The Squishy Stage

A Little Bit Less

My wife and I have done our fair share of child raising. We currently own the rights to 4 boys that were created by us and, by extension, are now being raised by us. So what I’m about to say next might (to the un-parental ears, especially) sound a bit harsh, but I’m declaring that I’ve earned enough cred to say it anyways.

Our youngest son, Huck, is at that age (or, more accurately, “developmental stage”) where we like him again.

You see, generally speaking (and every parent is different, for sure), newborns pop out and are so adorable, smell so good, and the miracle of life is still so fresh in the air, that you can’t help BUT like the little wrinkle ball. However, as they grow bigger, and your sleeping chart grows smaller, you slowly start to like them a little. bit. less.

It isn’t only the sleep deprivation, however.

It’s how they consume all of what used to be called “your life.” All the things you normally did, at a normal pace, have been forever altered or eliminated entirely.

And, mind you, I’m just the Daddy speaking. All of this gets amplified in our situation when you’re the Mommy, and you’re breastfeeding. Seriously.

Nonetheless what ends up happening is, even though you absolutely adore and love your little tiny human, you find yourself just not liking them as much.

But then…

Oh then…

They hit the SQUISHY STAGE.

The Squishy Stage

It may go by a different name in your household, but for us we call it The Squishy Stage. And this is the stage where you find yourself, almost on a daily basis, wanting to just reach down and snatch your little bundle of cuddleliciousness and squish the beejeezus out of them.

And you find yourself liking your child again, thanks to their newfound squishiness.

They are cute. And cuddly.

And squishy.

When Jae (our 3rd son) reached this stage, he just adopted it as one of his many names. We would routinely call him Squish, Squishy, or, my personal favorite, Squish Bucket.

The most magical part of the Squishy Stage is their cheeks.
Their cheeks just radiate with squeezable sweetness.

You hold them and you squish them.
You kiss them and you smush your nose in to them.

It’s beautiful.

The Down Side

However there’s something surprisingly frustrating with the Squishy Stage.

It’s kind of like how you can see a photograph, or a painting, of a gorgeous landscape. Truly breathtaking in its ability to capture the beauty found in nature. And yet, even after staring at it and appreciating it as much as you can, you ultimately find yourself just not quite satisfied. And you think, “if only I could see the REAL thing.”

Or, it’s kind of like when you have a cold, and it’s one of those colds that completely knocks out your sniffer. And you can’t taste ANYthing. But you sit down to this amazing meal and stick a fork full of what you KNOW is really, really good food… but you just can’t taste it. It’s just not satisfying.

During the Squishy Stage, when you’re pressing your cheek firmly against the radiating squeeziness of your child’s cheek, there is this sense that you just

can’t

get

close

enough.

It’s as though that chamber in your heart, reserved for the exponentially expanding quantity of love required to raise littles, is bursting at the seams, but your smashing proximity to your littles’ cheeks just still isn’t enough.

I wonder if that’s why, according to the late Maurice Sendak, the Wild Things said to Max, “we’ll eat you up, we love you so!”

Screen Shot 2014-01-07 at January 7, 12.06 PM

Because when you just can’t get close enough cheek-to-cheek the only other option appears to be to consume them entirely. That’s the only way to get closer.

Do you know what I’m talking about?

This sense that there are moments with a loved one where you just can’t get close enough to truly satisfy the demands of your love-exploding heart?

That’s what the Squishy Stage does to me.

Closer

This past Sunday at church we sang “Closer” by Steffany Frizzell. And for me this song gives a voice to that ache in our soul when we just can’t get close enough.

Your love has ravished my heart
And taken me over, taken me over

And all I want is to be
With you forever, with you forever

So pull me a little closer
Take me a little deeper
I want to know your heart
I want to know your heart

‘Cause your love is so much sweeter
Than anything I’ve tasted
I want to know your heart
I want to know your heart

Honestly, I don’t really know what “closeness” to God looks like. Or, for that matter, feels like.

Sometimes I think I “feel” close.
Other times it feels like there is great distance between me and the Divine.

And some days (I’ve had a lot of them lately) I feel like I want… no, I NEED, God to pull me a little closer.

I want to find some sort of connection with my God that satisfies. That is enough. That is good.

I want to know God’s heart, and to feel known by God.

My hunch is this: as much as right now Huck is in the Squishy Stage, and I just can’t seem to get close enough to him, I get the feeling that this is how God ALWAYS feels towards me. That God’s heart is always expanding and exploding with a love that constantly wants to pick me up and squeeze me, hold me, squish me.

I may be wrong.
But I think I’m right on this.

So if you have a little one, or a loved one, and today you give them a squeeze and think to yourself, “I’d eat them up, I love them so,” then just remember: that’s how God feels about you.

You are loved.

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Christmas as a Pastor

Christmas was a couple weeks ago.
I’m sure you knew that.

In our house it meant things like decorating cookies (or, more precisely, decorating the table… since that’s where MOST of the sprinkles end up), getting a tree that is small enough to sit on top of a table (out of reach of the two year old) but large enough to sustain our decorations, and bouncing back and forth between Kate’s Pandora station (Indie Holidays) and mine (Christmas Standards). It meant things like finding out which neighborhoods around here are the best for looking at lights, wondering if this would finally be the year when Dad (that’s me) would hang some lights on our house (it wasn’t), and scrolling Netflix to see if they’ve added any new Christmas movies (not so much). It meant things like almond roca from Kate’s grandma, taking uber advantage of Amazon Prime’s free 2-day shipping, and brand new Christmas jammies for the whole family.

We love Christmastime in our house. It’s a special time of the year.

Of course, right alongside that, since I’m a Pastor, it also meant…

Two weeks straight of being gone almost every night, getting ready for a big Christmas production. Nights of Christmas fun being missed out on because of late night church-meetings. And having to be here, on Christmas Eve, almost all day and night, to put on our Christmas Eve Services.

Now, lest you read that previous paragraph and mistake it for complaining (which it wasn’t), I’m not complaining. Seriously. I love what I do, and I love doing what I do during the Holiday Season.

But, as every Pastor Family knows, holidays just look different most of the time. In large part it comes with the job, and my wife and I have navigated those waters well over these past 10 years.

And yet, each time this past season that I started to feel a bit curmudgeon-y about Church and Christmas, I was reminded how much my family and I are loved by our faith community.

For instance, this year people in our church blessed our family with:

-Tickets to LegoLand
-Gift cards for new clothes
-Movie Passes
-Extra holiday cash
-Wine and other festive drinks (Thank you Adahber!)
-More holiday cash
-Encouraging notes at just the right time
-More holiday cash
-And more

For a family of 6, in Southern California, living off of one salary, it can be daunting going in to the Christmas Season. Thinking about gifts, and Santa, and stockings. But every year (and THIS year, especially) Kate and I are gobbled up in to the loving embrace of a church family that understands just how far a little bit of material-love can go at Christmas time.

And so this Christmas we got to spoil our kids with far more gifts than we normally would. Kate and I got to have fun shopping for each other when normally it’s an afterthought (or not at all). All because people in our church, multiple people from multiple cross sections of the church, at different times and in different ways, reached out and loved on us.

I’m not sure, exactly, what the point of this post is.

Other than to say this:

Dear Missiongathering Family, from the bottom of Kate and mine’s hearts, we say THANK YOU for your gifts this year. They blessed us more than you could know. And we needed it, more than you could know.

Being a Pastor at Christmas can be hard sometimes.
But I wouldn’t change it for anything. Because it is in the CHURCH where often times we can most witness the God-who-is-with-us: Emmanuel.

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The Boys with New Toys

What are Prayings for?

The other night I was tucking our oldest two in to bed and I said, “okay boys, lets say our prayer.”*

To which Tai replied,

Dad, what are prayings for?

Setting aside a moment in my brain to chuckle at the word “prayings,” I am struck by the maturity of this question. One which I’ve essentially been asking for about the past 10 years. And since I have yet to come up with a good answer, I decided to go Socratic on my son.

That’s a good question, Tai. Why do YOU think people pray?

He pauses, but only for a beat, before answering my question,

So they can keep on living for a few more days?

Brilliant.

That might be the best answer to what “prayings” are for that I’ve ever heard.

I said,

That’s a great idea, Tai. I’ll bet lots of people pray so that they can keep living for just a couple more days. Why else do you think people pray?

Almost immediately,

To make peace with God?

Yup.

So, in summary, I have discovered that my 10 years of searching for the point of “prayings” could have been avoided had I only asked my 7 year old.

We pray so that we can survive.
Keep on living.
Keep on making it another day.

And we pray so that we can find peace with the Divine.
Make and maintain a connection with God.
Be reminded of Peace.

I love it.

What about you?
What do YOU think prayings are for?

- – - – - – - – - – -

*The Prayer that we pray with our boys at bedtime is a modification of the Lord’s Prayer that my wife wrote several years ago. It goes as follows:

Our Father (or Mother, we alternate) in Heaven, you are good.
Your way is perfect.
Let your way be done on earth just as like in Heaven.
Please give us all we need to live each day.
Forgive us when we hurt you
And help us to always forgive others when they hurt us.
Keep us close to goodness, mercy, and love, always.
Your Kingdom is Forever.
Amen.

One of the most challenging things ever is…

One of the most challenging things ever is…

Parenting in public.

Yup.
There.
I said it.

And at this moment, all the people who just read that, and who are themselves currently a parent (especially a parent of a toddler) just nodded their heads in agreement.

Parenting your toddlers in public is one of the more challenging things in life. It is almost guaranteed to be a lose-lose situation the moment something goes awry.

Sure, if your kids are having an exceptionally (and for many, rare) well-behaved day, then you just go on about your day.
But the minute you’re out in public and:

- the candy aisle seduces your three year old, or
- her brother took away her stuffed animal, or
- nap time was missed, or
- only God knows why, but they’ve got that look in their eyes

Then watch out.
Because you’re about to be “that” parent, with “that” kid.

And there’s not a thing you can do about it.

Yes, we’ve all been there. But the challenging thing is this: how do you respond?

And in a flash you run through the scenarios: do I come in quick and stern, and try and squash this tantrum before it begins? Well, if I do that, people will think I’m harsh and overbearing, and my kids must be terrified of me on a daily basis. Do I take the calm and patient route, and speak in soft, soothing tones in an attempt to diffuse the situation? Well, if I do that, people will think I’m weak and spoil my kids, and I need to hand-out some discipline every once in a while. Do I choose the speak-to-them-like-an-adult route, and try to reason with them… not too firm, but not too soft… just a steady dose of “reason.” Well, if you do that, chances are people will think you’re being irrational for trying to reason with a screaming child, and they’ll wish you’d either shut them up or give them a hug.

It’s hard. It truly is.

I think we’d all like to convince ourselves that we DON’T think about these things.
That we don’t let how others think of us affect how we parent our kids.

But it’s simply not true.

And it’s not just in public places either. Have you ever been over to a friends house who also has kids, and either A) your kid does something naughty, or throws a toy, or puts their kid in a headlock, or just screams for no reason? or B) THEIR kid puts YOUR kid in a headlock, or steals their toy, or starts acting all cray cray. And again you go in to this crazy mental game of “how the hell do I handle this situation?!” And you start judging THEIR kid, only to realize that in all actuality you just got lucky this time that it wasn’t your kid.

And you watch how other people parent their kids, and you start making assumptions like: if they would just do more/less of “this,” then surely their kids would do more/less of “that.”

But of course, in your more sane moments, you realize that anyone could say the same thing about you.

Public parenting is hard.

And people who have never been parents just simply can’t understand. (sidenote: I realize that comments like that can really bother single people or non-parents. And I get it. But you just have to trust me on this one).

But it’s not just non-parents who often don’t understand, it’s also people who USED to be parents of toddlers and are now all grown up. How often have I felt the judgemental stares of older people, as though THEY were never THAT parent, or THEIR kid was never THAT kid!!!

Not a chance.

Anyways, I love being a dad. More than most things. And our 4 boys are absolutely incredible. (And, in my opinion, really well behaved… most of the time)

But nothing gets my anxiety-muscles flexing quite like trying to navigate those difficult parenting moments in public.

So if you’re out and about and you witness a meltdown by a toddler, do me a favor: cut the parent some slack. It happens to the best of us, and it doesn’t mean we’re awful parents or they are awful kids.

And if you’re a parent of a toddler and you find yourself in that next moment of dealing with a meltdown of your toddler, do me a favor: cut yourself some slack. Doesn’t matter how you handle it, really, because you’ll like get haters on both sides. Just be true to who you are and how you want to raise your kids. And know that parents-of-toddlers around the world are standing with you.

You’re not alone.

Parenting in public is hard.

From Taize to Taieze: What’s in a Name? (Specifically, My Son’s)

colby tai 1

Origin of a Name

Today is Tai’s 7th birthday.
Tai is our second oldest son, and he is truly a unique and remarkable kid.

His full name is Taieze Alexander Martin.

That’s pronounced “ty – ez,” and it’s derived from the name Taizé (prononced: “tay – zay”).

Taizé is a faith community (a monastery, really) up in the hills of France that is centered on service to the poor, worship, and above all, working towards peace.

It was founded in the early 1940′s as a place where refugees from the war could go for safety, food, and to find reconciliation (including German soldiers, whom society wanted nothing to do with). And since then it has functioned as a place of prayer and service, a beacon of peace to the world.

The brothers of Taizé (sadly, no sisters… yet) take no money and accept no donations. But they travel around the world, meeting with world leaders and religious leaders, to pray and talk peace.

Thousands of young people go on pilgrimages to Taizé every year, staying there for weeks to simply serve (mandatory when you stay there: you’re assigned a job, a role…. no one stays “for free”), pray and worship. They truly find themselves there. (watch this video to see what I mean)

Taizé has, over the years, also developed its own style of music and worship, and this was how Kate and I were first introduced to Taizé.

We were living in Salem, OR at the time, and I saw an advertisement for a Taizé service that was being held at a local Episcopal church. When I started to look in to Taizé, what it was and what it meant, I pronounced the word incorrectly: I pronounced it, “ty – ez.”

Several months later Kate gave birth to our second son. And, not being overly keen on conventional names, we remembered the word (and the mis-pronunciation) of Taizé. So we decided that we would name our son Taieze (ty-ez), the word/name I originally had thought belonged to this faith community in France. Of course, it’s a made up word/name, so we invented a spelling that made sense to us, and we knew that we’d end up calling him “Tai” most of the time.

Brother Roger, who founded Taizé in the early 40′s, was shot and killed 7 years ago during an evening prayer time by a pathological woman. In 2010, the community held a 70th anniversary pilgrimage, and the current Prior of Taizé, Brother Alois, said the following about Brother Roger during a prayer:

He sought earnestly to live in [God's] trust and to express [God's] infinite kindness for every human being, whether a believer or a nonbeliever—you, the living God, who do not condemn, who exclude no one from your love. In this trust, you enabled him to find the source of joy and peace: peace of heart that made him a creator of peace among humans.

So Tai is named after a faith community in France who’s primary mission was and is to promote peace.

Living in to a Name

The other day I was listening to a Freakonomics podcast, and this particular episode was called “How Much Does Your Name Matter?” It gives some interesting data to suggest how the names we give our kids can impact their lives growing up, and how it also says something about the parents who give the names.

One thing that Kate and I have noticed over the years is how Tai has, in an almost freakish way, lived in to his namesake.

Tai is all about peace.

In our house we frame things around “making peace.” (We were inspired by this book called The Peace Book by Todd Parr. If you’re a parent, we can’t recommend Todd Parr’s books enough!) In The Peace Book, Todd talks about all sorts of things that are “peace.”

For instance,

  • Peace is making new friends
  • Peace is saying you’re sorry when you hurt someone
  • Peace is reading all different kinds of books
  • Peace is thinking about someone you love
  • Peace is giving shoes to someone who needs them
  • Peace is planting a tree and sharing a meal

And so on…

Essentially it gives a beautiful picture of how simple, everyday acts, can work towards wholeness, health, and peace.

So in our house, if the boys are fighting with one another, we ask each other, “are you making peace?”

Or we’ll simply shout from the other room, “boys, make peace!” (There’s something odd about SHOUTING for people to MAKE PEACE… oh well)

And Tai has really, really latched on to this concept. He has become an incredible little peace-maker. Something about this idea of making peace just, I don’t know, makes sense to him in a way unique to Tai. Family members and friends who have gotten close to us have remarked how much of a peace-maker Tai is, and it’s always fun to follow that up with the story of his name.

Fifteen Years Down the Road

One of the things that I’m sure sociologists will be studying in the years to come is the relationship between the current generation of people who blog and post things on the internet, with the people/children about whom such things are posted. In other words, when my son(s) are old enough and/or interested enough to Google their name, there’s a good chance it might take them to this blog post. And what an interesting dynamic that will be…

But anyways, Tai, if you are reading this sometime in the future, here’s what I want you to know:

Your mom and I are so incredibly blessed to have you in our lives, in our family. You bring something unique to this world, and everyone who meets you knows it. When you were 6, you used to ask us, “what’s the point of us being here? Why are we alive?” And the only way I knew how to answer you was to say, “there is only one Tai Tai (sidenote: if this is truly 15 years in the future, and your mom and dad are still calling you Tai Tai, well, just deal with it…), there is only one Tai Tai, and if you were not in this world, then this world could not be complete. The world needs you, son. And THAT is why you are here, why you are alive.”

And Tai, if there’s one thing I know, it’s that the world needs more peace.

For that to happen, the world needs more peace-makers.

Jesus once said, “blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the children of God.”

Tai, that is you.
You exhibit, in a truly unique way, what it looks like to be a child of God.
What it looks like to reflect the divine.

I pray you always find yourself to be about the pursuit of peace.

Happy birthday, little buddy.

colby tai 4

The Penny Maker

“Grab my hand, we’re heading to the parking lot,” I said to Tai, my 6 year old son, as we were leaving Chipotle on Sunday.

Perhaps some 6 year olds don’t need hand holding in parking lots, but then again, some 6 year olds probably live in this world.

Tai? Not so much. He spends most of his waking hours in his own world. His own reality. He gets that from his mother (Growing up, Kate was often compared to Belle in Beauty and the Beast, specifically the scene where she wanders through the town square completely oblivious to the world going on around her).

So we often have to take special care to make sure that someone is looking out for Tai, cause he’s generally not bothering to look out for himself. Because everything (and everyone) in Tai-land is good and safe.

Three steps in to the parking lot Tai stops. Pulls his little hand out from my grip, bends over and, with his long hair blowing in the wind, proceeds to pick up a shiny penny from off the pavement. He wipes it off, inspects it, and cheerfully puts it in his pocket. Thrilled that he’s now one cent richer than his brother, I’m sure.

Grabbing my hand again we continue our trek to the van. Stepping out of Tai-land for a minute, he asks, “Dad, where do pennies come from?”

Not really knowing the answer, but also not wanting to let my son know just quite yet that Daddy doesn’t know everything, I say, “from a factory.”

Without skipping a beat, he asks back, “And then somebody takes the pennies and puts them all around the world for people to find and pick up?”

I don’t even try to hide the smile that instantly comes to my face. I look at him as he hops in the van, “yeah buddy, something like that.”

And that’s Tai for you.

Finding a penny in the middle of a parking lot is likely enough to make this “the BEST DAY EVER!” A phrase he is fond of using. But it’s not just the joy at finding a penny on the ground, it’s the completely sensical rationale behind finding that penny that truly makes Tai special.

This penny, which probably doesn’t mean much to most of the world, was specifically and strategically placed here, in this parking lot, just so that I could find it.

Placed here, with love and care, by The Penny Maker.

I couldn’t agree more, Tai.
And no one deserves that penny more than you do.

Keep your eye open today. Perhaps The Penny Maker has laid one out for you, too.

One Year Ago: DADT was Repealed (oh, and I was Fired)

1 Year Anniversary of DADT Repeal

One year ago today the controversial policy known as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was officially repealed, thus allowing openly gay servicemembers to, well, serve!

Last year when it was repealed I was thrilled. This “law” was a particularly disgusting form of discrimination that left a gross black eye on “freedom and democracy” espousing America. How our country managed to pull this off is beyond me, but even more frightening is why we pulled it off. Why would we make such a policy that asks men and women to give their lives for defending this country, and to serve with honor and integrity… but not really. Be honest, but not really. Have integrity, but only sort of. And don’t let us catch you being gay, or acting gay, or even HINTING at anything gay, or we’ll kick you out immediately.

Abhorrent.

Anyways, those days are behind us, praise God. And to absolutely no one’s surprise the Pentagon recently said that the repeal has gone smoothly with no adverse affect on morale, unit cohesion, recruitment or military readiness. All things the supporters of DADT warned us would deteriorate should we allow openly gay people to serve.

Further, here’s the conclusion from a 43 page study report called “One Year Out: An Assessment of DADT Repeal’s Impact on Military Readiness” prepared by the prestigious Palm Center, a branch of the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law:

Our conclusion, based on all of the evidence available to us, is that DADT repeal has had no overall negative impact on military readiness or its component dimensions, including cohesion, recruitment, retention, assaults, harassment or morale. Although we identified a few downsides that followed from the policy change, we identified upsides as well, and in no case did negative consequences outweigh benefits. If anything, DADT repeal appears to have enhanced the military’s ability to pursue its mission.

Again, this really doesn’t surprise anyone who doesn’t buy in to the fear mongering that can come from some of the homophobic conservative right.

I Was Asked. I Told. Then I Was Fired.

This also marks the one year anniversary of when I was fired from my previous church, The Grove, in Chandler, AZ.

In a nutshell, here’s the gist of what happened.

On Sept 20th, 2011, DADT was repealed. That night I put a link to an article on my Facebook page that announced its repealing. The article didn’t argue for or against homosexuality, it had nothing to do with any gay agenda. It was an innocuous, objective announcement about DADT being repealed. Attached to the link I wrote, “Glad this day finally came.” For me, DADT was always about discrimination. However, it turns out that for many people at The Grove, DADT was NOT a form of discrimination, but ONLY a declaration of being “pro homosexuality” and “actively promoting the gay agenda.” Anyways, I went to bed after posting the link and evidently overnight it amassed quite the ugliness in the comment section from people at my church. Some people were even calling for my job, or threatening to leave the church, because of my post. I got to work the next morning and was asked to take it down by my boss. So I did. Figuring that was the end of it, I was surprised that night to learn that the Chair of the Elder Board was calling for an emergency board meeting for Friday morning to deal with me and with what happened. At that meeting I was forced to tell the entire Elder Board my position on Homosexuality. Now, keep in mind, The Grove has no official position (or unofficial, for that matter) on this issue. I was never asked about it when I was hired, nor during the 5 years of my employment. We never talked about it as a church, it was never preached on. But I had to tell these men my thoughts on this issue. Something I’d only previously shared with my wife and with two of our dear friends. Not even my family knew. So, after sharing with the Board my position on sexuality (and sharing briefly about my journey in how I arrived at that conviction, and how I understood the Bible on the issue), and after imploring them to consider how I’d served them faithfully and in love for 5 years, they asked me to not come to church that Sunday, nor return to the office until they figured out what to do. I was called in the following Tuesday, just one week after it all started, and was fired.

I’ve written a bit about that story already, herehere and here. But overall I have avoided the subject. I have not been, and am not still, interested in publicly bashing or criticizing my former church and its leadership. I don’t want to stir up trouble and be divisive (contrary to what some may think :)

And The Truth Shall Set You Free

This past year has allowed LGBTQ folk to, for the first time, serve their country with ALL of themselves. They have been given the freedom and the dignity to be honest about who they are with their fellow servicemembers and it has resulted in more authentic relationships and a military community that can now walk the walk of integrity.

Open gays and lesbians alike have discovered a newfound freedom in their ability to live out truth in the arena they hold most dear.

Similarly, this past year has allowed ME to, for the first time, serve the Church will ALL of myself. I have the freedom to be honest about what I believe regarding sexuality and faith. About the heart of God towards all God’s children. About what the Way of Jesus looks like and doesn’t look like. And about what I believe the Bible says and does not say about homosexuality and other more “liberal” (gasp!) issues. And it has resulted in more authentic relationships in my life as well as a more fuller sense of dignity and integrity for me.

I have discovered a newfound freedom in my ability to live out truth in the arena I hold most dear.

From The Grove to Missiongathering

I have been the Pastor of Worship and Arts at Missiongathering Christian Church in San Diego for just over four months now, and it has been thrilling to do ministry with these folks. I love being here, my wife loves being here, my kids love being here. I feel for the first time that I can truly be me, and if you’ve ever been a pastor or been in the ministry then you KNOW what a gift that is. It’s a gift that I don’t think too many pastors have. It’s a gift I do not want to take for granted.

My time at The Grove was amazing. It was an incredible 5 years of growth, maturation, and spiritual transformation for me. I really became a Pastor while at The Grove. I met awesome people and made lifetime friends. Truly I believe God did some phenomenal things through me and to me while I served there.

But it always felt a bit lacking for me because I had to hide much of who I was. I couldn’t be open and share my doubts about things, or my beliefs on some issues. I lived in constant fear of being “found out” by some of the more conservative families in the church who took it upon themselves to monitor me (especially my Facebook world).

So in some ways I suppose I am grateful that I was fired from The Grove over my theological position on homosexuality, for out of it God has brought me to a place that is a much better fit.

For those of you who don’t know, here is the (brief) rundown of what happened after I was fired and how I wound up at Missiongathering.

  • Sept 20th, 2011: Posted on FB about DADT Repeal
  • Sept 27th: Fired from The Grove
  • Sept 28th: Had coffee with Worship Pastor friend from another church in Chandler. After hearing what happened to me, he said, “you should connect with an old buddy of mine named Alex Roller. He is openly gay and is a pastor at a church in San Diego called Missiongathering.”
  • Sept 29th: Received a Facebook message from an old friend who also happens to be the daughter of one of the Board Members who fired me. In it she said, “I’m wondering if you’d like me to connect you with someone I know. He’s on the Board of Invisible Children, where I work, and he is openly gay and pastors a church in San Diego called Missiongathering.”  (At this point, I probably should have seen the writing on the wall, right?! But I didn’t reply to her and ask to connect with Rich until 12 days after this.)
  • Oct 11th: Received an email from Rich McCullen, Lead Pastor at Missiongathering, who had been told of my plight via the aforementioned friend. In it he offered to bring me and my family out to SD the following week for a conference they were hosting called Soularize.
  • Oct 14th: The infamous John Shore blog blew up. I anonymously emailed a part of my story, about being fired, to progressive blogger John Shore. With my permission he published my story, completely anonymously, wherein I share about how I was fired over my position on homosexuality. I received incredible support from John and his readers, who all were a great source of encouragement to me and my wife during some very hard times. However, at the end of my story, John added some of his own commentary, using quite the colorful language (as is his way ;) saying not the most flattering things about the leaders at The Grove. [sidenote: the current version of the blog, as I linked to above, is the 3rd revision of his comments. His first version was the most, well, colorful. Then when I emailed him and asked him if he could be, well, less colorful, he edited it. And then about a month afterwards I noticed that he went back and did sort of a hybrid of version one and two]. This blog post went viral and somehow landed in the laptops of Grove leaders. For reasons unknown to me I was accused of being the one to say the negative things about the church and its leaders. Which, if you read it, you can clearly see was not the case. As a result, I was immediately threatened with having my severance package revoked, as well as other consequences. These were dark, dark days.
  • Oct 18th: Drove out to San Diego to meet Rich and attend Soularize.
  • Oct 19th: My family and I had lunch with Rich at Chevy’s. After the second basket of chips and salsa arrived, Rich turns to me and says, “Okay, so tell me, what will it take to get you to come out and join us at Missiongathering?” Me: “What?! You just met me yesterday, I was just fired 3 weeks ago, and you’re offering me a JOB?!” Rich: “I’ve read your blog, watched your music videos, listened to your sermons… and I just have a sense about this. I believe God wants you in San Diego.”
  • Oct 20th: We leave San Diego with two new friends, Rich and Alex, who also happen to be our first gay friends ever. We also leave committing to keep the lines of communication open on the possibility of moving to San Diego.
  • Nov 2nd: Life in AZ became unbearable as lies were told, misinformation abounded, and people just generally didn’t leave us alone. So, after filling the moving truck and piling up the mini van, we hopped on the road and moved back to Oregon.
  • Early Dec: Rich and I kept in touch, semi-sort-of moving the conversation forward about moving to SD. However, my wife was feeling pretty adamant that we were not moving away from Oregon again. We wanted to be with family. We wanted to be back in Oregon. Kate said, “if Missiongathering were here in Oregon then I’d say LET’S DO IT in a heartbeat!”
  • Dec 21st: Huck Brenneman Martin was born. Best. Day. Ever.
  • Jan 1st: I shaved my Depression Beard and began looking for a job. A non-church job, specifically.
  • Feb 1st: One month down, lots of good interviews and leads, but zero jobs. Also, this is the last month of our severance package. After February we had to live off of our tax returns.
  • Feb 12th: Receive a random Voicemail from James Leinhard, Executive Director at Missiongathering. After introducing himself, he leaves a message asking if we were still considering moving to San Diego and joining Missiongathering. At this point, Rich and I hadn’t spoken in weeks. And also, Kate and I hadn’t talked about it in over two months, because I knew how she felt about it. I forgot to call him back… so…
  • Feb 14th: I get a text from Rich that says, “Call James back, or our friendship is over ;)” I laugh, turn to Kate, and show her the text. She says, “who is James? And what did he call about?” I mention the voicemail and how I needed to call him back and tell him they can take me off their list because we were staying in Oregon. She says back, “well hold on, don’t make that call yet…” *cue record scratching* She continues by saying that she had had several sleeplessness nights as of late, thinking about Missiongathering and Rich and San Diego. Thinking about how I couldn’t find a job, and how even if I did get a job it would be a non-pastor job. And that thought was really bumming both of us out. We talked all afternoon about “what if San Diego.” Finally, we decided that if we were going to say “no,” then it had to be the best educated “no.” So I called James back and asked if they would fly us down for a weekend so we could meet people, visit the church, check things out, and see if there was any possibility there.
  • March 11th: We visit Missiongathering Christian Church and I guest-lead worship on Sunday morning.
  • March 12th: We know, without a shadow of a doubt, that Missiongathering is the right place for us. It turns out there DOES exist a church where they are “conservative” in regards to a commitment to Jesus, worship, church and the Bible, but “progressive” in regards to sexuality, social issues, justice, love, mercy, etc. It is a crazy unheard of blend of the two. And it is the exact same strange mix that I am made up of. Not only that, but the people are amazing. The Elders are wonderful. The staff was truly a blessing. We couldn’t imagine a better person to work for and with than Rich. We had found our new home.
  • March 2oth: Reality sets in as we learn how much it costs for a family of 6 to live in Southern California. The church had no money in the budget for us, so they had to go about trying to raise the funds to hire us. We almost thought it wasn’t going to happen.
  • March 21st: Kate and I decide that making decisions based solely on money sucks. We weren’t going to pass up the opportunity to join MG just because of money. So, we commit to figuring out a way, and we officially accept the job!
  • May 4th: Seven and a half months after being fired we roll in to Sunny San Diego, happy to be home. Excited for a new adventure. Thrilled to be living out the Kingdom of God.

Things I Want People to Know

If you’re still reading this then let me end by offering a few thoughts that I hope people who were involved in my story over this past year will take the time to listen to.

  1. I still love and miss many people from The Grove – I know that my sudden removal made it very difficult and awkward for pretty much everybody, and as a result it didn’t allow for any sort of goodbyes or affirmations of love. But I still value and cherish many of the friendships I made in my 5 years there. Perhaps they won’t ever be the same because I know many of you supported my firing and agreed that my theological position on homosexuality was sufficient grounds for letting me go. And I know that others of you have been given bad information about me and about what happened, causing you to perhaps distance yourself from me or not care about reaching out. Nonetheless, my inbox is always open should anyone ever want to ask any questions or engage in any dialogue.
  2. I am sorry for the hurt and confusion I caused – I knew I was an outsider at The Grove, but for years I did my best to try and fit in. To try and find common ground and do ministry out of that place. But I realize that I didn’t always succeed in that, and there were times when I stepped in to territory that was not safe for me to step in. This caused people to get angry, nervous, scared, and hurt. And I’m sorry for that. I never meant to affect people in this way. It is in my nature to at times play devil’s advocate, or to stir up discussion, or to throw out things that make people stop and think twice. And I was not more sensitive to my environment on several occasions. Certainly I never meant to be divisive, but I realized that simply being myself was in and of itself a divisive reality, because certain ideas and beliefs I had (about much more than just homosexuality) were feared and unwanted.
  3. I did not reject a “Plan of Restoration” – From the moment I was fired Kate and I decided to try our best to take the Path of Peace. We didn’t do it perfectly, of course, but we knew that one major piece of that path would be to NOT put our story out there. To not try and rally support, or argue whatever “story” the church decided to put out. We moved forward deciding that we would only tell people what happened if they came and asked us personally. It was hard, for sure, especially when the misinformation started to abound. The thing that probably hurt the most was when I found out that people at the church (many of whom were my closest friends) were told that I was offered a Plan of Restoration from the Church Leadership, one that could have resulted in my staying on as a Pastor at The Grove, but that I refused to accept it. And this simply did not happen. I was never offered the Plan. I was asked on the Sunday night of that week if I would be willing to listen to a Plan of Restoration (which would have involved things like apologizing to people, not leading from the platform for a while, possibly meeting with a Bible Professor on this issue, etc) and I told them yes. I would be willing to hear that out. Two days later, on Tuesday, I was called to the church for a meeting that I was told would involve the Board laying out for me the Plan of Restoration that they came up with. However, when I got to church that afternoon, there was no meeting. Instead it was my termination. At the time it didn’t seem to matter much that they never offered any such Plan. They went a different route entirely, that of letting me go. Which is fine. But to then find out that some went on to tell people that I rejected a Plan (that I was never even given) was completely demoralizing. So, if you’re reading this and that was the impression you’ve been under for this past year, that I was too stubborn or unwilling to submit to authority, then you’ve been given bad information. I am sorry.
  4. I wish The Grove, and the people in it, well – There is still so much about The Grove that I love and believe in. They are doing incredible things for God’s Kingdom. It breaks my heart that the leadership is so adamantly opposed to all things gay, but that doesn’t make them bad people. Just good people with bad theology. And I’m not angry or mad at those who fired me, I’m angry at the theological system that forces people to make such moves. They are entrenched in a system that fears diversity of thought, that isn’t open to different interpretations on issues like this, and that believes in “protecting” the people from false teachers like myself (though I clearly never talked about this issue, let alone taught about it!). I am excited for their next phase in their Building Campaign. I’m excited for the work they do in Africa and Haiti and Mexico, and in their own backyard communities. It does sadden me that so many people still attend The Grove who know what happened to me, and who feel just as strongly about homosexuality, but I understand it. I understand how there isn’t really any other church like The Grove in that area. And so I get it that people who, after initially leaving The Grove because of the church leadership’s anti-gay stance, have now returned. It’s hard for me, but I get it. It’s a good church filled with good people. (sidenote: if you’re at The Grove and you’re reading this and you’re looking for another church, one that is more open and loving towards all people, then I strongly recommend Jacob’s Well. Check it out).

One Year Down, One to Go

Over the past year I’ve spoken with many people about what happened to me at The Grove. How I was treated. The heartache. The disappointment. The breaking of trust and relationships. And almost every time I share it with someone who has walked a similar journey they tell me, “it takes at least two years before you really start to fully heal and move on.”

I thought that seemed like a really long time. But now, after having made it through year one, I’ll be thrilled if I only have one more year of this!

It’s crazy how what happened to me last year still has power over me. Sometimes in ways I least expect it. I find myself scared to speak up here at church, for fear that I’ll be outcast again. I find myself insecure when I disagree with another pastor about something, for fear that they’ll no longer like me or respect my opinion. And though I feel completely safe to share all my beliefs, even if they’re a tad crazy, I still do so with great hesitancy.

But make no mistake about it, I could not ask for a better place to serve, pastor, and work through my healing than at Missiongathering. And I couldn’t ask for a better group of fellow staff people to help me get back on my feet than Rich, Alex, James and Jill. Kate and I are in a good, very good place, where we are loved, valued, and accepted just as we are.

Go ahead, ask me about it.

I’ll gladly tell.

Alex, Rich, and I in North Carolina

James, Huck and I at Fall Retreat

When in San Diego, act like a San Diegan

Our lil’ family in the group shop for Fall Retreat

Gay Balloons and Star Wars Legos

INFLATING A GAY BALLOON

(This is Part I of a three part series addressing the question, “Why do I talk about homosexuality so much?)

My first response to the question of “why I talk about this issue so much” has to do with a simple matter of physics. If you bottle something up for long enough, and it builds and builds with no release valve, the moment you open the valve there’s going to be a significant release of that built up pressure.

Like blowing up a balloon, you fill and fill and blow with air, inflating the balloon to massive proportions. Three possible end scenarios await you: either you keep blowing and it explodes, or you tie it off and it maintains, or you let go of the valve and the balloon flutters and sputters through the room as all the air is released.

Well, the issue of homosexuality has been blowing air in to my theological balloon for many years now. But I have been pastoring in a context where there was no release valve for the things I was thinking through, wrestling with, and discovering. I had no space to let that air out, but the journey Christ was taking me on continued to inflate the balloon anyways. My only option was to find a way to tie it off and keep the air trapped.

So I carried this balloon around for years.

Occasionally adding more air IN, but never letting any air  OUT.

That all changed back in September of 2011 when the leadership at my church discovered I even HAD a gay balloon! When they learned what was inside that balloon, well, as you know by now, I was fired. Meaning, I no longer had to keep the balloon tied up.

Thankfully it never exploded, but boy was it getting full!

However, once I was freed from the anti-gay-balloon faith community I had been serving for 5 years, I slowly untied the knot at the end of my balloon. And, as physics would have it, the built-up air immediately started pouring out.

So why do I talk about this issue so much?

Because I haven’t been in a safe environment to do so until fairly recently. It is only natural, then, that things that have been floating around in my heart and head for years, and are now finally able to be expressed, would logically take up a good portion of the hot air streaming from my mouth (or, flowing through my fingers, if you will).

To not expect that this would happen is to not fully understand my history. And most of you don’t fully know my history, and that’s okay. But now maybe you can appreciate the very practical reason why I talk about these issues so much.

Because of the gay balloon.

STAR WARS LEGOS

Have you ever been passionate about something?

Passion is what happens when you have that emotive force that compels you towards something. You have very strong feelings about something. You have a lively eagerness and intense interest. Passion moves you, it shakes you. It can wreck you and save you all at once.

Sometimes it’s a physical passion. For instance, you can be passionate towards your spouse, partner, significant other. You dream about them, long for them, want to be with and around them.

Other times it can be non-physical passions. George Bernard Shaw declares these the mightiest of all, superior to physical passion: intellectual passion, mathematical passion, passion for discovery and exploration.

Or, it can be Star Wars Legos.

My eldest son, Zeke, is obsessed with Star Wars Legos.

The Playstation video game.
T-shirts.
The actual Lego figures and sets.

But most of all, he is obssessed with a Star Wars Lego Book. For within the pages of this book one can discover every single Star Wars Lego set ever created. What year it came out. What film it goes with. How many pieces it is made up of. The size and scale of it. The backstory of the character or vehicle or environment. It is the end-all be-all for all things Star Wars Legos.

And Zeke, one might say, has discovered a PASSION.

Well guess what… so have I.

As it turns out, once the air started being let out of the balloon, I quickly discovered that I am passionate (or, it’s probably more accurate to say, God placed this passion in me) about the following things:

  • Understanding the Bible as it relates to homosexuality
  • Exploring how the church has treated the LGBTQ community
  • Learning what it even means to be gay
  • Standing in solidarity with those who have been marginalized, ostracized, demonized, and many other “ized”
  • Speaking in to the lives of LGBTQ Christians and affirming them that they are loved, wanted, accepted and valued. That not all Christians think alike.
  • Discovering the vast complexities of the “Gay Agenda,” and how society is currently trying to navigate through Equal Rights issues.

When you are passionate about something you tend to invest energies in TO that something. Perhaps you even redirect energies that were flowing in to other things in your life. That’s what passion does. It drives. Consumes. Compels. Energizes. Excites.

We all are passionate about something. Many of us are passionate about many things. And throughout life our passions change, evolve, disappear and emerge.

Zeke reads all sorts of books, all the time.
But his go-to book right now? Star Wars Legos.

Zeke used to be passionate about other things (Thomas the Train, Cars, drawing monsters, etc), and certainly in life he’ll develop other passions.

But right now, it’s Star Wars Legos.

I have many different passions in life. And like all people, during some seasons I am more passionate about one thing than I am others (you would have loved my years of being passionate about all things Lord of the Rings. It was awesome.)

During this season of my life I have found myself following these passions, and trying to be faithful to what I believe Jesus has been placing on my heart and in my mind.

So I’ll start off by saying: Why am I so focused on this issue?

Quite simply because practically speaking I haven’t been able to. So now that I can, well, I have a lot to say! And also because I’ve discovered it’s a passion that God has placed in my heart. And what we are passionate about is generally what we talk about, think about, read about, and write about.

But what about Jesus?

Part II will address the question, “why focus on homosexuality? Why not just focus on Jesus?”

What about you? Have you ever NOT talked about something for a long period of time and then discovered that once you finally did or could that that was ALL you talked about? Or, what is it that YOU are passionate about right now? If you have a blog (or could start a blog) what would the majority of your posts be about?

Stop Acting Your Age

On Sunday I preached from Matthew 18:1-4

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2 He called a little child, whom he placed among them.
3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
4Therefore, whoever takes a humble place–becoming like this child–is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

I talked about such questions as:

  • Why did the disciples ask this question?
  • Why did Jesus choose a child to illustrate his point?
  • What does it mean to ‘enter the Kingdom of Heaven?’
  • How can we become like children?
  • Who then IS the greatest in the Kingdom?

You can read the manuscript here.

Or to download the .mp3, go here.

To stream it, well, just click the play button below.


4th of July: Beach, Fireworks, and When Lying to Your Kids Backfires

Yesterday, for July 4th, we took the kids up to La Jolla to hike around Scripps Coastal Reserve. We all loved watching hang-gliders casually float through the air right before our eyes. Kate and I pushed back envy as we surveyed the incredible houses lining the shore. The boys loved pushing the boundaries on how far out they could go on the cliffs before being reprimanded. It was a great time to get in a little nature, learn more about San Diego wildlife, and do something together as a family. Oh, and Huck thought the hiking backpack was the greatest thing in the world!

Then we made our way down to the beach where there are some really great tide pools. Kate finds never ending wonder in touching sea anemones and watching them close up. In that way, Zeke was just like mom. Tai however, much more like dad, “you want me to touch WHAT?!” Jae is still working through his love/hate relationship with the beach. Just the mention of the word at home fills him with giddy excitement, as he runs around yelling “we go to da beeech! Da beeech!” And yet, once we actually arrive at the sandy shores, he terrifyingly leaps in to my arms and refuses to be put down. Not on rocks. Not on sand. And absolutely not in the water.

Kate and the boys jumping rocks and searching for sea creatures

By the Pier

Returning home for dinner (some homemade chili over baked potatoes.. yum!), we all relaxed a bit and made our plans to walk a half mile west towards Bird Park, where there would be prime visibility to watch San Diego’s Big Bay Boom. A nationally famous firework show that gets set off from five floating barges spread throughout the bay. Kate’s love for fireworks has been passed on to especially Zeke, but all the boys were excitedly anticipating watching this show of epic proportions.

So, pushing two strollers filled with kids and blankets and carrying two camping chairs, we set out at 8:15 to make our way to the park. Once we arrived we realized just how popular this spot was for watching the show, but we luckily found an open patch of grass to set up our area. There were food trucks and family parties, outdoor games and people dancing. Many folks just all having a great time eating, drinking, (some smoking weed… I think Kate got second-hand high), and waiting for the fireworks show to start at 9pm.

Waiting anxiously for the SHOW that would never come.

Zeke kept asking about every two minutes, “what time is it now!?” … “is it 9 o’clock yet?!” The kid was silly excited. As was Tai. As was Kate. Even Jae couldn’t stop talking about the “color booms!” (an apropos euphemism, I think).

And then, at about five minutes till, we see in the distance a huge firey mess light up the sky. Coming from four of the five locations, what appeared to be a jumble of fireworks all sort of mashed together at one time. There appeared a brilliant display of fireworks that lasted all of ten seconds and then stopped. Followed by a very loud “boom!”

I’ve been to a few shows in my lifetime to know that it’s not uncommon to set off a few warning shots to let the crowd know it’s about to start. Akin to flickering the lights at a broadway show.

So now everyone has found their seats and the excitement in the air at Bird Park is palpable.

The kids are wrapped in a blanket and Jae keeps yelling and pointing, “color boom! color boom!”

Another minute goes by… nothing.

Two more minutes… nothing.

9 o’clock comes… then goes… nothing.

At about 9:10, Zeke asks me what’s going on. “Any minute now it’ll start. Just hold on.” My exterior confidence betrays my interior musings… it’s unusual for an event of this magnitude to be this delayed…

At about 9:20, Zeke’s patience is all but gone. “Daddy, what’s going on?!”

“I don’t know, buddy,” I admit, “let me call the Firework Marshal and find out.” (Cause everyone knows there exists a Firework Marshal for this sort of thing).

I should say that I am totally cool with “lying” to your kids. I use the word “lie” kind of loosely, and regrettably. It sounds so harsh… I prefer, “stretch-the-imagination-of.”

At this point I should also tell you that, for the most part, my almost-8-year-old sees through pretty much all of my attempts at being ridiculous. He rarely will copy the funny things I ask him to repeat, or buy in to my suggestions that we just skip eating for the day when he asks for a snack, or give me two giant eye rolls if I try and convince him of anything that contradicts what he might have read in a book or a National Geographic. Despite Kate and mine’s best attempts to keep the wonder in our children, (and trust me, there is still a lot of wonder in Zeke’s mind), he still is demonstrating a remarkable resilience to the goofiness and truth-stretchings of Daddy.

For some reason, though, on this occasion, it seemed 100% normal that dad would have the cell number for the Firework Marshal, and also have the relational context to just call him up minutes after his expansive show was supposed to go off.

I couldn’t tell if:

A) Zeke thinks so highly of me that, well, of COURSE his daddy would know the Firework Marshal. He’s awesome.

B) At this point, he was so tired of waiting, and at 9:30 at night his defenses were down so he didn’t have the energy to question me.

C) In his world, the Firework Marshal is somebody that anybody can just call up. So it’s completely normal.

For what it’s worth, I chose to (and still choose to), believe it was A.

Anyways, so I grab my phone and pretend to call the Firework Marshal. When he “answers,” I create a conversation that leads Zeke and Tai to believe that I’m talking to the Marshal and he is explaining to me that they couldn’t find the matches to light the fireworks so they are waiting for someone to run to Walmart and get some.

And this explanation makes complete sense to the boys, and they are totally satisfied. They turn back around and commence their waiting, confident that the show would start as soon as someone gets the Firework Marshal some damn matches!

I put my phone away and smile to myself, feeling a bit proud that I actually pulled this one off.

And then, not two minutes after the “phone call,” a lady comes walking towards us with her blankets all folded up and her kids in tow.

“There won’t be any show,” she says, holding her smart phone out in front of her. “The news is reporting that all the fireworks went off a one time. No one was hurt, but there are no fireworks left and the show is cancelled.”

All fireworks going off at once.

Kate and I turn to each other in horror… no fireworks show… ah crap.

I quickly get in to beat-the-crowd-mode and start folding the blankets and taking the chairs down, barking out orders to start to filing out.

Meanwhile, Zeke’s emotional cup spilleth over. Buckets of tears laced with disappointment streamed down his face as the realization sunk in that there would be no fireworks. No color booms. No showers of sparks to fill the sky and capture the wonder and awe of this almost-8 year old’s soul.

Kate tried to comfort him, but little helped. He was crushed.

About 5 minutes in to our long walk home, feeling defeated and bummed, Zeke’s mind evidently was trying to reconcile what just happened with what his daddy told him only moments before. As I’m pushing Jae’s stroller across the broken sidewalks, Zeke turns to me with confusion and asks, “But daddy, I thought you called the Firework Marshal and he said they just needed some matches??”

Ugh…

Those are the moments that, as a parent, you question the value in “lying” to your children.

I had no answer. I think I just mumbled something like, “I know buddy… I’m sorry…” and then changed the subject.

One moment I was feeling great, thinking I’d bought our family some precious time in the patience-game by convincing my kids I had the Firework Marshal on speed dial.
The next moment I was confronted with the fact that the stories we tell our children don’t always work in our favor.

That being said, yesterday was a great first 4th of July for our family here in San Diego. I recorded a firework show on TV last night, so maybe Zeke, Tai and Jae will enjoy watching the color-booms in High Def. And then again, maybe not.

But I do know this: if for some reason the show didn’t record last night, I don’t plan on “calling the Dish Network Manager to find out what happened.”

(Here’s a video of the FireWORK show)