I’m an external processor. It’s probably why I can’t shut my mouth and probably why I can’t help but write. It has to get out of me. It has to become not-me for me to make sense of it. And it is in those times when ink drops onto a page or when words plop out of my mouth that I realize, “No wait! That’s not it!” or “Wait! Do I actually feel that way? I think I do!”

I envy internal processors. They can make a mess in their minds, then bring out their stories and convictions with ornate wrappers and bows. 

So concise. So methodical. 

Not me. It’s messy in here. And when it initially comes out, there are absolutely no bows. It’s just a mess spewed out on paper or people.

“Wait! I didn’t mean that! I take it back! I put it outside of me, and now I can clearly see, it’s not me! That’s something else. It’s fear. It’s worry. Shit! Let me clean this up. Let me clean you up.” As if I’m vomiting on the person listening.

But every so often, I say something, something I’ve never thought about, and it becomes epiphany the second it leaves my lips.

“So how do you make sense of the fact that you’ve encountered God in these places that have hurt you?”

I’m sitting with my friends, Andrew and his wife Bethany.

Bethany and I used to date in high school, you know, when I was in love with love. Now, after some complicated years and hard conversations, we’re best of friends. Sure, they still work at a church, and yes, that freaks me the fuck out some days, but they also ask about my dating life. They also met my ex. They dared to step into a space they didn’t understand. And it helped. Mistakes and all. Messiness and all. (Like my word vomit.)

But in this conversation, I sense an ulterior motive from Andrew. Like he’s not asking the question out of curiosity, but to redirect me, to convince me churches can’t be that bad if beautiful things happened there.

It’s this exact rhetoric that allowed people like Mark Driscoll to get a pass when abusing staff and congregants.

“But God is moving!” His elders would say. “Thousands are coming to Christ!” “This must mean that God approves of Mark and his tactics regardless of what people are telling us.” “Like the Bible says, ‘A good tree can’t produce bad fruit.’”1

And now thousands of “bad fruits” are going to counseling.

This all-or-nothing mentality, this either/or mindset is damaging on both fronts. 

On the Christian side, it dismisses trauma and hides mistakes, cultivating a culture where leaders can do no wrong. And as a result, abuses will continue to be covered up for “the glory of God.” (Cough, the Southern Baptist Guidepost Report.2)

On the ex-Christian side, everything experienced within the walls of the church now becomes suspect and tainted. A beautiful moment with the Divine is now called under scrutiny. A word of wisdom from the pulpit is now thrown out. All of it was bad; all of it has to go. The result is an overwhelming disorientation and loss of identity caused by fierce bankruptcy.

This mindset has robbed us all.

In contrast, “If we are open,” Brennan Manning writes, “we rarely resort to either/or — either creation or evolution, liberty or law, sacred or secular, Beethoven or Madonna. We focus on both/and, fully aware that God’s truth cannot be imprisoned in a small definition.”3

And in doing, maybe we can feel a little less lost, a little more whole, enriching our lives, not with black or white, but the bountiful gray.

So what might the gray look like here with Andrew’s not-so-curious question?

I’d find the answer in the vomit, spewed on the Cantrells and the floor.

“I mean, do you believe God moves through people?” I ask Andrew.


“But you believe people are broken?”


“A vessel’s a vessel. Whether it’s human or not. I see a bunch of verses that make it look like God likes using broken things. Like Corinthians: ‘We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars…’4 And in the church, we talk about it all the time, but it’s only in relation to people. A preacher will often say before an emotional altar call, ‘God loves using broken people! He loves using you!’ Which is funny because the church doesn’t love using broken people. They want everything clean and put together. But I think God actually likes using broken things. And not just people, but institutions and communities. And in the end, aren’t those things simply broken people gathering? So it makes sense. 

“I’ve experienced the Divine in some pretty fucked up institutions and communities, institutions that don’t believe right, that don’t love like Jesus loves; in fact, they’ve caused a lot of hurt and pain. Why? Because they’re composed of fucked-up people. Really fucked-up people. Trapped in a fucked-up system. Just because it’s now an institution, doesn’t mean it’s magically not fucked up. It’s likely more fucked up because people seem to get more stupid the more people there are. Like a mob. You’d think more brains would mean more intelligence, but it rarely turns out that way.

“But for some reason, I think God uses broken things, and he says he likes it when we get together. Even when we’re more stupid together. 

“I think God does this because of his humility. Like he isn’t too proud to live in a broken and dirty container. He just jumps in as long as there’s an invitation, regardless of holes or cracks, maybe even because of the holes and cracks. As long as someone or something is willing to invite him, I think he comes, and I think he shines, and I think broken and cracked people are desperate and humble enough to ask him to come. And I think the reason he likes it when stupid, fucked-up people get together is so we can behold him through the cracks of the people around us. Like that cheesy moment at an Easter service with all the candles. Little weak and wavering flames somehow light up the whole room, allowing us to behold something beautiful, reminding us that he’s here, here in the person next to us. 

“At the end of the day, I think he just wants to be with us. And I think he takes whatever home that genuinely wants him.”

“Yas, Brandon! Preach!” Bethany jumps in. “That’s- so- good!” She claps between the words.

“Thanks! Comes from trauma!”

While Bethany is this vibrant energy, demanding to be seen (one time she literally demanded a red carpet for a murder mystery party, feeling way too into the character), Andrew’s this calm and soothing energy, bringing peace to a room. Together, they’re this gorgeous yin and yang, push and pull, black and white — both/and — and it’s their both-ness, their and-ness that has added so much color to me, themselves, and the world around them. They’re better together.

So while Bethany pulls out her metaphorical hanky for my metaphorical preaching, Andrew simply sits there, sipping and savoring, gently nodding with that look he gets when he’s processing something.

“That’s gooood, maaaan.” He says it like a California-surfer bro, even though he was born and raised in Colorado.

That was good, wasn’t it? Where the Hell did that come from? Do I actually believe that? I think I do. I think I do believe that!

My answer in the verbal vomit mess.

Bethany gets up, excited and bubbly.

“Who wants more wine?” She holds up the bottle and pours us all another round.

This post is a chapter from my debut memoir: Stumbling, coming 2023. Subscribe below to be alerted when the book is launched.


  1. What are some elements from your time in church that hurt you? Why was it painful? Take a moment to honor your anger and know it’s trying to keep you safe.
  2. What are some elements from your time in church that you want to take with you? Take a moment to breathe in that gratitude, that there was goodness amongst the pain.
  3. Where are there areas in your life that are either/or? How is that serving you? What do you gain from this thinking? What do you lose?
  4. What’s an act you can take that honors the past as both/and instead of either or?


  1. Erik Petrik, Mike Cosper, and Joy Beth Smith, “Who Killed Mars Hill,” June 21, 2021, in The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, produced by Christianity Today,
  2. “Report of the Independent Investigation: The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee’s Response to Sexual Abuse Allegations and an Audit of the Procedures and Actions of the Credentials Committee,” (Washington DC: Guidepost Solutions, May 15, 2022),
  3. Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2005), 66.
  4. II Corinthians 4:7 (NIV).

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