Sunday, April 5, 2020

It's Easter Under Coronavirus (And I Feel Fine)

From Toledo, Iowa
For a host of reasons, this blog hasn't been a regular part of my life for about... [checks posts] ...5 years. One reason is that I had a messy breakup of sorts with the church. Coinciding with that was the gradual and inevitable dissolution of intellectual+spiritual friendships from grad school. Those were the folks I did my reading and thinking with, and the fruits of that often made it into writing here. No more thinking buddies, no more writing.

It's all well and good: I started an awesome coffee business in 2015 and most of my creative energy has been focused on that ever since.

And then a global pandemic hit the US last month and just kind of turned the world upside down. This novel coronavirus has forced everyone to reconfigure and drastically change nearly all aspects of our personal and social lives. And now many Christians are entering Holy Week today under a drastically altered lived experience as worshiping communities.

Photo by Erez Attias on Unsplash

Monday, November 18, 2019

In the loving hospitality of my grandmother

From Monroe, IA
Dorothy Mullins
Just over a week ago, I lost my maternal grandmother, Dorothy Mullins. She had just celebrated her 94th birthday back in October, but had been slowly declining in health in recent weeks and months. As I did a number of years ago for my paternal grandfather, I was privileged to give a eulogy at her funeral this past weekend, which I'll share here...

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Pastor of None(s)

Photo by CGP Grey via Wikimedia Commons

It's been four months since my last post about being a failed church planter, and I'm happy to report that whatever kinds of grief and guilt I had about that messy experience (mostly self-imposed) have passed. The post itself struck a chord with some folks and garnered some really great discussion in various social media, mostly amongst my friends and ministerial colleagues.

A few months later I made the following comment on Facebook:
I lost my religion on accident and not for want of trying. And I've come to the conclusion that it's impossible to be spiritual without also being religious.
The responses to this terse remark were interesting and widely varied. I have a diverse set of friends, in terms of religious beliefs and traditions. A secular Jewish friend and a few former Christians said basically, "Welcome to the club!"

But one of the more troubling pieces of feedback I received was from some well-intentioned, kind-hearted and lovely people from my home congregation that suggested that I just needed to "suck it up and go to church" (my paraphrase). But I can't swallow that pill.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Brief confessions of a failed church planter

"that time of the year" by Katie Landry/Flickr
Is there a 12-step program for failed church planters? Maybe there should be...

"Hello, everyone. My name's Brian, and I'm a failed church planter."

"Hi, Brian."

After a year and a half of making small, episodic attempts at doing "church planting stuff," sometime this summer it just clicked: This. Is. Not. Working.

Maybe it was that I have multiple jobs, including a small business startup, and my wife works her tail off as a mental health professional in our struggling rural community. Maybe it's because we have a teenage daughter that we're trying to raise into the great woman that she's already becoming. Maybe it's because the friends we were connecting with for church stuff were just as busy or busier than us, working our tails off just to get by. Maybe it's because other than mailings from denominational offices that I couldn't use (we don't have a church bulletin board, or mailboxes, or a treasurer, OR a pastor!!), I got nothin'. I missed our denomination's semi-annual church planting conference last year, maybe that hindered the work, but I doubt it; I had plenty of big ideas in my head already and that tends to be what conferences traffic in.

Maybe it's all those things and more. I just hit a wall. I had been running on fumes the entire time anyway, but even the fumes ran out. Nothing left in the tank but dust and disappointment. What do I have to show for it? A book chapter that's heavy on theology and aspirations, but thin on practicality and realism. Oh well, it was a good way to end my theological writing career.

What kills me, though, is that we are essentially churchless. Two years ago I mentioned Jake Meador's notion of "ecclesial deserts," and let me tell you, friends, they're real. I live in one. It's not that there aren't churches here filled with good and wonderful Christians, because there are (case in point). But there aren't any I've found that I can sit in for more than a few weeks at a stretch. I don't fit in here, and "going to church" at all the places we've tried just fills me with anxiety.

So that's my story for now: An ordained, failed church planter, wandering in an ecclesial desert (somewhat of my own making, I admit). Prayers are coveted.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Reading John Adams

Portrait of John Adams,
painted by Asher Durand
In my grad school years I made it quite a sport to criticize American politics, particularly foreign policy. I also became convinced that the Enlightenment was a boogeyman (and the logical next step of the Reformation). Being trained in an Anabaptist-Mennonite seminary with a heavy dose of Stanley Hauerwas in the water no doubt was the primary motivator for this.

So it's with some surprise that in the past two weeks I've found considerable pleasure reading two works of Revolutionary American history and biography, both by David McCullough. First I read 1776, which focuses primarily on George Washington and the military battles of that year, and I'm now mid-way through his biography of John Adams.

Inspired by a few of Adams' philosophical thoughts quoted by McCullough, I made my way into reading Adams' brief letter/essay, "Thoughts on Government," written in April 1776. It would later serve as a reference point for his writing of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (still active), itself a model for the drafting of the Constitution of the United States of America. So this is quite an important little document in American political thought and practice.

Having read a bit of moral and political philosophy over the past few years, this kind of essay is juicy sweet brain food for me. A few thoughts as I read through it...

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


From Toledo, IA
Not that many if any people would notice that it's been quiet here on the blog for the past few months, but in the off-chance that someone has noticed, I figured it would be good to offer a small note on what's been going on in my world...

In late 2013 I started a hobby of roasting coffee at home. I fell in love with it instantly, and very quickly started roasting for friends, family, and neighbors in our small community.

Perhaps somewhat hastily last year, I gave the hobby a name, Ross Street Roasting Company (the eponymous street being where my garage/crude roasting facility faced). My local hobby/unofficial business grew modestly and I thought, "Hmm...this could be something."

Thursday, February 26, 2015

From the ruins...

From Toledo, IA
Charles Church & Drake Circus Shopping Centre; Plymouth, England (2012)
During World War II, historic Charles Church in Plymouth, England, was devastated along with much of the rest of the city in the Plymouth Blitz, carried out by the Nazi Luftwaffe. Being a major port city on the southern coast, Plymouth had long been (and still is) an important military position, and so was a target.

In 2006, the Drake Circus Shopping Centre was erected just behind the ruins of the church, which had sat unmolested for decades. As the photo above illustrates, it was certainly no accident that the design of the mall's facade incorporates and frames in the ruins of the church, now an historic landmark in the city centre.

We visited Plymouth in 2012 and I took the photo above. I had first noticed this ruined-church/thriving-mall arrangement from the window of our hotel (on the left), and chuckled to myself. It certainly sends a message...