2014-06-23 19.44.07-2

This summer I had the opportunity to spend a week with foster kids at a camp called Royal Family Kids Camp. 30+ kids who normally don’t get childhoods were given a week of unconditional love, fun, & hearing about God. This is just one story, of one these kids. The name has been changed to protect his anonymity.  


“You’re burning it! Josh you’re BURNING IT! JOSH YOU’RE BURNING IT!!!” Deandre screamed.

The truth is I wasn’t burning the marshmallows, I more had burnt them. Past tense. I’d drifted the marshmallow too close to the fire, then quickly blew the ensuing blaze out, hoping the s’more was still salvageable. Deandre had said he wanted his marshamallow “toasted, not burned.” I was hoping this would be okay.


I was in this situation because Daniel, Deandre’s counselor for the week, was taking care of Deandre’s recently-skinned knee. Each kid’s counselor at the camp was making a s’more so I offered to step in. As I brought the s’more back toward the crew of campers sitting in the amphitheater, I assumed Deandre would get over the singed marshmallow and all would be well.

“Why did you do that?!? You BURNED it!!” Deandre yelled. His eyes were brimming with tears, his face angry. This was going south quickly.

I hadn’t expected this at all. I had expected him to be appreciative of me getting him a s’more in the first place. I expected him to remember that I was one of the guys who had played with him in the pool and who had let him look at the soundboard and showed him how it worked. And when he didn’t, I let a little “wait, seriously?” smile creep across my face.

“IT’S NOT FUNNY!!!!!!” Deandre screamed, and then he started sobbing. At this point the other 35 foster kids sitting in the amphitheater were staring as their 20+ counselors pretended not to.

I’d just inadvertently caused the Marsh-pocalypse. Continue reading


A fair warning up front: this isn’t going to be a happy story, because Riley’s* life isn’t a happy life. When Riley was 8 years old his parents checked him and his younger brother into a hotel room in Florida, walked out the door, and never came back. He now lives with his grandma and uncle in California. He hasn’t seen his mom since.

*not his real name

Riley was in cabin 2, the cabin I was a counselor for and the unofficial war zone of this year’s Royal Family Kids Camp. At a scrawny 5’-nothing Riley was far from a fighter, but he knew how to run his mouth. He would sit in his top bunk, looking down on the action, antagonizing the people below him. He was like those two cranky old guys from The Muppet Show, who in real life would be no fun at all.

Riley was a loner. One of the optional activities was crawdad fishing, and one afternoon Riley spent 2 hours sitting by the creek with a stick, string and raw bacon dangling in a mossy lagoon. He caught easily the biggest crawdad of the day. We called for a bucket but as I brought it over I accidentally hit the crawdad and knocked it in the water. This is not my favorite memory from camp.  Continue reading


Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me …

Gerardo* was a legend at Royal Family Kids’ Camp, but being a legend at a camp for foster kids isn’t always a good thing. It takes real dedication to excellence to dysfunctionally stand above 100 abused, abandoned or displaced kids, but Gerardo had been up to the challenge last year. He then spent the time between camps training, polishing his skills, and gearing up for year two. In other words, Gerardo brought his A-game in 2013.

*not his real name

All told Gerardo punched 8 DIFFERENT people in 5 days, and that’s not counting repeat incidents with the same person. The situation was almost always the same – Gerardo would verbally antagonize kids around him, the kids would say something back, and since Gerardo is actually, secretly a very sensitive soul he would be deeply hurt.

For Gerardo, being hurt, attacked, embarrassed or even lightly teased all feels more or less the same: an overwhelming negative emotion he is incapable of processing. All humans have these moments – tidal waves of emotion that surge over the walls we’ve built to hold them back. Gerardo feels this every 10 minutes or so.

And so he punches. Hard. He punched a fellow cabin-mate who also had severe anger issues. He punched a cabin counselor too authoritarian for his liking. He punched his personal counselor Adam, even though he knew Adam was almost his only friend at camp. He punched a lifeguard too, although if you knew Gerardo the guy almost, but not quite, had it coming. Continue reading

Nativity scenes in Newtown


It’s not that there was anything wrong with the manger scene, lit up against the night sky, with its larger-than-life shepherds and angels and animals sitting on the hill. The whole crew of usuals was there, even the wisemen, who technically shouldn’t be on the scene for another year or two. The artwork had a slight “animated feature” vibe to it, but overall it was nice.

Too nice.

I couldn’t help wonder how that cartoon manger with its cartoon baby Jesus had anything relevant to say to Newtown, CT.


Yesterday, The Onion­ – a satirical, faux-news website – posted an article about the shootings in Newtown with the headline “F— Everything, Nation Reports”. It was a sad, profound, bleak look at how most of us felt when we saw the news. Through fake quotes from fake news sources, the article might have captured the moment, and our hollow attempt to understand it, better than anything else I read. As one of the fake quotes put it: “good God, if this is what the world is becoming, then how about we just pack it in and f-ing give up, because this is no way to live.” Continue reading

Science vs. Faith & other myths


I was watching the show Fringe last night because, well, because of course I was. I could tell you all about the show and the characters and the mythology and how the last 2 seasons have been lousy but I’m sticking around to see how it ends … but none of that really matters.

What matters is that the show had one of those “science v. faith” moments that were super-cool back when LOST was doing it, but turned cliché a few years ago. In the scene one character gave this eloquent speech on behalf of reason – how the universe all boils down to math, and probabilities, and logic and whatnot. The other character – playing the role of “wise, mystical minority who speaks in vagaries and understands the mysteries of the universe”* – responds with a shoulder-shrug, a condescending smile, and says “well, I believe anyway.”  Continue reading

inconceivable interpretations of Romans 7

“Inconceivable!” the bald guy with the cartoon voice keeps shouting. He uses the word over and over to express his shock.

And finally Inigo Montoya – of “… you killed my father, prepare to die” fame – has had enough and utters my favorite line from The Princess Bride: “you keep using that word – I do not think it means what you think it means.”

I mention this because I’ve heard several explanations of the famous Romans 7 passage where Paul says “… the things I want to do, I don’t do. What I don’t want to do I find myself doing,” etc.

And with nearly every explanation I find myself thinking “You keep using that Scripture. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

People like to say “see, Paul struggled the same way we did! His life was an ongoing battle too! Just like ours!” It’s the ultimate “misery loves company” moment for us. We should EXPECT for our lives as Christians to be a tooth and nail fight for shreds of goodness!

… wait, how is this good news?  It seems to me that if Paul’s saying “yep, the Christian life is one big, ongoing ying and yang battle against sin and you’ll probably never see much progress” … well that just depresses me.

But I don’t think that’s what Paul’s saying. At all. But seeing that involves backing up a bit. Continue reading

a new love

I’m speaking for the college ministry at my church this Thursday, and have the privilege to cover 1 Cor. 13 (a.k.a. the “love” chapter that’s often read at weddings).

In my preparation I learned something interesting: the word for love in this chapter is “agape” (which I knew). But what I didn’t know is how odd Paul’s word-choice was. During Paul’s time agape was an obscure word nearly no one knew. Most people think it was adopted from the Hebrew language, and thus was far from being a common colloquialism.

So why — in one of him most evocative chapters ever — does Paul use a word no one knows? I think for the same reason anyone uses an uncommon word … to sound smart.

… not really. I think it’s because new words demand new interpretation. Whenever I use the word “orange” my brain opens up a file containing everything I know about oranges. So if I want to communicate something OTHER than the information in that file, I need a new word.

I think Paul uses the word agape to clarify that he’s not talking about love the way his readers knew it. No, the love Paul talked about was something that — like the word — was different, rare, unusual. He then spends half the chapter defining this love: it’s patient, kind, free of jealousy and pride and rudeness. This love is hopeful and joyful and it’s always always always a proponent of the truth. It leads to faith and hope.

And I think the implication of this chapter is that whatever this agape is, it’s altogether other than the type of love we humans usually embody. It’s not phileo, friendly but only to a point. It’s not eros, romantic and desirous and lustful (not that either of these two loves are necessarily bad, by the way).

It’s a love that’s bigger … or maybe deeper would be a better adjective. It’s a love that humans aren’t particularly capable of on their own. It’s a love that will have to come from some place else.

Probably from a God who would repeatedly say that He is the inherent embodiment of agape. “For God so agape’d the world …” Or in 1 John, “For God is agape, and in Him there is no darkness.”

1 Corinthians 13, then, isn’t a call to try harder to love well. It’s a call to participate in a love that is altogether outside us … and never more needed.