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Specialized ProfessionIt's Christmas Eve, and I'm a parish pastor. AMA!

Dec 24th 2016 by revanon • 21 Questions • 5106 Points

I co-founded Imperfect with the goal of closing the loop on the billions of pounds of produce that get wasted every year because they aren’t pretty enough for grocery stores. We deliver delicious but wonky-looking produce to people’s doors for 30-50% less than grocery store prices. Since our launch over a year ago we’ve kept over 1.8 million pounds of food from going to waste, gotten on the cover of National Geographic, and are about to expand to Los Angeles! Find us at www.imperfectproduce.com

Proof: http://imgur.com/a/KErLV EDIT: I have to go and so unfortunately cannot answer any more questions today but had a blast and would love to do another one of these soon. Happy holidays everyone!

Q:

Do you treat Dec 25th as the birth date of Jesus, or as a celebration date of Jesus?

A:

My understanding is that "ugly" produce is what is sold to companies that turn them into juices, Broth, and pieces so small that the defects are mitigated (such as baby carrots).

Is this the case? If so, how much waste is there if you account for these products?


Q:

Since we don't have a historical source attesting to the birth date of Jesus, my personal belief is that Christmas really is the latter. Although I do have a gloriously hideous Christmas sweater with the words 'birthday boy' embroidered under a picture of Jesus, so...

A:

You're right -- a lot of ugly veggies have a processor market. Apples, oranges, and other fruit tend to. Often even when there is a processor market, farmers are forced to sell it below cost. So we buy some of that stuff and are able to pay a lot more than processors do. But most items -- basically all the field packed product like celery, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. don't have a processor market and would be left in the field. And then even items like kiwis, eggplants or any other pears besides the bartlett often go to animal feed for 1 cent per pound.


Q:

The last church I attended used to do a candlelight Christmas Eve service. We'd end with turning out the lights, singing Silent Night, then right into Happy Birthday. And of course we'd have cake and coffee afterwards!

Sorry about your RIP Inbox. Hope it rises before the third day.

A:

Thanks for the info. I look forward to a San Diego expansion!


Q:

Last line literally made me LOL. Well played.

A:

Awesome! SD should actually be sooner rather than later. We are planning on launching in LA in late January/early February and should launch in SD by April or May. You can sign up on our website ahead of time so you're all set up when we launch if you want.


Q:

My word... Where did you get this ol' birthday boy sweater? It's my birthday tomorrow and I'd be on top with something that slick.

A:

What wonky produce is the easiest/hardest to sell?


Q:

Gotta ask my wife, it was a gift from her. I definitely married up. :)

A:

Great question! Easy sells for us are definitely fresh seasonal fruit like citrus, kiwis, and persimmons. We also see a lot of demand for healthy greens like kale, broccoli, and lettuces, which are normally expensive in stores so people love the savings plus the convenience of having it delivered. Hard sells are anything with visible scarring, which can look weird at first, but once you peel or chop the item you realize that it's the same as what you could have gotten in the stores. To be honest though, one of the most common responses we get from people when they first get their box is "this isn't ugly at all!" It is astounding how strict the cosmetic standards at grocery store standards have become over the years.


Q:

We want pics OP.

A:

What makes fruit wonky?


Q:

My dogs are currently snoozing on my lap, so I can't move for at least a million hours. Once they do, I'll try to oblige.

A:

Fruits and veggies naturally grow in all shapes and sizes. For example, if you have ever bought produce at a farmers market or grown your own food you see that awesome diversity in how it looks. Basically, there have always been funny looking veggies but supermarkets have told the growers and the packers they won't accept them. A lot of the product we get will be something like pears that have rubbed against the tree limb while growing creating a small scar, or cauliflower that starts to yellow a tiny bit just because of exposure to a little sun -- totally natural parts of the growing process.


Q:

Who would win in a fist fight: the Easter Bunny or Santa Clause?

p.s.: Merry Christmas.

A:

Hi Ben,

We were former customers of imperfect (for the record we love your mission and your idea which is why we signed up in the first place), but recently quit due to consistent issues (by consistent we mean literally every week) with poor quality produce (moldy fruit, damaged produce) or items missing from our order.

Two questions: 1) I know you guys recently went through some significant growth. How has this impacted your day to day operations? I know your customer service staff said you were implementing new protocols, but those didn't appear to happen. Has the growth of your company exceeded expectations?

2). How do your buyers work with wholesalers or farms directly to purchase ugly produce and distinguish it from produce that might not the top quality? We'd consistently get moldy or damaged produce and I fear new customers who are leery of buying imperfect fruit will be completely turned off by the idea if it is inedible.


Q:

Santa is an obese elderly man who gets chauffeured not just from continent to continent but house to house and lives on a diet of cookies. The Easter Bunny would have agility, stamina, and possibly rabies on its side. Santa would be toast.

Merry Christmas to you as well!

A:

Hey! Thanks for writing in. To answer your questions: 1) Yes, to be fully transparent, our growth as a company has not been without its fair share of growing pains. As the volume of orders has grown our customer care, supply, and operations teams have all had to adjust how they do things to keep up. We have strived to keep quality consistent as we have grown but there were certainly times where orders fell through the cracks. I want to sincerely apologize for the fact that you experienced the quality issues you did. Please understand that they in no way reflected neglect on our part, just an earnest effort to adapt to the challenges that growing a small business with logistics as complicated as ours entails. We hope you will give us another chance in the future. In the past few weeks alone we have revamped our produce receiving process, box packing process, and added new quality checkers which has produced a noticeable drop in issues related to produce quality and missing items. We are committed to constantly improving our produce box service and would love to prove it to you if you are interested. 2) Our supply team works with farmers to source "seconds" or produce that cannot be sold in grocery stores because of how it looks. We do not source produce that is moldy or damaged on purpose. That said, each time we work with new farm or source a new product there is a certain amount of time that it takes for the farm to understand exactly what our specifications are for "ugly" produce so it can take some time during the course of a season to dial in on the quality of the "ugly" items that we source. The reality is also that some produce does not survive the journey from farm to warehouse as well as others. We attempt to weed out any items that are not fit to deliver when we receive the produce from the farmers. Produce delivery can be a tricky logistics chain to manage and some items will occasionally deteriorate along the way due to moisture, bruising etc... We are always working to put new protocols into place to ensure that these items are caught and don't make it into boxes. I really appreciate your candor and honesty about the issues you experience. Honest feedback like this helps me and my entire team do our jobs better. Thanks!


Q:

Ok, easter bunny or superman?

A:

These look yummy. They remind me of our own produce from the garden.


Q:

I mean, clearly Superman, unless the Easter Bunny is packing kryptonite in one of those eggs, but even then, kryptonite is so radioactive that it may just snuff the Bunny out as well. So it'd be a Pyrrhic victory at best.

A:

Thanks everybody! I appreciated all the good questions. This was really fun. Happy Holidays!


Q:

Fair enough. Maybe the egg shell is lead?

A:

Hi Ben, first off, I am a huge huge HUGE fan of Imperfect Produce. You are solving such an important problem and I have been a loyal customer basically since you launched. I was wondering how you deal with the seasonality of your business. If you are only working with CA farms, are you limited to grow cycles and what produce you can offer throughout the year? Can you partner with more farms in other states? Keep up the amazing work!


Q:

But what kid wakes up on Easter morning hoping the Easter bunny has left them a lead egg?

A:

First off, thanks so much for supporting us. I think back sometimes to the leap we took moving out here as some East Coasters and hoping we would get a good reception and it always makes my day to hear from happy customers who love the mission. To answer your question, around 80-90% of our produce is seasonal, California produce. So during the winter variety does go down a little bit. We try to spice things up with buying surplus product that in most cases also would have gone to waste. Recently, we've also been experimenting with tropicals like mangoes -- sometimes they get shipped to America get rejected because of some tiny cosmetic reason or due to surpluses on the market and we're able to buy that up for a really good deal. And yeah, we're definitely growing the supply chain to other states as we expand.


Q:

Lex Luther

A:

Great concept. Could you please:

1) Shut up and take my money?

2) Expand to Austin ASAP? How does Tuesday look?


Q:

Martin's lesser-known kid brother?! ;)

Edit: Thank you for the gold!

A:

Haha done. I'll see you there.


Q:

It auto corrected so I left it, I just knew it was Luthor.

A:

Do you see expanding out to the East coast happening anytime soon? I think this is a great idea, and I hope you all can make it out to the East coast (specifically, NH!) I think a lot of people out here would benefit from this greatly :)


Q:

I figured, I just couldn't resist, though. I don't think Luthor gets anything from the Easter Bunny. Doesn't the Easter Bunny only visit nice comic book characters?

A:

Absolutely! Give us a few years but it's only a matter of time. You can sign up at imperfectproduce.com to get email updates on the new cities we launch in.


Q:

There is a Santa Clause in my rental contract. It allows the landlord to break into my apartment whenever he wants as long as he is dressed as Santa.

A:

My wife and I frequent a farm locally where we pick our own produce. I love this idea, and bringing awareness to people that there is perfectly good food to eat, that just may look different then you are used to.

I have been mostly unemployed for 8 months, surviving off web/contract work. I love the idea of promoting this way of thinking. I also live in the LA area, so this is exciting. Which leads me to my question: What would it take for me to get a job working for you and your company? (I have a resume I can send).


Q:

I'm not a real estate attorney, but maybe find a new landlord?

A:

We are growing quickly and are currently hiring. Check out our jobs page to stay up to date about current openings: http://www.imperfectproduce.com/career-openings/ Best of luck!


Q:

Have you seen a waxing or waning of the younger generation into your church/parish?

Roman Catholic here and the Parish I typically go to has seen a sharp downturn in the number of younger adults, professional age, and young families coming in. They are beginning to talk about combining parishes and reducing the number of masses.

Edit: Merry Christmas!

A:

Hi Ben, how do you guys manage logistics? Do you use traditional staffing agencies? Delivery Companies? Wonolo?

In speaking with some colleagues, I've understood logistics as the most difficult part.

Thanks!


Q:

At my parish we've been blessed with some pretty amazing young families over the past several years that I've been here. But there are still speed bumps--we've definitely had to do (and are still doing!) a lot of work in bridging the generational gaps in our congregation, and the culture of our area in general is such that church is very much on the periphery of many peoples' lives now, for a variety of reasons--some of them self-inflicted by the church.

I really do empathize with your parish and will say a prayer for you. At least two other congregations in my region have closed their doors during my time here. I went to seminary at a school that was located near a few different Roman Catholic seminaries and ended up taking a year's worth of my classes from them. It gave me a deep appreciation for your tradition and I want to see it thrive as much as I would like to see my own denomination thrive.

A:

Yeah, logistics is one of the hardest parts. In terms of getting the produce to us, we pay trucking companies a fee per pallet to go to our farms, pick up the produce and bring it to our warehouse on a refrigerated truck. We use a local startup called AxleHire to do the last mile delivery to customers' doorsteps.


Q:

The Christian churches I grew up attending taught that Catholics weren't real Christians and that they were blasphemers and idol-worshippers. It's not an uncommon thing among conservative evangelical churches and is pretty much the norm for fundamentalist Protestant churches. We called the Catholics "Papists" and didn't consider them saved because they didn't know the "true God" even though theirs had the same name as ours.

A:

How long before you think you'll make it to the east coast?


Q:

I'm sorry that was your experience growing up. I wish we had a more enlightened view towards Roman Catholicism. I have my disagreements with its doctrine, but I respect it immensely.

A:

3 years probably!


Q:

I was raised Roman Catholic my whole life. As soon as I was 18 I stopped going. Now I only ever think about church twice a year: Christmas Eve and Easter when I'm home with my family. Many of my friends who I grew up going to church with are now the same way.

Edit: words

A:

Bring it home to TkPk - a fellow blazer


Q:

I'm sorry you feel that way about church but am glad you still go with your family, I'm sure it means a lot to them.

A:

Also, as a food waste prevention and socially-conscious company, we naturally do a really good job of donating everything we can and composting the rest.


Q:

Is it hard always offering advice for your congregation but not having someone to confide in yourself? I became friends with my yoga instructor and found that people would just randomly dump their problems on him, and him, being a very empathetic person, really felt burdened by this.

A:

Canada Ontario? Or just USA


Q:

My roommate from seminary and I actually created a private online forum for our classmates and us to moan about how much seminary sucked, and that forum has grown and mushroomed into a bunch of our clergy friends being able to go somewhere in private to ask for advice and counsel from trusted colleagues. It is an incredibly useful and cathartic tool to have in my toolkit.

A:

Just USA for now, but we've been looking at the possibility of expanding to Canada. You think there would be a good customer base there for us?


Q:

As someone who is in a "helping profession" I'm glad you have this!

A:

[deleted]


Q:

Thanks. Hope you have a great support network for yourself too.

A:

It's pretty rare we would ever use normal produce. Sometimes we use produce that is #1 market grade, but we get it because it's surplus.


Q:

I'm an Australian Anglican and am having quite a bit of trouble trying to understand the many different Christian denominations and what sets them all apart from each other. Can you recommend a good resource for learning about this that is simple and easy to read?

Cheers.

A:

Why aren't "ugly" produce simply juiced?


Q:

Yeah, Christianity at this point is like a frozen yogurt shop...some of the flavors make sense but others you're like, "Did they really have to go to all the trouble to come up with this one?" :)

Adam Hamilton is a friend of a friend and a good author and pastor. One of the books he has written digs into what sets denominations apart, it's called Christianity's Family Tree and IIRC only costs several bucks on Amazon. It's a few years old at this point but most everything in there is still applicable. Hope this helps!

A:

For a few items it usually is -- like apples, valencia oranges, lemons, etc. A lot of items don't really have juicing markets like kiwis, persimmons, eggplant, etc. Even the apples and other items with super well developed juicing/processor markets the farmers often lose money selling their produce and sometimes it's sort of a grey area where they may not have a guaranteed buyer and are in the same boat with a bunch of other apple growers trying to offload ugly apples. So the price falls out, they sell it below cost, and sometimes aren't even able to find a buyer so it still does go to waste.


Q:

Read that as Alexander Hamilton, was very confused.

A:

Hey Ben! Awesome concept. What inspired you to start doing this?


Q:

Yeah, he's my BAE.

A:

I first got interested in food waste in college when my friends and I noticed a bunch of really good food from our dining hall was just getting tossed out at the end of the night. We created this program called Food Recovery Network to recover and donate it and FRN has now grown to 200 colleges. I ran that for 4 years and learned that where the most food is actually getting wasted that could be recovered is on farms. I used my vacation time to take a little trip through California's Central Valley and after talking to a lot of farmers and realizing they all had this same problem of overly strict cosmetic standards I was inspired to move to the Bay last summer to start Imperfect.


A:

Is there any chance that we will see an included guide or email along with our box that can give guidance on storage (refrigerating, lifespan, etc.) of the different fruits and veggies we're getting? Having such a huge box can be tough to get through and I want to make sure that my produce doesn't go bad too quickly. Loving everything else so far, thank you!


Q:

Busted.

A:

Great question! First time customers automatically get our handy refrigeration and storage guide to help navigate this problem. We totally hear you that it can be daunting to have a big box of produce and worry about parts of it going bad before you finish it. Our company is built around the idea of avoiding waste so we want to make sure this is easy for our customers as well. If you did not get your storage guide for some reason we are more than happy to send you another one! Just shoot us a message on Facebook or email [email protected] and we will help you out. Thanks for your kind words and support!


Q:

Why are many churches and denominations so rules-focused, formulaic, and ceremonial? Wasn't Jesus an opponent of the religious elite?

A:

Do you deliver nationwide?


Q:

I'll answer your second question first, because that's the simpler one: Yes, He was.

My personal theory as to why so many churches care so much about rules is because they value homogeneity. Many (not all, but many) churches are uniform across a great many lines--race/ethnicity, generation, socio-economic status, etc. Having more rules to sort of act as gates or hurdles makes it easier for them to filter out potential boat-rocking right at the outset...that's honestly why I think you see churches that make people sign ridiculously long statements of belief as a condition of membership: it's an insurance policy against anyone really changing the norms that have already been established. Which is unfortunate, because then those norms become an idol, and Jesus becomes a means of upholding those norms, not upholding the life-changing love, grace, and mercy of God.

Edit: Thank you for the gold!

A:

As of now we deliver to the Bay Area, and are expanding to the LA area in the beginning of 2017! Feel free to pre-sign up on our website to get an email when we expand to your area. imperfectproduce.com !


Q:

Agreed. My mother always simplified faith vs doctrine down to this: it isn't a religion, it's a relationship.

A:

What is your favorite fruit?


Q:

In Matthew 22, when Jesus is asked what the most important law is, He lists two: love God (Deuteronomy 6:5) and love your neighbor (Leviticus 19:18). But He then says that on these two hang the entirety of the Law and the Prophets.

Put another way: love God, and love your neighbor. Everything else is commentary.

Edit: thank you so much for the gold!

A:

I'm a watermelon guy personally. More recently, having moved to the west coast to start Imperfect I got put onto persimmons. I'm a big fan of the Fuyu in particular.


Q:

Do you mind that so many people only go to services over Christmas? Would you rather they all came a lot more often, or are you happy that they do come for the important ones?

A:

Because hachiya persimmons are the astringent asshole of fruit unless you let them ripen to the point of juice?

Japan has this figured out with the dried hachiya persimmons. Those are delicious.


Q:

I don't mind in the slightest because I know it's not personal. That's what happens on the important days. Synagogues generally have much higher attendance for Yom Kippur. Heck, the NFL gets its highest ratings for the Super Bowl, not the regular season. So why should I get all bent out of shape over more people being here for Christmas and/or Easter?

The only thing about it that really irks me is when I then hear the complaints about only hearing the same thing whenever someone comes to church. Like, don't complain about there not being a variety of books at the library if you only ever go there to check out one in particular.

A:

Hey friends! Thanks again for the wonderfully thoughtful questions. This was so much fun. I have to run now but would absolutely love to do a follow up session some time. Happy holidays!


Q:

How long do you practice a sermon before delivering it?

A:

I don't rehearse my sermons at all. Each one probably takes 8-10 hours to write, though, depending on the amount of preparation work that went into the series it is a part of.


Q:

So you don't practice what you preach.

A:

I see what you did there!


Q:

Why don't you rehearse it?

I take more time rehearsing mine than writing them.

A:

I've found that giving the sermon for the first time when I'm actually up there as opposed to in front of a mirror creates an enthusiasm and excitement that I cannot artificially replicate.


Q:

I went to Catholic school and was forced to go to church until I was 18. It definitely lost its appeal to me during that time as I just did not feel affected by going to church all that much. Is there any specific reason you think that many young people have decided to not continue going to church after attending a Catholic school?

A:

I have a lot of "I was raised Catholic" (but am no longer Catholic) friends, and to be honest it is hard for me to pin that phenomenon down to a specific reason because their experience isn't mine (I went to public school and was the one kid in a hundred who dragged his parents to church). And my one foray into Roman Catholic education (during my time at seminary) I greatly enjoyed.

All of that being said--I think my generation (the millennials) cherishes its autonomy and freedom of movement greatly. Being told they have to sit through church or religious education runs contrary to that. If we go to church or religious school, we want it to be our choice. So if I had to venture a guess as to a common denominator, I would say that has a lot to do with it.


Q:

Thank you for your answer! Yes I agree and I will be going to church today for the one time a year. Always go with family at Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

A:

Merry Christmas to you as well. I hope your return to church today will be enjoyable and lovely with your family.


Q:

I think the focus on tradition and doing things because that's how they are done is a huge turnoff to millennials (myself included). I think that's likely because we were the first generation that was easily able to find answers to things on our own without going to an authority. Just my take...

A:

Wait a second, I must Wikipedia your answer.


Q:

You got jokes man.

A:

The jokes come from God. I am but the vessel.

Edit: Thank you for the gold!


Q:

If I were still a Christian, I'd like to have you as a pastor. If you're ever in the New Orleans area, hit me up.

A:

I've got a husband-and-wife pair of seminary classmates doing ministry in New Orleans and I promise they're at least as witty as I am, if not more so. Let me know if you'd like me to hook you up!


Q:

I think a lot of people these days see organised religions as an institutions filled with hypocrisy. On top of that it's sometimes hard not to associate Christianity with prejudice idiots who tend to spruke their uninformed opinions loudly in public places.

It's hard for most people to hear that nonsense and think "gee, I'd really like to associate with these people, and come to worship their god"

A:

As C.S. Lewis said as a character in a fantastic play called Freud's Last Session, "The biggest problem with Christianity is Christians."


Q:

What is the most misunderstood thing about Christianity or the Church in general?

A:

That we all hate everything and everyone that isn't us. That is not how I, many of my colleagues, my church, and their churches do business. We care much more about building you up, not tearing you down. I promise.


Q:

Favorite pokemon? Jesus's favorite pokemon?

A:

My favorite: Sandslash--over on the pokemongo reddit, my flair reads "Sacramental Sandslash"

Jesus's favorite? Probably Lapras, since it can walk (swim?) on water.


Q:

Alolan or original form?

A:

I'm a veteran of the early games, so original form. Plus, the Alolan Sandslash looks like Articuno got to do its makeup or somesuch. :/


Q:

When you consider the vastness and scale of the universe, and then think about the religious beliefs held by Humans, do you ever feel a certain dissonance between the two?

Have a great Christmas and new year :)

A:

A little bit. Like, in Genesis 1, God takes three days to create the earth but just one day to create the rest of the universe? I mean, I guess we're special, but...yeah. I understand where you're coming from.

That being said, really, the vastness of the universe to me also underscores the vastness of God's creative ability. Even if we have really only glimpsed the tip of the proverbial iceberg, the writers of Scripture had to write about what they knew, and their experience of the universe simply didn't include all of the astronomic inquiry that we enjoy today. Which is why the Bible isn't a science textbook, but that's another question here!


Q:

There are other explanations. The whole universe being created on verse 1 and the rest is just a description from the surface of the earth with the sky and what is contains becoming visible little by little...

A:

Actually, I think that goes hand-in-hand with what I'm trying to say about the writers having to write from their experience of God. From their vantage point, it's indeed the rest of the universe becoming visible little bit little. You put it much better than I did, though!


Q:

Thank you for this AMA. I know you mentioned you have very good relations with a muslim congregation nearby. I find this amazing - would you mind telling us what joint ventures you've taken on together?

Edit: letters

A:

Mentioned this elsewhere, but we're right next door to a school where probably 95% of the kids are on free or reduced school lunches. We buy food and clothes for the kids, adopt families at the nearby battered women + children shelter for Christmas, and contribute to turning utilities back on in their homes--or towards preventing their utilities from being shut off (or preventing eviction) to begin with.

Edit: sorry, I missed the "Muslim" part of that post (in my defense, it's been a crazy AMA session!). I thought you were just referring to the congregations near us. There isn't a mosque near us--I think I was using the mosque as a hypothetical for defending the rights of other faith traditions in that post. Sorry for my confusion!!


Q:

Hello, merry Christmas!! At my parish they are trying to attract more younger people to mass by "modernizing" the music (making it more energetic, more instruments rather than just a piano/organ, etc.) but the older people have expressed some sorts of hatred towards it. What do you think of this and what do you think are some ways to attract younger people to mass?

A:

Merry Christmas to you too!

We've definitely had some of the exact same growing pains where some folks would have still preferred the organ and hymns to the music our praise band offers. But the energy that our praise band brings to the table is such a gift and when I point that out, folks usually agree and grin and bear it. Honestly, I'm very grateful for our older folks being willing to make that sacrifice--the music takes up about as much time in the worship as my message, so it's no small thing.

Honestly, the most reliable way I've found of attracting youth/millennials is authenticity. We can sense BS from a mile away and know when we are being used for window dressing or tokenism. Be willing to engage us where we're at, be open to our new ideas, and for pete's sake, don't expect us to dress or talk like our grandparents. We love them dearly, but they're not us, you know?


Q:

Why are you a dirty schismatic and when will you return to beautiful mother Church?

(Juuust kidding. Merry Christmas. Honestly this is one of the best times of year for ecumenical brotherhood between Christian denominations.)

A:

When Torquemada sics the nuns on me, then I'll come back.

The inquisition, what a show! The inquisition, here we go!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PR7hp0613QY&t=205s


Q:

What do think is an appropriate age to introduce the scarier parts of the bible to children? I ask because i was raised Quaker and one of the younger kids, age 6-7, in my meeting went to went to church with a friend and was traumatized by God is watching you, hell and the death of Jesus, told us we were all going to hell, had night terrors and his parents had to get him therapy. I got into the bible when i was 9 or 10 and interest in mythology, somewhat able to understand the concept of symbolism rather than take it literally. Also, my husband was raised Jewish and learned about the holocaust at too tender an age in his adult opinion, the uglier side of religious history is also a bit much for young minds to process. In meeting, us kids only learned the parables of Jesus and did some community service, we didnt join the adults until we were maybe 12-13 depending if/when we wanted to.

A:

I think it varies from kid to kid. Some kids have a maturity to be able to have those conversations earlier than others. But as a rule of thumb, I decline to baptize peoples' kids until they are at least 9 or 10 precisely for that reason. I want their faith to be their choice, not because they were scared into it because you were preached hellfire and brimstone since preschool. There is definitely a way to talk about things like sin and evil with kids, but that's not it.

And honestly, I come across plenty of adults who have a hard time processing just how hurtful organized religion can be/has been in the past. So...maybe never? :)


Q:

But as a rule of thumb, I decline to baptize peoples' kids until they are at least 9 or 10 precisely for that reason. I want their faith to be their choice, not because they were scared into it

I'm American Episcopal, for reference. Given this statement, what are your thoughts on the denominations who baptize children as babies, and use the rite of Confirmation as the mature choice of faith?

A:

I don't believe people who have experienced infant baptism need to be re-baptized. I have re-baptized people on request, but its often because they, say, came from extremely strict or fundamentalist backgrounds and never really felt like it was their choice.

Put a different way: whatever floats your boat. We're all trying to get to the same place in the end.


Q:

Two questions, actually. First, how do you balance reliance on specifically Christian theology with more general sentiments in your sermon, especially on a day like today where there are many causal attendees? I'm a musician and tend to get asked to play services on the high holidays (extra budget for the music!) which I always greatly enjoy. I'm not Christian but am religious and I love being able to use my abilities for something that helps people closer to God. However, I'm always somewhat put off by the sermons, which 90% of the time seem to have little or nothing to do with being Christian and are just generic platitudes about being nice to people with a "cause God says so" tacked on the end. Is this an intentional thing for Christmas to not drive off those newcomers? It's so widespread I feel like there must be some thought behind it.

Second question is what are your thoughts on Santa for children? How do you see it tying into religion and would you continue the traditional Santa idea with your own kids?

A:

My college chaplain gave me some great advice on preaching Christmas--just pick one thing about Christmas and really go in-depth on that. That way, it stays fresh even though you're preaching the same story, and you get to scratch the itch to add some red meat to the message. This year, I'm working on the angels' pronouncement "And on earth, peace among those whom God favors."

I'm personally agnostic on Santa. I think it's fine, but I also think it is used to contribute to the overcommercialization of Christmas, so...I don't know yet how I'd approach it if I had kids.


Q:

Working on your sermon the day before? I thought that was why we had a song between the reading and the sermon - for me to come up with something! ;)

A:

In my church, I preach right after the reading, so I had better be ready to go. It is a hard life I lead. :)


Q:

What are your thoughts on the Christian=Republican phenomenon?

A:

I think that ever since Christians were mobilized to oppose a born-again Sunday School teacher during his presidential re-elect in 1980, many Christians have cared more about being good Republicans first and good Christians second.

Put another way: the seeds of that 81% of the white evangelical vote breaking for Trump were sown years before I was even born. So it is going to take a long time to extract that poison from our body.


Q:

Hello, pastor! My father is the pastor of Woodside Bible Church in Farmington Hills, Michigan; having grown up in the church, I have a more faith-based question to ask you. What do you think can be done to change society's view of Christianity in today's world?

A:

Honest answer? Get attention-seeking talking heads like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell Jr., and James Dobson as far away from television and social media as humanly possible.


Q:

I live in the same town as Jerry Falwell Jr. and I couldn't agree more.

A:

My wife is from North Carolina--Billy Graham's home state. The feeling there among many of her friends and family about Franklin Graham is probably not unlike your feelings about Jerry Falwell Jr. My sympathies.


Q:

I'm an atheist. Franklin Graham's charity, Samaritan's' Purse, helped me out after my house was flooded. I don't like his intolerance toward Muslims, but I am grateful for his group's kindness. No one is all good or all bad.

A:

Samaritan's Purse does amazing work. Franklin Graham has inflicted very real emotional and spiritual pain upon my friends who are LGBTQ or Muslim through his use of social media and television. Both those things can be true.


Q:

Favorite Christmas movie?

A:

Muppet Family Christmas. Every time the Swedish Chef tries to cook Big Bird as the Christmas turkey, I absolutely lose it.


Q:

Hey! I don't identity as religious but I'm interested in learning more about all religions including Christianity.

Three Christmases ago I was in a foreign city with no family so I decided to attend a Christmas Day Mass for the first time, purely out of curiosity. From memory it was a Said Eucharist (spelling?) and I stuck around afterwards for the Sung Eucharist as well. I'll be honest with you: both of them freaked me out, they were supremely ceremonious and a little too intimidating for an amateur like me.

What type of church or form of Christmas mass would you recommend for a beginner?

A:

I'd google the churches near you and check out their websites--any church website worth a flat dollar will have a page that's a "what to expect" or "FAQ/for beginners" type of thing. Look at those, then call up the office of the one or two that seem the least intimidating to you and make an appointment with the pastor before showing up on a Sunday. If the pastor never seems available for a phone call or an appointment, scratch that church off your list.


Q:

Not a deep philosophical question, but... what hymnal does your congregation use? I ask because I collect hymnals, and I'm always looking for titles I don't have on my shelves. Usually, I find the same ones over and over, but once in a while somebody will have one I've never seen.

A:

Hymns for the Family of God. It's a pretty old hymnal and not my first choice personally, but they like it, so I was happy to keep it. :)


Q:

Have you ever done a sermon on who wrote the New testament? Especially focusing on Paul and who he was before the road to Damascus (or whatever)? Do you ever encourage your congratulations to question and to doubt? Or do you just say whatever keeps butts in seats?

A:

I am a card-carrying member of the "say whatever keeps butts in seats" club. (Actually, that's not true. There are no cards. I asked.)

I actually did a sermon series a couple of years ago that went verse-by-verse through Romans 8 and was a good vehicle for explaining how Paul saw himself pre- and post-Damascus. I tend to use the Bible study classes I teach as vehicles for teaching about individual authors of the Scriptures, since, after all, I belong to the "keep butts in seats" club and don't want folks nodding off as I pontificate on the differences between the different endings of Mark. :)


Q:

How can you be man of god while wearing the most sinful hat ever created in your twitter pic? /s

A:

I am a delightful basket of contradictions.


Q:

Do you support Gay "Conversion" therapy? Of all western nations the USA seems to be the only one that hasn't banned it outright (and if states have people actually challenged to preserve their "right" to torture people), while literally all medical evidence has found its impossible to change someone's sexual orientation.

A:

I was raised in a church that had an openly gay worship pastor and I had LGBTQ classmates in seminary who had experienced gay conversion therapy with traumatic results. I fully support the effort to make it illegal in my country.


Q:

First: wholeheartedly agree with banning this 'therapy'.

Second: how does the seminary you attend reconcile the new testament teaching against homosexuality with accepting LGBTQ clergy? This is one of the things I've never been able to pin down.

A:

So...I don't accept the premise that the teaching in Romans 1 is against homosexuality. Paul is arguing against unnatural sex...well, if you are oriented towards attraction to people of the same sex, then sex with someone of the opposite sex might indeed feel unnatural.


Q:

Thank you for your reply! Have a happy holiday 🤗

A:

You too!


Q:

I am a Muslim American that does not celebrate Christmas, but is very interested in the entire theology of the holiday (The songs and decorations are a plus).What kind of event should I go to in a church just to understand more about it? Also what would you like to tell me about the Prophet Jesus so may I understand more about him? I have never had the opportunity to ask a learned man in Christianity this question and would like to hear your answer.

A:

Christmas Eve/Day would be a great service, because there are often so many other visitors that there shouldn't be much, if any, pressure on you to keep up with everything as a first-time visitor. Then, ask to make an appointment with the pastor there if you feel like you have been welcomed...I know that many churches and Christians can be quite Islamophobic, for which I am very sorry, but hopefully you can have a good experience visiting a church to learn about Jesus. I was required to read the Qur'an for a class on Islam in seminary and I am very glad that I did, it gave me a much better understanding of, and appreciation for, Islam. I hope the same for you with Christianity!


Q:

As someone with family in the Clergy, I know there are always good stories.

What was a great 'they didn't teach us about this in Seminary' story?

Do you have have any good stories from dealing with those 'special' members of the congregation that exist in all churches?

A:

I do have some such stories but I must decline to share them here out of respect for my congregants and their privacy. I love them dearly and the last thing I want from this AMA would be for them to feel like I am spilling about them. I hope you understand! (It sounds like you will, since you have clergy relatives...bless you. :) )


Q:

Can I ask a question about terminology?

I'm a PK and one of the pet peeves that my father passed onto me about the ministry was the term "reverend." He would never correct people or complain in public, but privately would always rant that the term is an adjective and not an honorific. Similar to referring to a judge as "your honor." Listening to this throughout my childhood, my ears always perk up when I hear the term used in a way my father disliked. I'm curious if he is just a pedant with a pet peeve, or do more pastors feel the same way? thanks!

PS. I love reading the blue testament. Here's hoping to at least half of a season with EPB next year!

A:

So I'm not formal as a general rule--most of my congregants refer to me simply by my first name or as "Pastor," which suits me perfectly fine.

But--if you want to be formal, then, yes, my formal title is "Reverend." It is an adjective, like my dad the judge being "Your Honor," but it is my formal title. Plus, being called "Mister" just makes me feel old.

I have it on good authority (an interview Vermes did with Bukaty) that EPB is indeed coming back for preseason, and I hope we're able to see some of what he can do. He has apparently impressed with Porto B, which is a very good sign. Glad you like TBT!


Q:

Fellow Celtic fan here🍀🍀 what got you into the hoops??

A:

I don't get out much on Saturdays because I'm getting ready for Sundays--Thursday and Friday are for my fun nights out. So getting up on Saturday mornings and watching the Scottish prem matches over some hot coffee and my sermon manuscript became something of a tradition for me, and from there, I began following Celtic in the Champion's League as well--pretty easy to do, since Fox has broadcast rights here for both.

I actually asked "Santa" for a Celtic jersey for Christmas this year, so if he isn't too beat up by the Easter Bunny, I hope some new green and white duds have my name on them. :)


Q:

Are you nuts? Posting an AMA on Christmas Eve as a parish priest? Dude, you are a brave soul. I really appreciate you reaching out here to whatever comes your way. I don't have any questions for you. I was just really impressed by your willingness to be available here on what has got to be a pretty full day for you. Merry Christmas!

A:

Are you nuts?

Magic 8 ball says "reply hazy, try again later."


Q:

As a person from a religious background, I would love to know your opinion on the whole science v/s religion debate. Why does religion rely too much on faith and not on proof like science?

(Note: I am not trying to ignite debate here. Genuinely interested in knowing the OPs opinions!)

A:

I think it is entirely possible to both believe in God and to believe in scientific inquiry. They are not mutually exclusive things. The Bible contains the creation account (two of them, really, since Genesis 1 and 2 are different interpretations of the same event), but even more than explaining how we got here, the Bible exists to explain how we should live now that we are here. We sometimes miss the forest for the trees in that way.


Q:

As a follow up to this; why don't people choose to see scientific advancements as the miracles they are waiting for? People pray for a cure, scientists discover a cure, but some people refuse to use them still.

A:

The same reason the guy who is in a flood refuses to leave his house even after someone on a raft and then someone in a rescue chopper both come by offering to save him because he believes that God will save him. We want to think that we're special little snowflakes to God to the extent that God would intervene in our lives to an extent that God wouldn't in another, lesser mortal's life.

Of course, that poor chap then gets to the throne in heaven and God says, "You fool, I sent you a raft and a helicopter. What more do you want from me?"


Q:

Heard that for the first time on The West Wing. 😊

A:

THAT'S WHERE I GOT THAT FROM!! I TOTALLY FORGOT THAT UNTIL YOU SAID IT!

Karl Malden was amazing...


Q:

I definitely agree, I feel that the Genesis creation stories are so much more about how to live than people realise because they're all so focused on the creation aspect. They also tell us a lot about our God in comparison to other gods who were worshipped in the time period during which these accounts were written. Ours is a God who is close to us (not distant), who cares for us unconditionally (not vindictive) and who is one all knowing, all powerful being who brings order to our world and our live.

Edit: I realise I digressed from the science issue, but my understanding is that Religion and Science are just different ways of exploring and thinking about our world :)

A:

The comparative study of the Genesis creation stories with other ancient peoples' creation stories is a fascinating thing indeed.


Q:

Do you think the historic theological differences between the major denominations - romam Catholic, orthodox, calvanism, etc - have any relevance at all to people's choice of church?

A:

Some of them do. I've had congregants get shunned or kept at arms' length by their own family because their relatives picked up a particular religious or theological bent that was very different from theirs. Which is incredibly sad to see.

Me, it mostly affects me directly by the number of Calvinist theologybros who try to correct me on Twitter. :)


Q:

Practicing Catholic here. I went to a Catholic grade school, and I absolutely adore the sense of community of the Church and overall respect for each other. What is one thing about your communities that you really enjoy? Merry Christmas!

A:

I love the fellowship time we have after worship. It often turns into a fullblown lunch and even during football season, I'd say 80% or so of folks stick around for it. I just hop from table to table and catch up with people, make myself available for prayer requests, that sort of thing. It's incredibly energizing, which is a very rare thing for an introvert like me.