The Best Decade – Bill White

Sitting on our piano bench and facing a group of friends and neighbors, Paul said, “My ten years as an atheist were some of the best years of my life.”journey


Perhaps he didn’t know it, but that’s not the right thing to say at a church group. You know that, right? You’re supposed to talk about how meaningless and hopeless and terrible it is to be an atheist. But for Paul, who’s now been following Jesus for 25 years, it’s the plain truth that those were great years for him.

And people loved it. They loved it because it was honest. They loved it because it’s his story, and they respect Paul. And they loved it because, for so many of them, it’s their story, too.

After Paul’s 9 minute ‘story of my life,’ we broke into groups to talk about where it connected with us. One neighbor at my table shared how he’s really thinking about becoming a Christian and that Paul gave him a picture of what it looks like to value the journey he’s been on while still moving forward.

A gal at our table followed that with, “I’m not on a spiritual journey.” I pressed her and pointed out that I know she thinks about God and that she walks over to my home regularly to talk about these things. “Yeah, but that doesn’t mean I’m on a spiritual journey. It just means I take occasional day trips!” We all had a good laugh at that. Then a couple more neighbors, one Christian and one agnostic, both shared their stories. Not a bad table conversation for a Thursday evening!

Later that night it struck me that this is how I want to live. I want to make sure there’s safe space around me for people to go at their own pace on their own journeys (even if that just means day trips!).

That same night, one of my other neighbors summed it up best. Addressing the whole group (which was a motley crew of over 30 adults and kids) she started to cry as she shared. “I just want to say thank you to all of you. This is the first time I’ve been in a community of people who let me be me. And I can’t believe how much joy you all have. It’s really inspiring.”

What made her comments so precious to me was that the first time I met her, six months ago, she told me she was an atheist and asked (skeptically) if she would be welcome in our church. My response: “Of course! If you’d like, I’ll get you a seat next to some of the other atheists.” Since then she’s transitioned from her active atheism to more of a searching agnosticism, and she’s even considered following Jesus and being baptized.

I never had much of an atheist period in my own spiritual journey, but I can say that travelling along with these friends and neighbors has made for some of the best years of my life.

This post isn’t about a goat or pumpkins — Jason Brown

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 3.07.42 PMI was meditating on the meaning of Philippians 2. “Though he (Jesus) was in very nature God, he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.” Paul prefaces that sentence with this appeal: “Your mindset should be the same as Christ Jesus.”

What is that mindset?

Here’s a partial (at best) answer. Jesus wanted to see reality through our eyes. He wanted to experience reality as we experience reality. He wanted to step into our shoes, so to speak. He became human. This was a cross-cultural experience – to put it mildly. God becomes human. And we are to have this same mindset.

So, God, may I be willing to see the world through another’s eye, walk a few miles in their shoes, experience the world as they experience the world. In some ways, this requires I not insist that my perspective is the only legitimate perspective – the equivalent of “grasping” (clinging to) God-likeness. I think I am like Jesus when I understand and accept my perspective while letting it go (becoming nothing) in order to sit at the feet of someone else and let them describe the world as they see it.

What are the concrete applications of this thinking? Here’s one. My experience with police has been very positive. I’ve never been pulled over except when I’ve actually done something worthy of being pulled-over. Two police officers coached my sons’ baseball teams this spring (and did a fine job!). Another is one of the generous elder statesmen in our church. I’ve had great personal interaction with law enforcement personnel. When I see a police car, I think, “I’m glad you’re here. Thank you.”

But, this isn’t everyone’s perspective or experience. Do I insist that my perspective is the only true perspective or can I “let go” in order to listen to someone else say, “Here’s my experience – and it’s very different from yours.” Can both these perspectives be legitimate?

Do you think the world would benefit from more people practicing this mindset more often?






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!

k2 k3 k4 k5

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.

Blog - barbara

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,