Not at church? — Phil Rice

I want to continue the Phil Rice story in unpacking one way that my family and I have been walking out Practical Spirituality in our own world.

While on the earth, Jesus did a pretty incredible thing [a pretty incredible series of things]. Though for now, let’s just focus on a single piece of the puzzle. Jesus, Emmanuel — God among us. This piece of who Jesus is has always resonated with me. Jesus, came to the earth, he left his home, he left his omnipresence, and he became a man. He did this in order to relate to me [you] specifically, he knows me, knows my culture, knows the human condition. He’s in. Talk about being spiritually practical [and actionable].

I love this about Jesus… but I’m having trouble with it… so take this as a Phil Rice wrestling through a thing, kind of thing [Mmk?].

So, if you’re up for it, I’d love for you to join me in walking through a few thoughts.

Jesus [Emmanuel] left his palace in the sky [the description of this place is pretty wild… you should check it out if you haven’t] — Ezekiel 43, Revelation 4, Revelation 21. He left his culture, his closest relationships, his servants [can’t relate there… or with the palace in the sky actually], his place of influence… and he came to a new place. He came to the earth, he was born into our world [like really born… slimy, bloody, bodily fluid born]. He lived the life of an outcast. He didn’t fit into his family. He didn’t fit into his culture. And he definitely didn’t fit with in the religious system [he didn’t fit in so much that those overseeing the system actually killed him].

Why did he come to us? Because we wouldn’t go to him.

So, why did Jesus come to us? Because we wouldn’t go to him. Every time God tried to reach in to communicate his desire for nearness with humanity, we eventually silenced him in one way or another. So he came to us.

No problem so far? Cool… well… here’s the Phil Rice wrestle… no… actually, here’s a brief story…

At the end of 2015, Becky and I said goodbye to an amazing church community here in Norman, Oklahoma. This community and its leadership impacted our lives in ways that have changed us forever. In the fall of 2015, it was decided that the organization would fold. Families and individuals sought the Lord for what was next [from beginning to end and beyond, an incredibly painful and challenging season of time for everyone involved]. In the end, people landed in one place or another. Many families joined other church organizations in the area, a few families continued meeting together regularly in homes, and then a few of us just waited. And, to be honest, two years later, Becky and I are waiting.

Waiting for what?

Something that Becky and I immediately noticed in January of 2016 was the state of our calendar… it was empty. For the first time ever [like…ever], it was empty. We went from being at the center of a large community of weekly gathering, passionately worshipping, friend inviting, communally praying, followers of Jesus… to just being… us. No plan, no strategy, no organizational mechanism to move us forward. We were us. And, you know what we found? It was so refreshing.

It wasn’t refreshing because we didn’t love our church community of 12 years and grieve it’s end. It wasn’t refreshing because we were so glad to be done with church. It was refreshing because there was space. There was space to listen to God and to one another. There was space to ask questions about what it could look like for Rice party of four to follow Jesus together. Those 12 years were a most incredible bootcamp. We were given tools, values, perspectives, and then… we were released into the wild with a piece of rope and a snickers bar. Going to find another bootcamp just didn’t feel like the answer for us, we were ready, we were waiting… we are waiting… but waiting for what?

Here’s the Phil Rice wrestle… the magnetic pull of organized church

Our family calendar reflects the values of our family, explicitly or implicitly. When Becky and I were part of a church community of 200 people, our calendar was magnetically pulled toward the center of the community — the relationships we were pulled towards, the activities we participated in, the practices we adopted. This would probably be true of anyone in any group. And… We loved it. We loved the people, we aligned with the practices. We were in.

But then we looked around. And we found that our calendar was filled to the brim with meaningful activities with other Jesus followers. We had created our own palace, filled with all the comforts of adoring Jesus in a culture that adores Jesus. We gaped when we realized the level of energy we [personally] were spending managing “discipling relationships” with people who were already followers of Jesus and how little of our energy went to knowing and discipling those still on the path to knowing him.

That’s not to say we didn’t reach out to people outside of our palace to invite them in. We did. But it just wasn’t their palace. It was’t their culture. Don’t misunderstand, we had individuals meet Jesus through our community of friends and join our community. Their lives were impacted, they were impowered, and I love their stories. But it took a lot of social bravery on their behalf to leave their culture and to come into ours. But what of their friends and what of their families? What if they weren’t as brave?

Is there another way we could approach some of this?

I can’t help but ask the question. Does the way we organize hinder many from experiencing God’s spirit through genuine, real relationship with the Jesus follower? Does the way we organize bar the Jesus follower from being the extension of Emmanuel, the God who brings relevance from within a culture, simply because there isn’t relational time on the calendar?

So here we are… in the midst of the wrestle

So here we are. Two years later. Just us. We haven’t joined a church. We haven’t started a church. Now, we do have close friends who also follow Jesus. We share meals and experiences with these friends. We’ve had book clubs with these friends. We are even in group therapy with some of these friends [are you part of a small group? … um… I go to therapy?]. But something really helpful is happening… there’s no magnetic pull to the palace at the center. Because there’s no center and there’s no palace.

Taking our cues and taking our time

In the spring of 2016, we spent some time in Portland with Paul Watson — read his book, it’ll change your life… not kidding. We walked away from our time with him with 3 things God spoke clearly to us.

  • Be near to me
  • Love my words
  • Love your life

I can honestly say, if we’ve done nothing else these last two years, we’ve done these things. We have sought to be near to the Lord. We have continued to meditate on his words and we have listened for his direction. We’ve loved our life. We’ve given ourselves permission to love things, to enjoy things… What if I took this pottery class? Or I went to yoga in the park? What if we started this book club? How about a special dinner Sunday evenings with close friends and family, giving us space to remember God’s goodness together? What if my business went in this direction or yours went in that direction? And we’ve found ourselves among lots of different people. We’ve had real conversations about real things. We’ve listened. We’ve shared. We’ve received. We’ve offered help and experience.

We’re taking our cues from Emmanuel — God with us, God among us. We left the palace. And now we’re asking God, What does it look like to bring light and understanding to places without? We don’t have lots of answers, but we do have our questions, our compass bearing. So, I guess it’s not really waiting at this point. It’s simply listening for his voice at each step and knowing that we are on the path he has set before us.

Any thoughts?

I’d love to continue the conversation in the comments section. Please feel free to share how our process hits you personally. As I said, this is a journey— an un-plotted map on an extended adventure. We would love to glean from your experience.

Phil Rice


find me social —Instagram —Twitter —Facebook —Soundcloud

find me here too —philrice.blogPractical Spirituality —Ember

ulcerative colitis update

I’m so thankful to all of you for the support and encouragement as I’ve expressed where I am in my journey battling Ulcerative Colitis (UC), and I thought it was time for an update.

After many years of subduing my body with pharmaceuticals, I thought it was time to take a different approach. I started seeing a naturopath in October of 2016 and began my journey equipped with food choices and supplementation. I began with a blood test and a 90 day elimination diet called the Autoimmune Protocol Diet (AIP), eliminating all probable inflammatory food suspects [imagine if Paleo was on a diet… it’s like that].

My blood test came back with a CRP level [a measure of your body’s overall inflammation] of 6/10 [0 = fine and dandy, 10 = Snap! You should already be in the ER w an IV drip … so a 6 is not so hot.]

The AIP diet after 90 days didn’t prove to reduce my symptoms by much, but when my blood test came back at this point, my CRP levels had reduced to 1.8… which is absolutely astounding. Especially considering by the end of the 90 days I was no longer on any of my previous medication [I was fully medicated when I took my initial blood test @ 6/10 CRP]

So, at the suggestion of my naturopath, I’ve continued with a simple Paleo Diet, along with some light supplementation.

While my current experience with UC has not reached remission status, I am feeling much better than I have in over 3 years. I am continuing with the Paleo Diet over the next 12 months and then, depending on where I find myself, we will begin to think through next steps.

Thank you for your continued prayers and support, and know that I feel and experience you all in very impactful ways.



Phil Rice —
Executive Director of Ember

Leading My Family

I’ve been asked on several occasions what it looks like for me to lead my family. And while I don’t think there is one specific answer to this question, I wanted to take time to unpack the topic of from my perspective.

Google’s definition for leadership is “the action of leading a group of people or an organization.”

In my opinion, good leadership is not simply accomplishing a goal, but rather accomplishing a goal in the healthiest and best way possible as it pertains to a particular group. While in many team environments, there are times when the make up of a group changes — people join, people leave — in order to better suit the goal, this is not the case for my family. We are committed to one another before we are committed to achieving a goal or working out a value. And so, it is important that everyone in my family agrees on the goals or values we are going after together.

Specifically as it pertains to leadership in my family, I feel that my primary role is to create an environment where each member— Becky, Demma (5), Cedar (2) — can thrive as an individual and that our family is able to thrive as a whole. In certain spheres, I have heard spiritual authority communicated more as a paternal dictatorship — whatever dad says goes — but I do not find this a helpful way forward for our family. It’s not that one wouldn’t accomplish anything with the dictatorial mantra, but for us there is a better way. “Whatever dad says goes” naturally removes the individual influence, strength, and perspective that resides in each member of my family. There is no empowerment here, there is no growing together, there is no honoring one another. In my opinion, in an autocratic family environment, we resign our ability to bring positive empowerment and impact to one another and to those who come in contact with our family.

Leader as gatekeeper

I like to think of my role as spiritual leader of my house more as a gatekeeper than as a dictator. Consider the cultural environment of a home as the makeup of what is and is not allowed into the environment. If honor is something that is fostered in a home, then the culture will reflect a spirit of honor. If fear is perpetuated in a home, then the culture of a home will reflect a spirit of fear, permeating it’s members. If individual empowerment is fostered, then there will be a sense of ownership over the vision and direction of the family.

Leader as champion and encourager

To lead my family well also necessitates that I champion each member of my family, continually communicating the value of the individual as greater than any particular structure or method. If we build a system around the idea that we all best function at 6am, then, while Ceder and I would thrive, Becky and Demma would never feel like they were able to hit a stride in this particular family rhythm. But, if we built a regular family rhythm at 2am, Becky and Demma would be fully awake and alert while the boys would have fallen asleep 4 hours prior and wouldn’t have even made it to the gathering.

Leading an environment suited for thriving

Several years ago, Becky came to me and communicated her need for personal creative space in her regular life rhythm. While she loves our family and loves her role, the demands on her time taking care of the kids and meeting the demands of the home was giving her little room for personal creativity — a value that makes her come alive and helps everything else work well. It was out of this wrestle that came her photography company – KET Photography. Thriving looks different for every family member and in every phase of life. Leadership in this sense is being aware of the needs of each family member and being willing to rethink structure — creative problem solving — in order to help promote individual and family wholeness.

Leading by real time example

Lastly, when I think through leading my family, I think of values I would like to see worked out in our family and how we —me and Becky— will bring them into our family. We go first.

Since Becky and I want our kids to be good at conflict and to be quick to forgive, then we should be resolving conflict in front of them and asking one another for forgiveness while Demma and Cedar are watching! Sure there are times when we need to resolve conflict alone, but to work through the small ones with the whole family present sets a context for what mom and dad consider a healthy way to work through conflict and forgiveness.

We also want Demma and Cedar to know that God speaks and desires relationship with them. So, to foster this in our family, Becky and I ask Demma what she hears God saying to her on various topics. One way we foster this is during our Sabbath Dinner — more on our Sabbath Dinners. Becky begins our dinners with a motherly blessing, which can include what she feels God communicating to each person present, including Demma and Cedar. When Becky doesn’t include this bit of the prayer, Demma notices and asks when she will do that part again! She already has a sense for the Lord’s presence with us. The last time Becky didn’t add this portion into the blessing, she asked Demma to ask God what he thought about each person at the table… it was so powerful.

The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion — Paulo Coelho

Being lead by the Holy Spirit

The most important dimension of leadership is to be ruthless about who I am following. If I am allowing my choices to be dictated or influenced by the “worries of this world and the deceitfulness of wealth” (Matthew 13), then I am leading my family away from the fullness of life for which we are purposed. But, if I regularly quiet my spirit and allow God to speak truth to my heart through scripture and by his Holy Spirit and if I am actively responding and wrestling through the truth he presents, then I am leading my family in the direction we were created to go. Our heavenly father is an incredible leader. He is kind. He is gracious. He is wise. He has simply called us to listen for his voice and to follow. And he will lead us as we lead those with whom we have been charged.

Phil Rice —
Executive Director of Ember

Sabbath Dinner

Sunday Evening Dinner

About 18 months ago our family started a weekly dinner, it happens every Sunday evening at 6pm, regardless of other events swirling around our calendar. Our goal in this dinner is to have a rhythm for our family that increases our meaningful togetherness and our spiritual conversation. At Becky’s initiation, we crafted this space in our schedule as a communication of our values for God and for oneanother—this is our weekly Sabbath Dinner.

Becky and the kiddos—Demma (5), Cedar (2)—spend the morning and early afternoon leading up to dinner going through a rigorous checklist, getting the house ready, taking care of last-minute odds and ends.

I arrive home from work around 3:30 and we have our family meeting—a weekly rhythm sourced from Bruce Feiler—see The Secrets of Happy Families. This has also been a tremendous family rhythm for us.

After our family meeting the kids and I continue knocking out the checklist while Becky starts making dinner. My to-do list ranges from cutting the yard, changing out the air filters, watering the plants, or helping Demma and Cedar clean their room (which may have been well played in since 11:00am when they first cleaned it).

At 5:50pm several friends begin to trickle in with a side dish or a dessert, and somewhere between 6:00–6:30pm we sit down for dinner together. Each dinner begins the same way. The kids run around turning off all of the lights in the house and Becky lights candles on the table. Becky prays a prayer of blessing over our time together, asking God to be near to us and to delight in our conversation. I lead us through remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus through communion—together drinking from our wine glasses and eating our bread as we remember the blood and body of Jesus and his incredible sacrifice for us. The kids drink their grape juice from mini wine glasses, which they love. And over the last 12 months we have only had two casualties. I think that leaves us at a pretty good ratio.

Our meal transitions from communion to appetizers. As we eat, we reflect on the things that we are thankful to God for. Our remembrance can stem from things that have happened during the week or from moments that come to mind from other points in our lives—ways we saw God specifically impact our circumstances, our simple appreciation for his nearness, a late night conversation with a friend, or a favorite stuffed animal (Cedar’s go to). These are all legitimate content for our time of thankful remembrance.

We move on to our main course and the conversation evolves. Though Demma and Cedar are typically the first to finish, on this special evening, they are allowed to stay up as late as they are able to engage in conversation with everyone at the table. Becky and I like our kids have adult friendships and engage in some level of adult conversation. We feel that it helps them develop meaningful relationships and helps to build their confidence as individually wired human beings, contributing to community through their own ideas and aspects of the conversation.

There is a final transition after the main course; a few lights come on, the kids are tossed in a bath and prepped for bed, one or two people jump up to wash the dishes and clean the kitchen, and someone takes coffee orders. And with clean kids and a clean kitchen, we sit down again for dessert. In my opinion, this is where some of the deepest conversation occurs. It’s those special nights where no one has to rush home and everyone invests a little more time and vulnerability into one another. Coffee in hand, the conversation continues to ebb and flow around more or less meaningful topics—God, pop culture, current events, personal needs, new movies, or the next YouTube sensation. The evening may end with a board game, a movie night, or a simple “goodnight” and “have a great week” on the way out the door.

Several observations of our Sabbath Dinner.

Ritual is important. When we create rhythms around our values, we grow in these values and they become even more meaningful to us. Our kids can grow with tangible memories for each of these values.

Ritual is not everything. Ritual sets the stage for the meaningful and the authentic, but if we depend too much on the mechanics of ritual to create organic experiences and meaningful connections with God and others, we fall short. Even though we “show up,” we seem to miss out on the spontaneous moments and organic ties that are created as we continue to open ourselves up to vulnerability and authenticity.

I am thankful for our Sabbath Dinners. I am thankful for the ways they have helped our family interact meaningfully with one another, for the ways they have brought our friends into our family rhythms, and for the ways they help us remember God in the midst of an often chaotic and busy life experience.


Phil Rice —
Executive Director of Ember