All Saints Day & The Need to Remember

November 1 is All Saints Day (or All Hallows Day). The Day of the Dead is a similar holiday celebrated in Mexico at this same time. These traditions were completely foreign to me for much of my life.
I grew up on an "island of Christianity" known as Churches of Christ. It was a great space for developing my faith and character. People poured so much into me, and I felt acceptance, trust, and belonging in that space. I love what the church has provided for my life.
In the 1990s, many of us discovered the mainland of Christianity. I always knew it was there, but I had learned to consider it dangerous territory not worthy of exploring. That's how sectarianism survives: taking good care of you on the island while scaring you about anything off the island. 
I had the chance to increasingly explore the world of Christianity outside my protected upbringing. To my amazement, I discovered rich and vibrant faith. Yes, I also saw challenges and weaknesses, but who is exempt from those…

Does Being in a Church Building Make You a Christian?

Saw this on a church marquee here in Fresno last week: "Being in a church building doesn't make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car."
It's a clever saying that I've seen similarly elsewhere. What is true about it, and what does it miss?
On the one hand, it's clear that some who attend church do not live Christian lives. There are countless people who sing hymns, listen to sermons, give money and take communion and then lie, cheat, steal, gossip, do nothing, get angry and live abusively in ways that embarrass the name of Christ. Those counterfeits will not receive mercy before God for two hours of piety on Sunday mornings. Jesus demands discipleship that extends to every day of the week.
On the other hand, it’s less fashionable to attend church these days. There are still "churches of prestige" in many cities and towns across North America, but we're increasingly living into a world where there is little motivation to…

In Times of Crisis, Is Prayer Enough?

The operation to rescue the 13 trapped members of a Thai soccer (football) team has captured the hearts of the world. Tragedies happen every week across the globe, and they scarcely register in the world's newspapers. The hope of saving these 12 kids and their coach feels different from the often faceless accidents where the victims and the drama are already in the past. In this instance, salvation remains possible.

I've written in the past about the seeming emptiness of offering up "thoughts & prayers" when tragedies happen. If you're truly praying for the victims' families, then fine. But if you're just posting words to look empathetic, then your words do a disservice to faith. In such an instance, your offer of "thoughts & prayers" is an egotistical way of telling the world, "Don't forget about me! I want you to notice me!" Your empty words are dangerous and hurtful.

Offering up "promises of prayer" carries add…

Finding Beauty in the Face of Death

I’ve had time recently to reflect on death. It’s a horrible thing to face. But there is the possibility of finding beauty when faced with life’s finality. The following article contains stories about my dad and about a man I knew named Jan Wiener. My experiences with them have helped me find peace in life’s darkest valleys. Here's my post for Charis, a blog-site run by the Center for Heritage and Renewal in Spirituality at Abilene Christian University. The link is below.
Charis Blog Post

In Memoriam of Larry Locke, My Father

My dad Larry Locke took his final breath this afternoon. He was in the comfort of his own home in Lebanon, Tennessee. It was as beautiful a spring day as Middle Tennessee can provide. Lovely breeze. Chirping birds. Blooming flowers. But Dad had been unable for weeks to notice the glory of God's created world. He was ready to go and be with the Lord forever.

Over the last 2+ years, Larry had struggled with dementia and previously undiagnosed depression. A lifelong runner, he had never spent a night in the hospital prior to this sickness. The loss of his vitality was a blow to all who knew and loved him. While his first hospitalization returned him to a level close to his old self, subsequent declines and hospital stays left him a shadow of the man we knew. His time for this life would number 76 years.

Larry Locke was born in 1942 in Shelbyville, Tennessee. His father, W. H. Locke, owned a small diner. His mother, Pansy Worley Locke, had done office work but as a mother was mostly …

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly about "Thoughts & Prayers"

Why do we pray for people who experience hardship? There's talk within our broader society about whether we should send "thoughts and prayers" out for those who experience tragedy or who face a crisis. Is there anything wrong with offering to pray?
The reason for the backlash is that words frequently come across as empty. I've witnessed the tragedy of empty words. I've been with well-meaning Christians who visit the sick in the hospital or who try to comfort someone during a crisis. I'll most likely cringe if you utter these words, "If there's anything you need, let me know."
Why do I react negatively? I have to qualify that there are a handful of people I know in the world who can say that and be totally genuine about it. But for everyone else, you don't understand the potential price of what you're offering. You may mean well. But too often it's a cliché which confuses being nice with making yourself look good: "Let's do lun…

All Saints Day

November 1 is a day for remembering those who have died in the Lord. It may mean little to you if you don't have much involvement with Catholics, Anglicans and other high-church traditions. Yet for many believers around the world, this is a solemn occasion for decorating gravestones and reflecting upon loved ones.

Catholic terminology can lead some to believe that only a select few Christians get to be saints. The Bible teaches that all baptized individuals are now with God and therefore saints. The Roman Catholic Church in fact supports this vantage point.

No one knows exactly how or why churches started celebrating a day of remembrance for the dead. There are various references to such occasions starting in the 4th century. Pope Boniface IV gathered the bones of martyrs from the Roman catacombs and re-entombed them beneath the Pantheon. In so doing, he dedicated a time to remember all the saints. This was in May, not November. The practice as we know it on November 1 took root som…