Unity vs. Holiness – Jason Brown

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 12.07.39 PMI was listening to a podcast of N.T. Wright this past year. He said something along these lines, “It’s very difficult for a community to be holy and unified at the same time.” At least that’s the way I heard it.

Regardless of precisely what he said, this is the thing I continued to think about. Yep. It’s hard to have holiness and unity at the same time. I’m sure the force of the quote could be diminished by deconstructing the words or playing with their definition – figuring out a way to make them work together seamlessly.

When I talk with younger folks in the church (I’m 43), I get the feeling their primary value is unity. It makes sense to me. You can make a reasonably strong Biblical case for the primacy of unity (Jesus’s prayer at the end that we would be one, and the Hebrew vision of Shalom, for example). But, I think it’s also a response to something they feel: everyone is always fighting, everyone is just so angry with each other.

Perhaps you could call it a hunger. Their experience of so many loud voices, with so many resources to do their campaigning, so angry with everyone else, always dramatically slamming their fist on the table moments before leaving it – well, it leaves one hungry for something different.

I think this hunger for something different is a hunger for unity. If they were forced to choose between unity and holiness, they’d pick unity. Immediately. Why? To my younger friends, all these competing views of holiness – both secular and sacred – just create anger, hatred, tribalism, judgment, and ultimately, separation.

And, right or wrong, their understanding of Jesus is that if he were forced to choose, he’d pick unity over holiness as well.

The more thoughtful ones admit the need for holiness, which might be defined as a commitment to a set of values. But, the only models they have for working out a commitment to holiness lead to division. The sense I get is that they want to call a timeout – could we all just agree to hold our definition of holiness loosely for a day, a week, heck maybe even a year. Long enough to catch our breath, pray, talk when the stakes aren’t so high.

Perhaps spend some time at the table together, eating bread and drinking wine alongside the guy who, as unfathomable as it is, invited all of us there.

Kids Camp 2015 – Bill White


We’ve been having THE BEST time at Kids Camp this week. Over 100 kids have come, and 90% of them are from the neighborhood/school where we worship. There’s been lots of laughter, some needed tears, great praying, and some good conversations. Most of all, the love of Jesus has been on display all around. Enjoy some pictures!

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A Personal Conversation about the Supreme Court Decision – Bill White

My friend Barbara and I disagree on a number of things. We see religion very differently, for example. And I suspect we’ve got a some differences about economics and politics as well. But we’re neighbors, and she matters to me. And I think I matter to her.

Barbara has been very grateful for the recent Supreme Court decision about gay marriage, in part because she’s been with her partner Maureen for 18 years. She has posted about her support of the Supreme Court decision on Facebook and has been dismayed by some of the hateful rhetoric she’s received.

Recently she mades some posts on Facebook in light of the pain she’s experienced. After reading her post below I decided to respond.   With Barbara’s permission (and Mary’s), I’d like to share the conversation.  I’m grateful for these neighbors and these conversations.

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A Question I Never Would Have Asked – Jason Brown

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 10.50.15 AMAs a young boy, Richard Feynman would take walks in Queens with his dad, a wagon and a ball. One day, he noticed that when he pulled the wagon, the ball rolled to the back of it. So, he asked a question I never would have, “Dad, why does the ball go to the back of the wagon?”

“That’s inertia.”

“Dad, what’s inertia?”

“Ah, inertia is the name that scientists give to the phenomenon of the ball going to the back of the wagon, but, in truth, nobody really knows.”

Feynman went on to earn degrees at MIT and Princeton. He worked on the Manhattan Project and solved the Challenger disaster. He won the Nobel Prize in physics for his contributions to the development of quantum electrodynamics. You might be familiar with Feynman Diagrams which describe pictorially the mathematical expressions governing the behavior of subatomic particles. In 1999 he was named one of the 10 greatest physicists of all times.

Feynman said it was the conversation he had as a young boy with his father about a ball rolling to the back of a wagon that gave him the sense that the simplest questions could carry one to the edge of human knowledge. It set the trajectory of his life: confining himself to asking and answering the simple questions.

The renowned Harvard biologist, Louis Agassiz once quipped, “I spent the summer traveling . . . and made it half-way across my backyard.”

So, here’s what I read this morning. It’s a snippet of a lecture Jesus gave. I’m not sure what the simple question is (let me know if you have any ideas), but here is his answer:

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you . . . love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you.”

There are more complex, less crucial questions I’m tempted to focus on as a follower of Jesus. Mostly ones that demand a great deal of others, but little of me.

I’m thinking it would be better to be like Feynman and Agassiz and spend my life traveling widely, exploring the limits of what Jesus said in these few sentences.

Glad — Jason Brown

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 1.39.42 PMThat’s John and Chris with me. I meet with them every week. They’re part of a year-long spiritual growth program at the Long Beach Rescue Mission.

Today I asked them what they liked about Jesus. They weren’t sure how to answer the question. So, I said, here’s what I mean and rehearsed one of the stories from the life of Jesus that means a lot to me and makes me like him.

Awkward silence. Yep, I had bored them to death. Chris – I’m convinced he’s actually Jack Black – was just staring out the window, unblinking.

Well, that didn’t go how I planned.

Then, he opens his mouth, still staring out the window like he’s describing something he’s watching. “I like that part when Jesus is in that guy’s house, what’s his name? Simon something.”

I said, “Simon, the Pharisee,”

“Yeah, him. When he’s in that guy’s house and this woman comes in and she’s like bawling and she sits down at Jesus’s feet and she cleans them with her tears and hair and everyone’s like, ‘If you knew how dirty she was you wouldn’t let her do that,’ and Jesus said, ‘Simon, you were the one who invited me here and you didn’t even wash my feet or greet me with a kiss,’ and then he said to her, ‘Your faith has made you clean, go in peace.’”

Chris continued, “I love that. She was clean. Just like that. Clean.” He was shaking his head, eyes bright, a flicker of a grin,


Why God Gave Me Teenagers – Bill White


My son’s first driving lesson. He’s loving it.

Right now my wife and I have the, um, privilege, of parenting a 14 year old girl and a 15 year-old boy. It’s been quite the journey (and really a ton of fun). Recently I’ve suspected God did this to us because he wanted to teach me how to pastor. Sure, there may be more reasons than that why God gave me teenagers, but I think learning how to pastor is a big one.

A few years ago, knowing we were on the cusp of having a teenager, our wise friend Audra, who is a physician, sent us along some parenting advice. I’ve reread it any number of times. I just want to highlight two of the lines in it.

Key advice #1:“The ultimate goal of parenting the adolescent is to work yourself out of a job.”

There are a lot of other things I tend to think are my ultimate goal when it comes to raising teenagers. They mostly center around my kids agreeing with everything I say and doing everything I say. (Can I get an “Amen!” somebody?)

But as my friend’s advice went on to say next, “When parenting young children, the parent is in control.” And you can do the math on what’s next. I’m not solely in control anymore. And that’s actually a good thing, because how can my kids ten years from now know how to handle money responsibly and make good moral decisions if I never give them any space to do so now? I won’t be hovering over them then – so I’ve got to start figuring out how to stop hovering so much now and instead to train them to do things themselves. As the parenting advice said, I need to work myself out of a job, which is really hard.

As a pastor, that’s the story of my life. A part of me just wants to go around playing God and telling people what to do all the time, with my ultimate goal being to have my congregation agree with everything I say and do everything I say.  Fortunately most of the time I suppress this side of me (I worry sometimes about how it seems like this really is the goal of some pastors). But my real goal is actually to work myself out of a job. My goal is to see people at City Church learn how to feed themselves spiritually, how to lead others, and how to engage the world without me holding their hand. The first century Christian, Paul, puts it this way: to present everyone mature in Christ.

Teaching my son to drive is a living hell parable for me these days. I could only tell him so much before I actually had to surrender the driver’s seat to him. One of the things we’ve discovered is that screaming at him from the passenger’s seat is ineffective both at insuring safety as well as at building closeness. Talking with him from the seat next to his seems far more helpful, with perhaps the occasional shriek allowed for emergencies. And that’s about the same balance in pastoring – mostly talking, with the occasional, more directive and strongly worded challenge. Because ultimately, I’m not trying to make ‘little Bills’ but instead ‘little Christs’, which is what Christian originally meant in the first century. And that’s just not possible if I always occupy the driver’s seat.


Key advice #2: “Time Out is now for the parent – practice walking away.”

It’s a little bit embarrassing to admit how badly I need this advice as a parent, but it’s so true. How many times have I had to excuse myself from the table or the room and walk away in order to control my anger? Sure, my 15 year-old may have rolled his eyes one too many times or my 14 year-old may have complained about my dinner selection yet again, but the key is watching what goes on inside of me in those moments. The biggest clue is when I want to kill them. That usually means that I’m due for a time out. Sure, they may push me, but ultimately my response is my responsibility and no one else ‘makes’ me do certain things (like screaming at breakfast or slamming on the brakes on the way to school drop off, for example). I actually need some space to see the anger, insecurity, fear, and anxiety in my heart and deal with those, instead of just dumping all of them on my kids.

Fortunately, God gave me a teenager just before I started planting a church. The timing couldn’t have been any better.

Virtually every day I find myself needing to take a time out because of some situation at church that frustrates me, stresses me out, or angers me. Actually, it’s more like three times every day.   The reason that I need so many time outs is two-fold: firstly, I work with sinners and secondly, I’m one too. As a marriage starts to blow up or someone criticizes my preaching or an adolescent gets pregnant – all of the sudden there’s all of this goo in my heart that churns like quicksand sucking down a wildebeest. And if I don’t walk away for a bit and take some deep breaths and talk to Jesus, all my struggling just accelerates my demise. Trust me, I know this from experience.

That’s why God gave me teenagers – to train me to become a pastor. Obviously, the mere fact that I have 5 more years of teenagers left, God’s not done training me yet.

A Trip to the Flower Shop – Jason Brown

I was at the flower shop last week.

If I were a better husband, I’d be there more often! Em and I celebrated 15 years of marriage on April 1. It seemed like an occasion worthy of flowers. Em loves peonies. So I made a trip to the flower shop the day before to check if they had any. They didn’t. But the owner said she’d make a special trip to the market the next morning to get some. Neat.

I showed up early on April 1. The power was out at the flower shop. Apparently, the electric company cut something they shouldn’t have. The owner apologized and directed me to the nearest ATM – I didn’t have cash.

I returned. She asked me how many peonies I wanted. “By the way, they’re $7.50 per stem.” I didn’t have time to go back to the ATM!

She was wrapping up the flowers with some . . . I’m not sure what you call it . . . the added stuff that makes it look better. She was maintaining a brave face but confessed that the power being out was a bit of a bummer with it being Easter and all – one of her busiest seasons.

She put the tape on, “And it’s even harder because my business partner can’t help either.” Hmmm.

“Why’s that?”

“Well, my business partner is my husband and he’s got cancer.” Tears.

I walked around the counter and asked what kind. “Liver. Stage 4.”

“Can we pray?” No words, but a nod. I was nervous to pray the right things.

We prayed together for her husband, Paul, and she slipped another peony into the bundle.