counting breaths

This poem was written May 26, 2020 shortly after the death of my mom. I still can’t get through reading it without tears taking over.

But in the middle of so much loss so many are facing in the face of this pandemic, I felt it might be an encouragement to know you aren’t alone. You aren’t. Not today. Not ever.

counting breaths
dm perry

we get the news, 
the findings are in,
and so it begins, this dance with
endings

first, we count years, 
then months and days,
then hours,
and finally... we 
count
breaths.

life rattling in bones and flesh
too tired, too weary to
contain it.

we count breaths,
measuring their rhythm
the rise and fall
as
i pray silent
SCREAMS to
heaven

OH GOD, PLEASE LET IT 
BE BRAXTON HICKS

but wait, contractions?

is this rattle the end, or the
universe expanding, contracting, 
surrounding,
as a womb
bringing forth

push, don’t
push.
crowning,
is it here yet?

you breathe,
struggle to break free,
to let go, to be,
to become

and then the waiting

between

breaths.

still, you hold on
through the night till
the dawn
hanging on
to the cocoon,
to the womb
of what was.

clinging to the edge
of realms till you know
i'm not alone.
you're not 
leaving me to be
swallowed by need
or fear 
or on-my-ownness 

morning comes
with the keys,
exhale here,
take your first breath
there

born free, broken free, above
brand new

and now i count breaths

breaths wracked with sobs.
breaths that rail
at the empty spaces.
breaths held
because my heart
is aching, stretched
open, it’s breaking

i count breaths

then moments and hours

time stops
caught in the spin
cycle of what used to be,
wave after wave
pulling me under
WAIT. just breathe.

find air.
breathe again.

days,
one runs headlong
into another
and another
until days
feel like weeks
and weeks like months,
but wait.

it's only been 14 days,
336 hours

breathe.
i’m counting days now.

soon it will be weeks,
then months, &
god-willing,
years.

because in the middle of
that long night, in that
liminal space between
worlds,

there counting breaths
as time rushed and 
stood still,
as it froze
we both let go…

and in letting go,
we learned
to fly.

the fractured land

broken ground bleeds
injustice, 
pain pulsing red
from fractured clay
fissures,
cliffs, canyons
divided       so      wide
so deep we grieve
lurch forward halting
come be, re-member
together

no longer weaponize
comfort 
or turn words
into knives 
to stab the silence

tumbled in chaos,
cacophony staged
locked in echo chambers
algorithms the chains,
shackled to screens in
the matrix we made

this uncivil war between
red, white and blue
while hope dares to breathe
fractured facts scatter
in discontent’s winter,
contagions rage

alternative truth unashamed
house of mirrored illusions
trust eroded 
like sand standing guard 
in a storm surge,
battered by winds
blown in circles we spin
the power flickers and dims
but the gas light is ON...

...until...

we turn it OFF

and begin
again.

—dm perry
1/20/21

Written in response to the lies about election fraud that gave rise to the Capitol insurrection. I pray now with this new administration we can begin to see truth and trust restored.

Why the 7 Mountain Mandate is Toxic Theology

Why the 7 Mountain Mandate is Toxic Theology

If you have followed my journey this last decade at all, you likely know conflict and controversy are not my favorite cups of tea. 

For years, I’ve tiptoed around pin pointing this specific belief structure that is very popular in charismatic and evangelical leaning circles, because it is so pervasively woven into the power structures it inhabits, it is held sacrosanct. A given. A cornerstone. A self-evident truth rather than a debatable, deeply-flawed theological model not supported by the teachings or life of Jesus.

The Seven Mountain Mandate. Yes, we are indeed going there.

For ease, I will use the abbreviation 7M interchangeably, because the Seven Mountain is a lot of letters to keep typing unnecessarily.

But before we go further, let’s talk about what exactly 7M theology is and define our terms. In case you aren’t familiar with what I’m talking about, let me fill you in. I even drew some pictures.

What is the Seven Mountain Mandate?

7M-01.jpg

In this belief framework, the kingdom of God and great commission (often referenced from Matthew 28:16-20) are tied to taking certain mountains of culture and the expanding the overarching presence of the “mountain of God”.  There are 7 mountains of cultural influence (pictured above) and the goal is to scale to the top of the mountain you are called to be a leader in, so you can, as a Christian, be in charge and thus effect change from the top.  Because leaders at the top have the power to set agendas and enforce values that will bring God’s kingdom values in that area of cultural influence.  On earth as it is in heaven. Literally. (But not really. At least not according to Jesus’ description. We’ll get to where I explain that in the next sections.)

I heard Lance Wallnau, arguably one of the most prominent teachers of this theology, state the following in a recording I wish I still had a copy of: “Those 7 mountains of influence are so powerful that he who occupies the top of those mountains can literally shape the agenda that forms nations.”

I replayed the segment a few times to make sure I had heard correctly.  I did.  This type of thinking isn’t about building God’s Kingdom. It’s about building our kingdom in God’s name. It’s an insidious, sneaky, tangential teaching rooted in dominionism1 which is seen reflected in phrases like “taking our nation back for God”.

(Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t believe God ever lost anything. Or needs our help in retrieving it.)

Basic Objections to the 7 Mountain Mandate

But what’s so wrong with wanting to see transformation come to society?  And doesn’t God care about these areas too?  Absolutely He cares. He cares for the people involved in these areas.  I deeply believe He calls us to be involved in loving our communities, loving our neighbors.  But this is not that.

It is subversive to the call of being present with, causing many to run after positional and transactional leadership rather than seeking transformational leadership based on the hard work of stewarding relationship. Biblical leaders don’t ascend some heavenly corporate ladder through trying become king of the cultural hill. They go low, serve in unseen places and prioritize people.

Isn’t calling this toxic a bit strong Michele?  That’s kinda stern language.  Friends, it NEEDS to be strong. And here’s why.

A toxin is a poisonous substance produced by living cells capable of causing disease when introduced into the body tissues.  Toxic theology produced by living cells (people, many times leaders) in the Church makes the Church sick to the degree it ingests it.

7m-02.jpg

The 7 mountain mandate assumes that leadership is about “rulership” and exerting control from the top down to affect change.  It is a power-over model of leading that celebrates taking dominion from the high place to “set the agenda that forms nations.” 

Side note: I am simplifying things a good bit. Not everyone believes or applies these beliefs in equal intensities. There is a range like most things in life. But even in small degrees, this teaching can be subversive to the actual kingdom of God that Jesus spoke of and walked out.

Jesus told his disciples, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave…” Matthew 20:25-27

The Greek word translated as “lord it over” is katakyrieuō. Its meaning can be translated as: to exercise dominion over, overcome, exercise lordship over. Hi. Houston, we have a problem.

In a very real sense, 7M theology is colonialism dressed up in different clothes.  The goal for many who adhere to this teaching often becomes to the seize the seat of power and enforce what they think the Kingdom of God SHOULD look like in their mountain of culture.

And for those of us who call the USA home-sweet-home and cherish things like first amendment rights, the most extreme application of 7M doctrine ironically lauds reinventing the very thing our founders were fleeing from. Religious authoritarianism. That is a whole ‘nother kettle for a whole other set of posts. And oh yes, we are going there too.

Empire building is not transformational. The great commission, all about cultivating the place of ongoing relationship, has about as much in common with 7M theocracy as a juicy orange does to a salvaged seashell.  Taking a “cultural mountain” is not about discipling nations, it is about dominating them. 

I don’t know about you friend, buhhhhhht I’m not a raving fan of having someone force their views on me. Outward conformity to a system of behavioral rules, doesn’t indicate a genuine inward change of heart.

True transformation never comes from the top down.  It always comes from the inside out.

Mountains & God’s Upside Down Kingdom

As I became more and more aware of the prevalent application of this teaching and saw the leadership culture it gave rise to, the whole analogy began to break down for me more and more.  I spent the bulk of 20 years in circles where this was an underlying foundational assumption that was a part of organizational core purpose and identity.

It was infused into almost every sermon and teaching. Even if unmentioned, it was still there. To question it, was to question the very system it supported.

So if you are in a place where reading this is like, uh-oh, now-what-do-I-do, hang with me here just a little longer. I know this might be scary, but it is so very vital. You aren’t alone. And if you are like, well who could ever believe that nonsense. I get it. It sounds so out there. Cue Twilight Zone music. But what may be fringe for you, is central for many. And it is shaping culture in monumental ways.

Regardless where you are in relationship to this teaching, we’ve all come through 4 years of a US presidency largely enabled by it.

Mic drop.

Finally, one day about a decade ago I was like, “Jesus I’m bothered.  Why am I bothered?  I love working and serving people in the community.  But I’m bothered.  Why?”

(Yes, I talk to God. Often out loud. It goes with the whole believing God is personal thing. I also get quiet and listen. For some of you reading, this may be a really out-there concept. But it’s rooted in millennia of spiritual practice called meditation or listening prayer. I’m not trying to convince you to try it out. Just sharing my story. You wouldn’t be the first person to think me eccentric.)

I’m a really visual person. So, when an idea clicks for me, often it’s because I mentally see a metaphor or a word picture. I’m the girl whose notes literally look like mind maps. I believe understanding isn’t just about the end result. More often it’s about the journey we take to get there.

I started to wonder, what IF this 7M shindig was inverted, where the low place became the high place and the high place the low place. In Jesus’s teaching of upside down power dynamics, that made way more sense to me. It seemed much closer to the heart I see reflected in Jesus’s own life and story.

7M-04

So in this model, instead of fighting to be rulers, the greatest influencers become servants.   They “scale” the mountain by serving and intentionally building relationships in a power-under stance of service.  The high place becomes the low place and the low place the high place of influence because of love-rooted servant leadership.

This upside-down mandate seemed way closer to the heart of Jesus.  As a metaphor, it became something I held onto and shared.

A few years went by and this topic settled on one of my mental shelves. 

I honestly did not give much thought again until 2016, watching how the evangelically aligned church positioned themselves politically.  That year became a deep year of heart searching hard questions for me. 

Was the 2016 election’s outcome and all that followed a practical outworking of the kingdom Jesus spoke of and taught?

Certainly, emphatically not.

The Way We Think Matters

One of the topics that captured my interest in my grad school research was the very nerdy subject of “generative metaphors”.  Say what? 

The basic idea is that the way we think about a topic and the metaphors we use to frame our understanding, the stories we tell ourselves and one another give rise to or generate the reality, behavior, and normative culture surrounding that subject matter.

Is conflict a prize fight where we take our gloves off, risk injury and go after winning?  Or is conflict a dance where each party has a valuable part to play and the goal is to move together beautifully, powerfully in relationship?

Because of much of my research and study delved into organizational storytelling, I was prompted to go back and seek out other metaphors that Christians have used to speak of community level change and transformation.

I landed squarely on the imagery and metaphors Jesus himself used to describe his kingdom. The only time mountains were mentioned in his narrative was when he climbed them to get alone to pray. His teaching had nothing to do with engaging cultural mountains.  It was about being salt and light. Transformative. Not legislative. Community influence from the inside out, not cultural domination from the top down.

Wait, wait Michele…  It’s the same thing. It’s just semantics and imagery.  Why are you splitting hairs over this?

Oh friend, it is truly worlds apart. Let me show you.

Imagine this sphere represents your community. You don’t scale a sphere and mandate change from the top down.  You show up, build genuine, real relationships rooted in mutual trust from within, and see change come together from the inside out.  You aren’t coming to conquer. You’re showing up to serve and be love with skin on.

Let’s line these two perspectives up so we can see the differences.

Do you see how powerful and important how we choose to think and communicate is?   Our words literally frame our worlds.

The Example of Jesus

One of the greatest challenges to the 7M theology is the life of Jesus himself.  He was born into a world desperately looking for a political leader.

If the understanding of cultural mountaineering and political takeover was foundational to God’s Kingdom coming, Jesus would have given us a different model to follow.  Instead we read, the only mountain Jesus scaled was to pray and remove Himself from those trying to force Him to take power through a political leadership role.

Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.  – John 6:15

If we dig deeper and think about the metaphors Jesus used to talk about change and transformation, they were about inside out transformation not power over domination.

Yeast causes changes from inside the dough.  Light changes things by showing up in the middle of darkness.  Salt affects transformation by simply being present in the situation.

And finally, at the end of Jesus’ life when He stood before Pilate, He could not have been more clear about the nature of how his kingdom actually came.

Jesus answered, “My kingdom (sovereignty & royal power) is not derived from this world (or it’s inhabitants). If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not sourced from this realm.” – John 18:36

Politics and policy doesn’t change people’s hearts.  Trying to manipulate and legislate fallible human interpretations of what is believed to be God’s will is nothing less than demanding a spiritualized version of our own understanding rooted in our own strength.

If God’s kingdom coming was determined by cultural dominance, political power and social esteem, Jesus was the universe’s most epic failure.  His own culture crucified Him.  His greatest platform was realized in a death sentence on the cross.

Jesus himself said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation {careful scrutiny and visual evidence}; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within, among and inside you.” (Luke 17:20-21)

For those of you who find yourself in these words, I pray the courage to ask hard questions. For those of you hurt by the culture wars waged in Christ’s name, I ask your forgiveness for the assumptions made, the accusations hurled, and the shame weaponized by spiritual arrogance.

I want this to be a truly safe space where you are welcome. Just as you are. No ifs, ands or buts. No qualifiers or trying to squish yourself into a mold you were never created to fill. Just messy, imperfect, open-hearted belonging.

Love you deeply friends.


  1. Dominionism: While I rarely would use wikipedia as a source, this is actually a fairly accurate description— “Dominion theology is a group of Christian political ideologies that seek to institute a nation governed by Christians based on their understandings of biblical law. Extents of rule and ways of achieving governing authority are varied. For example, dominion theology can include theonomy, but does not necessarily involve advocating Mosaic law as the basis of government. The label is applied primarily toward groups of Christians in the United States… Most of the contemporary movements labeled dominion theology arose in the 1970s from religious movements asserting aspects of Christian nationalism.”