My Tribute to Dani Workman

Dani Workman, my favorite purveyor of alien conspiracies

To be honest, this week has been a pretty tough one for me. The biggest reason is due to the loss of a very good friend of mine. Her name is Dani and I’ve known her for nearly ten years. However, I’ve never actually met her. Dani and I met online but we became among the best friends for each other. Dani leaves behind her husband, son, and plethora of friends all over the world. I don’t believe that I will have the proper words to really do her justice. With Dani’s untimely passing on to the next life, this world is now a little dimmer.

I first met Dani around the time I first became an EMT. We were both active on #EMS Twitter and also had EMS blogs. We also were active on a forum called EMTLife. I don’t remember what the dispute was about but someone took exception to something she said and actually made a post on their blog to bully and try to discredit Dani. I challenged this person and defended her. It was around that time that we became friends.

Dani and I got to where we talked almost everyday. In getting to know her, we discovered that we both struggled with mental health issues and we forged a strong bond over that. Mental health struggles are really difficult for many people to understand simply because they have not had to deal with things like chronic anxiety and clinical depression. Dani was bipolar and understand all of that extremely well. We would frequently check in with each other to make sure that we both took our meds, and especially on our bad days, made sure we both did things like eat, brush teeth, and shower. Dani encouraged my advocacy on mental health issues and I encouraged hers. One of the things I’m most proud of for Dani is that she wrote a book called Beautiful Bipolar, which is a raw and real look into what her struggles have been like. Through this book, she has helped to shed light on darkness and to take away some of the stigma of mental health struggles. Dani’s refusal to allow bipolar to stop her from achieving her goals was one of the things I found most inspiring about her.

Like me, Dani appreciated humor and memes. Memes have a way of acting as a distraction for me when I need a break from life for a few minutes and they did for Dani as well. This was so much the case that she created a group chat in which we could exchange memes and talk to one another about life in general. In bringing this rag-tag bunch of people from literally all over the world together, she un-intentionally created an online family that has thrived and become an important part of the lives of the members. Daily, I have the opportunity to interact with people who I never would have met otherwise. I have gained perspective and even been able to do some Facebook pastoral care. Dani always had a way of bringing people together. I believe this is something she actually enjoyed… in addition to talking about some of the crazy alien conspiracy theories she would come across.

My favorite thing about Dani is how fiercely she loved her family and her friends. As far as she was concerned, her husband Jeremy and son Brayden hung the moon. So often I would send Dani a message to see how she was doing and she would tell me that she was at one of Brayden’s soccer games. Some of my favorite messages from Dani were stories of the shenanigans her grandmother “Oma” would be pulling. As Dani’s story has been told by those who knew her best, I found out that Dani once met someone at a convention and when her new friend became sick, Dani dropped everything and spent most of the rest of the day at the hospital with her to make sure she was alright. This is just who Dani Workman was and always will be to those of us who were blessed to call her a friend.

Of course, I can’t talk about Dani and not bring up one of the other bonds we shared: Grey’s Anatomy. Every week, we made a point to discuss each week’s episode. We both agreed that the show should have ended years ago but that we are all-in since we have watched Grey’s from the very beginning and must see it through. She even created a Grey’s group chat where we all received nicknames based on characters from Grey’s (She was Meredith and I’m George because, as she put it, “You’re just George. You can’t be anyone else.”). Our discussions of Grey’s are among my favorite memories of Dani.

I could go on about Dani and what she meant to me and others for a long time. As I mentioned near the top of this post, Dani leaving this world leaves it a bit dimmer. Dani made everyday better for every person she met and befriended. While Dani struggled, her fierce love and huge heart made her one of the best people I have ever known. If I needed to vent, she was glad to listen (or read as the case was). When I needed support, she gave it. If I needed to be called out, she was all too glad to call me out (and let’s be honest, I need to be called out from time to time). We sometimes disagreed. We once went over a month without talking because we had a disagreement and neither of us wanted to admit we were wrong (we did eventually reconcile). But Dani was an amazing person who overcame many obstacles that life threw at her. She had a way of bringing out the best in whomever she met. I see this in the group chat that she was instrumental in starting and that remains. The world is now a big darker but Dani’s memory inspires me and so many others to shine brighter as she would have encouraged us to do.

Until we meet again, friend.

Christian Hero Worship and Kanye West

Christian Hero Worship and Kanye West

The latest headlines in the Christian news arena have revolved around one person: Kanye West. His profession of faith in Jesus has been well-documented and rehashing it is therefore pointless. First, I want to say a couple of things on that: I give glory to God for anyone, no matter who they are, giving their lives over to Christ. I rejoice. But I also can’t help but be a bit suspicious about this one (something I hope I’m completely wrong about). I’ve caught a lot of grief over that but I also believe that, at least, in this case, his conversion ought to be taken with a large grain of salt. While I get that his faith is young, the fruit of it thus far has been very questionable in my mind. Further, our treatment of Kanye and other famous people who have claimed faith in Christ is also somewhat disturbing. So, at the risk of seeming judgmental based on someone’s past, I want us to slow our roll and take a good look at this situation.

One of the reasons I have had my suspicions raised about Kanye is due to his history. I’m not qualified to diagnose anyone with any sort of mental health issue but he does display narcissistic tendencies. Everything Kanye says and does has historically been all about himself. One example that comes to mind is when he interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 VMAs. He just happened to have an album coming out. Fast forward to more recent history when Kanye makes a public profession of faith. He just happened to drop an album right after that. I can’t help but be wary of the timing of his profession due to the record coming out.

The fact that Kanye is seemingly professing prosperity theology as the basis of his faith is also eye raising. Recently he was part of a segment of Carpool Karaoke with James Corden where he said his receiving a large tax refund was “God showing off.” Yesterday, Lakewood Church, the arena where Joel Osteen preaches, announced that Kanye would be making an appearance on Sunday. Here’s my issue there: Prosperity theology is false doctrine. The theology professed in prosperity churches is all about power, privilege, and wealth, a doctrine that looks nothing like the teachings of a homeless Jewish rabbi. Prosperity theology has caused real harm to people. You can read more of my thoughts on prosperity theology here. While anyone proclaiming Christ is a good thing, we also must be concerned with what version of Christ – be it the real Jesus or their own version of him – they are professing.

Concerns about Kanye himself aside, I have another big reason for raising my eyebrows here: Christian hero worship. Christians seem to go ape when any famous person professes Jesus. Other famous people such as Tim Tebow, Kirk Cameron, Selina Gomez, and Justin Bieber have also professed faith and the same thing happened as has happened with Kanye: Tributes, articles, and “look at this” statements aplenty. My question is this: Why do we celebrate these people and, if at all, hardly acknowledge people in our own lives and within the churches we are part of finding Jesus? Why do we assign hero status to famous people just because they’re famous? Such is dangerously close to idolatry and I’ve seen and heard statements that cross that line. As Christians, we cannot and should not assign special status to celebrities simply because they are famous. We should celebrate a homeless person coming to Christ as much as we do a famous musician. If we don’t then what is it we are actually celebrating?

We must be careful with what we celebrate. We further should question the motives of people when their words and their actions don’t seem to line up with what we know is true. Is someone professing Christ in a public way doing so for God’s glory or their own? Only time will tell but their fruit will speak loud and clear. Until then, we should encourage them and pray for them but also not believe they are on the same plane as Jesus himself.

“Offer Them Christ” (A Response to the Recent Pew Research Report)

revjktullosheader1I remember when I was taking classes to become a lay speaker before I went into the ministry. In the initial class, I will never forget that our instructor said that the best thing we could do when we preach is to do what John Wesley instructed his early preachers to do: “Offer them Christ.” This instruction meant when we spoke we should give the hope of Jesus Christ to the congregation. As years passed and I studied more of John Wesley’s teachings and theology after I entered pastoral ministry, I began to realize that Wesley’s instruction could actually be summed up in another way: “Offer them Christ and nothing else.”

I find the fact that the church in the US has long forgotten its mission to be very sad and, honestly, pathetic. I often hear and read people lament about the “good old days when everyone went to church” being gone but, let’s be honest: Many people looked at church attendance as a means to an end that had nothing to do with glorifying God. There was a time when going to or not going to the “right church” could cost someone a job, standing in the community, or a customer at their own place of business. Church attendance was looked at as a social norm because it was expected. Often, one attended a church without really being a Christian. They were Christian in name only but their private lives reflected anything but discipleship. This is the epitome of cultural Christianity in the United States.

After the 1950s, this began to change and Christianity in America began to decline (so says the experts). So, every so often, a group like Pew Research will conduct a survey to find that there are fewer people who identify as Christian. Next thing you know, preachers are screaming from their pulpits about “the world getting to our kids” or blaming the decline on some group that they personally oppose. Church growth “gurus” will start coming up with books they can sell and programs they can pitch to stave off the decline. Bloggers will blog (yes, I realize the irony of my own actions here). Pearls will be clutched and hands will be wrung with worries about, “What if the church dies.”

Well, what if it does? I’ll tell you what will happen: God will still be on the throne and the kingdom will continue. That’s what if.

When we look at the state of the American church versus the early church and the church in the so-called third world, it’s no wonder that Christianity in the US is “dying.” Years ago, the American church took a faith based on a middle eastern Jewish divine man and turned it into something that could be used for personal gain and political clout. A prime example of this is the rise of the so-called “Religious Right” through Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. Christianity became equated with politics and parishioners and preachers were just fine allowing this to happen because this meant they had power too. If you want to look at where the decline began, it was around that time after the 1950s and 1960s where people became disillusioned with this junk and began to turn away from the church and from God altogether.

I can’t blame them.

If I believed that God merely wanted me to be the head of a social club that endorsed certain brands of politics and helped people achieve wealth, I would turn away too. I would never have entered the ministry and likely would have never been a Christian in the first place. The gospel is about Jesus’ work resulting in the reconciliation of us to God and to one another and for the hope of all things being made new and set right. God does not care how we vote, he only cares that we love him with all of our being because he first loved us. He further wants us to love one another as we love ourselves.

Our mission is not to go forth and make sure only certain politicians and parties win elections, our mission is to go forth and make disciples of Jesus Christ. Our mission has nothing to do with prosperity and everything to do with preaching and practicing grace. But, yet, the church forgot this. We let ambition take over our pulpits which impacted the pews. A lot of people got tired of it, left, and have not returned.

In other words, we did this ourselves. May God forgive us.

The way this situation changes is not what many would like to hear. It’s not going to be another program, a multi-campus church plant, or even by having a pastor that wears the right clothes and looks a certain way. The only way to stop the decline and to win people back to Christ is to do what John Wesley taught his early preachers. Offer them Christ and nothing else. Forget the ambition, Forget the politics, Forget the prosperity. Just preach, teach, and live the teachings of Christ. Stop alienating one another and blaming other groups for the church declining. Reconcile.

We need to practice what we claim to preach. We need to get back to our roots.

Pew Research Report on US Christianity
An excellent article from Rev. Sky McCracken in response to the Pew report.

Help Me Get to General Conference!

42301730_1569501283728286_rLast week, I received word that I have been chosen to serve as a marshal at the upcoming General Conference of the United Methodist Church in Minneapolis. I counted this as a blessing because I have wanted to serve at General Conference for many years but never had the opportunity. I count this as an honor to be able to serve the larger church with my time, service, and witness.

A lot of people don’t realize this but serving as a marshal or as a page at General Conference is a completely voluntary position. I will receive no funding from my annual conference or elsewhere to subsidize my expenses. I am responsible for paying all of my expenses – travel, lodging, food, all of it. I don’t like the thought of “begging” but I definitely can’t pay for this trip on my own. We’re talking probably around $3,000 or so by the time it’s all said and done. With that in mind, I have set up a couple of fundraisers and would love any help you can give me!

The first is a t-shirt with the theme verse for the 2020 General Conference on it. You will have a choice of colors for your shirt. They make great gifts as well! Every shirt sold helps me meet my goal. This fundraiser has a closing date of October 14th so hurry! Find my page right here!

If t-shirts aren’t your thing, you can give at my GoFundMe page, or send donations via PayPal (if you use this method, include a note that this is for GC 2020, that way I will know why someone is sending my money).

I very much appreciate all of the support I have received so far and thank you for any help you offer from this blog. It would mean a lot for me to be able to serve at General Conference.


Being One is Not Being the Borg

“Being one does not mean that we all think alike.”
Bishop James Swanson on “The Power That Makes Us One.”

Last week, Bishop Swanson – the resident bishop of the Mississippi Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church – was in my district where he met with the pastors followed by preaching at a district-wide laity rally in the evening. The theme of this rally was “The Power that Makes Us One,” referring to the power of the Holy Spirit that unites us as Christians. Bishop gave the above quote during his sermon and it made me think of some of the rhetoric I have witnessed as the United Methodist Church has continued to debate LGBTQ inclusion. My thoughts then turned to Star Trek.

If you’re a Trekkie, you know of The Borg. The Borg are a hive mind collective made up of cybernetic beings that are forcibly “assimilated” by injecting nanoprobes into the host and where their brains surgically altered. The point is to collect the knowledge of all alien species into a common brain with the goal of achieving a perfect linked society where all think as one.  Anyone within the collective who begins to exhibit signs of independent thought is terminated as quickly as possible. The Borg are famous for the phrase “resistance is futile,” as they believe that all lifeforms must and will submit to assimilation.

There seems to be a concerted effort by organizations on all ends of the political and theological spectrum trying to assimilate members of the UMC. The idea is that a church can’t be a church unless all of the members agree completely… or else. I believe such thinking is contrary to the reality of our humanity and denies that we are all independent creatures with our own ways of understanding the nuances of doctrine. One thing I have noticed from all of those involved is that they love Jesus, know that He loves them in spite of their flaws, and want others to know that love as well. And yet, because of disagreement on a piece of doctrine, so many of us are content to throw all of that away. For the life of me, I can’t reconcile that with, well, really much at all.

The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, stated: “If we can not think alike, can we not love alike?” I believe this is a profound statement that acknowledges the scriptures that teach us that we will be known as Christ’s disciples by our love (John 13:35) rather than our agreement on doctrine. While doctrine is important, it’s not the end-all, be-all. The main thing is to keep Christ the main thing as he is the main thing. Some argue that the disagreement is over the authority of scripture. I say the issue is interpretation rather than authority. There is a major difference between the two and we must stop conflating authority with interpretation.

We are a church made up of imperfect people from all walks of life, different places, different races, and different experiences. This is exactly what the church has always been. The first disciples were all people from different backgrounds, did not understand things all the same, and yet Jesus used them in mighty ways and even considered them his closest friends. They were not a hive mind and neither are we. The church was never intended to be The Borg. The only way in which the church can and ought to be one is through the power of the Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ, and to the glory of God the father.

Thanks be to God.

It’s Time to Return to Jesus

“When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, ‘You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.’”

Luke 3:7-9 (NLT)

Dear Fellow Christians:

We gotta talk. And this isn’t going to be easy.

We all know about the recent goings-on with ICE raids and immigration issues lately so there’s no need to rehash that here. That isn’t the point of this letter anyway. What I want to talk about is how we have responded to these situations. Just to make sure you’re aware: People, children, actual human beings made in God’s image are impacted by these raids, deportations, and detainments. I have to be blunt: We have been anything but Christ-like in how we have addressed the people involved. Many of us seem to believe that it’s perfectly acceptable to consider immigrants to be sub-human and even to condone their mistreatment. Here are just a few actual statements from people claiming to be Christians that I have witnessed on social media just over the last several days:

“They’re illegal! They have no rights!”

“I shouldn’t have to feed children of ILLEGALS!”

“The Bible says to obey the laws! God is judging them and their children!”

“Illegals have to sleep in cages? BOO HOO!”

Seriously, church? Seriously?

When John the Baptist made his proclamation that I quoted from Luke 3 at the top of this post, people like that were what he was calling a “brood of snakes.” Pharisees. People who saw other people who were different from them as less-than. People who said that people deserved to be treated poorly. God’s word teaches us many things about how we are to treat immigrants, children, and people in general. But lately, it seems that we have been willing to put all of that aside and to trot out some verses from Romans 13 (out of context at that) as justification for treating people as if they are trash with the argument of “they shouldn’t have broken the law.”

We have committed a grave sin and it’s time to repent. That sin: Trading our humanity and compassion for political ideology. We have sold our souls for party allegiance. We have made Jesus into a muscle-bound, American flag-waving caucasian in order to fit our political aspirations.

The facts are: All people are made in God’s image and are worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their citizenship or immigration status. Children should not be traumatized on the first day of school by coming home to find out that mom and dad have been taken away. And for Christians, there is simply no justification for thinking that anything to the contrary is acceptable. It’s not. I’m not arguing against having laws (though I believe our immigration laws do need an overhaul), I’m simply pointing out that we have gone down a very dangerous road of denying dignity and basic rights to people. This is not what Jesus would find acceptable. If you actually read the gospels and pay attention, you may find that Jesus has more in common with these immigrants than He does white America.

It’s time to repent, church. It’s time to remember who we are and to go back to our first love. It’s time to take off our hats, put away our torches, stop being afraid of people who are different from us, and truly be people who love. We simply can not claim to be Christians and continue to believe that conflating our faith with a particular brand of politics is acceptable in God’s eyes. It’s not. In fact, we are taught that this is dangerously close to the line of idolatry.

May God forgive us.

The Decline of Clergy Influence: Why the Surprise?

Over the last couple of days, there has been a lot of hang wringing and gnashing of teeth about a recent survey that indicates that clergy in the United States are less influential in everyday life, almost being considered “irrelevant.” On social media, I have noted a lot of people being openly concerned about what this means for their churches and for Christianity in the United States as a whole. I, too, have a response to the results of this survey and that response is as follows:


Why is this such a shock? Of course, people don’t trust the clergy as much as they once did. The reasons are various but many are prominent. First, with all of the scandal that seems to rock the church on a regular basis, why should people trust us? How many pastors have been tried and convicted for sexual-based crimes (specifically crimes involving pedophilia)? Why should people trust clergy when there are so many like the Osteens and Meyers of the world who are only in ministry to profit and want people to believe that the path to righteousness involves the accumulation of wealth?

Need I continue?

The church in the US has been losing its influence for many years and this is just the latest casualty of that. This is also yet more proof that cultural Christianity is dead and isn’t coming back. The survey noted that people who reported regular church involvement did tend to trust clergy more than those who did not but they also want to keep pastors at arm’s length. People are not going to run to the pastor every time there is a problem anymore. This is the reality.

The way church was done in the 1950s is not the way it will be done in 2019 and beyond.

One thing I have not seen is what anyone intends to do in order to respond to this trend, which really has been obvious for a while. The one thing we should do is acknowledge that the way we do ministry in the future can not be the way ministry has always been done. We must be trailblazers. We must no longer look at ourselves as the tip of the pyramid and instead become what we were meant to be all along: Servant leaders. We need to be what we were always intended to be: A community where people rely on one another with the leader working alongside everyone else, not a private club that relies on its leader.

As I’ve said before: We need to get back to our roots.