The real Saint Patrick




Last March I had the unique privilege of celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day in Ireland. This “bucket list” trip was special and memorable for many reasons. I was able to spend time following the Saint Patrick trail and learn more about the man and missionary called Patrick. I discovered much information and inspiration at the new Saint Patrick Center, in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland, at the only museum in the world dedicated to the history and story of Saint Patrick:


During my travels I visited a number of historic sites including Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, where it is said Patrick baptized converts in a well in A.D. 450, and also Saul Church, Downpatrick, where Saint Patrick built the first Christian Church in Ireland in A.D. 432.

This post has become somewhat of an annual tradition for me as I write about the story behind the celebration . . . the man called Patrick.

Kidnapped into slavery at age 16 and taken from his home in England to the land of savages in Ireland, Patrick had visions from God that gave him strength and led to his escape. So inspired and moved by God, once home in England he felt compelled to return as a missionary to preach the gospel in a land that had never heard the message of Christ before. The story continues and his writings are full of profound insights, theology, prayers, and confessions that challenge and inspire me deeply. I have included a portion of a hymn written by, or least attributed to, Patrick from around 430 A.D.


It should be noted that Patrick was not recognized as a “saint” until decades later, did not drive snakes out since there were none in Ireland at the time, did not use the three-leaf clover to describe the Trinity, and was basically kicked out of the priesthood for failure to submit to authority. He was, however, a great contextual theologian and missionary who reached an entire people for the Kingdom of God!

We have much to learn and celebrate from the rich and diverse history of our faith.           The traditions of past and present, while different from our own, provide a wonderful opportunity for our faith to increase. This national “holiday” of sorts, Saint Patrick’s Day, has given me an opportunity to learn to appreciate what God has been doing through servants like Patrick through- out the centuries. Of course, we can also expand our food and spirits horizons at our local Irish pub!

While last year I was in Dublin for the festivities, I will be in NYC, which may even have more revelers than the famed Irish city itself.  As I join in the cultural festivities today and in the years to come, I will always be reminded of my time in Patrick’s land.


So, as you listen to U2, thee Cranberries or DropKick Murphies (depending on your style) and raise a pint of Guinness, thank God for examples like Patrick, and may we all follow the example of a life of obedience, sacrifice, servant-hood, faith, prayer, and mission.


Prayer of Saint Patrick

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.


Science for Youth Ministry


Luther Seminary has received a $1.2 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation to fund a three-year project called Science for Youth Ministry: The Plausibility of Transcendence. The project will catalyze faith-and-science conversations with young people through youth ministry and will produce materials to encourage those discussions.

More information on this project can be found on the Luther Seminary website and has a great introductory video from lead collaborator Andrew Root.

I cannot count how many conversations with students I have had over my 15 years of youth ministry when they ask the daunting question:  Can Faith and Science be connected?

Science and faith, method and mythology

Concept of science and faith locked in battle, or harmony, depending on one’s perspective.

They really want to know whether or not their Christian faith (worldview and convictions) can be reconciled with scientific discoveries or “truths” they are learning in school.  In many ways, I suppose this is not a brand new phenomenon or challenge facing youth ministers.  I suppose that ever since the Scopes trial in the 1920’s, issues of faith/region vs. science/technology have surfaced.    Then it was the creation and evolution debate. Now it might range from gender/sexuality biological findings to theories of time-space travel or the possible discovery of life on other planets.

I am honored to be a part of this conversation and will be attending a writing symposium at Luther Seminary with Andrew Root and other youth workers/thinkers/writers.  Initially, we will base our pieces on the book Galileo Goes to Jail: And Other Myths About Science and Religion edited by Ronald L. Numbers.


I will write about my observations and reflections in later posts, as well as publish my article on this site.  For now,  I will say that throughout the history of humankind there have been misconceptions about how religion and science coincided in culture and in the hearts and minds of people of faith.  So, in many ways, what we are facing today is really not new or unique.  The actual questions and scientific discoveries may alter over time, but the general premise remains unchanged.

How, if at all, can my  faith coexist with science?  Can “ancient” religious views hold up against “modern” scientific discoveries?  Are those terms fluid or fixed..and for that matter, is one’s faith fixed or fluid?

For more information, and to get your hands on the forthcoming resources to help youth workers embark on this great journey, please visit the Science for Youth Ministry website

Also, join the online discussion and network by connecting on the Facebook page


“The Whole Thing is a Temple” – Rob Bell’s talk. here. now


It is finally arrived!  The epic talk given by Rob Bell at the Progressive Youth Ministry conference this past February in Dallas, TX

I wrote a post a few weeks back about Rob’s memorable and almost magical presentation, but now you can actually watch it for yourself.  *See the YouTube link provided above

Enjoy and feel free to post thoughts, comments, or questions (which I am confident Rob’s talk brings up and he commends!)



What’s wrong with this Christmas list?

(Click on the link below to see the list)


I will tell you!

Besides the glaring fact that Sherlock Holmes is NOT a Christmas movie….(I am open on Die Hard though)

This list from IMD is a typical list of top Christmas movies, similar to any you may find. Other similar lists including “top grossing” Christmas movies, etc..

The word “wrong” may have been a feeble attempt to stir the pot a bit….

This list is certainly “telling” just how far culture and society has indeed moved away from the true meaning of Christmas. I have watched every one of these top 25 Christmas movies, and to my recollection only 3 of them state the actual meaning of Christmas, with The Nativity depicting the historical accuracy and significance of this most beloved holiday.

Santa Clause, of course, is the main character in the vast majority of these movies, with Jesus taking a back seat (with the exception of Little Drummer Boy, A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Nativity…and hey at least that movie made it to #7)


It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol at least get to the meaning of giving, love, faith and angels (in some regards)

In youth group this past week we discussed the question “Is Christmas still a Christian holiday”.  The majority of people who celebrate do not attend any church service or mass, nor participate in Advent or read the Biblical story.

Moreover, an increasing number of non-Christian countries are beginning to celebrate Christmas including Muslim and Hindu countries.  While I am in favor of that (in theory) I have been told from friends who live there that the commercial interests and American culture has infiltrated their countries, much to the display of the traditionalists.  Santa, Rudolf, colorful lights, trees, presents, and well…more gift giving has won the day and America is to thank.  But nowhere, literally nowhere in these cultures does the story of Jesus’ birth and theological impact of the incarnation ever make it into the celebration…thus proving (in some way) that Christmas is no longer a Christian holiday.

Perhaps this is good as the commercialism and consumerism of the holiday (as celebrated by Americans at least) has moved in stark contrast to the ideals of that first Christmas and Jesus’ message “It is better to give than to receive.”

Let me be honest for a moment.

I struggle with this because as my two boys grow up, there is a huge part of me that wants them to be just as excited with Santa, Rudolph, Frosty and opening shiny boxes on Christmas Day as I was.  I do not believe this is bad.

However, it is very easy to let our attention and affection gravitate solely towards those aspects rather than the simple, humble and profound message of God becoming one of us…”Immanuel”


A Community Service of Thanksgiving









Last week our church organized an ecumenical service of Thanksgiving for Americans in Paris.  Of course, non-Americans were welcomed to participate but the service was held on Thanksgiving Day, November 28 as a way for those of faith to acknowledge our corporate thanksgiving to God.

What was uniquely special was that it was the first time we were privileged to have leaders from the Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities participate in the worship service.

Since Thanksgiving Day coincided with Hanukkah (which will not occur again for 78,000 years), the Rabbi Tom Cohen light the Menorah on the altar and said a few words about both the Christian origin of Thanksgiving and its Jewish roots in Sukkot, the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles.

Scriptures were read from the Koran in Arabic and English and from the Hebrew Scriptures in Hebrew and English.

The new Dean of our sister parish The American Cathedral in Paris, the Very Right Reverend Lucinda Laird offered the homily.

The liturgy, songs of praise, scriptures and prayers were carefully chosen and crafted to reflect thanksgiving to God and provide an inclusive atmosphere for people of faith, regardless of their particular religion of tradition.

The gospel embodiment of hospitality was tangibly evident throughout the service and our Jewish and Muslim friends expressed their gratitude for the warm welcome they received.

Equally, we were blessed by witnessing their passion and appreciation for God’s blessings as well as their commitment in partnering with the Christian community towards the advancement of understanding, mutuality, respect and peace for all God’s children.

If interested, you can see the actual service and liturgy below.

.A Community Service of Thanksgiving



Last week I was privileged to watch the play Fiddler on the Roof.  It was directed by a friend and performed by The English Theater Club here in Paris.

Any opportunity afforded to me to experience English entertainment is a gift.

The performers did a commendable job acting and singing the familiar tunes.  This was not the first time I have seen this play performed professionally, but the themes spoke more profoundly to me.  It could have been that earlier in the week I spent time at the Marc Chagall exhibit and journeyed through his personal and spiritual reflections about the plight of Jews and the nature of human suffering.  It could be that one of the key themes in Fiddler has become a recent polarizing political debate here in France.

Regardless, the play had relevant meaning.

The basis synopsis is as follows:

Fiddler on the Roof is a musical set in Tsarist Russia in 1905. The story centers on Tevye, the father of five daughters, and his attempts to maintain his family and Jewish religious traditions while outside influences encroach upon their lives. He must cope with the strong-willed actions of his three older daughters. Each one’s choice of husband moves further away from the customs of his faith.

In the pre-revolutionary Russia, Jews and Orthodox Christians live in the little village of Anatevka. The poor milkman Tevye lives there with is wife and five daughters.  When the local matchmaker Yente arranges a match between Tevye’s daughter Tzeitel and the old butcher Lazar Wolf, Tevye agrees.  However Tzeitel is in love with the poor tailor Motel Kamzoil. They beg Tevye to give them permission to get married.  Tevye’s second daughter Hodel and the revolutionary student Perchik then decide to get married without Tevye’s permission.  When Perchik is arrestet by the Czar troops and sent to Siberia, Hodel decides to leave her family and homeland and join him there.

When Tevye’s third daughter Chava and the Christian Fyedka get married too, Tevye cannot accept it and considers that Chava has died.  Meanwhile, the Czar troops evict the Jewish community from Anatevka.

So much of the music and lyrics by Jerry Bock is fantastic and memorable.

However, the song “Tradition” perhaps is the best known, as it also begins the story.

If you have a few minutes you can watch and listen to the song from the movie.

The main character Tevye is a likeable character with devotion to God and an uncanny ability of misquoted Scripture (in a humorous way).  The audience is meant to like Tevye and appreciate his tradition, context, internal and external struggles he faces as Jew living in a non-Jewish country and also as a husband and father.  He displays remarkable compassion and understanding throughout the story….up to a certain point.

Tevye realizes that times are changing and his tradition can be overlooked for the sake of love; the love he has for his daughters and the love they have for the men they desire to marry.  In three compelling scenes Tevye is praying and weighing the options of insisting on the traditional arranged marriages and allowing his daughters to freely choose whom they will marry.  “On the one hand….” and “on the other hand….” become funny and witty ways of negotiating with God and self.  In the case of his first two daughters, Tevye finally agrees to give his permission and blessing.  Though not the men others would have chosen for his daughters he is confident that they love one another and the men will care for them properly.  Oh yeah…..both men are also Jewish.

This then becomes the rub in the story when his third daughter falls in love with a Christian.  In dramatic fashion Tevye prays for guidance and asks  how can he lose his daughter but also says, “On the other hand, how can I turn my back on my faith, my people? If I try to bend that far, I’ll break. On the other hand… No. There is no other hand.”

His decision is made and firm and while the very end of the play might suggest a reconciliation one day, our last images are of his daughter crying and begging her father to accept her, welcome her, and embrace her.

This is what rigid adherence to “tradition” can cause, especially when religiously motivated.  One would hope that this side of tradition no longer happens today but sadly it is an all too familiar experience of many.  The reasons may vary but the results remain.

For my grandparents generation, religious affiliation was extremely important.  My grandmother grew up Italian Catholic and when she announced her intended marriage to a Protestant from Alabama, her family reacted much the same way as Tevye.  Eventually most moved past that difference and excepted my grandfather as family, although never fully coming to the conclusion that his “religion” was in fact part of their own.

In more recent years as globalization has connected our world and generations traveled more freely, it become common to actually marry outside of one’s faith tradition.  For Christians this include Buddhists (especially after Vietnam), Hindu’s (during the Hippie movements) and of course people of Jewish and Islamic faith.  Some families welcomed these new additions while others could not reconcile.  This was more difficult for families who fervently followed their faith as you would imagine. Such was the case of Tevre and his honest belief that to accept his daughter’s marriage to a Christian would in fact to be disowning his very faith and disobeying God.

Today, times have changed as predicted and while religion is still a divisive social and familial issue, for many people of faith, sexuality has become the boundary line that are unwilling to cross.

I have dear friends who recently found themselves in a similar position to Chava, on their knees with tears streaming down their faces pleading with their mother and father to welcome and accept them.  Sadly for so many, their prayers and pleaders go unanswered and bitterness fills the void left by unity.  In a simple moment of truth I have witnessed a father’s “unconditional” love for his child turn towards denial and resentment, thus showing the true nature (and condition) of his love.

It begs the question of how health is one’s faith if adherence to that faith leads towards hostility and not hospitality, especially towards one’s own flesh and blood. When legalism trumps compassion, condemnation over mercy, and exclusion over embrace, religious tradition can become an enmity with God’s will for people.

Are we willing to lay aside our traditions and even religious convictions for the sake of the other?  What are the necessary borders that should not be crossed for fear of abandoning our faith?  Should there be a difference between strangers and family?  Is it possible to embrace without accepting?

These are indeed difficult questions to answer.  This does not mean changing our personal views on particular issues necessarily, but I do wonder which is the greater “sin”: adjusting and expanding one’s views for the sake of love and inclusion or exclusion for the sake of maintaining righteousness and correct belief.

As I alluded to early, the final scene of play offers an ever-so-small foreshadowing that Tevye might welcome her daughter back one day when he offers a quite blessing. We never know of course if they will ever be reunited or reconciled but are left with the question of what would we have done.  And so, now with two children of my own I am forced to ask myself a similar question and ask you the same:  Is there anything my child could decide or do to change my love?

St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre

This past week was the feast of St. Bartholomew (one of the 12 apostles of Jesus). On Sunday I had the unique opportunity of participating in a walking tour with The American Church in Paris commemorating the 440th anniversary of the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in Paris.  Perhaps this was one of the darkest days in Christian history, especially for the relationships between Catholics and Protestants.  Our guide explained the rise of the French Protestants in Paris, known as the Huguenots and our group was fortunate to have a direct descendent of a Huguenot leader (and survivor of the massacre) with us as well.

For history buffs, here is a brief historical overview of the events:

The massacre in 1572 was a targeted group of assassinations directed against the Huguenots (French Calvinist Protestants), during the French Wars of Religion. The massacre took place six days after the wedding of the king’s sister Margaret to the Protestant Henry III of Navarre(the future Henry IV of France). This marriage was an occasion for which many of the most wealthy and prominent Huguenots had gathered in largely Catholic Paris.

The massacre began on 23 August 1572 (the eve of the feast of Bartholomew the Apostle), two days after the attempted assassination of Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, the military and political leader of the Huguenots. The king ordered the killing of a group of Huguenot leaders, including Coligny, and the slaughter spread throughout Paris. Lasting several weeks, the massacre expanded outward and into the countryside. Modern estimates for the number of dead vary widely, from 5,000 to 30,000.

The massacre also marked a turning point in the French Wars of Religion. The Huguenot political movement was crippled by the loss of many of its prominent aristocratic leaders, as well as many re-conversions by the rank and file, and those who remained were increasingly radicalized. 

There are some commendable books on the French War on Religion, but for a concise complementary reading you can head to Wikipedia’s article here:’s_Day_massacre

It was interesting to learn how politically driven these Wars of Religion were.  Most of the people associated really did not understand the theological differences (or many similarities) between the two ways of Christian faith.  Protestantism was simply seen as a new threat and thus needed to be eliminated.  Behind the scenes there were enormous power plays going on with marriages and family associations. Also worth mentioning is that no side really was innocent.  Both religious parties were guilty back then in different ways.

In his sermon on Sunday, Rev. Scott Herr of The American Church in Paris stated the following in reference to this event:

“It’s a stark example of the Church getting it wrong. And when we got it wrong, we get it spectacularly wrong. This is not a day to criticize the Roman Catholic Church. This is not a day to assume any high moral ground because we are Protestants. But it is a time to clarify the basis of our koinonia, our fellowship, and with whom, with what we are participating at our deepest levels of being. I would suggest to you that anytime we align ourselves with a group that excludes, dehumanizes, or degrades other human beings in the name of God, we are committing a holy massacre over and over again. How did Jesus put it, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment…”

Since those times, the city of Paris has made great strides toward reconciliation between Catholicism and Protestantism, especially during the reign of Napoleon.  He was rather progressively conciliatory for his day and granted freedoms of religious expression to Protestants and Jews, both of which had previously been illegal.

This experience has caused me to reflect on modern-day tension between religions.  I wonder how realistic it is for people of different faith to love one another when still today brothers and sisters in Christ vehemently (and sadly still at times violently) oppose one another. When Christians are divided (theologically, politically, socially) and cannot find common ground as family members) it does not bode well for the unification of humanity as God’s sons and daughters.

Clearly we have progressed (at least in the West) from the days when kings ordered the slaughter of innocent people.  However, in our own way we still engaged in these wars on religion.  Christians battle those of different faith and even within the Christian faith, we remain divided.  While some might argue for theological differences, in my experience most divisions are politically charged and socially driven, not theological. While the Holy Spirit intends to bring unity (within diversity) we often reject those divine promptings in favor of distinguishing the “in” group and the “out”… or in other terms who is “right” and who is “wrong” on various issues.

I love history because it affords us the opportunity to lean from the past and not make the same mistakes.  So may we continue to learn about what happens when religion is propped up over and above love and grace; when we let personal agendas and political propaganda motivate us more than grace and mercy.

May the grace and peace of Christ compel us toward loving kindness to people of all faiths and propel us to unification within Christianity, in Christ, through Christ, and for Christ. Amen.

family reflections: unity in diversity

(picture from a Thanksgiving card I found)

Here is the caption:

“It was Thanksgiving, so no one brought up why Aunt Ruth has a “sleepover” friend named Rhonda, or cousin Bill’s pending trial, or why Grandpa Willard is one the computer well past midnight every night (with the door locked), or little Stephen’s fondness for Broadway show tunes, or his sister Aunette’s 32-year old boyfriend, or Uncle Hank’s almost unhealthy fascination with high heels, or just what in the world that awful scratching noise is up in Grandma Geraldin and Grandpa Burt’s attic…..”

Every family looks “normal” in pictures, but there is always a caption right?

This past weekend I spent the thanksgiving holiday back home with my family.  It has been a number of years since I have had the blessing of doing this and I enjoyed every moment.

I realize how blessed I am to have a loving, supportive family.  I also realize for many people out there, that is not the reality.  Close to 70% of my students at church come from broken homes.  To these students, being part of the “family of God” already has prepackaged negative connotations.  It is hard for them to imagine what a healthy family looks like.  I chose to not use the word “normal” because I no longer think anyone of us can describe the characteristics or attributes of that term.  What is normal for you may be different for me.  No longer does “normal” imply 2 parents (man and wife) first marriage, 2.5 children, stay a home mom, etc….

However, within the diversity of what a family looks like “healthy” is something we all long for and desire.  I believe that is God’s dream as well…for “healthy” families who are committed to each other and united in love.

I love my family.  They know me more deeply and intimately than anyone else.  They understand my complexity and quarks, and tolerate me anyways!

My family  has walked with and beside me during my darkness and difficult moments.  My family is thoughtful, caring, generous with what they have (including their time), genuinely enjoy spending time together.

There are members of my family who disagree with me in general on a lot of things, and specifically in areas of politics, social issues, and some theological ideas.  We have discussions, debates, and may even flat-out disagree or argue on matters that seem very important to us as individuals.

Yet..we come to the table (literally and symbolically and love is there.  I was reminded of that this Thanksgiving as we sat around our table, disagreements aside as we piled on the turkey and trimmings.

Despite our differences, there is acceptance, embrace, warmth, and collective memories when we gather around the table.

As we approach the beginning of Advent this year, I am also reminded of the unity we have when we gather in the presence of Christ, for at t the table of  our Lord the same can happen.

Christ’s sacrifice for all made it possible. His continued presence affirms and enables that.

Yet, it has become striking to me how, so often, the family of God does not function or act like a healthy family.

It does look like so many broken and dysfunctional families out there and I think we would all agree that is not the ideal, desire, or dream.

Understandably, we argue and may disagree over different viewpoints of theology, politics, or various social agendas.

Unfortunately, within at the least the Protestant segment of Christianity,  churches split all the time over particular theological interpretations, political disagreements, the role of women in ministry, the place of homosexuals in church, etc.. etc… etc… (the list really does go on and on and on…..)

Individuals churches and church boards divide over finances, carpet color, budge cuts, vision, mission, the church van, what time to have services, whether or not to have service on Christmas….(how sad and ironic is that one?)

Honestly, any and every thing can, and has, been a reason for people to leave their churches, abandon the Church, or for churches to split and (within our the Protestant heritage), form newer denominations.

In today’s Christianity, factions exist but not family.

Family can and will disagree and often argue over things, but at the end of the day you are still a family.  You are committed to each other and have each others’ back.  In a family one would do anything for your sister, brother, mother, father, niece nephew, cousin, and (sometimes) distant relative like that crazy uncle or aunt everyone seems to have.

Why do we do this?

Because you are all related. Blood unifies, bonds, and holds you together no matter what, through thick and thin.  They say “blood is thicker than water”.  And family blood should be thicker than any differences.

How much more should the blood of Christ unify Christians?

I am constantly amazed at how petty issues distract and divide us from what should bring us together.

Why can churches of different denominations partner together?  Why such a divide between Catholics and Protestants?  Do we not name the same Christ?

Yes, I realize there are differences.  I have studied the history of them at length.  But at the end of the day, Jesus’ life, ministry, resurrection, and hope of redemption should be what we are all known for.

Can we come together at Christ’s table and celebrate the reality of his presence?   Can we allow doctrine such as The Apostle’s Creed to unite us, and not some narrow particular viewpoints to intentionally separate.  Why be known so much for our distinctives (which ultimately lead to exclusivity and division), when God’s hope for the world is for his children to be known in unifying love and person of Christ.

I have many differences from people at my church.  Some of cultural, some are probably more age-related than anything else.  There are lifestyle disagreements, political differences, and I would imagine theological variances. but as at sat there at our Thanksgiving Eve service I looked around and what I saw was family.  I view each member of my church and youth group as family.  We are all imperfect, flawed, and have quarks.  Be we can and should accept and love one another as God loves his children and Christ his church.

Besides my personal family, I am grateful and thankful for my church family for teaching me the value and beauty of unity in spite of differences.