23 Jun


By Dany Hernandez … I was born with a curse—the curse of being an includer. This is a curse I did not request and did not order. This curse was gifted to me! This curse keeps me from looking at the world from my own perspective and, instead, forces me, on a daily basis, to imagine what the world looks like from the eyes of others. This curse is the reason why in all my years of ministry, I have always migrated to the margins. The margin is where the inside ends. Whatever or whomever is contained within these boundaries begins to lose its identity the further it gets from the center. The margin is where the line, or lines, have been drawn by a company, organization, institution, or someone and is usually defined by a set of rules, traditions, expectations and creeds.

In “The Lion King” Simba finds himself at the elephant graveyard, a place he has been told to avoid, when Zazu interrupts his journey and says, “You are way beyond the borders of the Pride Land.” In other words, you’ve reached the margin . . . and you’ve crossed it. Those of us who have spent all of our lives inside the margins, can’t even imagine why anyone would even consider crossing that line. Because, at some point, the people inside the margins told everyone that the margins were dangerous, that outside was a bad place where evil things happen once you step across that border. So, in order to avoid evil, we surround ourselves with individuals who will provide accountability, encouragement, guilt and even, at times, shame to keep us from the margins. Unfortunately, our churches have forgotten that most people live in the margins. And this should not be a shock, but this also includes the people who appear to be right in the middle, away from the edge. Let’s face it, people are leaving “church” in droves, and we need to own it and admit it. We can get creative with all sorts of numbers, and justify our success, but the reality is, if we don’t do something drastically different, we will find ourselves protecting the castle alone.

This tweet from someone I follow on Twitter expresses the sentiment of so many people today. We must listen if we want to remain relevant.

“I’m not avoiding Church so I can live a life of debauchery. I’m avoiding church because I can’t make sense of the people outside the church being kinder and more understanding than those inside the church who gave me pat answers and shame with a side of victim blaming for 25 yrs.”

After reading this, probably the first instinct for you and me is to say, “You’ve just been at the wrong church.” Naturally, we want to defend the things we believe in and are a part of. But, by doing so, we often fall right back into “pat answers.” We are really good at those. Why? I’m glad you asked.

Avoiding the Questions

Hang with me for a minute. The theory of spiral dynamics attempts to understand human thinking, behavior, and development from not just a personal, but also a historical/cultural perspective. Spiral dynamics would say that the basic need for all humans and cultures moves from the need to survive to the need to believe in wizards, magic and gods. After that, we organize ourselves around an individual or strong figure until we disagree with that person and seek to move into a community with a certain creed that will be upheld no matter the leader. This is where religion and denominations come into the picture.

But something fascinating happens, eventually. Humans begin to ask questions about the creed or set of beliefs they’ve been a part of and in doing so, appear to many as heretics, backsliders, and dangerous to the community. In this next stage, humans ask “Why?” A lot and pat answers will automatically be dismissed. Humans see science as saying one thing and faith as saying another, and they attempt to make sense of those things and find that churches and faith communities feel as if those two are mutually exclusive. So, we avoid the questions. We encourage them to not lose their faith. We warn them about the dangers of doubt.

The harsh reality is that our country finds itself right now mostly split down the middle between those two stages. About one half of our country strongly holds to creeds and traditions without questions asked, and the other half is seeking something more. The other half isn’t necessarily seeking answers as much as the freedom to explore and ask questions. But the tension comes when a certain group feels they have all the answers and therefore questions are discouraged and seen as a lack of faith or commitment.

As churches, we have become very uncomfortable with saying, “I don’t have the answer to that question.” But, if we are going to bridge the gap between those at the margins and others who are way outside the margins, we need to embrace, “I don’t know.” Because guess what? Everyone can see through the lack of depth in pat answers.

Blame It On Google

At some point in history, the church and the preacher controlled the information. We shared our findings and backed up our ideas based on the sources we liked and agreed with. However, I hope we all realize the moment we say something in public, a large majority of individuals is Googling the thing you said to make sure you didn’t get that from some obscure and random source. The church is and will continue to be held accountable for the things we say and the things we do, and if those things do not align with love, justice, and mercy, we will continue to lose credibility and our relevance in society.

Dazzle Them With Jesus

Archimedes is credited with saying, “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” In other words, get to the point even if you don’t like the point. Don’t waste people’s time by trying to dazzle them with words. How about dazzle them with honesty and sincerity. Dazzle them with the fact you also have some questions and there’s a mystery to all this we are all in search of.

How about dazzle them with the truth of Jesus. Not all the theological stuff, but with the practical, because people could care less about theology unless they see that theology played out in a real, everyday manner. Dazzle them with forgiveness, inclusivity, compassion, kindness, and generosity. Dazzle them with the fact that Jesus lived on the edge, in the margins, and way outside the boundaries. Dazzle them with the fact that you, just like Jesus, are pure and simple about love, justice, and mercy.

My Two Cents

Here are some practical thoughts from someone who spends a lot of time with people in the margins.

Embrace and encourage difficult questions you might not have answers for.
Provide spaces for conversations about challenging topics such as racism, poverty, and the LGBTQ+ community, to name a few.
Make it obvious you are for the community, not against it.
Language has changed; use language people understand.
When in doubt, focus on Love, Justice and Mercy

Now, you don’t have to change anything if you’re only interested in preaching to the choir. If your main concern is keeping the 99 sheep safe, by all means, just shut yourself in the barn with them. They’ll be happy, you’ll be safe, and everyone in the choir will say “Amen.” Inclusivity, on the other hand, will cost you. It will be difficult. Now that I think about it, it’s not a curse.

–Dany Hernandez is lead chaplain at Littleton Adventist Hospital in Littleton, Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]

04 Jan


By Dany Hernandez – “SHHHHHH . . . Don’t Say Those Words.”

The Compliment

Fun Fact: My full name is Dany Hernandez Lizardo Garrido Gomez Consepcion Guzman Velazquez Garcia.

I’ve been called many things—Dan, Daniel, Horrendous, Lizard, Pastor, Vicar, Paco. I’ve been described as loud, passionate, authentic, fake, caring, mean and, in one instance, a “snake in the grass, back-stabbing, two-faced liar.” I’ll be honest. That last one is still a bit confusing to me as well as others who were present. Immediately, I had multiple individuals tell me, “Don’t take it personally. They just don’t know you.” Sure, I’ll chalk it up as ignorance on the part of the person who said those things about me, but it still stings. It still hurts. It still feels wrong.

But then, there was this one time when I was super excited because I heard some people describing me as a Social Justice Warrior. Social Justice Warrior. That sounds impressive doesn’t it? At least, I thought it did. After all, the final words of the Pledge of Allegiance are, “liberty and justice for all.” Maybe it’s just me, but I have a sense that many of us have placed our hands over our hearts at some point and have taken an oath committing ourselves to doing our part to establish a society where all are free, where all are treated with equal justice, and all are given an equal opportunity to live in peace and happiness.

So, needless to say, being called a Social Justice Warrior brought out in me a sense of pride and honor. I was living out what we, not just as Christians, but also as Americans stand for. I was living out what I thought our Founding Fathers and our church stand for.

The Insult

That is, until I realized that those three words are a bad thing. A friend pointed out to me that “Social Justice Warrior” was a derogatory term. To my surprise, after a bit of research, I found the hashtag #SWJ all over the Internet and was devastated to learn I was not being complimented, but instead, insulted—the equivalent of “a snake in the grass.”

I’m still trying to figure out how the words “social justice” became such a repulsive phrase to so many Christians, when in fact, it is the single most common theme in the Bible. This dynamic creates a difficult tension to manage. I can almost guarantee that every one of our pastors and church leaders would say that “social justice” is not only important, but it is a critical and foundational part of Christianity. However, because certain political parties and organizations that we might not align with have become vocal about “social justice,” we shy away from doing the right thing in order to protect ourselves. Let’s be honest. At times, it’s called “self- preservation”. I get it.

The Party

Mark 2:15-17: “And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and His disciples, for there were many who followed Him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that He was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to His disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ And when Jesus heard it, He said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’”

OK, we don’t know if it was a party or not. This is what we know. Jesus invites Levi, “Follow me,” and he does. As a tax collector, Levi did not hang out with church people, so we could probably assume Levi’s friends were outcasts of the religious and faith community of the time. The other thing we know is that at some point between Jesus’ invitation to follow Him, there was another invitation from Levi to come and hang out with “the sinners.”

Jesus could have declined the invitation to gather with questionable and marginalized characters for reasons of self- preservation. See what I did there? Jesus could have made certain demands of Levi regarding the food, the beverage, the music, and the guests before he accepted the invitation in order to avoid tension among the faithful. Jesus could have simply said, “No thank you.”

Not only do we see Jesus accepting the invitation as it was, but now we find him, “reclining” with sinners.

The Questions

Two things jump out at me:

  1. Reclining = In no rush
  2. Reclining = A posture of approachability

So, I pose a few of simple questions based on this observation. Is your church in no rush? Are you willing to work with a group of people for years and be present as the community grows and transitions? Are you able to take your time developing meaningful relationships by stepping out of your comfort zone and stepping into someone else’s territory as uncomfortable as that might be? Do you lead with a posture of authority or a posture of approachability? It’s interesting that the Pharisees never sat down to teach the Torah. They always stood in a posture and sign of authority. But somehow, Jesus takes a different approach. He knew these people would never attend church. He knew they would not even be allowed in church. Instead, Jesus reclines. He knew that it was more important for him to be present and approachable than it was for him to be right and authoritative.

How present and approachable are you? How present and approachable is your church? I’m not talking about people who believe, act, dress, eat and talk like you. How present and approachable are you with the kind of people Jesus reclined with?

Here’s the deal: “Social justice” or should we say, “helping the vulnerable among us” so as to not offend anyone, can only be maintained and implemented in the context of presence and approachability.

The Problem

If you are going to be fully committed to “helping the vulnerable among us,” then some people will feel left out. Take for instance Black Lives Matter (BLM). Some of you probably just stopped reading. That’s OK. But if you continue reading, hear me out.

Let me be vulnerable with you. For those of you who don’t know, we have triplets who will be turning 18 in January 2021. One of my kids has recently been challenged with more things than a teenager should be challenged with. This has required a tremendous amount of time, finances and resources on the part of our family. Many times, my wife and I have lost sleep, cried and felt guilty because of the lack of quality time we’ve been able to dedicate our other two. Does that mean we love them less? Of course not. But because of what we are going through at this point in time, it is necessary we call out the need to dedicate extra time and attention to that one child. If my teenage kids can understand this, why can’t some of us?

“But . . . but . . . do you know that BLM . . .” I do. And I’ve come to realize I don’t have to agree with everything someone stands for in order to support certain causes. I’m sure you don’t like how things ended with Dr. Kellogg, but you still eat cereal, don’t you? If we find ways to celebrate what is good instead of focusing on what is wrong, we’ll begin to find beauty and light in otherwise dark and gloomy places.

The Advice

Lin-Manuel Miranda, writer and composer of the Broadway musical Hamilton, wrote a line for the character of Aaron Burr played by Leslie Odom Jr., that should become foundational to all of us.

In the second song of the musical, Alexander Hamilton meets Aaron Burr and proceeds to go on a rant about university, family, country. Hamilton, wanting Aaron Burr to know everything he stood for within a few minutes of meeting him, ends up completely overwhelming Aaron with information. Out of nowhere, Aaron Burr interrupts Hamilton and tells him, “Let me offer you some advice. Talk less, smile more . . .”

What would it look like if we, as Jesus’ followers, took that advice? What if our churches were known for our smiles instead of our talks? What if we were more concerned about approachability than authority?

I think if we did, we would be doing the very thing that God requires of us according to Prophet Micah.

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women.

It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously (Micah 6:8).

Mercy, justice and humility—the foundations of our Chris- tian faith and the basis of “social justice.” There, I said it.

–Dany Hernandez is Lead Chaplain at Littleton Adventist Hospital, Little- ton, Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]