Missional Church: A Paper Revolution

It started with a few pieces of construction paper.

If you’ve been following my blog at all over the past few months, you know that Amy and I recently moved our family from Southern Colorado, where we planted a church eight years ago, to Portland, Oregon. Though we’re still doing ministry, it’s a completely different kind of work. Now we’re at a 133-year-old church in the heart of the city. The facility is incredible and the history of the church spans generations. But with that comes a good deal more administrative work than either of us is used to.

We found a preschool for Zoe right away. In fact, the first day she told us that we needed to leave and let her do her school thing. She’s the kind of kid who blooms wherever she’s planted. Mattias, our eight-year-old son, is a little more complicated. Aside from him having Asperger’s, the schools here don’t get out for a couple of weeks yet. This means not only that he has no other kids his age to play with, but also that the typical summer activities we could enroll him in don’t start until mid-June. The result: he gets to spend some pretty long days with us at the church.

Most times, he makes the best of it. He’s figured out how to navigate the labyrinthine halls by scooter, and he has plowed through more cartoons on the iPad than is healthy, I’m sure. But we have to work and we have no other options for him. So far, we’ve all managed.

But yesterday afternoon, he’d had enough. He looked up from his chair on the other side of Amy’s desk with tears filling his eyes. “Mom,” he said quietly, “I’m so bored.” There are plenty of adjectives that describe Mattias, but quiet isn’t one of them. So you know when his voice reduces to a whisper, he is really being sincere.

Amy came down and stuck her head around the corner into my office. “We’re going across the street to throw paper airplanes in the park, she said. “want to come?”

Image by Feng Yu/Shutterstock.

Princess Pop Tarts and LEGO Waffles: The Dangers of Marketing Food to Children

There is a dangerous marketing strategy when it comes to food and our children. No, it’s not “sugar” or “fat” or even promotions of “low sugar” or “low fat."

Most of the food-marketing ploys aimed at kids are contributing to the soaring rate of obesity.

Here’s why, and here’s why it is so personal to me.

I’ve told my story many times of how I struggled with being overweight as a child and teen.  The problem wasn’t “baby fa," it was the freedom I had to eat O’Henry bars and ice cream on a daily basis at my grandparents' house. How fun!! Weekly visits to Bullwinkles (does anyone else remember that place?) and McDonald’s made eating exciting!

Back in the 1970’s and '80’s, marketing food to children as entertainment was only making its debut. Now, it’s a multi-billion dollar industry that’s derailing healthy lifestyle patterns for our kids right before our eyes. And we’re OK with that?

Protecting Children From Gun Violence

Handgun image, Nomad_Soul /

Handgun image, Nomad_Soul /

All children growing up in poverty are noble, beautiful flowers growing through cracks in concrete sidewalks. They are vulnerable to the frost of hunger, the hard rains of sickness, and the crushing footsteps of violence.

Marian Wright Edelman and the Children's Defense Fund remind us in Protect Children Not Guns 2012 that 5,740 children and teens were killed by guns in 2008 and 2009.

Those children would have filled 229 public school classrooms of 25 students each. Because of gun violence, desks now sit empty that might have held the next great scientist or writer or parent for the world.

A Decade After War, Sierra Leone Still Struggling to Find Peace

In the aftermath of former Liberian president, Charles Taylor's conviction for war crimes this week, author Greg Campbell writes for The Atlantic that the children of neighboring Sierra Leone still suffer in abject poverty:

Ten years after the end of Sierra Leone's bloody civil war over control of its diamond fields, children as young as 3 years old continue to toil in its mines, hoping at best to earn a few pennies for food in a country still wracked by extreme poverty.

Read his full piece here

Tackling Hunger a Moral, Security, Economic Imperative

Washington Post Ad

Washington Post Ad

This weekend, amid key discussions on the future of Afghanistan and media attention on the strained relationship between the United States and Pakistan, members of the Group of Eight (G8) announced its commitment to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition which will seek to “lift 50 million people out of poverty over the next 10 years through inclusive and sustained agricultural growth.”

In a speech given at the Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security last Friday (May 18), President Barack Obama laid out his vision for what the Alliance could achieve, in co-operation with the private and non-profit sectors, in terms of seeing global hunger eradicated in the next decade.

And we are not going to let him forget this moral duty.

Motherly-ness: Shaping a Woman's Soul

Mary, Mother of God. Image via Wylio/

Mary, Mother of God. Image via Wylio/

A few years ago, I guest-lectured in a Women’s Studies class at Bethel University. My topic was How Motherhood Shapes a Woman’s Soul, but I ended up talking more about how motherhood sort of mirrors God, how being a mom (or hearing from moms) helps us understand God, his relentless love, his willingness to forgive and his patience with the whiney little complainers that we are.

Frankly, I was amazed at how engaged the women (and man) in the class were. I’m used to talking about issues maternal, but usually it’s to moms. Not to 21-year-old college seniors. But either these students were actually interested or exceptionally polite. I prefer to assume the former. After my lecture, we even had a lively round of Q&A. They asked lots of great questions, but two have really stayed with me.

The first that stuck was: “Why would anyone want to have kids?”

And the other was: “Why haven’t we ever heard this before? Why is it that I’ve gone to church my whole life and never once heard that moms might have special insight into God that should be shared?”

The first question made me laugh (and made me realize perhaps I ought to be guest-lecturing in abstinence classes!). The second question made me want to cry.

A Hundred Hidden Kisses (Day Five)

Photo via Christian Piatt

Zoe found some eggs in the hen house this morning. She smiles at the and the eggs just pop right out. Photo via Christian Piatt

We headed west toward Las Vegas this morning; chasing daylight toward the coast, leaving the kids in the care of grandma and grandpa.

I’ll give you one guess to figure out which one of us had a harder time leaving.

Personally, I know they’re safe at the farm, and they’ll have a lot more fun there than they would with us, driving a couple thousand miles over the next two weeks. Of course I’ll miss them, but I’ve also been looking forward to some “grown-up” time for a while. More specifically, this trip is not something most people ever get to do, let alone parents of two young kids.

And before we get to Portland and take our positions in the Big Kid Church, this is our chance to be a little bit irresponsible and childish. We can stay up late if we want. I can eat 12 Slim Jims for lunch if the mood strikes— though to be honest, the white stuff you squeeze out of those things turned me off of Slim Jims decades ago.

But I could if I wanted.

Mother's Week: Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne's Lace image by Kevin H Knuth /Shutterstock.

Queen Anne's Lace image by Kevin H Knuth /Shutterstock.

Mother’s Day and today is a celebration of the role of my maternal life, a role that has proved to be more satisfying and blessed, which is closer to my heart, than writing or art or friendship or even marriage. The work and longing of a life-time, almost, has been invested in my children — the beings who had their start like seeds in my own body, who have bloomed and flourished, who overcame barriers and difficulties caused by my own parental inexperience or ignorance, who grew as I grew, who now have lives of significance, who are learning along with their own offspring, much as I did but in a far more swiftly changing world.

So there were pleasurable moments as I heard from all five individually. And flowers — yellow daisies and Queen Anne’s lace from Robin, my eldest. (It’s a favorite flower for us both. She and I remember back to her wedding to Mark, on an island in an Illinois forest preserve, when her wedding bouquet was made of those white lacy flowerets, exploding like fireworks.) I hope to use those delicate flowers as objects to write about when I talk about poetry at an elementary school next week.

Hearts in the Trash (Day Two)

The Piatt Prius, overloaded. Photo by Christian Piatt.

The Piatt Prius, overloaded. Photo by Christian Piatt.

It turns out that packing all the belongings you need for at least three months into the back of a Prius is a challenge. Of course, being a guy it’s the kind of challenge that makes life worth living. Anyone who has ever been a Tetris junkie can appreciate the exhilaration of fitting forty-seven differently shaped items into a space made for about half the volume. Yes, I had to jump up and down on the back hatch, and several keepsakes are undoubtedly smashed beyond recognition. But by God, I got it all in there.

While I was basking in the glory of being a master packer, my family was busy feeling. Amy kept up her “four cries an hour” regimen, while three-year-old Zoe melted down whenever she realized this toy or that piece of furniture was not going with us after all. It’s a strange feeling, leaving most of our valuables behind, but for me, it’s kind of liberating. I love the idea of grabbing what I can carry and heading west until I reach the edge of the earth.

Apparently my family doesn’t share the same romantic bug. They like stability.

“This is the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere,” said Amy, wiping tears aside. “This is home.”

“Yeah, but we’re taking home with us,” I said, trying in vain to employ the typically male strategy of emotional deflection.

“Taking it where?”

“Good question.”

Stuffed Cows and the Self-Imposed Cost of Free Grace

Cow image by smereka /

Cow image by smereka /

Each of us is our own worst enemy at one time or another. My eight-year-old son, Mattias, takes himself to the mat more often, and more violently, than most.

My wife and I recently accepted a call to pastor a historic church in downtown Portland. When we told the kids, Mattias – my beloved resident Aspie – would go from unhinged excitement one moment, followed by tearful preemptive mourning the next. Kids like Mattias tend to have more dramatic mood swings than average, and pressure just amplifies the swings.

We took a trip to meet the congregation as an opportunity to show the kids around and sell them on the idea of their new home. The beach is a little more than an hour from Portland, so we took them out to the coast for lunch one afternoon. After searching for sand dollars for half an hour under an unforgiving canopy of clouds, we all agreed that a visit to the arcade on the main drag would be a welcome relief from the cool ocean wind.