No one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. – James 3:8

The Latin term ad hominem is used to describe a person who attacks another person when he/she is making a claim rather than address the actual point the other person is making. This is usually done when a person has no substantive way of responding to the other’s point. “You’re stupid for saying that” is a common ad hominem refrain where we attack the person’s intelligence rather than what they’re actually saying. We do this to put the other person on the defensive and deflect attention away from the point he/she is making. This is akin to a magician who doesn’t want us to see how he’s doing a particular trick. He waves a hand high above his head ostentatiously so we’ll look at that hand and not see the other hand that’s doing the trick. It’s deception, but in the magician’s case, it’s done only for our entertainment.  

Blessed James has a very low view of human nature and our ability to keep our words from spewing forth “deadly poison.” He concludes that “no one can tame the tongue.” If we’re at all self-reflective and honest, we must admit we’ve all failed to tame our tongues at one time or another. It’s not pretty when it happens. When I look back at the times my tongue was “a restless evil,” it was usually when I was feeling inadequate compared to the other people around me or in some way excluded by them. In a childish, mean-spirited way, I thought I could build myself up by tearing others down. If I could humiliate them with words, then maybe no one would notice my own failings.

Unlike some who argue we’ve entered a coarser, meaner public square in recent times, it seems to me that such coarseness and meanness has always been a part of our currency of communication in the human family. We just hear and see it more often than we used to because we’re so connected through all manner of media. I do agree with those who make such claims that these attacks have gradually become less and less shameful in our culture. And maybe that’s because of how often we now experience them. The “deadly poison” of ad hominem attacks we now regularly witness just drips, drips, drips into our waiting souls and we eventually become inured to them. We may even come to believe that those on the receiving end of such attacks probably have it coming to them.

Enter Donald Trump, who like me when I’ve behaved childishly, thinks he can build himself up by tearing others down. He tries to humiliate other people with the “restless evil” of his tongue so maybe no one will notice his own inadequacy. He called former Texas Governor Rick Perry a “dimwit.” He made fun of Carly Fiorina’s face. He said Senator and former POW John McCain was no war hero. He implied a reporter, Megyn Kelly, was menstruating because she had asked him a difficult question he didn’t want to answer. This is the deceptive behavior of a mean-spirited magician. Like I said, we’ve all engaged in such shameful conduct in our lives, but most of us recognized it for what it was, sought repentance, and then a more gracious path forward. Not Donald Trump. He just continues. I pray we see this magician’s act for what it is and that the “better angels of our nature” not find it the least bit entertaining.

+Scott

 

Our sins are stronger than we are – Psalm 65:3 (Book of Common Prayer)

For much of Church history, the Psalmist’s conclusion wasn’t questioned. It was simply true: “Our sins are stronger than we are.” We used to believe that left to our own devices, and sin being what sin is, we’d often drag ourselves, and those around us, “down to the pit,” as the Psalmist elsewhere puts it. But we’ve nearly lost the capacity to speak in these terms and thus we’ve no way of conceptualizing the ways that our sins drive our neighbors “down to the pit.” I believe there’s a connecting thread between our lost capacity for the vocabulary of sin and the growing poverty rate in our country.

Many people today are drowning in poverty. There are 46.2 million of us living below the poverty line, the highest number in the 52 years. Poverty has also engulfed 16.4 million children. That’s 22 percent of all children in the U.S., the highest numbers since 1962, and the highest percentage since 1993. The number of us in deep poverty (defined as less than half of the poverty line, or about $11,000) now stands at 20.5 million, or about 6.7 percent of the population, up from 4.5 percent in 2000.

Our Christian faith gives us the language to talk truthfully about this, but, as I wrote above, we’ve nearly lost the capacity to do so. That doesn’t mean that sin has totally left the Church’s vocabulary. It merely means that part of our sin is that we have blind spots about our sin. Those who still use the language of sin and believe it’s a powerful force in human life (a “high” doctrine of sin) tend to view sin as limited to one’s personal violations of God’s will. And those who are uncomfortable both with the notion of sin and its vocabulary (a “low” doctrine of sin), they’re left with feeble language when it comes to addressing the devastating reality of poverty. So, they use terms like “unfairness,” “inequality,” or “injustice” Those terms imply that with a tweak here and a vote there we can fix poverty, but those concepts lack a motivational robustness because they don’t necessarily point us toward being out of right relationship with God.

The number of us suffering poverty is increasing because we haven’t been able to call poverty what it truly is: a profound sin against God and our neighbor. If we recapture a “high” doctrine of sin (which I believe the Bible bears out), then we’d recognize our guilt in what we’ve done and be motivated to amend our lives collectively. We’d demand far more governmental intervention into the economic marketplace in terms of job creation, affordable housing, and food support. Sinners that we are, something needs to slow down our greed and avarice, which leads to a disregard for our neighbor’s plight. We’d also demand more from our religious and civic organizations; that they’d also be engines of affordable housing and hunger alleviation. But if we don’t believe that our sin is real and a prime cause of poverty, if we continue to confine sin to a narrow slice of human behavior or disregard its profound reality altogether, then nothing will change. It’s time to admit “our sins are stronger than we are” and then put in place serious structures that will mitigate how our sin devastates poor people. We’re allowing poverty because we have a poverty of language about sin.

+Scott

 

Francis & Justin (eCrozier #297)

In an eCrozier in November of 2013, I wrote that Francis had become the first “Anglican Pope.” Today, I’m even more convinced that’s the case. I wrote then: “this Pope is a man who has a deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. His strong faith gives him the freedom to be gracious and compassionate and to approach life with humility, openness, and curiosity. Maybe that’s why he’s so confounding to so many people, both in the Roman Church and outside it.”

In his recently published document called Amoris Laetitia, or “The Joy of Love,” he didn’t issue any new doctrine. He, however, insisted that his clergy focus on the pastoral care of their flock, rather than on the judging of them. Each Roman Catholic, he contends, should listen to their individual consciences while also keeping in mind the Church’s dogma. This doesn’t mean Francis is throwing out Roman Catholic dogma. Rather, he seems to be saying that an individual’s conscience matters and if a person deep in her/his heart discerns something to be God’s will for her/his life, then that may well be the truth she/he must follow. He’s creating some “wiggle room” between the experience of the individual and the official teaching of the Church.  

We Anglicans live in that “wiggle room,” not because we’re “soft on sin” or because we don’t believe Jesus or the Mosaic Law taught us moral behavior, but because we know that life is usually messy, that we don’t always make the right choices (not a news flash), and that such “wiggle room” is where we often experience the powerful thrust of God’s grace in our lives. Pope Francis calls upon his flock, and particularly his clergy, to “examine the actual situation of families, in order to keep firmly grounded in reality.” Whenever we put rules above people’s lives, then we tend to get hard-hearted, caring more about the rules than the people who are called to keep them. Yes, Francis acknowledges that Jesus set forth a demanding ideal for his disciples, but in doing so Jesus “never failed to show compassion and closeness to the frailty of individuals.”

And then we have Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who recently received news that the man he thought was his biological father, Gavin Welby, actually wasn’t. Instead the Archbishop learned that it was Sir Anthony Montague Browne who for many years was the private secretary to Winston Churchill. In explaining what happened, the Archbishop’s mother wrote that right before her wedding to Gavin Welby, she was “fuelled by a large amount of alcohol” and “went to bed with Anthony Montague Browne.” Such news could’ve become the brunt of tabloid snickering, but the Archbishop addressed this news with grace and compassion toward his mother recognizing that she was an alcoholic at the time and suffered from its addiction. He wrote that he and his wife have faced much harder news in their lives (they had baby daughter who was killed years ago in a car accident). He ended by saying: “I find who I am in Jesus Christ, not in genetics, and my identity in him never changes.”

Two remarkable disciples of Jesus modeling for us how to follow our Lord with grace and compassion for others (and also for themselves).

+Scott

 

Losing (our bad) Religion (eCrozier #296)

David Dark’s new book, Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious, is brilliant. Dark’s other books are equally so (The Gospel According to America, Everyday Apocalypse, and The Sacredness of Questioning Everything). In this book, Dark delves into our religiosity, particularly those who claim they have no religion or who call themselves “spiritual, but not religious.” He doesn’t quote the 20th Century theologian, Paul Tillich, who wrote that our God is whatever our “ultimate concern” is, Dark actually goes deeper and wider than Tillich. Rather than “ultimate concern,” Dark writes of religion as our “controlling story.” What are the narrative strains that have been woven together by our experience to bring us to certain conclusions about life’s meaning and purpose? So, religion for Dark is more than a fixed point of “ultimate concern,” it’s the sum of our life-long experience, our “controlling stories,” that shape how we then make sense of life’s meaning and purpose.

Dark is quite gentle with people’s “controlling stories” who claim that their religion is Jedi from Star Wars or St John Coltrane, the Jazz genius who composed “A Love Supreme” (there’s actually a church who worships around that famous piece of music). It’s easy for us who have more traditional religious convictions and practices to snicker at such devotions dismissing them as bad religion. Dark doesn’t go there. While his own faith is solidly Christian, he recognizes clearly how we form convictions based on our “controlling stories.” Instead of taking cheap shots at other people’s religion, he’s more interested in helping us see more clearly about our own, whether we acknowledge we’re religious or not. He holds up a mirror where we can judge for ourselves whether or not our particular emperor is wearing any clothes. As I read Dark’s book, I recalled sociologist, Peter Berger, and his concept of plausibility structures. Religion serves as a plausibility structure for us. It helps us make the world intelligible.

So how’s your religion doing these days? Is it working for you? Or, are certain parts of its foundation cracking or crumbling? That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It may be that our our particular understanding or practice of our religion no longer is sense-making for us. It may be we’re dealing with the problem of suffering for the first time (at least it’s hitting us now) and our “controlling story” no longer works. Or, maybe our religion has been Manichaean, full of judgment for the “other” and our “controlling story” now has cracks in the foundation where mercy and forgiveness have seeped in. These shake the foundation of our “controlling story” in a good way, if we’re willing to pay attention.

Now, there is bad religion out there (and Dark I think would agree). Religion that denies reality rather than embraces it, that scapegoats others rather than holds us responsible for our lives, that promises only the good in life while not accounting for the bad. These are all elements of bad religion yet people have woven them into their lives and they’ve become part of their “controlling story.” I know I’m biased, but only Christianity calls us to embrace reality, not scapegoat others, sees us clearly for the mix of good and bad we all are, and accounts for all of that. Other religions do some of those, but not all of them. For me, Jesus and his cross is the only intelligible story that’s sense-making.

+Scott

 

This week on NPR’s Fresh Air there was an insightful commentary by music critic Sarah Hepola. In the piece (“When You Become the Person You Hate On the Internet”), she addressed social media, which gives us all a chance to expose the worst of ourselves to the rest of the world. One day, she heard the hit 90s song, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” which she then described in a Facebook post “as the worst song of all time.” The song is about an estranged couple who reconcile after watching the Audrey Hepburn film by that same name. Her post incited some of her friends to pile on, asserting that they also hated the song. She wrote that she got great satisfaction for having created such “a delightful little bonfire of disdain.” She, however, forgot that among her Facebook “friends” was one who just happened to be in the band that had recorded the hit song.  

She thought of removing the post, but figured that would draw more attention. She just hoped this guy never checked Facebook. But he did. She didn’t quote his response to her post. She only described it as implying that she wasn’t “a very nice person.” This sent her into existential anguish. As a writer, she’d been on the receiving end of people cruelly critiquing her work. Now she knew what that was like. She’d become the type of person she herself hated. But she insisted: “I am a nice person, although I sometimes do not-nice things.” We all engage in such self-assessments that attempt to pronounce cheap self-absolution. How do we differentiate between being a nice person who sometimes does not-nice things and being a not-nice person who sometimes does nice things? Does a nice person do nice things 51% of the time? 75% of the time? 99% of the time? Where’s the cut off line for appraising yourself as a nice person? You see the problem here.

Ms. Hepola isn’t the first person to struggle with such things. St. Paul wrestled with the same internal opponent. In Romans 7, he declares: “I don’t understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Ms. Hepola, I think, would agree with Blessed Paul. Later, St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, wrote in his Confessions about a time in his youth when he nihilistically destroyed fruit from a pear tree. That made him ask himself why he also did the very thing he hated. St. Paul wrote that the Jewish Law, while being good, served to expose our sinfulness before God. In our post-Christian culture such an insight into God’s Law may not be possible for many people anymore. They’re simply unaware of it just as they’re unaware of how Jesus dealt mercifully and graciously with our sin on the cross.

Social Media now serves a similar purpose for us as the Jewish Law did for St. Paul: it exposes the less than flattering truth about ourselves. Many people, however, are left to a lonely, internal struggle all the while hoping others we’ll see them as “nice people who sometimes do not-nice things.” For what else can they hope in a culture that was once based on honor and is now based on shame? They’re trapped in the endless loop of self-shaming and then cheap, attempted self-absolution (“Well, I’m not as bad as others”). This is where our personal, relational evangelism matters. We all know someone stuck in this endless loop. We’ve been in it ourselves. But we must be truthful: The Gospel isn’t about us becoming nice people. It’s about Jesus loving and redeeming us anyway.
+Scott

 

I’ve always been fascinated by numbers. With today’s technology we can look back almost 14 billion years into the universe’s history and see the cosmic explosion of God’s creative Big Bang. It’s mind-boggling to think that anyone can even conceive of a number like 14 billion. Cosmic numbers are on my mind this Holy Week. But more mundane numbers are also crowding my brain. 68 teams started in the NCAA basketball tournament. After today there will only be 8.

When I was a teenager we sang along with Three Dog Night: One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do; two can be as bad as one: It’s the loneliest number since the number one. When my father caught me in some transgression as a child, which was quite often (I was not the most obedient of children), he used to say to me: I got your number, buddy! It was his way of saying I wasn’t fooling anybody but myself.

I have another number for you: umpteen. I didn’t know this, but it’s a real word according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. It’s a blend of umpty (such and such) and -teen (as in thirteen). It’s first known use was in 1918, but I first heard it used when my father would say to me: “I told you umpteen times to _______.” Since I didn’t know how much umpteen was, it became a word of grace indicating my father wasn’t really keeping a precise score of what I had “left undone.” If he’d said: “I told you 237 times to _______” then that would’ve meant he was meticulously keeping an exact score of all my sins. As it was, umpteen left room for grace to take root. My father still “had my number,” but it was an inexact, graceful number: umpteen.

The events of Holy Week starkly remind us that God has “our number.” From Judas’s despicable betrayal of Jesus to Peter’s broken-hearted denial that he even knew Jesus; from Pilate’s effort to wash his hands of the whole affair to the religious leader’s blood-thirsty tenacity to see Jesus dead; from the disciples running away like rats from a sinking ship, to the faithful women who steadfastly refused to abandon Jesus as he was taken from the cross and buried: God indeed has our number.

If we numbered every human virtue and vice, my hunch is we’d find each one of them on display in the biblical characters of Holy Week. You see, the Bible not only reveals to us the truth about God, it also reveals to us the truth about ourselves. And that truth about humanity is completely unmasked and laid bare in the story of Holy Week. God has our number, all 7,411,382,569 of us.

But thanks be to God, God isn’t keeping score. In raising Jesus from the dead, God ended score keeping forever. That, however, doesn’t stop some from the seemingly pathological need to keep score, a way for us to be “one up” and pass judgment on others. But when God raised Jesus from the dead, God eliminated the need for scorekeeping or for even settling scores. God reduced the number down to one question for us: God either raised Jesus from the dead or God didn’t. Either God is in the business of bringing new life to humanity or God isn’t. Only one of those can be true.

+Scott

 

A Word for the Church (eCrozier #293)

Below is a statement from The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops. We passed it unanimously, which, from my experience in the House, is a rare occurrence. That should indicate to the entire Church how strongly the bishops of our Church feel about this.

A Word to the Church

On Good Friday the ruling political forces of the day tortured and executed an innocent man. They sacrificed the weak and blameless to protect their own status and power. On the third day Jesus was raised from the dead revealing not only their injustice but also unmasking the lie that might makes right.

In a country still living under the shadow of the lynching tree, we are troubled by the violent forces being released by the season’s political rhetoric. Americans are turning against their neighbors, particularly those on the margins of society. They seek to secure their own safety and security at the expense of others. There is legitimate reason to fear where this rhetoric and the actions arising from it might take us.

In the moment, we resemble God’s children wandering in the wilderness. We, like they, are struggling to find our way. They turned from following God and worshipped a golden calf constructed of their own wealth. The current rhetoric is leading us to construct a modern false idol out of power and privilege. We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hope of others. No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, we must respect the dignity of every human being and seek the common good above all else.

We call for prayer for our country that a spirit of reconciliation will prevail and that we will not betray our true selves.

Now for my personal thoughts on the above statement. While I agree 100% with what we bishops wrote, I think in some ways it’s not a strong enough warning. Our country is at a pivotal moment in its history. During times of great cultural change or of profound dislocation and uncertainty, nations historically have made poor choices in protecting the common good, but particularly for the less powerful, which usually meant religious or ethnic minorities. Those times of uncertainty have led nations to scapegoat those on the bottom rung of the ladder. Our nation has had signs posted in its history that read: “Irish need not apply” or “No Colored Folk” or “No Jews.” We imprisoned Japanese-Americans during World War II for no legitimate reason. We shouldn’t see ourselves today as being so morally pure or advanced that such things couldn’t happen again. They well could. When people are desperate they can act violently and irrationally. And when their desperation is fueled by scapegoating, it leads to a national moral failure.

Future generations of Christians in America will look back and offer their judgment on how we behave in the days ahead. Let’s pray that their judgment will find us faithful.

+Scott

 

Reinhold Niebuhr wrote: Original Sin is “the only empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith.” It’s obvious everywhere. It’s not just that we commit sinful acts but that we’re sinful by nature. If you doubt that, have children. I have a robust view of my own sin as we all should. As my momma always said, we’re “messes.” Some call this having a “low anthropology” (expecting that none of us will always behave well). That’s why God’s grace is so obviously and completely necessary. As the Collect for the 3rd Sunday of Lent reminds us: “we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.” God’s grace showered upon us is the only power that can make us right and whole before God.

That being said, we all should have reasonable expectations that in our relationships and in society we’ll at least try to act in ways that exhibit honesty, decency, and respect for others. Laws help. They create boundaries for what’s acceptable behavior and what’s not. Whether it’s hurting another person or running a red light in our cars, laws dissuade us from behaving poorly or endangering others. Laws have their place. Even hardened thieves don’t want other people to steal their stuff.

But laws have their limits. They can’t engender mercy, forbearance, or compassion. Laws can’t mandate love for others or require us to think first, not of our own needs, but those of others. Laws can’t oblige us to be kind to others, treat them with dignity, or show them basic decency. Such a stance in life comes from a different place other than the law. And we get to that place by being molded and shaped by something outside ourselves. Our parents, teachers, and mentors hopefully showed us a kind of life worth living that’s grounded in God’s love incarnated in the person of Jesus Christ.

All of which causes me to ask: who were the parents, teachers, and mentors of those angry men who assaulted a young woman earlier this week at Valdosta State University at Donald Trump’s rally? Did they raise and teach their boys to treat another human being that way? As adults, do those men actually believe that such behavior is in any way decent? And if those men are Christians, and I assume some of them self-identify as such, can they be anything other than ashamed? Do they have no shame?

I don’t blame Donald Trump for those men’s behavior just as I would never blame him for my own sin. I have to own my own sin as we all do. Trump is merely unleashing a coarseness and ugliness that’s hiding in all of us, if we’re honest enough to admit it. Trump is tapping into our collective id and giving that id license to go unchecked. That’s why it’s so important that we surround ourselves with people who will help us be better than we’d be otherwise left to our own sinful devices, people that’ll help us love our enemies, be merciful, and live compassionately with others.

We can never, this side of heaven, lose our sinfulness. We can, however, surround ourselves with people who will show us the virtues of God’s Kingdom and then lovingly hold us accountable to those virtues. At the very least, that’s one of the things the church ought to be about. With whom are we keeping company this Lent?

+Scott

 

Well, here we go again. Our State Legislature wants to double down on their Safe Carry Protection Act passed in the summer of 2014. Now they’ve introduced House Bill 859, the so-called Campus Carry bill, to allow students, faculty, and staff to carry concealed weapons at our state colleges and universities. It passed the House. Now it goes to the Senate. We must address the gross inequality of educational opportunity in this State. We must work to develop more jobs providing a livable wage for people so they can work themselves out of poverty. So, rather doing that hard, complex work, our Legislators spend their time on unneeded legislation that’s in search of a rationale.

My hunch is that those supporting this bill have a fantasy garnered only from the movies, where some student or professor stops a deadly attack by taking out his/her concealed weapon and shooting the deranged individual. But, of course, this is a fantasy not based on any evidence or data. The facts on campuses speak very differently. For example, “on college campuses where concealed carry is permitted, the crime rates actually increased while the student population decreased” (Gavran 2015). So, the facts don’t support a claim that having concealed weapons on campus in any way reduces criminal behavior. It actually dissuades students from wanting to attend there.

The data are also clear that even trained law enforcement officers have low firearm accuracy rates in live-fire situations. A Rand Corporation study in 2008 reported that even the most highly trained police officers have an average “hit rate” of only 18% during gunfights. It only bumps up to 30% when the suspects aren’t returning fire. So, 70% of the time highly trained professionals miss their intended targets. How well will an average college student or professor do when faced with such a high stress situation? They’re more likely to harm themselves or innocent people than stop a crime. David Chipman, a former ATF agent, said last year: “Despite what we see on TV, the presence of a firearm is a greater risk, especially in the hands of an untrained person.”

For the life of me, I can’t understand why our Legislators think this is a good idea. There’s no reliable data to support its need. On the contrary, all the reputable research on this topic screams out: “Don’t do this! It won’t help save anyone’s life and it’s very likely to make things worse.” Given the high rate of binge drinking on our college campuses, the thought of adding guns to that particular mix is horrifying. Loaded guns + drunk college kids = nothing good whatsoever. So what could be going in the minds of our Legislators? I assume they’re all honorable people seeking to do what they “feel” is right. And I believe the operative word here is “feel.” House Bill 859 just “feels” right to them. They “feel” it’s a way for them to expand 2nd Amendment rights, or at least how they interpret the clause: “a well-relegated militia.” Feelings, though, are just that: feelings. We should be glad our Legislators have strong feelings about their work. And I appreciate that they’re guided by those strong feelings. That’s human. We should expect such. But we should also expect them also to be guided by data and evidence. And when the data and the evidence tell us how we “feel” about something is incorrect, then we should be mature enough to be guided by sound judgment and not just our strong feelings.

+Scott

 

Lent and the Agnostic (eCrozier #290)

What do you think agnostics think of our Lenten practices? They see our “Ashes-to-Go” set up on street corners. They hear of our fasting or “giving things up for Lent.” What do you think they make of it? They may well scratch their heads and just think we’re the strangest people on earth. “What” we do during Lent and “how” we go about doing it doesn’t make much sense to them. That’s because most of what they hear and see from us is the “what” and the “how” of Lent and not the “why” undergirding it. If we don’t address with them the “why,” then we don’t have much chance of engaging them with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Yet, much of the church remains stuck on the “what” and the “how” of faith. We rarely ever approach the “why,” which has to do with our baptismal identity (forgiven sinners who have died in Christ) and purpose (redeemed sinners sent by Christ into the world). My hunch is that’s true because it’s less risky. We’re more comfortable staying with the mechanics of the season of Lent and its ascetical practices. Don’t get me wrong, those are important practices that nurture our Christian faith. But they remain confined to “what” we do and “how” we do it. They “work” for us because we in the church assume in such practices the “why” that underpins them. Yet, no one I’ve ever known has been moved to a new spiritual place by only addressing the “what” and the “how” of their lives. Those sorts of questions appeal primarily to our cerebral cortex, the rational part of our brains. The “why” question, however, addresses the limbic part of our brain. That’s the part that appeals to our human need and desire for identity and purpose. For a fuller exploration of this line of thinking, see Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk at https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.

My son Charley operates a small pet services business in Washington, D.C. that among other things will walk your dog for you because you are too busy to do so yourself. His business is growing. That’s not because the service he provides isn’t also provided by others. There are plenty of others offering such services. Also, it’s not because he and his employees necessarily provide better service than other similar businesses. In other words, the “what” and the “how” of his business isn’t really that much different than what others provide. The reason his business is thriving is that everything they do proclaims: “We really love dogs!” He’s in the business not merely because he walks dogs (the what) or because he walks dogs really well (the how), but because he loves dogs (the why). That appeals to his clients who also love their dogs. His clients want to be part of a business that loves dogs as much as they do. He focuses on the “why” and then the “what” and the “how.”

I’m not opposed to doing things like “Ashes-to-Go” or similar efforts to connect the Christian faith to where people are, especially if they provide us an opportunity to get to the “why” of people’s lives. But I’m skeptical such efforts do. I think they just make us feel better about ourselves, that we’re really reaching folk on the level of their identity in life and their purpose in the world. What needs to happen is this: We need to engage folk deeply on the “why” of their lives. We need to listen to their life stories, their hopes and fears, and then to talk with them about Jesus because he answers their “why” question of identity and purpose directly.

+Scott