Friday, April 27, 2007

We Deserve It

Slate Magazine is publishing excerpts from Christopher Hitchens' new book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hitchens' is the latest in a series of vitriolic, over-the-top-rhetoric, anti-religious (more specifically anti-Christian; more specifically anti-contemporary-American-Evangelicalism) books that are becoming best-sellers and answering a desperate need in the American public conversation.

The text lays out all the bad things that belief in God supposedly brings about (most of which Christians of all stripes would do well to attend). But the book isn't written to convert the religious right. It is written to be read by the angry middle - the vast majority of Americans (both Christian and secular) who feel Christianity has become a firebrand for backwards thinking and retrogressive policies. These books, Hitchens' included, are a chance for mainstream Americans to imagine someone taking a public stance and railing against the excesses of extremist Christianity, a Christianity that tries to play itself as THE Christianity.

Some Christians might be surprised or feel affronted by the recent upsurge in these kinds of publications and conversations. To me, it is no surprise, and is in fact long overdue.

What these writers signal, and the need they are answering in American society, is the public outcry against extremist Christian rhetoric and images being employed almost exclusively by the political extreme right in an attempt to provide a national cover for outrageously retrograde policies. These writers are fundamentally not reacting to religious belief in the United States; they are reacting to the abuse of power and the public harm done under the banner or in the name of religious extremism. Frankly, I don't think these books would sell half as well if radically-conservative Christianity didn't have its fingers on the triggers and hands on the purse-strings of the nation. And for decades now, average Christians like you and me, progressive thinkers moved by the gospel to imagine a more fair and just and loving world, have done little to stem the political advance of radical rightists.

We deserve this backlash. We deserve to be called out on the inconsistencies of our faith claims. If we have been unwilling to speak out against the abuse of power and gospel-coated language of our Christian brothers and sisters, then we deserve to be associated with their barbarity and backwardness. If we are unwilling to publicly and ardently advocate for the elimination of poverty as we are moved to by our faith, if we are unable to stand up against violence on a local and national scale as we are compelled to by our experience of God's Love, then we deserve to be counted among those who perpetuate and expand poverty, among those who glory in and elevate violence. If our Christian conviction is milquetoast, then we have no right to protest the legitimate grievances leveled against all believers.

Most of the protests raised by Hutchins in the selections printed by Slate don't apply to me personally, politically or theologically. But I am a Christian, and all those noteworthy criticisms are part of my inheritance. I stand condemned, as a member of a community (the world communion of Christians) who have failed the world so tremendously for so long. We deserve to be called on the carpet by the likes of Hitchens and others.

I just wish that more Christians would read these texts. I wish they could read them for what they are: not so much theological arguments, but legitimate grievances grounded in a feeling of profound betrayal by a community that claimed to love and instead hated, by a people who praised peace and instead built endless war, by a Church that lifts up the poor in scripture but does little to lift up the poor in the streets, by a tradition that taught open arms to the oppressed and unloved and at the same time refused to open their arms to the unloved in their midst.

Americans have been dealing with hypocritical Christianity for hundreds of years. Finally, we're fed up with it. I stand on both sides of the argument, slinging venom and hurt, and being on the receiving end, too. I doubt I'm the only one.

Labels: ,

Mission in a Capitalistic Society

If what it means to be the people of God is not merely about converting or even discipling people, but rather means being a communal change agent in the world - exposing darkness by being light - then we cannot use those cultural forces (such as consumerism and capitalism) which rub against what it mens to be a gospel people as tools for our labor. Instead, placing our faith in the “foolishness of God” and His ways, we must seek to live as a contrast society toward, as David Fitch said, “a reordering of reality.”

Read the post and enter the discussion at MereMission.

And read the post that inspired the comment quoted above here.

Labels: ,

3000 visitors!

It may not seem like much in cyberspace, but 3K seems like a lot to me. Thanks to Shannon for contributing such attractive material, to the commentators who make me come back two or three times a day to see what people are saying, and to those anonymous millions who pass by each day. I hope this blog rises even further in your estimation, and continues to be a place worth visiting. And, perhaps most of all, I am excited about the little community we seem to be building together.

3000 people could fit in the Petra Amphitheater in Jordan (pictured above).

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Feminine Face of Poverty

If you're a woman, or a man who cares about his mother, sister, or daughter, there's something you need to know. Seventy percent of those living in absolute poverty in our world -- that is starving or on the edge of starvation -- are female. Not only that, in our wealthy United States, women and children are the mass of the poor and the poorest of the poor.

Consider that in the United States women over the age of 65 are twice as poor as men in the same age group. And there's a reason poverty so disproportionately hits women. Most of these poor women were, or still are, caregivers. And we've got an economic system that gives no visibility or value to this essential work when it's done in the home.

Read the article: "The Feminine Face of Poverty"

Labels: , ,

Monday, April 23, 2007

Treasure Under Rotting Wood

While mowing my backyard jungle and rearranging our micro-habitat woodpile, I discovered a treasure I hadn't seen since canyoneering in Arizona in my teens: a morel mushroom. Only one, but a head at least five inches tall and four or five inches around!

Right there in my backyard, possibly the most delicious, most sought-after mushroom in existence! How did it get there? Will there be more? Do I like morel mushrooms? Will my wife eat it? (She's managed to get used to me adding dandelion to our menu occasionally, but she's hesitant about any other volunteer food I grab out of our yard, and mushrooms have that whole "poisonous" reputation to get over.)

I don't know what do to with myself... or more accurately, with the mushroom. Anyone know any good morel mushroom dish recipes?

Labels: ,

Sunday, April 22, 2007

sunday sunday

Somehow I'd forgotten that Sunday afternoons are perfect for napping.

Today I remembered.

Finally, with no schoolwork looming over my head, no Hebrew translation to do, no readings to finish, no papers to write, I sat down on the couch with a cup of tea and a novel and planned on relaxing. As my eyes drooped I realized that, wonder of wonders, I actually had available to me the luxury of an afternoon nap. As I drifted through the layers of consciousness I found myself visiting feelings new and old, watching with wonder as my imagination spun yarns of dreams, and generally just languidly languishing in the warmth of the sun as I sunk deeper into the couch.

This morning I presided over a church service, attempting to construct a meaningful experience of community connection for that particular group at that particular time. A friend once brought up the idea that creating worship is in some ways like creating a sand painting, like Buddhist monks do. We spend many hours attentively putting all the pieces into place, choosing just the right words and notes and actions, and carefully placing them in an order that will hopefully be beautiful and meaningful, pulling people into deeper relationship with the divine and with each other. And then, just as the sand painting gets blown away by the wind, once a worship is done, it will never exist again. Each piece of the service unfolds uniquely in a particular voice, in a particular place, at a particular time, and never again will the pieces unfold in that exact same way.

I found myself wondering this afternoon, in the twists and turns of my bliss-enhanced nap-ish consciousness, what the difference is, if any, between meditation and worship. Both ought, I would hope, to lead us into deeper communion with God and each other, both ought to reveal new things to us about ourselves and God. Both ought to draw us closer to a path that follows more closely to the path that Holy Passion lures us to and along.

Lately the worships I've planned have involved more and more silence, more and more gaps for contemplation and individual meaning-making, more pictures, more sounds, and fewer, more carefully selected words. Perhaps it is because I myself am starved for chances to stop, breathe, listen, and then submit myself to the lure of the Divine, and I want to provide that kind of space for both myself and others.




Take a nap.


Lesson Learned

Chalk this one up to experience.

It was going to be great - a multi-faceted illustration, an almost subliminal expression of the point. In the lectionary text today, Jesus asks Simon/Peter three times if Simon loves him, and Simon says he does, and Jesus says "Feed my sheep." Love of Jesus comes with a price: it requires action, specifically missional activity in the world, you have to go to the sheep, find their hunger and feed them. In my sermon, I was planning on asking the congregation at three different strategic times if they loved Jesus, and when they answered yes instead of saying "Feed his sheep," I would casually take off my suit coat first, then next my tie, and third roll up my sleeves, and just go on with my scriptural exegesis.

It was supposed to be a physical embodiment of getting off our high horses and down to the nitty-gritty, getting out of our Sunday best and into our work clothes, rolling up our sleeves and getting to work. I was hoping to get the text off the page and out of the language, and get it into a gut-level reaction. Well....

The scripture also mentioned the disciples that Jesus called out to in their boat fishing naked. Naked. And I made a couple jokes at the disciples' expense through the course of the sermon and got a few laughs at the wonderment of their fishing trips.

What I didn't realize was how the reference to the disciples' nakedness translated when I started taking off my clothes! Apparently, as I found out after the service, while everyone seemed to enjoy the sermon, there was a virtually unanimous anxiety about my potential acting out of that Galilean fishing trip.

Instead of my sport coat, tie and sleeve routine being a subtle and almost invisible act, it unwittingly became one of the central elements of the performance. Everyone was wondering when I would stop taking my clothes off!

I can't count how many jokes I endured after the service. But... I bet those congregants will remember that sermon for a while. ;-)

And I wonder how many more people we could have turned out if they'd known the pulpit would provide "strip-preaching." (And if I lose a piece of clothing for every major point, I bet people would be looking for more than the traditional three-point sermon! Or, perhaps hoping for just one or two.)

Do I count the sermon as successful if, in addition to hearing the Word of God, my parishoners were seized with anxiety? Perhaps next time I'll leave the references to nudity out of the sermon.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Learning Mission

4/21 8:45AM

I'm sitting in a cafe basement of a Wallingford neighborhood church, a curios observer of "emergent" Christianity. The coffee is unpriced - you pay what you want or can - the music is coffee-house type rock with hints of Christian devotion, and the crowd is my age (early 30's, some older, a few younger), tee-shirted and goateed and soul-patched (I wonder if I fit in with my full beard and button-up shirt). Jeans are the pants de jure. (But we're almost all white, and no one from obvious poverty or wealth.)

We are gathered for a "Neighborhood Mission Learning Day" - featuring local ministerial highlights and the internationally-recognized minister, author and blogger Brian McLaren (pictured above). And it begins with all of hus hanging out together in a coffee house - in line and gathered around tables and couches, the din of conversation growing as people introduce themselves, sit down, pass a baby around. We all recognize each other by the name tags we all wear - right away we have something in common: some shared commitment or desire, some solidarity. Still, it is a coffee house, and a church, which is I guess the point, and I wonder what possibilities for this kind of thing there are in any of my congregations - make church casual, easy to enter, enjoyable, serve good coffee... find what brings people but use that to bring them to a community that might change their lives.

Part of me questions where discipleship is here, in this sheep in wolf's clothing, church playing secular. But then... this is just the basement. There's still the sanctuary and classrooms above. This place is about entry-level Christianity - safety and community, sharing, acceptance and being yourself. At any time, one can go upstairs or come back down - wherever the needs of the moment are met. What a great idea. And it seems like it takes young adults to do this kind of thing - which makes sense since this is a young adult kind of thing.

And, the coffee house is an opportunity for the church to be a good neighbor. People don't need to be converted or baptized as a result of the coffee our croissant served here in order for the place to serve the purpose of bringing the kingdom of God a little more into our midst - creating a little safe haven, a space for community, a place to hang out and just be.

What would happen if church started every Sunday with an hour and-a-half of coffee and conversation - at four or five in the afternoon, even! - and then went into a dynamic worship? Young families could probably make it more easily. Young Adults and teens might find it more interesting and easier to come to (and if the coffee and music is good enough they might even invite their friends). It's just an idea, inspired by a cup of joe in the basement of a church.

The thing is, I look around this hip, happening place - complete even with a fun-looking kids play area and a study for quiet conversation - and I want to come to church here. I have no idea about their theology or worship style, but I want to come back here. The comfy couches and tables, the active conversation, the good music and lighting. This church did a really classy job on this coffee house, and I already feel like my registration fee for today has been worth it.

Of course, it could be the caffeine (I forgot to ask for decaf and am nearing the end of my latte). But that might be another example of what we're talking about: caffeine serving the Lord. Will wonders never cease?


I am so disappointed with myself for not bringing more people to this! Brian McLaren's talk centered around examples of Christians being converted to mission. He pointed out that "Christian" is mentioned three times in the New Testament, while "disciple" is used over 260 times. "Christians" aren't the solution to the world's problems, "disciples" are. And discipleship is an activity, not just a state of being.

He described a shift in Christian vision that is still taking place, from "missionary" work that saw the goal as getting people to join the church to "mission" work that works for the good of the world, that asks what would our world look like if it were just a little more like the Kingdom of God, and works to bring that about. How do we convert our churches from being organizations that suck people out of the community to being organizations that transform people to be salt and yeast sent into the community?

McLaren's stories were of his own encounters around the Christian world were tremendously inspiring. They have reaffirmed to me the link between the Being of God and Mission in the world. To be a disciple is to be a good neighbor - an actual neighbor, with neighbors around my home, my church building, and strangers afar. My partner, Christie, and I are reconsidering an old commitment we had made when we moved into our new neighborhood (but that has since dwindled) to get to know our neighbors and eventually have them all over for dinner. I'd like to just start at the end of the block and work our way down.


I spoke with McLaren during a break and he asked my denomination. When I said "Community of Christ" he seemed surprised, and with a smile he told me that he had just returned from several weeks in Australia where he spent some time with CofCers, and even has a friend who is a long-time member. He seemed genuinely excited about our denomination's stuttering embrace of missional thought, and it was very encouraging to me that he knew about my small church and that he had positive associations with it! Wonder upon wonder.

But on a more personal note, as we heard from pastor after pastor of successful emergent ministry, dynamic and actively involved in missional work in relationships and justice, I began to ask myself whether I needed to bring this message to my own congregations. Should I just leave this new generation of church to those who are already doing it successfully, rather than trying to get my resistant denomination to do something they don't want to do? What is my purpose in supporting these congregations? Should I be just helping them do what they want, or should I be helping to shape what they want and what they think they can and must do? If churches want to attract different kinds of people, they're going to have to different kinds of things, they're going to have to change, and change is often what people do not want to do. I would like to be that prophetic/agitating voice calling people to the new and justice-oriented work, but I also have to be the pastoral voice nurturing people where they are.

I came to this job with an organizing model in mind: identify where people are and then move them one step further. I am coming to realize that pastoral ministry is still an organizing model but on a very long timeline.

At home...

What a fantastic day. I have pages of notes and ideas. I'm still thrilled that McLaren knew and liked our denomination. But most of all I am filled with a hope and enthusiasm. Other established denominations are doing this work, too. We are working with Christians and trying to make them disciples. We are trying to convert churches to engage the world in genuine, neighborly, gracious ways.

One thing McLaren said stands out to me still: the church can only be saved by the community outside of it. We often think that the church is the locus of salvation, and that the community needs to come to us to get it. But American Christianity is in a position where we need to meet our neighbors, find out what their needs are, and in reaching out find our salvation.

Amen and amen!

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Flannel Sermons online

Slowly joining the electronic age, I am happy to begin providing limited sermon recordings in .wav format. Due to size limitations, most sermons will be in two parts.

Renton, WA, 4/15/2007: "Do Not Doubt, But Believe"
4/15 part 1
4/15 part 2

Look for more in the sidebar as they become available.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

This is how you enlist in the Army of God: First come the fireworks and the prayers, and then 4,000 kids scream, "We won't be silent anymore!" Then the kids drop to their knees, still but for the weeping and regrets of fifteen-year-olds. The lights in the Cleveland arena fade to blue, and a man on the stage whispers to them about sin and love and the Father-God. They rise, heartened; the crowd, en masse, swears off "harlots and adultery"; the twenty-one-year-old MC twitches taut a chain across the ass of her skintight red jeans and summons the followers to show off their best dance moves for God. "Gimme what you got!" she shouts. They dance -- hip-hop, tap, toe and pelvic thrusting. Then they're ready. They're about to accept "the mark of a warrior," explains Ron Luce, commander in chief of BattleCry, the most furious youth crusade since young sinners in the hands of an angry God flogged themselves with shame in eighteenth-century New England. Nearly three centuries later, these 4,000 teens are about to become "branded by God." It's like getting your head shaved when you join the Marines, Luce says, only the kids get to keep their hair. His assistants roll out a cowhide draped over a sawhorse, and Luce presses red-hot iron into the dead flesh, projecting a close-up of sizzling cow skin on giant movie screens above the stage.

"When you enlist in the military, there's a code of honor," Luce preaches, "same as being a follower of Christ." His Christian code requires a "wartime mentality": a "survival orientation" and a readiness to face "real enemies." The queers and communists, feminists and Muslims, to be sure, but also the entire American cultural apparatus of marketing and merchandising, the "techno-terrorists" of mass media, doing to the morality of a generation what Osama bin Laden did to the Twin Towers.

Read the story at


Progressive Taxes are a Moral Issue

Progressive taxation—taxing the wealthy at higher rates than the poor—is a moral issue. Like many moral issues, it sparks heated debate. The debate is borne of conflicting worldviews, values, and understandings of values. But as we at the Rockridge Institute have written, when progressives understand the values and ideas that underlie their positions on issues, they can articulate arguments authentically and with greater persuasive force. These arguments will appeal to those whom we call biconceptuals—the great majority of Americans whose worldviews borrow in various ways from both progressive and conservative values.

America's government has at least two fundamental functions, protection and empowerment. Protection includes the police, firefighters, emergency services, public health, the military, and so on. Empowerment includes the infrastructure needed for business and everyday life: roads, communications systems, water supplies, public education, the banking system for loans and economic stability, the SEC for the stock market, the courts for enforcing contracts, air traffic control, support for basic science, our national parks and public buildings, and more. We are usually aware of protection. But the empowerment infrastructure, provided by taxes, is usually taken for granted, hidden, or ignored. Yet it is absolutely crucial, a fundamental truth about America and why America provides opportunity.

Read the whole Op-Ed here:

Labels: , ,

Jesus' Life and Jesus' Death

Cafe Rozella, second asiago bagel, 14 ounces into a 20-ounce soy latte....

Been thinking a lot about the Crossan quote I posted a couple days ago. It comes in the discussion of an extended thesis about early Christianity coming in two broad flavors. One flavor emphasizes the life and actions of Jesus (which seems to be dominant in the Jerusalem church), and the other emphasizes Jesus' death and the salvific moment there (a la Paul and the Pauline churches scattered throughout the Empire). In the earliest months and years following Jesus' death there arose these two different ways of looking at Jesus and discipleship.

The thing is, this seems so natural, so obvious! Growing up Christian (however unconventional or struggling of a Christian I was), I seemed to preternaturally sense this division, this fork in the road, this bi-lingualism in the tradition, in the church. Into my early teens, I already sensed the tension between the Pauline supernaturalism and emphasis on the death and resurrection, and the more communitarian struggle to emulate Jesus' life and teachings. Probably like many my age, I was beat over the head with the teaching that salvation rests only in Jesus' death and resurrection, and confession of agreement in those. Emulation of Jesus as an example, as the radical upstart of a community that stands in contrast to the world around us was downplayed. It was the blood of the lamb or damnation, and whatever I could glean from Jesus' life apart from his being the Savior was cute but hardly salvific.

Still, persistent inside me was an awareness of the depth of insight in holding up Jesus' life. But what was genuinely threatening was the difference such an emphasis would make. Jesus' life was one of radical inclusion - different from the exclusionary "salvation" qualified by Jesus' blood. Jesus' life was one of public activism and political resistance - different from the personal and private effects of being "saved". Jesus' life was one of active and daring nonviolence - different from the institutionalized violence of nations and armies. Jesus' life was one of profound personal transformation, and giving up of control - different from a Christianity that reinforces people's preconceived prejudices and that seeks to control people under the guise of setting them free.

Emphasizing Jesus' life would encourage a dynamic and vastly different Christianity, than emphasizing Jesus' death. This was obvious within a few years of Jesus' death, and it was still obvious to a young and uneducated boy nearly 2000 years later. I wonder if it is just part of Christianity now, this tension between the earthly life of Jesus and the ultimate claims about his death.

And, of course, there's always the question of power: who is it benefiting from the telling of one version of the story or the other?

Thankfully, no matter how sanitized or prejudiced our Christianity is, there is indelible within it a note of subversion, a hint of resistance, a dissonance of waiting transformation.

Labels: ,

Sunday, April 15, 2007

cooking up some theology

I love to cook. I love trying new recipes, I love inventing new recipes, I love looking at a bunch of ingredients and coming up with ideas of how they could be used together. I especially love cooking for other people, spreading out a bunch of food on a table and watching people I care about smile and listen to them make yummy noises. Tonight I cooked-up a pan of roasted vegetables and leftover ham for myself, seasoned with some of my favourite herbs and spices, like rosemary and garlic (I can smell the rosemary and garlic on my fingers as I type this). Yes, that's a picture of my dinner sitting next to my computer.

I think if I were to analyze what I love so much about cooking, I would have to say that there are multiple reasons. A major one is the sensuousness of the whole process. I am a big smell-taste-touch person, if I had to pick a favourite sense, it would be touch, taste and smell would be tied for second place. Another reason is the creativity involved, and as with any art, the more I learn, the bolder and more interesting my cooking becomes. Like today, I put allspice in my spice mixture, which was a bold move, but one that produced beautiful results, and stemmed from what I've learned from Indian and Mexican recipes. The third main reason (there are so many, I won't talk about them all here) is the relational aspect - cooking is more fun when I'm cooking for people that I love and care about, because food is something we all need anyway, so I'm happy to help provide them with sustenance. And cooking is even more fun when I do it with people I love - I love the teamwork that goes on in a kitchen, with everyone pitching in, adding their wisdom, and having great conversation too.

Doing theology, for me, is a lot like cooking. My theology a sensory matter in that it is most often rooted in my own bodily, lived experiences. My theology gets better and bolder the more that I learn, and exotic sources are extremely fruitful places for learning. And my theology is best when I have a community with which I can play and learn and work.


Instead of the words of Jesus, we must speak of the radical life of Jesus. And instead of the death of Jesus, we must speak of the imperial crucifixion of Jesus. Then, in both Jesus' imitated lifestyle and in Jesus' resurrected deathstyle, the Jewish God of justice and righteousness stands radically--that is, eschatalogically--against injustice and exploitation.
-John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity (1998:411)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Vonnegut Dies

A sad day. But so it goes.

I first read "Slaughterhouse Five" in Ukraine, with a class of my best English students, and I remember trying to map the plot(s) together, and discussing what Vonnegut was trying to communicate in how he was telling the story, in addition to what he was telling. (If you've never read Slaughterhouse Five, I strongly recommend it. But make time for it.) That book affected me tremendously, and is still one of my favorites.

Mr. Vonnegut, I'm sorry to see you go, but I'm glad you were here for a while. Thanks for your spirit and contribution. I hope, in the end, you win.

(A good obit:,8599,1609650,00.html.)

Labels: , ,

Saturday, April 07, 2007

maybe redemption has stories to tell

Awhile back I mentioned that I'd bought real art with birthday money as a gift to myself. Well, this is it, the piece you see here. It's entitled "Enjoy the Silence" and is by Melissa Voth McHugh.

It is a piece that called out to me as soon as I saw it. For several years now I've told a number of people that my personal Easter icon is a green plant pushing its way through pavement: a sign that life triumphs and is unstoppable in it's victory. So when I saw this painting, I knew that this was it: the Easter icon I'd been desiring.

Easter is perhaps the most difficult Christian event to unpack and attempt to view constructively. Each year I find myself searching for new meaning, trying to find some way to understand this event, so crucial (see crux/crucifix in my choice of language there) to our Christian faith, an "anchor" in our stormy history. Always unbelievable. Always unreasonable. Always illogical. Hopefully it always will be.

I find myself wondering what keeps me from pushing through the pavement of selfishness, need, judgementalism, self-centeredness, when there is light and air and water beckoning me out of the darkness of self and into the infinity of divine glory. Why was it that I seemed to be happier in the darkness of good Friday this year, bound into the passion? Why don't I do more, help more, give more?

Hmmm, and then I think of the tomato seedlings crowded onto my living-room windowsills. I am willing to make room for them. I believe in seeds taking root and pushing through the soil. I do believe in life. I do believe in the scandalousness of grace, that what I do is enough. I do believe in resurrection. Not because it is logical or sane or academically-provable, but because it is irrational, unreasonable and exactly the kind of thing that the God I believe in, whose passion streams unceasingly, would do.


Friday, April 06, 2007

Happy Birthday, Church!

On April 6, 1830, the Community of Christ was born. Then later it was re-born on April 6, 1860, after shock, confusion and disintegration following the violent ends of church leaders and the persecution of church communities in 1844. So, either way, if you're counting 177 years or only 147, today's the church's birthday.

From a livingroom in upstate New York, to a temple in Ohio, to civil war in Missouri, to prosperity and tragedy in Illinois, to disorganization and reorganization, Illinois to Iowa and back to Missouri. You've come a long way, baby. Happy Birthday.

Through many dangers, toils and snares, we have already come. Twas Grace has brought us safe thus far, and Grace will lead us home.


Thursday, April 05, 2007

Rock in a Hard Place

The April issue of Seattle Sound Magazine features an article on the unlikely subject of Christian rock in one of America's most secular cities. The article is actually quite good (sorry, no online version available to link to). It touches on what it means (and doesn't) to be a "Christian" musician, why an artist might want to avoid such a label, how Christian rockers and punkers self-identify themselves, and what the state of the Christian rock scene is in Seattle. Overall, an article worth reading!

My one criticism is that Mars Hill Pastor Mark Driscoll (yes, that Mark Driscoll) takes a leading role despite not having much to do at all with Christian rock. I think he's mentioned (repeatedly) because of his association with "contemporary" Christianity and apparently has Christian rock bands perform at his church. By the end of the article, though, I get the idea that his association with Christianity is more of an embarrassment to Christian musicians than an asset.

I'm not sure if the author intended to give this impression, or whether it just naturally arises with actual quotations from Driscoll, but every time I hear him he sounds more and more like a boob. (Please forgive my un-Christian ungraciousness here.) One segment seemed especially precient:

Yuri Riley, of prominent Christian punk band MxPx, appears to agree [with not being pushy about one's faith]. The reason more bands aren't "out" about their religion, he says, "is to distance themselves from people's pre-conceived notions about modern American Christianity."

This reluctance stands in opposition to Driscoll's much more aggressive brand of evangelical faith. "Jesus is a pride fighter," he told Relevant magazine, "with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand, and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo [interpretation of] Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up." (emphasis added)

Holy mis-reading of the Bible, Batman! Jesus as the alpha-male?! Jesus as a line-backer? Jesus as a professional wrestler? Driscoll can't worship a guy he can beat up?! What a weird qualification for a God incarnate in a human body (a body evaluated by its brute strength instead of tenderness or compassion or principles or, excuse me, the presence of God). Driscoll's God loves to injure people - and for pride! Not for salvation, not for redemption, not for repentance or transformation... Driscoll's God is one of fickle violence, picking on anyone weaker so that those few who grow up being successful schoolyard bullies can have a proper role model for their deity.

I'm all for a counter-cultural Jesus, believe me. But making Jesus more violent isn't counter-cultural in a culture that glorifies violence, and isn't "alternative" when the first and most advertised solution to interpersonal and international conflict is overwhelming violence.

How does Driscoll know whom he can and can't beat up? If you live in a hierarchy of beat-up-ability you have to constantly be beating up people (or being beat up on by people) in order to know who is above and below you... including such pesky people as Jesus. Wives and children are not excepted, by the way, in a culture of violence - and we need to know if the lady-folk can qualify for worship of a boxer-king. Lift up your dukes, ladies! A few smacks will put you in the worshiping mood!

What is more frightening than Driscoll saying these things, is that a lot of young people in the Seattle area are listening to him say these things. Driscoll is turning out people prepped for violence, fueled by visions of a bully-god, imagining that the Christ-like thing to do is not feel compassion or be moved by someone but to have the power to beat someone up! There is a whole generation of young adults being trained to believe faith is roughly equivalent to brutishness. And this worries me tremendously.

Of course, I have to recognize that oftentimes when people talk about Jesus, that picture of Jesus ends up looking a lot like themselves. Driscoll from the pictures looks like a big guy (I'm betting he could beat me up). Me? I'm a middle-weight radical, and *surprise* my Jesus looks like a middle-weight radical. I don't think Jesus was especially buff or brutish - he was a carpenter so he probably had some muscle tone, but he was poor, so he probably wasn't that big.

But let's go to the scriptures. Nowhere does Jesus beat someone up, or act like a pride fighter, or have "the commitment to make someone bleed." Jesus' commitment made himself bleed. That's the kind of commitment my Jesus has. The way I read the scriptures, Jesus only has to be strong enough to turn over tables in the Temple. Jesus was not a "hippie," or in a diaper (what does that mean?) - but I think he'd find more in common with hippies than line-backers.

Look at Jesus' values for goodness sakes?! What is Driscoll reading that makes him think Jesus was a pride-fighter? In my Bible, Jesus spends his time upsetting the political and religious systems that oppress and dehumanize people, and starts building a movement of people who worship a God of social and economic justice. Where is the sword in his hand?!

Still, hundreds of young people will come away from his preaching thinking that Jesus is a bully or a show-off or a violent bigot.

No wonder Christian musicians don't want to proclaim themselves upfront as "Christian." One the one hand you have the old hypocritical establishment church, and on the other you have Driscoll's fanatical thug!

The Seattle Sound article was a good one - well-written and it seemed to be intentional about giving a broad look at the community of Christian rock and punk in Seattle. And perhaps the editors were just including Driscoll for contrast and flavor. But it disappoints me that even in an article that tries to introduce a complex and nuanced picture of Christianity, the one single voice that rings loudest is the most base and boob-like one.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Failure of Christian Imagination

...we Christians have to ask ourselves the extent to which willingness to embrace a military response to "radical Islam" is little more than a failure of confidence in the gospel. We seem far more willing to put confidence in our own cleverness and in our economic and military might than in the power of the Spirit. Is it remarkable how little we trust in the power of the gospel to transform the hearts and lives of those who are "other" to us. The point here is not that all will be converted to Christianity, but rather that the ability of truly evil men to recruit others can be substantially reduced. In fact, to put more trust in the power of the gospel than in our own cleverness would be to recognize that nothing has more potential for success than interacting with "others" in ways that imitates the life of Jesus. This is the longer term promise of the gospel, a thing we Christians have lost sight of and have become increasingly unwilling to even try.

Nonviolent Jesus: The Failure of Christian Imagination

Film, Faith and Justice

Four days of films, lectures, and discussion panels exploring issues of human rights and the theology of social justice.

University of Washington, Kane Hall, April 12-15

Film Festival
Eight films have been selected from the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival focusing on the issues of immigration, violence, globalization, and social responsibility. The HRW International Film Festival plays annually in New York and London. We are proud to premier the festival in Seattle.

Lecture Series
World renowned theologians and social advocates present a series of provocative lectures addressing the films' thematic elements within a theological context. These lectures will question, challenge, and stretch the structures of living a life of faith in an unjust world.

Discussion Panels
Drawing from their experience as filmmakers, scholars, practitioners, and local leaders, the featured panelists will engage in lively conversation on the issues at hand. All are invited to share questions and ideas at this compelling community forum.


What is Most Important?

"There are many issues that could easily consume the time and energy of the church. However, the challenge before a prophetic people is to discern and pursue what matters most for the journey ahead."

On Sunday, March 25, in the opening worship of World Conference, President Steve Veazey spoke to the assembled representatives of the world church and offered what he felt to be God's "Counsel to the Church" (wma, mp3, text). Despite - or perhaps because of - the pointed, explicit and challenging nature of the Counsel, the Conference gave a standing ovation following his words. After a week of intent discernment by the many bodies of the church, on Friday, March 30, the church adopted President Veazey's statement as Section 163 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the church's unique scriptural authority and expression alongside the Bible and Book of Mormon.

In the meeting of Elders, my own quorum, I spoke against recommending the document for adoption this year. I felt it was challenging and profound enough that the whole church should have time to explore it and understand what we are committing ourselves to before canonizing it. My position was voted down, and the Elders - alongside all the other quorums and bodies - recommended the Conference have the opportunity to adopt it. I can understand their enthusiasm - the words are so timely and needed, the document addressed issues we are struggling with and offered clear and compelling direction, and we could be spending the next several years applying these words as binding on the body, rather than discussing what it would be like if we decided to bind ourselves to it.

In the main chamber of the Conference, I again rose to comment, specifically on verses three and four.

3 a. You are called to create pathways in the world for peace in Christ to be relationally and culturally incarnate. The hope of Zion is realized when the vision of Christ is embodied in communities of generosity, justice, and peacefulness.

b. Above all else, strive to be faithful to Christ’s vision of the peaceable Kingdom of God on earth. Courageously challenge cultural, political, and religious trends that are contrary to the reconciling and restoring purposes of God. Pursue peace.

c. There are subtle, yet powerful, influences in the world, some even claiming to represent Christ, that seek to divide people and nations to accomplish their destructive aims. That which seeks to harden one human heart against another by constructing walls of fear and prejudice is not of God. Be especially alert to these influences, lest they divide you or divert you from the mission to which you are called.

4 a. God, the Eternal Creator, weeps for the poor, displaced, mistreated, and diseased of the world because of their unnecessary suffering. Such conditions are not God’s will. Open your ears to hear the pleading of mothers and fathers in all nations who desperately seek a future of hope for their children. Do not turn away from them. For in their welfare resides your welfare. (D&C Section 163)

"This is serious stuff," I said. "If we adopt this as scripture, if we accept this as God's word for our church, this will be a challenge.

"The poor will ask us what is most important. The hungry will ask us what is most important. People facing the barrel of a gun will ask us what is most important. People holding that gun will ask us what is most important. We have to be prepared to wrestle with that question.

"If we accept this document as scripture, most of us in this room will be set against the policies of our own governments and the economic systems under which we live. And that seems to me prophetic."

I wasn't speaking against the document. I was highlighting the seriousness of the words we were considering binding ourselves to. The Conference voted overwhelmingly to accept the document and its challenge, and the letter of counsel became the newest chapter in the story of our struggle to discern God's will and answer God's Call.

Section 163 is a extraordinarily powerful word of caution, challenge, and promise. I hope and pray that we can heed the caution, take up the challenge, and meet the promise.

Labels: , ,