December 30, 2011


I saw a cartoon a few weeks ago with this simple caption: “Every year American culture embarks on a massive project to carefully recreate the Christmases of baby boomers’ childhoods.” I found it a profound insight.

Tradition is a big deal pretty much everywhere you go, but nowhere else is it more revered than in religious settings. We like our traditions; the lights and greenery of the Christmas season, the parades on July 4 and Memorial day, that one special place every summer. For years before we moved out of Rochester, my wife and I would go to a sushi place called “California Rollin’” on our anniversary and our birthdays. It was our family tradition. We still go when we visit family there, as much for the nostalgia as for the food. Traditions can be true and deep and meaningful and - dare I say it - even holy.

There are two challenges, however, with tradition. The first is environmental: the world is not a static place, but rather, our environment is dynamic, always changing; jobs change, weather changes, economies rise and fall, friends come and go, people get injured … nothing stays as it is for long.  Our traditions are subject to the movement of the world around us, now more than ever. The second is cultural: what one person considers a tradition is often different for another. Some prefer the brightness of lights and lasers at Christmas, others prefer the darkness of a candle-lit sanctuary. Some prefer to rock around their Christmas tree, others prefer a silent night. We start to argue about making sure we “keep the tradition” and blacklist anyone who would dare suggest we try something new - they’re troublemakers up to no good, and no good will come of their antics. And we forget that our tradition was, at one time, not the way it was always done.

At some point, the tradition was new.

The lesson to learn here is that there are, really, two kinds of tradition. Traditions are created, intentionally, for a good reason. They are not simply "the way it is," but rather came from somewhere for a purpose. We create a rhythm with traditions; the rhythm is a reminder, a symbol of something deep and meaningful. Sometimes we can keep those traditions fresh and new, ever-imbued with that deep meaning for all concerned. I’d put “Silent Night” by candlelight into this category; every year it takes on a new meaning for me and many, many others; sometimes because of the peaceful tranquility of the soft music, sometimes because of the communal act of creating light together, sometimes just simply because it’s so darn pretty to see an entire room lit only with candles. It’s done every year on purpose, for good reasons that almost everybody can articulate, including but not limited to “because we like it” (though we’d be remiss not to recognize that not everybody does).

All traditions, though, are created for a season, for a culture, and when they have run their course, when the world changes and more people come from other cultures with other traditions, everybody’s traditions change. And it’s ok - we can help each other create new traditions for a new season in a new time and place.

But “Traditionol” (now with fresh citrus flavor!) is a drug that promises, for many, to make it all better, as if going back to old faithful really will change the outcome. Despite a change in the environment or culture, despite the differences in traditions across a group of people, we often fight to keep the way it’s been done for the status quo. [sidenote: This isn’t limited to those that won’t change anything; sometimes “change” can be a tradition all to itself, as in "change for change's sake."] But that’s the definition of insanity; you are doing, as they say, exactly what it takes to get the results you are currently getting, and to expect new results by continuing this same course is simply lunacy.

Sometimes traditions are done only because that’s the way we do it; we can’t remember a good reason to do it beyond “that’s the way we always do it” or “we like it that way.” Sometimes we go so far as to make our traditions into dogma to be enforced on others as the right way, the only way, and despite that those traditions were created for a positive purpose, to foster greater understanding and connection with others, along the way we lost the vision. That is when a tradition becomes the addictive and yet repressive traditionol: when we no longer understand why we should do it, but rather only know that we can’t and won’t stop.

And so sometimes, sometimes the best thing to do is to let a tradition die.

That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a good thing, a helpful thing, a beautiful and true thing. It simply means that it has served its higher purpose and now, something new is needed. Sometimes, to keep a tradition from becoming traditionol, we let it die, and in its death we allow it to birth new traditions for a new time and a new culture. We remember it fondly, as a good thing, as something that blessed many.  And then we start over as artists, and from the charcoal of the old, the whisper of the new is born.

December 19, 2011

Thinking Smaller

“So Chris, didn’t you used to be fatter?”

“Hey Chris, have you gotten less fat?”

“Chris, did you get new jeans? Your clothes look huge!”


For those of you asking questions like these, the answer is a roll of my eyes and then, yes. Yes I have. For the last four months I’ve been using the weight watchers online program to keep track of my eating habits. There’s less on my body, and more in my head; I’ve learned a whole lot, about both myself and our culture.

Less is More
One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that less is, in fact, more. It turns out that we Americans, in general, eat way, WAY too much, more than our bodies actually need. The first two weeks of this plan (it’s not a diet, in the traditional sense, but a plan for how to control what you eat) were hell for me. Because I had to calculate every little thing I ate into a “points” system, I was surprised to discover that I wasn’t eating that much extra at meals, but rather, I was snacking myself to into the sofa. I discovered that I lacked discipline; every chance I got, I would simply reach for a snack. Sometimes it was for stress, sometimes because I hadn’t eaten properly at my last meal (eating more protein will last longer than carbs, for example), and sometimes simply because my mouth really wanted to do something as I stared at my computer. So the first two weeks brought to light all of these crazy things I had always taken for granted, things that fell between the couch cushions of the fabric of reality. And it was in those first two weeks that I began to see what I had become: an undisciplined food-addict.
Food addiction is unlike any other addiction in that it’s the only addiction from which you can never go cold-turkey. It’s not as if you can simply stop eating and sweat it out in a padded room for a few days and then begin the recovery process. The thing about life is, you really do need to eat … just maybe not as much as you were.
Oddly enough, because I’ve eaten less and had to choose carefully what I ate, I actually think that food tastes better now than it used to. I used to live by the assumption that if you like something, you eat more of it. It turns out though, that if you only have chocolate once every three weeks, it takes on a much more vibrant flavor than if you keep some krackel in a bucket under your desk. The same can be said for eating out; if you don’t eat taco bell every week, eating it twice in four months becomes a whole different experience. Luxury food - and that is what those things are - is actually a treat now, I get excited about it in a way I didn’t used to; it’s made food MORE enjoyable than when I indulged my every perceived whim.
Learn What Things Are Worth
I had to buy several new pairs of jeans by the time I lost 20 pounds because my other pants were literally falling off of my waist. Yes, it is expensive to lose weight. But beyond the need for new, smaller clothes and a few specialty foods, it’s ridiculous to me that our country is the only one in the world where fresh vegetables and fruit and meat are more expensive than a box of mac and cheese. Mass production of carbohydrates (the evil “c-word” of weight loss) has given our country a strange twist over others; the poor in our country are the only ones in the world who are fatter than the wealthy because they can’t actually afford the healthy food. Eye-opening, to say the least, but it meant that for me to stick with the plan, I had to pick and choose what was really important to keep in my diet. Orange Juice was the first thing to go, but then I stopped drinking my iced chai tea every morning - too many points, and too expensive. Why use five points on a small glass of orange juice when I could just get a box of oranges and have those for zero points?
What, in other words, is really worth your time and your money and your effort?
Learn Discipline
It’s amazing to me how different one pound seems from twenty. I wanted this to be easy, to just amputate my stomach and be done all at once. Seriously, I used to have dreams about getting liposuction because it sounded easier.  This plan didn’t work like that though; I didn’t get to simply have whatever I wanted whenever I wanted it; if that were allowed, I’d have used all of my daily points by the time I hit lunch. I had to build discipline into my lifestyle slowly. The plan helps you lose weight slowly, up to several pounds a week. While this didn’t seem like much each day (especially in the beginning), six weeks into it I had lost enough weight that I had to adjust my belt another notch. I didn’t even notice it at first! It took the slow accumulation of disciplined effort rather than one day of agony to make a difference. It turns out that this is far healthier than the “immediate-gratification” culture of which we’re all a part; we don’t really know how to say “no” to ourselves.
It also turns out that I’m far more likely to stick with it the longer I do stick with it. Since it took so long to get the weight off, I’m stubborn about keeping to my plan - I don’t want to have to take this much time to lose it all over again. You have to be persistent to learn persistence, in other words, but it pays off big time. Imagine how this applies to a lot of other things in life. Take money, for example. Do you want an iPad? Great - start putting pennies in a jar, or that few extra bucks from not having a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Over time, you’ll save enough to get that new toy. You’ll miss the coffee at first, but when you buy the iPad, you’ll realize it was worth it. It takes sacrifice to get what we really want in life because we can’t actually just have everything. We may try to hide our rationalization, but we really do “nickel and dime” our budgets in weird ways. Do we REALLY need another one of those little things, when over time we could have the big thing? Or how about our time? What if we stopped checking facebook or twitter ever two minutes - imagine how much extra time in a day we’d have because we weren’t addicted to our social media?
Maybe we need to think bigger by thinking smaller - what if we stopped having that one luxury item we crave all the time to instead donate that money to digging wells? We all think that a seemingly meager contribution can’t do much, but over time, and as our influence spreads to others, the wells will get deeper.

In total now, I’ve lost almost 27 pounds, over 10% of my starting weight, and I’m still going. It feels really good, despite the occasional bout of paranoia that I’ve eaten too much. And as I said, people are starting to notice; it was startling to my parents when they came to visit - I’d lost about twenty pounds at that point, and I believe my mother’s exact description of me was “svelte.”

I’m not entirely sure what that means, but it sounded good.

October 28, 2011

Worship Connect: Why We Sing

Come join the discussion at the Worship Connect blog for the ECC. Today we're talking about why we sing ...

Music is powerful.

Music has the ability to convey and evoke emotion, even without words. Music is the one thing that every single culture on earth has in common, and while the form of music differs, not a single culture on earth is without it.

Because we are what we sing.

Read the full post here.

October 17, 2011

Down in the Valley

The most recent post on the Worship Connect Blog features an article by the most excellent Geoff Twigg that dovetails nicely with my last sermon (about rebuilding from the rubble); I highly suggest you check it out and join the conversation!

"For most of you this has been a mountain top experience, a rare event – and you don’t really want it to end; but don’t forget… nothing grows at the top of the mountain. If you want to see people growing in Christ, being discipled and deepening their devotion, you need to put your boots on and get to work in the valley.”

October 7, 2011

On Creativity

"When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something, it seemed obvious after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they'd had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.  Unfortunately, that's too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven't had very diverse experiences.  So they didn't have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one's understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have."

[Steve Jobs]

September 24, 2011

Navigating the Line

I’m learning that there’s a fine line between prophet and pharisee.
A prophet calls out a culture on the ways it has strayed from truth and warns of the consequences of bad decisions; a pharisee condemns a culture for every minutiae.
A prophet speaks of the One who sent her; a pharisee speaks of himself and those like him.  
A prophet speaks because he cares for those whom he addresses; a pharisee cares only for her perceived superiority over those whom she pities. 
A prophet speaks to people now, here; a pharisee speaks to everyone at all times. 
A prophet is proactive; a pharisee is reactive.

Worship arts pastors, being of creative mind and spirit, often take on the role of prophet for their church culture, sometimes intentionally, but more often not. Our creativity is often at odds with a culture that prefers to mass-produce, our art at odds with a sports-infused populace, our lingering poetry counter to a bullet-point society. It is only natural that we challenge the status quo, as our personalities and our preferences fit the job description. But the danger is that we can become that which we prophesy against; in our cry against perpetual busy-ness, we become too busy ourselves; in our cry for families to spend time together, we neglect our own; in our crusade against consumer-driven worship gatherings, we don’t have time to curate with integrity and simply throw together whatever comes to the top of our minds. We can become pharisees in the midst of our role.

C.S. Lewis is known for saying that all vices are merely virtues taken out of their proper place. The role of the worship pastor is no different; when we do our jobs properly, the people rejoice because they have encountered God, not us. A worship pastor, like a prophet, points to God, calling attention to His mercy, His holiness, His grace, His justice, His love. But when we distort that calling, we begin pointing towards ourselves, to our congregation, to our culture, and we become pharisees.
When we try to enforce our way on others instead of collaborating, we become pharisees.
When we curate a worship gathering with our own tastes in mind rather than what is best for the community, we become pharisees. 
When we condemn others without intense self-examination, we become pharisees. 
When we don’t acknowledge the diversity of tastes and talents in others, and instead mandate our tastes and talents as the preference of God, we become pharisees. 
When we ask others to make sacrifices without first becoming living sacrifices ourselves, we become pharisees. 
When we don’t set aside time to simply be creative (but instead mass-produce what everyone else is doing), we become pharisees. 
When we see resources to be used rather than people to be encouraged, we are pharisees.
When we see only ritual instead of relationship, we are pharisees.

A friend and mentor of mine often says that, to detect counterfeit money, bank tellers are not given a class on what counterfeit looks like, but rather are given time to spend with the real thing. In knowing the real thing inside and out, the counterfeits become obvious. So too, I’m learning that we worship arts pastors need to spend time with the real thing if our gifts and passions and callings are to be used well. For if we don’t know God, all our planning becomes clanging cymbals in the ears of those we lead, and WE become the distraction. While the truth of the matter tends to find itself in the middle somewhere, let’s recommit - daily if necessary - to spending time with the real thing. Let us be prophets, and not pharisees.

September 23, 2011

Worship Connect | Cause for Celebration

I love that I get to contribute to the Worship Connect Blog for the Covenant. I'd love your input over there in the comments section; let's talk about celebration!

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The occasion of several birthdays in our worship arts family this week got me thinking about the importance of celebration. Throughout the scriptures, celebration plays a key role in the life of the Hebrews; Joseph threw his brothers a party, David danced, Ezra read from the scriptures to a multitude with rapt attention, Isaiah saw the angels singing “Holy Holy Holy,” Jesus and the disciples ate together on many occasions.  But we’re left with a picture at the end of the second testament that outdoes them all; a new city descending to a new earth, gleaming and brilliant with light, and a spotless bride dressed to match her husband. A wedding, and a banquet. A dawn breaking. A brand new beginning. And then the passage abruptly ends; we don’t get to keep reading the next adventure …

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Read the rest here.

September 16, 2011


One thing that I don’t know what to do with concerning “the gospel” (the good news recorded in the scriptures) is that it seems to me that in order to accept the good news, we first have to agree with the bad news.  It's starting to bug me a little; we have to accept that our world is broken in order to accept that it needs fixing, but more than that, for those of us westerners/americans who subscribe to a general humanist-flavored worldview (and we all do, to some extent), the bad news is that not only is our world screwed up, but so are we.  Individually, we are messed up.

I am the problem.

And so are you.

And that doesn’t sit well with Americans.  All of us want to not be the one screwed up.  Nobody wants to be responsible.  “It’s not my fault” is a refrain you can hear EVERYWHERE.  I say it. You say it. Everybody says it. Nobody wants to be wrong about something. And yet the good news requires, it seems to me, that we accept that something about us is wrong.

All together.



We all participate in this broken world. I choose to buy products regularly that are assembled in impoverished developing nations where the people are paid so poorly for their lengthy labor that they can barely afford a decent meal for their family that day, thereby perpetuating a broken system that hurts people. I have hurt people emotionally. I’ve ignored people who needed recognition. I’ve recognized people who didn’t. I’ve bought into a culture - hook line and sinker - that says some people are more important than others, that some people get special treatment simply for having more money than me, for having a nicer smile than me or who simply are celebrity because they say they are. I’ve bought into that.

And so have you.

Now maybe we don’t think so. I know I don’t much think about it while I’m brushing my teeth or eating a hot dog. It’s like water to a fish; it’s just there, but the truth is that I live my life in such a way that validates those principles as reality. My behavior says it louder than my voice ever could.

And so does yours.

Bill Hybels presented the idea of getting from “here” to “there” a few years ago at a leadership summit. In order to start the journey, for him, you need to make “here” look really bad so that “there” looks more appealing.  I know it’s so cliche for evangelicals in particular to say things like “if you were to die today, would you go to heaven?” but I wonder sometimes if that’s really the right track, that starting with the problem and ending with the solution is how to go about this whole thing.  It would also make sense to me that anybody immersed in our culture like fish in water would have a hard time with that, pointing at them and saying things like “see the crazy fundamentalist?”  [side note: I know many evangelicals bring it on themselves by saying stupid things that don’t have anything to do with the gospel, like how you should divorce your Alzheimer’s wife, something totally un-Jesus, and by being “against culture” because it’s easier to dismiss the whole thing by demonizing the other than it is to be discerning and figure out where we ought to agree with our culture.]  But the fact of the matter is that just because it’s uncomfortable to be wrong, to be broken, to be in need of a savior … that doesn’t mean it’s untrue, and it doesn’t mean we should shut up about it.




Here’s the thing though: it’s not really good news to tell somebody that God’s here to redeem you if you don’t think you need redeeming.  It’s more of an annoyance.  Think of it, if you’re a Christian and a Hindu were to come up to you and tell you that you’re broken and that Ganesh has all the answers, what would you say?  You’d laugh at them, most likely, or you’d get really uncomfortable and try to avoid making eye contact.  Maybe you’d get mad and ask what right they have to tell you something about Ganesh, and who ever heard of THAT god anyway, it’s not real. … Sound familiar?

But I also know that many people already recognize a broken world when they see one.  Going up to somebody in the subway and telling them they’re going to hell isn’t really that helpful if the person doesn’t believe hell exists or - worse - if they already think they’re IN hell. You have to speak a language they understand, and to learn that language, you kind of have to know them first.  You don’t get to tell somebody they’re broken until you know who they are.  In today’s world, we have to belong before we’ll believe; we have to know that these people care about us and have our best interests at heart before we’ll trust them to suggest to us what’s what.  We need to know them, and they need to know us.

And so to me, it’s really good that Truth with a capital-T is a Person, not some abstract concept.  Truth is in a relationship, not a belief.  When we say we know Truth, it’s not a list of bullet-points we can memorize and put on a powerpoint, but rather it’s more like knowing my friend Mike.  I know that Mike really likes music and can play a mean lead electric, that he can speak some Japanese, that sushi and Chipotle are always on his menu.  But I also know he’s got my back; we’ve been through some stuff that’s built trust between us, and if he were to tell me that I messed up (and he has), I’d believe him far more readily than Bob the Televangelist. I can tell you all about Mike, but until you spend time with him (and you should), you can’t trust him the way I do.






August 4, 2011

In the Tension [UPDATED]

I have a confession make: I've struggled with homosexuality my whole life.

I don't mean I've struggled with same-sex attraction. I think we can all agree that Mark Wahlberg and Brad Pitt are fine specimens of the male gender, but for me, that appreciation turns quickly into envy; I wish I looked like them, though preferably without the effort it takes them.

It's a problem.

No, my struggle is more basic than that; I don't know what to make of homosexuality at all. I struggle to reconcile the people I know with the scriptures I believe, the friendships and relationships and emotions with the principles. When I read the scriptures, I see principles that teach us to love our God and our neighbors, to respect each other, and a way of life that is full of grace and mercy and justice. But I also see a lot of things that show us where the boundaries of sin are, and I find it hard to read scripture in a way that says acting on homosexual urges, regardless of their origin (the nature vs. nurture debate is still far from over), is inside that boundary.

What makes it harder are the names I can put to people I know and care for who have followed those urges. My emotions want me to simply accept their actions, since who am I (a sinner as well) to judge? They seem to love each other, and who am I to say they shouldn't be able to marry who they love? I did, why shouldn't they?

That would be fair.

And frankly, I don't want to lose the friendships and respect of those who so strongly support gay relationships; it seems that these days, if you were to speak out against, or you were to even DOUBT the “ok-ness” of homosexuality, you lose the right to speak at all, about anything.

Apparently, that’s called being "tolerant."

In fact, it’s the very reason I nearly didn’t post this about a thousand times, why I edited it a thousand times, rewrote whole chunks; if somebody misunderstands, misinterprets, or simply is offended, then I lose the right to speak to them.

But then I go back to scripture. Some things in scripture are contextual and others are cross-contextual. Women as leaders, for example, is a contextual issue. The ECC is unashamedly egalitarian because there are actual examples of female leaders in the scriptures, and the two passages we see speaking against this practice are both rooted in the context of their respective situations. However, homosexuality seems, to me, to be cross-contextual, since it's addresses in multiple contexts and multiple authors and multiple cultures, and every time they seem to say the same thing: acting on the impulse is a sin.

I see so many of my peers, particularly in my generation, advocating for homosexual egalitarianism within the church. And I respect their opinions, since they're very smart and well-read and travel to Bolivia to care for orphans. Their character in other areas is so much like Jesus. They make me think hard about the way I read the scriptures, the way I see my neighbors.

And what if they're right?

What if I’ve been reading the scriptures wrong? What if I misunderstood the context? What if this whole thing is wrong in MY head and it’s not actually my peers in the church-world that are crazy? On the other hand, what if they’re reading too much of a 21st-Century perspective on love into the scriptures in a way that was never intended? What if they’ve unintentionally compromised their beliefs in order to sound politically correct or to feel like they fit in or to give themselves a voice where they wouldn’t have one otherwise?

And the argument just goes back and forth,

back and forth,




back and forth in my head, a pendulum whose near-perpetual motion is starting to make me a bit dizzy.

The fact is that "hate the sin, love the sinner" doesn't help me, since the people who usually say that to me don't seem - to me - to love others that are different from them very well. But I also don't want to compromise the truth contained in the scriptures by trying to make them say something they don't simply to resolve a cognitive dissonance between my culture and my religion.

What seems to keep coming back is the tension within love that you see in the scriptures. The kind of love God has is patient, kind, generous, and trusting. But it also speaks truth into the lives of others, honestly, openly, albeit carefully. Some things are not beneficial, the scriptures say, and you shouldn’t do them no matter how strong the urge, no matter how harmless it seems. And so when someone is wrong, love says so, because the relationship it is based on can handle that tension. Love looks out for others. Love doesn’t seem concerned that you always FEEL love in order TO love.

There's a difference between love and permissiveness. 

It seems to me that the "accept me for who I am" argument doesn't work for several reasons. First, I doubt anyone saying that to me would respond too kindly to being told the same in return; nobody accepts a racist "for who they are" anymore, and the same goes for anyone labeled a "homophobe." Even if we say otherwise, we all BEHAVE as if we believe that our actions - and even our beliefs themselves - are actually choices. We behave as though we are not genetically programmed, but that we can choose to do something, choose to believe something. Which means that we really do believe people can change their actions and beliefs, even if we only believe that only OTHERS should change.

I suppose it raises the question though, who ought to change? That could be the crux of the culture war.

Second, while God always accepts us as we are, for Him that is not an end, that is only a beginning. God is ever-challenging us to grow in faith and holiness, to become closer to His image and character, and that means leaving sin behind, a piece at a time. His love is big enough to be dissatisfied with where we started. God believes we can and should change.

It's part of love.

And so my struggle is, how do I imitate God here, in the tension?  How do I live authentically, true to both the scriptures and my friends, so they can see that God loves them fiercely, but that doesn't always mean He'll just sign off on everything we want or feel?  How do I come out the other side having represented God well to my neighbors? How do I best love God and people in a culture that believes love means encouraging you to do whatever you feel is ok, regardless of the consequences and regardless of how it affects others? In a culture that is passive-aggressive, how do I confront in a healthy way, a way they understand?

How do I live in the tension?

How do I love?


Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, responded SO well to the LGBTQ community at the Global Leadership Summit this month, and I thought I'd post the video here.

July 22, 2011

Sacrifice | Worship Connect Blog

My latest post over at the ECC Worship Blog can be found here. I'd love to hear your thoughts on where YOUR church has found itself within the tension we all have to maintain between our preferences and sacrifice.

July 8, 2011

Creativity and Music Architecture

I've seen a number of remarkable presentations of late on creativity and the arts, and I thought I'd share them with you here.

July 6, 2011


I think a lot of the objection to short-term missions that has been raised as of late has a lot to do with the American notion of efficiency. It seems a lot of arguments are built on the idea that “we could do MORE with that money if we’d stop spending it on plane tickets / fundraising items / souvenirs / tourism and just give it to the people, THEN they could rebuild their society.”

I disagree.

Short-term missions do have issues and need to be handled carefully, to be sure. The dangers of “poverty-tourism” where one weeps over the people for a month after returning home and then resuming the life one left are legitimate and fairly well-documented; one can return on an artificial high and feel one has done one’s “duty” for “those people over there” without ever truly grasping the truth that we are just as poor, we are just as broken as they. We create for ourselves a false dichotomy where we put ourselves above those in poverty and are the “benefactors” who go over there to impart on them our wisdom and our ways, to give our money away and feel good about having done something. We forget that to be a true partnership, to truly honor them as human beings created in the image of God, the interaction goes both ways; we need to be willing to learn from them, to recognize that they too have a great deal to contribute to the Kingdom of Heaven if only we were willing to accept their sacrifice and their talents and their experiences. Poverty tourism insults a local culture by making a hierarchy where none exists, putting the tourist as better than the local. And yes, this is a danger that needs to be avoided.

But it can be avoided. Short-term missions work best when they are partnered with long-term missions, with missionaries who have lived in the area a long time and have spent the time building relationships with the locals and can continue those relationships once the team has left. It takes training for the short-term teams to understand a bit of local culture before they arrive (let’s avoid those cultural taboos if we can; don’t bring beef to India!). It takes an attitude of humility on the part of the team to understand that they aren’t the bigger picture here, that God’s been at work a long time before they arrive and will continue to work a long time after they leave. It takes the posture of disciples who are willing to sit at the feet of the long-term missionaries and the locals and learn from them, even as they participate in the mission work they came to do.

And yet many lament the inefficiency of the short-term team. So much capital and time are invested in going over to another place to do this work, so many resources that could be used to build more wells, more community centers, feed more children, clothe more orphans, buy medicine for more wounded and elderly. It’s a touching thought, and while I applaud the sentiment, there are other things in this world than efficiency.

I heard a story once about a missionary in sub-Saharan Africa describing the way we do church here in the West to one of the locals. At some point, he mentioned a heated debate that had begun over the organ in one church, whether to replace/restore it with $100k or be efficient and buy the cheaper electronic version. The local - who himself lived in poverty - looked at the missionary and said something to the effect of “if it takes $100k for an organ so people can meet Jesus, then spend the money! You can’t put a price on meeting Jesus.”

Humbling, for sure.

But it makes an important point: money is just money. We can’t make more of it than it is, because if we do that, we turn it into an idol and give it false power. If we truly believe that God is Lord over all, if everything is His and He can do with it as He pleases, then it’s a false modesty that says we should give all the money spent in short-term missions to the locals because we think that means it’ll be better spent; it’s easy to say because it’s never going to happen, which makes the one saying it feel superior without having to really change anything. And that perpetuates the false dichotomy we mentioned earlier, it still puts us above them, only we leave smelling more righteous, even if it’s only self-righteous.

And that annoys me.

More to the point, however, arguments about efficiency completely ignore the other benefits to short-term missions: relationships and inspiration.

In Haiti a year ago, the locals we worked with were so happy to have us there. [Side note: That was one of my takeaways, how they could live with joy in the midst of such pain, and it has given me better perspective as I’ve moved jobs and gone through a lot of transition in the last year.] The purpose of our trip was to work with a team of Haitians to help them rebuild their church, which was to double as a community center. The relationships forged with Joselin and others there were valuable for us and for them; we learned about each others’ cultures, laughed together, prayed together, played together, and worshipped together. Before we left, the Haitians thanked us because they were so glad to know that the church beyond their borders cared for Haiti, and they wanted us to know that they too were praying for the church in America. That relationship, between Haitian and American churches, requires that investment of people, which requires money. It’s valuable! Think of how easy it is to quit when you feel that nobody supports your efforts, when you are simply ignored.

There is motivation in relationship; Joselin in particular wanted to rebuild his country and this time do it right (Haiti crumbled, in large part, because there is an existing culture of short-changing building materials), and he drew strength from the relationship, knowing that even if his local brothers and sisters wanted to take shortcuts, others like us supported his desire to rebuild properly and were willing to work side-by-side with him to get it finished. And we in return were inspired as a team, drawing strength from his strength. I’d return in a heartbeat, given the opportunity.

To (ironically) pull a page from economics, it always takes investment to generate return. If it takes $2500 a person to send a team to Haiti and help the Haitians know that the rest of the world still cares about them, then DO IT! We can send all the money in the world to somebody but that doesn’t necessarily show them that we love them; it takes the investment of time, the labor of sacrifice to show someone that you love them. If it’s a week building alongside Haitians, do it. If it’s four days in an orphanage in India, do it. If it’s a VBS in South Africa, do it. Be aware of the dangers, check your motivations, but don’t be afraid of inefficiency; it’s worth the sacrifice of efficiency to build the relationship.

July 3, 2011

Worship Connect

The Worship Pastors of the Evangelical Covenant Church have put together a (closed) facebook group where we discuss our calling: leading our people in the worship of our Creator. Out of these discussions, the denomination has asked us to contribute weekly to a public blog so that the denomination as a whole can benefit from the conversation. I was so excited to be asked to contribute!

This week, it's been a very interesting discussion on what to do with national holidays; how does one curate worship gatherings and keep Jesus as the focal point - the subject of the story, as it were - but still honor the cultures in which we find ourselves when they celebrate a holiday (July 4, Memorial Day, etc). There have been many points of view and ideas brought to the table, and we'd love you to contribute your thoughts on the subject. The blog post in question (written by our own Matt Nightingale) can be found here. We'd love to hear from you!

June 22, 2011


Preached again. First sermon at Community Covenant, and it didn't turn out half bad. Enjoy.

May 26, 2011

A Prayer of Seeking





Sometimes we feel so close to You. We hear your voice plainly. We feel comforted. We feel joy. You meet our needs in more abundant ways than we could possibly have guessed or imagined possible. We feel loved.

And sometimes it feels like you don't even answer, like you didn't even hear us to even tell us no. Things don't go as we'd hoped. We feel the weight of silence.

And sometimes you move beyond where we feel comfortable, outside of our boxes, our traditions, our expectations and our interpretations. We feel so small. We feel absurd.

But you've told us we can trust You, and You've proven it over and over again, even if it's in ways we didn't quite expect. May we learn to trust Your mercy, Your justice, Your grace as we walk forward in this uncertain world.

We ask this as humbly as we can, just like Your Son: may it be so.

May 15, 2011


At some point in Drops Like Stars, Rob Bell compares us to a bar of soap. He says that the bar of soap can be turned into a magnificent piece of art - he shows a few examples that others have created - but it must be chiseled away first, that the artwork is waiting to come out if the artist would only remove the proper pieces.

I rather wonder if we Americans should hear this regularly. From a purely physical perspective, I think most of us could stand to be chiseled out a bit more. I look at myself in the mirror and think "I think there's a smaller me in there somewhere, if I could take that piece off and that piece off, and maybe that one ..." I don't know that Rob was necessarily talking about that when he wrote the book, but you never know.

What I think he was getting at was that we as people are works of art in progress, that we as human beings need to let the master artist work on us, transform us, and that involves some pain. Transformation is not easy; it means going through the pain of having our addictions and preferences and time-worn habits ripped away from us, piece by piece, and replaced with ... what? I think it's at this point that I've heard teachers forget that the phrase "God fills that void" isn't necessarily that helpful, even if it is true. God still has to fill it with something, and it's a choice on our part to let him carve out a new picture for our lives. It's all dependent on our willingness to let those holes remain open for God to fill, and not ourselves fill them with the old habits or new albeit broken ones. If we let Him do His transforming work - a process that is by no means instantaneous - God begins stripping away our addictions and bad habits, and then replaces them with new habits, new practices. Where once there were habits of financial debt, God replaces with habits of responsible generosity. Where there was once an adulterer, God replaces with habits of loyalty and interdependence. Where there was once a drug addiction, God replaces with habits of service and hospitality.

If we'll let him.

May 11, 2011


I would very much like to know the answers to two questions: 

1. What are your favorite hymns?
2. Why?

Post your answers in the comments section.

May 6, 2011


"If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." [The Apostle Paul, in Philippians 2:1-4]
The church these days has been looking pretty fragmented. We find ourselves all over the spectrum on every conceivable issue. Every day it seems there's another scandal of some Christian getting angry at some other Christian over some theological or doctrinal or political or practical issue that they don't quite agree on; like oil and water, parts of what are supposed to be the body of Christ just can't seem to mix. And it begs the question, whatever happened to Jesus' call for unity?

In John 17, Jesus prays that his followers would be, above all, united together as Jesus is united with the Father. The early church had a word for this likeness: homoousios, meaning of the same substance.

I dare you to try and fit that one into conversation today.

God the Father and Jesus are of the same stuff; if you see one, you see the other. But as you read through the Bible, sometimes it seems that on the surface, God the Father (especially in the Old Testament) and God the Son (Jesus, in the New Testament) aren't really that related; one burns Sodom and Gamorah, the other heals beggars and lepers. But if you look more closely, you start to see that God the Father really is generous, loving, and actually likes his creation, and that Jesus sometimes gets upset and turns over tables. The more you read, the more you see that they are united in the same stuff - the stuff of character - and it is most profound to note that God the Father and God the Son are servants. God begins the restoration of His world by rescuing Israel from slavery, something none of the other religions of the day could claim. Jesus, over and over again, heals people physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually in nearly every place He went. It makes me think that unity in our body, as diverse as we are, as seemingly different as we are in our theology, in our expression, in our worship, means that we need to all be of the same character, of the same stuff.


We need to be united because we take on the character of God, and the best way to do that is to love each other. And the best way to love each other is not at first a head thing, and not even at first a heart thing, but is at first an action thing: to serve. Serving is at the very core of God's character, and is, I think, at the very heart of what it means to be a united body, in the name - in the character - of Jesus.

I've never seen people who serve together angry at one another for very long. When we SERVE others WITH others, we can put our differences aside because it's no longer about us, it's about the mission and the One who gave us that mission, it's about the purpose we've adopted that's outside of ourselves. When we need to, we can still work with others we don't agree with or don't even like much because we're all in on the mission together. And when our self-attention goes out the window and we instead gravitate that attention to the mission, so too does our focus on the differences we see between ourselves and others seem to dissipate. Unity is about our focus; when we are not united it is because we are too focused on loving ourselves instead of on loving others. Disunity, at its heart, is about selfishness.

The heart of unity is selflessness and humility, just like serving.

One substance.

One character.

One mission.

One Church.
"The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'" [Jesus, in Matthew 28:16-20]

April 18, 2011

Worship and Sacrifice

"I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." [Romans 12:1-2]

When I talk worship with my teams, my congregation, or - really - anyone, I start with this passage because it most closely connects worship with the bigger picture: worship as sacrifice. I once heard a pretty helpful definition of worship: it is to acknowledge greatness and respond. We can acknowledge a lot of things as great, and do on a regular basis: celebrities, athletes, writers, but the key to worship is in how we respond. Worship does not separate the belief from its consequences, the head and heart stuff from the action stuff. To acknowledge something as great does not in itself mean we worship it; what we do in response to that greatness matters.

Worship is sacrifice. A verb. Action.

For me as a missiologist and worship pastor, I need to be able to see worship as more than just something that happens once a week in an hour on Sunday. We can’t reduce worship to something as trite as a performance or an event, as good as those things are, because according to Paul, true worship IS sacrifice. Worship can’t be just accepting some set of beliefs or codes or laws, it has to be practical, something to be lived out.

Worship is a lifestyle.

Which brings me to Lent. We’re in a season right now that celebrates and remembers the life and sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus and I’m drawn to ask a question: could Jesus’ time on the Cross have been an act of worship? We tend to think about what the Cross did for us, how Jesus died so we can live (emphasis on the "so we can live") but if we look at the cross as an act of worship on Jesus’ part, it puts it in a whole new context for us as followers, as worshippers, as imitators of Jesus. In Ephesians 5:1-2, Paul writes that we are to be imitators of God, to follow His example. And what was His example? He gave of himself for others. His worship was to love others and to love God in the fullest way possible: his worship was sacrifice, both as he lived and as he died.

Philippians 2 contains one of the first recorded worship hymns, and here too Paul puts Jesus’ sacrifice in the context of worship for his followers. In verse 4, we are to look to the interests of others. In verse 12 and following, worship becomes an action, we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. And so I guess my question in this season where we usually give up stuff as a way to benefit our own journey, how are we giving up of ourselves for others? Are we taking the time for people, or do we hoard it? And on the other hand, what are we doing that’s new? Are we giving more of ourselves, or simply ceasing activity for a while hoping that we will receive something?

What are we doing that is sacrifice?

What is our worship?

April 11, 2011


Our video and graphics ministry could use a major tech upgrade, which is why I'm entering the contest featured below. It looks like it could be interesting software, so here's hoping ...

New church presentation software is coming out soon called Proclaim and it’s located here. Unlike all other church presentation software systems, this one will allow pastors, worship leaders, and worship team members to all access and add to the same presentation before it’s presented, and then use the same application to run the presentation during the service.
To add to the excitement of the release of Proclaim, they are giving away $25,000 in worship resources in The Great Worship Resource Giveaway. They are going to have 100’s of winners of some of the best worship resources on the market. The giveaway is located on the

Postures of Confession

Did you know that your posture changes the way you think?

It's true that your body shows the rest of us what's really going through your head at any given moment, but the reverse is true as well: the way that you carry your body will change the way you think, the way you feel. A quick example: on a day you're not feeling so great, take a pencil and hold it in your mouth, forcing the corners upwards in an approximation of a smile. See how long it takes before you start feeling better.

The simple fact is that we behave because of what we believe, but we also believe because of how we behave. The two are a cycle, influencing one another in our lives, egging the other onward. This is the reason why actors often become uncomfortably close to a character they work on particularly closely; Heath Ledger became chronically depressed after he spent so much time on his character the Joker, and the world is now lesser because his exceptional talent is gone, lost to a drug reaction.

We think and feel how we behave. We behave how we think and feel.

Think about this the next time you're in church. I was leading one of our services this past weekend and, as I sang "Jesus Paid it All," I couldn't help but notice several people standing with scowls on their faces and their arms crossed. I didn't know any of these people and so I can't speak to their hearts, but I really wanted them to grab a pencil. Such a posture speaks very loudly, to me as a worship leader, to those around them, and to their inner dialogue - their posture tells THEM something too. What I saw were people not engaged, people unhappy with something, people closed off to the movement of the Spirit in their lives. But In the same service, I saw people smiling, their hands open and heads bowed; engaged, singing, worshipping, people who were also speaking to themselves, and people around them, and to me on stage.

In our contemporary service.

In our traditional service.

In every church I've ever been in, both kinds of people are there.

Side by side.

What all of this tells me is that we can, if we want, intentionally change things. If we are closed off to God, perhaps changing our physical posture towards Him will help us change our mental and emotional postures. I have to wonder if the difference between those two groups of people was their posture, if making an intentional change could have helped them engage with God and those around them. They could have worshipped if they had purposefully changed the way they stood, held their hands, arms, and heads. It's a question of attitude; why am I here at church?

It's about choice.

I find that on those very rough days when I travel all the way to church tired, worn-out, discouraged, it simply takes picking up my guitar and playing to remind me who I am, why I'm here, and put me back into my place. Not in a bad way, in a good way. They say that to confess is to agree with God about who we are; as I play, yes, I agree with God that I am a sinner, but THEN, then I agree with God that I am His child. Forgiven. Given grace.

Deeply Loved.

The next time you're in church - traditional, contemporary, emerging, wherever - try changing your body language; open your hands instead of holding the pew or chair in front of you, or maybe raise them over your head. Sing. Move. Dance. Worship.


March 30, 2011


I've tried to write about this before, but I think it bears repeating; maybe I can do it more justice this time.

Last week I was without my family for a few days, which gave me a little extra time for reading. I think ordinarily I'm so brain-dead by the end of the day that I end up staring at the TV for an hour or two then pass out. Somehow, this last half-a-week has been a bit different; boredom set in with the TV by about friday, so that on Saturday I spent the entire day reading - I finished two books, and today started a third one, which I'm about a quarter of the way through. The first two books were Permission to Speak Freely by Anne Jackson and The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons. I highly recommend both to you. However, while Jackson's book was very experience-oriented, and Lyons' book was academic but easy-to-read, this third book has been challenging me a bit, bringing up book after book from grad school, pushing the envelope of my vocabulary (he likes big words like "epistemology" and "contextualization" and "syncretism"). I love it. And it's inspired me back to some thoughts I had a few years ago about the differences between what Jim Belcher, in Deep Church, calls "traditionalism" and "emerging church," particularly the issue of relativism.

Since I did my degree in anthropology, I've come to look at everything through the eyes of culture. What some people will label in terms of their contrasts along the same spectrum, I tend to label in terms of their cultural conditions, and so when I look at the conditions of today's shifting American climate, I see not a clash of ideological groups or political groups, but of cultures struggling to coexist. Culture, as Andy Crouch writes, is "what we make of the world." According to Belcher, Traditionalists to find their home emerging from the enlightenment philosophers, the rationalist thinkers, and scientists. This group of people takes strong issue with what he calls "postmodernity," a term that has been defined and redefined ad infinitum by everyone grasping for what's actually going on today. Traditionalists, he writes, take issue with the moral relativism and hyperindividualism (another great word) so prevalent in the emerging postmodern culture. Many of them say that postmodernity is taking the enlightenment project - a singular truth understandable in its entirety by all people through the five senses, rationality, and logic - to an extreme. They say that the postmoderns have become SO individualized that they no longer feel accountable to those around them, and so truth becomes "relative" to the individual. My truth is mine, and you can say whatever you want yourself, but it doesn't change my truth. Because of this, the Traditionalists say, morality goes out the window and the individual does whatever he or she wishes.

It is not so. Would that it were that simple.

From what I can tell, "relativism" is not really a word from the emerging postmodern culture; they do not use this word to describe themselves. The word "deconstruct" is used a lot, as is "tolerance," and so I think the problem is in the most basic assumptions about the world from both sides.

The priority of traditionalism, based on the enlightenment project, has been Truth with a capital T. THE Truth, to this group, is solid, discernible with the right resources and time, and ultimately knowable for the betterment of mankind. We can build utopia. WE can build utopia. However, in practice what has happened is that the Truth has been subject to the interpretation of the individual's cultural upbringing; each individual was sure they had it figured out, but did not account for the influence of their personality, their parents, their social context, their schooling, etc. Egos got in the way, agendas were thrown into the mix, and ultimately relationships took a back seat to proving one's theories correct. In the Church, to use a practical example with which I'm sadly very familiar, it goes thusly: one person has an idea about how a passage of scripture ought to be read. A second person disagrees, stating that obviously it's meant to be read another way. Each side polarizes and assumes only two options, (which is absurd but in the heat of the argument, what is one to do to win?). Assuming that the issue is important enough to the both of them, a rift is formed between the two; instead of agreeing to disagree, especially on something "fundamental," they sever the relationship. Evolution and Creationism is one example of which I've grown quite tired of debating, and more than one person has dismissed me as person because of my views on the issue.

I'm not sure it's worth it.

Postmoderns observe this and want nothing to do with it. To them, the relationships broken by so many Traditionalists should have stayed intact, and so the postmodern individual will instead go to the other extreme: to preserve the relationship, to coexist with one another, they insist that everyone must tolerate everyone else, that each person is entitled to their view of truth because nobody really knows for sure anyway; even if you did know the truth, you wouldn't know you knew it for 100% certain. Insults are thrown by the Traditionalists, the Postmoderns shrug it off and do whatever they want to, and it just goes downhill from there.

You can practically see the pendulum smack the other side of the clock.

See, "relativism" is a label by traditionalists for the phenomenon of being so caught up in preserving one's relationship with one's distinctly different neighbor that one is willing to say that both peoples' conflicting claims are right. The issue is not whether a postmodern believes in an absolute reality (nobody behaves as if such a reality does not exist; we all still believe gravity will pull us rather abruptly to the bottom of a cliff if we were to walk off), but rather setting different "default" priorities. The Traditionalist will default to their understanding of the Truth at the expense of the relationship; the Postmodern will default to their friendship at the expense of their claim to the Truth. In some respects, the postmodern sees relationships as truth, while the traditionalists see facts as truth. Each culture has a different set of assumptions about what is a priority.

Now, of course, this is a caricature in and of itself to make a point; nobody in either camp is THAT extreme - postmoderns still sever relationships, and traditionalists still maintain them with people unlike themselves. The point is that the labels that get thrown around by either side become straw men to be pulled apart to demonize the other. We're all still human, after all. Ultimately it's a conflict between cultures based on mismatched assumptions about what is a priority for humanity. It's ironic to me that both sides are so much alike, despite how much they dislike each other, because like it or not, it's important to maintain a healthy tension between relationships and facts.

Because both are required to be human.

March 14, 2011


A caviat: this is the first post I've published in a long time - I'm aware. About a year ago, while working at my last church, I was asked to stop writing because my thinking was, apparently, "too controversial" for some people of influence to handle. While I've since moved to another church (who do not hold that opinion), it's been very hard for me to start thinking like a writer again ... my thanks to Shawna for giving me a kick in the mental butt to just start writing again and see where it goes. Please be kind; it's been a while.

I think our culture is bored.

We Americans have so much, and it's not even that challenging to get more, relatively speaking. Middle and upper-class kids have the easiest lifestyles on the planet; everything is handed to them on a silver or gold or platinum platter (we have options), and so what else do they have to do but find ways to seek thrills in one form or another? Girls go online and take their clothes off not to make money but just to do something dangerous and "taboo," something against their parents' wishes, something that gives them a rush (though they'll take the money too). Guys and girls alike experiment with drugs, sex, alcohol, parties, and the like to find some sort of high, artificial as it may be, to stimulate their minds without all the hard work of learning something useful or meaningful. Their parents' body language and actions - if not outright verbiage - have told kids that they are entitled to this lifestyle of privilege.  As human beings, it's easy for us to believe because, let's face it,

we want to.

But it leaves nowhere to go except to consume, and we human beings are not meant to be consumers, we are meant to be people who make more of the world, who create and love and learn and build and grow.

Our culture's obsession with sex and the adrenaline-rush (in one form or another) seem, to me, to stem from a search for meaning. But that search has been limited because we've been looking only in the only places we've been taught to look: the places we're most comfortable. Instead of breaking out of our boxes, instead of moving beyond the world of consumption, we simply try to find new ways to consume, new thrills, ever more exotic and provocative, but fundamentally the same as the last. A girl taking off one more piece of clothing each time she gets on a webcam is thrilling for her, but it only can escalate once the thrill wears off - one more piece of clothing, one more provocative act. Likewise, a guy drinking only demands that he drink more and more to get the same thrill. More parties, more drugs, more violence, more more more ... we will consume ourselves into oblivion, all because we have become bored, lost in our search for meaning to the point that we've essentially given up, numb to the pain we're really causing ourselves and others but unable to break the cycle for fear of losing the pleasures that we think are all we have; we don't want to give up what makes us feel good, even if for a moment. Our happiness is fleeting, but it's all we know; we want more, but are not willing to sacrifice to get it.

But perhaps that's the very thing keeping us from finding meaning that will last. Perhaps joy is something found when we give up what makes us feel good in the short-term, when we stop seeking pleasure for ourselves and instead seek to do good to our neighbors and to better our world. Perhaps moving beyond our ease is exactly what we need to do; perhaps the meaning we seek only comes in conflict and blood and sweat and tears, the things that make us uncomfortable. Perhaps joy is found in the midst of pain and work and sacrifice.

Perhaps the problem has been choice all along: we didn't know we had one. Maybe what we've done is bought into the lies of consumption because, deep down, we don't WANT to sacrifice, we don't WANT to give up of ourselves because it's HARD. But instead of facing the facts, instead of owning up to our own decisions about what we do and why we do it, we make it the fault of others, of our culture, of our parents, of our genetics, of our family, of our history ... of our world ... of anything except the one place where blame must eventually fall:


Yes, things happen that are not our fault, but it is WE who choose how to handle those things, whether to let them make victims out of us, or innovators. Do we accept the subliminal messages of the matrix and so doing commit ourselves to a mental and cultural prison, or do we reject the lie and instead choose to move beyond, to a new way and an ancient way, a way borne of mercy and justice, love and sacrifice,

... death and resurrection ...