Summer Reading: Tattoos on the Heart

Tattoos on the Heart  is now my favorite book of all time. It’s not the best book I’ve read, it’s not the best written book I’ve read.

But, it is my favorite.

I dare you to read this book and not be moved: you will laugh, cry, and be disturbed in all the right ways.

Greg Boyle has been working with gang members for over 20 years in east Los Angeles. It is gnarly work. His stories are incredible because he’s been working in incredible conditions. I find, though, that there is a lot of crossover between his work and my work: broken families, father wounds, dependence issues, the search for community and hope.

There are also some critical differences. My students don’t have “F#@! the world” tattooed on their foreheads. They probably aren’t going to be shot by a rival any time soon. Everything they are engaged in is focused on their future, the polar opposite of the gang member.

I’ve been reading some of these stories to our staff and it raised the question: what is harder, ministering to people who are desperate and broken or ministering to people who are privileged and broken?

I’m not going to answer that question here, but I do want to leave you with some of Greg’s words:

“[We are] inching our way closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those who dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when stop throwing people away. The prophet Habakkuk writes, ‘The vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment and it will not disappoint…and if it delays, wait for it.’ Kinship is what God presses us on to, always hopeful that its time has come.”

Tired and Hopeful

Well, another semester, another year, is wrapping up, which means time to look back and to look forward (and to start blogging again).

I’m usually pretty tired at the end of a semester, which means I’m also a little more grumpy/cynical than normal. This is the natural outcome of another year watching people make the same mistakes over and over again (even though your advice and guidance is so golden). Of another meeting where someone is on their phone the whole time. Of another person late for the millionth time. Another cancel. Another flake.

That’s life. That’s ministry. And at the end of a semester it sure feels like it has added up into a huge mound of “why-can’t-people-get-their-stuff-together.”

But despite that I can’t remember a year ending and feeling this good about life.

Fundraising has gone well, with the usual unbelievable stories that go along with it.

I am so proud of our students. This year has been packed with great stories, life change, and a very clear front-row-seat to God moving.

I love our little community in Roslindale. Having multiple friends right down the street has been life-giving.

Our family is amazing. Amy is an incredible mother, and Marina is a joy to be around (those things are very strongly correlated).

And I have a lot of hope that there are some very cool things coming up just around the bend. The future is bright. Praise the Lord.

Nostalgia and Being Old

Sometime this fall I was struck with a hard, nearly debilitating, wave of nostalgia.

Nostalgia for high school,
for college,
for 90’s music,
for candlestick park,
for certain streets in Salinas,
for California beaches,
for mountains in Colorado,
for tacos and bagel bakeries and pizzamyheart,
for fog and wind,
and for, of course, people.

Mostly, though, it was nostalgia in the perfect sense of the word: a desire for something past that feels better than the present.

This wave of nostalgia caught me off guard since I am the kind of person who is generally forward-looking. Most of my “day dreaming” has to do with future oriented events.

So, what the heck was going on there? Some kind of weird new dad thing? Something about getting into the mid-30’s? Something else?

I know there are people who are bent towards nostalgia and looking backwards, so I tread carefully here, but I’ve always seen too much nostalgia as a negative. And I think for me, my nostalgia, was beginning to border on the sinful. I was groveling in memories and afraid of the future and, even though I wouldn’t have said this at the time, I was losing hope.

Was the best in the past? Did I peak at 32? Is it all downhill from here?

And then, several times this past semester, I was thrust into the story of Abraham. Outside of stories about Jesus I don’t know that there’s a story in Scripture I appreciate more.

What I always love about Abraham’s story is how the writer continually points out Abraham’s age: 75, 86, 99, 100, and older. Most scholars tend to think that by the time Abraham is asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac, Abraham’s been on this journey with God for about 40 years.

It takes him 40 years to develop that kind of faith. I ‘ve always found that encouraging.

But, what stood out to me this time around was that God didn’t come to Abraham until he was 75.

How often in our youth fueled culture do you hear someone 75 years old say: I’m just getting started?

It’s not like Abraham did nothing for 75 years. He was a busy guy, and successful vocationally and relationally. But the biggest chapter of his life didn’t even start until he was “retired”.

That pretty much snapped me out of my nostalgic kick (even though I’m still listening to a lot of 90’s music).

The best still lies ahead.
In fact, it might be decades away.
Do you believe the best is still ahead of you?


In a conversation with some student friends the other night, someone mentioned that an important part of life is being disappointed. He said that to be fully human we need to allow ourselves to feel disappointment and all the emotions that go along with the experience of not getting what we want.

Another friend strongly objected: “I completely disagree with that,” she said. “I think life is so much better when you have no expectations.”

As I sat between them I felt torn. Cognitively I agreed with the first point: being disappointed and learning how to respond to disappointment in healthy ways is really important.

But, emotionally, I also resonated with my other friend: sometimes the best things in life are the things that surprise us, that we never saw coming, that were unexpected.

Our expectations, especially unrealistic ones, can set us up for pain and disappointment. Sometimes our expectations can keep us from seeing the beauty of the moment, to be fully alive and present to that which is right in front of us.

But, life with no expectations? Is that really the best way to live? Is that essentially life with no hope?

In one of the most brilliantly depressing songs of all time, Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie) sings: “Every plan is a tiny prayer to father time.”

No matter how much I might want to agree with my second friend, how much I might want to live life with no expectations, I just can’t get away from hope.

Every plan is a prayer, a hope that there will be another moment, another day, another week, another opportunity, another experience, another place where God might show up and do something.

So the question I wrestle with constantly is what do I hope for? What do I place my hope in? Who do I hope in?

Do I place my hope in ideals?
Do I hope for generally good things?
Do I hope in myself and my ability to do good,
to figure things out,
and to make wise decisions?

Yes. All too often, I find myself hoping in these things.

The disciple Peter, Peter who said and did dumb things and who blew it spectacularly, says: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

Authentic hope is grounded in something beyond ourselves.
It is grounded in Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of new life,
abundant life,
everlasting life.


HPIM6762There are volumes of virtual articles and actual books that examine the current generation of 18-35 year olds. Some of that work is highly positive, a lot of it disconcerting, and there’s a bit of it that is downright paranoid.

There are certainly things to be concerned about. If I wasn’t concerned I wouldn’t do what I do.

But, I am also deeply encouraged.

I see signs of hope all the time. During conversations over a cup of coffee, in students who wake up early on Saturday mornings to tutor kids, in our leaders, and on trips like we took to Joplin.

For 8 days I saw students who have grown up in the most self-centered, narcissistic era of all time (according to some), give and serve and sacrifice, and do it all with a happy heart, a cheerful disposition, and absolutely no complaining.

Which was amazing, but here’s my favorite part:

At the end of each spring break trip I’ve been on I’ve led groups through a simple exercise called “the hot seat.” When you are on the hot seat you silently sit and let the rest of the group speak words of affirmation and life into you.

It’s deeply moving.

Students today get all kinds of accolades and positive feedback from the culture at large (especially if they buy the right things, wear the right things, and say the right things on Facebook).

But, in my experience, as these cultural accolades increase, there is less space for
an actual person,
who actually knows you,
who has actually seen you in your element,
to say real and honest words
to your face.

In these moments you see the power of words, the power of real human interactions, and the greatness that resides inside each of these individuals.

We are blessed right now with some amazing students who God is using to do amazing things.

I’m grateful to just be here and to witness it.

The Icing on a Turd Cake

My final year in college my dorm burnt down. That was the icing on a turd cake of a year. The twin towers fell a week into school. A kid overdosed on my floor and died in his sleep. A girl in my small group passed away over spring break in a tragic car accident. My girlfriend broke up with me.

Then the dorm caught on fire.

I remember watching it burn and being overwhelmed by a number of feelings. The thought running through my mind, though, was “really God, now this? How much more do you expect me to take on?”

We’ve all had rock-bottom moments. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1)

David did such a good job of capturing that moment, that feeling, that Jesus quoted him.

Think about that.

The Psalm makes no effort to explain suffering, it just lays out in brutal honesty how much it sucks. And then, far from tying a happy bow on tragedy, David resolutely grounds his hope in a righteous God who gets the last word, who has to win. Life is hard, but God gets the last word, and that word is hopeful.

Why You Should Care About Collegiate Ministry

Final reflection piece for the year. Will have another marina pic and some top 5 lists, but regular blogging won’t happen again until 2013.

This post reflects a little bit of my journey over the past year…I wholeheartedly believe in the work we are doing here in Boston: here’s why…


Confession: a pet peeve of mine is the minimizing of the importance of collegiate ministry. Our field has not always done a great job advertising our awesomeness (probably because campus ministers are too busy to do marketing). But, in my lower moments, I find the misunderstandings of our work to be aggravating.

Some look at college ministry as intellectual youth ministry. Others dismiss it as a mere “life-stage” ministry. Some deride it as an unhelpful “parachurch” organism/parasite. I get asked about once a month: “so when are you going to become a ‘real’ pastor.”

There are many people who get it and who invest in it and who think what we are doing is important. And that is beautiful. But the misunderstandings still drive me crazy.

Recently I’ve had the opportunity to hang with people from other ministries all over the world. When I asked them to tell me the story about how they got interested and inspired to do their work they all started with this:

“When I was in college…”

That phrase has been difficult to get out of mind over the last several weeks.

Collegiate ministry may not be directly addressing poverty, or dirty water, or whatever other issue or cause you might care about, BUT it will have an impact on all of those things.

If you care about the fact that church attendance is declining rapidly in the remerging generation you should care deeply about collegiate ministry.

If you care about issues of class and race and poverty that affect our cities and the education of our young people you should care deeply about collegiate ministry.

If you care about global missions you should care about collegiate ministry (for two reasons: US students will be called at this point in their lives to go abroad and international students studying in the US will take the good news of Jesus back with them).

If you care about sex-trafficking, human slavery, and other rights-based issues you should care about collegiate ministry.

If you care about the direction of technological advancement, research, medical and scientific developments, and the progression of philosophical thought and practice you should care about collegiate ministry.

If you care about politics you should care about collegiate ministry.

And, at the risk of exploiting current events, if you care about the deep, deep brokenness in our country you should care deeply about collegiate ministry.

I had the opportunity to meet with some Boston University officials at the end of the Spring semester and they revealed a startling development:

During that semester the school, for the first time that anyone could remember, made more hospital calls for students struggling with mental health issues than for alcohol related incidents.

Among emerging adults there is a profound crisis centering around questions of meaning and being.

The shootings in Newtown and other communities are the extreme expressions of a culture that is failing miserably to answer these questions in any kind of meaningful way.

We don’t know how to talk about truly significant things like evil, life, and ultimate meaning.

Most of the people (men? boys?) committing these unthinkable shootings are between the ages of 18 and 25.

Over the next couple of weeks and months we will hear about gun control and mental health reform, and both are important and needed conversations.

But, neither get to the heart of the issue. President Obama got us there for a moment in his speech on Sunday when he asked: “Why are we here?”

This question and other questions of meaning and being (what is a human? what does it mean to be human? is there purpose and meaning and importance to life and the universe? etc, etc) are at the center of our national crisis, a crisis that impacts our young people (specifically college aged students) more than anyone.

And if you care about this, if you care about how we answer and will answer these questions as a nation and a culture, then you should care deeply and passionately about collegiate ministry.