Grace Emerges

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Practice Worship

Practice Worship.

Take a browse through Luke 2 and you will find that shepherds in the field, a priest named Simeon, and a prophet named Anna all worshipped God in very different ways.  But when each came in contact with Jesus they praised God for the amazing things they had seen. They all had hearts that were prepared to hear the good news of great joy, that Messiah had arrived.  They were all open, available, ready.  For all of these individuals, worship had prepared them.  Their hearts were ready. 

Whether your worship is at a kitchen table, in an open field, your living room or in a grand hall, it is practice.  It is practice for hearing God.  It is having a heart that ready.  It is finding the joy in the unseen, peaceful, powerful light that lives inside us all.  It is practicing seeing that light and hearing that voice that rises above our other needs and wants, and the busy scene that captures our external senses.  Worship is just practice.

Throughout the ages, monks, emperors, priests, politicians and kings; peasants, factory workers, farmers and bankers; villagers, college students and scholars; have each found that worship can happen any way possible under the sun.  There is no right tradition, but there is right worship.  As Jesus called it to the woman at the well, worship in spirit and truth is what God seeks.  A spirit of worship and hearing the truth.  It is a state of the heart.  It is the life we lead. 

And when you see the good things that God is doing, you will be, like the shepherds, rejoicing and praising God.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Listen. Practice.

We need to practice the fine art of listening, if we want any relationship to survive.  It is also the greatest spiritual discipline.

Following means listening.

Wisdom means hearing the truth.

Alert, diligent, paying attention happens when we open our senses.

Compassion means relevant kindness, appropriate to the need.

Loving means a conversation.

Community means dialog.

Our Faith is in our Father who is not silent or dispassionate about us.  Instead he constantly calls out to us, by our individual names, in our moment of context.  Guiding. Loving. Revealing.  Speaking truth. 

Our most important role is to relate and respond to what is revealed in these quiet moments.  Most often God, truth, learning, is revealed in the words of other people.  We all have so much to learn from each other.

God is calling.  We must continually practice listening or we will miss it.

Dear Father, today I ask for open ears and alert eyes.  I pray that by paying attention I will learn and grow, and when the time comes to succeed or fail at loving today, that my senses will have prepared me to succeed.  Amen.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Practice Emmanuel

The story of Emmanuel, or God with us, is recorded in history and in the hearts and lives of all mankind.  The ever-present God created each one of us in his image.  God's spirit and passion was placed in us. His light that ignites stars is found in the glimmer of our eyes.  His relentless encouragement of his children is echoed in the words and actions of human parents of any age.   God's creative energy gene was passed on as a dominant character trait.  His spiritual nature, wholeness in the trinity, and perfect holiness, were passed on to mankind in the form of our spiritual yearning, our social conscience, our inquisitive mind, and our illogical sacrificial love for other beings.

And then came Jesus.


The Incarnation.

The passion and person of God packaged in one life of 33-year extent.

And oh, what we learned from that God-person.  We learned that he fully represented God in nature, deed and mission.

We learned from a great assembly of angels, singing to shepherds, that the infinite Glory of God had arrived for one mission: PEACE.  Peace between God and man.  Peace lived out in tranformed hearts. Peace in the form of the ultimate king and the infinite kingdom, a king and kingdom which do not rule by force but by the power of freedom and free will in a peaceful revolution of kindness and fairness of a kind never before seen in the history of man.  No wonder that it was announced as good news -- wonderful joyous news!  Glory of God, and PEACE, juxtaposed, in the birth of a child.

No wonder we are giddy with celebration every December!  We celebrate the arrival not of God's rule but of his peace on earth.

Jesus asks one thing of us. Follow.  Practice Emmanuel.  In fact the power of Jesus to transform the world is not found in heaven where he reigns on a throne, or in the Glory of God announced by angels, or in history where we celebrate him being born in a barn with our traditions and songs.  The power of Jesus is only found in following.  Practicing Emmanuel.  God with us, meaning God continuing to live in us and demonstrated in us.  God with us in spirit.  The Holy Spirit. The Spirit of Christ.  We are the peace.  We are the good news.  We are the ones that represent God's nature in human form in this world today.  We are the light.  We are Emmanuel.  God is with us.

Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.
10 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, 14 “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”
15 When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.” [Luke 2]

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Letter from Kelly

Thank you Kelly Dahlman-Oeth for permission to repost your article on my blog....  Brad

It took longer than I thought, and it's much too long for a single facebook post, but...

Dear white, male, heterosexual, U.S. born or naturalized, self-identified Christians,

I am a white, college educated, heterosexual, married, father-of-four, U. S. born and raised, ordained and appointed United Methodist, male, Christian. I place “Christian” at the end as the noun, as it is what I hold as most important. It is what I strive most to govern all that I do and say. The sum of the other descriptors add up to my being one among the majority group (i.e. I have almost all of the power and privilege anyone can have.)

It’s important for me to you know who I am as much of what I write here is about how I intend to use that power and privilege.

I understand that many of you have been struggling for some time during the slow recovery of our economy. While my family has had to make some adjustments to our budget, we have not experienced the hardships that many of you and others have.

As a pastor, I have worked with and tried to help hundreds of others (white and non-white) who have lost their employment, income and housing. Indeed in the past four years, the church that I led assisted over 150 households (individuals and families) move from living in their vehicles in our parking into housing.

I also know that many of you (63% of white men) recently cast a vote for president-elect Donald Trump. I do not presume to know all the reasons that you cast that vote. I do know from polls, interviews and conversations that I’ve had, that many of you cast your ballot as a protest vote against “politics as usual” and with the hope that radical change and the promises of Donald Trump and other republicans will improve your financial, employment, housing, health and overall situation.

It is certainly my hope and desire that our elected officials and all of us will work together to improve the lives of everyone in our great country. While that is my hope, I do not have much confidence that president-elect Trump, the new congress and all of us in the white male majority share that goal. Let me explain why, as I also try to explain why I how (and why) I will be using my power and privilege.

While I will certainly continue to help white men and women who struggle, I now have a much greater Christian mandate to stand with, advocate for and protect non-white men. Why? First and foremost, because Jesus was absolutely 100% clear that the ethics of the Kingdom of God command us to care for the poor, marginalized, oppressed, victimized, and vulnerable without regard to race, nationality, gender, or even faith.

You may be inclined to tell me that you separate your faith from your U.S. citizenship. However, I cannot find any support for that in the gospel. Indeed, the words of Jesus and much in the New Testament epistles, clearly state that Christian disciples are ‘resident aliens’ here on earth and our citizenship and allegiance belong singularly to the Kingdom of God. In other words, as I stated in my opening sentence, we are Christians, everything else is an adjective describing some secondary characteristic (see Paul’s point that we are “neither male nor female…”)

So, any argument that “politics do not belong in church” is completely unbiblical. Certainly, our earthly partisan republican and democrat politics cannot come close to representing the wholeness of Jesus’ politics. However, the very singular claim that “Jesus is Lord” is the most political statement we can make.

My claim that Jesus is Lord, brings me back to why I must now do all that I can, to stand with, advocate for and protect non-white men.

After January 28th, we will be living in the geographic boundaries governed by a man (and a congress that he has tried to bully into his image.) Donald Trump’s campaign has been overtly pro-white. While we could claim that a pro-white stance is not anti-everyone else, no one can deny the countless racist, misogynistic, anti-Mexican, anti-Muslim, anti-Jewish, xenophobic, journalist bashing, statements that Donald Trump made over the course of the last 19 months in the debates, dozens of rallies and interviews. The video and audio is now a matter of historic public record.

I've heard and read countless Trump supporters and voters say "I care more about what she did, than what he said." That's fine. We no longer need to worry about Hillary Clinton getting into office, and despite two FBI reviews, leading Republicans of the House Oversight Committee seem determined to continue to investigate her until they find something to convict and imprison her.

Therefore, we can, and must, now focus all our attention on the reality of what president-elect Donald Trump has said. In part, because he has already fueled animosity toward minorities and normalized hate speech in our country.
Should you choose to question that claim, a friend recently told me about a meeting they attended in the days leading up to the recent presidential election.  Elected officials and others had gathered to address concerns in their respective communities. At some point in the meeting, one of the elected officials referred to Hillary Clinton as a “that c*nt.” Hopefully, that is as shocking and alarming to most of you as it is to me.

I find it very difficult not to lay blame at the feet of Mr. Trump, given his own words, his pattern of adultery, divorce and remarriage and the recent stream of accusers. Indeed, I find it incredibly difficult to believe that he is not a sexual predator.

To be clear, my shock is not a prudish response about crass language. My shock and alarm is that this white elected official felt comfortable to openly reduce, demean and dehumanize a woman by referring to her as a profane reference of her genitalia.

If anyone still thinks that Donald Trump’s hate speech was “just talk” and we should all just ignore it and “join together” and “give him a chance,” I must say, “Stop!” Hate speech spreads, and the more normalized and acceptable it becomes the more hate crimes will occur.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the fliers that were posted on the campus of Texas State University after Donald Trump’s election stating: “Now that our man TRUMP is elected and republicans own both the senate and the house — time to organize tar & feather VIGILANTE SQUADS and go arrest & torture those deviant university leaders spouting off all this Diversity Garbage…"

Maybe you’ve read about the white middle school children in Michigan that began chanting “build the wall” while their latino classmates cried. The list of similar behaviors is growing after only one day.

These are the next step toward putting hate speech into action. Once we reach the tipping point where the majority group in power is willing to rationalize such language and eventually violent acts, the reasonably civil democracy that we have lived in will be lost.

So, if you want to “wait and see” while you give Donald Trump and his congress “a chance”, so be it. However, if you are truly interested in "coming together to make our country great" as many of you have said to me, especially those of you who claim that Jesus is Lord, I invite to join me.

Because I claim Jesus as Lord, I am compelled by the Gospel of Jesus Christ to stand with and speak up for and act for justice alongside those in minority groups who are now justifiably terrified. First, I invite you to join me and repeating what I have from many of them: "unless you are one of the vulnerable minorities speaking to your vulnerable minority group (female, black, latino, LGBTQ+, undocumented, Muslim, etc.) you do not have any credibility telling them 'to calm down', 'stop overreacting,' 'let's give him a chance', 'let's wait and see,' or anything else that tries to silence them or stop them from advocating for themselves.

I know that leading up to the recent election, many of you felt that you were the overlooked minority. It turns out, we weren’t and aren’t; we white folks still make up over 70% of the voting population, and clearly we are well represented in government. However, there are millions who are and have been for most of U.S. history an overlooked and underrepresented minority. While some of them were making some progress, and perhaps feeling a bit safer, the scales of justice and equality have once again been weighted toward us and against them.

I am compelled to put a human face on these “minority groups” about whom I’ve written.

I fear for my 18-year old daughters as they make their way through college in a culture where sexual assault is rampant and female victims often feel too intimidated to come forward in part because we are relatively dismissive of their claims of rape and sexual assault.

I have many very dear friends who have been in same-gender relationships some for 20 years or more. They have raised amazing children, who are amazing young adults. None of these friends have an agenda to push on others other than the earnest desire to be given the same rights and treatment as other mature, consenting married couples.

My black friends and dear members from congregations I’ve served who are in biracial marriages or have mixed race families have all shared experiences of being pulled over by police more than once for practically no reason. They were completely respectful and did not experience any escalating tension or violence. I have great respect for our law enforcement and I grieve for every family who loses an officer in the line of duty, but I must say, n all my years as an adult driving in Atlanta, Chicago, and the Seattle area, I have never been pulled over unless I was speeding or violated some other traffic law, and whether I received ticket or not, I was always treated with the utmost respect. I firmly believe we have a significant racial bias in this country that has seeped into our law enforcement, likely in unconscious ways, but not always.

I have friends who have been in this country illegally for over 15 years. They have children that were born here. They are the hardest working people I have ever met. I do not know any white people, including my own family, who would do the work that they do: hard labor, long hours, low wages with no benefits. They do not accept handouts or seek any government assistance (in part because any encounter with the government terrifies them.) They love this country and its people.

I know a few young adults who are transgender. I’ll tell you up front, I still don't quite get it, but they are always very loving and patient with me as I ask questions that must be stupid at best, and shamefully embarrassing at worst. They are incredibly dear souls who live in fear that any day someone will discover that they are transgendered and they will be humiliated, beaten, raped or killed. A fear that is obviously quite justified if you read the news.

I am very close to a young man whose family immigrated from Egypt. He was born here in the U.S. He and his family are Muslim. Sometimes when he has worn the traditional checkered scarf called a Kufiya, people have told him to “be careful” and in one instance yelled some slur from a car. He is one of the most respectful young men I’ve met.

These folks and others I know and love are rightfully concerned by what Donald Trump has said about them. What he has said he plans to do will have a profound impact on them. Perhaps more importantly, they and I am terrified by the fever pitch of hatred that Donald Trump has stirred in our country.

I know that there have been one or two incidents of violence against Trump supporters. This is equally wrong, but no less a result of what is being birthed by the hatred and division of Mr. Trump’s words. 

However, I have very little concern for my safety or yours. We have about as much privilege and status as anyone can get in America as straight, white, heterosexual, married, educated, employed, housed, financially stable, male Christians.

With all that privilege and power, and above all else, because Jesus is Lord, we bear tremendous responsibility to do everything we can to keep all vulnerable people from harm and to protect their rights to fair and equal treatment. I know that some of you have struggled financially and may have suffered much greater loss than I. I certainly have not experienced loss of privilege, safety or power resulting from a granting of equal rights or protections to these minority groups. So far, even the white men I’ve met have been unable to tell me exactly how they have suffered directly from rights and just treatment granted to minority groups (e.g. “I was denied housing in a predominantly black neighborhood,” “ I was not allowed to be at my wife’s bedside because lesbians have been granted that right,” “I have been put on a “watch list” because I am a Christian,” “I have been mocked and beaten by a group of transgendered people because I’m straight and I walked into the wrong bar”…) 

Brothers, there is no denying that our government is a mess, white and black, gay and straight, citizens and undocumented, Muslim and Christian have all been struggling for some time. I won’t argue that we need to seriously overhaul our government and rid it of corruption. But, we have now elected a man whose words and actions are antithetical to the teachings of Jesus Christ. The seeds planted by his openly hostile remarks, intentions and plans are already springing up like weeds.

He has also shown how irrational, unpredictable, and undisciplined he can be. He has shown a pattern of retaliation against anyone who has opposed him (most recently Lindsay Graham as expressed the morning after the election by Omarosa Manigault.)

You and I may hold different political views based on our understanding of the life and teachings of Jesus, but I trust that we agree that Donald Trump’s vile speech and recent growing racist, anti-Muslim, white supremacy behaviors are antithetical to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.  While some white nationalist may try to hijack our faith, I know that you are NOT racist, Mexican-hating, anti-Muslim, gay bashing, woman haters.

So, I pray that you will join me in challenging president-elect Trump about his hostile speech and threats. Christian brothers, please join me in using your position of power and privilege to confront the growing threat of hate speech and violence against our sisters and non-white brothers and sisters.

If you truly want to join together to make “America Great Again,” I pray you’ll join me in demanding that this man stand up and apologize publicly for each and every hateful comment he’s made about women, blacks, Mexicans, Jews, Muslims, GLBTQ+ folks, journalists, etc. Then demand that he fulfill his promise to bring law and order back by first deploying as many as necessary to find, arrest and rehabilitate every individual and hate group member responsible for the growing rash of behaviors that we are seeing.

If you do that and we see Donald Trump carry those things out and continue to work for every person in this great nation for the next four years, I will make you a promise. I'll vote that man into office for a second term.

If you are not able or willing to join me, please consider this one last request. Do not ask my vulnerable brothers and sisters to “calm down” or “wait and see.” They do not need us diminishing their concerns. They do not have luxury of waiting for something to happen.

I will continue to offer compassion to all who come to me in need regardless of the characteristics that make them who they are. But it is now time for me to give even greater attention to bring the full weight of my privilege and power to protect those who now even more vulnerable than before.

Filled with the love of Christ, your brother,
Kelly Dahlman-Oeth

Friday, November 11, 2016

Love is Our Resistance

I love this song by Muse.  Definitely feeling it right now... Actually it's not very hopeful, about running away from the thought police and stuff.  But the point is that when we are afraid, we resist fear with Love.
Love is our Resistance:
to Fear
to Hate
to Reversing Progress
No matter who you are, or who you voted for.  You are safe with me.
Love is our Resistance.  
Out of love I will resist marginalizing any souls in this country.  Equal means Equal.  

If you don't treat people in that manner, I will resist you.  But peacefully and with love.  We need to all make this world, and this country, a better place.  

Is our secret safe tonight?
And are we out of sight?
Or will our world come tumbling down?
Will they find our hiding place?
Is this our last embrace?
Or will the walls start caving in?
But it should've been right
(It could be wrong, could be wrong)
Let our hearts ignite
(It could be wrong, could be wrong)
Are we digging a hole?
(It could be wrong, could be wrong)
This is outta control
It could never last
(It could be wrong, could be wrong)
Must erase it fast
(It could be wrong, could be wrong)
But it could've been right
(It could be wrong, could be)
Love is our resistance
They keep us apart and they won't stop breaking us down
And hold me, our lips must always be sealed
If we live our life in fear
I'll wait a thousand years
Just to see you smile again
Quell your prayers for love and peace
You'll wake the thought police
We can hide the truth inside
But it should've been right
(It could be wrong, could be wrong)
Let our hearts ignite
(It could be wrong, could be wrong)
Are we digging a hole?
(It could be wrong, could be wrong)
This is outta control
It could never last
(It could be wrong, could be wrong)
Must erase it fast
(It could be wrong, could be wrong)
But it could've been right
(It could be wrong, could be)
Love is our resistance!
They keep us apart and won't stop breaking us down
And hold me, our lips must always be sealed
The night has reached its end
We can't pretend
We must run
We must run
It's time to run
Take us away from here
Protect us from further harm

Roadmap for the )open( church

by Brad Duncan

What is Possible? Introducing the )open( church

This post wraps up my series "Welcome to the )open( church" by summarizing the roadmap of how we can get there.

The full presentation of this material is now available as a PDF file which you can open here:

The )open( church is a grassroots movement that will work to organize this new model, mode, message and mission. What will it look like? It will look like love acted out. It will look like the kingdom of God!

the )open( church
  • Be the kingdom of God, love acted out
  • A church about people & loving God
  • A grassroots movement that shares grace with one another and the world

Love Acted Out

In order to transform our way of thinking about the church we need to imagine what's possible if we start with love, and act it out.  
  • We have to let go of ourselves, our comfort, and the ways that church directly benefits "me", and we need to think of loving others.  
  • We need to live for love, and embrace the life that comes from unselfish motives and compassion for others.  We need to live courageously and generously.  
  • Next, we need to listen first and talk later.  We need to practice our active listening skills.  We need to reassure people that they can share their ideas and be accepted and listened to, no matter what ideas they have.  We need to be a church that listens, if we want genuine sharing to lead to stronger community.  This will put acceptance and tolerance into practice.
  • Only in this way can we learn from one another.  We need to be humble and willing to learn, and committed to learning through practice!  There are many people around us that can teach us something.  Can we pay attention and grow as people, growing spiritually, by learning from one another?
  • Next we will find the joy in living life together.  We will laugh!  We will celebrate!  
  • Naturally in this environment, we will have people to lean on when we need it.  When people love one another they can lean on one another.  Pain for one is pain for all.  We will naturally know how to help each other, if the relationships are strong and we are more aware of the need.

Be the Kingdom of God

This diagram summarizes the key ways that the )open( church can respond to it's challenges and embrace it's identity as the kingdom of God.  This new model for church, leading to a new mode of operating, a new mission and a new message, will be a new grassroots movement to change the church, allowing it to transform to meet the needs of future generations.

Roadmap for the )open( church

A grassroots movement starts with a blueprint. Using social media, we will work to get the word out about the new model, and invite local churches and groups to start discussing it. Meanwhile, we will work to launch new online resources which will bring the )open( church to life and help people all over the world find out about this movement.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Responding to the challenges

by Brad Duncan

How can the church respond to the challenges facing it?  I am proposing not only a change of heart, but a change of many other things too, as a way of directly responding to the challenges we are facing.

These posts are excerpts from a full-length article and presentation.  For more information or the full documents, please email me at

Our Response

Can we create respond to these challenges with a will to change the church?  Can we create something new, a grassroots movement that will get people involved in the kingdom of God?  Something new, but something that doesn’t have to compete with the current system?

What I am proposing with the )open( church is a blueprint for a grassroots movement that can help the church grow, reach outsiders, and transform the heart of the church.  What I am proposing is a new model for creating intentional community that people inside and outside of today's churches can join. 

Let me describe how the church can respond to the challenges it is facing by embracing this new model. 
  • What I am referring to as a model is a way of thinking, a concept of what we want the church to represent. 
  • Secondly, in order to put that model into action we need a new mode of operating. We have to do some things differently in order to act according to the new model. 
  • The new model will also lead to a new message, one which will be more relevant and appealing to the world, meeting the world’s skepticism and hesitation with the good news of grace and love. 
  • Finally, with the new model we must embrace a new mission. This mission must put into action the message of love. We must act with love and demonstrate God’s grace, to one another, and to everyone. 
With these changes the church will LEAD the world in how to treat people and how to bring positive transformative change to the world. It will be a contagious transformation! 

We change ourselves first, so we can change things for others.  
As Paul says in Ephesians 5, we need to watch what God does as he pours out his extravagant love for all people, and we just need to do the same!

A New Model

The new model is simply to create a church that is more about people. We follow the lead of Jesus to put our desire to love and serve God into action to love people. We expand our notion of worship and pleasing God to the notion that God wants to build an amazing kingdom where his children worship him in spirit and in truth, by joining each other in community. This new model will transform our hearts and open our eyes to the people around us. We will want to be in closer community.

A New Mode

We put this into motion by de-emphasizing the weekly worship service, in order to apply more time and resources toward intentionally building community. We still enjoy worship, music and gatherings, but we recognize that it is just the starting point of our calling. We get our own hearts in order, and then we look around and see how we can participate in the lives of others. This will require planning, creativity, and a new way of generating the budget, to name a few of the aspects of changing our mode of operating. However, if people want the church to change, they can make it happen. A grassroots movement that calls for more community will lead to positive changes. 

A New Message

As the church, we need to start by listening to each other, and accepting each other wherever we may be in our journey. This includes both embracing the long-time church-goers and outsiders. With an attitude of Unconditional Welcome, we embrace all people. We listen. We share. 

The only rule is grace – which translates into good listening, acceptance of each other, and tolerance for one another. 

As we listen actively to one another, we need to break the silence and start discussing how the church will tackle its challenges. How will it respond to social change, and to social needs? What does it mean to love people in today’s generation? When will we be ready to speak up against injustice, and speak up for the little guy? How will our ideals and passions translate into a voice for positive change?

A New Mission

Finally, we need to act. The needed actions will be clear and obvious. Like the Good Samaritan, when we encounter the one needing our help, we simply help him. We open our eyes, our hearts and our arms to others, and God will reveal to us who is in reach of our love and assistance. The only limitation is our willingness and availability. If we fix that, we will be ready to embrace a new mission that brings positive change.
This is the kingdom of God, …, acted out!

Friday, October 28, 2016

The world needs the church

by Brad Duncan

What are the challenges for the church today?  We desperately need a change of heart to meet the needs all around us.  Those in our church community, those in our own cities and country, and around the world.

These posts are excerpts from a full-length article and presentation.  For more information or the full documents, please email me at

Challenges, cont'd

The World Needs the Church

You’ll notice that I’m an optimist when I talk about the positive changes that society is making, such as recognizing that prejudices are wrong and equality is right.

On the other hand, I’m also a realist when it comes to recognizing the pain that many people are in, and the pain that people cause each other. 

I can’t honestly say they are getting worse than they used to be, because they were bad before, but racial tensions are a serious reality today. The recent expression by NFL football players to sit or kneel during the singing of the national anthem, is a cry out against racial profiling by police against black men, and more broadly against the continued repression of people of color in today’s society.

Globally, racial and ethnic tensions and religious prejudices set the stage for much of the violence and terrorism that we see in the world.  Add to that the economic disparately and desperation that lead people to cry out against an unfair world, where some people have everything and others have nothing.  

If we want to end the violence and bring any semblance of good news to the world we cannot defend the status quo, but need to seriously face the inequity that fuels the anger.  Surely the best way to fight terrorism and violence is by tackling it at the source.  We need to create peace.  As the church we have a message of peace, fairness and love that would go much further to improve the world than simply isolating ourselves from the pain of others.  We need to demonstrate that we care.  We need to take action.

There are many, many other areas and ways where people are in great need, and the church can show the way of love to help with that need. I’ve written about many of these on my blog, and you can find numerous examples by simply going to CNN or Time magazine. 

The question for us is how the church will respond. 
What is our responsibility here? 
If we are the carriers of the good news from God, the transforming love of Jesus, and the power of the Holy Spirit, then what do we do with those gifts? How do we share them and use them the way God intends?

What we need is one thing: heart transformation. 

We can change. 

We can care. 

We can bring all of our gifts to bear on the needs of the world.

In summary the challenges facing the church might seem to outweigh even the power and will of God to redeem it.  Can the church respond positively to these challenges, even if it means serious heart transformation will be required?  Can we re-frame our purpose to more intentionally create communities of people that care about one another and live to bring love and kindness to one another?  From within that place of strength, can we teach one another how to change our world?  Can we glorify God through the lives we lead, both inside and outside the church walls?  Can we change the tide of people leaving the church, and actually draw people into community so that the church can grow again?  

Can we be the kingdom of God? The growing, thriving kingdom, that shows God's love to the world?  Let's carefully consider our response...

Thursday, October 27, 2016

We are set apart, but what does it mean?

by Brad Duncan,

Jesus followers are called to be “set apart” from the world. Can we think about what this means? And what it doesn’t mean?

We should be exceptional! We should be excellent in all we do. We should take the high road. We should require pure motives for our actions. We place selfish gain secondary to the greater good. We should see the good in people. We should offer grace and forgiveness when it is clearly not deserved. But we should have exceptionally clear values, and stand up against any kind of mistreatment of people. We should be globally minded – the world needs Jesus, and we should be eager to help provide hope to all nations.

What it doesn’t mean? “Set apart” doesn’t mean stuck up, doesn’t mean isolated and separate. Doesn’t mean better than. Pride is ugly, not exceptional. 

Doesn’t mean we protect our own interests. We should tear down the walls that divide people and nations from each other. In order to care we have to let our guard down and be vulnerable. Not being weak, but trusting God and taking risks.  Doesn't mean we have no healthy boundaries; it means we are confident enough to engage across the aisle, across the road, across town, and across borders.

Doesn’t mean we keep our hands clean and our boots dry – to be the hands and feet of Jesus we’re going to need to get into the thick of it. We can’t keep silent or spend too much time in the closet or in our own enclaves. We will be too passionate to keep it to ourselves.

We are called to a higher standard! But that higher standard includes exceptional humility, compassion and love, so it can’t mean we think we are special. That would be a double standard. We are called to be perfect! But we are human and flawed, so we should be perfect in admitting that and trusting God to bring about all that is Good in us and in others.

We must seek greatness while elevating others above ourselves.

Being human is complicated!  But Jesus did it – let’s just follow his example.

Comments?  Questions?

Jesus says:

So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last.
Matthew 20:16, in the parable about God's view of fairness.  Maybe we should read that one again.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Failure to connect

by Brad Duncan

What are the challenges for the church today?  One of the biggest challenges is connecting people together in meaningful ways, to create genuine community.  This article continues the discussion.

These posts are excerpts from a full-length article and presentation.  For more information or the full documents, please email me at

Challenges, cont'd

Overdependence on Worship Tradition

Probably we all recognize that Jesus didn’t come to create church services. Yet, we have too much dependence on our worship traditions if we think that those traditions will bring transformative change to the world. They are merely a tradition, a preference, something we like, something that has worked to bring people together on the past. We do need to come together and organize ourselves, share ideas, sing songs together, get our kids to play and learn together, and spend time with one another. On the other hand, the time we spend looking toward the front of an auditorium and listening to a well-planned program of worship, is not the most effective way to build communities and share life with one another. The other stuff, where we spend time with people, is where the real love happens.

What responsibilities and functions do we assign to the weekly worship service? Do we expect it to change the world? Do we expect it to shine a bright light that glorifies God so people will come to him and receive grace? For the people that are present, do we expect it to meet everyone’s individual needs? Will singing about God and talking about God be enough to heal wounds and transform hearts? Certainly it can be a part of the plan to meet people’s needs, but it’s not enough. People need people. For this, people need to look at each other and listen to each other.

Worship is a great thing! Jesus told the woman at the well that he came to bring true worship. “Someday soon,” he said, “true worshippers will worship God in spirit and in truth!” He came to show people that worship is not in a traditional location or system, but it is a way of life. Jesus taught so much about loving one another, that it is clear this way life was meant to be lived in relationship with one another.

This is the beautiful gift we can give God. Growing into the loving community that God wants to see. This is true worship. In order to find true worship, and worship God in spirit and in truth, we have to leave the traditional mountain. We have to find Jesus by the well. We have to love God through the life we live, in relationship with others.

Failure to Connect

Even as I write this I feel the painful realization that people often don't want to connect and share their lives with one another. Churches will agree that community is their goal, but they may not see how they can accomplish it. They keep worship and individual spirituality as a focus, and they encourage community, but they fail to focus on community as a primary goal, so it becomes relegated to more of a desirable side effect.


The reasons I hear are related to pleasing God and serving God. People feel that the church must continue its activities because God wants it that way. They point to the Bible, and they point to theology.

Easy enough to fix! What if God wants something else? When we study the words of Jesus and other church pioneers in the Bible we see a different goal than pleasing God through attending church services.

Will we then change to do the new thing God is wanting? What if God wants us to leave the traditional mountain and go on a new journey with him? We can innovate to create community more intentionally. To do this, we can reduce our dependence on traditional worship. Those traditions can still be there, but they serve us, instead of us serving them. Instead we can recognize that God loves it when we simply love one another. Let’s do that as our primary focus!

Another reason I observe for the lack of focus on community is the budget. Churches have limited resources. You can count the church’s resources as being all the talent of Its members, the money it raises, and the time that people have available to use for one purpose or the other. The church uses a startlingly high fraction of its resources for normal operations, keeping the lights on, paying the staff, and running the programs. It takes time and money to organize more events, and in fact church services are a fairly cost-efficient way of meeting everyone’s needs at the same time. It is also important to bring all the people together so you can talk about budgets and ask for money. During a worship service you can also efficiently advertise other events or projects of the church and offer sign-up lists!

Do we realize that we go to church services for such practical reasons? And yet as a result we use perhaps 90% of our resources on keeping things moving the way they are. We only free up about 10% of our resources to spend on projects that help people outside the church. Like a tithe paid to the world, the church gives a small portion of what it makes for God’s work. In terms of time resources, the ratio may be better. When church-goers participate in events planned by the church, what percent of that time is spent sharing God’s love inside the bounds of the church, rather than outside the church? Is it 80%, perhaps 70% ? What percent of time and resources should be spent on loving one another, compared to keeping the church running?

What would we like these ratios to be? What if we could find a way to operate where less is needed for overhead? What if we could operate using only 10% of our incoming resources, and the other 90% could be used for loving people, shared equally between church-goers and the needs of those outside the church: in our communities, in our country, and around the world.

What about these #s?

  • 10%: Overhead for operations
  • 45%: Helping one another
  • 45%: Helping our community and the world

In addition to streamlining our operational budget and reducing expenses, the church could reach this ratio for operational expenses by expanding its reach to many new faces! But do it without building more buildings or expanding staff hiring. If we do it right, we can grow using a new approach, without cutting budgets – just by not growing them in the same proportions we use today!

This notion of expansion requires a more grassroots approach. More work done by volunteers, and less by staff. The role of staff is to prepare us, and provide an opportunity for us to organize and grow. As church-goers we need to reduce our mindset that the staff should perform the work of God for us – instead of hiring them to do the work of the church, we should hire them only to administrate the organizing of the church, so that we can all do its work. Help us learn by doing! For instance, a sermon on the Good Samaritan, about how we should love our neighbor, should be short and to the point to make sure we are all on the same page. Then, we should spend a larger fraction of time learning about loving our neighbor by actually doing it! Perhaps some face-to-face discussions, perhaps a project outside the church, perhaps an event where people setup booths to show ideas for changing their communities. Certainly if all we do is listen to a great sermon, with a challenge to “go and do it” at the end, we are missing a huge opportunity. We are already sitting with a number of other people that could make it happen. What if we put it into practice right away, helping each other, and then organizing more activities for outside the church?

If we operate this way, then church services will be just one of the many events offered in the church. There will be many more. And they won’t cost money for the church budget. We church-goers can organize them ourselves and expand the scope of influence of the church. In the process we can learn and grow! This is how I want to teach my kids about God. I want to organize with other Christians to do things bigger than I can do myself.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Oh Church, Where Are You Now?

Thank you Cameron Webb for being a guest contributor this time.

Sometimes in the dark of night I think a lot.

There's a lot to think about at the moment, watching a lot of ugly things going on. Many of which are being ignored or out right condoned by many branches of Christianity.

It has often seemed to me that the Church, by in large, has invested many attributes and concepts found throughout the Bible, into that magnificent future envisioned for their souls after death...

It is the place where the last shall be first, where the meek finally inherit the earth. Where there will be no East nor West, male nor female, and so forth, for all shall at last be one.

Where there shall be no more poor or suffering.

Where all these obscure parables and ancient symbologies shall be manifest as the "Kingdom of God" and they shall then inherit it and inhabit it.

Meanwhile, as we all too often turn our gaze on this beatific vision, all around us the meek are abused, the poor go hungry, the servant is down trodden, the alien among us rejected.

Male and female are not one, but splintered, divided, hierarchically stratified, institutionally dominated, and abused.

And all of this appears to be accepted and tolerable, because the great Kingdom is waiting for us on the other side.

This could not be more wrong.

The Kingdom of Heaven is within us.
All of these concepts are not meant to be future attributes of a tantalizing afterlife.

Let me say that again:
These are current mandates.
When Jesus took the despised menial role of washing the disciples' feet, and proclaimed that the first shall be last, he didn't mean that there was a reward for oppressed servitude in some distant eternity.
He meant that the transformative power of service was meant to create revolutionary change here and now.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, we are not meant to reconcile with the despised outsider in the afterlife, but instead we are to stand in the face of all disapproval and rigid tradition and bind up wounds and care for one another in our need. Right NOW.

I recently visited an older women's Bible study group in a large and privileged church. And I watched them wrestling, powerless, with what could be done because of the neglect and lack of care of widows in the organization.  Somehow, in this church, the idea of genuine religion meaning caring for orphans and widows in their distress (distinctly commanded in the book of James) has gone completely over the side. Real suffering, both emotional and financial is going on in that church, completely ignored. It tore my heart.

A lot of things are tearing my heart right now.

Many churches, absorbed in a far flung future afterlife and high holy ideals, ignore the life they should be living in the now. I suspect they ignore it because it's convenient. They ignore it because doing so won't upset their privilege and power structures.  They ignore it because they can twist the words and life of Jesus to serve their own purposes.  They ignore it because they can wield current power.  And in doing so, they neglect and destroy the very message they seek to impart. 

They ignore suffering, pain, poverty, and institutional hatred. They often create that suffering.

And then they do not understand when they are confronted as hypocrites.

In the now was where Jesus' life was lived. His life, his example, his call to live the earthly mandate of love and service is where transformation lies.

Those who have "come to the cross" must walk back down the hill into the daily life they still must live.

And they are called to LIVE as he lived.

Passionately involved.
Loving unconditionally.
Serving unreservedly.
Boldly subversive.
Engaged rather than disengaged.
Resisting hatred, prejudice, poverty, pain, and suffering.

This is the mandate your saviour gave you, oh Church.
Where are you now?

Friday, October 14, 2016

Challenges for the church

by Brad Duncan

What are the challenges for the church today?  What forces are driving the church?  How should we respond to these forces and challenges?  This article continues the discussion.

These posts are excerpts from a full-length article and presentation.  For more information or the full documents, please email me at


Let me start by briefly describing the primary forces and factors driving the church today.

The church is at the middle of a myriad of forces. If you think about God’s work and all that God is trying to do in the world to save it and bring healing, God wants the church to be the center of the solution.

People need God, and they need the church. They need the church to organize, mobilize, and exemplify the message and work of God. God works through people. He always has, and he always will as long as we are on this Earth!

On the other hand the church is at a particular place in its history, driven by its own traditions, its own story and expectations of its members. You can also call it inertia – the church is moving in a certain direction for historical reasons, and changing that direction may require a large force to make it move a different direction!

One such force is the power of changing ideas. As society starts to recognize many of the mistakes and inequities in our traditional way of thinking, and as we start to open up to new ways of thinking, the church feels the pressure to tackle these ideas and consider how they should affect the church.

I know very well that everyone has their own perspective on various social issues, and I am not assuming everyone agrees with me on controversial questions. However, I think we can all see that society is changing, trying to do a better job of bringing the concept that All People are Created Equal into reality. Where our old laws and societal structures created systematic inequity, we are working to fix that. We as a country are trying to bring better opportunities for ALL KIDS in the education system, better health care for ALL PEOPLE, better access to the same services. 
We don’t want only the rich, only the white, only the men, or only the heterosexual, to be treated fairly. 
That wouldn’t be fairness at all! That’s called elitism and prejudice. Today’s understanding of such inequity is that it’s morally wrong! 

This is one example of progress in society that will affect the church. The church has to adapt and change, responding to these forces, or it will lose relevance and become out of touch with the people it is trying to reach. 

In one or two generations, as the mindset of these new generations drifts further from the traditional mindset, will the church adapt? Or become ancient history? The faster the times change, the faster the church must respond.

As a church we need to respond to these forces, and MOVE where motion is required. Let me explain further by addressing the various challenges the church is facing today and then describing how we can respond to them.


I don't have room in one article to cover all the challenges, so I'll break it into several posts.

The Mass Exodus

The church is feeling it – people are leaving. You can find more about this global trend all over the blogosphere so I won’t give the supporting details here. But it seems the church is losing its influence due to sheer numbers of people it is reaching.

This trend is not isolated to the church. People are spending less at retail businesses in favor of the convenience and selection of online shopping. Companies that depend on the old market forces to sell products are being blindsided by this new reality. Essentially a store in the mall has to compete with the cheapest prices anywhere on the internet. When I go to a store and see a price on an item I think about buying, I often check its price on my Amazon app on my smartphone. I know you all do it! If the price is cheaper and I can wait a few days, the item arrives at my doorstep in 3 days with free shipping!

Everywhere in the business world, companies are feeling the massive weight of technology change. If they don’t adapt and leverage what new technology can offer to change their business and reach a new audience, they will quickly stop having customers. We have seen many retail chains go out of business. I’ll never again get to shop at a Blockbuster Video, Circuit City, CompUSA, or Borders books. I actually feel sad about that. But there will be more retail chains that go the way of memory. Will it be Macy’s, Sears, Target?

Will I even be able to go to stores or malls in the future?
The tech industry is feeling the same crunch. Due to a crowded competitive landscape, companies that embrace the leading edge also risk going out of business due to competitors, through investing in the wrong technology, through mistakes in manufacturing (like smartphones catching on fire, for example!), or by not understanding consumers well enough. Companies that lead the industry, like Apple, also have to lead through numerous transformative changes. They have to keep leading, and not depend on products that worked in the past.

Can the church also respond to this reality?

The kingdom of God has to adapt to the times and world it is trying to reach. 

We must innovate, and we must embrace change. Fortunately, God can see over the horizon and understand what changes are needed. With God guiding us we can navigate these changes and find a new model that will work for future generations. The model that worked in the past may not work as well in the future.

In particular, what about worship services offered by churches? Do people still want to go to them? Will they continue to go in the future?

New Ideas in Old Wineskins

Jesus told a rather cryptic story about how you can’t pour new wine into old wineskins. Apparently when you do that they leak, or worse, burst open! Since we don’t use leather wine bottles these days this example is foreign to us. But it’s interesting. It’s true that when you try to adapt to change, the old system may not be able to take it. This is maybe the #1 challenge for the church. The changes it needs to make may unravel it.

In order to resist the painful breaks that will occur as the church tries to adapt, some people will build walls to protect the old ways.

Without even meaning to, these walls create a more country-club-like atmosphere. Without intentionally excluding anyone, the church can become a refuge for similar-thinking people trying to protect what they think is right from the tide of changing ideas around them.

As a case in point, from what I’ve experienced, many churches are responding to social issues with silent neutrality. They think that by avoiding the hard stuff they can stay out of the controversy and continue business as usual. Like in my examples of education and medicine above, some churches seem content to stick to the traditional way of operating, while knowing that it can’t reach many people that don’t fit into this system.

But here we have a clear example in Jesus. He came to change things. He was willing to break a few wineskins and tear down many walls in order to let people know what God wanted to bring in the world.

Take a close look at Luke 4, and the passages in Isaiah that Jesus was referencing. Do you see how Jesus was trying to bring about positive but disruptive changes to society and to religion?

If you gather all the changes Jesus was trying to bring from these passages in Isaiah you get a huge list!

I don’t read anywhere in the story of Jesus about how he tried to maintain the old system because he was worried that people would be upset, or that families would not have a place to feel comfortable, or that budgets would struggle. 

He had limited time on this Earth and he didn’t mince words. 

He said “Today this prophecy is fulfilled! The time is now upon you and these changes are happening, whether you like it or not!” I’m paraphrasing the conversation recorded in Luke 4. 

Jesus was referring to all the prophecies in the old testament about what he had come to do. To do God’s work, he had to bring disruptive change.
Are we too locked into our current way of thinking to allow this type of disruptive change to take hold today?  If so, this inertia, or unwillingness to move, may be our biggest challenge to overcome.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Who is this guy?

Based on his words, this guy is a wormy apple

Luke 6:43-45
43-45 “You don’t get wormy apples off a healthy tree, nor good apples off a diseased tree. The health of the apple tells the health of the tree. You must begin with your own life-giving lives. It’s who you are, not what you say and do, that counts. Your true being brims over into true words and deeds.

Luke 6:24-26
But it’s trouble ahead if you think you have it made.
    What you have is all you’ll ever get.
25 And it’s trouble ahead if you’re satisfied with yourself.
    Your self will not satisfy you for long.
And it’s trouble ahead if you think life’s all fun and games.
    There’s suffering to be met, and you’re going to meet it.
26 “There’s trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests—look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular.
Luke 6:39-40
39-40 He quoted a proverb: “‘Can a blind man guide a blind man?’ Wouldn’t they both end up in the ditch? An apprentice doesn’t lecture the master. The point is to be careful who you follow as your teacher.

Welcome to the )open(church!

by Brad Duncan

Hi! My name is Brad, and I’m trying to change the face of Christianity.

Like me, most Christians want to change the world. We want to share God’s love. We want to share the transforming and contagious power of grace and freedom, which comes from knowing God and opening up to the good things that God wants to bring to us.

The message of Jesus was that the kingdom of God has arrived on Earth to bring God’s love to mankind. It arrived when Jesus came to Earth, but it didn’t leave! It remained here as the church. Jesus continues to work through us, bringing good things to the world.

Most Christians are signed up to be a part of this great work that God is doing. We believe the church is the continuing work of Jesus, with ongoing guidance and help from the Holy Spirit.

However, unlike me, many Christians are pretty happy with the job the global Christian church is doing. If I take a survey of Christians I will find a strong sentiment that they don’t want to change the church very much or lose what they have built. They wouldn’t want it to change, and are concerned about the declines in church attendance in our country. There is a well-known drift away from church these days, toward individual spirituality but away from Christian community. But the world needs the church, and we need each other.

I want to start the ball rolling – and start a discussion of how the church could change. Let me start with a bit of background about myself, and then let me take you through a description of what I see as the major challenges the church is facing today. After that I want to propose how we can respond to those challenges. If we respond with a willingness for significant transformation of what we are doing as the church, together we can change the face of Christianity.

How my heart changed


Let’s start with me. I have a unique perspective on how new ways of thinking are needed. I have two special-needs kids. Both are highly intelligent kids, and the adults in their lives always tell me how brilliant and refreshing they are to talk to. 

However, they don’t fit into the usual cookie-cutter educational system. 

They both have their quirks and challenges that make it virtually impossible for them to perform under demand in a large classroom setting. They can't take tests, deliver reams of homework, and even get along socially without major changes to the approach to education compared to the majority of kids. From what I’ve heard about 80% of kids nationally fit well into the standard educational approach, while the rest, well, they struggle for one reason or another that could be remedied using a more individualized approach.

Fortunately my family moved to Massachusetts 10 years ago (my boys are now 18 and 13), which is possibly the most progressive state for education in the US. Though they struggled many times, the system was able to adapt to them. My older son was sent to a small private school, paid for by our town, and now he is about to graduate as a well-adjusted and happy teenager who knows what he wants to do with his life. I could not be prouder!  

My younger son has an IEP in the public school. That stands for Individualized Education Plan. He gets a number of services and individualized attention in the school, but he gets to stay with his friends and participate in the mainstream to the fullest extent possible. For him, it is a good fit and he is doing well. On the other hand sometimes we have to remind the teachers of the accommodations listed in the IEP – so they don’t expect the same production on demand of work that other kids can do. He will simply shut down if pushed like that. 

Both kids showed me that you have to find the individual creative ability in each child and unlock it, for them to succeed. You can’t depend on the old tried and true system to meet their needs. Many of the kids in our country that don’t fall into the 80% mainstream are struggling. States are cutting education budgets, and class sizes are increasing – all fall outs from the recent recession. Nationwide, we need to increase our attention and resources for education. Other states should follow the example of Massachusetts in my opinion.


There’s more. My wife has a super-rare disease. It doesn’t even have a name yet and so is described in 6 long words. Doctors couldn’t explain why she had a stroke 5 years ago that landed her in a wheel chair. Numerous tests and 12 neurologists later, we finally found out what was going on. A specialist in medical genetics suggested that she have a skin biopsy to measure her nerve count, and she was found to have less than 1% of the usual count of small-fiber nerves. This is probably happening due to an overactive immune system which is destroying the nerves. This affects pretty much every system in her body. Fortunately, with this nerve biopsy test result she was able to get into one of the few clinics that treats this disease, which happens to be in Boston near where I live. 

Again I thank God for the progressive thinking in Massachusetts! The treatment is mostly new and not fully accepted by medical practices. But it is really helping! With the help of IVIG treatment (immune globulin infusions), my wife’s disease is stable and not progressing. The nerve counts are staying about the same but she can keep fighting the disease and holding ground against it getting worse. It was a hard adjustment to live with chronic disease, but I thank God for “stable” every day! However the usual medical establishment failed to help my wife. Only the most leading edge, new approach, had anything to offer.


Then, there’s my work experience. In my job I work to bring transformative technology to the automotive industry. I work for a software company that helps the world design cleaner, more efficient cars and trucks. Convincing manufacturing companies to switch their process to use new software is always a challenge. They have an entrenched process that involves building hundreds of prototype vehicles by hand and testing them in labs, on test tracks and on the road. The software I helped to design can change all of that, and companies can use a computer-driven process to design the vehicle much better and much cheaper! It’s exciting! It requires a new way of thinking, and willingness to let go of a more hands-on, but less effective, process. It requires trusting a virtual process where the car or truck exists in software long before it is driven on the road.

The Church?

Maybe because of these factors in my own life, or maybe because of some root inclination in my own spirit, I have always questioned the church. In fact, I feel that all of us are both qualified for and tasked with questioning the church.  As we know and understand, WE are the church, and WE need to get this right.

Definitely my questioning intensified in the last 5-10 years, and I started blogging and participating in the broad online movement to make Christianity more progressive.

It starts with “why”?

Why is the church designed and operated the way it is today? What is its mission, and is it accomplishing that mission?

After multiple times of working through these questions, I have improved my own understanding of the forces and issues facing the church today, and further, how I believe that we can respond to these issues.

We can’t sit still – if we see ourselves in the mirror and find that we need to change something, the only right answer is to embrace positive change. In Christianity we call this repentance! It simply means that we are willing to change our thoughts and actions, in response to what God is saying. With a humble attitude of repentance, the church too can change.  WE can change.  

More coming soon!...

These posts are excerpts from a full-length article and presentation.  For more information or the full documents, please email me at