the streets of New York and everything made me say, “Good One.” The sky, people, sunlight, trees, parking spots, pigeons, traffic, the trash on the streets. Good One. Good One, God.

This trip to the Body Exhibit taught me a couple of simple truths:

First, it taught me that prayer is simple and to pray simply. The novelist Anne Lammot entitled one of her books, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. For her, simple words (help, thanks, wow) are profound prayers. And that day in the museum, “Good One” became a simple prayer that had a profound impact on how I looked at the world.

Second, it taught me to see humanity as walking miracles. In the exhibit, I moved from fearing bodies to standing in awe of them.

In a day and age when it is so easy to dehumanize people, when we fear strangers rather than view them as our neighbor, and when race or class or gender or politics or religion become barriers that divide us rather than unite us, and when entire people groups feel as if their lives do not matter, I think it’s time we remember that humanity is much more majestic than we have been trained to think.

In fact, I’ve come to believe by seeing humanity we can see a glimpse of the Divine. I’ve come to believe that when I look upon humanity, I can see the Divine’s fingerprint everywhere. I love Fr. Richard Rohr’s definition of a Christian: “to see Christ in every one and every thing.” This experienced allowed me to see the Christ in every one and truly every thing.

So, regardless of where you find yourself on the spiritual journey, perhaps you’re devout or simply burnt out, perhaps you’re looking for something new or holding onto the roots of your tradition, or perhaps the religious life is no longer for you…

May you remember the spiritual life is profoundly simple and simply profound; it’s mysterious and often includes paradoxes. The spiritual life is easier than we think. And so is prayer. Good one, God. Help. Thanks. Wow. Simple words that are a profound avenue to connect our souls with the Divine.

May you remember that every human you see today is more majestic and miraculous than you realize. Each of us is a walking masterpiece; a one of a kind creation.

And may we all, at some point today, be able to pause, look around our lives, stand in awe, and simply pray, “Good one, God.”

My Reasons for Eating Only Plants
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Three years ago, my wife and I decided to be vegan and maintain a plant-based diet. Prior to that, I technically was a ‘pescatarian,’ but would often call myself a ‘flexitarian.’ Sometimes I’d eat meat, others times I wouldn’t. Prior to that, though, I was like a professional meat eater. My personal food pyramid was all meat with an apple here or there . After reading a lot of books, articles, and documentaries as well as consulting with friends who are vegan, we decided it was imperative for us to make a change to our diet.

As I have tried to formulate the reasons why I maintain a plant-based diet, I thought it would be good to share them for others who might be interested. I have found people get quite passionate about what other people should or should not eat, which is understandable. Changing the way one eats, changes one’s life style and that is not an easy change. I’m not writing to convince you to become vegan, I only want to share my journey and answer some of the questions I often get.

Maintaining a plant-based diet is a lot easier than we had expected once we retrained our brains to look at ingredient labels and question exactly what was in our food. And, being vegan does not mean we only eat cardboard. We eat good, I must say, we simply do not eat any animal products (meat, fish, dairy). And, we eat plenty of protein, in case you were wondering. For someone who has little self-control with donuts, m&m’s, and all sorts of other sweets (gummy bears have animal product in them I’ve learned), being vegan has become a built in self-control method for me.

I have settled on four main reasons why I became vegan. They are health, environmental, ethical, and spiritual. Although I’ll introduce each below, this won’t be a long post. There are countless resources out there to help answer your questions, this is simply my sort of elevator speech.

HEALTH

My doctor suggested that in the coming years I would probably need to get on high cholesterol medicine since it runs in my family and mine was always borderline concerning. My total cholesterol was usually over 260. After being vegan for three months, I was retested and my cholesterol dropped to 205. Some vegans have cholesterol lower than 75 because they are not putting any cholesterol into their bodies.

The World Health Organization has recently classified processed meats as carcinogenic. There are also studies that show a plant-based diet can reverse cancer growth and heart disease, eliminate autoimmune diseases, lower cholesterol, and more. I strongly recommend the book The China Study. It blew my mind. After reading it, I went vegan cold turkey (odd pun, now isn’t it).

ENVIRONMENTAL

I’ve come to believe that it is impossible to care for our environment without caring for what and how we eat. The pollution from the industrial food production in our country, such as raising cattle for instance, out pollutes all cars, trains, boats, trucks, and airplanes...combined. The waste from the animal industry poisons communities, waterways, and more, while the amount of water used to raise one cattle to maturity is staggering.

Sure, I turn the lights off, walk or bike when able, compost, and recycle, but maintaining a plant-based diet is, by far, the greatest way to currently care for the environment and decrease one’s carbon footprint.

ETHICAL

There are also ethical reasons why I decided to become vegan. This is the gross part, but we all must face it or we simply chose to be willfully ignorant. We currently raise and slaughter over 10,000,000,000 animals each year; that's ten billion. This doesn’t include fish and sea animals that are caught through industrial fishing methods, such as bottom trawling that uses nets as big as a 747 aircraft to catch anything and everything. Most chickens, cattle, turkeys, and pigs are caged in CAFOs, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, where they endure horrific living conditions. They are also pumped with countless chemicals and antibiotics, which are then transferred to us as we consume them.

The way we slaughter animals is anything but humane, ethical, or sanitary. Many animals are still alive or conscious as they are put in scalding baths and butchered. Sadly, fish and sea creatures are unable to adjust to the water pressure as they surface because nets are drawn up so quickly. There are even reports of the negative impact on the emotional and mental well-being of those individuals who work in these environments. Horrific, yes. Google it and read more at your own risk.

We also have enough land to grow ample amounts of food so every living person can have enough to eat. Instead, the majority of our crop is fed to the billions of animals that we then eat. We’ve turned raising and eating animals into an industry; a beautiful creation into a commodity.

SPIRITUAL

When I think over the reality of our current food industry, things aren’t right. They are not working as they should. For so long, I chose to be willfully ignorant and maintained an ethical slumber because I knew I would have to make a change. When I think about all of these reasons, what I eat and how I care for creation becomes a spiritual issue. It is one way I can honor and care for all of creation; humans, nature, and animals. It is one way I can live out my spiritual life to be a co-creator and co-laborer with the Divine. And it is one way in which I must live a life counter to the culture.

I’ll confess, though, I will still kill that disgusting looking spider in my bathroom...I’m not perfect, but am working on it.

RESOURCES

If you’re looking to learn more, I recommend the following books and documentaries.

Books: The China Study, Eating Animals, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows, Slaughterhouse, The Food Revolution, Animal Liberation, How Not to Die

Documentaries: Food, Inc; Forks Over Knives; Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead; What the Health; Cowspiracy, Dominion

A Break to Declutter
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This past December during the season of Advent, which celebrates the Divine becoming flesh or incarnate, I also wanted to be more incarnate in life. I desired to be present with family, friends, and the world around me. So, I took a break from social media. I deleted all social media apps from my phone and blocked a lot of websites on my laptop.

Although it was brief, it was a good few weeks. I didn’t experience too much FOMO. I think I used my phone a lot less. I felt more productive and less distracted. I was bored more often, which I think was good for my brain. I was more present with my wife and sons. I was still able to keep in touch with my friends and loved ones. The world didn’t end and I didn’t miss out on too many things.

This break gave me some time to consider how I want to continue to use social media. During the ‘fast,’ I decided to regularly do this throughout the year. Initially, I planned a similar break during Advent, Lent, and a month over the summer. This would allow me to be free from social media for a third of the year. Not bad, I thought.

Then, I started reading books like Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism, Jaron Lanier’s, 10 Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, Andrew Sullivan’s article, I Used to be a Human Being: An endless bombardment of news and gossip and images has rendered us manic information addicts. It broke me. It might break you, too, Catherine Price’s How to Break Up with Your Phone, and a few articles on New York Times here and here, among others.

And, now things are all messed up.

Now it seems imperative that I should quit social media entirely, but also seems impossible to do so. It’s only been 10 years. I know life without social media. I was there before Friendster, even.

So why do I feel as if it’s essential to my life? Is it actually essential to my life?

Some questions I have been asking are: What is my reason for being on social media and is that truly a reason to be on social media? Is trying to get a few additional ‘likes’ or build my platform really worth the hours I spend online? How much of my time and attention is needed to earn a small profit of occasional social media connections? What value is regularly checking social media bringing to my life?

I’ve also been paying attention to how social media makes me feel as I use them. Usually, Facebook makes me angry or completely numb as I scroll unaware, Twitter makes me frustrated, and Instagram’s regular advertisements annoy me.

To figure all this out, I am using Lent to go through a Digital Declutter based off of the challenge Cal Newport gives in his book. I’ll be deleting all optional technology from my phone, which includes all social media, news, email, shopping, etc. My phone will be a ‘dumbphone’ that sends texts, makes calls, plays music and podcasts, and gives directions when needed. I’ll be blocking similar websites on my laptop using BlockSite. All my future blog posts have already been scheduled. This should limit my time online while not hindering my responsibilities at work.

Hopefully, using my phone and social media less will mean that I can be more productive and focused and less distracted and anxious. Hopefully, I’ll experience plenty of leisure activities, such as playing my guitar, going for walks, journaling and writing more frequently, and even discovering a new hobby or two.

More than anything, I want to be face-to-face with people, not face-to-phone around people.

At the end of the Digital Declutter, Newport suggests adding back only those apps or websites that actually add value to your life. So, who knows where I will find myself after this process and what I’ll be deleting or adding back into my life. My guess is I’ll probably delete Facebook, but may keep Instagram. I think this will be more than a detox, it will be a declutter that will allow me a more focused and fulfilled life.

On Being an Ecumenical: Part 3
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In the first part of this series, I introduced you to my new noun, Ecumenical. In last week’s post, I shared a bit more about this definition. Today, I want to share ways in which you, too, can live as an Ecumenical.

Living as an Ecumenical means acknowledging and appreciating every facet of the whole diamond, which is the Christian Church, rather than thinking that the unpolished part needs to be removed or only one facet ever gleans the brightest. It means going back to the mystery that is found in our faith and creeds.

Being an Ecumenical means valuing the richness and uniqueness of each tradition within our Tradition. It means we acknowledge that there won’t always be unanimity, but we’re ok with that because we know that unity does not require uniformity. It means we remember and live as if we are a family. As the scriptures remind us, just as an ear can’t say to the eye ‘I have no need for you,’ we in one tradition can’t say to another, ‘I have no need for you.’ Instead, we work to be together trusting that we are more than our specific and particular tradition.

When you’re an Ecumenical, you can honor, respect, and even practice spiritual rhythms from the whole Christian Church. I believe this because my spiritual life has flourished as I’ve started incorporating spiritual rhythms from the diversity of the Christian tradition.

For instance, I worship with Gospel music, do the daily office or fixed hour prayer with the Episcopal Church's Book of Common Prayer, pray through the use of icons similar to the Orthodox church, try to spend 10-20 minutes a day in centering prayer and meditation as practiced by many Catholic individuals, study sermons like a good Evangelical but also think Communion, or the Eucharist, is a better sermon than the best preacher could ever preach, and I read as many authors who are not from my tradition as possible.

So, what I’m really saying is that if you’re thinking of planting a church that plays a lot of Kirk Franklin and Fred Hammond, follows the Episcopal liturgy, does weekly communion, and has a bunch of icons in the sanctuary...do it. That would give me so much life. I’d tithe you all my money.

Being an Ecumenical also means practicing justice, fighting racism, dismantling white supremacy, creating equitable spaces, renouncing war and violence, overcoming poverty, protecting and caring for all of creation, pursuing spiritual, emotional, and physical health, building a greater understanding of our neighbors, and partnering with other faiths and organizations who are doing similar work rather than competing with or combating them.

And for goodness sake, being an Ecumenical means we’ve got to stop fighting, and bickering, and blaming, and belittling other Christians who may think differently from us. It means having the humility and the gracious freedom to realize that we don’t have the whole faith tradition figured out and that maybe we are wrong about a few things here and there and that just because someone thinks differently does not mean this person is a heretic.

And, being an Ecumenical means trusting that God has been, and still is, on the move, making all things new and that God continues to be up to something good in our world. As Ecumenicals, we’ve got to get on board and keep up with the movement of Spirit.

Imagine if we lived like this. Imagine if we lived as Ecumenicals. Would it bring you hope? Would it speak deeply to your soul? Would you want to be a part of something like that? Honestly, I think it would. And truthfully, I think I’m all in.

See, I’ve fallen in love, not with one particular church, but with the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

I stand in awe not only of my tradition, but of our Tradition.

I want to practice the faith with not only a few Christians, but with the depth of Christianity.

I affirm one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

And I believe that when we do this together, in unity, then all people will know God is love.

So, perhaps I’m not an Evangelical. But, I am an Ecumenical. I hope you’ll join me.