Me versus We: Our problem with association:

evan kolding

This last week, a good friend of mine, Evan Kolding wrote an incredibly thoughful and insighful blog and I wanted to share it with you.  He writes regularly at, "the uncomfortable middle." Enjoy!

It’s a story I’ve read or heard a thousand times. Something subtle yet amazingly significant stood out to me this week as I was reading Exodus 32 & 33. Here’s the context:

There’s Moses on Mt Sinai, hearing the new post-Eden boundaries for God’s people. Then there’s Aaron, back with Israel, hearing the post-Egypt grumblings and demands of God’s people.

God finishes his time with Moses by saying, “Go down to your people, whom you brought up out of the Land of Egypt, for they have corrupted themselves.” Not a great way to end a conversation. When Moses comes down from the mountain he sees that in his short time away the whole nation began to worship idols they made with gold. Moses says to Aaron,”What did these people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?”

Jumping back earlier in the story we see that when the people started to grumble and complain, it really didn’t take much to convince Aaron.

“When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”So Aaron said to them,’Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me…And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf.”

Well, that didn’t take much really. Honestly, I don’t blame Aaron. He’d been Moses’ second hand man ever since the burning bush and had seen how these people continually questioned Moses’ motives, calling, and position ever since they had left Egypt. These are a people with little patience and a short memory. Even still, Aaron is accountable to Moses, so how did Aaron respond to Moses’ question?

Moses says to Aaron,”What did these people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?” And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil.”

Ever felt like you’ve been thrown under the bus?

Aaron quickly separated himself from the people he had lead to this place. But Aaron’s not the only one that is held accountable for the actions of the people. Moses still chooses to go before God to try to make things right. Moses has a bit of a different view of his association with Israel.

So Moses went back to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin-but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”

Do you see what Moses is saying here? He is saying, “If this sin is too great for you [God] to forgive please bring the punishment upon me.” Moses is of the understanding that the consequence of this sin is to be completely removed from the presence and history of God! Moses is willing to be the receiver of this punishment even though when the sin took place Moses was where he was suppose to be, in the presence of God!

It is Moses who intercedes

What is curious about this story to me is that it is Moses, not Aaron, who has compassion and intercedes for Israel. I would have thought that since Aaron had spent so much time with Israel that he would have cultivated a deep love and sympathy for them. I would have also thought that since Moses had been separated from Israel for so long that he would have thrown his hands up, packed up his things, and looked for another church, I mean, nation to lead. What I see here is the complete opposite.

Aaron had become consumed with the voices of the people he was leading and forgotten the depth and weight of the calling God had originally spoken over him. This left him as fickle as the people he was leading. Moses on the other hand relished the presence of God. He spent so much time in the presence of God, concerning the direction, boundaries, and welfare of his people, that his heart broke for them in the same way God’s had and does.

Aaron cultivated a heart that reflected that of the people by allowing the people’s voices to shape him. Thus his very human response to conflict. Moses had cultivated a heart of God by allowing God’s voice to shape him. Thus his Christ-like (dare I say Christian) response to depravity. (Read Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John to see parallels between Moses’ response to punishment and that of Jesus’ response to our punishment)

I think my heart might be more like Aaron's instead of Moses

I want to admit that over the past few years I have cultivated a heart more like that of Aaron. When something happens bad, negative, or opposite my preference in my church I generally try to separate myself from them by saying, “You know the people, that they are set on evil.” This happened as recently as this past Sunday. I tend to keep myself emotionally or spiritually separated from them because I’m afraid to be associated with their (our) corporate short comings.

The sad thing is that I know a lot of pastors who do this and to a greater extent, we all do this when we talk about American Christianity. We separate ourselves from other Christians, churches, or denominations because we only want to be held accountable for our individual actions and beliefs.

I’m committing to begin to always speak of the good and the bad of my church community in the terms of “we”. I am going to do this by intentionally and specifically spending a significant more time residing in God’s presence on behalf of my community and the Body of Christ. I believe if I can get to a place where I can simply say, “I’m sorry for how we _________,” this will get me farther in my conversations with non-Christians and Christians alike. As opposed to trying to rationalize and argue our points as to why we should not be associated with the rest of our community, church, or Body of Christ. Lastly, I believe that it will get me much deeper in my relationship with God because I will find myself continually coming before him in repentance and humility which will  remind me that even God chose to associate himself with us.

Evan is a father of one amazing daughter, and a husband to a beautiful and inspiring wife.  After graduating from college in urban Chicago, Evan has been doing youth ministry in Northern California for the past four years. He has a passion for teenagers, the outdoors and seeing the love of God transforming individuals and groups of people. Evan currently lives in the Bay Area spending his time reading, writing, hanging out with teenagers, playing with his wife and daughter all while having a coffee drink in hand.

featured friend friday: evan kolding

One of the biggest gifts God has given me over the past couple of years is to walk alongside fellow youth workers as we wrestle with our call, seek to understand our context, and to drink deeply the love and grace of Jesus.  Evan is one of those guys who continues to challenge me to think better about ministry and continues to encourage me to live out my passions.  Evan is a passionate youth worker who has such a huge heart for students and for justice.  And what I love most about Evan is that he is not willing to concede either.  This is going to be a fun blog to read, especially for those of us who wrestle with God's enormous heart for the poor and oppressed, while having your bills paid by the suburban church.  Enjoy: THE UNCOMFORTABLE MIDDLE:

“Careful how you treat him, someday he’ll bebigger than you.”

“You might want to be nicer to him, you might need his help someday.”

“Who made you the parent?”

These are three phrases that were the bookends to many of my conversations with my parents from grades 7-12. It wasn’t my fault that I was born first, had superior knowledge, strength and fort building skills. I had cooler friends, more freedom, and my home runs that went twice as far as his. I’m sure during those years my brother was a great kid. He just spent too much time asking my stuff time and ideas. Who’d he think I was anyway, a resource, role model, or (God forbid) a friend? For all that I had to “put up” with it was my parents would continue to ask if I was using the influence, position and power I had over my brother for his benefit or my own. How lame.

Growing up as an oldest child in the middle class, church-going suburbs of a Seattle was fantastic. There were some “rich” families who lived in the delegated “rich” part of town; the country club. There were the “poor” families who lived in the delegated “poor” part of town; section 8 apartments behind Safeway. My family lived in between these two groups of people along with the vast majority of my friends and church family. This was the comfortable middle. I had a good sense of where the lines in life were drawn, who was in, who was out and how to appease people on both sides. Life in the middle was very balanced, contained and easy to understand.

The trouble all started when I began to read my Bible in a new social construct during my four years living in Chicago. One thing they don’t tell you on Sunday morning is that reading your Bible will ruin your “comfortable life” if you read it honestly. I began to realize that my life and my faith have bigger implications on the people around me than just living tidily between the social lines of wealth and poverty. As I got to travel the more of the city, country and world around me with my Bible in hand I realized that Christ doesn’t leave much room for those in the middle to stay comfortably there. Since college I’ve lived in many different contexts doing so many different types of ministry and continue to find myself living in what I call the “Uncomfortable Middle”. The place where we find ourselves living between the push to be ever more secure, successful and safe while our hearts and pulled into the risk, sacrifice and the reward of seeing God’s kingdom come. In this place new versions of my parents’ childhood cautions play back in constant repetition:

“Careful how you treat the poor because they who will inherit the kingdom of Heaven.”

“Be careful how much distance you put between those different than you – they will help you grow in perspective, respect and love.“

“Who has made you the keeper of all things just, good and true?”

I have a feeling that I’m not alone in the exciting (often frustrating) adventure of living out God’s calling in the suburbs while working out the tangible relevance and transformation doing and living as Christ. I’m writing to share with you what I learn, seek help in what I’m learning, and give you permission to help me discover how much I have yet to know. Because even in “Uncomfortable Middle” there is still hope, action and love in Christ’s calling over us.

Make sure you check out Evan's new blog: The Uncomfortable Middle.  And let us help one another to live fully into this hope, action, and love, no matter our context!

Evan is a father of one amazing daughter, and a husband to a beautiful and inspiring wife.  After graduating from college in urban Chicago, Evan has been doing youth ministry in Northern California for the past four years. He has a passion for teenagers, the outdoors and seeing the love of God transforming individuals and groups of people. Evan currently lives in the Bay Area spending his time reading, writing, hanging out with teenagers, playing with his wife and daughter all while having a coffee drink in hand.

You'll often find him writing about community, relationships, society, and how the Gospel of Christ transforms all three. Evan's core question is, "How do we fully experience and share Christ's transformation while being pushed by the Gospel into transformation and pulled from the world into the comfortable middle ground?"   Join him in this conversation.