On Pulse.

My family listened to news of a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in the U.S. unfold on an AM radio station as we drove through the arid Karoo region of South Africa. Far from home, far from the internet, and far from the ensuing flood of public opinion, we did the only thing we could, we mourned with those who mourn. By the time we returned to the noise of the world, a few days later, I still didn't know what to say. Nothing felt adequate, nothing felt appropriate. In the face of such evil, nothing felt right coming from the straight, white, middle-class American enjoying a dream vacation with her family. The truth is, I didn't have anything important to say, except for "I'm sorry." I am so very sorry.

At a time such as this, it seems far more valuable that we hear from my friend Jenna. Jenna has something important to say. I pray we will listen.


I was recently asked if the shooting at the Orlando gay club, Pulse, has made me feel less safe as a queer person. After giving it some thought, I have to say that no, this has not shaken my sense of safety. It can’t shake my sense of safety because as a queer person, I never had one. I cannot internalize this event as an anomaly, or a threat to some non-existent security. I keep coming back to this event as the logical outcome of a gun-enthused, patriarchal, homophobic, white supremacist society. 

In my own political journey, it was the Aurora shooting that most profoundly changed my understanding about guns and how unsafe we are with them. I was raised to see events like this as tragedies that, unfortunately, cannot be avoided, and perhaps even as the price we pay for “freedom.” After watching the events unfold after that shooting in the theater in Colorado, I realized that there was actually a lot we could do to curb gun violence – we were just refusing to do it. And then Sandy Hook. And then Charleston. And the countless others. And now this. Why should I expect anything different when we have done absolutely nothing to address the problem? Will we be magically healed? Was I supposed to exist under the delusion that this would never happen to my people? Every time they happen, I internalize mass shootings in a way that I don’t internalize other tragedies. For whatever reason, they have deeply impacted me. And now I think about them almost every single day – almost every time I’m in a crowded room. I have come to expect nothing different although they grieve me to my very core. As long as we continue to exist in this violent, gun-saturated culture, this is exactly what we should expect. I’m genuinely not sure why anyone is acting surprised. 

And as for sensing a heightened threat to my queer body, I do not. This is only the logical outcome for our homophobic society. I was coming of age, coming out, and coming in to my queer identity during the wave of young queers taking their own lives in the early 2010’s. I remember hearing about Tyler Clementi at 4:30 am as I was opening my downtown San Francisco coffee shop, counting in my register through tear-blurred eyes. When you live in a culture that says you are less-than, wrong, sinful, disgusting, invisible, you don’t have to wait for someone to do physical violence to you. You become brain-washed, your body colonized, and you will do to yourself the violence that your country, your culture, your religion, and even your own mom and dad teach you that you deserve. 

I remember feeling at that time like I had to do something. I know that I escaped my own colonized hand only by the luck that I had one or two adults who saw me, loved me, and taught me to love myself. Besides that, there is no good reason that I have survived. I think a lot of us felt similarly after those events. So we fought and we continued to fight. We talked and continued to talk. We tell our stories and we yell from the rooftops to young people that it gets better, that we love them, and that we are waiting for them with open arms. 

This resistance has won some of us some things, yes. But when the colonized people say that we will no longer act out the violence against ourselves that the colonizer desires, the violence doesn’t stop, but comes from the colonizer more directly. And so we see the continued American tradition of gay men getting the shit beat out of them, the continued American tradition of trans* women of color being murdered in the streets, the continued American tradition of queers being assaulted in their own bars. And once trans* people, a people who so strongly threaten the gender dichotomy on which the patriarchy depends for its very existence, begin to gain by becoming more visible, why should it surprise me that a club full of queers of color get slaughtered? Does it break my heart to the point of little eating, little sleeping, violent nightmares, days of crying and wanting to just hold my queer chosen-family? Yes. Does it enrage me to the point that I cannot concentrate and feel like I want to scream for as long as my lungs allow? Yes. Does it make me want to follow my wife around like a puppy dog just so I can be near her because I feel so shaken and she is the safest person? Yes. Does it surprise me? No. Does it threaten my sense of security? To what fucking security are your referring?

Every time I step out of my house, I feel the weight of my haircut beaming violent attention to myself. Every time I hold my wife’s hand in public, I fear the insults, and god knows what else, that might be hurled at us. Every time I walk into a public bathroom I wonder if this will be the time that I get profiled and assaulted. Every time I walk into the men’s section of a clothing store, I feel the generations of hate and disgust as I flip through the sizing tags. Every time I stop for gas on a road trip, I am hyper-vigilant, wondering if there will be a man there who will desire to “teach me a lesson,” Boys Don’t Cry style. These feelings never leave me. 

Straight people, cis people, white people – do not be fooled into thinking that the marginalized have won. We are still living in colonized territory. The events this weekend in Orlando are just the newest reminder of that fact. At a vigil, I saw my 14 year old queer friend. Looking at his beautiful young face, I burst into tears thinking that we had failed him. He was supposed to grow up in a different world. He was supposed to feel safe and to live in a world where he could be free. Those were our goals. But he is colonized just as we are colonized, just as our queer ancestors were colonized. As long as the white-supremacist, homophobic patriarchy is in place, none of us are safe. As long as the NRA owns Congress, we will continue to see mass-shootings. The events at Pulse are a threat to me and to queers everywhere. But as long as we continue to support the status quo, they will upset my sense of safety no more than the current cultural and political atmosphere, because what happened at Pulse is only the logical conclusion to it, not a departure from it.


Jenna is a Ph.D. student in Hebrew Bible at UC Berkeley. She is interested in biblical narrative and its social function. She lives in Oakland with her wife, Malka, and their precious pooch, Leviathan.

It's no secret, Jenna is my favorite.  


Last Days in the Desert

A long time ago, in a desert far, far away, I found myself standing in a half-circle with a handful of professional Christians on a film set in the middle of effing nowhere. I was invited there, along with a pile of smart people, for a sneak peek at a little indie art house production, written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia. The film, Last Days in the Desert, imagines Jesus toward the end of his famous 40 days of prayer and fasting, as his journey intersects with that of a boy and his parents, dwelling in the desolate dry wilderness. While Satan continues to pluck at his insecurities, Jesus finds himself drawn into the little family's plight, as they grapple through sorting their lives. The screenplay was short, the dialog sparse, the cast and crew minimal, and I was super curious to see how this would play out on screen.

Cast, crew, dirt.

Shortly after we arrived on set, actor Ewan McGregor came over to shake hands and introduce himself to us, one by one, saying, “Hi, I'm Ewan...I'm Ewan, nice to meet you...I'm Ewan, how are you?...Hey, I'm Ewan...” Like we might not know he was Ewan. When I called home that night, my kids asked what Obi Wan McGregor was like, and I told them the truth. “He was kinda like a homeless person...but, like, if a homeless person's eyes were made of the Caribbean Sea.”

It's true. The guy I met was gross and dirty, and I don't recall him actually smelling bad, but he looked like he probably smelled bad. Let's just say, I did not have the urge to run my fingers through the greasy mess of matted hair that hung limp from beneath his head wrap. And, much to my own surprise, I had zero desire to make out with Ewan McGregor's crusty mouth or to allow his gritty hands anywhere near the small of my back. In fact, after we shook hands, I quickly wiped mine off on the side of my pants like an asshole. I'm not sure what they used to make his finger nails look so painfully dry and dirt-caked (it was probably some expensive, organic, rejuvenating Hollywood makeup artist's magical witch potion), but it looked like mud and poo, and it made me feel icky. I was honestly having a hard time reconciling the hot mess in front of me with the charming Scottish boy-toy of my dreams, and my body felt confused.

See what I mean? 

In his defense, McGregor was aptly dressed for his role as Jesus, but this was not like any version of Jesus we're accustomed to meeting in films about the iconic religious figure. This was not a powerful, omniscient robe-clad Jesus, or a kind-eyed, forgiving Jesus. This was not a beaten, bloody submissive Jesus, or even a smiling, warm, welcoming Jesus.

This was Jesus, fully man.

It was a rare depiction of the Jesus who “grew in wisdom and stature”, who learned and matured, Jesus who asked questions and sought answers, because he didn't always have them. This Jesus appeared tired and tattered, disheveled and uncertain, physically sapped by the conditions of the desert, emotionally stunned by the expansive silence. Hungry for the love of a distant Father. Thirsty to hear His voice.


It's been a full two years since I read the manuscript, talked with the director and a couple of the producers over lunch, met the actors, and watched a little bit of the action on set, but – FINALLY - last Sunday in a darkened Episcopal church in Pasadena, I got to see whatever came of Ewan McGregor's dirty Jesus, that lonely little family, and the last few days in the desert.

Nutshell? It was so good. And I cried.

Want more? Ok, fine.

Last Days in the Desert isn't so much a story about Jesus, as it is the story of fathers and sons. It's about boys becoming men, being both brave and afraid, simultaneously clinging and letting go, searching for independence while seeking approval. It's about grown men who still somehow long for assurance from the men who grew up before them, and the generational handing over of a broken baton. It's about wanting to do the right thing, but maybe not being quite sure what the right thing is, or who you're doing the right thing for.

The relationship between fathers and sons is perhaps the most complicated of all relationships, and we see layer upon layer of it here through the musings and complaints of the father and son in this story; A father who loves his son desperately, but can't say it, and a son who desperately wants his father's blessing, but can't see it. The Devil (also played by Ewan McGregor) is insightfully aware of this timeless father/son tension, and uses this to try to speak doubt into Jesus' own attempt to connect with his father, God.

Disclosure: As the mother of THREE SONS who, at 22, 18, and 16, are each smack in the middle of this exact same kind of coming of age bullshit, I felt the struggle and the pain and the longing of the son so keenly it made my heart actually physically hurt. His desire to be recognized by his father, to please his father, and, at the same time, to be free of his father's ideas and expectations made me ugly cry.... UGH. NOW I'M CRYING AGAIN!


In a world where Christians are greedy for blockbuster, feel-good movies with high production values and low thought content, Last Days in the Desert is almost ridiculously low-key in its approach to Jesus. We are never told what to think about the deity of Jesus. While there are some elements of faith and mysticism, which leave room for theological debate, the film is uniquely and refreshingly free of doctrine. During a panel discussion after Sunday's screening, Garcia described his imagining of Jesus in the desert – obviously inspired by the 40 days of fasting found in Christian scripture – as being "reduced" to its most basic elements. Much like the desert itself.

This reductive simplicity of the story is perfectly echoed on screen by cinematographer, Emmanual Lubezki (Yes - Gravity, The Revenant - THAT Emmanual Lubezki!), who shot every outdoor scene using only natural light. Every sweeping expanse, every endless landscape, every radiant crevice, and shadowy corner came to us directly from nature. The beauty of the desert as seen though Lubezki's lens is breathtaking in an epically organic kind of way. (You should really, really, really try to see this on a great big screen in a theater. I'm not even kidding. You'll thank me.)

Last Days in the Desert is far more of a spiritual/psychological think piece than your average faith based film. It's artistic. It's raw and rare, and a little bit uncomfortable. While box office flicks like God's Not Dead and Risen seem to have become the Bible tract of the 21st century (a cheap, easy way to tell anyone who will listen about the saving power of Jesus Christ without having to actually, y'know, get to know them) this artsy-fartsy indie film will likely leave you and your friends with more messy questions than tidy answers.

But maybe that's the point.


Or request a showing in your town HERE!


Missionaries probably shouldn't be jealous of a strippers. But sometimes they are.

I'm really looking forward to speaking the Love Made Claim annual fundraiser this Saturday, in Denver, CO. If you're in the area, YOU SHOULD TOTALLY COME! (ticket info here) Anyway, I was sitting here preparing my talk, when I remembered this old post from back in the day, so I thought I'd throw it out there again, for old times sake.

I still think about this girl... I wonder if she's still working in the sex-industry... and I wonder if she knows her great worth...

Check out Love Made Claim, Inc.

The other day I boarded a plane from Reno to San Francisco, and I was stoked because there was no one else in my row, and I wanted to read People magazine, but I would never want anyone to see me reading People magazine because I have a serious aversion to freaks who carry on weird, one-sided relationships with famous people. (What!? People is the fastest way for me to see how out-of date my clothes are. That’s all. That’s why I read it. Sheesh, let it go...) ANYWAY. You can imagine my dismay (and also how quickly I shoved Sandra Bullock’s tragic smile back in my bag and pulled out Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day) when someone stopped at the end of my row.

It was a girl, and she was wearing one of those tight black velour matching two piece sweatsuits with fake Uggs. When she turned around to shove her crap in the overhead, her butt said “Juicy” which, in my opinion, has about the same sexual appeal as having the word “Pfffffft” stamped across your rump. But, I'm old, so what do I know.

Despite her fashion sense, the truth is, she was gorgeous. GOR-geous! Like, twenty years old, with perfect skin and teeth and hair, and glossy, fake nails on soft, smooth hands. And her body was long and lean and seemingly flawless.

And I immediately did not like her.

Now, I’m not generally a jealous person. Seriously. I don’t really get jealous. I more, like...covet, but I don’t really get jealous, as in envious. Sometimes, I want things that other people may have. I want more money, I want a smaller butt, I want to be 5’9”, I really, really want a maid, and an admin, and a personal masseuse. And if you possess those things, I will probably covet them. But I usually don’t harbor feelings of hostility or rivalry toward people that have what I want, and that’s what I mean by jealous. It’s just not one of my go-to character flaws. Or maybe it’s just not as well developed as my other junk. Either way, it’s not my main thing. But this time, this time I was having these wild, crazy, JEALOUS thoughts. Mean thoughts. Cruel thoughts. Thoughts that were turning this girl, with whom I had never even shared a single word, into my mortal enemy

Because I'm such an asshole.

I was busy hating her in my heart, when I turned on my overhead light and opened my book, and as the plane started to taxi toward the runway, my stupid light burned out. Then, that awful girl looked over and offered a sympathetic smile, with her perfect, plump lips, and teeth like gleaming white chiclets. We both reached up and started pushing buttons and twisting knobs, trying to get my light to flicker back on, and she yanked on something a little too hard and the whole plastic casing came off in her hand. We looked at each other with huge eyes like “Oooh damn!” and then we both started snickering like third graders in the principals office. Snickering became giggling, and giggling made way for laughter, and by the time we were in the air, we were howling as if it was the funniest thing that had ever happened in the history of the world.

I know, in retrospect it's not really that funny, but that’s how I became instant BFF’s with a stripper from Reno.

We began a conversation that was mostly stupid and boring and, occasionally, intensely personal. And yes, she really is a stripper...I mean, ”dancer"?. She was on her way to California to visit her sugar-daddy. (Which, technically, I think makes her something other than a stripper, er, dancer, but whatever.)

We both pulled out our trashy magazines, and poured over the clothes of the rich and famous. We talked about our lives, as different as they are. And we talked about God. And when we didn’t talk, she pulled out her Sudoku book, and I thought, “Oh, awesome. She’s prettier AND smarter than me.” But, I noticed (because, apparently, I’m kind of a creeper) that when she got bored with her puzzle, she would scroll her name in cursive, again and again, along the edges of the book. Practicing her autograph? Signing her first name with some guy’s last name? Trying out a flashy new stage name? I really don’t know. All I know is that she was daydreaming as she wrote that name, all fat and swirly, over and over and over again with a glittery pink gel pen.

I was struck by how sweet and girlish this was, and it reminded me of how I used to do the very same thing when I was younger. In high school, my friends and I used this stripper name formula to decifer our pole dancer personalities : First family pet + street you grew up on = your stripper name. 

Mine is Heidi Oaklawn.

Maybe it sounds weird, I mean, since I’m a missionary and everything, but I could totally relate to this stripper, with her Juicy pants and spray tan. El Chupacabra and I have a little running joke that if our lives hadn’t turned a certain direction at a certain time, today he would be in jail and I would be in a nightclub. We laugh about it, but we know that it’s really not that funny...but it's probably not be far from the truth. If things had gone differently, you could be reading the blog of Heidi Oaklawn, the Very Worst Stripper right now. Or maybe you wouldn’t be. Or maybe you would....

Anyway, when we parted ways in San Francisco, it was clear to us both that we shared some sort of connection. Call it stripper’s intuition, but there was something there, between us. We hugged and quickly said goodbye....*sigh*

Juicy disappeared into the crowd, and as soon as she was gone, I realized that all of my envy had melted away, and only one thing remained. Before we'd gone our separate ways, I wished I'd told her something that had been nagging at me as we talked; I wanted her to know that God is jealous for her.

And I was jealous for her, too.  Not jealous of her, and not the envious kind of jealousy that makes a missionary act like a bitch on an airplane when a hot stripper starts to sit next to her. But jealous for her. Jealous in a different way. Jealous with a longing, loving, hope filled kind of jealousy.  

I was jealous for her to know that she’s worth more than the dollar she gets for swinging around a pole in clear, plastic stilettos, or the thousand that she’ll get for spending a weekend in San Francisco with some dirtbag she met on the internet. Jealous for her to feel love apart from sex. Jealous for her to daydream about her own name in a way that didn't have to include fame, or fortune, or dancing naked for men. Jealous for her to know that, if she can do Sudoku? She can do anything!

This is the kind of jealousy that begs for a change in direction. 

God is jealous for us to turn away from the distractions of this world and turn toward him. He’s jealous for us to let go of the false identities we hold onto so tightly, and to align ourselves with Him. He’s jealous for us to relinquish the things we allow to define our worth, and grab tightly to our value in Him.

Our God is jealous for her. 

And for you.

And for me.


So, the obvious question is, what would your stripper name be?


How Going on Vacation Might be Better than Going on a Mission.

The other day someone asked if we have any big plans for this summer, and El Chupacabra and I looked at each other and smiled because we do have big plans for this summer. We have really big plans...


When we shared our big news, we probably should have expected her response, but it still caught us off guard when she said, “That's amazing! Who will you be working with?”

We glanced at each other, “...Working?”

“Yeah. Like, what organization are you partnering with? What are you going to do there?”

And then it got awkward, because we were all, “Ooooooh. Oh. Yeah. No, it's not like that. We're not going on a mission, we're going on vacation... You know, just for fun. Entertainment. Relaxation. Adventure. That sort of thing.”

She blinked and looked confused.

I guess that's understandable. I can see how it might be counterintuitive to imagine a Missions Pastor and a writer who has the word “missionary” in the title of her blog taking their kids to Africa and not going on a mission. But that's exactly what we're doing. We're going to fly all the way across the world, and then we are not going to dig a well, we're not going to hold any orphans, and we're not going to treat anyone's parasites (unless, of course, they're our own). We will not be seen in matching T-shirts or praying in a circle at the airport, and you won't catch us “loving on” complete strangers with sweaty hugs, zealous high fives, or bullhorn street-corner evangelism.

The habitual short term missionary (the one who collects passport stamps crossing the planet on the support-raised dime of the Church to participate in safely organized service opportunities) will have a stroke if they read this, so maybe don't send it to them. Or do. But, for sure, choosing fun over field will have some people questioning my love of God, my commitment to Jesus, and my very salvation.

Behold, she chose a family vacation over a Christian mission
and, lo, there was a great clutching of pearls.

Here's the thing. I've lived abroad, traveled a bunch, willfully participated in and happily hosted short term teams, crossed paths with people from all walks of life and faith and culture, broken bread with the wealthy elite and the poorest of poor, and conversed with some of the most educated and experienced leaders in the global church movement, and it's all led me to this conclusion:

Going on a kickass vacation can be healthier, more productive, and more beneficial
 to both the traveler and the world than a short term mission.

I've come to believe my money is better spent in the hotels, restaurants, shops, gas stations, parks, monuments and attractions that provide legitimate jobs and dignified work to the very same locals I would otherwise be “blessing” on a short term mission trip. Tourism is a gross domestic product, an industry that creates layers and layers of real, sustainable jobs for a countries workforce. I'd wager that it's far kinder and more generous for you to leave a tip and a favorable comment for the woman who cleans your hotel room each day, than for you to show up on her doorstep with your selfie stick and a bag of rice once a year (#blessed). When you vacation somewhere, you're contributing to a healthy demand for everything from the edible goods of the rural farmer who might otherwise sell his child, to the administrative services of the urban student who might otherwise sell herself. When you vacation in the places you'd usually mission, you're engaging people's pride and joy without exploiting their shame.

I know, I know – What about all the other stuff? Like, what about showing our kids how other people live? And what about exposing our pampered teenagers to poverty? What about getting uncomfortable? What about learning to serve others? Every single time I speak on missions at churches or universities, these questions come up. And every time this is what I say:
  • I have an intrinsic desire to see the whole entire world and to show as much of it as I can to my kids. I believe this is inherent in me as a human, because we are drawn to the work of our Creator. I believe it can be a form of worship and I believe it can have value. BUT. It is not the Church's responsibility to send me or my kids all over the world for the purpose of “exposure”. If you think it's that important, you should sign your kid up for a foreign exchange program and pay for it yourself, or with grandma's help or whatever. As much as you and I both want it to be, crossing boarders is it is not crucial to your child's development as human or as a Christian. It's cool, but not crucial.
  • Using poor kids to teach rich kids a lesson about how good they have it is just gross. It's ineffective at best, and incredibly harmful at worst. Plus, it's ICKY.
  • You will never get more uncomfortable than in the intimacy of meaningful relationships with the people to the right and left of you, so go love your actual neighbor. Short term missions are more of a relief from the depth and discomfort of real life and real love and real relationship than a true dip into discomfort. 
  • An attitude of service should be learned at home and applied in the world, not the other way around, so if learning to serve is your end goal, there's no need to hop on a plane to do menial tasks for strangers. I promise, not a day of your life has gone by that wasn't chock full of opportunities to serve others – that's true of vacation days, too – we all just need to be looking.

    omg. I KNOW. I just like the way it sounds. Jeez.
So we are going to South Africa, Botswana, and Mozambique, and we're going there on vacation. And that's it. Who we're going with is each other. Why we're going is for fun. What we're doing is cool shit. Oh, and? Who's footing the bill is our own damn selves. We are going to stay in mediocre hotels, visit beautiful national parks, and eat cheap local food. We're going to do touristy things and less touristy things. We're going to see cities and countrysides and all the sights in between. We're going to try all the beers and taste all the fruits and make all the weird noises at all the animals. We're going to get lost once or twice along the way, because that's what we always do on vacation, and we're probably gonna be ok. 

This two week vacation will most likely be the last major trip we get to take with our three grown/growing sons. They'll be marrying and blasting out babies in no time, so this is our nuclear family's last hurrah. It won't be extravagant - we are literally saving pennies to make it happen – but I have no doubt it will be amazing. We're going to immerse ourselves as best we can in the culture and history and people around us. And, yes, we will be on vacation, but we won't turn a blind eye to the poor. And yes, we will be relaxing, but we'll also be doing some hard work in our relationships with our boys and with each other – some investing, and some reassuring, and some healing. We're going on Safari, because HOLY SHIT IT'S AFRICA!!! And we're going with humility, because it's our privilege just to be there.

I fully expect to see this EXACT scene.
I hope that we come home changed somehow, better, wiser, closer. And I hope that you'll ask me how our trip to Africa was, just so I can say something like, "OMG. It was AMAZING! I learned way more from Africa than Africa learned from me." And we can LOL. 


Also? No lie, I'm kinda pissed that Dax and Kristen beat us to this, but we're still totally gonna do it...