I changed my mind.


This week, the UMC denomination that I serve in voted to strengthen its stance on “self-avowed homosexuals.” And I was disappointed. Broken.

But I haven’t always been this way.

I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, and although it was conservative, the message that rang was “Jesus loves you!” I grew up hearing it constantly, which is what drew me to the church: hearing that Jesus loved me was needed in my life.

It wasn’t until my last few years of high school I heard “Jesus loves you, except…” We had a new pastor, and although my previous pastors probably had the same beliefs, this pastor was more vocal about who Jesus had beef with. And the people who Jesus has the most beef with, according to many Christians, are those living in sexual sin, especially the homosexuals.

When I went to college, I signed a contract that, among other things, said I couldn’t partake in, and I quote: “pre-marital sex, extra-marital sex, and homosexual relations.” I always thought that was an odd way to say it — like, implying that gay people can’t have sex, or even if you like, kiss another person of the same gender, you’re out.

There were a few people from my college who hid their sexuality, one of my childhood friends included. And I remember praying the gay away because I was worried about their salvation.

My college was protested against by an organization called SoulForce. They went on an “equality ride” around the country to different colleges that had anti-LGBTQ doctrine, like mine. At the time, I still agreed with the “traditional” stance on marriage, but I also knew that these people deserved a friend. Being the only girl who wanted to be a pastor and not marry a pastor at a Southern Baptist college meant I had some enemies of my own. I knew what it was like to be told “Jesus loves you, except…” So, I signed up to be a student ambassador for the university.

The Equality Ride changed my life, but it didn’t change my mind. I did become curious, though, especially about a trans woman named “Mia TuMutch.” She gave herself that last name/stage name because she’d always been told that she’s “too much.” And I have too (literally a trigger of mine). I attached myself to her, and listened. We became friends on Facebook, and I’ve watched her journey unfold into now working in politics and with trans youth. She always inspired me, even before I agreed with her.

After college, I found myself in a pickle. I had been fortunate enough to find work in a Southern Baptist church for my first Youth Director job, but it became clear that I wasn’t going to find another opportunity like that as a woman. So, I began looking outside of my denomination.

When I was hired at St. Luke’s UMC, one of the questions they asked me from the very first interview was how I would deal with LGBTQ youth. I was honest: I wasn’t sure how I felt theologically about homosexuality. But what I knew was this: teenagers are always shifting, always changing, on the never-ending hunt to find themselves. And I promised the hiring team that no matter who that teen was, I would love them and welcome them. That’s all I had — not theological answers, just love.

And I was hired.

Three months in, I heard my first pro-LGBTQ sermon. Also, let’s pause: I was also meeting my first woman pastors. So, like, I was in quite the whirlwind.

After I heard our senior pastor preach a sermon on how biblical interpretation leads us to believe that being gay is not a sin, I was shook. I went to my boss’s office the next day and wept. I confessed that I wasn’t as progressive as I thought I was, and I was worried I’d be fired because I didn’t have the same Biblical interpretation on this subject as the church. But my boss asked me: how are you going to treat our kids? And I said — with love and acceptance. And my boss told me that was all that mattered. I was worried I’d be fired, and he told me that I technically was in line with the Book of Discipline, and couldn’t get fired for that.

This was five years ago.

A few months later, we hired our first “out” gay employee. She was loud, she was proud.

And she was kind.

She was an ordained pastor in another denomination, but took a break to serve our church in a non-pastoral role.

Until one day, in Staff Chapel, our Senior Pastor asked her to assist with Communion.

Growing up, Communion Lord’s Supper was a time between you and the Lord. You took this time to repent and to check your heart. We were taught that if you had unrepentant sin, that you should go correct it before taking Lord’s Supper. It was a big deal — a time to pray and get real with the Lord.

As she was going around the circle, serving each staff member by name, I began to panic.

How could I take Communion from a sinner?

And that is when I changed my mind. I looked at this woman’s actions and words and recognized that she worked harder at her relationship with Christ than I did. I realized the fruit in her life was evident. And that’s when I decided that it must be okay to be gay and a Christian.

So I drank the kool-aid. Well, holy grape juice.

This was just four years ago.

In the last four years since, God has just gifted me with members of the LGBTQ community who have helped me grow my understanding and my heart. I “came out” as LGBTQ-inclusive just three years ago when writing an article for a prominent youth ministry site — the first positive article on the topic they’d ever had.

And to be honest, I’ve remained fairly silent since. But I won’t be silent any more.

To be silent would be to deny my trans cousin of the truth I’ve known since we were little. To be silent would be unfair to my friends who braved Baptist College, despite signing a contract that said they were unnatural. To be silent would be to disrespect the promise of unconditional love I’ve given so many students. And to be silent would crush one of my dearest friends, who came out to me on her couch two years ago, who I helped build her dating profile and personally swiped right on her girlfriend, and who is now in seminary.

I’m really heart-broken by what happened in General Conference last week. Like, shaking-sleepless-sick-shocked broken. I am dreading church tomorrow for the first time in 5 years. I am especially dreading telling our 8th graders that the letters they wrote to our delegates asking for more progressive doctrine failed. I don’t want to admit that we failed them.

But I have hope: 9 years ago, I thought everyone who wasn’t a Southern Baptist was going to hell. Today, I study the fruit from everyone I meet and judge them based on that, not their labels. 5 years ago, I sought refuge to lead in a church. Today, I admire the faith of gay Christians who fight to do the same. 4 years ago, I changed my mind. Today, I choose to speak my mind.


Students’ Letters to Congress about School Safety

lessons, social activism, youth ministry

The other day I published a list of ideas to help talk to students about school shootings. As I stressed, I believe that the church should be a place where students feel safe–on both a physical level but also safe to have hard conversations…even about the most controversial issues.

School safety is one of those; everyone has a different idea of how to make our schools safer from mass shootings. But I know that all of us do believe that there should never be another mass shooting again…especially on a school campus.

Right now in our 8th grade class we’re talking about the spiritual gifts of prophecy, givers, and encouragement; gifts I’ve called the movers. Movers are people who speak out, who get things done, and who push for social and personal change.

At the end of each section of gifts, students have an opportunity to put those gifts into action. With recent events, I asked students to write letters to our Senators and Representatives.

I stressed repeatedly: I am not telling you what to write. I did provide a sample letter that I found online and beefed up a little. I also encouraged them to focus on one of the three main factors that people believe impact school shootings: gun laws, mental health, and general school safety. That was all I gave them.

Afterwards, I did give them some questions to process this. In truth, they didn’t have time to discuss my questions because they were so into the letter-writing and discussing their ideas for change. It was really cool to watch them think critically. Often times our kids only hear us diss our politicians, not think about how to constructively interact with them.

But the questions I gave them were about what it means to mold our politics and our faith together:

  1. How is this “speaking out?” How does this activity change your view of a “prophet?”
  2. Why is it our “Christian duty” to speak out against injustice?
  3. Why should Christians not only speak out, but also put their words into action?
  4. What else could we, as Christians, do to prevent school shootings?
  5. Often times we talk about a need for “separation between church and State.” When and why should your faith impact your political beliefs? How does your faith personally impact your political beliefs?
  6. When prophets predicted Jesus’s birth, they prophesied that Jesus would be a “great king” that would bring about “great political reform” to save them. It’s interesting that, even then, religion and politics worked together. What do you think Jesus would want to change today?
  7. (this question can get dicey, but let’s go for it) Why do you think religious people can have such different political beliefs? (be nice, don’t just blast Trump/Hillary/Bernie/Republicans/Democrats…think critically)

But onto the letters, because that’s the main reason I’m writing this post: I want to share some excerpts from the letters that these precious students wrote. I loved that our students had a range of political beliefs (I super-love that about my church), but that they were able to think really constructively and talk with one another about their differences. At the end of each teen’s letter they asked the senator/representative to write them back.

Aren’t you glad that these kids will one day rule the world? (Snapchat debaccles aside)

Here’s what they wrote:

“I am writing to you to ask that you help make school safer. I don’t know about other schools but the only form of security seems to be a police officer. I feel that we should have the type of security that airports do. Even if it will cost a little more it is worth it to keep us safe. I feel like kids should also be monitored better because the shooter in Florida had talked about it for months but no one did anything. I just feel like I should be able to feel safe while learning.”

“My friends are scared. They don’t come to school sometimes because of their fear. I am also spooked, by stomach aches and my head hurts because of it. It’s hard for me to focus and it’s hard for teachers to teach.”

“Recent events have sparked conversations on social media, at school, at church, and within my family. I recently learned something that had never occured to me before. It recently occured to me that this didn’t happen in past generations. My generation is the only generation that knows how to do a lockdown drill. I have memories from first grade of hiding in the corner of my dark classroom, being silent, and waiting until we got the all clear. A feeling of fear in my own school, a place where I should never be scared of losing my life, was planted in me at a young age. I do not feel safe in a place where I am forced to go every day. I should feel safe at school, a place I go to learn how to be functioning member of society. Giving guns to my teachers would not help that.”

“We are asking you to consider how we feel, and we are using our voices to the fullest extent that we can. We are asking you to do the same.”

“I am writing you to ask that you help make school safer. I am concerned that going to school can put my life at risk. That EVERY student at my school may be at risk of a school shooting. School should make you feel safe, not in danger.”

“I am currently aware of the political debate over gun control. I may just be a student, but I have a voice that needs to be heard. I want to speak up about my perspective on gun control. Our president believes giving more guns out to the teachers of our district can benefit our schools. I believe that there should be stricter gun laws. Putting more firearms in a harmful situation can only make it worse.”

“I hate that kindergartners have to know how to hide from a person with a gun, trying to kill them. School should be a safe and secure place where you don’t need to be afraid. Now days people can easily buy a gun as long as they have enough money. This needs to stop. I can’t imagine losing my best friend in a school shooting, or getting a call telling me there has been a shooting at my child’s school.”

“School should be a safe place to learn, not a place to question your safety.”

“I am writing to you after hearing of the shootings in Florida. Although I’ve supported Republicans all my life, I feel as though we need a flat-out ban on assault rifles. NO good comes from semi-automatic rifles. When our founding fathers wrote the second amendment, they had no army and therefore relied upon citizens to take up arms against enemies of the United States. Also they had muskets, not assault rifles back in the 1800s. We can protect ourselves without military grade assault rifles now. We also have a military to protect us, unlike back in the 1800s. We can protect ourselves with handguns, shotguns, crossbows, etc. I appreciate your help and ask that you please send me a response and maybe an autograph?”

(that one made me laugh)

“I’m already a very paranoid person and school is scary enough on its own, but with the threat of a school shooting my brain goes crazy. Columbine, Sandy Hook, and the most recent school shooting in Florida are some of the worst and most terrifying. I shouldn’t have to worry about going to school, and while I don’t believe we need to band guns I do believe we need to make a change. From my observations, some of these kids that are planning to or actually do commit these crimes are social outcasts, people who don’t know how to fit in, people who are bullied by what they believe to be “popular” people. For example in Columbine the shooters wanted revenge on their popular peers. We, the schools, need to stop talking about laptops in the lunchroom, we need to be talking about caring for people, we need to destroy the whole “I’m popular and you’re not” philosophy. Maybe then, after making these kids feel loved and helped, the problem won’t be so bad.”

Y’all… let’s do right by our kids. Let’s give them an opportunity to use their own voice, from their own perspective, to speak their own truth. For some of these kids, their truth was a little different than my own. But that’s why it’s important that I listen to them–because that’s the only way to learn from them. And I think in this situation–it’s the only way to bring about change that can positively impact their lives.

Assuming the Best of Others

Blogs about Heather, christianity

It happened again.

Another angry email.

You know, the kind we all get. No matter the field, no matter the role–there is always a heated complaint, the kind that makes you laugh at first (because it seems so ridiculous), and then forces you into an existential crisis.

I know I’m not alone. Even today, a friend of mine is in the same boat.

I read the email to my boss, and before I began I said, “Please don’t tell me ‘I told you so.'” Because this email was in response to a decision that I made that my boss didn’t quite agree on, but trusted me on. And what’s worse than someone upset with you for something you rallied so hard for?

My boss had compassion, and told me this story: her daughter was recently promoted at her company to essentially intervene on every complaint the company had. Someone was mad about the product? Goes to her. Someone thinks an employee was rude? Goes to her. Every single complaint in the company goes to her. Imagine all those angry emails. Yikes.

But what she said to her mother blows me away: “Mom, I love it. I love being able to change somebody’s mind so that when they walk out, they are believers in our product. They end up loving our product.”

What a statement.

And how convicting.

You see, I have noticed that when someone brings up a complaint to me, I get heated. I get defensive. I don’t want to listen. I want it my way and right now. My eyes get crossed and my words get slurred and I want to defend my decisions and prove how wrong everyone else is.


What if, instead of defending how correct I am (even when it’s obvious)…

…I spend that time in such a way that people walk out believing in my product?

…I take the time to value that person so that they value me?

…I assure that they don’t walk out knowing I’m right, but joining me in the truth itself?

And I think that this is true not just in our work, but in every argument that comes our way. I know that for me, I often get defensive because defense is my way of life. When you’ve done it “all on your own” for most of your life, you tend to forget that you don’t have to do it all on your own anymore.

And crap, you don’t outgrow that overnight.

It’s almost ironic that I began my day with this passage in Psalm 40 (which, on a side note, I only read because my sister got it tattooed on herself and I decided she was stupid so I ended up reading it to laugh at her, but instead it set my day in a really holy tone… don’t you wish God would stop meddling sometimes?!):

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
They will put their trust in the Lord.

God has done so much for us in our lives–taken us from a place of despair and loneliness and given us a solid foundation. The passage goes on to talk about how this story is not only one that we set on our lips, but one we place center in our hearts.

Sometimes we abandon this truth for a lie; we live our lives as if they are self-made and not God-rescued.

And when we live our lives as if it’s our work and not God’s, we forget to think about others. Because they didn’t help us. We did it on our own.

And what we end up doing is not allowing others to join in on that life, that story. We end up putting up walls and blurting out pieces when it’s convenient for us.

*raises hand*

I don’t know how to fix this.

But I can think of something one team in my church says, something I really admire:

Always assume the best in one another.

And I think that’s the best place to start…

…and maybe that’s where it also ends?

Assuming that when someone raises a concern with us, that their concern has value. That this person has value. That their concerns are nothing to laugh about or scoff about, but to consider that a real life human has entered you into a conversation that could end in improvement.

And, even if it’s not improvement in the idea itself…it will at least improve you as a person.

Treating others with the best assumptions always improves you as a person.

Lord, help me learn this. Help me set my story of rescue on my lips and in my heart. And help me invite others into that story, my story, and my thought process in a way that isn’t defensive but restorative.



I remember when our current president was elected. I had fallen asleep on the couch, unable to stay up past 10:00pm (I’m a sucker). I woke up and the results were final. I was exasperated. My roommate heard me and walked into the living room, and she saw it on the TV. I said to her, “Oh my God, my country’s racist.” My roommate, a female woman scientist from Barbados who reminds me that she has every strike against her with this administration (scientist + female + black + immigrant), says to me, “This country’s been racist.”

I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment–the moment that I woke up and really recognized my privilege. I had encountered racism and recognition of my privilege countless times, especially having grown up in Ferguson and seeing my hometown all over the news. But it was the first time that I realized that I might be in the minority on my opinions. It was the first time that I realized that the majority might still not agree with me on something that I felt so deeply in my heart.

I’m having deja vu right now: As we watch our heroes in the form of politicians, actors, athletes, reporters, musicians, and food show hosts (that one hurt me the most), pop up every day with accusations of sexual misconduct, I hear many men surprised.

And the thing is… women aren’t.

For me, this hit when the #metoo hashtag trended, the same day that I was sexually harassed by someone who insisted on having me “model for him.” I have been driving for Lyft in my spare time to make some extra money (I have goals), and he wouldn’t get out of my car. I felt threatened. I posted on Facebook, “#MeToo. As in, today.” A few hours later, I saw MY MOM post #metoo. I was shocked! Until I realized…of course “her too.” The problem is: we all have been sexually harassed.

My boyfriend and I have been having some great conversations about this, and I’ve shared some of my personal experiences with him. He’s been very gracious. I told him about the time that a guy slipped his way into my bra on the first date. I told him about how another man put his penis in my face during a basic smooch session, with expectations for me. I told him about how I’ve been held up in the aisle in a grocery store, blocked off from leaving by a man looking me up and down and licking his lips.  I told him about the times men have threatened my safety when I’ve turned them down. I told him how a man at my church called me “ripe for the picking” and “ready” for a man.

And it surprises him. Probably because I have a genuinely good one. And probably because the media suggests that any woman who finds herself in those situations is “asking for it.” And I’m about as good as good girls come. But the crazy thing is, my response is “I’m sure you’ve done it too.” Because that’s our expectation and reality when it comes to men: they’re all treating us this way.

It made me laugh when I saw a friend post this:


Here’s the thing, fellas: You are correct. 

And: you should be the one staying away.

Because here’s my prediction: Women aren’t going to be silent about this crap any more. And you should be freaking out: because for so long we have been tolerating this. But not anymore.

You see, when we elected someone to the oval office with multiple sexual assault accusations, I think women everywhere broke. And yet, again–it wasn’t surprising.

My hope is that we can begin to have some real conversations about how we got here, and how we can move forward. I do think that both men and women need to be involved in this–as I believe we can both make steps to be kinder and value one another more.

But until then: scream #MeToo. Scream it from the rooftops. Tell your story. Make men listen and women brave enough to scream it too. Telling our stories is all we have.

When Students Ask About Trump

america, Evangelicalism, lessons, politics, social activism

The only thing Trump and I have in common is that we both cannot control our facial expressions.

One of my favorite parts of our 7th Grade Confirmation is the “Questions Jar” that students can put questions about anything in. It says on it “Write ANY question you have down on a piece of paper, and Heather may answer it on a Sunday morning! It can be about God, Confirmation, family, friends, a weird Bible verse, sports, the meaning of life, food, whatever you want! Think of this as a human Google machine.”

Students ask a variety of questions, and I kind of love it. I love answering their hardest questions on-the-spot (even if it makes me sweat and panic a little). We host three panels each Confirmation year and commit to answering all the questions.

At our last panel, I pulled out the question, “How does God feel about Donald Trump? What do you think about him?”

I handed it to my boss and said, “Do you want this one? Or do you want me to handle it?” I didn’t know what I wanted in that moment, whether I wanted to go for it or defer, but he told me I had it.

I read it out loud, took a deep breath as everyone giggled, and said something like this:

There’s a story in the Bible that goes something like this: A rich man came to Jesus and asked him, “What must I do to live eternally?” Jesus told him, “You must sell all your possessions and give them to the poor.” The rich man walked away from Jesus, and Jesus told the crowd “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19)

What does this have to do with politics?

Well, Donald Trump has a lot of money, like many other politicians. Many view running for president as a way to get more power and more possessions. And when you are fighting for power, often times you are forgetting the least-of-these that Jesus talked about. When you’re focused on getting more, you forget the people who have less.

We know that our purpose on earth is to take care of one another. Many politicians have lost sight of this. So what do I think that God thinks of Donald Trump? I think that God is very disappointed with him, because he could be using his money and power to help people. But I think God is disappointed with most politicians, because they all seem to be doing the same thing–taking advantage of others in order to gain more for themselves.

But the thing is–God still loves them a crazy amount. It can be hard to see at times, but they were also made in God’s image and God loves them very much. So as much as some politicians disappoint God and disgust us, they still deserve a certain degree of respect and honor. They are still our leaders, even if we don’t like them.

But let’s not forget that Jesus fought to change the political systems in place that oppressed people through his own actions, and that’s what infuriated people and got him killed.

So, don’t hate Trump or other politicians that aren’t taking care of the people. Be part of the solution by doing the things that Jesus asked of us, even if our government and president won’t.

I think that was about the best I could do on the spot. But the more I think about it, I think that the Holy Spirit guided what could be a really messy conversation (Trump literally makes me vomit and cry) into a conversation about our role in the world. We can’t rely on the president to fix our problems.

On a personal note, today in the primaries I voted for the one person in this crazy circus who I think resembles Jesus. But even if they were to make office, it doesn’t take away from my role on earth to take care of the least-0f-these.

No president will ever “trump” our role to take care of one another.

#OC16 Recap: The Power of the Local Church

church, single in ministry

Image by the Sketch Effect.

My Orange Conference experience was a little strange this year–from the time I stepped onto the plane from the time I got back home to shower with no hot water…it was an odd year. :)

Usually when I go to any conference, I feel overwhelmed with all that I want to do in ministry. But this year, Orange was a time for me to reevaluate who am in ministry.

The honest thing is that I’m in a season wrestling with God. I’m just really pissed at him right now. On the first day of the conference I journaled about it–lamenting that I’ve given up everything to follow my call to ministry, but that the things I desire most in the world (outside of my dream career) I do not have. And although I know that God is working in my ministry, it’s been hard to see him elsewhere. In short, everything that I have right now is wrapped up in the local church and I feel like I don’t have much to show for outside of it.

Of course, I am grateful for the local church and thankful for the work that I get to do.  My prayers to God the past few months have been this simple: “God, you have given me all that I have. You have saved my life in every sense. I’d be nothing without the local church’s influence on my life. I’m frustrated and doubting you. But how can I not serve you back?”

I haven’t had much more else to say to God–just the verbal acknowledgement that I’m pushing through, even though I’m angry that I’m not getting my way when I feel like I’ve given all to give God his way.

Andy Stanley saved the day, per usual. He talked about how the local church saved his life.  Andy said that the church has done and does all of this for us:

  • informs our conscience
  • instills a sense of purpose
  • provides the context for lifelong relationships
  • serves as a window into God’s activity all over the world
  • shows us how to be generous
  • will make your life better and make you better at life
  • provides the strongest argument for human rights
  • inspires us to embrace the one mandate that could change everything: Love your neighbor as yourself

Andy argues that when you really dig into this, you realize that the church is the place that should set the tone for everything good in the world.

This is something I was processing before Orange–how good exists outside of the Church, but the Church, if properly following God’s love and Jesus’ example, should be the hub for all that is glorious and good in the world.

  • Who else can better show what it means to be open and inclusive to all than followers of Jesus Christ, who invited everyone willing to come feast at his table?
  • Who else can better take care of the earth right here and now than those who understand that they are created in God’s image for the purpose of taking care of the earth and everything on it?
  • Who else can better show grace and forgiveness to others than those who understand that they were forgiven while they were still sinners?
  • Who else can better advocate for people who experience discrimination based on race, age, disabilities, mental health disorders, socioeconomic status, gender identity, sexual orientation, and more than people who understand that each and every one of us was made in God’s precious image?
  • Who else can better demonstrate what it means to give respect before it is earned, when we believe in a God who loves us without condition?
  • Who else can better do any of this than people who believe they are instrumental in uniting the Kingdom of God with earth?

Reggie Joiner, the man behind Orange, said that when Jesus died on the cross, it validated everything he ever said about loving others. And that is why the church should be the best at this.

This is why I give everything I have for the Church. And why I’m getting over this self-absorbed lament that everything I have is wrapped up in the local church–when the truth is that the local church loves me incredibly and has taught me everything I know about loving others. To be wrapped up in the local church is kind of the goal. I missed that.



Describing Ash Wednesday

christianity, lent, Theology

I didn’t know what Ash Wednesday was until 2014, when I was in my first Lenten season at my United Methodist church. I may not have even gone to the service, except I was looking for community that evening and being introduced to a small group for the first time.

Ash Wednesday is now one of my favorite traditions. There’s something about a pastor marking a cross on your forehead while looking into your eyes and saying “Repent and believe the Gospel” that shakes you in your winter boots.

I didn’t understand what it was when I first received the ashes, and if I were to be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever understand the eternal significance of the service. Every time I try, I get blown away.

And since I couldn’t explain it well if I tried, here are my three favorite articles about Ash Wednesday.

Why Ashes? Connecting to who we are and who we can be – The United Methodist Church

When we participate in the service of ashes, we confront our sin. We recognize our inability to live up to all God has created us to be, and our need to be forgiven. No matter how often we go to church, how far we have come in our spiritual journeys, how accomplished we may feel, each of us has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

While this may sound fatalistic, it is not the end of the story. Lent leads to Easter, the day we celebrate that though our bodies are temporary and our lives are flawed, a day of resurrection will come when we will live in the presence of God forever.

One Wednesday every year we go to church remembering who we are, and hopeful of who we can be.

A little reading for Fat Tuesday/Ash Wednesday (from Accidental Saints) – Nadia Bolz-Weber

Here’s my image of Ash Wednesday: If our lives were a long piece of fabric with our baptism on one end and our funeral on another, and we don’t know the distance between the two, then Ash Wednesday is a time when that fabric is pinched in the middle and the ends are held up so that our baptism in the past and our funeral in the future meet. The water and words from our baptism plus the earth and words from our funerals have come from the past and future to meet us in the present. And in that meeting we are reminded of the promises of God: That we are God’s, that there is no sin, no darkness, and yes, no grave that God will not come to find us in and love us back to life. That where two or more are gathered, Christ is with us. These promises outlast our earthly bodies and the limits of time.

Ash (from Searching for Sunday) – Rachel Held-Evans

Once a year, on a Wednesday, we mix ashes with oil. We light candles and confess to one another and to God that we have sinned by what we have done and what we have left undone.  We tell the truth. Then we smear the ashes on our foreheads and together acknowledge the single reality upon which every  Catholic and Protestant, believer and atheist, scientist and mystic can agree: “Remember that you are dust and to dust and to dust you will return.” It’s the only thing we know for sure: we will die.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

But a long time ago, a promise was made. A prophet called  Isaiah said a messenger would come to proclaim good news to the poor and brokenhearted, “to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” Those who once repented in dust and ashes “will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:3).

We could not become like God, so God became like us.  God showed us how to heal instead of kill, how to mend instead of destroy, how to love instead of hate, how to live instead of long for more. When we nailed God to a tree, God forgave. And when we buried God in the ground, God got up.

#ThrowbackThursday: Heather talks about Communion

christianity, Theology

When I was growing up, I didn’t understand Communion at all.

And looking back, it’s kind of adorable. I have four stories:

Heather at 7

We called it “Lord’s Supper” at my church growing up. And even though I really didn’t understand it, I was drawn to it.

In our tradition, you didn’t receive Lord’s Supper until you were saved. At the ripe age of 6, all my friends were getting saved and baptized, so I asked Jesus into my heart too. I loved Jesus, but I also wanted to fit in with my friends. Because my parents didn’t attend church, they moved very slowly to honor their wishes and make sure that I was “serious” about that act.

But who is “serious” about Jesus at 6? Well, maybe I was.

And so…I walked down the aisle about another dozen times.

One Sunday, I walked down the aisle to ask Jesus into my heart again. I filled out the membership card again. And because I was in the front aisle, I missed the Lord’s Supper.

After the service, I told the pastor I missed it. He told me it was okay. But I insisted–I was 8 years old and I wanted the wafer and the juice. So, he took the Lord’s Supper with me, individually. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment. He may not, either–it’s when the church realized I was going to be pretty unrelenting about this whole Jesus thing. So a few months later, my entire family came to church (for the first and only time in my life) and I was baptized.

Heather at 11

My dad’s side of the family is Catholic. One time we were visiting my great-grandmother’s church for mass. When it was time to receive the Eucharist, I stepped forward. In a Catholic church, only Catholics can receive the sacrament. My family was trying to tell me, in hushed tones, that I couldn’t go forward. In order to get my attention they were pointing and waving and even physically trying to block me.

I’m sure you’re not surprised: I pitched a fit. Upset, I cried and didn’t understand why I couldn’t receive some bread and juice. I didn’t understand the Eucharist fully, but that didn’t mean I should be denied the elements. How could you tell somebody that they can’t have the body and blood of Christ?

Heather at 18

At 18, I was first introduced to Communion by intinction. Up until this point, I had wafers and cups of juice. At one point my church had switched over to the cups where the juice was at the bottom, then there was a film, then the wafer, then another film (Looking back, I wouldn’t ever do it that way again, personally).

We were at summer camp, where I was a counselor. The camp pastor didn’t explain intinction, and nobody knew how to do it…including the adults. He left it on the altar for anybody to take it as they’d like, at their own pace.

About 12 minutes in, nobody took the Lord’s Supper. In the Southern Baptist tradition, you don’t take Lord’s Supper if you have unrepentant sin. The camp pastor got wise to the fact that this room of teenagers wasn’t that strict…so he explained it. And guess who was first to grab that bread?

Heather Lea Campbell.

Heather at 21

I took a class in college called “God and Humanity” that changed my entire perspective on Communion. For the first time, I got it.

At the end of 30 Hour Famine, they suggest breaking the fast with Communion. At my church where I served as youth director, technically anybody could serve it. But women couldn’t serve as pastors, so it’d be taboo for a woman to serve Communion.

I’m sure you can guess: I served Communion to my students. Without asking leaders of the church. I just did it. And it was fantastic.

Heather at 26

Today, I still love Communion. Since I run programs during church services, I don’t take it often, except with staff once a month.

So the Heather of today tries to sneak over into church on the first Sunday of month and take it with the congregation. We use Hawaiian sweet bread, so you can understand.

I didn’t realize my funny history with Communion until I was writing a lesson on it for Confirmation–we talked about how it’s kind of an awkward act, taking someone’s body and blood and popping it down the hatch.

But for me, I have always been an embracer of awkward and mysterious things (hence why I work with middle schoolers).

My hope is that we can raise up a generation that is desperate for Jesus the way I have been my entire life for the bread that represents the Body and the blood that represents his lifeline.


What are You Fishing For?

christianity, church, Culture, Evangelicalism, lessons, lgbtq, politics, Theology

When Jesus first called his disciples, they were fishing. Jesus performed the miracle of filling their nets, proving that he was able to provide for their physical (and even financial) needs. Then Jesus said, “Follow me, and I’ll make you a fisher of men.”

These men followed Jesus on a three-year long journey. During this journey, Jesus performed many more miracles and even equipped the disciples to perform miracles of their own. They fed crowds, healed the sick, partied with the poor, and ate with sinners. Slowly, they discovered that Jesus was the Son of God, and Jesus equipped them to truly be “fishers of men.”

But when Jesus died, what happened?

In John chapter 21, Peter says to the disciples, “I’m going fishing.” And the rest of the disciples go with him. Even though Jesus has appeared to them twice thus far after his resurrection, they go back to life as if the last three years didn’t happen. They go fishing. For fish.

And so Jesus does his classic “Jesus thing,” paralleling that first time he calls them. 100 yards from shore, the fog-hidden Jesus tells them to cast their nets out on the other side. The disciples miraculously fill their nets and are unable to haul it to shore.

And Peter does his classic “Peter thing,” and jumps into the sea because he knows that Jesus is alive indeed. Jesus makes Peter go grab the net (because of course Peter left the disciples to do it), and there are 153 fish inside this net. A net that didn’t break.

Scholars say that at the time, there were only 153 species of fish known in the world.

Biblical scholars say that this net–the net that didn’t break–is representative of the Church. The 153 fish represent the different types of people in the world. When the disciples were trying to go back to just “fishing for fish,” Jesus had bigger plans to show them why they are to continue “fishing for men.”

The net is big enough for everybody. No longer is the net confined to one type of person. Everybody is allowed.

What does this mean for the Church today?

Who are the fish that we are excluding from the net, that perhaps need the safety and comfort of the net? Why are we creating an “insiders vs outsiders” mentality in the church, when all of us were made in the precious image of God? We all deserve the net equally, and the fisherman shouldn’t discriminate from who he allows to be a part of the Church.

What is the baggage that we think will exclude us from the net? You see, the net can hold it all without breaking. It can hold all of your doubts, insecurities, sins, shortcomings, failures, successes, and anything else. Being a certain type of fish doesn’t get you tossed back into the sea.

Why are we not united like the net? One net, 153 fish. This is the Kingdom of God. This is the one net that can hold it all and won’t break. This is the one net that can hold you, me, your crazy uncle, and the person in the office next to you, the rude lady who flipped you off in traffic, your ex-boothang, that person on Facebook who has political views that make you want to hurl, your neighbor whose family looks different from yours, your landlord, and Taco Bell employees at 3am.

I’m so thankful to be a part of a congregation that acknowledges that we are all so incredibly different, but it’s one Kingdom that holds us all.

What are you fishing for? Are you freely fishing for men, all men? Or are you acting as if the resurrection never happened, and you’re back to exclusively fishing for fish?

Mixing Jesus, Palms, and Politics

Evangelicalism, politics

It’s Holy Week, the final week of Lent. The last 5 Sundays, we’ve taught our students about different places in life that a faith in Jesus takes us–places that are messy, unfamiliar, and scary. But we’ve also talked about how faith in Jesus means that He provides for us when we’re exhausted, intercedes in those scary places to restore peace in our lives, and provides redemption where it’s so desperately needed.

When I studied for my Palm Sunday lesson, I became really intrigued by the crowds. The crowds were really excited about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, but why?  As I read Matthew, I realized that the crowd probably didn’t really know who Jesus was. But because a few amped the crowd up, the entire crowd joined in and laid down their coats and palm branches.

It’s kind of like March Madness–I could care less about basketball. But because everyone else is excited, I’m rubbing my winning bracket in everyone’s faces. I’m just counting down the days until baseball.

But those same crowds who were so for Jesus became so against him just a few days later. And why? Again, I think it was because a few energetically swayed the crowd.

It’s more than that, though–the Jewish believed that the savior of the world was to become a King and save the world through politics. The Messiah would end hatred, oppression, suffering, disease, and bring world peace. All the Jews would be gathered back in Israel, and all of humanity would be united as one with universal knowledge of God.

But Jesus wasn’t playing by those rules–he never became King, but told people it was their responsibility to bring the Kingdom of God. He didn’t bring world peace but told people to become the peacemakers. He didn’t bring universal knowledge of God, but brought the Holy Spirit so that they could have a more personal connection with God.

And because he didn’t fit the Jewish concept of Messiah, He was rejected. The Jews wanted to put the Messiah in a pretty political box, and Jesus wouldn’t fit.

Here’s the troubling part–Christians still do this today.

With many of our hot-button issues, including but not limited to Ferguson and Indiana’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” we put Jesus into a political box. We say that if Jesus was here today, he would say (fill in the blank). Both sides of the arguments use Scripture and rationalize how Jesus would defend their arguments. They simplify the issue into a definitive political stance from God. And I think that many tend to influence a crowd into believing the same–rallying against one another with God on their side.

And just like the Jews were split, causing to branch into what we call Christianity, we’re doing the same today.

I think that more than anything, the thing Jesus would take a stance on is using God’s name to oppress one another. Jesus had many words to say to the Pharisees for using God’s name to oppress the poor and brokenhearted.  Jesus lived in the trenches with people, helping them grasp a better understanding of God, rather than rallying against them or using God as a weapon. And as he died on the cross, he cried out to God, “Forgive them, because they don’t know what they’re doing…”

Now, I don’t think protesting or standing up against something is wrong. But I do think that saying, “If Jesus was here, he’d be a Republican/Democrat/LGBTQ Activist/Ferguson Rioter/Pro-Life/Anti-Guns/____” is a bold claim. Especially when there is so much going on in the world–where would Jesus actually be? And, does that mean that Jesus doesn’t care about the people who aren’t where he is?

I think it sets us up for disappointment later, when we realize that maybe Jesus doesn’t fit in that box like we hope. Jesus came to save the world in a way that was different than what generations and generations of Jews thought. What a dissapointment…so why do we assume that we have it right?

So I ask that we invite Jesus into these conversations not to defend our side of the argument, but to help us interact with one another in a way that reflects Him.

Because when I finally meet God, I know that he’s going to say to me, “Silly girl, you were so gung-ho about ____, but you were so wrong. But because you saught me above even that, you are so forgiven.”

The Jews killed Jesus because he didn’t fit into a political mold. Let’s not make the same mistake.