Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was called an extremist by fellow clergy and others. You see, his passion exposed within them deficiencies. To their charges, he replied thus:
Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you"? Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll to down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream"? Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus"? Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God"? And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "Thus this nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. . ." So the question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremist we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?
The question is not whether or not we will be extremist, the question is what kind of an extremist will we be? Will we be people who are impassioned for justice, mercy, equality and grace. Will we be extremists for love or will we be extremists for hate. Will we live our lives for reconciliation or division. Will we be folks who say to Abba, "Use me!" or will we be folks who fold under opposition of others.

Lord, may we each be extremists of love. May we each right wrongs, love mercy and walk with humility (Micah 6:8). May peace be our aim. May love be the target of our lives.
You know what is great about having friends? Laughter. Laughter is so underrated. When I get together with any of my firends there is sure to be copious amounts of laughter. You see, Karl Barth says that laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God. I cannot agree more with him. If you do not have friends with whom you can laugh deeply, then I implore you to find a few. I am talking about the laughter that cleanses the soul. Laughter that says, "No manner of hell that comes against me, I shall overcome." Laughter that looks into the face of adversity and declares, "You lose!"

Tonight, I was able to be with those whom I am able to be naked and unashamed. I was able to be Ray Shawn McKinnon and know that those folks would not shun me. I know how rare it is to have a group of folks with whom this is possible. Abba, I thank you for laughter. I thank you for friends. Abba, I thank you for your grace!
Last week I turned 31! It was such a great experience. I got to spend the Saturday before my actual birthday (12/11/1980) with my brothers and some of my dear friends. I know that I am a blessed man each time I look around me and see such dear folks with whom I share this crazy journey called life. I had so many people who took the time to post well wishes on my facebook page, call me, text or tweet! I know that it doesn't seem like much, but each person who contacted me reminded me that I am loved, known and here. I thank each person who thought enough of me to write. I love my life and I love my people.

Tonight I got the opportunity to celebrate Christmas with my new colleagues at Christ United Methodist Church in Hickory, NC. The coolest thing is that on this team are folks whom I love deeply and respect. I love that I am able to share the hope of Christ with folks who share the call and mission to share that hope with those who do not yet belong. Thursday marked my first official day as a member of the team in the capacity of Celebrate Recovery Pastor. I am excited about all that God has in store for that very important ministry.

When I survey my life, the evidence of God's grace is ever present. From the relationships to the opportunities that God continues to allow this scrub and effed up dude to take part. I am a blessed man and I can only hope that the next thirty-one years are as incredible as the first. At this moment, the love of my life an my biggest fan sleeps. She is, without a doubt, the greatest treasure and gift for me. It is incredible to have a person who you know, through good, bad, ugly and other, will have your back! I love my wife. I am thankful for my wife.

Father, in my life, have your way and use me to bring hope to those who are without it. Justice to the maligned, and joy to the downcast.

Merry Christmas!
Today two members of our lifegroup officially joined Christ Church! It was such a fun experience. Not only did they both join, but Abby--the wife--was also baptized. Days like these are why I love Christ Church! I love that Abby did not just want her actual family there, but her lifegroup "family" there. It was great. We were all there sharing in this incredible milestone in Abby and Arnold's life. We are learning to love each other and to grow together! This semester has been so great. We are growing together...growing in our love for God and our love for each other. I love our church and a large reason is because of the folks within my lifegroup with whom I share life. Members of life groups are able to share times of deep excitement as well as times of deep sorrow. Over the past ten or so weeks, our group has shared some tough things with one another and I am a blessed guy because I am in a life group. I love my group!

Congrats, Arnold and Abbs; I love you both!

So clean house! Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy and hurtful talk. You've had a taste of God. Now, like infants at the breast, drink deep of God's pure kindness. Then you'll grow up mature and whole in God. 1Peter 2:1-3 (The Message)

May we each be able to live lives that are free from malice. Malice--that desire to cause pain or distress to others--is a very real emotion. We may not want to say, but when people hurt us, we want them to hurt. Father, free us from malice. 

May we each live lives that are free from pretense. Pretense--that fake, phoniness that we all have within. You know pretense, that conjured feeling that you do not have. That need to "keep up with the Joneses". You know pretense; it says that all is well and fine, when your life is a tattered mess. Lord, may we not live fake and masked lives. May we have folks with whom we may remove the mask. Father, make us real.

May we each live lives free from envy. Oh, we all know envy, all too well. Envy is that sinking feeling that we get when we see our friend's or neighbor's success and we want it--and are somewhat pissed that they have it and not us. You know envy. Envy is when we hear of another of our friends expecting and instead of us being happy, we are jealous (a little pretense is needed here, too). Envy, you know. When yet another of our friends is engaged and we are not yet there... Holy Spirit, help clean us each of envy.

May we each live lives free of hurtful talk. We all are well acquainted with hurtful talk. We use it more as a defensive tool, if we are honest. We lash out in an attempt to keep others at bay. We use this hurtful talk when we are sad. When we have been hurt and when we are jealous of envious. Triune God, heal our hurts so we can stop hurting others.

Here is what I know: It is easy to pray these things; it is hard to live out these things. We need help each day to be real folks. I know that I am becoming so keenly aware of my pretentiousness. It reminds me of how much I desire to be liked and accepted. I honestly am not that conscious of how much that is in me; but it is. I want it vanquished because when the desire to be liked is so high, it makes for phoniness. Above all, I want to be a real and authentic person who lives loved and gives love. 

So, like many are doing this day before thanksgiving--in preparation for visitors--may we clean our spiritual house of these things that will ultimately destroy us. 

Happy Thanksgiving!
This week's occupy movement has been very active this week. The protesters across the world have faced some pretty harsh treatment in an attempt to stymie progress or change. The merits of the protest will have to be for another blog entry. Now to me being the 1%; I shall explain.

Here is why I am the 1%

One of the things that I think we take for granted most in our world are the people who are in our lives--the human capitol. I am so honored to have the human capitol that I indeed do have. For starters, I have such an amazing, supportive and loving wife. I am not just saying that because I know that she is going to read this either; she is great. Then I think about my family. I know that there are some families that really do not like each other (mine def has its moments) but for the most part my family is so loving and supportive. I have a mom who just calls "to hear my happy  voice" and would do anything just to be able to see me. I have a dad who loves me and gives me the space that I need and does not take it personally when I do not get over to visit him as much as I would like or should. I have siblings and their spouses and children who love me. I mean, they legit love me and care whether they do or do not see me. They seem to be happy when we get the opportunity to talk on the phone and more happy when we all get to see each other in person. This is huge. This is such a blessing. If that were all, I would feel abundantly blessed and content. Only, that is not all. In addition to my great wife, parents and siblings, I have incredible friends! I have friends who it feels weird to call friends because I feel as close to them as I do my family (and that is huge because I am hella close to my family). Tonetta, Jesse, Camille, Allen and Bethany are friends who I know would love me in my darkest and roughest times; because they have. I am so appreciative to have not just one, but five friends who I know have my back. Love me enough to be honest and will love me despite my fallen, broken self. Then I look to the burgeoning friendships and I get overwhelmed. I have told Kelly on more than one occasion that I sometimes feel guilty because I feel like a one "percentor" when it comes to human capitol. I love people strongly and deeply but I am also loved strongly and deeply. It is sometimes too much. For the human capitol I am eternally grateful and I am rich. I confess, I am the one percent...

Thank you each for loving me. Thank you each for making me among the one percent.
There is a fundamental discussion that needs to be had regarding the basic freedoms that we have as Americans.  Last night I tuned into the livestream at Occupy Wall Street. The thing that really got me was the blatant disregard for the freedoms that each American have by virtue of their birth in America, specifically.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
No matter if you agree with the sentiment behind the movement, each American should be outraged at the government, at any level, infringing upon the rights of Americans to assemble. They should be outraged at the impeding of the press to report what is happening. It is interesting that so many people are willing to go along with the police simply because they do not share the sentiments of the protests. When we set this precedent, we set a very scary one.

It seems that if we are not careful, we will awaken to a country that we no longer know. All that is necessary for evil to prevail is for good folks to do nothing. Think about it.
My awesome church--where I have attended and served for a little over a year now--is in the middle of a series called "The Reason for God". It has really been a great series. I have especially enjoyed the life group discussions that we have been able to have as a result of this series!

It is no surprise to anyone who knows me that I am opinionated and like to explore and discuss things. For the past two weeks the subject of absolute truth has arisen. I agree that in the absence of absolute truth there is chaos. I agree with and embrace Jesus' admonition that he is the way, the truth and the life. I further agree that these exclusive claims seem as troubling to folks who do not embrace Christianity as they would to me as a Christian who is not a Hindu, Muslim or Atheist.

When speaking about absolute truth, we make the enemy (or antithesis) of absolute truth tolerance. However, the opposite of absolute truth is truth relativism. Truth relativism says that there is no absolute truth (to be overly general). Tolerance--on the other hand--is freedom from bigotry. Christians are often very strident and arrogant.

We act as if we live in a world where we have to approve of folks. We assume that we must either permit or prohibit folks from living their lives--whether they profess a faith in Christ or not. We are not called to be the moral police of the world. We are not to be "Junior Holy Spirit", as my dear friend Jeniffer would say. We are not. We are not the convictor of folks. We are not the judge of folks. We are not. We do not get to dictate to the masses what we will and will not tolerate based on our beliefs. Granted, there are social mores that we as a society expect to be adhered to. But, we do not live in a theocracy, Christian or otherwise and praise God for that! (Salem witch trials, anyone...)

What is my point? Be tolerant. Don't be strident. Tolerance does not say that there is absolute truth. Tolerance does not say that I believe as you believe. Tolerance says, even in my disagreement I will love and not judge you. Tolerance says that I may not think that you are striving for the highest or the best but take my hand and let's walk together.

A college friend of mine (I attended a fairly conservative bible college) said that he is not sure that tolerance is a Christian virtue. I replied, "I am not sure that it is not." Now, I know that he is tolerant (as are most of my Christian friends) because they tolerate me and my--often liberal and opposing-- views. Does he agree with them? Heavens no. But he tolerates my right to have them. They tolerate my different interpretation from them. Now, I am sure that some of them have written me off as unchristian (well, probably not any of my legit friends) but I know some of my facebook "friends" have.

Here is what I know, we make concessions and are tolerant everyday (as well we should). Tolerance should not be a swear word for Christian. I am a lover of Jesus. I am tolerant. I am proud.

I know that I don't take opposing views for the sake of being contrary (as I have been accused) but because I have this deep conviction. I love people. I love justice and I will never again go along to get along. I will never again keep quiet in the face of injustice and oppression. I will never passively go along with something because I kept quiet. I did that for far too long.
I have not written a blog entry in a while. The thing that I love about my blog is that I can write here when I want to release. I have not illusions of grandeur as a result of this blog. It does, however, excite me that I will be able to look back years from now (hopefully) and know where I was years prior. 

I am finding that my relationship with the lover of my soul deepens and grows as I age. Sorta like my love for Kelly. Almost immediately, I knew that this woman made me feel some kind of way. But even still now, she makes me feel some kind of way but more intensely. My love for her grows exponentially. I truly love her more today than I did when I proposed to her Christmas Eve 2004 in Jonathan's bedroom. The same is true with God. The dimensions of my love toward him have grown so much. Especially in this past year. The real grace, love and forgiveness of God have been incredible. In the time that I felt most unlovable and accepted I was wrapped securely in the love of God. I was shown that no matter my state that I am loved. I am known. I am forgiven. 

God, thank you that when these dry bones cry out you answer and bring life! Gah, Abba, I love you!

53 minutes ago the state of Georgia executed Troy Davis. 53 minutes ago a man--a life was taken. "You can say they deserve to die, but the key moral question is 'Do we deserve to kill?'" -- Helen Prejean The problem with the death penalty is that it is final. You don't get a do-over. Once that poison has entered the veins and had the desired effect, it is over. The finality of this action means that we must get it right...every time. No exceptions. The act tonight saddens my heart. I repeat Troy Davis, "Lord, please have mercy on their souls. Bless their hearts." September 21, 2011 is a sad day for justice; a sad day for our country.
The good news, must--in fact--be good news! The good news, must be good news to the poor. The good news must be good news to the down-trodden. The good news, must be good.
18The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon Me, because He has anointed Me [the Anointed One, the Messiah] to preach the good news (the Gospel) to the poor; He has sent Me to announce release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to send forth as delivered those who are oppressed [who are downtrodden, bruised, crushed, and broken down by calamity]19To proclaim the accepted and acceptable year of the Lord [the day [b]when salvation and the free favors of God profusely abound.

Below is a very cool and powerful talk (via livestream) from a guy who is, like me, a proud member of the Christian Left, Jim Jobin. Follow him on Twitter: @jimijobin

Watch live streaming video from thechristianleft at livestream.com
I blogged last night about The Freedom Riders; here is the PBS documentary: (Enjoy!)

Earlier today Kels and I watched the Oprah show. Oddly, this season is the first season that I have actually watched her show on any consistent basis (we DVR the shows and watch them). Today we watched an older show from May. The show was commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Freedom Riders.

In a nutshell, the Freedom Rides were non-violent demonstrations coordinated by CORE (Congress on Racial Equality) in the 1960s during the turmoltous era of Jim Crow, racial bigotry and inequality. CORE members (made up largely of college students of many races and religions) decided that racial inequality could no longer be tolerated. They decided that this wrong could no longer go unchecked on their proverbial watch. Toward the end of the taping of this profound show, Oprah asked two questions that have stuck with me since I heard her utter them. She asked, (paraphrasing) "What is wrong with the world and what can you do to fix it?"

Those two simple, yet profound questions nag at my mind this very second. Those questions immediately bring to mind on of my favorite verses of scripture, Micah 6:8:

The LORD God has told us what is right and what he demands: "See that justice is done, let mercy be your first concern, and humbly obey your God." (Contemporary English Version)

They make me want to go out and give myself to something great! Like the Freedom Riders, I want to be willing to lay down my life for a fight that needs fighting. They make me want to fight the fight that may seem un-winnable but needs fighting. I want to see that justice is done. I want to know, like the Freedom Riders, that after this brief, fleeting and momentary life here on earth is finished that I made an impact.

It is hard to believe that only fifty years ago, Congressman John Conyers was beaten simply for trying to do something that I take for granted everyday: be seen as an equal; a man. Hundreds of brave Americans decided that inequality and marginalization could no longer be suffered. They decided that what was wrong with America was inequality, so they rode. The rode with the understanding that their very life might be the price that equality would demand. Knowing that--embracing that---they rode. They rode through the hate-filled south and decided to matter. They decided to be the voice, crying out in the darkness of hate and inequality for change. Damn it, change! They wrote their last wills and testaments and said, as Queen Esther said, "If I must die, I must die."

Equality for all is a fight that is worth fighting. Justice is a cause that is worth undertaking. Whenever people are dehumanized and caricatured, there is a problem; there is a wrong. I, for one, pray that I will never go along to simply get along. I pray that I will never allow my fears to dam the cries of justice from my lips as the Hoover does the waters of the Colorado River. Where there are injustices, I want to be a voice crying out for justice. Where there are inequalities, I want to be one--if the only one--fighting for equality. Lord, make it so.

What is wrong with the world; what can you do to fix it?
Seven weeks ago Kelly and I lead and hosted our first life group at our home for Christ Church. We are nearing a year since we moved from Greensboro here to Hickory. The circumstances that we moved here under were less than ideal. We had a lot of healing to do. For that reason, we decided that we would take all of the time that we needed to just soak in the goodness that is offered at Christ Church. Kelly and I are members (well, she still has to take the class) of the Fairgrove Campus of Christ Church. We had the opportunity to meet a lot of folks who are CC members before we moved here. That was great. However, we had not really gotten the opportunity to meet many folks at the other campuses. Our Taste and See Life Group changed all of that. 

Seven weeks ago today, fourteen folks who we had never met walked into our home. The folks who came were attendees at both the Fairgrove and Mt. View campuses. Our group has folks who are married, divorced, single and widowed. There are folks who are parents to toddlers, teenagers and young adults (such as are Kelly and me). Some folks have been on this Christian journey for a long while and some not such a long while. We have varied and different political, theological and philosophical beliefs. But we work. Over these past seven weeks, we have gotten increasingly close and open with one another. We are learning to lower our defensive walls and be honest; becoming vulnerable. Over food (that each unit brings) and conversation we are becoming a community!

Lifegroup has given us the opportunity to love openly. To use our gifts of hospitality and sheparding in a way that may not have been possibly otherwise in a church our size. I love our church; I love our Life group! This group is allowing us to get to a place where we, in fact, share life together. 
So...I was reading a friend's blog a short while ago. He wrote about his guilty pleasures. That, of course, got me thinking about some of my guilty pleasures. Guilty pleasures...you know. Those things that you just love but hate that you love and you def do not tell others that you love them. Well...Tim asked, so I am going to tell. Here is my list of guilty pleasures. #DontJudgeMe

Real World- The MTV show that I have watched for as long as I can remember. There is so much about that show that I really like and I know that it doesn't make a lot of sense. I feel guilty watching it...but I keep watching it. I have even gotten Kelly addicted to it, too.
  1. Fruit Snacks- Like my buddy Tim, I, too, love these things. I have a three year old godson who also loves these. I feel so guilty when I eat his fruit snacks. Kels bought a batch of them a while back for the Booge when he comes over...I ate them.
  2. Creepin' on Social Media Sites- You know what I mean. Like on FB when you have not seen a person in a long while and you go through and see their pictures. Kinda creepy but I do that. The worst is when I get to a very old pic and comment on it and they are all sketched out like, "Bro, did you really just go through those hundreds of pics?" To which I reply, "Nah, man. I just went to that one specifically..." Or on Twitter, when I sometimes go through and read the old tweets and their favorites. Is this too much? I'm gonna stop now...
  3. Hallmark Movies- I know...I know. But I really like watching those Hallmark movies... especially the Christmas ones. They always make me cry.
  4. Drinking out of the jug- I am not sure if this is throwback to the college days or what, but I love drinking out of the container. I know it is gross. I know that Kelly hates it. But I love it. It tastes better
  5. Dipping- Yes. That kind of dipping. The long cut tobacco dipping. I used to do it on a regular basis but not so much anymore. But I love it. I remember my dad dipping Red Man when I was a kid and always wanting to try it. Yep. Long cut or pouches.

This has been an insanely awesome and full week for me. A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine who is a Campus Youth Pastor asked me if I would emcee the annual youth week that our new church hosts.

The theme for the week is: Simple. The idea is that there are all manner of things that we do in our lives that we complicate that are, well, simple. They were sure to make the disticntion that simple does not mean easy. Merriam-Webster defines simple as: readily understood or performed. The reality is the actual prayer to "Accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior is, simple." The walking out of that commitment is anything other than easy. It is hard and it is complicated.

This leads me to the title of this post. As I think about the life of Jesus, I am struck that he did not hate people. He did not hate the Pharisees, even though those dudes seemed intent on killing him. Jesus did not hate Judas, even though ol' boy was, ya know, a Judas. A Benedict Arnold. A turn-coat. Jesus did not hate Pilate. He did not hate Mary Magdelene. He did not hate. He did not hate. He did not hate. For Jesus, it seemed very simple to not hate. For Jesus, it seemed natural to love. Natural to forgive and natural to include.

However, for present-day followers of The Way (including me) there seems to be that list of folks who are okay to hate. Okay to ostercize. It seems like we have taken the simple message of love and convoluted it. We build obstacles in the way of folks who are curious about this Jesus who they have heard was loving and inclusive. Passages from Matthew come into my mind when I think about all that we have done:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices — mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Matthew 23:23-24);

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matthew 23:13);

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” (Matthew 23:15)

The reality that hits me like a ton of bricks, is that we have taken the simple message of Jesus and made it all so complicated. We have told groups of people, namely, LGBT, that God's simple love is complicated and is had by them with an asterisk. However, this is not true. God's love is not complicated; it is simple. God's grace is extended to all through the work and person of Jesus the Christ! God beckons us all to the table to find help and hope in our time of greatest need. The God who created folks within the LGBTQ community is passionate about them and all. He pursues us all with a deep, passionate and furious love.

Abba, may we live into the example of your love. May we mirror your heart. May we share hope with whomever is in need. May we explore and find an ever-increasing reality of your deep and furious love for us, Abba! May we ponder on this: Whom would Jesus hate?

Have you ever thought about how God brings amazing people into your lives, and somewhere along the way you start doing life together and experiencing Him in news ways through the hearts of other people? -Michelle Bentham
 That quote is taking on new meaning for me these days. I mean, I have always loved family (I have the best), friends and my broader community, but there is something different that is happening.  When we moved to Hickory back in October we knew folks. Our best friends, Jess and Mille live here with our godson, Isaiah. Since their family has become like our family, we felt like we had a really good safety net of folks who we knew and were known by. We already had a foundation of other friends who we knew through Jess and Mille such as Chip, Lindsey, Laura, Shaun, Ryan and Allison. Since moving here we have also gotten to know some others like Chad, Tammy, Tim, Shannon, Scott and Lane. As a result of being a McKinnon, I have never had a hard time talking to folks; we are a very social bunch. However, there was something still that did not feel complete. There was this deep longing to be in community with folks in a small, intentional group where we could go deeper spiritually.

About a month or more ago I became a lay pastor at our new church, Christ UMC Church in Hickory, NC. After that I told Chip, our Life Group Pastor, that we would like to be part of a life group. One of the cool things (there are many) that I church does are short-commitment, "Taste and See" groups in the summer. The purpose of these groups is to give folks a taste of what life groups are really all about. Three weeks ago, yesterday, we began to lead and host one of these groups. Each Wednesday night, we gather with folks who were complete strangers and are now becoming friends. In the short time that we have been a group, we have --as a long-time friend of mine would say--gelled. On most weeks we will all bring food to eat together. We have fun eating and then going a little deeper into the message from the previous Sunday. This week we delved into the new sermon series, Credo. One of the questions that we attempted to tackle was this: "Can our creeds hinder us from loving like Jesus?" That questions sparked a lot of great discussion among the group. It was really neat to hear every different perspective and take on that question. The responses to that--on the surface--simple question gave a glimpse into each respondent's heart and convictions.

We are not there fully, but we are learning to trust one another. We are learning that we do not all have to believe all of the same things on every issue, but we can learn to grow together. I am excited to go on this great adventure with all of these great people. I am so happy to be here. Life is crazy and stuff happens but being in a group like this reminds me that I serve a God who give second, third, forth and myriad of chances.
I sit here in a new (to me) coffee shop in downtown Hickory working on homework  across from a friend, Chip. Whenever we get together to do our homework together, we know from the outset that we will not just do the homework that we have been assigned, but we will catchup and talk without the guarded walls that most of the time we, like everyone else, have. We jump in and share our hearts. Today, it seems that I have been the one who has dominated the sharing of my heart. Through our talks and his probing questions, I have realized  the amounts of defensive walls that have been built around my heart and consequentially, me. It is weird because I used to pride myself on not having those walls. I was the guy who so arrogantly (and I see now, harshly) told folks that they should drop the guard and be open. I was the guy who thought that he was the great relater.

As I thought about it, I have been in a new place for about seven months now and I have not really opened myself. I have lived surface with people. I have not trusted any new people with "me". I am still afraid. "To allow others in would be to open yourself to being hurt and the possibility of you hurting the people who you love", I think to myself.

It is interesting how this can occur without ever really realizing it, consciously. I have become the person that I never thought that I would: The Guarded Guy. I know that this is not a healthy place to live. I think that there is wisdom in not putting yourself out there for everyone to have the opportunity to hurt you. However, to guard off yourself is not healthy either. I am not sure that I am loving That Guy. In fact, I know that I do not love That Guy. He sucks and he's gotta go!

 Side Note: My buddy just left and we hugged goodbye. This is not abnormal for me to hug my friends goodbye, no matter the gender, but I am now convinced that the dude sitting at the table across from me thinks that I am gay...not that there's anything wroooong with that (Seinfeld reference, lol)

I know that I want to be devoted and committed wherever I am. I know that I want to be known and to know. I know that I do not want to be "that guy" and by God's grace I will not.

Today, I choose to drop the defenses. Today, I choose to live loved. Today, I choose to forgive and live forgiven. Today.
"There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love." -Washington Irving

I have deep memories of me being a young boy who was deeply in touch with his emotions. Sadness. Joy. Fear. Anger. Empathy. They were (and continue to be) always there, just below the surface, waiting for a reason to be unleashed. I recall when I was in middle school, feeling like a boy being this in touch with his emotions was not the best. As some would say today, it isn't a good look. Afterall, boys are made of  "Frogs and snails and puppy dogs' tails". Boys were not supposed to be sensitive and they were really not supposed to cry. However, as I have gotten older, I have learned to accept this soft side of me.

A good friend of mine had an incident where someone disrespected his wife royally. He sprang from his chair and ran outside and confronted the dude and like a good friend I was in hot pursuit. His wife said, "Ray you have to just stand there. Do not talk and do not smile. Because once you talk and they see that smile, you will cease to be intimidating." I must admit that she was right. God made me to be this guy who loves people, hates violence and is crazy passionate. Now, I do not see my ability to cry empathetically as a flaw but rather a virtue. The world is filled with people who will go out of their way to be rude. I think that the world needs more folks who can shed a tear and by doing say, "I feel you."

Now, don't hear what I am not saying. When there is injustice, the hairs on my neck will raise and I am ready to stand for justice. If you cross my wife, then my primal self will rise up. Because, after all, I was born that way, too. I was born to stand for justice and I was born to protect my wife and family.

There is sacredness in tears and there is sacredness in standing for justice.

The events of the last few months have led me to question a lot of things. I concede that I often will pose questions and take positions that I know, from the outset, will be controversial and lightning rods. I do this, not merely to be controversial or contrary, but because I believe the tension is good; the tension evokes thought; critical thinking.

For a class that I am taking, I had to define critical thinking. Critical thinking is thinking rationally, logically and with fresh eyes. This has a place, a very prominent place within Christendom. When we shut down thought and differing perspectives, we become stagnant and religious. Whenever the Church has required for group think we have gone down the wrong track (my mind goes instantly to the Crusades and Reformation).

So, in light of Rob Bell, the debate of the death of Osama bin Laden, and the continuing debate over homosexuals, I think that these tensions are good and godly. May we never become so comfortable and sure of our current positions that we are unable to have the discourse. May we always celebrate the tensions and live out the love. In the end, God will reveal--once and for all--the truth. I believe that we will all be surprised, in the end, that things are rarely as cut and dry as we believe.
I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. ***Edited May 3, 2011 to reflect the actual quote of Dr. King, the initial part was misquoted*** "Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that" —Martin Luther King Jr.

Upon further reflection of the past day's events I am more convinved than ever that my initial response to the death of Osama Bin Laden was primal and carnal. Dr. King, a true ambassador of Christ--the prince of peace, speaks still from the grave. May I live into this; may I always represent Christ. These days have given me further needless evidence that I am still in process; becoming more like Jesus.

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I imagine, as was true on 9/11, I will always remember where I was when I found out that Osama Bin Laden was killed. I must tell you that at the first I was swept up in such jubilation. Such nationalism. After all, Osama Bin Laden, the man who orchestrated  the most vicious attack against this nation. I was relieved. My annoyance that Celebrity Apprentice was being preempted by "some speech from the President" was quickly swallowed by pride. Pride in my President. Pride in the military folks who executed the plan to kill Osama. Pride in my fellow Americans. It is in times like these--times of great national jubilation--that it is good to gain perspective from scripture. My carnal self jumps within. My carnal self says, "Hell yes! Osama is dead!" I am happy when justice flows like a mighty river. I am happy when the cries of those innocents seemingly is answered. But, deep within me there is this nagging questions that begs an answer: "Jesus, what do you guys think?" I find myself asking the question, "Am I capitulating--during this time of nationalism--to situational ethics? 

In searching our souls, it is good to also search scripture.

Proverbs 24:17 warns me, in this time, "Don't rejoice when your enemies [Osama] fall; don't be happy when they stumble."

Ezekiel 18:32 tells me "I don't want you to die, says the Sovereign LORD. Turn back and live!"

Then again in Ezekiel 33:11 I read, "As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die?"

I then read in Isaiah 55:7, "Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let them turn to the LORD that he may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously."

Exodus 33:19 then brings it home for me, as I read, "The LORD replied, "I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will call out my name, Yahweh, before you. For I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose."

As I read each of these scriptures, some of the excitement of my carnal flesh is brought into reality. I am checked that I am not God. I am not judge; God is. Though I am convinced that justice demanded this outcome, I should not rejoice. Though decency demanded that Osama Bin Laden--the perpetrator of these atrocities--had to give an account here on earth for his crimes and dastardly actions, I need not rejoice nor gloat. I need only to say, thank you Jesus, that for the likes of Bin Laden, Hitler, Stalin and Ray McKinnon you hung on that cursed cross. For the likes of me, you declared it finished.

May I live into the reflection of my savior. May I never get caught up in nationalism to the detriment of my allegiance to the call of Christ.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A friend is one before whom I may think aloud.”  

Sunday, I was driving to Hillsborough from an awesome Easter dinner with my in-laws, I got a chance to catch up with Tonetta, the person with whom I have had a lasting, abiding and deep friendship for decades (literally). She told me that we would not be able to talk for long because she has to get started on some school work (she teaches in Fairfax County). As we talked and exchanged the typical (for us) word jabs and banter the conversation turned. Tonetta started to share a dream that she had not shared before--not the dreams you have once you have entered REM sleep but the dreams that keep you from that sleep. I heard her dream and was excited beyond words.  This woman, whom I have known since she refused to allow me to "jump" her in line at lunch in elementary school was dreaming big!  I was honored to hear these dreams. I felt a little unworthy to hear something that was such a jewel and closely held dream. Tonetta had dreamed aloud and that made me want to dream. Tonetta dared to hope for something greater and that freed me to dream for something greater. Tonetta refused to be limited by the nay-sayers and that freed me to not be limited by the nay-sayers. Tonetta hopes for greatness and that frees me to hope for greatness!

Then another "bestie" (girlie expression but it works) dreamed...

Late last night into early this morning I got the opportunity--again--to experience what Ralph Emerson quipped first-hand. I sat and listened as my brother and close confidant shared his dreams. I listened as this guy, with whom I am honored to share life, dreamed aloud. It is incredible to hear the God dreams of a person. As I sat there listening, I was struck by the power that the dream of another can have on me. As I heard Jesse's dreams it sparked something within me that I had not realized had died: My ability to dream big hairy audacious dreams. 

Sure, I have set some pretty concrete goals for the future. Sure, I have plans to get there. But the dreams. The big, hairy and audacious dreams that I once dreamed were missing. The huge dreams. Those dreams that you know are impossible for you to accomplish alone. The dreams that you need first, and utmost God to be your chief partner for them to happen. For me, they were the dreams of a better place where people really did care about people. Not a utopia but the dreams where differences were celebrated and not berated. The dreams where your life counts and after you have left this fleeting and brief life, your dreams continued to touch the world.  The dreams of my brother has helped me to remember that God has called me--and you--to dream big, crazy and seemingly insurmountable dreams!

Jesse and Tonetta thank you for dreaming those Big, hairy, audacious dreams! They may say that you are a dreamer, but you are not the only one.
"Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other." John 13:34-35 (MSG)

Most folks would agree that the derivation of Maundy Thursday comes from the latin word mandatum. This is the first word in the verse quoted above. Jesus told this to his twelve closest friends as he washed their feet. Jesus. One who many of them thought was going to bring about a new kingdom for Jerusalem here on earth was washing their feet. The example that he gave was that of a servant who washed feet to symbolize love. Love. Not inferiority but love. He said for them to love each other to be a pointer to others (a bird dog, if you will) that we are, in fact, his disciples.

On this Maundy Thursday in 2011 I reflect on the lack of love that we (disciples of Jesus) show to each other. Too often, when we have doctrinal or theological disagreements we ostracize our fellow disciples instead of love them and be okay with the beauty of complexity and diversity within! On this Maundy Thursday, I recommit myself to love. May we each do the same!

Happy Maundy Thursday, beloved! 
My life has been so full. When I look at all that I have been given, I rarely feel that I have missed out. Granted, I am not rich. Granted, I was not raised in a traditional two-parent home. Granted I have done much to be ashamed about. But with all of that, I have a full and blessed life!

I have a wife who is loyal and gracious beyond words. I have a family that, if given the choice, I would choose to have. I have friends who are family. And I have hope; hope is enough.

Holy week is a time for me to reflect on the blessings betowed upon me by the all powerful, knowing and loving God. I indeed have hope for a better tomorrow because of the finished work of Christ yesterday. My savior loves me and I know that in the end, love--in fact--wins!

Yes. Hope is enough.
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There has been so much tomfoolery surrounding Pastor and Author Rob Bell's latest book, "Love Wins". There are Christ followers who seem ready to burn him at the stake as the Church of old did to its great thinkers of the day because of their alleged heresy. There are then others who, like a large number of the former, without reading the book think he is brilliant and spot on. Then there are some--I fall into this category--who are challenged and uneasy by the writing all at the same time. After reading the book I can say without equivocation, Rob Bell is no heretic.

Since when is it heresy to ask questions? Why, within the Evangelical clique, do we automatically exclude folks who don't agree with the Pipers, Moehlers and Driscolls (sorry my Arminian friends, I'm quasi Reformed couldn't think up any of your holy untouchables). When did reading become dane-derous (as my Godson would say)?

We have spent so much time parsing Bell's words and very little considering what is at the heart of his book: Love. It wins!

"Love is why I have written this book...May you experience this vast, expansive, infinite, indestructible love that has been your all along. May you discover that this love is as wide as the sky and as small as the cracks in your heart that no one knows about. And may you know, deep in your bones, that love wins."

Does Rob Bell believe in hell; yes. Are some or Rob's writings controversial; yes. Is Rob a lover and follower of Jesus; yes. Do I agree with all that is written on the 198 pages of this book; no. But what does that matter; I agree with more than I disagree.

May we each live to display the incredible love of God here, right now, today! May our motivation in sharing Christ be love and not fear of hell.

What the hell, Rob Bell; how dare you cause us to think and reintroduce us to arguments that have been waged since antiquity.
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So today while at work I stopped off in the waiting area to check on the score of the Duke game, naturally they were eviscerating whatever bottom seed they were playing at the time. Then there was an interruption for an address from the President, Barack Obama. I thought, "Hmm, this must be important." It was. The President went on to talk about the atrocities happening in Libya. As I continued to listen I got a sense of de ja vu. I felt like I'd heard the talk of international intervention in a conflict area before. Then it hit me; I had...from the former President.

We have dithered our way into Iraq and I fear that we might be on our way to committing the same hasty error all over again. I am over Presidents thinking that we must always threaten military intervention. We are already stretched to the breaking point financially with two ongoing conflicts and we very well might be headed into a third. I am committing here and now to not vote to re-elect President Obama if this becomes what I fear it might. For the first time since I have been eligible to vote, I will either refuse to vote for a presidential candidate or toss my vote in that particular category. Then there is always theoption of voting for Ron Paul.

Really, President Obama, really?!
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I have often been asked how I can call myself a Christian and vote for a Democrat; shocking, I know. You have to understand that I live in North Carolina, the heart of "The Bible Belt". We have a church on every corner. In Greensboro alone (my home city)--with a population of approximately 260,000 people--there are roughly 500 churches. Greensboro has around 109 square miles so for every square mile there are five churches. Are you getting the picture now? So, there is the perspective. For some evangelicals the GOP is an acronym for God's Own Party and not Grand Ole Party. I suppose I can see the point; I have sat in enough services where the Pastor makes subtle, yet powerful, statements that make one draw the conclusions that "good Christians" make decisions in the ballot booth based on their convictions.

When I was a high school and college student, I always dreaded the election time because I would have to sit through the subtle nudges of preachers who wanted you to "vote your values" (Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge, the GOP) . I always felt like folks saw it as their personal mission to "convert" me. However, like opposition usually does for me, it made me really answer why I held the convictions that I held. Before I enumerate the reasons why I am evangelical, pro-life and progressive, I want to give my working definitions of each:

Evangelical: 1. Conviction that Jesus alone can pay the debt for our sins. 2. Belief that each follower of Jesus should actively share his or her faith (primarily by living a changed life). 3. Deep belief in the authority of scripture and the inerrancy of the message given. 4. Belief in the actually earthly life, death and resurrection of Jesus and a belief that he presently lives, offering intercession for all who have embraced his gift.

Pro-life: 1. Opposition to abortions (w/an exception for the life of the mother). 2. Opposition to the death penalty (without exception). 3. Opposition to euthanasia

Progressive: 1. Deep sense of commitment to the betterment of individuals over companies. 2. Deep sense of justice. 3. Deep commitment to the rights of individuals over corporations. 4. Deep commitment to civil liberties.

So, here goes:

I believe all of the things as defined above, however I would add this caveat, some of the convictions that I hold (particularly those regarding homosexuals) would place me at odds with many of my Evangelical sisters and brothers). At its core, the Evangelical movement was the middle ground between the theological liberalism of the mainstream church and the seperationism of the fundamental church.

I am pro-life, because I believe that life is sacred--all life. This includes the life of the embryo that has yet to form into an autonomous human, to the person who has committed the vilest violation of our social mores. It is inconsistent (and rather hypocritical) to advocate the sanctity of life while advocating the death penalty the next. As a matter of justice, all life should be regarded as sacred. It is intellectually wanting to teach people that you shouldn't kill people by killing people.

I am progressive because there must be a commitment from folks of faith to see an impact on society. There must be a commitment to see the political parties that we align with do good. Though all three of the major political parties in America are flawed, I identify most with the Democrats. They have a commitment to stand for the weak and to be a voice for the worn. The Dems are not willing to pick up yourself by your own boot straps when it is obvious that you have no boots. The Dems are committed to do what they can to ensure there is access to a quality education. The Democrats recognize that in a country as blessed as America, have a right to quality health care. The Democrats realize that no matter your sexual orientation that you are a person who should be treated with dignity and respect.

I would love to hear your thoughts!
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Back in October, Kelly and I made the move from Greensboro, NC to Hickory, NC. Not that far of a drive, really but it was a huge change for us. Since we married I have always served as a full-time Pastor (Youth or Executive) and this is the first time when I am not serving as a Pastor. This past Tuesday, I was hired by a local car dealership to become one of its newest salespersons. I am extremely excited and nervous all at the same time. I am excited for the same reason that I am nervous: something totally new that I have never done before.

This whole experience has given me new perspective and a new outlook. While serving as a Pastor, ironically, I got most of my fulfillment from the approval and accolades of others. I felt important and purposeful by sheer virtue of my title (inherently that is a problem that can be discussed in later posts). The problem with this, I found, is that when you place that much power in other people's fickle emotions and hands you give them unhealthy power over you. When things are great and you continue to do the right thing, then you do not feel the negative effects of this capitulation of power. However, when things are not going so well and when you fail to do your part then it will become painfully obvious why such a capitulation can be very dangerous. In light of this, Hebrews 12:2,12 has new meaning and significance in my life.

The two phrases that stick out to me from these verses are:

Fix your eyes on Jesus (12:2)
Strengthen your feeble arms...weak knees (12:12) 

During this new season, I am committed to keep my focus on Jesus. Seek to be right in his eyes first. I am also committing to strengthen my feeble arms and weak knees. I am committed to grow and to continue in that growth.
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