The Return

When messiah returned
she was a sassy bitch.
Worked retail and cleaned homes, like her mother before her.
She knew the value of a dollar,
and whose face was on each denomination
and the non-denominations.
She had heard the unbeliever’s Bible verses:
A penny saved is a penny earned.
The Lord helps those who help themselves.
Submit to authority.
Know your place.
But she had memorized the older texts.
And no one could match her wits,
When messiah returned.
When messiah returned,
they called her a glutton and a drunkard,
a whore and a slut,
because that’s how bullies and hypocrites talk.
And when they began to fear her they called her
a bully and a hypocrite.
Herod was nicer.
Said she had spunk.
“Actually,” he mansplained, “I agree with much of what she says,
but her tone is counterproductive.”
“You tell that weasel Herod,” she replied,
“To shove it.”
That’s just how she talked,
When messiah returned.
When messiah returned,
the megachurch preachers
and the political men
tried to sell her out for thirty pieces of silver.
But she did not let them get close enough
to betray her with a kiss.
And when they came for her
with clubs and torches, guns and chains,
She said one little word,
And they all fell to the ground,
Because those who had prayed for her return
Were simply not ready
for all of her,
When messiah returned.

Discipleship Series

I’ve created a Vimeo album so you can see all the messages from our Discipleship series in one place. There are six videos which address our five areas of discipleship:

  1. Introduction
  2. Worship
  3. Devotion
  4. Compassion
  5. Justice
  6. Witness

If you use these videos in a Sunday school class or small group, please let me know! I’d also like to know what you find helpful or what could be improved. And if you’d like to help me make more of these videos, you can always support our church here. Thanks!

Discipleship 1: Invitation from Dave Barnhart on Vimeo.

A Prayer for Pride Week


Image by Robert Valette, via Wikimedia Commons


God of ceaseless revelation,
You came out to Create;
Said, “You are made in my image, male, female, or otherwise, for I am all genders.”
You made humans to be in relationship with each other,
naked and unashamed.

But we shut you up.
We said “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,”
and we stitched fig leaves together to cover everything
of which we were ashamed.
And we said, “This is not you, God.”

God of ceaseless revelation,
You came out to Liberate;
In the flaming bush,
you declared to a people enslaved
that you were not like the gods of Egypt
made in the image of the ibis, hound, or cow;
or made in the image of rich and powerful Pharaoh
who said that the poor were “lazy, lazy.”
You came out and said,
“I Am Who I Am.
I Am The One Who Is With You,
and I will liberate you from slavery and oppression.”

But we shut you up.
We said, “This far you shall come, and no farther.”
We declared there were places you could not go
And people you could not touch
And we remade you in the image of our kings and strong men.
With our actions and words,
we declared that some lives don’t matter as much as others
in our Infernal Great Chain of Being,
And we said, “This is not you, God.”

God of ceaseless revelation,
You came out to Save and Salve,
in the person of Jesus Christ.
You revealed yourself in a baby,
a rabbi, one unjustly executed, and one who refused to stay dead.
You revealed you are in solidarity with all those persecuted
All those beaten and left to die on the side of a road
or tied to a fence,
All those Samaritans of the wrong religion or ethnic group who stop to lend aid,
All those who are hungry, thirsty, sick, or in prison,
All those who are doxxed or lynched, assaulted or shamed,
All those who are betrayed by their allies with a kiss.

And you declared woe and misery to the religious leaders
trapped in the hell of their own righteousness,
self-exiled from the people they exile,
self-excluded from your own banquet,
refusing to attend your wedding feast,
cut off by their own hand from those who could give them life.
“If only,” you pleaded with them, “you would learn the things that make for peace!”

And again we shut you up.
We nailed you to the sky and inverted your good news.
We wrote our own scriptures:
“God helps those who help themselves,”
“God will never give you more than you can handle,”
“Love the sinner and hate the sin.”
We turned people away from your table.
We performed amazing feats of theological and intellectual acrobatics
And even as we read the story of Jesus Christ
We still managed to say,
“This is not you, God.”

God of ceaseless revelation,
You came out at Pentecost;
As wind and fire, giving voice to your followers
in all their diversity,
Allowing them to speak and understand,
Crossing barriers of language, ethnicity, and culture,
Calling people to a new way of living together.
Our sons and daughters prophesied of all the great things you had done, are doing, and will do.

And we shut you up.
Told women to be silent in church,
executed evangelists for translating the Bible,
told preachers where they could and could not speak a word of grace,
and, like Balak to Balaam, commanded your priests to curse rather than pray a blessing.
We tried to contain the wind of your spirit within the stone walls of our buildings
and we blamed the world when we could no longer
feel your breath moving against our skin.

And still you come out.
You come out in our friends and our enemies.
You come out in every conversation where we see the image of God
in someone in whom we couldn’t see it before.
You reveal yourself when our children, our parents, our siblings, our friends,
our pastors and colleagues,
Share who they are with us.
Again and again you give us the opportunity to see you for who you really are,
and who we really are,
made in your image.

In places where churches must hide for fear of discovery
Or people must hide for fear of being known,
Where the threat of violence, rejection, and poverty
force people to choose
over thriving,
Let there be light.
Let those who can
be a light to the world,
Not so they can be seen, but so they may give their light to all in the house.
Let those who cannot be a light
Be salt—subtle and savory,
Saving and preserving those who,
in our ignorance or negligence,
we fail to see as worth saving.

God of ceaseless revelation,
Come out to us
in humankind and relationships
in burning bushes and nature
in scripture and writings
in worship and poetry
in music and song

And never allow us
to shut you up.


(Want more?

Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology, Pamela R. Lightsey

God Comes Out: A Queer Homiletic, Olive Elaine Hinnent

Jesus Christ, Woody Guthrie)

A Ten-Minute Walk to Freedom


Jesus didn’t have to die.

Until I stood there in the Garden of Gethsemane and looked across the narrow valley to the Temple Mount, I didn’t understand the strategic location of Jesus’ choice. Our guide pointed up the Mount of Olives.

“That’s a ten-minute walk to freedom, right there,” he said. “Where you are standing is like the county line. Jesus could have gone over the mountain and been out of the jurisdiction of the Temple Police.”

The rest of that week 2000 years ago, Jesus had been overnighting in Bethany, just outside the grasp of the Jerusalem elite. They dared not arrest him during the day, because they feared a riot, and with a riot, a Roman crackdown.

So when Jesus chose to wait in the garden after dark, it was deliberate. He was far enough outside the city that there wouldn’t be trouble, but not so far that he couldn’t be arrested.

I can hear the edge in his voice when he addresses the lynch mob indignantly. He sees the clubs and swords in their hands. “Really? Now you bring night sticks with you, as though I were a bandit? Day after day I’ve been teaching in public and you haven’t had the guts to arrest me “(Matthew 14:48-49). He resists calling them cowards. He picked this spot to avoid violence. He’s incensed that they came to instigate it.

Some people speculate that maybe he and Judas had arranged it together. I don’t buy that completely, but it’s clear Jesus chose his prayer spot deliberately. He stood at the edge of town where nobody would get hurt and said, “Come and get me.” When they showed up in riot gear, hoping that his disciples would start something—some things never change—he pointed out their bad faith. He knew the stakes. He wanted to protect innocent lives. He did not want a single one of his followers to be lost, or even his enemies to be hurt. In spite of his careful preparations, in that moment when one of his followers pulled out a weapon, everything could have been lost. It all depended on his commitment to nonviolence being absolutely clear. He choose the time and place for the maximum effect and the minimum harm.

I don’t know what you believe about Jesus. I don’t know if you believe he had supernatural powers, or that he was the Son of God, or that he rose from the dead on Sunday. But this is what I want you to know today, on this Maundy Thursday:

He gave himself up.

He could have chosen escape. He could have chosen violence. But he chose to confront religious and political violence with nothing but his voice and his body.

Whether you believe in God or not, I want you to understand what I understood, standing there in that place. If there is a God worth worshiping, this is what God looks like.



Seeing God


Some folks think I should believe that Jesus is the Son of God because they believe the Bible says I should believe it. And I should believe because it’s the Bible and the Bible says I should.

I know, right?

Some folks think I should believe in him because he did magic tricks, because the Bible says he did.

Some folks think I should believe in him because they can argue convincingly that he got up after he died, and someone said that lots of people saw it, and it’s reported in the Bible.

Some folks think I should believe in him because if I don’t, bad things will happen to me.

As a kid, I tried believing. I tried with the same effort that kids try during Peter Pan, when Peter tells the audience if they just clap their hands and grit their teeth and put some effort into their belief, they can keep Tinker Bell alive. Even the adults get a little weepy when the fading spotlight suddenly grows brighter and we all cheer that fairies are real, and Tinker Bell is alive.

None of that stuff ever convinced me to believe in Jesus as the Son of God. I couldn’t do it. My belief engine simply couldn’t sustain itself with such weak fuel. The occasional mystical experiences I had with God could only take me to about 80% certainty. My faith could only aspire to mustard-seed size.

There was a moment that finally convinced me that Jesus was real, and that he was the Son of God. It was when I realized that Jesus was a smart-ass.

I was in grad school, taking a class on the parables with David Buttrick. I learned a lot in that class. I learned that Jesus occasionally used strong language (like in the parable of the fig tree). I learned that he was deliberately provocative (like when he healed chronic sickness on the sabbath).

One day he told the story of the Good Samaritan. He described how all the audience chuckled along with the skewering of the religious leaders as first a priest, then a scribe, walk on by an injured man in need of help.

And then Jesus introduces the third person and we all know, because we are familiar with jokes and parabolic stories, that the third person is the one who breaks the pattern: the third little pig, the third daughter to answer the riddle, the third sports fan to walk into a bar. The third person to show up is the one, in click-baity fashion, who will blow your mind, who will leave you speechless.

The third person is the foreigner you hate.

I’ve often said it would be like going into a fundamentalist church in the south and telling the story this way: The first person to pass by is a Catholic. The second is a Baptist. The third… the third is one of us good Methodists, right?

The third is a Muslim.

In order to answer a question about which religious commandments we should follow, Jesus answers, “Why don’t you try to be more like a good Muslim?”

And if you can imagine the audience’s reaction, then you probably understand why some folks wanted him dead. People wanted to throw him off a cliff. To shut his mouth, to silence him, to call him a glutton and a drunkard, to crucify him. What do you expect from someone who hangs out with tax collectors and prostitutes?

That’s when I knew for sure, in my heart, that God was speaking through Jesus’ mouth. That guy right there, the one punched and shoved out of the political rally, the one who hears the doors of the church slam behind him—that guy is God in the flesh. No doubt. It was a revelation. I saw God.

Sometimes I imagine the second coming. When she returns, with what flesh will the logos wrap herself? All the boys looking at the sky straining for a view of a white bearded Jesus are going to get their feelings hurt if the Jesus of the gospels is in charge. This Jesus who talked about God as a woman looking for a coin or mixing yeast into bread—you think that Word is going to come wearing the flesh and garments of political and religious power?

But what if it’s already happening? After all, every week we take communion and claim that by feasting on the body of Christ, we become the Body of Christ, redeemed by his blood with the Spirit of Christ in us and among us. We ask to be made one with Christ, with each other, and in ministry to all the world. We proclaim a smart-ass gospel to a literalist world, a gospel that requires a different kind of seeing and hearing than conventional wisdom. I see my church doing that. They take that Word into themselves, and they speak that Word of hope and healing to a hurting world. They do so at the risk of their own flesh, sometimes. They make sacrifices to get the message out.

This Jesus presents a picture of God’s character that is so opposite what we normally think of as “religious” that I would leave everything I know to follow. This “yes!” in my heart echoes God’s “yes!” to me.

That’s why I believe in Jesus.

Always Learning: House Churches

Our church has morphed into a network of house churches. It’s been a fascinating transformation to experience.

My biggest learning so far has been that I find it much more energizing to start new groups of people, new communities, than to try to get people to come and participate in an existing community. As long as we were focused on an attractional model of doing church, I felt tremendous pressure to make worship into a show.

Now, I like the showy aspect of worship. I love bringing our collective creativity as an offering and presenting it to God. I love Marva Dawn’s description of worship as a “royal waste of time.” Pageantry and excitement, drama, music and storytelling help make our time “royal,” and it’s time which has no value (a “waste”) to those who only measure its utility, including Christians who think that any time spent in God-directed worship is time stolen from feeding the hungry or solving the world’s problems. I still eagerly look forward to our monthly large-group gatherings, when the band rocks and we make worship into a party.

But there’s little more exciting than getting new groups off the ground. I love experiencing the relief they have when they can ask the pastor a direct question during worship, when they feel safe enough to share what they really want to pray about for themselves, when they develop the kind of community in which they want to take care of each other (instead of waiting for the pastor to do it). I like it when the best sermon illustration isn’t mine, but something that someone shares happened to them that very week. Discipleship is amazing to watch.

There’s also something about approaching church this way that really puts flesh on the parable of the sower. Planting new communities by flinging seeds into the wind, letting them fall where they may, is inefficient; but I’m seeing God grow the church this way.


Grace Will Conquer

These lyrics seem even more appropriate after the last couple of weeks.

We sin in what we do
and what we leave undone.
We worship praise and holidays,
the dollar and the gun

And in the name of Jesus
we’ll tell you who we hate.
We’ll use our faith and politics,
Lord, to discriminate

But grace is greater than all our sin.
Grace will conquer all our sin.
But grace is greater than all our sin.
Grace will conquer all our sin.

I hear there is a kingdom
It’s coming any day
Where wounded folks find healing
and their sins are washed away.

Lord, in the arc of history
bring justice to our land.
And give us all the courage
to love they way you can.

‘Cause grace is greater than all our sin.
Grace will conquer all our sin.
Grace is greater than all our sin.
Grace will conquer all our sin.

Nothing Can Stop God’s Love

This song takes its inspiration from two places. The first is Charles Wesley’s “Blest Be the Dear Uniting Love.” The second is Central Methodist Mission in South Africa, pastored by Alan Storey, who proclaims we were born in love, by love, and for love. Steven Roberts wrote the music. Lenora Goodman sings in the video.

The uniting love that won’t let us part;
when we’re far away we’re still one in heart.
The spirit empowers us and tells us to go;
and we’ll follow Jesus here below.

We were made by love
We were made in love
We were made for love
Nothing can stop God’s love

We’ll walk in his way, and know inside
the power of one who was crucified.
We all are one, so let us agree
to share his truth in unity.

We were made by love
We were made in love
We were made for love
Nothing can stop God’s love

No height or depth, no sword of hate,
not even our death can separate.
Blest be the dear uniting love
that joins us with our God above.

We were made by love
We were made in love
We were made for love
Nothing can stop God’s love

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A Prayer for National Trans Day of Remembrance

Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let us go out to the field.’ And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’ And the Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! (Genesis 4:8-10, NRSV)
God, the blood of our trans siblings, our trans brothers, our trans sisters, calls out to you from the ground. You love them so much, you have counted the hairs upon their heads. Not even a sparrow falls that you do not notice.
And how like birds they have been! Some have been trapped by the hunter’s snare. They were killed for their plumage, or their voice, or their presumption to sing their own song. Yet in truth they were killed for none of these. Violence always justifies itself, but it has no reason; all it has are excuses.
Some have taken their own lives, because a world of rejection and fear is too much like hell. Those appointed to speak good news to them have often preached only bad news and a hopeless future. Yet you hold the keys of hell and death, and your good news to all people is really and truly for all people.
We lament their deaths, but celebrate their lives, and the lives of all who are trans. For all of us who put our hope in you wish to be trans. We wish to be trans-mortal. Trans-spiritual. Trans-human. We set our hope on the resurrection and the promise of a new body, an embodied existence where Jew or Greek, poor or rich, male and female are no longer the ways we see the world. Our bodies, these fragile vessels of pain and pleasure, carry everything we are, and in the resurrection we do not know what we will be—but we will all be changed.
When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ (1 Corinthians 15:54-55, NRSV)
God, swallow up death with your life. Wipe out injustice and abuse with your shalom. Inspire us with a resurrection vision for all people.

“Would You Agree the World is Getting Worse?”


“No, I wouldn’t.”

The lady who had asked me the question looked appalled, like I had just belched in her face. She and her friend had shown up in our yard to share their faith. It was not the answer she was expecting. Nor, in fact, was I. I had planned on simply giving my usual “I’m not interested in a theological conversation” answer (which isn’t technically true—I’m almost always interested in having a theological conversation, one which involves me asking my questions, too).

I think her statement reflects one of the biggest problems I have with many theological and political perspectives—they assume that we’re going to hell in a hand basket. Now, I don’t think we’re marching happily toward utopia, and I don’t put my faith in human progress. But I don’t know many people who would trade living in 2015 for living in 1915. Cancer, polio, or heart disease? Sorry. Women’s suffrage? Out of luck. Jim Crow and segregation? Here to stay. Child labor? It’s a free market, baby. War? The world’s three most deadly decades are still in front of us.

So, no, I don’t agree that the world is getting worse. We have some formidable challenges in front of us: economic inequality, systemic racism, gun violence, and climate change, just to name a few. An extinction-level event due to climate change may be unfolding in front of us. But if you offer me a time machine to pick any decade from the past in which to live, would I choose any time but now?

Not likely.

Her question inspired me to pick up and reread some of Jurgen Moltmann’s Theology of Hope. I still think God’s invitation to join God in a salvation project for the world is the most exciting Good News that Christians can spread. In the resurrected Christ, the future is radically open, and the horizon between God’s impending kingdom and our present is always shrinking. It’s not something we build with our own effort, but we anticipate and participate in what God is already doing. The Kingdom is among y’all, says Jesus. It’s like a portal to the dimension of love and justice, and it’s leaking into this world and contaminating it with grace.