A Message From the Middle

I feel like I’m in the middle.

It’s not the most comfortable place to be.

I feel like I’m in the middle, looking at two sometimes divergent groups, and there’s something I want to say to both of them.

I’ve worked at churches now for about 20 years. I’ve written about it here, but I’ve worked at mega churches and church plants. I’ve worked for “post modern” ministries and for charismatic worship conferences.

I’ve surely not seen everything there is out there to see, but I’ve seen a lot.

All along, I’ve also been “out there”, in the world. I’ve played countless gigs in countless bands in countless bars. I’ve played for weddings, on cruise ships, and on tours.

I’ve tried to think deeply about the world, and tried to follow Christ through the ins and outs and ups and downs of my life.

Over the past few years, I’ve been observing something curious about my world of “ministry” and following Jesus. Basically, it seems as if there are two rising “camps” in regards to spirituality. On the one hand, I increasingly see people who have big hearts and great intentions to reach the world and to show them the love and heart of Jesus. These people are musicians, writers, teachers, and so on. All walks of life.

And on the other hand, there is the church, in particular the pastors and clergy. Good men and women who have spent years and thousands and thousands of dollars to be trained for ministry: to learn how to handle Biblical texts and human lives with (hopefully) equal dexterity and care, as well as to learn how run a sometimes highly complex organization and to lead staffs as best they can.

I’m worried about a gulf that might be growing up between them.

Broadly put, sometimes it can appear as if this new wave of evangelists do not want to be “encumbered” with concepts like long-term community, or church membership, or tithing to a ministry, or even to a sense of orthodoxy.

On the other hand, it can sometimes appear as if the vocational clergy are too concerned with exclusivity, a spirituality that looks more like good USAmerican business practice than it does the fluid faith of Jesus, and keeping things neat and tidy.

I’d like to write a little message to both of you.


As much as it may hurt to even acknowledge this, we need these men and women who are ruffling our feathers. They are doing good work, seeking to invite outsiders to the party that God is throwing. For better or for worse, it seems as if we don’t have the trust we once had, and now our “Good News” pronouncements are falling mostly on deaf ears.

(Truth be told, it’s mostly our own doing: years and years of assuming a privileged place in society, allying ourselves to deeply with the values of Empire, and spending too much time preaching against things rather than for them have created a pretty toxic bed in which we lie in. The result is that people no longer trust our Good News… it’s sounded so much like Bad News for so long that the people who need to hear it most are most resistant to it.)

So these men and women—unencumbered by the baggage of a church paycheck or an intimidating title—are out cultivating Good News (“Gospel”) seeds in bars and bookstores, ultimate frisbee fields and cooking schools, in poetry and music. The are doing the work that Jesus called his disciples (and therefore US) to in Mark 6: to go out and preach and heal.

It’s sad but true, but people are no longer automatically seeking to darken our doors in order to seek the healing that they so desperately need, so it’s up to these pioneers, entrepreneurs and artists to go out and find these people where they are at and invite them to the feast.

It’s Jesus work, through and through, even though it may look different than what we have been trained to recognize and appreciate. We cannot measure it easily, and they talk about things like art, quantum physics, culture and economics as much as they talk about faith (though any of those fields are not nearly as walled off from spirituality as you might think).

Simply put, they are reaching people that we can’t reach… or really won’t reach… or have given up on trying to reach.

It’s easy to write them off as rebels, or as taking the “easy way out”, but we need to be there for them, because they will need us. First of all, the work they do is difficult: they are interacting sometimes with levels of pain that we don’t see, because many people still try to sanitize their pain for the church. They are also traveling, out there without a net, and making it up as they go along, sometimes without healthcare or a steady paycheck (much less a pension).

Nevertheless, even when they don’t always recognize it, they need us in their corner. At our best, we are repositories of centuries of received wisdom and theology and “God-talk.” We can be deep wells for them: not just of knowledge and wisdom, but of comfort and healing and conversation.


Or “renegades”, or entrepreneurs, or simply authors, musicians, and speakers…

You need us.

I know you don’t always like us, or appreciate the work that we do. I know it seems as if we are more into building stable kingdoms of church membership and worship spaces and rules, but we are doing our best to live out our call to be consistent and reliable places for the People of God to meet with each other and with the Father.

An overwhelming majority of us believe desperately in what we do, and so very much want to make a difference in the world in which we live. We wake up and go to work—often not paid all that well—and try to balance the needs of an organization with the needs of an organism, and it’s not very easy to do that.

But we do our best.

We do our best to balance bureaucracy and beauty, ministry and “paying the bills.”

The truth is, we partly envy your work: the ability to create and to interact with people who have shown up to hear you speak, or play, or buy your book. Intentionally or not, we have engaged in a life of stability of place, of “rootedness,” of dealing with the same people with the same problems in the same place over a long period of time.

It’s, as Eugene Peterson puts it, “A long obedience in the same direction.”

But we have things to offer you.

You see, most of us have studied. A lot. We have (hopefully) learned to handle the Bible, our Book, responsibly, and we have also hopefully learned to discern the ways of God in the world.

This is important because—and I know you won’t like to hear this—most of the time songwriters are not theologians. Poets are not scholars.

Some of us are those things, and we can help.

I think N.T. Wright said something about how artists create awareness of spiritual needs and hunger. They help people identify their desire.

Art isn’t always called to tie things up in a bow. You can’t always solve peoples’ problems in a 90 minute seminar, and while theology shouldn’t necessarily (ever?) tie things up in a bow either, we vocational pastors and “church people”, can be there for the long haul, guiding the hurting into little house churches or small groups where they can unburden their lives (and share other peoples’ burdens as well).

We can help massage points or concepts as well, and drive others deeper.

We can be resources for you, both in your messages and in your ministry.
I have been in both of these places. I have sung the Gospel in bars, and I’ve pronounced it from a platform on Sunday morning. The best theology isn’t always found in song lyrics or a painting, but it’s also not always found on Sunday mornings.

We need each other.

Let’s talk.

Born at the Right Time

Almost every morning, I wake up hearing music.

Not from an iPhone or an alarm clock, but in my head. I’m sure that this isn’t rare, so surely someone out there knows exactly what I’m talking about: as I begin to stir and feel the pull towards the time to wake up, the strains of a song, or sometimes just a part of a song, begins to cycle in my head, over and over again. In addition, I suspect because I spent so many years of my life as an active musician, these songs aren’t just background music to my yawns and stretches and the daily battle to get up and get going. Nope, not at all. These songs take center stage; they play in the center of my mind, edging everything else out as I greet the day.

It’s entertaining, occasionally, to try and figure out why a particular song comes to me: sometimes it’s more obvious, like when I’ve been listening to something in particular, or when I was anticipating listening (or playing) to an artist or song that day. Those are the easy ones.

Other times, however, the songs are obviously coming from a deeper place, messages from the deeper levels of my soul and consciousness. They may trigger an unresolved conflict, or be a vehicle to express joy and contentment (something with which I’m still struggling).

So this morning, I woke up to the sound of “Born at the Right Time,” which is the 7th track off of his Rhythm of the Saints record (released after Graceland). 

This morning, I also woke up to my 48th birthday.

As I “treated myself” to a four-mile run, I let the record play in the background (it’s really amazing, and I actually prefer it to Graceland, but that’s another story), and tried to figure out what the universe may have been trying to tell me this morning.

Now (a) I can’t pretend to know exactly what the lyric is about, and (b) I can’t pretend to completely understand the depths of my soul, but here’s what came to me…

“Ever been lonely, ever been lied to?
Ever had to scuffle in fear, nothing denied to?
Born at the instant the church bells chimed,
The whold world whispering, ‘Born at the right time…'”

For some of us, the older we get, the easier it is for us to see our brokenness and cracks and failures. Sometimes, it’s also easier for us to see how the world has contributed to that brokenness. Some of us were loved badly; some of us weren’t loved at all. Some of us should have been protected and sheltered at a young age from the darkness of the world. When we become aware of these injuries, great or small, it’s tempting to overly focus on what was done to us, or what was lacking in our past. This is a healthy part of growing and maturing, but this isn’t where the process ends… 

I have come to believe that the point of life is to come to terms with our past, however painful it may be, and then to learn from it. (Easier said sometimes than done, I know.) A huge part of my own life has been a journey to stop pointing the finger at my past to justify “why Eric is the way he is,” and start to focus on just what Eric can learn from it. In this way, I know that what I am called to is to accept my past and my existence and the whole of my journey and to bring it into the protective umbrella of grace and trust that God can teach me something from it, however rough or even malignant it can appear.

Anger, resentment, and even sadness and mourning can only carry me so far in my journey. Eventually, I know that the universe is calling me to declare that there were no “accidents”—though there may have been some bad or ill-equipped people—and accept that the past cannot be changed, only learned from. I cannot go back, I only have this moment, this day, this time to throw myself into the arms of grace and “present-risenness” to say, “I am here, and I am living in hope.”

My life is not a mistake, and everything can be redeemed. There is nothing that the Light cannot penetrate and heal and redeem. I was not born at an inopportune time; my life is happening now, which means there is always hope to grow and change and lean into the Universe that is here, right now.

Yep: forty-eight years ago I was born at the right time, and everything that happened since then, both good and bad, is my teacher, to help me be available to this time today.

Here’s the track:

And this time, live (with shoulder pads):




The Hard Edge of Grace

Grace makes me uncomfortable sometimes.

There, I said it.

Rare coming from a “believer,” rarer still coming from a pastor.

But when I really boil it down to the essentials, grace hits me hard, and challenges me.

Obviously, I don’t mind grace at all when I need it, when I call out to God and acknowledge my brokenness and shortcomings to Him or to other people. At that point, I’m truly grateful for free forgiveness.

But when I think about the ramifications of a truly loving, forgiving God, of what grace truly IS, it hits me hard, basically because it makes me think of those people that I tend to judge, those people that I try to “cut off” from grace.

It’s one thing when all the “good people” (and believe I know: who is really “good”, after all) get grace, but as my 12-step sponsor likes to remind me, “either it’s grace or it’s not,” and if it IS grace, then that means an awful lot of people get grace that simply don’t fit into my “good” category. These are the people that *I* like to judge, the people who aren’t spiritually curious, who are content in their anger and apathy, who are consumed by revenge and who would choose to remain small-minded and fearful about the universe.

Even they get grace.

It’s similar to the old adage, “Justice or mercy? Mercy for myself, justice for everyone else.”

My own mind doesn’t like that. I’d much prefer a hoop to jump through, or some kind of judgment first.

But then that’s not “grace” is it?

Grace is free. FREE. And WE don’t get to determine who gets it, and frankly the more I learn about this God in whom I live and move and have my being, the more I learn that He tends to be a lavish giver, and He will not be restrained.

I actually think He’s harder to avoid and reject than to discover. He’s sort of relentless that way.

I think when I see the Kingdom fully-realized, there will be so many there… Not just the drug dealers and gay people and transsexuals and church people, but also people from the right and the left, people who have THOSE bumper stickers… The list goes on and on.


Because GRACE, that’s why.


I woke up this morning at… well, 3:15.

I tried to go back to sleep, but by 3:45, I realized it was pointless, and I went ahead and woke up. One of my mentors has always maintained that we should assume that when we wake up, God wants us awake and we should respond accordingly.

They probably never saw me as a teenager when my parents tried to wake me up.

God may have wanted me awake, but that didn’t necessarily mean I had to be thrilled about it.

MOST of the time, in fact, I am able to stave off God, and you know what? He actually respects that. It’s as if He’s like a child: He pokes and prods me like a 5 year old on Christmas morning. “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon get up, it’s happening! It’s here!” Except “It” is simply just another day, and not the once-a-year mad festival of gifts.

But the metaphor breaks down, because for me most of the time if I simply ignore him once or twice, he leaves me alone and I go back to sleep. If he was truly a child he’d bug me unceasingly until I woke up and got the coffee brewing. But as a spiritual master once said, “God is a perfect gentleman,” and so when he occasionally whispers, “Psssst. Hey: why don’t you wake up? I have some amazing things to talk to you about!” And I respond with disinterested grunts, and then roll over to squeeze another 45 minutes of time out of my night, he actually says (with really no disappointment, but with an amazing, unending disinterested love, “Okay… Maybe next time!”

That’s pretty much God. Always there. Always wanting to meet with me. Always willing. Never disappointed. Never shaming. Never quilting.

Just wants to know that he wants to meet with me. Pretty much any old time.

And then again, that’s pretty much me. Frumpy. Slightly lazy. REALLY, REALLY into what I’m doing at the moment, rather than looking up from my work (or my pillow) to see this bright-eyed child who just wants to sit with me, who really just wants me to know that, “Hey, I love you.”

An Open Letter+

It started with waking up to an alert on my phone:

“20 Dead in Orlando nightclub shooting.”

(I wake up to WAY too many of these alerts lately, but that’s the price of living in the States these days…)

I do my work on Sundays, trying to connect people with God, sometimes through music, words, or conversations. I plan and listen, situate and discern as best I can.

I get to work pretty early on Sundays—6:30AM if possible—and I usually put everything on “Do Not Disturb” so I can keep my head clear and my world quiet as long as possible before it’s no longer possible.

Sometime before the congregation arrived I checked my phone again, and my spirit darkened even more as I read, “Death toll in Orlando at 49…”

What is a pastor supposed to do in these cases?

I took a deep breath, and then I did the thing that, in retrospect, I now regret.

I went ahead with the plan of the day.

It was not malice, or callousness towards LBGTQ people, that caused me to “stick to the message” that day. I just literally neglected to pull my head up above the mire long enough to think about and *really process* what had happened.

I now regret that.

Maybe it’s just a sort of “numb-ness” to it all. A rather sad conviction that this is the world in which we now live. I don’t know.

But I know I think I should have said something.

And so I write this now. Maybe a day late and a dollar short. Who knows?

But here’s what I want anyone who reads this to know:

Any strain of religion—Christianity, Islam, or Judaism—that preaches hate and de-humanization—is really no religion at all, at least in the purest sense of the word. Religion is meant to pull things together (our souls, our communities), not destroy them. I don’t know whether or not the shooter was ultimately motivated by blind, irrational hatred of life in general, some demons that he sees in the West, or something specific in Gay and Lesbian people, but I do know that his targets that night were specifically gay, lesbian and transgender human beings that night. That makes the “Universe” (and in my world the Abrahamic God that is behind that universe) weep with abject sorrow and even bitterness at what is being done “in His name.”

Don’t bring my God into your violence.

Everyone deserves to have a beer, or to dance, or to worship, in safety.

We all deserve to be in a space where we will not be shot at or yelled at because of our lives. Jesus had this way of holding some pretty intense beliefs about God, *and yet not really getting in anyone’s way who wished to hang around him or his message.*

I am so sorry for this tragedy. I don’t know how much guns are to blame (surely a little?), an undiagnosed mental illness (perhaps?), an unreasonable perversion of faith, blind hatred of a people group?

I don’t know.

I just know it’s wrong.

I’m sorry I didn’t pray for the victims and their families. I’m sorry I didn’t cry out to God more for the brokenness of this world.

For me, I share the perspective of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who writes that only in religion—true, uniting and life-affirming religion—can we ultimately break the cycle of violence and death in our world.

Economics won’t fix it.

Politics won’t fix it.

Science won’t fix it.

Only the best of faith can give what we all want most, at our deepest and most human levels: a deep sense of meaning and the sense that “every thing is going to be alright.”

Nights like last Saturday night challenge that. But I refuse to (a) give into the despair that would toss faith out with the bathwater, or (b) give into cynical hate that demands a strike back, or a cold shoulder.

I guess I’m opting for messiness, and to be honest, I don’t really need any more mess in my life. It’s not like I don’t have enough of that going on already.

But this is reality.

I’ll opt for hope. I’ll try to opt for love and compassion and acceptance.

You see, I really I have no other choice. I’ve signed on to follow this Jesus guy, because, like his disciples told him long ago, “Where else could we go? No one else has the words of life.”

So I’m sorry. I’ll try to do better next time.

Unfortunately for us in the US, I know there most likely will be a next time.



I haven’t been writing lately.

Actually, haven’t been doing too much beyond the essentials:

– praying
– working
– sleeping
– being with my family
– running

(That’s not a bad list of “essentials”, come to think of it.)

But, yeah, not too much on the output side of things.

For one thing, I think I have to go through these clarifying seasons: why do I actually write?

Is it to become famous? (I hope not, because I’m failing fantastically at it.)

Is it to get a “platform”?

(I pretty much have a weekly platform because of my calling, so I don’t think so…)

Is it because there’s a fire in my bones, a prophetic burning that isn’t satisfied unless I trumpet and call out for justice?

(There’s probably a little of that, actually, but I tend to handle my prophetic calls in a more subtle nature, one person/life at a time.)

In short, I’m not sure why I write, which is why I haven’t been doing it.

(Not to mention that all the cool kids are SO beyond blogs now, and on the podcast train: seems anyone with a mic and a few hours on their hands can post a 1 hour podcast that has AT LEAST 8 minutes of substance in it…)

All that being said, in a deep corner of my heart, I daresay hidden in my “true self” is an awareness that somehow I am actually CALLED to this. I have little doubt that somehow words and books are waiting for me, but I’m winding my way towards that destiny in a serpentine (and hopefully serendipitous) manner.

It will come when it will come.

The other reason that I haven’t been writing is that for about 10 weeks now I have been going through a sort of vocational transformation. I started having some conversations with the leadership at my church, and it became apparent that I was being called out of my little “niche” of ministry (mostly musical), and into a different arena (oriented around more preaching and providing leadership to the organization).

Consequently, a significant amount of my internal resources—temporal, emotional, spiritual—have been going towards that transition.

There a LOT of details.

To sum up: Over this summer I will be leaving behind a world that I’ve come to know very, very well: that of “temple musician” (as I like to call it), where each Sunday I stand up in front of a group of people and try to facilitate an encounter with God.

(I also stand up in front of a group of musicians each week, trying to forge a unified expression out of different abilities, influences, and musical visions, which is its own challenge and reward.)

I have been a worship pastor for 18 years now. I’ve done it in so many arenas: mega churches, tiny startups, festival stages, etc., etc. Over so long a time, it’s become second nature to me, and it’s tempting to say it’s my “identity” (after all, men still do tend to over-identify with their careers).

But now that I’m leaving it behind, I have to acknowledge that somehow, unbelievably, that season of my life is ending. I am ceding that space to someone else, a “player to be named later.”

Don’t get me wrong: the space I’m moving INTO is significant, and gives me a tremendous amount of life. In fact, I believe that in some many ways God has been preparing me for this move for years; what’s been missing in the equation for so long has simply been the courage, on my part, to embrace it. I’m excited and blessed to consider the possibilities of shaping a community people through word, action, and sacrament.

(By the way, in case you are wondering: No, I’m not worthy of this. It’s called “grace” for a reason.)

So I know what I’m moving towards is another aspect of my “calling”, my “vocation.” I have no doubt.

But it is still a bit odd to be saying goodbye to such a long-term, “reliable” part of your life.

(What am I going to do with all these guitars now?)

But regardless, I am in the “in-between” state. (Or, as a friend puts it, “the lame duck session.)

I haven’t left the old space, and haven’t yet fully entered the new space. I can see it, but I haven’t walked into it yet (by the end of August, I think, I will be there).

This is what they call, “liminal space.”

It’s the threshold. Neither here nor there.

The thing about thresholds, they tend to be creative spaces: because you can’t rely on either the old world OR the new one, you are open to unexpected possibilities that you hadn’t considered.

But that doesn’t mean it’s comfortable.

Actually, it is ephemeral, and is vaporous. You really can’t find your “sea legs,” or a stable place to stand.

(Between you and me, this is actually closer to reality than we care to admit: we tend to buy into the illusion that we have stable, established lives, but our stability tends to be built on a life that we can see and purchase and control. It only takes a phone call, or an illness, or a breakup to call our attention to the fact that we really AREN’T in control. In THIS respect, liminal space is a welcome wakeup call to the true nature of life.)

So, yeah, this is where I’m at. Overwhelmed by the grace of a God of “Ultimate Mystery” that allows such a busted up fool to be placed in a position of service, and yet also having to figure out a way to mourn and say goodbye to a pattern of life that I called “home” and “normal” for almost 20 years.

In so many ways, I haven no idea even how to go about this process, but I know that I have been prepared for it: I monitor my feelings, the Spirit living in me, the movement of God in my life.

And after that, I take step after tentative, searching step.

That’s the way we live life, isn’t it?

“Stuck Inside a Saturday Rain”


Did you ever think that the resurrection could have gone down in an entirely different way?

In one sense, we didn’t really need Saturday… Jesus could have given up his spirit, then died, and then bounced back to life immediately. After all, God is not all that bound by time so he’s really capable of doing anything he wants in any timeframe that he wants…

But instead we have all of Friday and all of Saturday…

Which means we have doubt.

It’s simply not good enough or even accurate to maintain that the disciples were just sitting around on a Saturday biding their time until Sunday. The Biblical record would show that they were, well, freaked out. Devastated. Maybe they were left with a shred of hope, but overall what they have witnessed—the betrayal, the arrest, the torture, the beating, the execution—had shaken them to their core.

Saturday in Holy Week is a day of anticipation and hope, but it is also necessarily a day of faith and doubt.

Sometimes I think that Jesus left us with a Saturday (and a Friday for that matter) so that we would know that doubt is not only okay but is actually integral to the life of faith. For my part, while I wish I did not have periods of doubt, and that my faith was rock steady and consistent in the face of whatever life threw at me, I know otherwise.

My vision gets blurry. My hope fades sometimes. My trust waivers.

And all this from a pastor?

But here’s the deal: the disciples doubted. They lost hope, at least temporarily.
Sometimes, we fall into the trap that thinking that faith means never having doubts… we think that to believe means that the sun will always shine, and that will never be confused, and that we will never be afraid, that we will never look to the heavens and ask “why God?”

But that’s not really the definition, is it? There’s a distinction between faith and knowledge, and we are called to one and not so much the other.

(Hint: the answer rhymes with “faith”.)
Though the Gospels fairly consistently show that Jesus responds to radical faith, they also consistently show that he understands our human weakness. Somehow, someway doubt is a part of our legacy. Though we are not called to remain in it perpetually, neither are we called to pretend that it does not exist.
God allows for Saturday. Not just once, but over and over and over again.
Here’s to the doubters; Sunday’s coming.