Faith Like A Child

Shaky Kingdom: A Tiny Series on Christian Nationalism | Day 2

I’m in a bar with a friend who says with a detached resignation, “I wish I still had the faith of a child.” She had spent the last hour detailing a legacy of church hurt simultaneously heart wrenching and banal. Her story is one of hundreds I’ve heard. Being a queer Christian has forced me into these conversations regularly.

Christian Nationalists want to convince you that the reason the world is broken, the reason so many people are devoid of Christ’s influence and authority is because of what curriculum schools are indoctrinating children with. They want to convince you that a certain political party, news media, or TV show are brainwashing goodhearted children to leave the faith. As a person who is friends predominately with atheists and agnostics, the vast majority of whom grew up in the church, I have heard more stories than I can fit in my memory about people’s reasons for leaving the church. I can think of only two or three of those that left because they found Christian virtues boring and restrictive.

Here’s a drop in the bucket of the other stories I’ve heard of why people left the faith:

A woman who told me her last day in church was two days after she had an abortion. Her priest told her that because she went through with the appointment, she was no longer welcome.  

A woman who came out as a lesbian and could attend church but could no longer come up and receive communion.

A girl who relapsed on cocaine and, when she asked her youth pastor for help, he told her youth group friends they could no longer hang out with her because bad company corrupts good.

A girl who told her youth group friends and youth group leader that she had doubts about the authenticity of the Bible who said they would “pray for her to stop asking questions.”

A man fired from his job as a worship pastor because he said he thought the story of Noah on the Arc was an allegory instead of a historical event.

A boy who was sexually assaulted by a worship pastor.

A girl who heard the story of a Holocaust prisoner writing on the jail wall, “If there is a God, He will have to beg for my forgiveness.”


Do these stories sound like people who were lured away from religion by the evils of the world? Depending on your political and theological dispositions, I can see an argument forming. They got an abortion, chose to be gay, gave into temptation towards an addiction, heard and believed the devil’s lies about scripture. I can go there with you if that’s a more comfortable space to inhabit. Okay, the world corrupted these people so we need to legislate against abortions, homosexuality, drugs in order to protect and strengthen the faith. Let’s revisit what our original question was though: why did these people leave the church?

My friend who had an abortion came to church on Sunday. My friend who broke her sober streak came to Wednesday night youth group. My friend who had questions about how to reconcile scripture with what she knew about the world raised the question to her religious friends.

It was not the decision or the doubt that broke their faith; it was the response of the Church to their humanity that caused them to flee.

Christian Nationalists want you to believe that the biggest and most fervent danger to the continuation of the faith is outside the church. They certainly have a bulk of evidence on their side. The first chapters of the Bible extoll the evils of the world (Genesis 6:5) and both Paul and John the Evangelist caution against the temptation of the world (Romans 12:2; 1 John 2:16). The world is full of danger and falsehoods and I, a sinner, am not going to pretend like it isn’t.

But let us be clear on who killed Jesus the Christ: the Romans may have nailed him to the cross, but the religious leaders were the ones who funded his execution by paying Judas. The religious leaders found Jesus crass and dangerous; the government found him threatening. Christian Nationalists only want you to focus on the dangers of the world, but they have no interest in protecting Jesus either.

Let’s revisit my friend in the bar mourning the loss of her childhood faith. Immediately, I was reminded of the children who run to Jesus for healing in Mark 10 who are stopped by the group of people who should have known deepest the desires of Christ: his disciples. How does Jesus respond to them? He rebukes them: “Don’t keep them away. God’s kingdom belongs to people like them.”

If the voices you are listening to are more concerned with the limits of grace and the enforcement of legalism, and are not concerned with throwing up the arms of Jesus, don’t listen to or believe them.

A Tiny Introduction to the Great Lie

Shaky Kingdom: A Tiny Series on Christian Nationalism | Day 1

The principle lie of Christian nationalism is that right now, you need to be very, very afraid.

In most churches around this country, there are people doing everything they can to convince fellow congregates that the government is stealing their rights as Christians away. In place of the spirited, testifying tongues detailed in the Acts 2 account of Pentecost, many Christians today are deeply concerned with exceptionally earthly matters. Regardless of what issue or issues that are of primary concern for them, Christian Nationalists want you to be deeply afraid.

They want you to be angry, to be shocked and surprised. And, as an antidote to this overwhelming fear, anger, shock, and surprise, they want you to reclaim power. By taking power, you reestablish yourself as a leader over that which fears you. By chopping off the head of your adversary, you quench your anger. By taking back control, you shift the unequal distribution of power so that you now hold the element of surprise.   

As we walk through this brief series together, I want to ask you to ignore and actively refute this great lie overtaking your siblings and thriving in your churches. I want you to take refuge in the gifts of Christ and to lead the lost among your congregation to the yoke that is easy. I’m asking you to reject what Paul calls the spirit of fear and timidness (2 Timothy 1:7).

In 2 Timothy, Paul also encourages us to receive the gift of power, but I want you to pay attention to the difference between how Paul conceptualizes power and how Christian Nationalists conceptualize power.


For the Nationalist, power comes through political overtaking. In order to “restore” Christ to power, we need to elect a certain politician, pass a particular policy, or destroy a widespread ideology. This power is, by its very nature, humanly defined. In order to receive or establish power, you need to take action. You need to vote or give money or sign petitions or raise awareness. The emphasis is on you and the mechanism by which you attain power is on earth.

The power Paul describes in 2 Timothy 1:7 is gifted to us by way of the Spirit, and it does not come alone. The power Paul conceptualizes is coupled with love and self-control. It is not the hatred of another that motivates power-taking, it is the love of others that facilitates power-receiving. It is not an active power-taking, in which you need to rise against an exterior force. Instead, power is coupled with the act of self-restraint, in which the entity you rebel against is your own human desire and tendencies.

Over the next few days, we’ll discuss what it might look like to be a people genuinely concerned with the rot in our own communities and began to cast a vision for a countercultural liberation movement characterized by love, vulnerability, quietness, and self-restraint. This is branded as a tiny series because the problem of Christian Nationalism is generational and gigantic in its scope. I won’t have all the answers on how we solve this overwhelming and dangerous trend, but my hope is that the Spirit might be fed by your attention to this issue, and that you might be encouraged to combat it each time it rears its head.

Prayer: Give me doubt against the fear from my misguided impressions of the world. Give me the courage to trust that a holy war is waged with surrender. Give me an accurate vision of myself that I might repent for what I have done and better align myself with the vision you have of me in your world.


The Bittersweet Answer


It feels as though, more often than not, answered prayers are bittersweet. From my mortal lens, I can’t tell if it feels this way because it’s true, the frequency of bittersweet answers outpaces the saccharine ones, or because we in our mortality are more likely to notice when things don’t go how we planned more often than we are to notice when everything is going exactly as we’ve planned. I suspect the reason may be the latter. The reason why is worth reflecting on but for now I want to talk about why the bittersweet answer stings and where we go after.

On the surface, we all claim to want clarity. Whether or not you’re a person of faith, we’re searching for answers on why we feel this way and what’s coming next for us. For example, just the other day, one of my friends asked the astrological expert of the group what the start of Gemini season means. “It’s bad. Probably fine for you, but not for us Pisces” she responded. Whether it’s the star season, or a closed door, clarity is sobering. It forces us to face a long awaited answer with the fullness of its truth. Sobriety, as any recovering addict will tell you, is great, but there’s a reason addictions are so common and why they last so long. We don’t really, truly want to face the world sober. It means the pain is in focus and we have nothing to buffer it.

A bittersweet answer can be the death of a dream. Maybe you have feelings for someone and you get the call that they’re moving away. Maybe you’ve been interviewing for that dream job and you get a rejection email. Maybe you miscarry a pregnancy. If we live our lives as instructed in Proverbs 3:5-6 then we bring all things to the Godhead and live according to the answers They provide. Yet that doesn’t always feel like good news.

In Isaiah 54:8 we are reminded that the Lord’s ways are not our ways. That disconnect often stings because we are so sure about that person, that job, that life, that plan and path for ourselves. And for some reason, even though we’ve thought of everything, even though we’ve seen how good and right that path is for us, God’s ways are higher and God disagrees. And it stings. It’s allowed to. The death of a dream is deserving of our grief for it. That’s the bitter.

A bittersweet answer can also be the belaboring of a nightmare. Maybe you’re in a relationship that makes you feel suffocated more often than held, but God asks you to stick through it. Maybe you’re at a job you hate or feel abandoned at, and while God is telling everyone else Go, God’s telling you, Stay. Maybe your kids are extra challenging these days and while all your friends are enjoying time with their kids, yours feel like a chore, and God is saying keep working. Things will get better, you’re certain, if you can find someone else, take a different position, or have healing for your kids. Yet God’s higher ways leave you where you’re at. The nightmare bites and it hurts and it’s allowed to. That’s the bitter.

The sweet is that God is answering at all. In the moment of clarity, it feels like slap in the face, and yet the alternative – abandonment – is not kind either. Recall the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 13. When God is silent, we are also stung by the silence. We long for God to deliver us and speak balm into our souls. The sweet is that even in a bold, red-lettered, capitalized no, God has heard us and answered. There is a miracle in that. Now that we have an answer, we can begin to pick up the shards of our broken dream and reimagine what they might form instead. Now that we have an answer, we can plant our feet to stay in the fight. We have a direction again. We know despite our circumstance we will see goodness while we are alive.

We can be confident of this goodness because after God tells us that Their ways are higher and better than our ways, God says:

For as the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:10-11 NRSV

The closed door does not mean God is done working. God is just not done working yet.


We are not alone in this tension between the bitter and the sweet. If you’ve been following along on Instagram, you might know that my morning devotional has had me in the Old Testament for a while, specifically Leviticus and Numbers, books I typically don’t read. As I’ve been going through, I’ve noticed a recurring theme: The Israelites constantly have their mouths full. They are either stuffed with heavenly manna (God’s provisions and fulfilled promises) or complaints (human anxiety that God will not deliver on said promises). I see so much of myself in that tension, caught between the dead dream and the hope for the new one. Throughout these two books, the Israelites have repeatedly complained to their leaders that they should have been left to die and rot in Egypt. They are so consumed with the promise not coming at the right time, not being the right thing, that they are willing to trade in the coming glory for the devil the know.

It is a timeless human temptation to cling to the dead dream and bemoan the continuing nightmare. Yet I believe that the love we invest in unrequited people and stillborn babies is not wasted. I believe that the interviews and the jobs we endure will teach us skills for our career. I believe that the patience we give our children will make the waiting worth it. Our dreams are dead, yes, but they taught us to reach for more. Their fantasy gave us a taste of the coming glory and for that I am thankful. Our nightmare continues yes, but the struggle will give us the tools to climb the mountain so that we may enjoy it when we reach the top.

I leave you with two reminders from the Psalmist about the relationship of sorrow and joy. Sorrow is defeated by joy in the morning and sorrow is used to water the plant that brings joy. Mourn for your dream for those tears will fertilize an even better one. Endure the nightmare because the morning always wakes us from our slumber. The bitterness and the sweetness.

Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota and sells poetry art here. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Follow him on FacebookInstagram, or Goodreads.

Curious why we don’t use he/him pronouns for God in this post? Click here.

The Resurrection of Relationships

To get caught up on the story so far, visit our Instagram. I had originally meant to split this up into three posts but just couldn’t swing it.


My flight touched down and I flipped airplane mode off. I sent a text to my mother that I landed safely, then opened Instagram to post a picture I had taken on the plane. (Don’t raise a boy in a Facebook world and expect him not to think he’s interesting). I had a dozen notifications in my DMs and more were coming in. I clicked the message icon and saw the profile picture of a dear friend who was home visiting family. I knew instantly what was going on and started praying every Psalm I knew as the flight attendants urged me off the sparsely occupied plane.

A few days later, I’m sitting on a different friend’s couch talking about his friend preparing to come out as gay. “I will never forget the fear on your face,” he says to me, recalling a night a decade or so ago I was doubled over on a sidewalk in Denver crying harder than I had in years. I had just come out to him and I knew that nothing I could ever do would shove those words back in my throat. I was no longer on a precipice; I was freefalling off the cliff and waiting to discover if I would fracture or be caught. “Throughout my life, I had never felt like I could lose everything just for being who I was,” he said. It was a perfect summation of what that night was like for me all those years ago.

Everything you know, everything you’ve built, all your little houses of cards could crash down in one moment of honest, simple, truth telling.

My Instagram friend was standing on the cliff about to jump. For years, this person has been trying to tell their parents a very simple truth. This trip, it was happening and they were asking for advice. Their native language doesn’t have a word for “gay” so on top of the fear, there was a tangible logistical obstacle. We spent the night making plans, preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.

You don’t have to be gay to wrestle with the fear of lost relationships. About a week after the couch, I saw a new friend as she was getting coffee. I had a mask on and was completely out of context out in public. We catch eyes and greet each other. As she goes to introduce me to her friend, she pauses right before she says my name and panic floods her eyes. We chat and say goodbye. She instantly texts me and says she swears she knows my name; she just had a brain fart. I completely understood and assuaged her of her guilt. “Oh thank god,” she texts back instantly. “I was so worried I ruined our blossoming friendship.”

The threat of broken connections is everywhere, all the time. For me on the sidewalk, my couch friend wrestling with how to come out, my Instagram friend fumbling for a series of words that convey his feelings, my friend in a coffee shop forgetting my name: we were all terrified of losing relationships. Why? What’s so great about them?

In the second Genesis creation myth, God tells The Earthling, “It is not good for man to be alone,” a verse and philosophy I’ll wrestle though in our next series. For today, though, I want us to think about the table, a symbol of Maundy Thursday. Jesus is terrified of death and in his final days, it’s the comfort of his friends he not only looks for, but eagerly seeks. Relationships matter because when we’re in our final days, we seek the comfort of the people who know us. And sometimes, the people we love prove our fear of loss justified.



In his book, The God of the Garden, Andrew Peterson writes about a time in his life he’s angry with, and feeling disconnected from, God. On a whim, and desperate for connection with the Holy, he heads to a silent retreat where he is greeted by a cold shoulder of an already silent God. On the last day, when he has already given up on breakthrough in his empty, broken relationship with God, he walks to the car with his bags when he’s stopped by a literal signpost beckoning him to explore some statues deep in the forest of this abbey. There, he finds a depiction of Christ on Good Friday that he describes like this:

Dead in the center, frozen in the gray light, was the statue of a man in deep desperation. This was no classical, pietistic display of a barely human Christ. No, this was different. He looked to have stumbled to his knees. His back was arched, his head was thrown back. His hands covered his face so that his elbows were splayed out. His friends were asleep, and all the dormant trees were sleeping, too. Not even his own creation kept watch with him that morning, as he knelt in the terrible silence of that lonesome forest.

The God of the Garden, Andrew Peterson, page 154

For Jesus, the table was a symbol of the deep love and bond of friendship. But in the garden, his friends fail him. When he asks them to simply stay up with him, to pray on his behalf for comfort in the face of death, they fall asleep. This passage from Peterson was so convicting to me, tangibly feeling the failing of relationships, the pain of facing painful fear completely alone. I see so much of myself in that fear and disappointment, in the anguish of sorrow alone. In a few more moments, one of his best friends will betray him for a bag of coins, not just ignoring his fear of death but leading him to the cross directly. Have you been betrayed? Backstabbed? Mistaken an enemy for a friend?

Another of his best friends will deny he knows Jesus thrice. Have you felt forgotten or neglected by friends? Have they chosen politics or religion over you? Jesus’ relationships fail. The cross then makes any chance of reconciliation impossible. His relationships faltered, then failed, then died with no hope of revival.


The Harrowing of Hell is a controversial doctrine that suggests that, while he was dead, Jesus preached the good news to the dead in Sheol. Some theologians argue that he just liberated Old Testament figures like Moses and Rahab. There are even some who depict this event as Jesus running through hell specifically looking for Judas, his friend and betrayer. I don’t know where I fall on any of this in terms of truth but truth is not the thing that always matters. If we believe in the truth and extremity of Jesus’ death on Good Friday, I really can’t think of a better depiction than the human Christ running through the chaos of hell to hold the hand of his betraying friend in an unimaginable display of grace and mercy. Mercy even here.



Sometimes, when you’re standing on a cliff about to come out, you do and you fall and you hit the cement floor at 50 miles an hour. Your friend leads you to your executioner and robs you of reconciliation. Is there any hope that you can wipe yourself off the cement and climb the mountain and learn how to love someone again? Is there any hope you can run through the pits of hell just to embrace your enemy?

Easter Sunday is the biggest celebration in the Christian liturgy because it is the end of all our doubts, the crushing of every fear. It is the hope that rivals every ounce of hopelessness. The answer is yes. He makes dead things live again. He makes dead people rise and repairs broken relationships to fullness. His friends are mourning, gathered together to grieve the loss of their leader and closest friend when suddenly Jesus appears. The relationship is repaired and the disciples are overcome with joy.

On Ash Wednesday, I challenged us to reframe sin as a collective problem in addition to the individual problem. On Easter Sunday, I want us to think not just the death of our sins and our restoration with God. I want us to also think of the restoration of relationships with those we have wronged and those who have wronged us, but the work of reconciling our collective sins. I believe he makes dead things live again. This Easter, I want you to think about a relationship that has broken or is fracturing that you’d like to have restored. God ultimately gives and takes away, but I believe that if we do the hard work of forgiveness and reconciliation and perspective-taking, if we partner in vertical relationships with God, restoration is possible. If we don’t get it this side of heaven, I believe we might walk out of the process more merciful, more loving, and more patient.

And that kind of love and hard work is never wasted.

Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota and sells poetry art here. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Like him on Facebook or follow him on Instagram and Goodreads.

Life with the Living

Background Photo by Josh Boot on Unsplash

I remain confident of this:

I will see the goodness of the Lord

in the land of the living.

Wait for the Lord;

be strong and take heart

and wait for the Lord.

Psalm 27:13-14 NIV

I wrote the intro to this week before I started the series, which is funny because I allude to Ash Wednesday. I had planned to finish this series long before the holiday but work came up and I wasn’t able to. Now that we’re in the season of lent, I find it funny my thoughts were so focused on the season. Perhaps God is moving even here.

I was reading a devotion on patience when I came across verse 13. Something stopped me. There’s a song by Housefires called Rise in which they sing “I’ll see your goodness in the land of the living” over and over again. The depressed mind does strange things with language. I love this song. Every time I have sang it, I thought “the land of the living” was in reference to heaven – the land where all things live again. Where all things live in harmony. Suddenly, reading it in a different context, in a devotional about waiting for something while I’m still alive, I realized the land of the living is the land I’m in – the land of the literal living, the breathing, the wine drinking, the brief bit of life lived not in ash. This land.

Always, Rise was such a hopeful song for me. This body, this mind, this existence, is just for a moment. All the pain and suffering is eclipsed by the coming glory. How much more hopeful is it, though, when you can hope that even in the midst of all of this turmoil and agony, we can still have hope that God will do a good thing?

As I’ve walked through this series, I’ve been moved into this direction of juxtaposition: Bravery that looks like fear, fear that looks like hope, and belief that sounds like unbelief. There isn’t implicit juxtaposition in this verse, but I believe in the larger context, and hidden under the weight of waiting, we might find something unexpected.

A couple weeks ago, as I was revisiting my notes for what I had planned to say this week, I read my morning devotional which walked through Hebrews 11. Picture me, working on a devotional about hope, believing that I’ll see some type of goodness in this barren wilderness. Picture me writing a $500 check to the gas company to fill my house with heat in the middle of -35 degree blizzard, paying a $300 security deposit, sending hundreds of dollars to the government in taxes, facing increased rent as a roommate moves out and no one is stepping up to fill her place despite our best efforts, all while I try to figure out how to buy plane tickets and take time off work for my friends wedding and bachelorette party. The mantra I keep repeating is that there will still be goodness in the land of the living and I will bear witness to it. Hopeful peace that defies logic.

Then the reality sets in.

Hebrews 11:13 is introduced in recapping events of the Old Testament. Abraham and Sarah are promised to be the parents of generations but suffer from infertility and get too old to have kids. They’re promised a nice land of milk and honey but die before they get to see it. Their ancestors settle in the land and become so numerous they outnumber the stars. Nice, right? Kind of.

Verse 13 hits us with this nice little bluntness: All these people (such as Abraham and Sarah) were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised.

In case you missed it, the point of Hebrews 11:13 is: Stay faithful your whole life and then die before you get to see the goodness God’s been dangling in front of you, the goodness promised to you.

How do you make sense of this? How do you reconcile the confidence of seeing the goodness of God with seeing the track record of God’s faithlessness in the past. Well, you’ve got to keep reading.

Hebrews 11:13 continues, “They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.” If you’ve read my second book, you’ll know about my tattoo that reads, in Norwegian, “but I catch a glimpse.” What if the good thing isn’t the thing we think it is. What if the good thing is the glimpse of the good thing coming?

In his liturgy for dating or courtship, Douglas Kaine McKelvey writes “Give me patience and an eternal perspective that would govern well my choices today, and in all the days that follow.” The juxtaposition in the land of the living is repositioning yourself in time, living both in the present and the future. To believe that the goodness is coming now and also not coming until later. The goodness is the promise God gives to us and also the goodness is that God is here with us at all. Of course, it’s possible that the promise will be fulfilled, but Hebrews reminds us that there is still goodness, even if the promised land is never reached.


As you revisit your fears from week one, I want you to think about if they’ve changed. Has nuclear war entered the list? Has a previous fear abated? As the list grows in front of your mind’s eye, what do you make of the declaration that you will see goodness in the land of the living? Sometimes, confidence in the face of fear isn’t enough. We still have our habits based in fear. We can be confident in our voices and not confident in our actions. We can be too scared to trust completely.

As we end our journey through Sure, go in peace knowing that you will see goodness in this life, expected or unexpected. When we wait on the Lord, taking our time walking on the path laid out for us, despite all the evidence to the contrary, all of the wars and the disappointments and the liars, there will still be goodness to be seen in the land of the living. It is already a miracle to be here and I believe that more miracles are on the way for us. I’m not sure how it’s possible knowing all we do about the world. Somehow, the confidence remains.

Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota and sells poetry art here. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Like him on Facebook or follow him on Instagram and Goodreads.

Towards a Collective Weight: Ash Wednesday 2022

Content Warning: This post contains descriptions of a school shooting.

On Ash Wednesday, Christians around the world commemorate the many prophetic verses throughout the Bible that remind us we are formed from ash and will return to ash. It is a call to remember how fickle life is and how dependent we are on God for the very breath in our lungs. This year, coming off a deadly pandemic turned perpetually endemic, facing a continuing and worsening refugee crisis in Europe, and reading new reports on the spiraling climate crisis, it is not difficult to place myself in the mindset of human mortality. We are creatures designed to die. As I have contemplated the end of the world multiple times throughout these last few years, I have found myself calling out for miracles. Miracles for healing, equity, justice. Miracles for restoration and peace. As I have called out for miracles, I’ve heard something in an answer: look around.

The end has always been coming. Before we were alive we were dust. After we live, we will be returned to dust. The transformation from our natural state of dust to this breathing life was never a guarantee. The beginning then, the fact that we’re here at all that we breathe for even a moment, is the miracle.

There’s a temptation here I can quickly turn to if I’m not careful. If all of this is turning to ash, if the beginning is the miracle, what is the point of bothering to fix anything, to waste our precious gifted days by looking towards a better tomorrow?

In many Christian traditions, a focus of Ash Wednesday is on our individual sins that brought Jesus to the cross and hung and nailed him to the wood. I have many Christian friends who reject this notion of personal sin because of the faith they have inherited from their churches who asked them to live in the shame of their sin rather than accept the freedom of the cross. The widespread failure of the church to damn shame instead of gifting mercy is a worthy topic outside the scope of this post.

Instead, many of these Christ followers conceptualize the cross as forgiveness for the systematic, communal sins in which we all play a part. Things like racism and war and homophobia. These sins have, especially in recent years, become contested and hotly debated about whether or not they exist and how we should, if at all, respond to them. Yet, if we take ourselves back to the garden origin myth in Genesis 3, we can see both types of sin right from the very beginning. There is personal sin in the decision of both earthlings to eat the forbidden fruit, and the personal shame they each feel in their nakedness (6-7) and the fingers they point at God and each other to alleviate their guilt (12). But there is also the systemic, relational sin that develops. Their relationships to each other are marred by shame and they become fearful of God (8-11). The punishment God doles out is not individual; it is communal. The systems, the very earth and its mechanisms and the people are cursed (14-19). While I still maintain the perspective of individual sin, for I have, even now, rejoiced in the alleviating of burden and shame, I have also tucked this gift of institutional sin inside.


I’ve mentioned this before in this space but many years ago a childhood friend mine walked into his high school with a gun and killed someone. In the aftermath of that horrific act of individual sin and brokenness, the community turned on the shooter and his family. This was their fault. The shooter made a decision to grab a gun and go into his classroom and pull the trigger. His family gave him access to a gun and failed to prevent this act of violence from happening. There is truth in both of these statements. What the community did not do, or at least, what I did not bear witness to, was looking into itself. No one thought about the words we use to speak to each other, tearing each other down everyday in the hallway of that school, on our social media feeds, and in our homes. We’d never walk into a school and shoot someone, but we tell one another that a life is a waste of space, that a person’s political opinion lessens the value of their humanity. I remember very vividly multiple conversations with moms in this community who said their child didn’t need to go to therapy or get on medications for depression and anxiety because the Lord would cure them or because they “didn’t believe in all that” or because they thought it was shameful to have a problem. Of course, having a mental illness was also not a reason to shoot someone. The shooter should have gotten help and the family should have done more to get him the help he needed. The mentally ill in this community are judged when they get help and exiled when they don’t.

Don’t misunderstand me: the shooter is responsible for his actions. His family may also carry some responsibility. But I think, if we might be really honest with ourselves, we might be a tiny bit at fault too. If it takes a village to raise a child, maybe it takes a village to break a child too. Ash Wednesday is a holiday for sobering revelations about our inequities.

As we look across the world, and we frame this life as a miracle that has been given to us, I wonder if we should feel some burden to steward our gift well, not just in our own individual lives, but also in the ways that our lives intersect. I wonder if we might look at our relationships today and our opinions about the world and the chaos that surrounds us and, just for one moment, think about how we as a body of people have contributed.

When we look at Ukraine, maybe we look for a moment at the wars our own country has fought and the civilians and people we have killed to achieve our own goals. When we look at COVID, maybe we think about the political party statements we have cosigned before we have grieved with those who lost something they cannot replace. We are all connected, seven billion people spinning on a rock that will turn to dust.

Even now, even in the dustiness of it all, in the futility and the mortality, in my shame both individual and collective, I am reminded that the miracle is existing here at all and that is a miracle never promised to me.

As we journey together through 40 long days of lent before the miraculous arrival of spring and life anew, I hope you can remember that none of this matters: Our allegiances to nations that will crumble, our identities as intangible politics, our lives which were spun from dirt and which will be returned to dirt. I hope you remember that because those things do not matter, each gift of a day does. Each breath is a chance to make the kind of world we long to see. May we be the peacemakers and prison shakers. May we enjoy our wives and steward creation. May we repent of our individual and our systemic sins. May we look towards the horizon of bleak nothingness with wonder, awed and humbled that we could be here for even one moment at all.

Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota and sells poetry art here. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Like him on Facebook or follow him on Instagram and Goodreads.

Walking a Level Path

Background Photo by Josh Boot on Unsplash

Read Psalm 27:7-12

After a long and unexpected break due to a whirlwind of work activities, I’m back to finish our series on Psalm 27. Thanks for your patience!

During the first week of Sure we talked about being afraid and during the second week we talked about being brave by staying hidden. This week, I want to talk about how long it can take to see a victory.

In January, a lot of people, in the spirit of the New Year, complete what’s called “Dry January,” a month long abstinence from alcohol. This exercise in restraint is very different from sobriety. Sobriety, as any addict will tell you, is a lifelong process. When you’re addicted to something, a little bit can go a long and dangerous way. The mantra you hear in movie portals of recovery groups sounds something like this: “My name is such and such and I’m an addict.” The framing is always present tense, no matter how long the character has been sober.

I am an addict. Never I was an addict. I am.

Addiction never goes away. If you aren’t careful, if you indulge for just a minute or two, it’s prepared to come back in full force. This is why getting sober is so hard and relapse is so common. It’s also why addiction is so frustrating to those outside the addiction. All the person has to do is stop. Why can’t they? It’s hard, if not impossible to fully understand, if you haven’t been through it.

Perhaps the easiest way to explain addiction is like an itch that never goes away. Each day is filled with hours which is filled which minutes which is filled with seconds which is filled with milliseconds and all of those units of time itch. Choosing to get sober isn’t the hardest part of sobriety, it’s staying sober despite the weight of those itches every single moment of every single day. It’s choosing in every single itchy moment, not to scratch. With time and new habits, the itch fades. It gets weak. But it never goes away completely. If you stretch out just one finger to scratch, the dormant itch erupts. Sobriety is a long road that must be walked level. One unlevel step and the dam breaks.


As I read through this passage of Psalm 27, I hear a lot of longing, I hear yet another prayer of juxtaposition. The Lord adopts us as a good shepherd when our parents die (verse 10) but we find ourselves anxious for the Lord’s attention as a God who might be mad at us (verses 7-9). The psalmist is in a tug of war against themselves, their own doubt and their own confidence, and also in a tug of war against the weight of their missteps and the blindly loving faithfulness of God.

The psalmist is at once confident victory will come and worried that in the peak of their vulnerability, God might leave. They speak of abandonment, the fear of being left and also of the confidence that even then, God won’t leave. The tension is real for the psalmist because for them, even after boasting in this victory, the enemy doesn’t leave. The enemy is always there waiting to breathe something violent down your neck.

In his liturgy for one battling a destructive desire, Douglas Kaine McKelvey writes, “Let me build then, my King, a beautiful thing built by long obedience.” McKelvey recognizes the length of sobriety, of battling the flesh. Obedience begets the beauty we long to seek, but the beauty only comes after the long road of obedience. In short, there is no quick fix in life. No shortcut to the promised land. No belief without doubt. No level road to walk without faltering.

The key to getting sober is sometimes the key to relapsing. Only by understanding what triggers your addictions can you learn to overcome them. Only by breaking your old habits can you make new ones.

As the psalmist battles anxiety and doubt while simultaneously claiming confidence and joy, I think about the long wait we take oftentimes to reach goodness. I think about the intentionality of being set on a level path, a razor’s edge away from falling off into the violent mouths of my enemy. I think about the vulnerability to be pushed off, to relapse, to fall. I think about long obedience and making the choice to press on.

As you walk through this week, may you breathe in the same breath “Oh heart, seek God’s face” and “Oh God, do not hide your face from me.” And, when you inevitably stumble off the level, narrow path, may God grant you the grace and strength to climb back on.

SAMHSA offers confidential, free, 24/7/365 help to get sober. You can call them at 1-800-662-4357 or by learning more here.

Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota and sells poetry art here. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Like him on Facebook or follow him on Instagram and Goodreads.

A Way to be Brave

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Background Photo by Josh Boot on Unsplash

Read Psalm 27:4-6

Last week, we talked about what we were scared of. We named the things, the people, the situations that shrivel us up in fear. This week, I want to talk about stepping into fear in the confidence of bravery. But probably not the bravery you’re used to.

When I think of bravery, two paths come to mind. The first is a confident kind of bravery. This is the kind we see most often when we watch tv or movies, or what we read about in books. Typically, there’s some kind of prophecy, some kind of assurance that a hero is the hero. They may lose hope in the beginning or harbor some doubt, but, eventually, we see their bravery manifested in their claiming of victory. They grip their sword tighter, embrace their powers, upgrade the super suit, and they charge headfirst and fearless into the victory they believe they can achieve.

The second is what the psalmist writes in this week’s passage. I want you to picture your favorite, bravest hero. Mine, at least at the moment, is probably Shang-Chi. What’s their epic moment of victory? For me, it’s when Shang-Chi rises from the dead on the back of a dragon, dripping wet and ready for battle. He assures his victory and restores peace to Ta Lo. Whatever moment it is for you, I want you to reimagine it as though the psalmist has written it as they have in verses 4-6.

Your hero, instead of charging into the bloodshed of battle, asks to “live in the house of the Lord” and “behold the beauty.” There are no dragons or wands, no mystic rings or robotic suits. Right after the music swells and your protagonist has declared their confidence in winning a war, they wax poetic about their longing to stare at something beautiful, to dwell in a peaceful house as a beloved. They go on to win the war, but here’s how they do so: by being hidden. At the peak of the action, the height of the danger, your so-called hero hides in a shelter, is concealed under a tent. And then, when the enemies have fallen and the victory for your character is attained, they emerge from their hideout and sacrifice an animal, sing simple songs of praise.

How much money do you think Disney is going to make off of that movie? How many action figures of that protagonist do you think are going to sell? On both paths of bravery, the main character has an enemy, in both cases the enemy falls and the hero claims victory, but only one of them is an exciting story. Only one of them feels brave. If I were to ask you to characterize a leader who at the peak of their crisis, hid in a cave, would the first word that comes to mind be brave? Or would it be cowardice?

Psalm 27 is asking us to be brave, but it’s asking us to be brave in a counter-cultural way. It’s asking us to be brave by fleeing, asking us to lead by submitting.

As you reflect on your list of fears from last week, think about what it might mean to face them by being hidden from them. What might it look like to be so dependent on God that when everything is as bad as it could possibly get and everyone is looking at you to do something, you embrace a hug and wait for the storm to pass?

And when it does pass, how do you think you will react? Will you throw your hands up in ecstatic victory? Or will you bow your head and slaughter a lamb?


As I look around our current Church, I see many brave Christians. I see people suiting up for battle and chopping off heads and cussing each other out in comment threads. I see them claim the victory they know is coming, and I see them proudly wipe their brow with sweat when they’re done. I see this in myself.

Earlier this month I watched someone I’ll call Lisa, a Christian influencer on Twitter, reply to a gay pastor and influencer, who I’ll call Michael, denouncing him for his sin. She suits up for battle and quotes Romans 1 at him (an attack he never saw coming, I’m sure). He responds and she blocks him. He blocks her back. Now his followers (including me) and her followers are fighting. Everyone’s competing in all out war. We’re all trying to be right, to save souls, to profess our faith.

When I take off my helmet at the end of the day, like I’ve done so many times before, I’m reminded yet again how worthless it feels. I never feel like I’ve won. I also don’t feel like I’ve lost. I just feel like we all got really bloody, threw a lot of punches, and are now headed home much more sore than when we left. The battle line hasn’t moved a centimeter. No progress; just bodies. I see everyone – Lisa, Michael, myself, being brave in this story. I see us fighting for truth and for mercy and for rightness. But I see three people on a battlefield, each of them prominent. I don’t see anyone hiding.

Of course, these battles happen outside of the Church too. We see this in Christians suiting up to do battle for their political agenda. We see them cussing out non-Christians, slaying government leaders, pointing swords at the throats of their enemies and declaring victory in God’s name.

Make no mistake, we do see battles in the Bible. We hear of violence and war. But when I think about victory in the Bible, I think first of David felling Goliath with a tiny rock. To be honest, he does wind up decapitating the giant and parading it around on a stick (at least that’s how I picture it), but the peak moment of conflict is really quite boring. The giant is only decapitated after he’s dead. That isn’t the victory; him falling is.

I also think about how the walls of Jericho collapse. They don’t fall over after repeated hits from a catapult. They fall after some marching and trumpet blowing. Again, destruction comes. There’s massive bloodshed and looting. But again, the height of the moment, the actual victory, comes from something quite bland.

If your fears are these large and esoteric theological questions, your charge to save the human race, can you, just in the quietness of your own self, ask if God is asking you to decapitate your enemies while they are breathing? Or is God asking you to hide? Is God telling you to surrender? To fling a little worthless stone as you charge against a giant? To blow into a mouthpiece while a fortress mocks you?

And, perhaps even more importantly, is your primary goal not to win, but to dwell in the house of the Lord forever? To want to see beauty more than you want to see the victory?

I’m asking myself these questions too. I can only hope that the confidence we harbor in victory is equal to the confidence we harbor in grace. As we fight against ourselves, each other, and the demons we face daily, I wonder if we might one day be brave enough to hide at the peak of our vulnerability. I wonder if when we win, we might sing a simple song of joy before we boast. I wonder if we might try to seek the beauty before we seek the victory.


Scripture quotations are based on the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota and sells poetry art here. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Like him on Facebook or follow him on Instagram and Goodreads.

Whom then?

Background Photo by Josh Boot on Unsplash

Week One: Whom then?

Read Psalms 27:1-3

As I read through the first part of Psalms 27, I am struck by the question the psalmist asks. If the Lord is my light and my salvation, whom then shall I fear? If the Lord is light, then surely I cannot fear the dark. If the Lord is my salvation, then surely I cannot fear the pits of hell, or that which is produced by it. As we dive into this new series on assurance and confidence in the face of fear and destruction, I want us to think about the things which make us afraid because, if I’m honest, these passages feel nice, like something I would embroider on a hand towel or superimpose on a poster in my living room. I can believe that the Lord is light so long as I don’t dwell too long on the scary things in the dark that I am afraid of. What I don’t want us to do is build up a false confidence, an assurance that is forged through apathy and ignorance. So, before you read these passages again, I want you to really think about whom it is you fear. What is it that you are afraid of?

Consequently, who are the enemies in your life that God promises you will be felled? What war is rising up against you that will not touch you, despite how close it will get?


Often, when we think of fear, we think of our biggest fears, our phobias. We think about the quickening of our heartbeat when we see a spider, the tightness in our chest when we look down from a great height. We think about the drop of our stomach when the number of your child’s school flashes across the screen of your phone. These are big and worthy fears.

I want us to also think about our small fears, though. I want us to think about our pervasive fears. Our fears born of habit and monotony. The fears we whisper to ourselves in our own throats and our own minds.

Personally, I’m not sure I can remember the last lasting time I wasn’t afraid. Just prior to sitting down to write the first draft of this I had read and prayed through the daily Common Prayer liturgy. Part of our daily reading was to finish Genesis 8, a chapter we had been in. I was struck by how it ended. Noah, his family, and a host of animals, have been riding in an ark across the flooded earth (it doesn’t matter in this space if you regard this story as historical history or cultural history). The Lord makes a promise in verses 21 and 22:

“The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in (Their) heart: ‘Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

 ‘As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.'”

Genesis 8:21-22 NIV

I would feel better about these verses in the midst of my fear if I looked around the world and saw things to fear that God was afflicting on the world. But I don’t. As I take inventory of the things I am afraid of in this moment, it is not things of God at all but things that people have done to the world and to each other. At the heart of most of my fears, I think, is a fear of others.


I am afraid of a world that is ending, crumbling under the weight of residents who do not care what they do. I am afraid of guns which are carried by people who can hate as fiercely as they can love. I am afraid of a virus in the lungs of my neighbor.

I am also afraid of the loss of people, that when my roommate moves away in a few short months, nothing will be the same. I am afraid that my college friends will one day grow roots and they won’t need each other anymore and we will no longer be friends. I am afraid of what social media guru, musician, and TikTok influencer Lacy Abercrombie called “the greatest of the Enemy’s lies” in a recent video on addition: if someone knew me, really knew me, they would have no choice but to flee in revulsion.

And when I am really truly honest, which I do try to be in this space, I am afraid also of myself. I am fearful of my skin and what it can do to someone, scared of making the world less habitable than more. I am scared of my own apathy which festers more often than courage. It is perhaps apathy I fear the most. Apathy does nothing, is nothing, but it is easy. If two people walk over a pit of snakes, we may be tempted to call them brave (or perhaps reckless or stupid) but if one does not care if they live or die, does not care about the dangers of snakes, this is not really assured confidence despite the outward outcomes looking the same.

This week, spend some time getting uncomfortable. What scares you? Who scares you? What do you need trampled? And then ask yourself if a God who is unending light and salvation can step between you and the things you fear.

Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota and sells poetry art here. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Like him on Facebook or follow him on Instagram and Goodreads.

My 5 Best Books of 2021


The year 2021 ended about how she began – grim and tragic with the loss of the iconic Betty White. It’s important to note, though, that there was good too, which so often gets swept up underneath the endless current of loss. Racial justice was delivered in key court cases, vaccines were deployed across the world, and people reconnected with their families, friends, and the tiny and big worlds around them.

As we settle in to a new variant and the increasing effects of climate change, we must also remember the good: the people we love and who, miraculously, love us; the days we fill; the nights we pass with closed eyes and open dreams. Wherever 2022 takes you, know you are loved. Without further pleasantries, here are the five best books I read this year (and if you need even more, check out my 10 best books of the decade):

#5: The Girl Without Skin by Mads Peder Nordbo

Nordbo delivers Nordic murder at its finest. In front of an empty, arctic landscape, a Viking is unearthed next to the flayed body of a Greenland police officer. Full of removed organs, deep character development, and a conspiracy theory that bends and almost breaks, The Girl Without Skin will spark your next murder-mystery obsession. Journalist Matthew Cave and his not quite sidekick convicted murderer Tupaarnaq prove compelling characters to follow into the icy abyss.

P.S. the sequel, Cold Fear, is equally incredible.

#4: Fossil Men: The Quest for the Oldest Skeleton and the Origins of Humankind by Kermit Pattison

The most basal question of who we are is where did we come from? Pattison’s hefty exploration seeks to not only answer that question but also to understand who the men are behind the iconic skeletons like Lucy and Ardi. At a time when science sentiment has never been so hostile, and science literacy has never been so sparse, Pattison reminds us that all true things start with complicated people, nestled within their contexts of fierce global politics, NSF funding, and the ego of self and country. A gripping book of non-fiction, Pattison delivers an intriguing and accurate description of humankind’s genesis and an unflinching portrayal of the messy men who unearth it.

#3: Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Sometimes people make mistakes, sometimes people fall in love. Mostly, people are just really anxious. Set on a bridge, in a hostage room, and inside a therapist’s office, nothing is quite as it seems in this conceptually simple, pragmatically complex book about anxious people in a terrible situation (by which I mean life). Backman retains his place as one of the world’s most compelling authors in his latest attempt. Plus, when you finish the book you can catch the Netflix adaption out just a few days ago.

#2: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

You’ve most likely read this already but if you, like me, get a little nervous about universally loved books, exit out of this post and add this to your cart immediately. If you’ve already read this, but haven’t read by #2 pick from last year, The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd, it’s time to pick that one up. In Miller’s most iconic work to date, the demi-God Achilles finds a breathtaking and heartbreaking path with his other half, the awkward prince Patroclus. Told in achingly poignant detail, the two warriors battle for control of the ancient world, and the fates that control them. This novel will leave you soaring and sobbing.

#1: Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy

It’s a bit shocking to me I only read this book this year considering how many times I’ve recommended it to others. In fact, when a dear colleague unexpectedly resigned earlier this year, this book was the only gift I could think of suitable to thank her. McConaghy’s international debut blends suspense, literary fiction, cli-fi, and feminist manifesto into a novel that erratically approaches the end of the world. Franny Stone is dangerous. Franny Stone is collected. Franny Stone is trying to document the last migration of the Arctic terns amidst a dying world and a hostile academy. This book broke me open to the marrow – and carefully reminded me that it is sometimes the most broken parts of ourselves that shine the most beautifully. A triumph plain and true.

Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota and sells poetry art here. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Like him on Facebook or follow him on Instagram and Goodreads.


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