My church let me preach another sermon. Here it is.


Tanner-the-anunciation-mary

Believe it or not, even after preaching my first real sermon ever, my church let me preach again. All jokes aside, I had the honor of preaching this past Sunday as part of our Advent series.

The text is Luke 1:26-38, the moment in the life of Jesus known as The Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will give birth to Jesus. Cameos in the sermon include Mary, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Barth, the podcast Serial, racism, white privilege, and the story of everything. Here’s the audio:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast here.
Continue reading

Advent, Angst, & Ferguson


Rothko-9-White-Black-Wine-1958
When my phone started blowing up with notifications about the Ferguson grand jury decision, I was in a daze. I grabbed my pipe, poured the biggest single glass of whiskey I’ve ever had, and sat in my backyard in tears, alternating between retweeting others’ comments on the case and just staring at the sky. I watched and heard the helicopters above as they watched the Philadelphia protests below, mere blocks from my house.

I think part of my response was because of where my mind had been in the days leading up to the decision.

I recently pored over Cornel West’s biography and watched 12 Years a Slave. As the weather has gotten colder, the city’s marginalized and homeless have become more noticeable. An organization whose heart is in the right place, and who I otherwise love, put out some promotional materials that unintentionally showcased the degree to which racism and power structures are so ingrained and so unconscious. Last Sunday, I watched as Rudy Giuliani went shockingly racist on Meet The Press (what he said is wrong, by the way). For school, I watched a presentation on the Civil Right’s movement, and also read King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail. 

And then the grand jury came back. No indictment.
Continue reading

My Day with Cornel West (or rather, his autobiography)


Cornel-WestIf you know who Cornel West is, I’m pretty confident in saying that what you think you know about him is probably wrong, or at best, dramatically incomplete. If you don’t know who he is, then you should.

For my current class on Leadership, I had to pick an autobiography of a leader whose perspective on faith and life is probably dramatically different than my own. The book I chose was Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud. 

My own anxiety and compulsivity make it difficult for me to read for long stretches of time. I can usually only read one thing for ten or fifteen minutes before having to bounce my mind to something else or change up what I’m reading. But, due to my own procrastination and inefficiency with time, I came to the day before my paper was due not having opened up the nearly-300-page tome.

And so I did what needed to be done. I left my electronics at home and brought nothing but the book to a nearby Starbucks. I got a cup of coffee, turned on a Jazz radio station on my phone, settled into a couch, and read the entire thing.

Continue reading

Rhythms of Faith & Freedom


schrott-bibles-paul-coffee

I’m currently reading through Ruth Haley Barton’s Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. Occasionally, I’ll post reflections on my reading.

One big strength of this particular book on cultivating one’s spiritual existence is that it’s focus is entirely on the spiritual life as a response to what God has been doing. Most books focus more on the stuff you’re “supposed” to do. Some slightly betters ones spend their time unpacking and expressing the “beauties of the Gospel” (as they pretty narrowly, individualistically, and Evangelically define it) and then trust that these intellectual ideas and truths woo us and turn our “affections” to God. These are the same people that often see “preaching the Gospel to yourself” as the panacea for everything, be it doubt, fear, confusion, theological questions, or mental health issues.

Barton, however, comes at it from a different angle. She uses the story of Moses as a picture and type for the dance that exists between God and his people. And at each stage of Moses’ life and deepening of his calling and relating to God, she shows how God has actually been at work to, for, and with Moses long before this moment ever came.

So it’s not, “God died for you, so you can live for him!”, or, “See how beautiful God is and all the things he’s done for you! Now doesn’t that make you want to engage with him? (And if it doesn’t, there’s something fundamentally wrong with you.)”
Continue reading

The Refuge of the Embattled Soul


paul-dano-12-03
I’m currently reading through Ruth Haley Barton’s Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. Occasionally, I’ll post reflections on my reading.

“Reach the campus, reach the world.”

That’s how they got me. With those words, I began an amazing three years in the campus ministry I was a part of throughout college. I was coming out of a fundamentalist evangelical fog, and was desperate for deep, impactful community. I found it in those incredible people.

They had pointed out that our college had students from almost every “closed nation” in the world (countries where missionaries aren’t allowed to go). The campus was a place of such diversity and nationalities; the thought was that this was the most strategic place to have the most global Christian impact. Playing a part in this excited me and stirred me to serve in this mission.

Compared to the few-hundred strong InterVarsity, our little band of 12 or so students were the definite underdogs of campus ministry. We were just starting out and decided to go legitimate and become an official student organization. This would give us access to room and equipment rentals, money, and advertising resources. But we needed “officers” and a board of leaders to do this.

I thus became the President of our campus ministry.
Continue reading

Cultivating Your Soul to Lead


paul-art-wingI’m currently reading through Ruth Haley Barton’s Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. Occasionally, I’ll post reflections on my reading.

In my seminary program, there’s a lot of talk about one’s “True Self”. We live so much of our existence living from the place of masks, coping mechanisms, fears, anxieties, etc.–our “False Selves”. Articulating it like this is so helpful in some ways, but in others can be frustrating.

At least for me, this “True Self” seems so deeply inside of me, so elusive, that I’ve very much resigned myself to never actually knowing this self. Like a celebrity or historical figure, I’ve had to learn to live with the reality that I’ll never actually meet this person, no matter how much I may want to. I’ve come to terms with a reality in which I just need to be gracious with myself (just as God is) that most all of my life and existence will be more “False” than “True”, and I just need to make the best out of that.
Continue reading

My first Sunday Morning Sermon. I’d like to share it with you.


paul-liberti-sermon-preachingSure, I’ve done some lectures, taught some classes, led a home group, and preached a sermon in a seminary class, but I’ve long believed that there was something truly sacred and “other” about preaching to a church family in a gathered worship service. And it’s something I had never done.

I’ve always been an over-zealous guy, and very wise leaders have pulled the leash on me, telling me to just sit and watch for a while, until the time was right to put me in front. This has continued through my life at my church in Philly, as they’ve slowly discipled me and loosened the leash bit by bit in service to our people.

Well this past week I had the honor of preaching my first Sunday morning sermon to my church family. It felt good and I myself experienced such a grace and blessing in preparing for it and offering it to my brothers and sisters. And so, I’d like to share it with all of you as well.

It’s the final sermon in our series “Finding Freedom” that went through the Ten Commandments. The text is Matthew 7:13-29, the very end of the Sermon on the Mount. Here’s the audio:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast here.
Continue reading

A Baby Step Against My Latent Racism (And Maybe Yours?)


client-coffee-hands-bwI know, I know. One of the worst types of writing there is in the world is a white person writing about their discovery that they are privileged and this is deeply engrained. I know. This post isn’t that, I promise. Just stay with me for a little bit.

Having worked in social work for a little over five years now, I’ve grown in my understanding that racism is about a whole lot more than individuals feeling an active, conscious dislike of someone just because of their race. It’s structural, cultural, political, economic, and systemic.

(Still, I’ve really missed this at times, and old habits and ways of thinking die hard. I’m really, really sorry for that.)

Recently, I had the honor to speak at one of my church’s ministries for those in homelessness. Afterward, I walked around saying hello to the almost-exclusively black crowd there. As I made eye contact with different people, I would offer a smile to them and give them as warm of a look as I could. I did really feel a genuine warmth and love for this group.

And yet, I started feeling this…thing…within me. As I gave my smiles away to the crowd, I realized that this was a problem. I was giving my smiles to them. Something in me felt as if I, as a privileged white male, was “serving” these people by “granting” or “bestowing” upon them affection. Does this make sense? Do you see the problem?
Continue reading

Hey Church Planters! A Quick Question for you.


As part of my seminary program, I’m currently in an Urban Church Planting class. As an assignment, I’m supposed to ask you all:

What are some things you wish you had known before planting, or things you wish you had done differently?

A penny for your thoughts? Please also include your church’s name and your position there.

A Sermon I Got to Preach on Isaiah 61 [VIDEO]


Believe it or not, I don’t really have much experience at all in preaching. Yeah, I’ve spoken and “preached” at some things, but I’ve still never offered the preached proclamation at a Sunday worship service. It’s an area I’ve wanted to grow in for a while.

To that end, I took a preaching class last semester for my seminary program. It was a powerful course that changed my whole relationship to both the Bible and the act of preaching. Each of us wrote and presented a sermon on an assigned text. The sermons were recorded, and I’m offering mine here today. It opens with some brief words on the context I had in mind when preparing this.

I hope it meets you and speaks to you, wherever you are. The video is above, the text and my manuscript are below. You can also download files for both the audio or the manuscript.

Special thanks also to an old friend, J. Chord Barnes of ASERWorks Media, for fixing some audio issues in the original recording and remastering it for me. Check him out at the link above. Continue reading

Spiritual maturity has little to do with doctrine | 1 Corinthians 3.1-3


And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?

1 Corinthians 3.1-3

Firstly: Oh. Snap. Knowing the issues this church deals with, that’s got to be so insulting to them in the highest degree. “You are not spiritually mature.” But notice what makes them immature: not doctrine. Paul says time and time again throughout this letter: they’ve got wisdom and doctrine. And yet they are “infants”. Why? Jealousy. Wow.

Think: Do we think that we are “spiritually immature” when we’re “simply” jealous? What of other emotional, heart things? Do we use those things to judge our “spiritual maturity”? Or do we look more to doctrinal knowledge, what podcasts we listen to, what books we read, or how good our “quiet times” are?

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Faith & Grace Alone: Job & the New Perspective on Paul| Job 9


job-silohette

How then can I answer him,
choosing my words with him?
Though I am innocent, I cannot answer him;
I must appeal for mercy to my accuser.
Job 9.14-15

Job says he is innocent, but he says he still needs mercy. What does this mean? Perhaps he does see not people in the simplistic way that we often do–or at least as simplistic as we see the ancient Israelites.

Just like in the Christian scheme, I’m starting to think that the ancient Israelites also thought that people were considered righteous only on account of graciously being in covenant with God. All the sacrifices, festivals, laws, etc. were more as signs that they were the people of God; they were not how people became part of that group in the first place. In other words, the sacrifices and laws were outward displays that they were fully righteous before God’s eyes; they weren’t the ways that they “earned” righteousness or forgiveness.
Continue reading

#Marginalia Weekly Round-Up #6 [Catch-Up]


After a long break, we’re back with this part of the site. Here’s a little catch up list of where we’ve been since we last posted about this.

Marginalia is a section of this blog dedicated to (mostly) short reflections, meditations, questions, and difficulties I have while going through my Bible reading plan. I’m still trying to figure out the best pace at which to post these, so be patient with me. To aid in helping people engage with these posts, every weekend I post a round-up of all of Marginalia posts that appeared during that week. This list is in biblical canonical order.

Job

Job, God, & Satan (Can I get some help from the scholar’s out there?)| Job 1.6-7
God, Social Justice, & Social Welfare | Job 5.15-16
Fragments from a speech by Job| Selections of Job 6 & 7
Job’s Friends are Right! Job’s Friends are Wrong.| Job 8.5-7,20-22
In a sense, God CAN’T favor the righteous| Job 9.1-4

Continue reading

Is There No Rest for God’s Weary Ministers? | Mark 6


Lucien Simon-Christ Performing MiraclesReading through the sixth chapter of Mark, I recently noticed a way that Jesus relates to his disciples which is, at first, incredibly encouraging, but then gets exceedingly hard.

This is right after he had sent his disciples out, two by two, to try out this whole “ministry thing” by themselves. According to Mark, it was an incredibly powerful and effective time of ministry for them. They saw powerful things done, and they were able to play a part in them. They return from their first “ministry internship”, and this is where we pick up the story.

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.
Mark 6.30-31

Jesus’ pastoral concern extends not only to his flock but also to the shepherds. They have done so much ministry and now he insists that they withdraw and rest and eat. Also, they shouldn’t simply do this by themselves as individuals, but with those who are also doing ministry. The leaders of the church should rest together as fellow weary workers.
Continue reading

Should Protestantism Still Be a Thing?


Roger-Smith-cc-rosary-bibleFor years now, I have described my place in the Christian family as a “Protesting Catholic“. I love Catholicism (by the way, Orthodoxy, I’m so sorry you are so frequently left out of these discussions–I’m as guilty of doing this as any). I love the entire Church family, in fact, and I can’t think of a tradition from which I have not benefited greatly from it nuancing, sharpening, refining, or deepening my theological thinking in some way. A friend posted this interview with Stanley Hauerwas, on his new book on the “end times”. It’s a brief interview with some nice quotes and sentiments from the elder public theologian, but this set of lines particularly caught my eye:

My suggestion [that Protestantism may be coming to an end] is meant to be a reminder that Protestantism is a reform movement. When it becomes an end in itself it becomes unintelligible to itself. Protestants who don’t long for Christian unity are not Protestant. There is also the ongoing problem that Catholics have responded to the Protestant critique in a way that the Protestant critique no longer makes much sense. Accordingly, the question is: why do we continue to be kept apart?

I wholeheartedly agree with Hauerwas about the heart of Protestantism and how it should long for unity and, eventually and hopefully, end. So why is Protestantism still a thing I embrace? Why am I not fleeing to Rome, to our Mother Church? Let me offer a few words. Continue reading