The Holy Awkward with Pastor Ryan

Showing items filed under “Ryan LaRock”

What Keeps you Up at Night?

What keeps you up at night?

Dreams can capture the good, the bad, and sometimes, the ugly.  At times they lead us to recall the marks of wounds and at other times, the void left by loss.  Without getting too particular, they are the things that keep us up at night.

I don’t know about you, but my nights have been pretty restless lately.  And my heart and mind tend to stir that way when I find myself losing sight of the “holy.”

(Holy.  It’s one of those nebulous words we could spend hours defining.  I am a fan of thinking of it as “that which is” or “those things which are set apart.”)

And so what keeps me up at night?  It’s that much of what we might call or consider “holy stirrings” in our day-to-day continue to drown in a chaos of unholy distraction.

The holy stirring of hearts ministering with the communities in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, watered down by our culture’s obsession with celebrity scandals and NCAA frauds.

The holy stirring of clergy speaking out against white supremacy, derided as a multi-sided issue or an unnecessary excuse to rile up people in anger.

The holy stirring of a peaceful kneeling denouncing the sin of oppression, unjustly labeled as an un-American/anti-military agenda at the hands of “sons of b**ches.”

I left work the other day with a head about to explode scrolling down my Facebook feed, wondering why such holy stirrings, opportunities to grow, to reconcile, and to repair have succumbed to unholy complacency.  And by that, I mean an unwillingness to name and address the structures in place that are anything but in the eyes of God.  

In the midst of the mess of this week, Facebook did that sweet and sappy thing it does of reminding me of what happened on that day a year ago and I started sinking in my chair.  My grandparents’ wedding anniversary.  62 years it would have been.  And to think if I had refrained from using Facebook or from clicking “more” to see what misinformed comment the next person made about the issue du jour, I would have missed a personal holy stirring.  To think I was on the verge of deleting friends who dwell in ignorance or who have no understanding of grace.  In the sea of my own anger and disappointment with the state of things, I almost overlooked a person in my own life, my Grandma, who showed me what “holy” should look like.

A holy stirring is one that seeks to name or reclaim the beauty which God intended amidst a creation that is delicate, fragile, and lost.  And we find ourselves in such a world.  One that is broken, torn, and tattered.  At odds, divided, and hurt.  These stirrings provide me with that re-centering I long for when my mind becomes filled with the things of this world and begs a response.

Holy stirrings center around human relationships, the sharing of stories, and most of all, an awareness of God’s provision.

At the center of it all is our need to reclaim our holy story.  The one where we adore a Christ whose kingdom is not of this world.  A reality perhaps we won’t fully come to embrace until we genuinely begin naming the unholy in our midst and start seeking restoration.

If we say nothing, the unholy festers.  But if we speak out, we get somewhere.  If we react, we politicize quickly.  But if we respond, we seek  dialogue.

And so, what truly keeps you up at night?  What leaves your heart restless?


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Basic Faith and Pumpkin Spice Lattes

Basic Faith and Pumpkin Spice Latteswon’t lie to you, but today I caved and purchased my first Pumpkin Spice Latte of the season at Starbucks.  It was one of those impulse things where the weather was semi-blustery and the morning ride into work called for something seasonal to boost my mood.

For me, things like PSLs, stores selling decorations two holidays ahead, and playing Christmas music that doesn’t make sense before Thanksgiving or even during Advent for that matter reveal the predictable complacency we buy into.

How often do we act on these seasonal impulses or urges and can we apply them to our attitude towards church?

People generally can go into any church nowadays with the expectation that coffee will be provided in some manner, someone else can babysit their children, free welcome gifts abound, and that one can contribute to something good in the greater community by stroking a check, but letting someone else do it.  I think we can draw parallels between today’s cultural norms and expectations with a faith or way of “doing church” that is at its core, BASIC.

The first effect of a basic faith is when the church limits faith to a therapeutic lens or in more blunt terms, a “feel good mentality.”

Is faith really something that should always feel predictable or comfortable?  Or should we embrace faith as a continuum where we are always hungering for more?

One of my favorite stories in the gospels is the one about the rich young ruler, who approached Jesus with the impression that he had checked off all the boxes he needed to in order to live his faith with a degree of satisfaction.  And yet, even after citing that he knew his Scriptures cover to cover among other things, Jesus told him there was still more to be done.

I think we could make the case that what is basic or predictable makes us feel good.  Like PSLs and other things we look forward to that drive our consumer attitude, churches too can promote a theology that lends itself to a false sense of comfort or contentment.  

Take churches like Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Texas that follow a prosperity gospel path.  To clarify what I mean by prosperity gospel churches, I call upon a former seminary professor of mine, Dr. Kate Bowler of Duke Divinity School.  She describes these churches as the “Christianity of the American marketplace” and for most of their participants, their pastors function as “America’s counselors, self-help advisors as trusted as professional therapists (Blessed 2013).  The reason Osteen is so appealing is that he provides people with fodder for quotes on Facebook or a desk calendar at work that make people feel like they can move on with the expectation that God will never give us more than we can handle.  Sadly, many do not see the clichéd, misinformed theology behind his ministry persona.  There is a point where the message of “God will reward you for the strength of your faith in tangible ways” grows stale and if I am being honest, unrealistic.  When do our efforts to SWEETEN church make it STALER?  A church that leaves us with casual blessedness rather than joy-filled anticipation. 

I think of the Wave Church, a megachurch not too far from my home in Virginia Beach that really seemed to correlate faith with satisfaction on all fronts.  You can pass by this church on Great Neck Road and mistake it for a high rise corporate office building with a mall-size parking lot.  Their worship is like a concert production and their staff is twice the size of any large United Methodist Church.  But what troubles me is that their membership is built upon a tiered structure of tithing.  In the last few years, a woman was convicted of fraud because she wanted to be able to give enough money to be accepted at the Wave Church!  The woman’s attorney discovered that the Wave Church is a “three-tiered society,” where the “Kingdom People” who give the highest amount are “considered closest to God and made part of the Church inner circle and bestowed many privileges” (

The Church doesn’t help itself when it treats discipleship like a menu where everything is mapped out in black and white terms.  In several ways, the church loses its sense of its identity when it is not giving people something to examine within their faith journey.  If we are not striving towards anything, what is the point?  There is life on the other side of that cross we often put weighted emphasis on, and if we forget about the person who was on it, we lose sight of that new way of seeing and being. 

The second effect of basic faith is falling in love with the “fringe idea.” Think of the churches you may have encountered in that last ten years that get fixated on these fringe ideas to the point where they get lost in communicating the message and fall short of the content of it.  Let’s do church in a pub or let’s set up this elaborate coffee bar in our welcome area to get young people to come back.  Let’s set up accounts on all the social media platforms out there, only for them to go underused.  Let’s come up with this new church logo or brand that is edgy or clever to reach those unchurched people out there.  And while these all have proven to have some value when treated as the support or vehicle to communicate the heart of the gospel, many times have they become many churches’ own worst enemy.  There comes a point where we exhaust too much energy into the idea for making the gospel accessible that we lose sight of the core or the why of what it is we are doing.

And so I pose to you for thought, when does faith, or our understanding of church for that matter, become lost in a sea of trends?


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