Talk Into the Phone #6: Introducing Tyler Ward, The New Face of South Dakota


Layne, if you could add one person to Mt Rushmore, who would it be and why?

If I could add one person to Count Rushmore (not a typo. seriously.), it would be Marcus Tyler Ward because I feel that his face would be the best among the five (also not a typo. still serious.) now carved presidents. I feel that his square glasses would make a nice modern addition to the opposing oval ones. His head is a different shape than the other presidents. Abe Lincoln has that whole narrow thing going for him, and Teddy, he’s got the moustache, but Tyler has a beard and a moustache…and sideburns, and this hair thing. That is my answer.

I may have to fact check a few things but I admire your passion. How did you find your way into Agape?

I got an e-mail from Mike when I was just coming in. It just seemed to fit because I knew I wanted to find some sort of non-denominational church; I grew up Lutheran so the e-mail just caught my attention. Then I joined the Facebook group and they started posting things and I got excited.

Do you remember your first event?

I’m not sure if this really counts but I went to Faith Fest and met Mike. I was the first person there, which was really nerdy, but I met Mike other people and I kind of tried to extend the conversation because I didn’t know how long I needed to be there and it eventually got to the point where neither of us knew what to say and Mike awkwardly said something like “well, I guess you don’t want to go to the other tables- they aren’t your religion,” and I was like “yeah, that’s right…didn’t come planning on converting,” and then I left.

What would you say draws you into the community?

I think that the student participation aspect, not just participation, but “student-run” is a better term, is a new thing for me. I know that we say that Mike and Tyler are the pastors, but they aren’t the church- we are the church. There are so many people who do so many things that make that up, whether Agape or Ecclesia or otherwise. That was something very intriguing to me right from the get-go. When they said they needed snacks, I said “I like snacks!” and then I signed up for every other week. Sarah (Carillo) asked me why I didn’t sign up every week, and I said “I wanted to give other people a chance.” No one else signed up, though. So I just really loved serving others and having a say in the church.

Why are you a Christian?

I guess the textbook answer would be that I was raised Christian- you go as a child and learn it from the beginning. I feel like a lot of people go through middle school and high school and that’s when they really start questioning “is this my faith?” I had that time period of my life but I eventually returned and realized this was what I wanted to do. I think I was a senior in high school, applying for schools, going through a lot of changes, and I realized I couldn’t do it without Jesus. I’d say looking back, looking at the times that Jesus was absent in my life, they were just so much darker. Not to say that I was super sad, but there was always just something missing. I look back on the places where Jesus was present and those memories are just so much lighter and joyful, even when I was going through a lot of hardships, I still had someone to look to.

What draws you to Jesus?

The story of Jesus is one where you learn something new every time. What draws me to Jesus is how he leads and how we should strive to be like him. It’s easy to say “What would Jesus do?” but really sometimes you do have to ask yourself that- how did he live? How should I walk in his footsteps?

What has God done for you that you couldn’t do for yourself?

I think he picks me up in times I never thought I could be picked up. I’m a very self-motivated person, and I often ask myself “is it really God? Is it just my personality? Am I just really driven?” and when I go through that thought process, I always get back to God because that may be my personality, but that would be nothing without God. He’s the hand that created you. He’s not just an aspect of your life, just a piece; He’s the one who reigns over you and drives you at all time. He picks me up and has driven me to do things I never thought I could do.

What breaks your heart?

I’d say war. It’s easy to say “I want world peace” and I don’t have the answers. There’s obviously lots of things that I don’t understand that go into the political systems, but when I see a world that would be the closest thing to heaven, where everyone listened to each other and got along, despite religious or philosophical differences, we just understood one another and respected one another, that we can’t be there breaks my heart. It’s impossible for everyone to have the same viewpoint, but I think that “us vs. them” mentality is what gets us in trouble. Anytime you see people die over these things and see sacrifice, its just terrible and heartbreaking. Another thing that breaks my heart is the guilt of the privilege I have. Those inequalities, that lack of respect is what breaks my heart.

What gives you hope?

Definitely Jesus. I’m eager to see the way that heaven and earth collide when the time comes. Eventually they’re gonna merge as one- we’re not gonna lose who we are; we’re still gonna have to love and respect one another. I don’t know if there will be a day when God will say who is right and who is wrong, but the vision of people living together peacefully is what gives me hope.

What would you say to those reading this?

I would say that there’s always room to grow. You have to work towards it- if you’re dedicated to this church, this community, you’ll have a vision of what you want it to be like, whether it’s in a couple of days or in a year. I feel each of us brings talent to the table, and there is always room for these different talents- think about Leah’s love for baking. Leah loves to cook and loves to feed people, so you can ask her to cook and bake for Ecclesia or something, but she can also take that on herself. She can have people into her home. And sense we bounce around from Palm Court to the IC to Damen, we see that when we gather as the church, whether it’s in homes or in class rooms, Jesus is Lord there.

Bachelor in Foolishness

This is the longest break ever.  Truly, it is.  Typically the break is four weeks long, Loyola gave an extra week this year.  After a long wait I am ready to get this party started.

Over the past month I have been reading through Corinthians, Luke, and the Psalms.  I love Corinthians for the kind, yet stern, pastoral tone, for the practical instruction and grand theology, and for the scope of topics addressed—incest, resurrection, generosity, suffering, and spiritual gifts.

Paul describes the cross as “foolishness to those who are dying, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1:18).  Makes sense, right?  Jesus’ capital punishment does not appear to make him a savior, but God uses the “lowly things of the world to shame the wise” (1:27).   God’s wisdom works through what the world perceives as foolishness.  

Part of college is gaining wisdom, knowledge, and competence.  I have been wondering, “What does it look like to get a degree in Foolishness at Loyola?”  I do not think this means doing poorly in classes or choosing God at the expense of academics–as if the two are at odds.  But I do think that what is often times considered the wisdom of college (self-gratification, personal success, uninhibited consumption and autonomy) is completed foolishness in the kingdom of God.

God’s wisdom is given by the Spirit (2:7) and that wisdom is unfathomable to the “rulers of this age.”  It is unfathomable to the standardized tests, the honors programs, and the GPA calculator.  God’s wisdom confounds all those measurements and redeems those measurements.

In order to gain true God-fearing wisdom you must live by God’s Spirit.  God’s Spirit gives a new imagination to see school not as a chore, but a blessing.  To see classmates as companions, not competition.  To see a degree as a gift, not a right.

So my question we will be asking next week at Ecclesia is this: Are you wise?



German Nihilism and Christian Practice (or, the most pretentious title I could think of)

I’m gonna open with a line that I stole from a guy named Eugene Peterson. Peterson, in turn, stole the line from noted German sadsack, Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche claimed that “the essential thing in heaven and earth” is that there should be a “long obedience in the same direction.” Nietzsche believed that it was this sort of commitment that made a life worth living. Peterson, a pastor, most likely had very little in common with Nietzsche (himself an almost evangelical atheist). What Peterson found in this statement, though, was a truth that seemed to characterize the life of faith. Peterson’s own understanding of “true religion” was this long obedience.

This image of the “long obedience” has often been one of my favorite metaphors for my own faith journey. Direct. Consistent. Doggedly unromantic. Just my style. I tend to tire quickly of language that speaks of “big moments,” of the extremes of peaks and valleys. With no ill will intended towards such moments in the spiritual journeys of others, my own story has simply felt a great deal more ordinary.

So I attach myself to this picture: Tyler, on a road, walking toward Jesus. Hopefully He’ll see how hard I’m trying. If I’m lucky, He’ll be proud of me. I say to Jesus, in the incomparable words of the great Kris Kristofferson, “Tell me Lord if you think there’s a way I could try to repay all I’ve taken from you.” In short, I want to work. I want my faith to be on my shoulders, and maybe Jesus will take pity if he sees how much I’ve done.

Maybe some of you are here. Maybe you’ve seen Jesus as one testing you; as one who is waiting to see how much time you’ve spent with the poor before he doles out his blessings; as one who is waiting to see how you control your anger or your bitterness before he decides to make his face shine upon you.

But the problem with this whole enterprise is the Bible.

This morning I was reading the last bit of Psalm 139. Psalm 139 functions essentially as a treatise on God’s consistent presence and care in the lives of God’s children. David writes it this way:

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;

if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,

10 even there your hand will guide me,

It’s made clear from the beginning that, rather than our pursuit of God, the crux of the story seems to be God’s pursuit of us. In fact, the work required of us even rests upon this initiating work, this grace from God:

23 Search me, God, and know my heart;

test me and know my anxious thoughts.

24 See if there is any offensive way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.

There is work to be done. There is a same direction in which we ought to practice a long obedience. But that road is marked first with surrender; with a daily acknowledgement that our thoughts are anxious; that within each of us lie offensive ways; that it is God who is leading us into the way everlasting.

Maybe you’re already there. Maybe grace is something that comes rather easily to you. If that is you, thank Jesus because that is beautiful. But for me, and I suspect for some of you, it’s a tough pill to swallow- that Jesus has been the initiator; that Jesus has chosen, before anything I may have done or left undone, to be for me.

See, I still believe deeply in a “long obedience in the same direction.” What I’ve been learning lately, though, is that Jesus is on the road with me. Jesus isn’t waiting at the end of the road; Jesus is the road. The way of Jesus is marked by the presence of Jesus. Jesus makes me able to forgive; Jesus makes me able to have an open heart instead of a closed one; Jesus makes me who I’m called to be. See, Jesus has come to find you and come to lead you in the way everlasting. If you’re worried about disappointing him, don’t be; he sees what you’ve done and what we’ve left undone and it doesn’t freak him out- in fact, he wants to carry it for you.
I pray that Jesus finds you today.


M. Tyler Ward, 1/8/16