Scandal: The Case for a Liberal Faith

I’ve been mulling over this post for a while now: an attempt to articulate a Christian faith that is liberal; a scandalous faith that centers on the generous freedom that comes from the Christian story. When I say a “liberal faith,” I do not mean “of a liberal or progressive political party” because I am a political independent. I also do not mean “of the progressive faith movement,” although I identify with a lot of what is in that space. I mean liberal in its etymological sense: liberal comes from the Latin word liber meaning “free.” Think of our word “liberty” as a reference. More than that, liberal can mean “given, used, or occurring in generous amounts,” as well as “not strictly literal or exact.” With this etymological background, and these two definitions on the table, I want to make the case that Christianity is a liberal, even scandalous, faith.

Jesus says in John 8:36, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” That is to say, humanity has found its freedom in Jesus. That freedom is rooted in a Heavenly Father who heaps generous grace on us (see the story of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15). Yet, this gracious God-who-became-man cannot be hemmed in by any exacting, man-made theological construct. It’s impossible for humans to fully comprehend the eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, self-sacrificing God who created them, just as it is impossible for a slab of marble to fully comprehend the sculptor who works on it. Instead of an exacting theology, the Christian faith can be a liberal faith because it is based on a love that is free and freedom-giving, a grace that is inclusive and generous, and a God that is bigger than the reach of any theological framework. This post is the case for that kind of liberal, scandalous faith.

The story and power of Jesus is cosmic, intimate, substitutionary, and creative, and it comes together as a gift of freedom and inclusivity through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. If “through [Jesus] all things were made” (John 1:3), then the whole universe is from Him. If God knits each human together in the womb (Psalms 139:13), then every human – the billions who have walked the earth over the millennia as well as the unborn – are intimately His creation. If “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24), then that really means all people. All have sinned. All are justified. Through Jesus. And finally, if God is making all things new (Revelations 21:5), then the entirety of the universe, from the farthest reaches of space to the joys and frustrations of our households, is included. This gift is the all-encompassing, liberal, free and freedom-giving, perfect and perfecting, cosmic, intimate, substitutionary, creative, scandalous love of God.

This kind of liberalism can also be applied to our reading and understanding of the Bible. The Bible should be read with an openness to the glory and freedom found in its pages, including recognizing its supernatural ability to change hearts and minds and lead us into deeper relationship with God and each other. But the Bible also needs to be read with a generosity toward its contradictions and significant issues (slavery, violence, and patriarchy, to name a few). My main point, and probably the most contentious point I make in this whole post, is that the Bible does not need to be the inerrant Word of God for it to still play a huge role in the Christian life. We can still believe that God breathed His Spirit into the words of the imperfect Biblical writers (all ~40 of them) – as well as acknowledge that the Biblical writings can have a supernatural impact on those who read them – without being “strictly literal” in our interpretation of the Bible. As discussed earlier, no theological framework can contain God – including not a literalist framework. Furthermore, if God was moving and working in Biblical times, and He breathed His life and love into the words of the myriad writers of the Bible, is He not also able to move and work and inspire throughout history – and even today? The same Spirit that was moving then is moving now, right?

Let me try to explain more on this from a personal perspective: I hear God intensely in the books of the Old and New Testaments, and I’m so thankful for how the Bible has shaped my heart, mind, and life. But I also hear God in the words of Aristotle and Plato and St. Francis of Assisi and Teresa of Ávila, as well as John Milton, William Shakespeare, the Romantic poets, and T.S. Eliot. I explore Him in the worlds of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and Madeleine L’Engle. I read Him in the pages of James Baldwin and Maya Angelou and Ta-Nehisi Coates and Colson Whitehead. I find Him in the messages of Henri Nouwen and Peter J. Gomes and Rachel Held Evans and Sarah Bessey and Steven Furtick and Eugene Cho and Jay and Katherine Wolf. I find Him in the antiracism of Ibram X. Kendi and the poetry of Amanda Gorman. God shows up in the music of Passion and Hillsong and Elevation Worship and Maverick City, but also in Jon Batiste’s work from Soul, Justin Beiber’s recent FREEDOM EP, and Chance the Rapper’s lyrics. I find God every Sunday in the worship and message from our local, non-denominational church that we watch on YouTube due to COVID. And more, I find God in the smiles of my kids, in the love and patience of my wife, and in the gift of our extended family and friends. I mean, come on! The Spirit of God is still anointing words and moving hearts and changing minds and rewriting eternities today and everyday, right? God is still revealing Himself in every moment of every day in every corner of the universe, right? This is what a liberal view of the Bible can look like, and how that liberty, that freedom, can provide sustenance for a liberal, albeit scandalous, faith.

So what then? What action steps come with a liberal faith? I would say that I have a responsibility – as a 30-something, middle-class, college-educated, white, cisgender, heterosexual, politically independent, Christian male – to center every generation, every economic class, every education level, every race, every gender, every sexuality, every political persuasion, and every religion in my day to day discourse and living. And then, amidst that liberal equity, I have a responsibility to tell my circle about the perfect and perfecting love of God made available to us through Jesus. The task, however difficult, is to “preach the Gospel at all times, [and], when necessary, use words” (St. Francis of Assisi). If God is in the eternal process of making all things new, that means He is making every generation, every economy, every educational institution, every systemic racial reality, every gender identity, every sexuality, every government and political party and voter, and every religion BRAND NEW. EVERYTHING is being made new. There’s that saying that you invite Jesus into your life to change a few things here and there. But then He comes into your life and renovates the entire house – replacing every wall, every door, every window, even the foundation. New. New. New. Everything, brand new.

It’s in this renovation by grace – through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – that the gates to Heaven are swung wide. Brennan Manning writes, “Will we ever understand the gospel of grace, the furious love of God, the world of grace in which we live? Jesus Christ is the scandal of God” (The Ragamuffin Gospel). The songwriter Cory Asbury writes: “Oh, the overwhelming, never ending, reckless love of God.” The liberal, free and freedom-giving, generous, untamable, cosmic, intimate, substitutionary, creative, reckless, perfect, and perfecting love of our Heavenly Father – given freely through Jesus Christ – is a scandal. God overwhelms every nook and cranny of the universe, running to us to embrace us despite our prodigal independence. This love is available to you and to me and to our loved ones and to our enemies right at this moment. And for eternity.

To quote Judah Smith in a message of his: through Jesus, we are “fully loved by God, fully forgiven by God, and fully free to love and serve one another.” To quote Richard Rohr: “Jesus was meant to be the guarantee that divinity can indeed reside within humanity” (The Universal Christ). A scandal. A liberal faith. But also such good news.

My Year in Books 2021

2021 📚

What a year it’s been. The pandemic continued into its second year, our racial reckoning continued to be at the forefront of our social reality, a new Administration assumed office despite an insurrection that tried to halt that transfer of power, we experienced a K-shaped economic recovery that continued the trend of our growing wealth gap (but with some notable wins for working Americans), and we saw a lot from our politicians and legal system that was, at times, encouraging and, at other times, heart-breaking.

But books and podcasts were a chance for me to learn how to navigate our political, cultural, and theological times. It was a year for me of best-selling fiction, history, theology and faith, social commentary, children’s and middle grade lit, child and adult psychology, climate science, and even some poetry. And then I decided to introduce my podcasts to the mix. It was a good year of content – despite how difficult this year has been for us all.

Head over to @kgcwrites on Instagram for the complete list of My Year in Books 2021.

Hope you find some good ones to add to your list! And more, I hope that you have a wonderful and safe end of 2021 & start of 2022.

-KGC

#mentalhealthmonday 12.27.21

Thought I’d repost this recent post from @charliemackesy – one of my favorite follows on Instagram.

Also, his book “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse” – a short book filled with drawings like this – is one of my favorite books of 2021.

Know that I’m praying for you, friends, as we all manage our mental health post-Christmas. Know that you don’t have to have it all together, that God is for you, and that you have what it takes to practice that “long obedience in the same direction.” 🙏🏻

-KGC

#mentalhealthmonday 12.20.21

As the negative news around Omicron continues to swell, I thought I would repost this picture from nami.org.

It’s empowering to know there are “things I can control”: my meds, my daily exercise, my moderation in alcohol consumption, my prayer life and meditation practice, my attempt at regular sleep/wake, my reliance on the support of those close to me and my team of doctors, and my continuation of years’ long study about my mental health. And this list of choices – my “long obedience in the same direction” as Eugene Peterson says – is not just for those of us diagnosed with a mental illness; I think these choices are valuable to anyone experiencing tougher mental health realities – which I would say is just about every human being on the planet since this pandemic hit.

That said, it’s also freeing to know there are “things I can’t control.” Terrifying, but also freeing. I can’t control the 24/7 news cycle nor the social media algorithms that prey on outrage nor the latest variant of COVID-19. But, as Barbara Brown Tayler says: “We do not lose control of our lives. What we lose is the illusion that we were ever in control in the first place.” Terrifying, yes, especially for a control freak like me. But also so freeing. There. Are. Things. I. Can’t. Control. A beautiful surrender of “the illusion.”

However, it’s the middle ground between these two that could be the most fascinating: “knowing I am doing everything I can and being at peace with that.” I’m giving my total effort, and, therefore, I am at peace. Famed UCLA basketball coach John Wooden defined success as the “peace of mind that comes with the self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you were capable of becoming.” I am doing my best to become the best I am capable of becoming. “Peace of mind.” “Self-satisfaction.” Oh, to have peace in this raging mind of mine; to have satisfaction in the self that I am often so brutal towards.

Maybe just take a moment to think on these three things today. Hopefully, it brings a bit of peace to you in these intense times.

Praying for you, friend. 🙏🏻

-KGC

Christmas 2021

Immanuel, “God with us.”

I’m no theologian nor an expert in Biblical context or contemporary commentary. But I wanted to do a Christmas post that connected the birth of Jesus to our present reality: taking the reality of what things were like at the time of Jesus’ birth and connecting them to our political, economic, social, and theological present.

My research was far from exhaustive, as it started with the four Gospels and then moved to various Google searches. But, in that work, I found 6 main points that connect Jesus’ birth with our present. They are as follows:

1. Economics

2. Unplanned Pregnancy

3. Empire

4. Systemic Violence

5. Immigration

6. Immanuel

Economics

Jesus was born into poverty, into a 3rd World context. That simple fact raises some really important questions for us: How does Jesus’ poverty influence our understanding of and reaction to those in need in our own communities? How does it influence our thinking about the widening wealth gap in America and our own spending habits? How does it influence our next steps in light of the severe economic impact of the pandemic on those that are most vulnerable in our country – let alone its impact on the most vulnerable around the world? Jesus was born into 3rd World poverty. Does our faith cause us to empathize with and act for those in a similar situation?

Unplanned Pregnancy

A teenage Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit prior to marrying Joseph. Of course we know now that the pregnancy was initiated by the Holy Spirit, but that’s easy for us to say in hindsight. Joseph was ready to quietly end their engagement once he found out she was pregnant – as he knew the baby wasn’t his. It took an ANGEL OF THE LORD to convince Joseph to stay with Mary and, together, raise the Savior of the world. Can you imagine all the gossip among Mary and Joseph’s community as everyone watched the unwed teenager’s baby bump grow? Yet, we now know her as the Virgin Mary, the one who gave birth to the Son of God, the mother of the Savior of the world. In her pregnancy, she had “found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). What does this say about how we should view 1) unplanned pregnancies, 2) abortion, adoption, and the sacredness of life, 3) gossip, and 4) purity culture?

Empire

Jesus was born into a military dictatorship, and the only reason why Mary and Joseph went from Nazareth to Bethlehem was due to a census of the entire Roman world called for by Caesar Augustus. Which raises questions about our own present-day empire. We are the most powerful country in the world – militarily, politically, economically, and more. The tentacles of the American empire reach to every corner of the globe. Thankfully, we are a democracy, not a military dictatorship. But when the Defense Budget is nearly $800B this year yet we “don’t have the money” to pass legislation that supports working Americans (family paid leave, student loan forgiveness, protections for striking labor, etc.), we are far from a perfect union. Moreover, our foreign policy is far from perfect as well. How does Jesus’ birth into a military dictatorship influence our understanding of America’s role as the leading superpower in the world? Shouldn’t we challenge our political leadership to lead “not with the example of our power, but [by] the power of our example”?

Systemic Violence

Upon hearing about the supposed birth of the “King of the Jews,” Herod, King of Judea, killed all the boys of Bethlehem under the age of 2 in an attempt to ward off a challenge to his power. Jesus’ birth in the face of systemic violence brings us face to face with our country’s own systemic violence. We have our history of slavery and Jim Crow, and we have our present realities of mass incarceration of and police brutality towards people of color. How does the systemic violence carried out by Herod at the time of Jesus’ birth influence our thinking and actions related to Black Lives Matter, Critical Race Theory, the broader fight for the civil rights of people of color, the recent state sanctioned executions, the current movement to abolish the Death Penalty, and, generally, our systemic inequalities?

Immigration

As soon as Jesus was born, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus immediately became refugees as they fled the violence of the Herod regime. Mary and Joseph were prompted BY AN ANGEL NO LESS to flee to Egypt. That is to say, God told Mary and Joseph to leave their homeland and live as refugees in Egypt until they could safely return after Herod’s death. How does Jesus’ early life as a refugee affect our thoughts on immigration? What would have happened if Egypt had not accepted this young family of refugees due to policies driven by xenophobia, nationalism, and/or protectionism? What if Egypt had turned the Blessed Family away because of policies like the current U.S. MPP program known as “Remain in Mexico”? It is not enough to say that God is for and with refugees. It must be said that God Himself has been a refugee – which should greatly affect our understanding of immigration in this country.

Immanuel

God is with us, especially amidst really hard times. Jesus’ birth is God becoming human, the Creator embodying the flesh and blood of His creation as a means of calling all of humanity to Himself. And it all occurs amidst really difficult times for the people of God. Hundreds of years of seeming silence from God for the Jews; occupation by a foreign empire accompanied by strict, power-hungry religious authorities bent on control through religious rules. And, yet, God arrives as Baby Jesus, and sets a precedent for the rest of human history: that even amidst hard times, God knows our suffering and is, quite literally, with us through it all. Immanuel, God is with us, even as we continue to endure the hardships brought on by COVID-19 and the current Omicron variant. Jesus was “fully human in every way” (Hebrews 2:17), including, as an adult, weeping with us (John 11). And, most amazingly, he brought eternal life to all of humanity through his life, death, and resurrection. This is Immanuel, “God with us,” especially amidst trying times.

These are the 6 points that, for me, connect Jesus’ birth to our present day. Christmas is about Immanuel, “God with us,” amidst our hard times and the imperfections in our society.

In closing, I hope Christmas is a safe and wonderful time for you and your loved ones. Despite this being our second Christmas under the dark clouds of the COVID-19 storm, God is with us. Right here and now. Immanuel. What an incredible gift in these crazy times. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

-KGC

You are Enough

America’s Good News 🇺🇸

My most recent post “‘Tis the Season” delves into the interplay between generosity and consumerism that happens amidst the holiday season. After writing that post, I found myself thinking a lot about one line from that post: “Consumerism is the golden calf of our nation, and the offerings we make to it are our constant strivings for more.” I’ve been thinking about that sentence because “more” is at the very center of our economic system and therein our every day lives: more wages for and purchases by consumers, more productivity for employees, more profits for corporations, more returns for shareholders, more growth for the economy as a whole, and on and on.

This constant striving for more is at the very heart of our collective existence as a nation, yet it’s no wonder that anxiety and depression run so rampant here in the United States: because when are we ever enough? If we are all day, every day, told to do more and more and more, when do we ever stop? Add to that a pandemic that is ruthless in its assault on our mental health, and the stats on anxiety alone – that 40 million American adults have an anxiety disorder (via nami.org) – make sense.

When I think about these questions and statistics – as well as my own journey with anxiety, depression, and mental illness – I think about how my faith tradition speaks directly to these issues. I’ve written about Sabbath in the past – and will repost that for your reference – but Sabbath (a once-a-week, 24-hour period of rest) has been practiced by my faith tradition for literally thousands of years. Pastor and author Rich Villodas just posted about Sabbath again today (as he regularly does on the weekend): “Sabbath is not just rest from making things. It’s rest from the need to make something of ourselves.”

But more, Jesus himself and other Biblical writers spoke directly at these questions.

Let me show you what I mean ➡️

“‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’” (Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (Jesus in John 14:27 NIV)

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” (The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians 4:6-7 MSG)

This is the good news of the Way of Jesus: that there is rest for our souls to be found in a gentle and humble Savior who’s yoke is easy and who’s burden in light. There is peace to be found because Jesus doesn’t give to us as the world gives, but, rather, quells the troubles and fears that are lodged deep within our hearts. We even have a prescription for anxiety from the Apostle Paul: prayer. He writes how petitions and praises bring a sense of God’s wholeness – thereby settling us down and displacing our worry with Christ at the center of our lives.

This doesn’t mean I’m anti-medication or anti-therapy when it comes to anxiety, depression, or mental illness. Quite the opposite – as both are tools in my mental health toolbox that I use as directed by my team of doctors. Nor am I anti-Corporate America – as I’m thankful every day for my job and how it provides for my family. But my faith tradition has practices that bring a peace from God that transcends all understanding. And if we are open to that peace at our deepest internal spaces, we can begin to hear the constant heavenly refrain of an easy yoke and a burden that is light. Or more, we can begin to hear God say to us over and over again: “You are enough.”

In an economic system and broader culture that constantly demands more and more and more, “You are enough” is our American Evangelion – our western, capitalistic, counter-cultural Good News.

‘Tis the Season

Generosity and Consumerism

I love the holiday season. The music, the movies, the decorations, the tree lightings, the Santa runs, the time with family, the shared meals, the good wine, my young boys’ belief in Christmas magic, and the chance to spoil my amazing wife as a thank you for all she does day in and day out. I love it.

But I also find myself observing how this season affects my behavior and thought processes. There’s the thrill of finding the perfect gifts for my boys or my wife or other family members – which is just the best. Or hosting our loved ones around our dining room table. Or our practice of doing end-of-year giving to causes we believe in. But I’m also cognizant of that very western, capitalistic, American holiday season reality inside me: the want of more. More, more, more, more. More presents under the tree. More upper tier wine or quality Scotch. More rich food. More products from Apple or Fellow or Vuori or [insert your favorite brand here]. More more more. It’s the (good) wonder of generosity mixed with the idol of consumerism.

And, yes, I would call consumerism an idol. Consumerism is the golden calf of our nation, and the offerings we make to it are our constant strivings for more. But there is something distinctly counter to this consumer culture within my faith tradition. Several points actually. My faith tradition talks extensively about giving over getting, and about who we should give to – and explicitly talks about Money as a major competitor to our love of God.

Let me show you what I mean ⬇️

“‘Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.’”(Jesus in Luke 6:37-38 MSG)

“‘Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why: I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.’” (Jesus in Matthew 25:34-36 MSG)

“‘You can’t worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you’ll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can’t worship God and Money both.’” (Jesus in Matthew 6:24 MSG)

Giving not getting is the way of Jesus, and giving to the hungry, to the thirsty, to the homeless, to the bone cold, to the sick, and to the imprisoned gets you into the Kingdom of Heaven. Oh, and: you can’t serve both God and Money. Yikes.

Even St. Francis talks about this in his famous Peace Prayer:

“O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen.”

The idol of consumerism loses its luster in the midst of the heavenly brilliance that is self-emptying generosity. Jesus gave his whole self – even to his death on a cross – and changed history and all of humanity by doing so.

“For God so loved the world that He gave…” (John 3:16)

And, unfortunately for me, this doesn’t really mean buying another video game for my boys – all though that’s super fun. It doesn’t mean spoiling my amazing wife – although that’s super fun for me as well. It doesn’t mean uncorking another bottle of Frank Family or Rombauer Chardonnay – although those are wonderful additions to any dinner party.

Instead, that means being patient and present with my boys – loving them, building them up, nurturing them with time and hugs and laughter. That means being so thankful for and supportive of my wife as she endures sleepless nights with our newborn while also handling mountains of laundry and the busy lives of our boys and family. That means handling our finances in such a way that generosity is a year-round practice – not just a Giving Tuesday post. That means giving to the “least of these” because THAT IS HOW YOU GET INTO THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.

It’s a bit harsh, I know. I feel it, too: the bite of Jesus’ teachings which call us out of our consumption and lead us into generosity. To give rather than to get. To give to those who have need. To love God more than Money. To follow St. Francis’ words.

A holiday prayer to wrap it up:

May we be about giving over getting this holiday season.

May we be about the hurting and the down-on-their-luck and the broken and the lowly this holiday season.

May we be about God and not Money this holiday season.

May we be about less instead of more this holiday season.

May we be content this holiday season.

May we be counter to our culture this holiday season.

Amen. 🙏🏻

Thanksgiving 2021

“Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

It’s been over a year and half since we were thrown into the maelstrom that is the COVID-19 pandemic. 2020 was brutal in every way – physically, economically, spiritually, socially, and politically. And now, at the end of 2021, most of those same issues still plague us – albeit in new variants. We still have health insecurity as COVID moves from a pandemic to an endemic disease. And we still have economic instability thanks to the widening wealth gap (a kind of “K” recovery). We also have fierce divisiveness around vaccine mandates, voting laws, and abortion legislation, and even the ugly head of our racial inequities has reared itself again with recent court rulings.

But my faith tradition has an ancient practice of giving thanks to God no matter the circumstances – as a way for us to remember that God is a good God who is in control (Jeremiah 29:11) and who knows what we need before we ask (Matthew 6:8). The people of God are not unaccustomed to hard times – whether it be Jewish enslavement in Egypt or exile in Babylon or wandering in the Wilderness for a generation, or early Christianity’s persecution by the Roman Empire for its first 300 years as a fringe, counter-cultural, religious movement.

The people of God also know the imperfect history of European colonization, and our own historical issues here in the United States (genocide and enslavement woven into the fabric of our country’s founding, our Civil War, our Jim Crow laws, the continued evils of labor exploitation, mass incarceration, the death penalty, our treatment of the unborn and their parents, and white supremacy).

But the Christian faith has long promoted the practice of thanksgiving, the practice of proclaiming God’s sovereignty and goodness amidst any and all circumstances. We do this, as people of faith, because we know that God has shown He can lead His people out of Egypt by parting the sea, that He can keep His people safe inside a Babylonian furnace, that He can bring His people into the Promised Land, that He can rapidly grow a fledgling Church amidst Roman imperial persecution…

…that He can save the Union from a white supremacist insurrection and exorcise our original sin of slavery, that He can bring us Civil Rights leaders that give political voice to all races, genders, and sexual orientations, and that He brings hope to our present day as activists win clemency for death row inmates, as white supremacist vigilantes are (at least sometimes) convicted of murder, and political leadership – at the local, state, and national level – still work to form a more perfect Union. In short, I do still believe that though “the arc of the moral universe is long […] it bends toward justice” (Martin Luther King, Jr).

There is power as we practice thanksgiving, especially during tough circumstances. So, today, despite the continuation of difficult days here at Thanksgiving 2021, I give thanks. I give thanks for my wife and my boys. I give thanks for our extended family and our community of friends. I give thanks for my colleagues, my company, our church, our country, our health, our schools, the COVID vaccines, and our frontline workers who continue to put themselves and their families in harm’s way to serve us all.

Yes, this season has been a hard one, and it continues to be hard more than a year and half into this pandemic. But my faith tradition teaches me that we have reason to be thankful on this Thanksgiving 2021 – despite the difficulties.

I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s admonition to the Romans: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited […] Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:12-16, 21 NIV)

So, today, I “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Psalms 107:1 NIV).

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your loved ones.

-KGC

Books September and October 2021

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer

The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison

Live No Lies by John Mark Comer

John Mark Comer on the The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast (from 9.8.21)

Courage is Calling by Ryan Holiday

The Road to Character by David Brooks

Shoutin’ in the Fire by Danté Stewart

Sabbath as Resistance by Walter Brueggemann

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt

Live No Lies Podcast with John Mark Comer

I’ve gotten through some really good content over the last two months. A great novel to start September, some really good writing on faith, culture, morality, and race in America, and some good podcasts. Hopefully you find a few recommendations here that you want to add to your list!

As always, there is a lot of discussion happening on all these topics and more. Don’t hesitate to (thoughtfully) reach out if anything is of interest to you. Always up for a good convo and/or a good book/podcast recommendation.

-KGC

15 Years

A Decade and a Half with Mental Illness

It’s Sunday, October 10, 2021.

World Mental Health Day.

Today is always a sobering day for me, as I think through my now 15-year journey with mental illness.

For those that don’t know: I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in June 2006, during my first major depression. I spent my graduation day from UCLA in a mental hospital coming to terms with the diagnosis that I had a mental illness – a disorder that causes up to 60% of those afflicted to attempt suicide and causes up to 19% of those afflicted to lose their life to suicide.

Those are sobering statistics, for sure.

But, now, having managed my mental illness for 15 years, I’ve learned that managing a mental illness like bipolar is a long, grind of a process. Occasionally, there is a game-changing breakthrough, like in December 2006 when I turned the corner toward progress after 6 months of intense treatment post-breakdown.

But those big moments are the exceptions, not the rule. Managing a mental illness over decades is the accumulation of a large number of small, consistent, incremental choices. For my mental health, these include: medication each and every day, a meditation practice, a hunger for knowledge about my illness, regular sleep/wake, daily exercise, alcohol in moderation, no illicit drugs, a practice of prayer and the reliance on the prayers of others, a team of mental health professionals to rely on, a faith in God, and a knowing of my limits when it comes to a heavy workload.

Small, consistent, incremental decisions that all add up to a mental landscape that is drastically different and drastically healthier than the broken-down, untenable, and suicidal reality of just 15 years prior.

Modern day Bible translator and Christian pastor Eugene Peterson uses the phrase “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” for one of his book titles, and I think it’s a very applicable phrase for a mental health journey. That “long obedience in the same direction” is exactly what it means to manage mental illness: using small, consistent, incremental choices to pave the way to greater mental health.

Not that I’ve arrived, by any means. I’ve had plenty of ups and downs along the way – including experiences of anxiety and depression. But I’ve also come a long way since 2006. And while my mental health still has many more iterations to go as middle and old age come my way, I know that my “long obedience” has already produced a healthy marriage and family, a career in Corporate America, a strong faith, and healthy relationships with those that are close to me. And for that, I’m so thankful.

My goal is that I continue in the “same direction” so that, in another 15 years, I can still say the John Newton quote:

“I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”

So, prayers for you, friends, as we all manage our mental health in this pandemic season – and as we acknowledge World Mental Health Day today. Know that I’m praying for you, that you don’t have to have it all together, that God is for you, and that you have what it takes to practice that “long obedience in the same direction.” 🙏🏻

-KGC