Thursday, June 30, 2005
Smells Like Church Spirit #2
Smells Like Church Spirit #2.5
In fifth grade I became friends with Al because of baseball. We lived one block away from each other in the neighborhood. Al and I played baseball in all of its forms. Pounch (our unique brand of wiffle ball), pitcher-catcher, “pop-em-up”, groundball, dice baseball, ping pong baseball, “the game off the garage,” computer baseball, Intellevision baseball, Atari baseball, and oh yeah, little league – we were on the same team. Were you to extract baseball from our friendship, I would dare say that little else would remain. Well, it’s not that baseball is all we did, but rather it was what named our relationship. We did other things totally unrelated to baseball as well. We did things like trade baseball cards – wait. No really, we played Dungeons and Dragons, stayed over at each other’s houses, and went to school together. We had a good friendship.
Al liked me because I was a good challenge in baseball, but also because I was honest, kind, and a loyal friend. I was fair and even unfair to his advantage sometimes. Through the years I never drank or smoked, or did drugs or partied or anything like that. He was the same way. I was a safe friend who had his parents’ approval and vice versa. Neither of us were too much into girls, but enough to, you know, make sure we knew where we stood and all, but neither of us were overtly obsessed with them. Playboys and girly magazines were not a part of this friendship.
In fact, I think Al’s mom wanted to adopt me. The fact that I already had parents threw a monkey wrench into her plans, but the way she smiled when I came over made me feel welcome and accepted. I think my mom had some adoptions plans for Al as well. Those never materialized either. But that was OK, we remained friends and are to this day, though we live in different places and don’t contact each other all that often. We’ll still play fantasy baseball every now and again.
We got into trouble, though, when we talked church. You see, since he was an Assemblies of God dude and I was a Church of Christ boy, I knew that he needed serious help. It really bothered me that my good friend had been under the influence of the false teachers and was in all likelihood going to Hell. So, I did the right thing, I argued with him about the one and only way to worship: acappella. I figured I’d start with the most important things and go down the line from there. Next was baptism, and none of this heretical baptism of the Spirit mumbo jumbo either – only the real baptism found in the Bible. I was going to tell him about true baptism, the only kind that really takes away sins.
So we argued and argued about singing only worship. He was so perplexed by this argument and with the energy I had behind it. Couldn’t he plainly see the truth? How could my friend who was a straight A student be so stupid when it came to God? Strange thing in these arguments is that we never actually used the Bible in our deep theological rants to each other. Looking back, it is a good thing we didn’t use the Bible since I would have had nothing to show him.
Since I couldn’t convince Al about the truth by mere conversation, I thought that if he had an experience of the truth then he would finally come to his sense. So I got him to come to church.
“Come Ye That Love The Lord…” rang out in four part harmony without the filthy contamination of those hideous instruments. I was glad we sang that song because I liked it and I figured that since Al claimed that he loved the Lord (even though I knew he really didn’t) that his sin would be exposed and he would confess, go forward and give his life to the Lord – for real.
After church was over, I asked him, really trying not to be too smug or sure of myself (though I couldn’t help it), “So, now what do you think of real worship?”
“What does the word ‘ye’ mean?” He asked. And when he said ‘ye’ he made quotes with his fingers and made a face like a monkey that just got poked in the butt with a stick. He was mocking me badly.
“Huh?” I was stunned. He just experienced true worship, so how could he have a question?
“Yeah, that one song said, ‘Come ye,’ I want to know what I sang.” Behind his taunts was an actual question.
“It means you,” I said quite unamused, “all of you.”
“There is something wrong with your music,” he said, feeling a little more comfortable with his critique than I thought was appropriate before God almighty.
This was a very strange exchange. And the older I get the more weird it appears. How did my deep theological thoughts, my love for my friend, and my concern for his eternal destiny get reduced to me defending the use of the word, “ye” in a hymn?
When I sort out my spiritual history, I find that there are things that smell so attractive that anyone would want to be a part of it. Who doesn’t want a loyal friend who is kind and honest? I learned that stuff in church and in my family. I also find that there are things that smell hideous and wonder how anyone tolerated me. Who wants a friend who is obsessed with microscopic and non-existent particles of theology? I learned to do this from my church. My loyalty to God and depth of spirituality was measured by the degree to which I could defend those fat sacred cows.
What I have been doing and will continue to do is to kill those sacred cows and make a fine smelling roast out of them.
40 Days of Fat can now be found at
Christian Parenting can be found at
Successful Stepfamilies can be found at
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Smells Like Church Spirit #2
What do you smell like? Do pre-christians take a whiff of you and are repulsed like bad gas or are they attracted to you like a fine smelling roast?
Think about where you live, what you wear, what you drive, your language, your church, etc. Everything about you smells powerfully, but what is that scent?
I volunteer a little bit of time at a ministry in my town, a place for poorer children, basically. They are mostly African American and Latino (which might be good for me because my dad is a "Black Mexican").
I wonder what I smell like to those kids. Do I smell like the rich guy who comes from on high and condescends to them from my superior position and then returns to safe and clean place of the wealthy? That, my friends, is bad gas. It is also a somewhat accurate description of what I do with these kids. I would not blame them for thinking so.
What I hope to do is to be a connecter. I want to connect to them with the love of Christ in me. Yes, the Bible stories I tell are important, but they need to experience that this story is happening in me. If they believe that it is happening in me, then they can believe that there is something to this story.
Monday, June 27, 2005
(Warning: Long post - 2200 words)
(Disclaimer: I mean no disrespect to my parents and they know this is here. So much of this post is about years ago. To say things are different these days is quite the understatement. As my mother say, "people mellow with age." This statement rings true for both of my parents. )
The worst part of going to college 850 miles away from home was that the days of smelling roast when opening the door to our house after Sunday morning church were over. Nothing, I mean nothing, smells better than the savory aroma of my mother’s roast beef on Sunday afternoon after church. It was a reward for being good in church. It was a respite from the struggles of life. That smell was the promise of good things to come. Where there is aroma there is roast beef. Along with roast there was sure to be buttery mashed potatoes, as much as I wanted, with some delicious veggie on the side – peas were my favorite. No matter how long the sermon was, no matter if we sang dumb hymns like, "Mansion over the Hilltop," or hymns with the word "yonder" in it, no matter what Gilbert said during his unusual prayers, those experiences were erased at a single whiff of mom’s roast. That glorious scent of beef roasting in the oven was enough to compel me to do outrageous things. I was known, on occasion, to set the table and pour everyone’s drinks in preparation for the Sunday meal. Vacuuming the floor or peeling some potatoes was even in play if it meant getting to the good stuff. Those, my friends, were amazing feats for me. Certainly I would do these kinds of things under the threat of grounding, I’m not crazy, but it was the wonderful smell that compelled me above all other things. I think I need to say it like this: My mom’s roast beef had the power to heal.
It’s a good thing, too, because there was much to heal. I wish that I could say my church experiences were the worst of my problems, but they were not. My family was born in turmoil. My mother was pregnant with my older brother when she married my father. They were both seventeen years old. Dad had been living on his own for a year already because anything was better than enduring one more minute with his father. It was either move out on his own or kill his father. He chose wisely. Mom’s parents nearly boycotted the wedding because they were opposed to her marrying a "Black-Mexican." The cause of their objections were not only weird, they weren’t even accurate. If my father were, as they said, a Black-Mexican (whatever that means), who cares? I mean come on, this was Minnesota in the 1960’s. We all know that there are no racist people in Minnesota. Furthermore, dad was half Mexican, with a splash of Norwegian and Danish. The Black part didn’t even make sense. However, when you’re a Norwegian racist, I guess anything you don’t like is Black. I can’t be too hard on my grandmother. though, as she comes by it honestly. It’s like my great grandmother said once: "If you’re not Norwegian, you’re not nothing." How can you argue with that?
Usually when just-married couples leave the church house, people gather and throw rice or bird seed, even blow bubbles. The couple is smiling, excited, and can’t wait to head off for the honeymoon. Well, according to the wedding pictures I saw, mom was looking nice and sweet decked out in wedding garb while dad (wearing a suit for the first time in his life) was raising an angry fist to the photographer. I think the picture with his middle finger extended got edited out of the photo album.
Yes, my family was born into turmoil. After a couple years of marriage, my mom became a Christian and ruined everything. She was baptized while pregnant with me. When she gave her life to Christ and dad learned that this was for real, the puke hit the fan. Everything got worse. It was the beginning of family wars. Wasn’t Jesus supposed to cure these things, not cause them? Little did I know that the way of peace sometimes comes through the heat of fire.
One of the enduring wars in my family was determining who and what received family status. We always had pets - cats and dogs. There was a time when we had a bird, but after someone forgot to feed the cat for a week, Pussywillow learned how to open the cage and get some feathery food. The pets' family status changed from time to time. Sometimes they were very much family and sometimes they were prisoners destined for the kitty cat concentration camp. The dog was often exiled to the back yard in January – Minnesota January. Cuddly cats got family status, at least until they used the corner of the living room behind the couch as a litter box. Do you smell something? That was cause for pet demotion, usually a unilateral decision made by my dad. He would overstate his case (something he still does from time to time) by saying something like, "we’re getting rid of all these animals tomorrow, and we will never have another pet in this house again, ever, end of discussion!" in a loud and don’t-you-dare-oppose-me tone of voice. Do I need to say that this was actually the beginning of the discussion?
The problem with my parents’ relational chemistry was that when my mother heard that tone in dad’s voice, it was her invitation to defy him, not matter what he said. So the three kids sided with the pets in order to save their lives, mom sided with the kids, and dad was alone to fend for himself. You could see the storm brewing on the horizon, and then you heard in the distance something like:
Let’s get ready to rumblllllle!
When dad realized it was four cats & a dog, three children, and one wife on one side and only him on the other, it should have given him pause to rethink his position. It should have launched him into negotiations and the pursuit of solutions. It should have at least conjured up a let’s-talk-about-this-tomorrow posture in the corner of his mind. It should have, but it didn’t. Rather, we saw a look in his eye that let us know we were about to experience one of the Four Angers of My Father.
Dad had different angers for different situations. There was "generalized family anger." This anger included decisive overstatements, a raised voice, and mild profanity. He never dropped the F-bomb in front of the kids, but he was known to say things like: "Jesus H. Christ" in a frustrated tone. This exclamation mystified me completely. How did my dad, a man who didn’t even go to church, know Jesus’ middle initial? My preacher didn’t even know that. Although dad never told me, I just figured Jesus’ middle name was Horatio. It fit the pentameter. On rare occasions, dad would get all Catholic in his generalized family anger and would end a sentence with, "Mary, mother of God!" like some people say, "For crying out loud!"
Dad reserved a more intense anger which he kept securely within the marital unit, meant only to be spent on mom. I will call this "you kids get out of here" anger. There was a richer, more creative usage of profanity behind these closed door fights. Although it rarely happened, something could get broken, like a door or the wall, when he used this kind of anger.
My favorite of dad’s angers was his "anger at inanimate objects." In no other context could dad string together profanity that was so blue, so streaky, that it wove an almost beautiful verbal tapestry of vulgarity that could have easily landed him a role on the Sopranos. More often than not, this anger was unleashed on one of the many International Harvester Scouts (AKA "Route Trucks") he used for his other job, that of a newspaper route driver. It was dad’s sworn commitment never to buy a vehicle less than a decade old and fix it himself with only duct tape and bungee cords. So, the odds of a vehicle teasing out his rage was about the same as the sun rising. What was simultaneously hilarious and humiliating was that we would weave his tapestry of profanity in the drive way at 3:00 AM without any volume control whatsoever. If I could hear him from my basement bedroom, then the neighbors could too.
Finally, there was one more anger. I will call it the "arm wrestle and drink beer" anger. When dad needed to blow off some steam or fire some gun powder, he would enter arm wrestling tournaments at bars. This riled up my mother so badly because it was the opposite of her Christian faith. The worst was the time when dad won a tournament he was in and brought home the first place trophy. The trophy had to be 2 feet tall adorned with a gold cup propped up on top of a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. He was quite proud of it and determined to showcase his prize in a prominent place in the house. Somehow my parents negotiated a compromise and settled on a spot in the basement TV room.
So, of the four angers available to my father, it first appeared like he would choose generalized family anger. This was not so bad because it all it amounted to was yelling. However, mom was our representative in this rumble and it quickly became a marital cage match - you kids get out of here! Pets and kids would only be called upon in extreme cases. Then the rumble began. It raged and raged, and all eight of us heard it like thunder through a canyon. When dad would cuss in a high pitched voice, which didn’t happen very often, we knew there was a chance something could get broken. When we heard that pitch, that almost-out-of-control wail in his voice, a wave of panic came over us similar to the feeling you get when you hear the tornado siren in the middle of a thunder storm. It’s the fear that, as bad as things are, they just might get worse.
As luck would have it, we did not hear the high pitched cussing. We felt great relief, when it was all said and done, as mom saved the pets. Mom won the battle and the pets stayed. Mom was our hero.
But dad would never admit defeat. Rather, he would find another front on which to fight. As much as the kids wanted the pets to have family status, dad wanted the TV to have family status. I learned of the depth of his commitment to his position one Sunday over roast beef.
Mom was determined to preserve the family meal around the table. She had pictures in her head of a happy family of five sitting around the table (pets under the table), passing the potatoes, smiling at each other, conversing about the important things in life – like you might see in the first five minutes of a Jimmy Stewart movie. Dad, however, was more interested in the Minnesota Vikings game on TV.
The horizon darkened again as we realized that today was the day when this ongoing battle was going to be decided once and for all. Would we be a sit-at-the-table family or a sit-in-front-of-the-TV family? After much fighting, fully leveraged with guilt, intimidation, manipulation, dad said, "Fine, I’ll sit at the table."
Although his heart was not the least bit into it, he did agree to sit at the table, and at that point, it was enough for mom. We all sat at the table ready to pray, roast on the platter and mashed potatoes steaming topped off with a pool of melted butter calling out to me. My older brother, Jay, said the prayer as we held hands around the table. I didn’t hear a word he said because I wanted to get into that roast.
"…in Jesus name, amen." The prayer ended and I reached for roast and everyone started passing bowls and plates of food. Everyone except dad, that is. He left and no one saw him. He returned in a minute with a sixth chair and set it about three feet away from the dinner table. This confused me and my younger sister and older brother. It did not, however, confuse my mother. She sighed with a frustrated sense of defeat. I learned why about five seconds later.
Dad left the room again. I didn’t care what he was up to; I was already into my second helping of mashed potatoes. He returned again with TV in hands. He placed the TV on the sixth chair, plugged it in, adjusted the rabbit ears, and tuned in the Vikings. After sitting down, dad gave mom a smug smile and invited the kids into the game. The TV had achieved family status and that made dad the hero this time. Mom knew she had been beaten and couldn’t lure the kids away from the game. This was not a battle she could win. So, after that we were a sit-in-front-of-the-TV family.
What was amazing, despite all of the turmoil our family got ourselves into, was the remarkable consistency of the glorious aroma of the roast. Its promises were never compromised. It was a recurring sense of security for me. It made enduring some ugly things not so bad because I could count on it.
Of all of the memories that could have poisoned me forever, it is the smell of roast that overpowers them all.
Friday, June 24, 2005
(Updated with a BONUS REASON)
One of my most frequented blogs is Tall Skinny Kiwi. His real name is Andrew Jones and he has taught me much about the emrging church, about creativity in the new media, and about blogging. I thank him for that very, very much. Also, I like the fact that Tall Skinny made a cameo in the made for blog one act play I wrote called, McLaren, Campbell and Starbucks.
A few weeks back he launched out in a series of posts about Deep Ecclesiology. I like it. You might like it as well.
But as much as I like his blog posts about it, I want him to write the book.
Having said that, I know that others have encouraged him to do the same, but as of yet, to no avail. Brian McLaren (one of the main stars in my play) has urged Skinny to do it, but he had not luck.
I believe my efforts will fail as well, but I also think that the Skinny needs ot know why he should write the book. So, here are my 9.5 reasons why he should wirte, "Deep Ecclesiology."
If you read this and agree with me and would like to expand this idea in blogland, then please link here or post about it yourself.
Skinny, here is why you should write the book:
1. Although your blog has got to be approaching a half million hits, not all of these people are reading your thoughts on Deep Ecclesiology.
2. Baker Books is goo-goo eyed for all things emergent these days. In fact, I'm sure if you so much as twitch, you'd have to beat them off with a stick.
3. A good friend of mine published a book with Baker (It was Bethany at the time) and said the experience was wonderful and he was treated with respect.
4. Portability. I can hand a book to a friend, whether they blog or don't.
5. Shelf Life. Even though the media is changing, a book has some serious shelf life.
6. Credibility. Please don't puke. What I mean by this is that many people, good and smart people, have the belief that if it is not in a book it is not worthy of consideration. Although this is a seriously flawed view, they need to be included within their way of understanding. The attitude embedded within a deep ecclesiology is the same as that of someone in the media (new or old) who would want to pitch a big tent - from a media perspective. Broadening your media outlet forms to include old forms will be a respectful invitation to the D.A. Carsons of the world who do better with books.
7. You could made the book like a blog with links and stuff. Lots of room for creative expression.
8. Money. I am sure you feel all weird about spreading out great information and it costing something. Doug Pagitt had similar reservations in publishing Re-Imagining Spiritual Formation. I really like that he said so in the intro to his book. Any money that comes in from royalties and advance could be used for your ministry and the rest could go to some charity. I think you have established yourself as someone who would use the money responsibly.
9. I will buy a copy. So, between me and McLaren, you are guaranteed to sell 2 copies. I have got a hunch there will be more.
9.5 I want to be known as the straw that broke the camel's back, the guy who pushed you over the edge, the irritating American who wouldn't shut up unless you wrote the book, etc. OK, this is a dumb reason to write the book and thus it only deserves a .5 on this list.
BONUS REASON: "Deep Ecclesiology" will be one of the 5 most important books for church unity in a 2 decade span.
Skinny, write the book.
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
(Warning: Involves potty talk)
(Warning: I think this post is hilarious)
For some reason, when I was a kid, ordering onion rings instead of French Fries at Burger King was a big deal. Somehow I equated the purchase with mom and dad splurging for some very special reason. I held this belief that French Fries cost something like fifty cents and onion rings cost, oh, about seven bucks. Of course none of these impressions reflect reality in the least, but it is honestly what I believed as a child.
So, for years I thought of onion rings as some kind of exotic food rich people buy all the time and eat while lounging next to their pools that overlooked the ocean and were shaded by palm trees. I could only have this rare delicacy on special occasions. I never complained about it, though. I knew that my father’s job as a custodian paid very little, but was nothing to be ashamed of – even though I was.
So when I became a teenager, and had some of my own money, I decided that I would bust out of this terrible shell of poverty that I had been in for so long and purchase onion rings the next time I went to Burger King. I would pretend to be one of those rich people. I would feel rich and act like eating onion rings was no big deal, like they didn’t cost seven bucks.
One weekend a confluence of events occurred that lead me to an onion ring bonanza. I had some money in my bright orange velcro and canvass wallet. I was spending a lot of time with my brother, Jay, who was back from college for the summer and my best friend, Pat. I liked spending time with them because they could drive and I couldn’t. Friday lunch and there we were, at Burger King. I ordered onion rings and a side of Whopper. I nearly trembled at this momentous occasion. It was my first solo onion rings order with my own cash. An order of onion rings was surprisingly cheaper than expected. Sweet! Ah, the savory crunch and slick onion through my teeth made me feel sophisticated, like people who drink tea with their pinky extended. I ate that first onion ring in slow motion. I had arrived. It must be the same feeling people who buy cars that cost as much as a house and don’t even have to borrow money to do it.
Friday evening arrived and as luck would have it, we went to Burger King again. My brother’s girlfriend worked there and I think that had something to do with it. Whopper with a large order of onion rings. I ate them triumphantly.
Saturday rolled around and I got up early, about 11 AM, and was ready to eat. The three of us took off for Burger King again. For some reason Pat was living at our house this summer, or maybe he just slept there, I can’t remember. Anyway, once again I ordered a whopper and large onion rings. Delicious. Oh hey, what’s for dinner? “Whopper and onion rings, can you hear me now?” I was eating onion rings like I was making up for lost time. The starving kid whose dirty face has been pressed against the window from the outside got let in to the buffet and wouldn’t stop.
At the same time I had forgotten everything taught to me about the digestive system in high school science class.
Sunday morning was church. The entire youth group sixth grade and up sat on the second pew to the preacher’s right. We’d pass notes and giggle, get mean looks from the preacher, and fall asleep. When a guy sat next to the cute girl (the only one), he would accidentally let his hand touch her leg, just a little bit, so he could brag about it later. But we did it together and that’s what mattered.
On that morning before church, I felt like I wanted to stay in bed, and it wasn’t the usual “Oh crap, I gotta got to church,” kind of want to stay in bed. I really felt sick to my stomach. My mother, who wouldn’t take half an aspirin unless a migraine split her head in two, was not about to let me stay home from church. She would have counted it a sin as a Christian and a failure as a mother to let me stay home for so little. I mean really, there wasn’t even blood.
Everything was fine, at first. We sang hymns selected from the usual pool of about 20. The kids in the youth group kept trying to guess which song the song leader would select next. Someone was bound to nail it as there were so few songs to choose from. Then the sermon started and my stomach got queasy to the almost unbearable point. It wasn’t “I’m gonna hurl” queasy, but “Can I hold it?” queasy.
Then my stomach made some unusual noises. I hoped no one heard them but me. Since no one looked, I felt reasonably safe that it was silent to them. The sermon was really long that morning, like five hours or so. I wanted to leave the sanctuary and go to the bathroom, but sitting in the second pew left no possibility for a sneaky get away. I just knew my mother (in the fourth pew to the right of the preacher) would notice, force me to make eye contact with her and tell me to sit down and shut up in sign language. Those were the only words I knew in sign language. I just had to have faith that I could make it through the closing prayer. .
Then the sick feeling lowered in my gut. I knew this time that something terrible was about to happen. My fear was that I was about to rip like a thundering herd from below and that I would be heard by everyone. I would be ridiculed, taunted, and utterly humiliated for weeks on end if I did that in church. No! I had to stop it.
No use. It was coming on strong. I wiggled and shifted on the pew in anticipation of the coming blast. I figured if I situated myself just right the sound would be muffled into the soft padding of the pew and I would be saved the humiliation. This was an ingenious idea and had, in fact, worked in the past. However, this one was different. Never before had my digestive system had the force of four orders of onions rings behind it. Four orders of onions rings, that’s like, what, six to eight pounds of onions churning in my colon. I had no idea what I was getting into. In fact, I had no idea the onion rings had anything to do with my digestive issues.
About three fourths of the way through the sermon, the first salvo was launched. What I feared was a loud noise. Initially, I had great relief that it was completely silent. Not only that, my stomach felt a lot better. It was such a relief I immediately paid attention to the sermon. It was something on how to be right all the time and telling sinners that they were wrong.
After a few seconds, something in the air changed. It was like a dark, mustard-yellow, almost liquid, cloud of stench emerged from below, creeping slowly upward, targeting every nostril in a three pew radius. It was positively horrific. Out of the corner of my eye I saw heads cocking back and looking around. Honestly, I was so relieved that I had not produced an audible fart that I did not connect the disgusting odor to myself. But as everyone turned to find the guilty party, all eyes arrived at me. Realizing what was happening, I looked at Pat with a look that said, “You’re disgusting!”
My attempt to nonverbally accuse Pat of this olfactory atrocity did persuade some that he was the one who dealt the blow. I knew I was safe because it would be my word against his and since I was such an introvert and so unassuming (appearing), people would believe me over Pat. I had dodged a bullet.
The sermon ended and it was time for communion. Usually this was a relatively quick operation. A quick word on what communion was, a few stock prayers, pass the trays and we’re done. Well, it was Gilbert’s time to give the communion word. Gilbert speaks slowly and kind of bird walks from topic to topic. It was entirely possible that he could work in some comment about the sounds that squirrels make when they are mating into the words of communion. I know this because he did it in a prayer once.
This was not going to be a slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am communion. That queasy feeling returned, only this time more quickly and with greater force. Gilbert was still talking about something in the universe when I felt like I was going to release what was known in my family as, “Silent Death.” It was my father who created the phrase. It was my father who created the need for the phrase.
It was on that day that I learned how to flex certain muscles that I actually never knew I had. The little tasteless cracker was passed around on fake gold trays and all of the baptized people got a little piece. The smaller a piece you could break off the holier you were. I broke off a really small piece trying to be really holy. Maybe God would miraculously remove the gas. Nope. By the time the trays had been passed to the back pews, I could not stand it any longer. I had to leave. I was not going to unleash another one of those bombs on my friends. They would know it was me this time and I couldn’t just blame Pat twice.
I got up after the cracker was served, but before the grape juice (never real wine) was passed around. This move must have horrified my mother. I had broken the holy tradition of communion. There was no way communion took effect if you didn’t take the whole thing. If there is one time during the entire worship service that is the absolute worse time to get up and leave it is in between the cracker and the grape juice. It was tantamount to going to the bathroom at a Twins game during “Take Me Out To The Ball Game,” of killing kittens. Sacrilege.
But there was no other option. I had to get out of there. I stood up, but stooped over hoping no one would see me, and made my way to the outer aisle. I then walked briskly and silently, still stooped down, like spies do on TV, to the rear of the sanctuary, and exited the back door. The bathroom was just across the foyer. I pushed open the door with my shoulder as I was unbuttoning my pants in a panic knowing that there was a chance there was going to be some substance with this one.
The bathroom was empty. Whew! Having only one stall meant that there was a chance it was filled by someone else. However, being in the middle of communion as it was, my odds were pretty good of having the place to myself. I sat down and then the horrors began.
In about ten minutes, I had created something that was so disgusting, so repugnant that I actually gagged myself. Everything I looked at in that bathroom seemed to be filtered through a dark yellow fog of poison gas. It was at this time that I realized: It’s the onion rings. I was in a real dilemma. I could hardly breathe in that little bathroom, and it felt like the walls were closing in on me. I needed to get out of there. However, the message coming from down under was that I was only about half accomplished with my necessary task that brought me into the bathroom in the first place.
I then remembered the new muscles I had discovered during communion and thought that just maybe I could use them in order to make it home without any more damage. So, I decided to make a break for it. I knew church was still going on because the speaker in the foyer was on and you could hear it in the bathroom. It was the closing prayer. I figured that by the time the closing prayer ended and the announcements were read, I’d back seated with my friends and enough distance between me and my odor would have kept me from guilt had anyone walked in the bathroom after me.
No such luck. When I opened the door to leave the bathroom, in walked a deacon. Not just some shlepper member, but a whole deacon. I walked past him quickly pretending he wasn’t walking into the gas chamber. I felt guilty. But that guilt left immediately when I heard what I was sure to be a cuss word through the opening of the door just before it closed tight. Cussing was a much worse sin than bad gas, I actually thought to myself.
The rest of the day was spent at home, much of the time in the bathroom as my colon tried desperately to cleanse itself. This is when I knew for sure that my family really loved me.
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
New and somewhat humorous post at Christian Parenting.
New blog called Better Life Blog. My collegue Greg Brooks and I will be posting at this blog.
Starting July 1st, a new blog specifically for Stepfamilies will be launched called Successful Stepfamilies.
Feel free to link these blogs in places that might be helpful to the populations they target.
Once upon a time, the Beatles sang a song called, The Fool On The Hill. When I was in high school I considered myself the fool on the hill. I was isolated and was the only one who really knew what was going on. The song gave me hope, for some reason, that I was not crazy. It was important for me in high school to get constant reassurance that I was not crazy. Rereading the words two minutes ago I find that the song is actually weak, trite, short-sighted and was probably the result of some bad Transcendental Meditation and an acid trip. But for a goober in high school who longed for wisdom (yes, that is what I wanted more than anything - even more than girls, who I considered beautiful creatures to be much feared), The Fool On The Hill was my fix, my safety zone, my retreat.
I still long for wisdom. I now think it has something to do with the extent to which I am aware of my own foolishness. I have an unusually keen sense of my own foolishness. The only problem is that this keen awareness only works retroactive. I am only a fool in the rear view mirror. I'm not afraid of girls anymore, thankfully. I married one and am learning the ways of this beautiful creature.
I try to find nuggets of wisdom to hold on to, and then I hold on to them until they are part of me. OK, that's not true. I hold on to them until I get distracted and forget about them. Only later, when they re-emerge in some other situation, I rememeber oh yeah, I used to know this.
Currently I have a couple pieces of wisdom I am trying to make sense of. The first is this:
All of life is preparation for the rest of life.
And the second is this:
Peace is the result of an agreement between the human and the Divine.
Do you have any nuggets of wisdom you are trying to make sense of?
Monday, June 20, 2005
I read books. I read a lot of books and I only wish I couild read faster and more of them. So, I maximize my time as best I can. Like many people, I read in the bathroom.
However, this morning it struck me as humorous and a bit embarrassing that I am reading "Man's Search For Meaning," while on the toilet. I think it was when I put the words "Man's Search For Meaning On The Toilet" together that I realized just how funny this scene was.
So, as I pondered Man's Search For Meaning on the Toilet, I went deep and pondered what other books I have read (or are in my stack to read) and how they would sound on the toilet. It goes like this:
Searching For God Knows What On The Toilet
The Story We Find Ourselves In On The Toilet
The Divine Conspiracy On The Toilet
How To Read A Book On The Toilet
Finding Faith On The Toilet
If only I could shut my mind off, but I couldn't. Movies came to mind.
A Series of Unfortuneate Events On The Toilet
Man On Fire On The Toilet
28 Days On The Toilet
Hope Floats On The Toilet
Someone, stop me, please!!!!!!!!!
Saturday, June 18, 2005
You might be curious about First Exodus (wasn't there just THE Exodus?).
Wellllllllll, I'm thinking about Moses on a personal level. He experienced an exodus on a personal level four decades before THE Exodus.
There was a time in the life of Moses when everything was going his way. Son of the king, wealth, privilege, honor, power. Moses had a future that was known, predictable and most desired. He had a security known by few in the history of the world. He was a family member of one of the most powerful families in the world. Moses got it going on.
But something wasn't quite right. He had this vague and growing sense that despite every piece of evidence pointing toward a good life, something was wrong, like a sound you never hear until it stops, and you realize it stopped and that it had always been there.
The more he learns the more he realizes that he is in conflict with himself, with his family, with his nation, and with his own people. Everything Moses had believed was true was a lie. His people, his real people, were slaves - and he was helping cause their slavery. No amount privilege was a worthy exchange for what he was participating in. He was not part of the solution; he was part of the problem. He was no politician, he was a perpetrator.
So he left.
He abandoned prestige, power, privilege, honor, security and everything he had grown accustomed to. All things familiar - gone. Not only did he leave from what he knew, he left to what he did not know.
He left what he knew
He shed 40 years of identity
He began a new life with a humble identity
He joined a new community
He'd accepted the reality of simple life
Then he was ready to lead.
What I gain from First Exodus is that all of life is training for the rest of life. I also gain that life in its many forms has meaning. Moses might have been tempted to believe that living in Egypt was real life - a meaningful life. At the same time the temptation to be believe 40 years leading a bunch of dumb sheep around had no meaning.
Truth is he needed all of the experience that he had from Egypt and shepherding in order to pull of his most important task, THE Exodus.
All of life is meaningful, no matter what. Victor Frankl would be all juiced about that last sentence. It was Frankl's belief that if a person believes his or her life has meaning, then they can endure any kind of life. He survival of Nazi death camps might just give his theory some weight. It is what got him though it. By the way, he created his "meaning theory" before he went throught the death camps, so in he got a real life opportunity to try it out.
Summary: Life is meaningful and it is, regardless of the the evidence, going some where.
Thursday, June 16, 2005
New post at the NEW Christian Parenting blog. A good one for new dads to be
OK friends, here is one more of those silly quizzes. This one is more problematic than the last one. I really don't feel half Muslim, but apparently I am.
Thanksfully I am not at all a Satanist.
You scored as Christianity. Your views are most similar to those of Christianity. Do more research on Christianity and possibly consider being baptized and accepting Jesus, if you aren't already Christian.
Which religion is the right one for you? (new version)
created with QuizFarm.com
This is a picutre of the trophy awarded to the 4-6 year old soccer team for an impressive 0-7 season. "Jonesboro Storm, Rock on!"
And this is a picture of a slimy slug eating a salty potato chip.
Question: Why can a slug eat a salty potato chip, yet you kill slugs with salt?
Answer: The slug is postmodern.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
I took this quiz, you see, and it...well, I am exposed. It's not the emergent/postmodern thing that got me, but rather that I am 5 times more classic liberal than I am fundamentalist, and a little more catholic than I am comfortable with. I'm not sure what to make of this.
Really, I don't care because these are labels and I choose them to mean nothing for me. They do not stick.
Anyway, here is my description from the quiz and the breakdown of my scores:
You scored as Emergent/Postmodern. You are Emergent/Postmodern in your theology. You feel alienated from older forms of church, you don't think they connect to modern culture very well. No one knows the whole truth about God, and we have much to learn from each other, and so learning takes place in dialogue. Evangelism should take place in relationships rather than through crusades and altar-calls. People are interested in spirituality and want to ask questions, so the church should help them to do this.
What's your theological worldview?
created with QuizFarm.com
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
So much of our certainty is derived from the modern usage of dualism. I will define dualism as that which has two opposing realities. For example, day and night, light and dark, winner and loser, man and woman, adult and child. In short, it is an either/or perspective on life.
Of course there are opposites, but when the opposites are offered as the only possibilities for all things considered, then we can get into trouble real fast. When everything in life is an either/or proposition, then we feel compelled to choose. Furthermore, there is an underlying sense which choosing one way will be the right way and the other way is necessarily the wrong way.
So, when someone does not choose the same way we do, they are automatically wrong and are to be opposed or converted. And when people choose as we do, then they are automatically right and are to be celebrated or in-grouped.
Enter postmodernism. One of the great strengths of postmodern thought is that it dethrones dualism and lets lots of different options sit at the round table. Yes there is black, and yes there is white, but there is gray, yellow, purple infra-red, etc. Postmodernism does not say either/or, but rather it says both/and. This expansion of options is truly good news. At the same time it exposes complexity and can create uncertainty. Postmoderns sometimes seem to get real certain about their uncertainty – a dilemma.
So, modern dualism is narrow-minded when it comes to the number of options and acceptable options in a given situation. However, and here is the evil twin part of the story, when postmodernism uses a knee jerk “both/and” response to dualism’s “either/or” posture, a strangely familiar and equally hideous metadualism emerges.
When I say metadualism, what I mean is dualism on the next higher level such that the only two options are modernism and postmodernism working as ying and yang.
Although postmoderns would never admit to participating in any kind of dualism as it is to them very narrow minded and unenlightened, their strict adherence to all things nondualistic plays right into the hand of what I am calling metadualism. It is the evil twin.
This plays out in churches, in generational cohorts, in politics, and any other way people gather or organize. So much of academic allegiance to postmodernism is out of either fear or frustration of modern thought, or worse, down right hatred for it. Yet the postmoderns overplay their hand such that their antidogma dogma acts, in process, the very same way the thing that they so vehemently criticize acts. It’s like violent protesters at a peace march.
The truth is that there are some dualisms, but not as many as moderns think. There are vast numbers of options, but not for everything. There are limits and there is no static system by which to know everything. Learning, discovery, and creativity must not become slave to certainty in any of its forms, modern or postmodern.
Monday, June 13, 2005
So, when people use labels, they assert a meaning onto something and thereby close the case on mystery, relational depth, and the dynamics of the evolving potentials.
Labels are usually unhelpful. Here are some examples:
"I’m a Christian."
Is this a good one or a bad one? Well, it depends on who is interpreting the label. If the interpreter understands me to be a person who loves people like Jesus did, I’m relatively safe (if I am actually like that – yeah right), unless of course the person believes all kinds of lies about Jesus, which most people do. Then I'm in toruble. However, if that person understands me to be a right wing radical bent on converting the country to conservative politics, then I might be in trouble (unless I am like that – oh please no).
"I’m depressed." OR "She’s bi-polar."
As a marriage and family therapist, I get these a lot. Someone comes into therapy self-diagnosed or worse, has diagnosed someone else in the family. These diagnoses are labels attached to someone which correspond to a list of behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. Although there is good in them from time to time, there is also so much potential for abuse of power.
Sometimes when someone comes into therapy with a strong sense of diagnosis, I am going to find it hard to be helpful because they often times have more of an allegiance to the label than they do the solution. I’m not at all saying that they are frauds. Who wants to be depressed? No one, I assure you. What I am saying is that the label itself has meaning as to how powerful the "disorder" is. Some people understand depression to be the thing that happens to you over which you have no control whatsoever and it cannot be made to go away ever. In short, they're hopeless.
If there were no word "depressed," but all of the symptoms were present, how would someone go about communicating about it? It would require a unique conversation, some exploration, in short, it would involve the process of learning. However, if someone shows up and says, "I’m depressed," a complete relational bypass just occurred. A very important process was avoided – a process that could have lead to some significant healing.
You see, labels give us the comfort of certainty, but it is a false comfort, sometimes a dangerous comfort. We feel certain about that which we are uncertain. And sadly, the feeling of comfort is enough to allow us to tolerate an unusually high level of self-deception. Given the choice between certainty and depth, we will take certainty much of the time.
Thursday, June 09, 2005
Lord of Earth,
You save what you love;
Your hand plunges into the depths,
Into the muck and sludge;
There's no place you won't go
To find what you love.
You have found me there many times,
Soaked in filth, coughing up mud;
Cold, alone, dark, hopeless,
And then you cleansed me,
Though stained beyond recognition;
You cleansed me-
Inside and out.
My old clothes were bunred
And now it's time to shop.
You've made everything new;
Warmth, family, light hope.
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
Certainty gives people comfort, and that’s what they like most about it. When you are certain of something, then you no longer have to mess around with it. It’s a done deal, a slam dunk, a great big been-there-done-that. It takes people out of the unresolved and places them safely in the resolved category. People crave closure.
The problem is that in faith, there is no closure, there is no resolve, and there is no certainty. (OK, there is a lot less of it than we usually want to believe - I was being a bit dramatic there). 9/11 should have taught us that. Enron should have taught us that. Priest sex scandals should have taught us that. The hideous intergenerational effects of toxic faith should have taught us that. Job should have taught us that. Solomon should have taught us that.
Isn’t certainty what Solomon looked for so desperately and never ever found? Yet the result was disillusionment.
Ah, the great literary theme - disillusionment. It is what happens when what you thought was there, but really wasn’t, is now gone. The illusion you believed in is gone. What you put your faith in never really existed in the first place. Oh the pain – the confusion.
For some of my clients (I'm a marriage counseor) it’s the feeling they have when they realize that their spouse has been cheating on them, for three years, and they ahd no idea. It’s the feeling Saul had when Jesus blinded him on the road to Damascus and realized he was working against the God he claimed to be working for. He must have felt like Sydney Bristow from Alias when she realized that SD-6 was not part of the CIA. It is the feeling Solomon had every time he tried something and just got more and more depressed.
The more things we are certain of the greater the risk of wide spread and grand disillusionment.
Hence the problem with my religious upbringing. The measure of spiritual development was the depth and breadth of certainty as it relates to the already known positions of the church. The more certain a person was about the right things the more spiritual and privileged that person was.
However, when I learned that instrumental music is OK, that celebrating Christmas on Christmas is OK, that if I miss church I’m not going to Hell, sex is not dirty, people who speak in tongues are not necessarily fakers, that communion on Thursday would be just fine and on and on and on – when I learned this and reflect back on the level of certainty I was encouraged to have, it created for me a faith crisis – a completely unnecessary faith crisis.
What's worse is that we do this to our children. When we get so insecure about their faith, we try to get them to know all the answers fo we, as parents, can feel better. So, we do whatever we need to do with our kids in order to ensure our certainty about theri faith.
We should be more careful about how certain we are and about how many things. If we are wrong, then we are set up for a crisis in disillusionment.
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
My buddy Brad Pitt sent me an e-mail today. He wants me and you to watch Prime Time.
Bono may have found what he's looking for here.
Rick Warren has a plan for PEACE here. Read his letter here.
Billy Graham has signed the ONE Campaign list.
So what are you going to do? Click here to sign on.
Sunday, June 05, 2005
I have a problem with certainty. At best it is like what I did in high school math – look in the back of the book for the answers and then turn in the homework. I was certain my answers were right. Heck, if the book is wrong I have that as an excuse, right? In math, the answer is important, but it is not the point. You can’t build a bridge with answers. You need to know process. You need to wrestle with the problem in order to know it. Frankly, I learned a lot of answers I never understood. Apply this to faith and it gets real scary, real fast. In short, you cannot deeply understand an answer without experiencing the problem. Yet a rush to certainty encourages that very thing.
Certainty in relationships is a dangerous thing. If you were to ask me, "Hey Chris, do you know who your wife is?" I could confidently answer, with certainty, that I do know who she is. That's fine, but I'd better not quit there. At the very same time, I could answer honestly that I have much to learn about my wife, and that I do not know who she is, not fully. Here is the danger: If I come to believe I know everything about her, then I have effectively quit learning about her because why the heck would I waste my time learning something I already know? She would become like a stock character in a second rate film. Predictable, simplistic, merely functional. No, there is more depth, more heart, more meaning in her – in anyone.
Certainty kills the necessary mystery that makes relationships dynamic and meaningful.
Friday, June 03, 2005
"You’d have to admit a Christian man is…bored.” –John Eldredge Wild At Heart
(Warning, I am going to be stereotypical of men in this sections)
Men have often been known to pursue power and ownership. Although it is not true across the board, I don’t think I'm way off the mark on this one. Furthermore, I do not think that it is bad. In fact, I think that it is part of how men are made in the image of God.
The bad thing is that churches with buildings are not exactly the safest place for a man, given his nature, to thrive.
Saddle a church with a building and gather a bunch of people together and men will naturally gravitate toward power and ownership. Again, this is not a bad thing, but what is bad is how that sense of power and ownership is used. Hierarchies quickly materialize, creating space for an impotent bureaucracy and lots of middle managers jockeying for position. Positions of authority are created and filled by men. Positions of service are needed and are assigned, by men to women.
Remember the Monster.com commercial showing children sharing their dreams, but lame dreams? One boy said with confidence, “I want to work my way into middle management.” Ultimately, what a building does is help promote men to middle management in church. Then, rather than protecting and expanding the kingdom of God, men get too interested in protecting and expanding their kingdom - measured in the building size and number of people. While being absorbed in middle management, they lose their pioneering spirit and sense of adventure – in church anyway. Or their pioneering spirit is wasted on something like a building project. In short, the church building helps domesticate men who were never meant to be domesticated.
There is a building; there are people, so manage they will. They’ll have meetings, discuss things, find ways to “be good stewards,” make decisions and so on. They will use the word ministry when they really mean manage. It’s sad, but without significant intervention, it is the best they men can do in church.
Oh they’ll find a way to satisfy that adventure spirit through hunting, over a hand of Texas Hold’em, or living vicariously through the Dallas Cowboys, but in church, they are merely middle managers. And if they cannot find a comfy middle management position in church, they’ll just exist as a pew warmer having been dragged to church by his wife.
So, men take their God-given attraction for power and ownership and find the lowest common denominator available to them and milk it for all it’s worth. It’s not that men are inherently this way, but rather it is the easiest way for them to behave given the options. Real male spirituality hardly even exists in churches in part because the men are managing buildings and people and no one is showing them anything different.
I addressed this somewhat in a blog post called jumping the low hurdles.
Lynn Anderson’s book, They Smell Like Sheep, addresses church leadership much better than I do and offers some great alternatives. It’s worth a look.
What men need to be doing in church is using their power to lift up the fallen, to heal the broken, to exalt the humiliated. The only beneficial use of power is to give it away for the benefit of the others.
What men need to be doing in church is using their sense of ownership to supply the needy, fund the underfunded, share the assets.
What men need to be doing is pioneering new church plants, launching new ministries of social justice, and constructing ways to serve children that is more than becoming a "male mother."
If men do not intentionally break new ground in church, their church buildings will turn heroic, courageous, and pioneering men into middle managers. What a tragic waste!
New post on parenting teens at Christian Parenting.
Thursday, June 02, 2005
In many Christian denominations, women are not allowed to do as much as men are. And to be fair, under certain interpretations of the Bible, there is an apparent justification for that. I do not agree with these a-contextual, a-cultural, ethnocentric readings of the Bible, but nonetheless, there is an argument to be made.
Of the many contributors that complicate gender and religion, church buildings play a larger role than one might think.
Let’s take prayer for example. Although there are some hyper-strict religious people who would say that a woman cannot utter a prayer in front of any Christian male, including her husband, I am not going to give them a vote here. Yes, I have met some women who have never prayed out loud in front of a man.
In my fellowship, a woman cannot pray in the large Sunday morning assembly. In the “liberal” congregations, a woman can pray in a Bible class that has men in it. Usually though, women are grouped in a women’s only class that then allows for this kind of public prayer.
Now let’s muddy the waters. Can a woman pray in a house church in my fellowship? Usually the answer is yes, especially if it is her house where the church is meeting. She probably won’t because she has been trained to feel uncomfortable with this form of worship.
OK, let’s bust this thing wide open. In my fellowship, women cannot pray, lead worship in song, read scripture, share a message from the Bible, serve communion, give a testimony – heck, I have never even seen a woman make a public announcement.
However, I have seen women do all of these things in house churches.
Why does the place people meet and the number of people gathered change the theology as it relates to how women function in the church? This question is not rhetorical. I want answers.
Wednesday, June 01, 2005
I used to live in Abilene, TX. It is a dry and hot place. I didn't like it from a climate and geography perspective (I LOVED the people I met there).
I dug up this poem I wrote (I don't know when) and it reminded me of the Spring wild flowers that were so beautiful there.
There is something about finding beauty in the desert that reminds me of God.
Oh the unquenchable Divine,
And how Love does not discriminate,
Like Air for all people;
Like Rain for all people.
Hope, then springs forth,
From unexpected places,
And Beautifies its dirty patch,
For the Desert cannot hold
Back Spring’s color.
Beauty, even in the Desert,
Ever so defined, in the Desert.