Christmas as a Pastor

Christmas was a couple weeks ago.
I’m sure you knew that.

In our house it meant things like decorating cookies (or, more precisely, decorating the table… since that’s where MOST of the sprinkles end up), getting a tree that is small enough to sit on top of a table (out of reach of the two year old) but large enough to sustain our decorations, and bouncing back and forth between Kate’s Pandora station (Indie Holidays) and mine (Christmas Standards). It meant things like finding out which neighborhoods around here are the best for looking at lights, wondering if this would finally be the year when Dad (that’s me) would hang some lights on our house (it wasn’t), and scrolling Netflix to see if they’ve added any new Christmas movies (not so much). It meant things like almond roca from Kate’s grandma, taking uber advantage of Amazon Prime’s free 2-day shipping, and brand new Christmas jammies for the whole family.

We love Christmastime in our house. It’s a special time of the year.

Of course, right alongside that, since I’m a Pastor, it also meant…

Two weeks straight of being gone almost every night, getting ready for a big Christmas production. Nights of Christmas fun being missed out on because of late night church-meetings. And having to be here, on Christmas Eve, almost all day and night, to put on our Christmas Eve Services.

Now, lest you read that previous paragraph and mistake it for complaining (which it wasn’t), I’m not complaining. Seriously. I love what I do, and I love doing what I do during the Holiday Season.

But, as every Pastor Family knows, holidays just look different most of the time. In large part it comes with the job, and my wife and I have navigated those waters well over these past 10 years.

And yet, each time this past season that I started to feel a bit curmudgeon-y about Church and Christmas, I was reminded how much my family and I are loved by our faith community.

For instance, this year people in our church blessed our family with:

-Tickets to LegoLand
-Gift cards for new clothes
-Movie Passes
-Extra holiday cash
-Wine and other festive drinks (Thank you Adahber!)
-More holiday cash
-Encouraging notes at just the right time
-More holiday cash
-And more

For a family of 6, in Southern California, living off of one salary, it can be daunting going in to the Christmas Season. Thinking about gifts, and Santa, and stockings. But every year (and THIS year, especially) Kate and I are gobbled up in to the loving embrace of a church family that understands just how far a little bit of material-love can go at Christmas time.

And so this Christmas we got to spoil our kids with far more gifts than we normally would. Kate and I got to have fun shopping for each other when normally it’s an afterthought (or not at all). All because people in our church, multiple people from multiple cross sections of the church, at different times and in different ways, reached out and loved on us.

I’m not sure, exactly, what the point of this post is.

Other than to say this:

Dear Missiongathering Family, from the bottom of Kate and mine’s hearts, we say THANK YOU for your gifts this year. They blessed us more than you could know. And we needed it, more than you could know.

Being a Pastor at Christmas can be hard sometimes.
But I wouldn’t change it for anything. Because it is in the CHURCH where often times we can most witness the God-who-is-with-us: Emmanuel.

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The Boys with New Toys

New Teaching: Wild Goose Festival and the Women Who Made Them Soar

A couple weeks ago I travelled out to Hot Springs, NC to attend The Wild Goose Festival for the second straight year. Wild Goose is a fantastically wonderful convergence of progressive-ish Christians who are interested in dialoguing about things like justice, music, and spirituality. (I shared some of my thoughts from last year here).

This year, instead of posting on my blog about my highlights from Wild Goose, I came back to Missiongathering and preached a sermon about it. Our church is going through the book of Acts this summer, and I was already planning on speaking from Acts 16:11-15, the story of the conversion of Lydia. Weeks ago I knew I wanted to talk about the issue of women within Christianity, and how the movement began by repositioning the social ladder; namely, by demolishing it altogether. Acts tells the story of the racial outsider being invited to the table, of the sexual-other being invited to the table, and in this passage we see how women were elevated to a status of mutuality and equality in the Kingdom of God.

Anyways, I didn’t know exactly HOW I was going to talk about this issue, I just knew I really, really wanted to.

And then, Wild Goose happened.

When I got back, I knew that I couldn’t just speak about “women” in an abstract sense… no, I knew I needed to get personal.

Get raw.

Honest.

So this sermon is me opening up about how I was raised and educated into a worldview that elevated men over women.

I am a product of patriarchy, and, as a result, can be sexist at times.

Okay… I won’t give it all away… you really should just listen.

But I WILL say that my three favorite presenters from Wild Goose (which I talk about at length in the message) were Nadia Bolz-Weber, Julie Clawson, and Glennon Doyle Melton.

Nadia

Julie

Glennon

So check out the message, and then go spend time at each of these amazing people’s websites.

I love them. And so should you.

(Right Click to “Save” the Sermon .mp3 file)


An Open Letter to Christians who still believe…

Dear Christian-who-still-believes:

- people can change their sexual orientation,

- become straight, or

- otherwise stop having same-sex attraction…

It’s time to stop.

Stop believing that.
It’s simply not true.

The President of one of the largest groups (Exodus Int’l) who’s mission USED to be to make gay people straight, has recently issued an apology:

“I am sorry for the pain and hurt that many of you have experienced. I am sorry some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents.” -Alan Chambers (read the full apology here)

Here’s what I know to be true:

You CAN’T change your sexual orientation.
You CAN change your outdated, unfounded, and hurtful beliefs about sexual orientation.

I know it is scary.
I know it won’t be easy.
I know that some people around you, in your life, will question your sanity. Question your morality. Question your commitment to God, the Bible, and to Jesus.

But trust me, it’s worth it.

It’s worth being unfriended in life by people who fear what they don’t understand, for the sake of leaving behind a way of thinking that damages, ostracizes, condemns, and shames other people.

If Alan can do it, then so can you.

(Sidenote: Tomorrow night, Thursday June 20th, at 7pm on the Oprah Winfrey Network, tune in for Lisa Ling’s OUR AMERICA. In this episode she will be talking with Alan Chambers, and sets up a space for Alan to personally apologize to many of Exodus’ ex-students. Including my good buddy, Sean Sala, who is a National LGBT activist and member at our church.)

Following in the Way of Katniss: You Have to See the “Other”

Last week our church launched our annual “God in Film” series (I wrote about that, here), and I kicked things off with “The Hunger Games.

It was my first foray in to the world of doing a talk based on a film and while it was quite the challenge to prepare for (pretty different than a “normal” talk) I will say I thoroughly enjoyed it! And I can’t wait to do it again in a couple weeks with “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

One of the points I make in the sermon comes from the scene in the movie where Katniss auditions her battle skills for the gamemakers and potential sponsors. You remember that scene: she picks up her bow and arrow and lets loose an arrow at a target, but misses completely. The gamemakers/observers laugh it off and then go about their business (chatting with each other, eating, drinking) and completely ignore Katniss. They were unimpressed and dismissed her, so when she fired her next arrow and scored a bullseye no one even noticed or cared. Annoyed at such indifference towards her, she strings one more arrow but this time shoots it up at where they were all sitting, and fires it straight through an apple that was resting in the open mouth of a cooked pig.

This quite obviously got their attention.

They turn, half amazed and half terrified, and stare at Katniss. She merely says, “for your consideration,”  takes a bow, and then exits the arena.

Brilliant scene.

In my sermon I use this scene as an example of creatively choosing a third way when people who are in power over you are ignoring you, oppressing you, or both: not Flight (passively walking away, sulking, and just accepting your lot), and not Fight (shooting arrows AT the people, picking off a few before you’re arrested or killed yourself).

No, she choose a third way.

A way that, essentially said, “Here I am. Right here. And you have to SEE me. I won’t let you ignore me any longer.”

I think that this is, in the Kingdom of God, one of the primary ways that the divide between “us” and “them” begins to dissolve. When people actually “see” the other.

SEE the oppressed.
SEE the forgotten.
SEE the outcast and the outliers.
SEE the ones society ignores.
SEE the ones the church has scorned.

“Seeing” makes all the difference. Or, at least, it’s a really good place to start.

When those who have power/wealth/privilege (the HAVES) remain isolated from those who have-not, then they can remain ignorant of what it actually means to be a have-not.

One of the questions I often pose to people who disagree with me, and are opposed to same-sex marriage or think that all expressions of same-sex attraction are a sin, is this: who do you know that is gay? What same-sex family have you taken the time to really get to know? Have you had them over for dinner? Have you gone to their house, and seen how they live, how they act, how they raise their kids?

Do you SEE them?

Of course, some people respond with, “oh I have lots of gay friends!”

Fine. That may (or may not actually) be true.

But most of the time the answer I get is silence.
No response.

Because they have not gone out of their way to “see” the other.

It’s easier, is it not, to sit in our comfy houses and continue with our non-messy lives. Where the world is easily dividable between “us” and “them.”

Turning around and looking to SEE “them?” That’s hard. That can take work. That can be scary.

But it is oh. so. important.

If you hold the position that gay people don’t deserve equal rights like getting married, then I implore you to get to know a same-sex family. I’m not saying your minds will instantly change, but if you don’t SEE them, then you are willfully choosing to remain ignorant, and you’ll never understand that these are real people.

And for folks like me, who HAVE a degree of power/influence/privilege (i.e. i’m a straight/white/male), part of our challenge is to discover how we can be more like Katniss. How can we get people to SEE, without choosing violence? Without causing more hatred and animosity? What do creative “third ways” look like as we live out this desire to eliminate the us/them divide?

Why Do a “God in Film” Teaching Series?

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Why would we talk about “worldly” movies in CHURCH?!

This Sunday, at Missiongathering, we are kicking off our annual Spring teaching series: God in Film.

Being still a relative newcomer to Missiongathering, I can say I am stoked to find out that our church does this series every year. Not just because I’m a huge fan of movies, but because I’m a huger fan of thinking critically about art and culture.

I love to explore how things like movies, music and books move us, unsettle us, transform and inspire us.

This Sunday I’ll be kicking off the series as I engage with The Hunger Games.

As I’ve been thinking about and writing the sermon for this week, I wanted to stop and reflect on the reason why we do this.

Why engage with movies like this at church.

So here are some of my thoughts on that.

Breaking the False Divide

If you’ve spent any amount of time (like I have) in the Christian sub-culture, the bubble of conservative christianity, you quickly discover how bizarre it can be.
Everything gets classified in to two categories:

Christian or non-Christian.
The Sacred and the Secular.

Thanks to the world of marketing, we now have:

Christian music and Secular music.
You have Christian books and Secular books.
Christian art and non-Christian art.

And so on…

David Dark, a prolific writer who teaches in Nashville at various institutions, says “there is not a single secular molecule in the universe.”

Or as Rob Bell says, “everything is spiritual.”

In David Dark’s book, “Everyday Apocalypse” he challenges us to return to the original meaning of the word “apocalypse:”
Which means “revelation,” or to uncover, to reveal.

And in the book he explores popular movies, t.v. shows, and music to demonstrate how we can look at things in such a way as to discover how there is a sacredness in everything.

He says,

When you begin to view all truthfulness as somehow bearing witness to God’s coming kingdom, you’re gradually able to view all kinds of art much more redemptively than a market-defined “Spirituality” or “Contemporary Christian Music” category can allow.

There is a division that has been created, a FALSE division, between things that belong to the world of “Christianity” and things that are Secular, or non-Christian. One of the things our God in Film series is trying to accomplish is to break down that false, invisible wall. To expose the myth that some things have spiritual value to them, and others don’t. Or that some products are “Christian” and so should be consumed  hook, line and sinker… while everything else is secular, scary, dangerous, and to be avoided at all costs.

But it is THIS separation, I would argue, that is thing that is dangerous, scary, and un-biblical (if you’ll permit me to use such a phrase), and it is the creation of these divisions that must be avoided at all costs.

We want to be people who develop eyes to see the Divine in all things. And so as we explore, over the next 6 weeks, these six different films, hopefully as a community we’ll all get some much needed exercise in seeing how everything is spiritual.

(That is NOT to say, of course, that everything is redeeming, or edifying, or has equal value to the soul. That is an equally dangerous position to hold. But that blog post is not this blog post.)

The Power of Movies

Movies are a powerful force, I think you’d agree.

Some movies inspire us to want to become more than we are, to live better stories, to keep moving forward in the pursuit of being the person we really want to be.

Other movies expose the lies that we live. They speak of messages that certain forces in this world would have us believe. That certain things or people can bring us happiness and satisfaction. And we find ourselves confronted with a choice to accept that this movie is either telling us something real about life, or exposing it to be a sham.

Other movies get underneath our skin, and unsettle us, unnerve us. They challenge us to look more closely, more critically at what we think and how we believe.

But movies are, ultimately, a medium for telling stories. And stories are one of the world’s most powerful forces to change people, to inspire transformation. And so God in Film provides us the chance to do a bit of apocalyptic work on some of last years most interesting movies.

To Reveal, really, ways in which we can say, “wait, that’s God!”

Or

“wait, that is NOT God!”

Of course, that begs the question, what does one mean when they say, “That’s God,” or “that’s NOT God.”

And much could be said about that (in fact, if you haven’t already, I invite you read Rob Bell’s newest book What we Talk about When we Talk About God for a fresh way to think about the word, name, and person of God), but I’ll try and sum up just briefly what “I” mean when I say things like “there, there I see the PRESENCE of God,” or “there I see the ABSENCE of God.”

The Presence of God

When I say I see the presence of God in something, what I DON’T mean is that God wasn’t previously present but now IS. I don’t mean that God magically appears in one moment, and then disappears when the moment is over.

We often find ourselves saying things like,
“That was a God moment” or
“Then God showed up”

And while I get the sentiment (and find myself at times defaulting to similar types of expressions), we have to remind ourselves that that sort of language implies that other moments are NOT God moments, or that we are suggesting that God is not in a place most of the time but only shows up when we can see evidence of it.

But I don’t think, if we really stop to consider it, that THAT is what we mean. Or what we really think.

So when I make statements like “seeing God in a movie,” what I’m trying to articulate is that there is something in that scene that resonates in a more obvious and profound way with the things that make me think about God.

Or there’s something about that plot development that echoes with things that I feel represent the character or passions of God: be it the pursuit of justice, or the work of reconciliation, or the process of renewing and redeeming something or someone.

Or, perhaps in a specifically Christian perspective, I might say that there’s something in that character and her choices that reflect the type of life that I see modeled in and taught by Jesus: be it forgiveness or working towards peace or loving the outcast.

And all good movies (all stories, really), in someway or another, tap in to what is true about life. And when that happens, like David Dark says, when we see that all truthfulness somehow bears witness to God and God’s Kingdom, then we can say things like “I saw God in that film.”

The Absence of God

But I think another way we see God in Film is when we DON’T. You could call this seeing the ABSENCE of God.

The PRESENCE of God often lifts us up, inspires us, encourages us…  with things like love, redemption, sacrifice, joy, etc…

But films that deal with the ABSENCE of God are often the ones that unsettle us… disturb us… bother us and stick with us for days. Because we see, for instance, in movies like Schindler’s List a certain “that’s-not-rightness.”

When gross injustices are shown on screen, and we stare deep in the face of the evil and wickedness that humankind is capable of, we find ourselves knowing on a profound level that that is not the way it’s supposed to be.

Other times it’s more subtle.

And still other times we might be completely oblivious to it, or we might be downright deceived.

(I think that Romantic comedies often fall prey to this. We often witness a fairytale sort of ending where everything works out and the guy gets the gal, or vice versa, and we leave the theater feeling all warm and fuzzy, and our ears were tickled… but really, we just spent 90 minutes being lied to. Because life ISN’T that way. That’s NOT really love. That’s not how relationships work. And we find ourselves constantly unhappy in life because our brains have been re-wired to expect the world that cinema gives us. But anyways…)

That is the ABSENCE of God.
The telling of a story that wars AGAINST the Kingdom of God.

Looking for God in Film

The God in Film teaching series allows us to engage with the medium of film in a way that invites us to explore how the stories we watch might be tapping in to something beautiful and true about God  and God’s Kingdom, OR be exposing stories that war against God’s Kingdom.

This 6 week exploration allows us to exercise our vision to see how everything is spiritual, and to think critically about what it is we are consuming.

Hopefully some of you found this a little helpful with regards to why we do this series every year.

And, if none of that was interesting or helpful, it’s also just a lot of FUN!

So if you’re in the San Diego area anytime during the next 6 weeks, I invite you to join us at 9am or 11am for God in Film at Missiongathering. Or, head over to www.godinfilm.com each week to download the latest message.

 

Super Lucky, or Spirit Led?

Shattering Misconceptions

I’m about to share a secret with you.

A secret about us Worship Leaders that, once shared, might ban me from the ICOPWLWAS*

But here it goes: sometimes, when I plan worship, I have zero idea what the preacher will be talking about.

(cue the *glass shattering sound effect* as people’s conceptions about the Worship Leader are broken)

Yes, I know. It’s shocking.
Most of you probably assume that us Worship Leaders spend hours together in collaboration with the preacher to flesh out the intricacies of the sermon and decide how best to build a flow of music/scripture/prayer that builds on, or complements, or sets up, or contributes in some way to the message of the sermon.

And this collaboration session, of course, comes only after hours spent in prayer and fasting (by the worship leader) as he/she seeks direction for the upcoming worship set. Then, when the teaching pastor and the worship leader come together with their ideas for the weekend, it’s just a spiritual explosion of blossoming brilliance that pushes back against the powers of darkness and emerges victorious with a light-bending, soul-lifting, mind-blowing plan for a worship service guaranteed to convert the great Deceiver himself!

More or less, that’s generally how it goes.

However, getting back to the secret I let you in on, Continue reading

A Liturgy of Doubt

Stage setup for REVAL: Doubt

Last night at REVEAL: A Night for Worship (hosted here at Missiongathering) we spent some time engaging with the idea of a Liturgy of Doubt. Inspired by this segment of a talk from Peter Rollins, wherein he posits that the church could potentially be the place for people not to come and express their belief, but come to express their doubts, we sought out to create such a space.

Here’s a bit of what took place last night in what is being called, “the best church service I’ve ever been to.” -Kate Martin (Yes, she’s my wife… so what!? ;) )

Open in Song

We kicked the night off with “All Creatures of Our God and King.” Great midtempo song. Good way to start off a more meditative/reflective night of worship. Not a ton of energy (which would be counter-productive), but not overly sleepy (which sets a difficult tone). Plus, it’s a great Call to Worship song…

All creatures of our God and King / Lift up your voice, and with us sing.

C’mon everybody, time to get yer praise on!

Call to Worship: Setting the Theme for the Night

After the opening song I took a few moments to explain what our time together was (hopefully) going to look like. I explained how we were going to look at the idea of Doubt and create a safe space to express those doubts. How Doubt is completely normal and natural for people who live by faith. You can’t have one without the other, regardless what Joel Osteen tries to say.

I also lamented about how difficult it was to find music for this particular theme. There are not many (g0od) congregational worship songs that give voice to our doubts. Part of this is possibly because we’ve been trained in the church, by the church, that to Doubt is a negative thing. It is to be avoided, and shame on you for not having faith. So why would we want or need songs that would lead us to say/sing things that aren’t empirically true, or don’t lift us up to a more secure place of trust and hope?

So I said that several songs we were singing tonight I actually changed the lyrics to, so that they would better give voice to our struggles and our doubts. And other songs, songs that may have been written to give voice to our doubts, unfortunately all tend to resolve by Verse 3 or the Bridge. So that, by time the song is over, you’ve come out of your place of Doubt and are expressing an attitude of faith and trust. But life doesn’t resolve so quickly… why then should our liturgy?

Worship through Song

We then sang “40” by U2. A great song inspired by the Psalm of lament found in chapter 40.

I’ve waited patiently for the Lord / He inclined and heard my cry // How long, to sing this song?

Prayer

Invited everyone to pause and to center themselves, and invite God to open our hearts a bit further to the reality that God is a secure Being. So secure, in fact, that God is not offended by our doubts. God does not get frustrated at us when we get frustrated at God. We need to let go of the destructive theology that views God as having low self esteem and gets all bent out of shape when we go through seasons of Doubt. And we would do well to live in to the reality that God actually might be inviting us to express our Doubts.

Worship through Song

When the Tears Fall,” by Tim Hughes, is a really cool song. Some strong lyrics that really fit the night well, but still opting for a blend of doubt and faith. So that we cannot fully sing about our questions and our struggles and our pain without covering it on a higher plane with a bigger umbrella of trust and hope that trumps everything else. For instance, Verse 1:

I’ve had questions, without answers

I’ve known sorrow, I have known pain

Love it. But then:

But there’s one thing, that I’ll cling to

You are faithful, Jesus you’re true

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great verse. And I believe it. But the problem is that there have been times in my life where I haven’t believed it. Where I haven’t clung to Jesus as being faithful or true. My life demonstrated just the opposite. And I’ll bet YOU have been there, too. So singing this just feels disingenuous sometimes. But, other times it’s not. Other times it’s GREAT to declare our sense of trust and hope in the midst of life’s storms. I’m all for that. That doesn’t mean, though, that we aren’t also in need of songs that just give us a chance to voice our despair and doubt.

Anyways, I chose to alter the lyrics of Verse 3 so that we could at least END the song in existential despair… ha!

When confusion, is all around me

And the darkness is my closest friend

When the laughter fails to comfort

When my heart aches, Lord are you there? (the original lyrics: Lord, you are there)

Video Clips: Peter Rollins on Doubt

Then we watched two short video clips of Peter Rollins talking about Doubt. The first video he throws out the idea of God doubting God. That Jesus, while on the cross, cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” as a demonstration of despair and doubt. So he suggests that when we lean in to our doubts, and embrace our dark nights of the soul, that we are then standing in the very sight of Christ.

As a way to complement this, I set up three canvases on the right part of the stage. And throughout the evening I invited and artist to write the words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” on these three canvases. First lightly in pencil, then gradually heavier and darker with a black pen, a black sharpie, and finally with black paint. So it was cool having her off on the side expressing this sentiment over and over again, getting bigger, darker and bolder.

The second video, as I mentioned above, was when Peter challenged faith communities to consider a Liturgy of Doubt.

Interactive Element

I think it’s important to provide interactive elements in our corporate worship so that it’s not all just passive/observational experiences. So I had signs printed up that were from a poem called, “An Approach to God – Losing My Religion” and posted these all around the sanctuary in groups of two. One sign would be a positive expression of faith in God. The other sign would be a negative expression, a statement of doubt.

Statement of Faith

Statement of Doubt

I also had small cards printed up and put on everyone’s chair before they got there that read “Sometimes I doubt __________________.”

So during this part of the gathering I invited people to take some time and interact with their own doubts. I invited them to get up from their chair, walk around the room, and read all seven stations. And if, while reading one of the signs, you find yourself resonating with the idea on the sign, then just sign your own name on the paper. As a way of saying, “yup, I can relate.” Then, take your card and write out three things that sometimes you doubt. It could be doubts you have now, it could be things you’ve doubted in the past, it could be things you always struggle with.

Sometimes I doubt ________

A few of the Stations of Faith/Doubt Statements

Can I just say, this part of the gathering blew me away.

I got off the stage and took part in the seven stations around the room, and it was incredibly powerful to stand there and watch people willingly and publicly sign their own names on some pretty heavy expressions of doubt.

And everybody was doing it!

Everyone was be honest and saying, “yup… I’ve had that thought before about God.” Or, “yep, I’ve doubted God in that area.” It was so powerful to be a part of this expression of both faith AND doubt on a corporate level.

Worship Through Song

The old Hymn, “Come Ye Sinners,” but without the slightly cheesy chorus that was added to the original hymn by someone else at a later time. It goes like this:

I will arise and go to Jesus / He will embrace me in his arms

And in the arms of my dear Jesus / Oh there are, 10,000 charms

What the?! Why would an armful of charms be appealing to me? Anyways… the verses to this song are golden. Especially when you go back to the original version of it and add in the few lines at the end of each verse that the “chorus” writer took off.

Scripture Reading – Psalm 44

Original Song: How Long

About 6 weeks ago I was frustrated by the lack of songs that express Doubt, so I chose to just write one. I had read Psalm 44 and was struck by how the Psalm started on a positive note (God, you’ve done all these great things for us and for our fathers…) but then takes a sharp turn at the end (But where the heck are you now? Are you sleeping? Wake up! If you really love us, then help us!”).

It’s called “How Long,” and you can hear the live performance of it here, if you’d like.
How Long (Live)


Interactive Element Cont’d

Then I invited everyone to turn their chairs and get in to groups of 3-5 people. Once in their groups, they were to go around and each share what they wrote on their “Sometimes I doubt _____________” cards. But I told them they could only read them. They could not set it up, or put it in context, or tell a bigger story. Or say, “sometimes I doubt_________, but not right now! Right now I’m good!”

Nope. Just read your doubts. Outloud. To others.

And then we put a phone number on the screens and invited people to text in some of their doubts.

Special Music

After several minutes passed, and people shared their doubts with one another, I sang the song “Silence of God,” a real gem by Andrew Peterson. Seriously, pause now and go listen to it!

During this song we put on our screens some of the doubts that had been text in.

It was a really, really cool moment.

As I’m singing this amazing song about the silence of God people are looking up and reading all these different types of Doubts. And they are discovering this: You are not alone.

You are not the only one who doubts.

You are not the only one with THIS SPECIFIC doubt.

Very cool moment.

Reading from “How (Not) to Speak of God”, by Peter Rollins

A buddy then got up and read a parable from this book. The parable imagined a small community of people who, right after Jesus was crucified, left the city and started a small faith community in a remote village. This faith community continued on and lived out the teachings and the values and principles of the Way of Christ, never knowing about any resurrection or ascension. But they viewed the Love of Jesus and the Way of Jesus as having inherent and intrinsic value that, even though it ended in death for Jesus and would end in death for them, they were committed to that way of love and peace. And then, after about 300 years, a small group of missionaries found this remote village and preached to them about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The community was elated and ecstatic and celebrated throughout the night, but no one could find the village elder. Finally, one of the missionaries found the elder alone at the outskirt of the village, clearly saddened. The missionary wondered why he wasn’t joining in the celebration, for Jesus is not dead but alive! The elder slowly got to his feet and looked the missionary compassionately in the face:

Each day we have forsaken our very lives for him because we judge him wholly worthy of the sacrifice, wholly worthy of our being. But now I am concerned that my children and my children’s children may follow him not because of the implicit value he has, but because of the value that he posses for them.’

I’m not sure why I chose to end the night with this parable, but it just seemed fitting.

What if, in a life full of sorrow and pain and suffering, we were not assured of any resolution from our doubts? What if all we had to look forward to was death?

Would we still follow Jesus? Would we still live in his love, and live out his love?

Is he worthy of our allegiance because of what he can do for us? Or because of who. He. Is.

Close in Song

And, though I partially didn’t want to, we closed the evening with “It is Well With My Soul.” It’s just such a great song, even though it semi-sort-of worked against the point of the evening. Ha!

It really was a phenomenal exercise in practicing a Liturgy of Doubt. Something I think the Church would do well to embrace, embody, and invite people to engage in.

Thanks to those of you who came out and went there with me. I hope you found it as meaningful as I did.

We’ll see you at the next REVEAL on Sunday night, November 4th at 7pm.

______________

p.s. I did a talk a few months back wherein I explored more about what it might look like to Lean in to Your Doubts. You can check that out here.

One Year Ago: DADT was Repealed (oh, and I was Fired)

1 Year Anniversary of DADT Repeal

One year ago today the controversial policy known as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was officially repealed, thus allowing openly gay servicemembers to, well, serve!

Last year when it was repealed I was thrilled. This “law” was a particularly disgusting form of discrimination that left a gross black eye on “freedom and democracy” espousing America. How our country managed to pull this off is beyond me, but even more frightening is why we pulled it off. Why would we make such a policy that asks men and women to give their lives for defending this country, and to serve with honor and integrity… but not really. Be honest, but not really. Have integrity, but only sort of. And don’t let us catch you being gay, or acting gay, or even HINTING at anything gay, or we’ll kick you out immediately.

Abhorrent.

Anyways, those days are behind us, praise God. And to absolutely no one’s surprise the Pentagon recently said that the repeal has gone smoothly with no adverse affect on morale, unit cohesion, recruitment or military readiness. All things the supporters of DADT warned us would deteriorate should we allow openly gay people to serve.

Further, here’s the conclusion from a 43 page study report called “One Year Out: An Assessment of DADT Repeal’s Impact on Military Readiness” prepared by the prestigious Palm Center, a branch of the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law:

Our conclusion, based on all of the evidence available to us, is that DADT repeal has had no overall negative impact on military readiness or its component dimensions, including cohesion, recruitment, retention, assaults, harassment or morale. Although we identified a few downsides that followed from the policy change, we identified upsides as well, and in no case did negative consequences outweigh benefits. If anything, DADT repeal appears to have enhanced the military’s ability to pursue its mission.

Again, this really doesn’t surprise anyone who doesn’t buy in to the fear mongering that can come from some of the homophobic conservative right.

I Was Asked. I Told. Then I Was Fired.

This also marks the one year anniversary of when I was fired from my previous church, The Grove, in Chandler, AZ.

In a nutshell, here’s the gist of what happened.

On Sept 20th, 2011, DADT was repealed. That night I put a link to an article on my Facebook page that announced its repealing. The article didn’t argue for or against homosexuality, it had nothing to do with any gay agenda. It was an innocuous, objective announcement about DADT being repealed. Attached to the link I wrote, “Glad this day finally came.” For me, DADT was always about discrimination. However, it turns out that for many people at The Grove, DADT was NOT a form of discrimination, but ONLY a declaration of being “pro homosexuality” and “actively promoting the gay agenda.” Anyways, I went to bed after posting the link and evidently overnight it amassed quite the ugliness in the comment section from people at my church. Some people were even calling for my job, or threatening to leave the church, because of my post. I got to work the next morning and was asked to take it down by my boss. So I did. Figuring that was the end of it, I was surprised that night to learn that the Chair of the Elder Board was calling for an emergency board meeting for Friday morning to deal with me and with what happened. At that meeting I was forced to tell the entire Elder Board my position on Homosexuality. Now, keep in mind, The Grove has no official position (or unofficial, for that matter) on this issue. I was never asked about it when I was hired, nor during the 5 years of my employment. We never talked about it as a church, it was never preached on. But I had to tell these men my thoughts on this issue. Something I’d only previously shared with my wife and with two of our dear friends. Not even my family knew. So, after sharing with the Board my position on sexuality (and sharing briefly about my journey in how I arrived at that conviction, and how I understood the Bible on the issue), and after imploring them to consider how I’d served them faithfully and in love for 5 years, they asked me to not come to church that Sunday, nor return to the office until they figured out what to do. I was called in the following Tuesday, just one week after it all started, and was fired.

I’ve written a bit about that story already, herehere and here. But overall I have avoided the subject. I have not been, and am not still, interested in publicly bashing or criticizing my former church and its leadership. I don’t want to stir up trouble and be divisive (contrary to what some may think :)

And The Truth Shall Set You Free

This past year has allowed LGBTQ folk to, for the first time, serve their country with ALL of themselves. They have been given the freedom and the dignity to be honest about who they are with their fellow servicemembers and it has resulted in more authentic relationships and a military community that can now walk the walk of integrity.

Open gays and lesbians alike have discovered a newfound freedom in their ability to live out truth in the arena they hold most dear.

Similarly, this past year has allowed ME to, for the first time, serve the Church will ALL of myself. I have the freedom to be honest about what I believe regarding sexuality and faith. About the heart of God towards all God’s children. About what the Way of Jesus looks like and doesn’t look like. And about what I believe the Bible says and does not say about homosexuality and other more “liberal” (gasp!) issues. And it has resulted in more authentic relationships in my life as well as a more fuller sense of dignity and integrity for me.

I have discovered a newfound freedom in my ability to live out truth in the arena I hold most dear.

From The Grove to Missiongathering

I have been the Pastor of Worship and Arts at Missiongathering Christian Church in San Diego for just over four months now, and it has been thrilling to do ministry with these folks. I love being here, my wife loves being here, my kids love being here. I feel for the first time that I can truly be me, and if you’ve ever been a pastor or been in the ministry then you KNOW what a gift that is. It’s a gift that I don’t think too many pastors have. It’s a gift I do not want to take for granted.

My time at The Grove was amazing. It was an incredible 5 years of growth, maturation, and spiritual transformation for me. I really became a Pastor while at The Grove. I met awesome people and made lifetime friends. Truly I believe God did some phenomenal things through me and to me while I served there.

But it always felt a bit lacking for me because I had to hide much of who I was. I couldn’t be open and share my doubts about things, or my beliefs on some issues. I lived in constant fear of being “found out” by some of the more conservative families in the church who took it upon themselves to monitor me (especially my Facebook world).

So in some ways I suppose I am grateful that I was fired from The Grove over my theological position on homosexuality, for out of it God has brought me to a place that is a much better fit.

For those of you who don’t know, here is the (brief) rundown of what happened after I was fired and how I wound up at Missiongathering.

  • Sept 20th, 2011: Posted on FB about DADT Repeal
  • Sept 27th: Fired from The Grove
  • Sept 28th: Had coffee with Worship Pastor friend from another church in Chandler. After hearing what happened to me, he said, “you should connect with an old buddy of mine named Alex Roller. He is openly gay and is a pastor at a church in San Diego called Missiongathering.”
  • Sept 29th: Received a Facebook message from an old friend who also happens to be the daughter of one of the Board Members who fired me. In it she said, “I’m wondering if you’d like me to connect you with someone I know. He’s on the Board of Invisible Children, where I work, and he is openly gay and pastors a church in San Diego called Missiongathering.”  (At this point, I probably should have seen the writing on the wall, right?! But I didn’t reply to her and ask to connect with Rich until 12 days after this.)
  • Oct 11th: Received an email from Rich McCullen, Lead Pastor at Missiongathering, who had been told of my plight via the aforementioned friend. In it he offered to bring me and my family out to SD the following week for a conference they were hosting called Soularize.
  • Oct 14th: The infamous John Shore blog blew up. I anonymously emailed a part of my story, about being fired, to progressive blogger John Shore. With my permission he published my story, completely anonymously, wherein I share about how I was fired over my position on homosexuality. I received incredible support from John and his readers, who all were a great source of encouragement to me and my wife during some very hard times. However, at the end of my story, John added some of his own commentary, using quite the colorful language (as is his way ;) saying not the most flattering things about the leaders at The Grove. [sidenote: the current version of the blog, as I linked to above, is the 3rd revision of his comments. His first version was the most, well, colorful. Then when I emailed him and asked him if he could be, well, less colorful, he edited it. And then about a month afterwards I noticed that he went back and did sort of a hybrid of version one and two]. This blog post went viral and somehow landed in the laptops of Grove leaders. For reasons unknown to me I was accused of being the one to say the negative things about the church and its leaders. Which, if you read it, you can clearly see was not the case. As a result, I was immediately threatened with having my severance package revoked, as well as other consequences. These were dark, dark days.
  • Oct 18th: Drove out to San Diego to meet Rich and attend Soularize.
  • Oct 19th: My family and I had lunch with Rich at Chevy’s. After the second basket of chips and salsa arrived, Rich turns to me and says, “Okay, so tell me, what will it take to get you to come out and join us at Missiongathering?” Me: “What?! You just met me yesterday, I was just fired 3 weeks ago, and you’re offering me a JOB?!” Rich: “I’ve read your blog, watched your music videos, listened to your sermons… and I just have a sense about this. I believe God wants you in San Diego.”
  • Oct 20th: We leave San Diego with two new friends, Rich and Alex, who also happen to be our first gay friends ever. We also leave committing to keep the lines of communication open on the possibility of moving to San Diego.
  • Nov 2nd: Life in AZ became unbearable as lies were told, misinformation abounded, and people just generally didn’t leave us alone. So, after filling the moving truck and piling up the mini van, we hopped on the road and moved back to Oregon.
  • Early Dec: Rich and I kept in touch, semi-sort-of moving the conversation forward about moving to SD. However, my wife was feeling pretty adamant that we were not moving away from Oregon again. We wanted to be with family. We wanted to be back in Oregon. Kate said, “if Missiongathering were here in Oregon then I’d say LET’S DO IT in a heartbeat!”
  • Dec 21st: Huck Brenneman Martin was born. Best. Day. Ever.
  • Jan 1st: I shaved my Depression Beard and began looking for a job. A non-church job, specifically.
  • Feb 1st: One month down, lots of good interviews and leads, but zero jobs. Also, this is the last month of our severance package. After February we had to live off of our tax returns.
  • Feb 12th: Receive a random Voicemail from James Leinhard, Executive Director at Missiongathering. After introducing himself, he leaves a message asking if we were still considering moving to San Diego and joining Missiongathering. At this point, Rich and I hadn’t spoken in weeks. And also, Kate and I hadn’t talked about it in over two months, because I knew how she felt about it. I forgot to call him back… so…
  • Feb 14th: I get a text from Rich that says, “Call James back, or our friendship is over ;)” I laugh, turn to Kate, and show her the text. She says, “who is James? And what did he call about?” I mention the voicemail and how I needed to call him back and tell him they can take me off their list because we were staying in Oregon. She says back, “well hold on, don’t make that call yet…” *cue record scratching* She continues by saying that she had had several sleeplessness nights as of late, thinking about Missiongathering and Rich and San Diego. Thinking about how I couldn’t find a job, and how even if I did get a job it would be a non-pastor job. And that thought was really bumming both of us out. We talked all afternoon about “what if San Diego.” Finally, we decided that if we were going to say “no,” then it had to be the best educated “no.” So I called James back and asked if they would fly us down for a weekend so we could meet people, visit the church, check things out, and see if there was any possibility there.
  • March 11th: We visit Missiongathering Christian Church and I guest-lead worship on Sunday morning.
  • March 12th: We know, without a shadow of a doubt, that Missiongathering is the right place for us. It turns out there DOES exist a church where they are “conservative” in regards to a commitment to Jesus, worship, church and the Bible, but “progressive” in regards to sexuality, social issues, justice, love, mercy, etc. It is a crazy unheard of blend of the two. And it is the exact same strange mix that I am made up of. Not only that, but the people are amazing. The Elders are wonderful. The staff was truly a blessing. We couldn’t imagine a better person to work for and with than Rich. We had found our new home.
  • March 2oth: Reality sets in as we learn how much it costs for a family of 6 to live in Southern California. The church had no money in the budget for us, so they had to go about trying to raise the funds to hire us. We almost thought it wasn’t going to happen.
  • March 21st: Kate and I decide that making decisions based solely on money sucks. We weren’t going to pass up the opportunity to join MG just because of money. So, we commit to figuring out a way, and we officially accept the job!
  • May 4th: Seven and a half months after being fired we roll in to Sunny San Diego, happy to be home. Excited for a new adventure. Thrilled to be living out the Kingdom of God.

Things I Want People to Know

If you’re still reading this then let me end by offering a few thoughts that I hope people who were involved in my story over this past year will take the time to listen to.

  1. I still love and miss many people from The Grove – I know that my sudden removal made it very difficult and awkward for pretty much everybody, and as a result it didn’t allow for any sort of goodbyes or affirmations of love. But I still value and cherish many of the friendships I made in my 5 years there. Perhaps they won’t ever be the same because I know many of you supported my firing and agreed that my theological position on homosexuality was sufficient grounds for letting me go. And I know that others of you have been given bad information about me and about what happened, causing you to perhaps distance yourself from me or not care about reaching out. Nonetheless, my inbox is always open should anyone ever want to ask any questions or engage in any dialogue.
  2. I am sorry for the hurt and confusion I caused – I knew I was an outsider at The Grove, but for years I did my best to try and fit in. To try and find common ground and do ministry out of that place. But I realize that I didn’t always succeed in that, and there were times when I stepped in to territory that was not safe for me to step in. This caused people to get angry, nervous, scared, and hurt. And I’m sorry for that. I never meant to affect people in this way. It is in my nature to at times play devil’s advocate, or to stir up discussion, or to throw out things that make people stop and think twice. And I was not more sensitive to my environment on several occasions. Certainly I never meant to be divisive, but I realized that simply being myself was in and of itself a divisive reality, because certain ideas and beliefs I had (about much more than just homosexuality) were feared and unwanted.
  3. I did not reject a “Plan of Restoration” – From the moment I was fired Kate and I decided to try our best to take the Path of Peace. We didn’t do it perfectly, of course, but we knew that one major piece of that path would be to NOT put our story out there. To not try and rally support, or argue whatever “story” the church decided to put out. We moved forward deciding that we would only tell people what happened if they came and asked us personally. It was hard, for sure, especially when the misinformation started to abound. The thing that probably hurt the most was when I found out that people at the church (many of whom were my closest friends) were told that I was offered a Plan of Restoration from the Church Leadership, one that could have resulted in my staying on as a Pastor at The Grove, but that I refused to accept it. And this simply did not happen. I was never offered the Plan. I was asked on the Sunday night of that week if I would be willing to listen to a Plan of Restoration (which would have involved things like apologizing to people, not leading from the platform for a while, possibly meeting with a Bible Professor on this issue, etc) and I told them yes. I would be willing to hear that out. Two days later, on Tuesday, I was called to the church for a meeting that I was told would involve the Board laying out for me the Plan of Restoration that they came up with. However, when I got to church that afternoon, there was no meeting. Instead it was my termination. At the time it didn’t seem to matter much that they never offered any such Plan. They went a different route entirely, that of letting me go. Which is fine. But to then find out that some went on to tell people that I rejected a Plan (that I was never even given) was completely demoralizing. So, if you’re reading this and that was the impression you’ve been under for this past year, that I was too stubborn or unwilling to submit to authority, then you’ve been given bad information. I am sorry.
  4. I wish The Grove, and the people in it, well – There is still so much about The Grove that I love and believe in. They are doing incredible things for God’s Kingdom. It breaks my heart that the leadership is so adamantly opposed to all things gay, but that doesn’t make them bad people. Just good people with bad theology. And I’m not angry or mad at those who fired me, I’m angry at the theological system that forces people to make such moves. They are entrenched in a system that fears diversity of thought, that isn’t open to different interpretations on issues like this, and that believes in “protecting” the people from false teachers like myself (though I clearly never talked about this issue, let alone taught about it!). I am excited for their next phase in their Building Campaign. I’m excited for the work they do in Africa and Haiti and Mexico, and in their own backyard communities. It does sadden me that so many people still attend The Grove who know what happened to me, and who feel just as strongly about homosexuality, but I understand it. I understand how there isn’t really any other church like The Grove in that area. And so I get it that people who, after initially leaving The Grove because of the church leadership’s anti-gay stance, have now returned. It’s hard for me, but I get it. It’s a good church filled with good people. (sidenote: if you’re at The Grove and you’re reading this and you’re looking for another church, one that is more open and loving towards all people, then I strongly recommend Jacob’s Well. Check it out).

One Year Down, One to Go

Over the past year I’ve spoken with many people about what happened to me at The Grove. How I was treated. The heartache. The disappointment. The breaking of trust and relationships. And almost every time I share it with someone who has walked a similar journey they tell me, “it takes at least two years before you really start to fully heal and move on.”

I thought that seemed like a really long time. But now, after having made it through year one, I’ll be thrilled if I only have one more year of this!

It’s crazy how what happened to me last year still has power over me. Sometimes in ways I least expect it. I find myself scared to speak up here at church, for fear that I’ll be outcast again. I find myself insecure when I disagree with another pastor about something, for fear that they’ll no longer like me or respect my opinion. And though I feel completely safe to share all my beliefs, even if they’re a tad crazy, I still do so with great hesitancy.

But make no mistake about it, I could not ask for a better place to serve, pastor, and work through my healing than at Missiongathering. And I couldn’t ask for a better group of fellow staff people to help me get back on my feet than Rich, Alex, James and Jill. Kate and I are in a good, very good place, where we are loved, valued, and accepted just as we are.

Go ahead, ask me about it.

I’ll gladly tell.

Alex, Rich, and I in North Carolina

James, Huck and I at Fall Retreat

When in San Diego, act like a San Diegan

Our lil’ family in the group shop for Fall Retreat

Stop Acting Your Age

On Sunday I preached from Matthew 18:1-4

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2 He called a little child, whom he placed among them.
3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
4Therefore, whoever takes a humble place–becoming like this child–is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

I talked about such questions as:

  • Why did the disciples ask this question?
  • Why did Jesus choose a child to illustrate his point?
  • What does it mean to ‘enter the Kingdom of Heaven?’
  • How can we become like children?
  • Who then IS the greatest in the Kingdom?

You can read the manuscript here.

Or to download the .mp3, go here.

To stream it, well, just click the play button below.


6 Great Takeaways from the Wild Goose Festival: One thru Three

Wild Goose Takeaways: One thru Three

Last week I journeyed to the other side of the country with Rich and Alex to take part in the second annual Wild Goose Festival. Wild Goose is a collective camping experience whereupon hundreds of people (possibly a couple thousand? Rumors abound about the actual attendance) converged in the hills of North Carolina to talk about things pertaining to justice, spirituality, music and art.

Once we successfully got the generator running in our RV (yes, yes… we weaklings enjoyed the comfort of an RV instead of most folks who went the traditional route: tent), and once we got the AC cranking, we were ready to set out and discover who we might meet and what sorts of moments would challenge, encourage, convict or inspire us.

It’s helpful for me, after attending things like this, to write out what impacted me most. It helps it “stick,” if you will.

And since I also like to blog ocassionally, I thought I’d share those things with you.

Who knows, maybe you’ll be similarly impacted?

There were six moments that had significant impact on me. I’ll share three today and three more tomorrow.

So here are, in no particular order, the first three things that I can point to and say, “it was worth the gross heat, sticky humidity, the scare of tics and buzz of mosquitos because that made an impact on my life.”

Phyllis Tickle, Constantine, and Birth Control Pills

If you don’t know who Phyllis Tickle is, she is a 79 year old spit fire of a woman who has helped shape and give voice to the emerging church movement. Her voice has been extremely formative for those of us who have wanted to challenge the status quo in Christianity over the past decade (i.e. Western Conservative Fundamentalist-driven Evangelical Christianity). On Saturday morning she delivered a talk called “From Constantine to Us” wherein she gave us all a quick drink out of the fire-hose of Church History, laying the foundation of when the Christian religion became tied to the State (possibly one of the biggest mistakes and most damaging things to ever happen to the Christian faith… sigh). One of her things is to point out how every 500 years the Christian faith goes through an extreme makeover. 500 years ago was the Great (Protestant) Reformation. 1000 years ago was the Great Schism. 1500 years ago was the Great Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. And, of course, 2000 years ago was the Birth of Christ. And so now the church is again poised to experience another significant and defining shift, towards what is being called the Great Emergence.

And as impressive as it was to watch and listen to her rattle off all these dates and names and places and events with zero notes, it was more amazing to watch her build up her argument. Utilize rhetoric to create her proposition. She is sharp and quick and witty, but also brilliant and smooth and masterful in her craft. I’m certain she’s put in more than the 10,000 hours required to become a genius in her field.

Her final “point,” if you will, was to establish how the basis of our Christian faith, rooted in Judaism, has always been grounded at home (or, in the case of our ancient heritage, the “tent”). And how it was the responsibility of the families to pass on the narratives to their children in the tent, and then occasionally multiple familes would gather together and worship corporately in the synagogue. Once a year, also, the families would pilgrimage to the temple. But the foundation of the faith was established at home, in the tent.

Our culture, today, has lost that value. So many families either have two working parents or are single-parent led (there is no moral judgment on these scenarios, just an observation of their reality. Also, this was where the “birth control pill” part came in… not sure I totally understood where she was coming from, but she had an interesting sociological and professional vocational take on how birth control pills impacted women in the workplace and trickled down to impacting the family at home. You’ll have to get the .mp3 later and listen for yourself), and other families have zero interest or understanding in how to raise their children in the Story of God and they rely on their church’s children ministries and youth groups. And by Phyllis’ estimation this needs to be re-considered. We need to, as followers of Jesus, re-establish the value of raising our homes to walk in and through the story of God.

Kate and I can point to many things that our little family already does and has been doing to accomplish just what Phyllis was talking about. So that was really cool to feel affirmed in that. But it was also encouraging and inspiring for me to think about how to do it even more, and to also have the bigger philosophical (and, dare I say, “biblical?”) values to drive such efforts.

Ian Cron and Cynicism

Ian Cron, to put it simply, is an ex-Evangelical pastor, current Episcopal Priest, author and speaker. I’ve read/listened to a handful of Ian’s work over the past couple years and was thrilled to get to spend an hour listening to him share at Wild Goose.

He told us stories of how his previous pastoral position ended in a sadly negative way (to which I could certainly relate), and how that led him to a season of great cynicism (to which I could, and can, also certainly relate). He walked through several things that can cause cynicism to burrow its way into our souls and slowly begin to eat it away. Cynicism, he said, seems to be the new hip and cool posture to have towards the church. If you want to fit in with the cool kids, you need to be anti-church in some way. Be negative and cynical, everybody’s doing it!

And for a season it feels good. But it is ultimately a path that will lead to death.

The opposite of cynicism is resurrection. Living as new creation will weed out a cynical heart.

My favorite line from his talk was this, “let the excellence of your life be your biggest form of protest.” In other words, instead of moaning and bitching about how you were wronged or how things are messed up in the church, just put your head down and move forward. Keep doing your thing, and do it well. And when you do it with excellence, may THAT be what ultimately critiques and protests against that which you are cynical towards. (An aside: while I love this, and hope to embrace it one day, I’m not quite there yet. Just being honest. But I DO love the intent behind it!)

He ended by saying, “don’t criticize the church… just DO IT BETTER!”

Good word, Ian. Good word indeed.

Being cynical is easy, and often times it masks our own laziness.

Frank Schaeffer and Wonder

In college, one of my textbooks (actually, one of my favorite at the time), was called “The God Who is There” by Francis Schaeffer. Francis was one of the leading voices of Fundamental Christianity, defining the movement with tight apologetics and ultra-conservative theology. His son, Frank, spent years following in his foot steps. But soon the curtain was pulled back and the wizard had to admit that there was no wizard, it was all a sham.

Frank gave up the million dollar private jets and the multi-thousand-people arena speaking gigs because he could no longer stomach the very theology and ideology that his dad and other Fundamentalists espoused.

Now he speaks about things in a much more open and loving way, and during his Friday afternoon talk I couldn’t help but be moved as he talked about how he now believes in the God of Love. Gone are the tightly wound theological arguments, gone are the neatly packaged biblical expositions, gone is the certainty and knowing all the right answers and right ideas. What stands there now as his assurance that God is Love and that God loves him is his relationship with his grandkids, especially his four year old granddaughter Lucy.

He told story after story of how his interactions with Lucy would constantly remind him of Love and give him hope of the Creator’s existence.

He talked about how his posture towards Lucy helped to illuminate how God must posture himself toward us. One such story was about how Lucy accidently broke a vase at Frank’s house. Lucy turned to see if “Ba” was angry (Ba is her “grandfather surname” for Frank), and even asked, “Ba, are you mad at me?” To which Frank replied, “Lucy, when you and I are together, the only thing I care about is you. There is nothing in this house that you could break that would make me angry or upset at you. You are the only thing that matters to me.”

I love the following reflection he offered (this is my paraphrase):

I can no longer buy in to the idea that God would require of me the absolute correct beliefs about a few certain (or possibly many?) doctrinal issues, and should I not be correct on that itemized list then I will find myself forever tormented in a literal Hell. I cannot buy in to this because of my granddaughter Lucy. Imagine if I say to her, “Lucy, in order for us to have a true and real relationship you need to know the names of all my cousins, you need to know my favorite color and food, you need to call me by my correct name which is “Frank” and not “Ba,” and you need to read all the books I’ve written and view them as the most important books you’ll ever read. If you do not do these things, and get them right, then I’m sorry but you will not get to spend time with me, and worse, I plan on punishing you forever and ever.” Now if I, as a jerk and an ass-hole of a man, could not even fathom such a thing, then how much more a supposedly good and perfect Creator? If God is not at LEAST as good a Father to his children as I am a Grandfather to my grandkids, then that’s not a very impressive God.

I appreciated Frank’s various examples of how his grandkids kept alive his WONDER towards God.

My own kids are the most important things to me, and too often I forget, or get lazy, or get selfish and don’t appreciate how the Love of God is manifest every time I play basketball with Zeke. Every time I accept a full-body hug and kisses from Tai. Every time I let Jae leap from the ottoman in to my outstretched arms. And every time Lil’ Huck cranes his neck around just so that he can see me, smile, and touch my face.

Like Frank, I want to allow those moments to bring me the wonder of knowing and receiving the Love of God.