Smoking Pot or the Cross?

Today’s 4/20. And today at exactly 4:20 pm, all over Colorado, tens of thousands will gather to publicly smoke and toke weed. Why?  Well, not sure to be honest – but they will….

I’ll get back to pot, but wanted to tell about my day yesterday.  It was a strange day.

I’ve been in a challenging email conversation with three of my very favorite Muslim friends. All big-time leaders in their respective spheres.  Saudi. Lebanon and one here in the States. Tons of mutual love and respect between us.  Many times they press me on what I believe and why. This time it’s been my turn.  I’ve pushed hard on the issue of the cross and resurrection of Christ.  I think it only benefits them if they knew and understood what it meant then and means now.  One basically agrees. One is being nice to me. And one is pushing back.  Those odds are about right…..

Also yesterday, I met a local church Pastor of Outreach. It’s a large and well-respected church. He’s had a bunch of people recently ask me about my book “Speaking of Jesus: the Art of NOT-evangelism.”  So he read it. And doesn’t approve. He tells his folks not to read it because it’s dangerous.

He wrote a 1 star review on Amazon. I have four negative reviews (one or two star). And  63 positive ones (four or five star).  Five folks couldn’t really decide so gave it a 3 Star.

I invited him for coffee.  Bought him coffee and gave him my other book – Muslims, Christians and Jesus – and said, “You won’t like this one either, but I wanted you to have it.”  He was gracious but resolute in his decision that my book would ultimately harm his people and the cause of Christ.

We talked for an hour and a half.  I’d summarize his two main concerns as this:  1.  There wasn’t closure to my stories so he didn’t know if the people had “fully been saved” or not. 2.  There wasn’t a clear demonstration of what he called “the gospel” which is a version of the Four Spiritual Laws: basically that God loves us, we’re sinful, Jesus died, and we can know God through Jesus.  (All of which I agree).

I reminded him that the subtitle of the book was “The art of NOT evangelism.”  This really honestly is not a book about “evangelizing” people.  It’s not about converting them. It’s not about Christianity. It’s not about making disciples or church or lots of other great things. It’s simply about ….Speaking of Jesus…..

We had a nice talk. He’s a good guy. Loves God a lot and wants to protect his people from reading things that might hurt them. Which, by the way, seemed to be a long list…including my stuff.  Fair enough. I told him that I’d be happy for people to read his stuff and go to his church and “evangelize” people in his style.

But what’s funny is that I had spent most of the day talking about the cross with my other three friends – but he hadn’t seen that. Didn’t know it.  And I didn’t tell him. I tried reminding him that Jesus also wasn’t good at “explaining the gospel” in the way that he wanted. Or “closing the deal” either.  Jesus didn’t do a lot of things we do today.

Back to pot smoking.  It almost seems like the western world is splitting into two camps:  the lovers of “tolerance” and the lovers of “truth.” The Rodney King theology of “Why can’t we just all get along” and the theology of the conservative evangelicals, “this is THE truth, I know it and you don’t.”  And there’s not much middle ground.

So well-meaning-folks like this pastor yesterday is worried that I might have gone over to the dark side of tolerance. That I want what all those smoking pot today at the Boulder campus of CU want.  Tolerance. Get Along theology.  Live and let live. This pastor was nervous that I might have read and (gasp) liked Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins.”  He was worried that I was “avoiding persecution.” He even asked me if I’ve “experienced a lot of persecution.”  A trick question indeed.  He was afraid I was Emergent. Postmodern. Tolerant. Maybe even a pot-smoker myself, since we all know that’s where those things ultimately lead.

While my three Muslim friends were sure I’d turned into a right-wing Neocon Bible Thumper. And we know where that leads – to arguments and division. And ultimately to being named Newt or Sarah.

So are those our choices? Really?  To either be wishy-washy and tolerant, or hard-nosed and mean spirited?  Hopefully not.  Isn’t there another way?  A way to be loving, kind and still stand for something that others won’t always agree with?

I know that I seek that place of the radical middle ground. Where sometimes I’m seen as a hard-nosed evangelist calling people to a new and better way, and later that same day am seen as a wimpy push-over who won’t give a straight answer.  And the truth is – I’m both.

And I think Jesus was both as well….


  1. wileybones says:

    Thanks, Carl! Like you, I think I’ll take my example from Jesus… although it does mean folks taking their potshots from both sides, and occasionally having to walk forward in the midst of a crossfire! I appreciate your candor and unabashed faithfulness to Jesus first and foremost, and the love that flows from Him through your heart, and then through your life and words.


  2. Alan says:

    Carl, your comment about closure got me. I think people want to say a combination of words in a prayer and have a guarantee of salvation. I don’t think it’s that simple. I believe in grace and thank God for it, but we’re called to live a life of love.

    Thank you for helping me think about the dailyness of living as a follower.

  3. Dawn says:

    Thank you for your courage and honesty. You inspire me to stay in the trenches, to continue pressing forward, and to love those on both sides who tell me I am wrong.

  4. jgreenebp says:

    I LOVED this Carl. When are you coming back to Traverse City?

  5. mgreiner99 says:

    Thanks for posting this Carl. Like you, I myself wonder where the middle ground might be, if it does exist.

    I have been pondering similar questions lately, specifically why Christians “do what they do” in regards to the way they exercise our faith, such as the standard “church-goers” that fill millions of seats and pews each Sunday. Why go to “church”? Should church resemble a Broadway production? Why is so much money spent on church buildings? And on and on they go. I have found in my camp that people see red flags when the status quo is questioned, even in my case where it is out of a combination of intellectual and “Romans 12:2” curiosity.

    Then there are those that see Christianity as a relationship with Jesus. They tend to see a relationship with Jesus as a 24/7 co-existence with him and as such view the world differently. They also tend to be part of the minority group that feels in their hearts that there should be a middle-ground, such as you mentioned, and realize that bonding at a human level is more important than following a “to do list”.

    It dawned on me this morning that what we are experiencing seems to be a pivotal time in history where we change the future for our children and grandchildren. There are so many us out there that long to be peacemakers and truly make a difference in the world. People that awake from the matrix and refuse the status quo. People that take a leap of faith trusting that if they live out the words of Christ something radical might take place. I believe in my heart that those of us that hear this call need to act on it. If we don’t step out in faith living out our convictions nothing will ever change.

    I applaud you in your efforts of building bridges, reconciling, and most importantly loving people that are “sinners” because that is exactly what Jesus would do. May God continue to keep you strong in Him, encourage you, give you rest, and fill you with grace and peace. I pray and trust that God will continue to stir people’s hearts to do something “different” and actually try to make an impact in the world through peace, love, and understanding.


  6. Todd G. says:

    Hi Carl,

    I am an enthusiastic, actively involved, lay leader, at my fellowship. My Outreach Pastor gave me one of your books “Muslims, Christians, and Jesus” as a help to me, because he knew that I wanted to do more to reach out to people, especially people of other faiths. My fellowship is large. I have another Pastor that teaches Islamic studies during the summers as a visiting professor at a well known seminary. He recommends your work; likes the approach described within “Speaking of Jesus”, and especially likes to remark on your loving the enemy approach shown by your willingness to meet with Hezbollah; but he concedes there were some errors in the details of “Muslims Christians and Jesus”

    I think that a lot of the evangelical world is very much in tune with what you are saying. I think that because, in my fellowship, I am hearing a lot of advice to tell stories: stories of how God has changed our own lives; stories of how I have seen God change other people’s lives; answers to prayer; how has God helped myself and others to overcome; stories about Jesus; stories that Jesus told (parables); use the red letters; etc…

    I think this story telling model is the main thrust of what you are recommending that, Followers of Jesus, should be doing as well. I do not understand why you receive push-back.

    One of my favorite books is “For Self examination” & “Judge for Yourself” by Soren Kierjegaard. In it the author points out the startling comment, by the observers during the Pentecost event, that the apostles must have been drunk. He then points out that so many of the faithful, in modern times, put our trust in our own sagacious habits. He points out that the habits that Jesus teaches: loving an enemy, or “sell all you have then follow me”, are the exact opposite values of sagacious values…. If we truly followed Jesus, in word and deed, we might startle some outside observers to think that the faithful are drunk; or perhaps on Pot; if we only truly followed;– that lifestyle by the followers of Jesus is true sobriety.


  7. Jon B. says:

    Thanks, Carl. I always appreciate your thinking and articulation. It has been very helpful to me in my own life of following Jesus and in my conversations with various friends of many faiths and faith backgrounds.

    I would love to hear your articulation of why the question “have you experienced a lot of persecution” is a trick question.

  8. LightByGrace says:

    I so totally relate to the experience here…On Facebook I am not shy about posting my thoughts about God. I really don’t try to overdo it and I post alot of mundane things as well. But one week a couple of years back, I got a PM from someone (a fellow Christian no less) who said he was on the verge of un-friending me because I was posting too much stuff about Jesus and he asked if I would please go back to being the Helen he knew, who was fun and carefree and didn’t always talk about her beliefs (I have actually always pretty much shared my love of Jesus pretty openly, so I suspect he was having his own issues – he apologized later). A day or two later, another Christian friend sent me a PM and said she was saddened by my recent posts and was worried about my faith because my posts were exploring the idea of God’s ultimate grace for all. She longed for the Helen she knew who always spoke so clearly about Jesus and atonement and being saved. So, in the matter of one week I was accused both of being too Christian and not (‘properly’) Christian enough. Just goes to show you’ll never win if ya seek to please people.

  9. Lisa G. says:

    Hi Carl,
    I love to read your posts…you can buy me a cup of coffee and give me a book of yours any day, although I have your last three! They have inspired and encouraged me to reach out to our local Muslim community with friendship and we are beginning to talk about Jesus. Keep it coming!