guest post

Do Not Be Afraid

I've got a guest post today from my pastor, Rev. Betsy Ouelette Zierden. Merry Chrismas, everybody.


The angel said to them “ Do not be afraid, for see I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people; to you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is the messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:10-12 

Cora and Linda, Edna Hible

Cora and Linda, Edna Hible

One of my favorite artists died this month on Dec 5th she was 97 years old. Edna Hible was known for her ability to capture the emotion between a Mother and her baby. Her website quotes her saying, “I feel so strongly that a mother and her baby are what makes the world go around… all over the world wherever I have been the feeling between mother and baby is exactly the same. They may carry them differently but the looks on their faces is the same.”

I discovered Edna Hible’s works years ago about the same time I became a mother for the first time. The gaze of love that was shared as Mother and child stared into one another’s eyes struck me as a key into understanding the heart and love of God. Regardless of ethnicity, native costuming and background the essence of love and connection was there. I began to understand at a deep level that the thing that bonds us as human beings across culture is the shared capacity for loving connection.

On this particular Christmas Eve, I open my BBC news app and read the following headlines “IS captures Jordan warplane”, “Police killing sparks St. Louis unrest”, Hong Kong crash sparks money grab”, India rebels kill dozens in Assam… on and on it goes.  There seems to be good reason to be afraid.

Terrorism is now targeting children. A satanic holiday display sits in our state capital1. Racial division continues to exist and causes much pain and mistrust among Americans. Our political system and leaders seem to divide us more than unite us and yet the Angel’s words ring out clear and true. Don’t be afraid!

Don’t be afraid. A Savior who is the Messiah is born. Don’t be afraid you were created for hope. Don’t be afraid you have been called to love, to faith to virtue.

God has come to show us who we really are…Emanuel, God with us demands we hear the Good News.

The Shepherds were minding their own business not expecting much that night, maybe a few shooting stars. When suddenly an Angel stood before them and the Glory of the Lord shone around them and they were enveloped in the light and glory of God. They were terrified so afraid they really listened and in hearing the Good News their fear dissipated. They said to one another Let us Go and see this thing the Lord has made know to us. “ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.  Edna was right “a mother and her baby make the world go around” and this baby belongs to us. This baby belongs to ALL of us This child is Kin to all of us!

Tribalism involves 50,000 years of conditioning humans for survival of the “tribe”.  The focus was on the survival of our kin.

With the birth of Jesus everything changes a child is born who is kin to all of us. Because his ancestry and blood is not specific to one tribe alone having been conceived by the Holy Spirit the Creator himself we are all kin to one another.

In particular Jesus was born to a virgin named Mary who lived in a particular place Nazareth and was from a particular tribe, Israel. Jesus was a Jew.

Universally all of us are created in the Image of God who took on flesh in the womb of a virgin made pregnant by the Holy Spirit. My Father and Jesus’s Father are one. Jesus is my brother. All people are related to the Prince of Peace!

This mystery is best understood when we consider what binds us as humans across cultures, the love of Mother and Child, the need of the Father’s protection and provision as seen in the Nativity. A Savior is born and a New Age enters in for this baby is fully God and Fully man. This baby is destined to reveal the Love and the Intention of God our Creator.

Skipping over the evolutionary process Jesus is a fully evolved human being. He is what we are designed to become.  He is generous, kind, compassionate, empathetic, truthful, peace making, joyful, playful and self-sacrificing.

In a recent article in Scientific America, Dacher Kellner who wrote Born to Be Good; the Science of a Meaningful Life says, ”Evolution has crafted species with remarkable tendencies towards kindness, play, generosity, reverence and self-sacrifice which are vital to the classic tasks of evolution, survival, gene-replication and smooth functioning groups. ”He offers a hopeful view of humanity. Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” turns out to include extending kindness, empathy and compassion. At our core, our best selves include the capacity for virtue and compassion. Jesus proves this for me, for us and for all. Which is why we need not be afraid.

The terrorist will fail in the end.
Hate groups will dissolve over time.
Greed results in Emptiness.
Selfishness leads to loneliness.
Lust turns life to dust.

Behold I bring you good news for all people! In Christ Jesus we have hope! In Jesus we have God with us! In the Savior we have forgiveness, in him we have our true likeness. Virtue is our birthright and love is our calling.

Look closely now into the Nativity. Look closely at the Holy Family see how they love one another. There is peace and light in the midst of the night.

1 – For the record, the Satanic Holiday Display doesn’t worry me at all. I see it as a satire, designed to promote a secular government, and not an actual monument to Satan. But, to Betsy’s point, this statue causes a lot of fear in our society today. -Mike

Guest Post: The Virtue of Changing Your Mind

Today's post is by Rob Carmack, who's stuff you should totally be reading. -Mike

I used to hate the Beach Boys.

“Hate” may be too strong a word, but it’s pretty close. I thought their music was cheesy and simplistic. Perhaps it’s because I thought all of the songs sounded the same, or perhaps it was because of their association with the sitcom Full House.

Regardless of how my dislike began, I held onto it for most of my life. I was a person who did not like the Beach Boys. This was my reality.

But then about six months ago, I read in Rolling Stone Magazine that lots of music critics think the Beach Boys’ album Pet Sounds is one of the greatest records of all time. I thought that was bonkers. How could the Beach Boys have possibly produced one of the all-time greatest rock albums?

Regardless of my prejudice, I went to Spotify and listened to Pet Sounds. The next day, I went back and listened again. Then I started listening to other Beach Boys albums. It took less than a week for me to change my perspective completely: all of a sudden, I liked the Beach Boys (I do like them, Sam-I-Am!).

I’m not saying that I had been completely wrong. There are still some Beach Boys songs that I hate (I’m looking at you, “Surfin’ U.S.A.”), but there are also some songs that I really love (my personal favorite is “Sail On, Sailor”).

What happened with me and the Beach Boys is a phenomenon most human beings experience at various points in their lives: I changed my mind.

Changing your mind can be a scary thing. It’s one thing to appreciate a new kind of music or discover that you like seafood, but it’s a whole other thing to change your mind about how God and life and reality actually seem to work.

Throughout my life, there have been moments when I changed my mind, and each time it significantly altered the way I viewed the world.

I grew up in a world where changing your mind was seen as a sign of weakness or a lack of conviction. People were admired for digging in their heels and gripping onto their opinions with white-knuckle determination.

However, I have learned that when a person changes his or her mind, that is not an act of weakness. In fact, it takes an enormous amount of strength and courage to say to yourself and to other people, “I know I’ve always thought this way, but I think I may have been wrong.”

Over the past ten years or so, I have changed my mind about issues within theology, politics, and relationships. Almost every shift in thinking involved some level of pain or fear. To change your mind is to die a little—to become a different kind of person, even in small increments. However, it is also an opportunity for resurrection—to become a better, healthier, open-minded person.

This is what growth really is.

Lots of people have the idea that growth is the act of learning more about what you already think and believe. But I don’t think that’s true.

Real growth happens when we learn that we don’t know everything, and some of the things that we think and believe are simply incorrect or misguided.

Growth happens when we learn to look at the world in new and different ways—when we learn to see through the eyes of people who are unlike us and think in ways we have never thought before. This means that we must embrace opportunities to change our minds.

If you have been asking new questions or wondering if the way you have always thought about the world might contain a flaw or two, I hope you will set yourself free and invite those new questions. Perhaps you are on the brink of a major moment of growth.

Perhaps you are becoming who you were always meant to be.

(*Footnote: This entire post was written while I listened to the Beach Boys)

What do you think? When was the last time you changed your mind about something important? How did it feel?

The Myth of the Loner

Today's post is a guest post by my friend Bradley Grinnen.

My community is larger than I ever imagined.  I realize this more and more and continually am reminded of this as I make myself more vulnerable to those that I engage with.

I’m going through in incredibly difficult, challenging, and heart-wrenching season, personally, at the moment.  I can’t go into details because of my desire to not make others involved feel uncomfortable or betrayed in any way shape or form.  But suffice it to say, this is one of the most challenging seasons of my life… and I’ve had a few.  It can be extremely lonely and dejecting, not to mention the amount of doubt that is raised in my mind and heart.  I’m certain you have had these seasons if you’re not actually in one right now. 

However, I am being loved.  Loved by those who I talk with on a daily basis.  Loved by those who my main contact is via technology and writing.  Loved by people who are strangers for the most part when I first meet them, but quickly become friends.

There is a pervasive mindset in our society that says the best way to live life is as a ‘loner’ and ‘do it yourselfer’.  This mindset leads us to believe that the more I can accomplish on my own and with my own strength, the greater the person I must be and the more adept I am at this thing called life.  I don’t believe this is true.  You probably don’t either, cognitively, yet you probably hold to it at the very least on a subconscious level.  ‘Loners’ and ‘do it yourselfers’ are only fooling themselves.  I don’t believe that we are ‘wired’ to go through this world alone.  I’ve come to realize this belief is backed by empirical evidence, not just a ‘hunch’ (that is 5 terms in quotes in 1 paragraph… and by no means close to my record).

‘Science Mike’ (another quoted term and the owner of this blog) can back my supposition with hard evidence I’m certain.  He can in fact explain it to you in scientific terms with much greater nuance and clarity than I ever could.  But it is what it is.  I believe the reason we cling to our western modality of holding this mind set of doing things on our own is because we are afraid to be vulnerable.  But it’s a two way street. 

I can’t expect you to be vulnerable with me if I am not vulnerable with you.  It’s not just a give and take thing.  Its an attitude that permeates who we are.  I can only receive your vulnerability to the extent with which I am able to be vulnerable with you.  It would be like putting one hand out to receive the valuable gift that you offer and with the other hand, slap it that gift to the ground. 

And when I use the term community, I am not talking simply about my cultural tribe, faith group, socio-economical group, or any other group that I identify with.  I am talking about any other human being that walks this planet, comes in contact with me, or brushes up against my life. 

I don’t believe we should make ourselves vulnerable to everyone we come in contact with, particularly if they repeatedly harm us physically, spiritually, or emotionally.  But I recognize that the more open and vulnerable I am with those I come in contact with who are safe, the more connected I am to humanity.  The more connected I am to humanity, the more connected I am to myself.  The more connected I am to myself, the more I am able to love myself and receive the love of the Divine.  The more I am able to love myself and receive the love of the Divine, the more I am able to love you and be there for you when you need to be vulnerable.

Being vulnerable isn’t easy and this post isn’t going to be long enough to describe the ‘how to’ of being vulnerable.  But it might nudge you in the direction of opening yourself up to let go of the ‘do it own your own’ mindset.  Where is it in your life that you refuse to let others participate?  What secret do you believe is too horrid to share with someone else?  How might you be denying the ability of others to receive your help because you won’t receive theirs?

Give it a whirl.  Strap in for the ride.  The person you find yourself connecting most to may just be yourself.

Bradley Grinnen is one of the most loving, kind and insightful humans that Mike McHargue has ever met. He's got a blog, and he's on Twitter too.

Jonah, the fish, and Us vs. Them

My friend Bradley Grinnen has a blog focused on spiritual encouragement and inspiration. Bradley has a wonderful heart, and he's someone who has helped me unpack more than one thorny issue in my own life. He's the kind of friend everyone should have.

I did a guest post on his blog today about Jonah and how we relate to others. It's not as good as his stuff, but I hope it challenges you anyway (especially since I stole the content from my friend Cathi, who is much smarter than I am).