BT Irwin Posts

A blog about looking for the Way of Jesus Christ in 21st century America

Page 2

Soon, my dad will go on a journey beyond the stars. Here’s how I’m feeling and thinking about it.


A couple of weeks ago, my dad broke the news to my sisters and me: His doctors are out of real options for stopping the spread of his cancer.

They offered to try a different kind of chemotherapy (Dad already put himself through two other kinds). They also offered to put him on a waiting list for a trial.

Dad asked my sisters and me for our opinions. Should he keep fighting?

I asked Dad if he felt that he had “run the race” (Second Timothy 4:7-8).

He said that he did.

So we all came to the same place: Dad’s time has come.

He starts hospice care soon.

Dad is one of the most important people in my life. He was there the day I was born and has been there for me every day ever since. Even though he lives about 600 miles away from me, we talk almost every day. He is the first person I call when I need advice or when I have good news.

Let me show you what it will be like for me...

Continue reading →

Easter: No ordinary afterlife

Photo by Bruno van der Kraan on Unsplash

Most people I know assume an afterlife. Heaven for the good folks. Hell for the bad folks. They assume that, when a person dies, her or his spirit drifts up to the “sweet by and by,” where they will lounge about in loose white robes and strum their harps forever.

This, however, is not a picture of the Christian afterlife.

The Christian afterlife, you see, is no ordinary afterlife.

In truth, there is no such thing as an afterlife in Christianity; there is only the resurrection life.

The central, defining essence of Christianity is not that people “die and go to heaven”; it is that God raises the dead.

Put another way: The promise of Christianity is that God will make all things new (Book of Revelation 21:5). Dead things. Lost things. Things that could have been (but never were).

There is a resurrection body (First Corinthians 15:35-58)...

Continue reading →

Perfectionist or servant leader? My last thoughts about the job I am leaving after five years.

Photo by Varad Sawant on Unsplash

A few years ago I finally figured out: I could be a perfectionist or I could be a servant leader. I couldn’t be both.

So I chose to act like a servant leader and fight my impulse to be perfect.

Sometimes it worked.

This week, I say goodbye to the nonprofit organization I led since 2017.

After my first week there, I knew that I would not get anything done if I aimed for perfection. I found too many messes. I found messes under the messes. A huge game of whack-a-mess.

I knew better than to think that I could clean all of that up quickly.

I knew better than to think that I could clean up all of those messes without getting messy myself.

So I made the choice to just do what I could each day. I made the choice to make honest mistakes and say I was sorry for them. I made the choice to try things, take responsibility for them if they failed, and...

Continue reading →

Why some dying churches are proud to be dying churches

Photo by Stanislav Ferrao on Unsplash

“We showed them what the Bible teaches and tried to set them straight, but they seemed to have their minds set on doing some strange things.”

“Like what?” I asked.

“Like…” he paused and scrunched up his face. “Like being inclusive. They seemed to care too much about growing.”

“But…the Gospel…didn’t Jesus…?” I stammered. Before I could finish the question, his phone rang and he picked it up. I walked away to give him space to talk in private.

I also decided to walk away from offering to preach and teach at his church.

Just a few minutes earlier, he told me that they were between ministers and needed someone to fill in. Since I do that for small congregations that don’t have their own ministers, I was about to offer myself.

But when he seemed to say that there is something unbiblical and wrong about being inclusive, about growing, I knew I had...

Continue reading →

The gospel of cracked pots

Photo by OC Gonzalez on Unsplash

So far in my life, I don’t know if I made bigger or more mistakes than most people.

But I made a lot of mistakes.

And I made some big ones. Costly ones. Stupid ones.

A stupid mistake is born when carelessness and costliness hook up.

I made one such stupid mistake the other day. I keep replaying all the little choices I made that led to such a stupid mistake. At what point in that process did I take leave of my senses?

I feel like a man waking up at a crash scene and trying to remember the exact moment when I fell asleep at the wheel.

Have you ever felt that way? Ever made a mistake like that?

What happens inside you as you deal with the aftermath?

For me, the hardest thing about making a stupid mistake is feeling stupid.

That feeling can go on for a long time. Even a lifetime.

I still feel stupid for stupid mistakes I made 30 years...

Continue reading →



Russians saved me once.

The months after I graduated from college were lonely and strange.

I went to a small town Christian university where I belonged to a group of friends who held me close in light and warmth.

Upon graduation, I took a job at a big company that moved me to Chicago, hundreds of miles away from everyone and everything familiar to me.

As summer turned to fall and the days got colder and darker, my soul turned cold and dark, too. Every day, I got up before sunrise to fight the city traffic to the office. I worked all day in my grey cubicle. Since I didn’t have anyone waiting for me back at my apartment, I stayed at work until long after the sun went down. Then I made the long commute home, stopping for take-out that I ate alone before going to bed early.

For a few months, it was the same thing every day.

I was so lonely. And sad. I wished that I could go back...

Continue reading →

The most outrageous thing about Christianity

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

There are people that, I have to tell you, I hope burn in hell.

I’m not saying it’s right for me to want that; I’m just saying that the feeling comes over me strong and I can’t stop it.

I bet you know the feeling, too. For example, when someone harms a child it takes every ounce of my Christianity to not wish hell on that person.

But this post is not about the people we would be happy to see in hell.

It’s about the people we would not be happy to see in heaven.

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a woman whose brother died. I knew the man, though I did not know him well. He believed the things that conservative Christian traditions like mine believe are necessary to go to heaven. He went to “the right church” (once in a while). When he was there, he always put a check in the offering plate. He was decent enough to his family. Decent, if...

Continue reading →

Shadow of death

Photo by Austrian National Library on Unsplash

The last three weeks brought back a fear that I didn’t feel for 30 years: The fear of everything I love ending in an atomic fireball.

Kneeling under the flash of that fear is the moment when my faith either turns out to be real enough for the real world–or just make-believe.

It is easy to say “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil” (Psalm 23:4) when I have a good, stable income, health insurance, plenty of savings, and six figures worth of equity in my house. It is easy to say when I live in a quiet neighborhood where the biggest threats on the street are the occasional door-to-door salesman or stray dog.

It is easy to say when I live in a country that seems like a castle, standing behind the mightiest military in human history and two ocean moats.

Have any Christians in human history ever...

Continue reading →

What a unicorn man taught me about America

Photo by Rosalind Chang on Unsplash

Wait a minute. Is that guy wearing a unicorn costume?

I was in a restaurant, waiting to pick up my takeout order. The place was empty except for the man coming through the door.

The grown man…wearing a dirty pink and purple unicorn costume. A single glittery unicorn horn sparkled just above his bearded, burly face.

I took a couple of steps back and tried to not stare.

A sight like this causes a man to search his mind for an explanation.

Could he be a performer on his way to a children’s party?

The grubbiness of his costume and his unkempt face made that unlikely.

When he stepped up to place his order, I listened for how he would explain his costume to the woman at the register.

But he didn’t. He gave a cheerful “hello,” said something about the weather, ordered his food, and told her he liked her shirt (bright red with a picture of a...

Continue reading →

Grace raises our failures and sins from the dead and transforms them into wisdom

Travis Irwin Steele Avenue Church of Christ 1981 - 2004.jpg

My dad is 72 today (March 9, 2022).

I imagine that 72 is a happy birthday. That’s a long life! That is a lot of years in which a man can find so many reasons to be thankful.

I imagine that 72 is also a hard birthday because, well, a man has to wonder how much time he has left…and how much harder it will get to keep on living one more year.

Seventy-two is not what we call a “milestone year,” but it is one for Dad. Last year–not long after his 71st birthday–cancer cast its shadow over him for the second time in his life. The doctors told him that with this cancer, it is not a matter of “if,” but “when.”

So 72 is a milestone, as every birthday will be for Dad from now on.

Dad and I are different in a few ways. One of them is that Dad has what we in our family always called the “heebie-jeebies.” He is always doing something or looking for something to do. None of us ever knew Dad to...

Continue reading →