Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Mental Health Break—The Wittenburg Door

If you’re not already familiar with the online humor magazine The Wittenburg Door, now you are: think The Onion marries Reformed Christian theology and they have a wickedly funny child with an aptitude for making you laugh at most things religion-related in this world.  A “thank you” to saint and sinner James for introducing me to the magazine, which is now a gift that keeps on giving.

Be forewarned: if you take yourself and/or your faith too seriously, you will not like this magazine and could be offended.  You may even want to call me names, in which case your comments will no longer be tolerated at this intersection between God and life.

Here are some of the “most popular” blogs appearing at The Wittenburg Door in recent days:

Mark Driscoll Kicks His Own Ass

Noah’s Blog

Why Creflo Dollar Needs His Dollars

Why Benny Hinn Became Our Wacky Neighbor

Rob Bell on Sex, God and Sex Gods

**Actually, the interview with Bell here is really, really great—I love what Bell says about church as “the place where you say the things that have to be said…with the most honesty and vulnerability and prophetic culture.”

Lifestyles of the Rich and Religious

 

What You Are Saying Re: Driscoll

My last post generated some helpful, constructive input from fellow saints and sinners who read it.  Thank you, all.

Saint and sinner Bruce writes:  You know I respect you and appreciate your writing, but I think this is a pride issue, not an evangelical issue. The Catholic Church, Lutherans, Presbyterians and others all face scandals of moral failures from leaders. Their perspectives on the Bible are different but in each case pride sneaks in. Truly humble broken people can be great leaders – evangelical or not. I honestly think it is a human failing which knows no particular religious bent.

Saint and sinner Elizabeth, who at one point attended services at Mars Hill, gave me some eye-opening perspective on Driscoll’s background and how Mars Hill came to be, as well as how she saw it change over time in not so uplifting ways.

Saint and sinner Mark, whom you can find blogging at Joyful Exiles, pointed me in the direction of an exhaustive article that traces the story of Mars Hill and Driscoll: “Inside Mars Hill’s massive meltdown” is a helpful read. Thank you, Mark!

Maybe in the end my friend Bruce is right: maybe these disappointing developments belong to the larger story of the Fall that goes back to Adam and Eve, of human pride gone awry; and to be sure, evangelicals and their leaders don’t have a monopoly on human pride.  Still, I can’t help but think that evangelical churches like Mars Hill must find new ways polity-wise and culturally to allow for self-corrections in response to these sorts of abuses of power.  I suspect that a culture that sends the message that men are ultimately in charge, and that one senior pastor has the right to dictate how people on staff and in his congregation think, can only reinforce this human tendency on the part of our leaders to seek refuge in pride.

Bruce, Elizabeth, Mark, and those of you who quickly brought the error in an earlier version of this article to my attention, thank you for reading. Come back again soon…like tomorrow, when we’ll blow off a bit of this serious steam with some laughter. Stay tuned!

 

Mark Driscoll’s Fall: A Day of Reckoning for Evangelicals?

Mark Driscoll is the founder of Mars Hill Church and has been one of the most influential church leaders in his time. (Photo credit: www.driscollcontroversy.com)

Mark Driscoll is the founder of Mars Hill Church and has been one of most influential church leaders in his time.

[CORRECTION NOTE: An earlier version of this article suggests Mark Driscoll has in fact now resigned; this is in fact not the case, and I'm very grateful to fellow saint and sinner Mark for bringing this error to my attention.  Driscoll is facing increasingly louder calls for resignation from within his own church and by way of dismissal from the Acts 29 Network—as this corrected version now states.  For my own part, I can't help but wonder if Driscoll's resignation from Mars Hill will eventually be inevitable...]

The news of increasingly louder calls for megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll’s resignation on the heels of a series of now public and inexcusable improprieties on his part, while not surprising, begs a question: whose day of reckoning is it, really?  After all, it would be easy to lay the blame squarely at the feet of Driscoll if this sort of scandal (a megachurch leader’s moral failings) were a first in history; since it’s not, I have to ask whether Driscoll is as much a symptom of a larger problem as he is a cause.

Sure, Driscoll has his issues (as we all do in various manifestations, if we’re at all honest with ourselves).  (My heart hurts for Driscoll’s family as they face a growing deluge of public embarassment—even as I am glad that Driscoll is receiving the grace of being taken to task for his improprieties and, hopefully, getting help.)  But anyone remotely familiar with Pauline notions of the systemic nature of sin—or with a basic knowledge of family systems, for that matter—should be asking what in the way of dysfunction causes evangelical churches to be particularly prone to these sorts of scandals.

Human sin and failing? Of course. That’s a no brainer.

But is it possible that there is something more unique to American evangelical church culture at play here, too—insofar as this particular way of being church is even more bound to set up its leaders for moral failure?  The bigger the pedastal, the higher and more painful the fall, it seems.  When a charismatic leader comes to be the first and almost exclusive form of association with a church—in this case, Mark Driscoll as Mars Hill—something has gone very wrong.

Ultimately, Driscoll did not come to equate himself with Mars Hill Church on his own.  It took a whole peanut gallery of admirers sold on his version of an in-your-face “Christianity with cahones” (my words, not Driscoll’s) to plant and build his church and to feed Driscoll’s pattern of ethics and boundary violations.  And it took a wife with a very traditional understanding of her place in the home to support her husband’s efforts (and a church culture that at least implicitly promoted this understanding of women as best fit for work as wives and mothers, rather than as gifted and true equals in ministry).  Such common expressions of American evangelical church culture in the 21st century warrant at least a healthy suspicion.

My own church background and ministry experience have caused me to take note of this phenomenon—one that, if my experience is not exceptional (and I suspect it is not), I find peculiar and sad at the same time.  As both a woman raised in conservative evangelical church circles and ordained for pastoral ministry in the Presbyterian Church, and as one who would still consider herself evangelical (at least in Barthian terms), I’ve come to wonder why it is that an often latent chauvinism (and in some cases misogyny), homophobia and other forms of discrimination—against those with particular illnesses, for example— are more apt to be present in churches whose leaders exude larger-than-life savior complexes and an inflated sense of self-importance.

From my experience, a church bent on bigger, more attractional, more “evangelical” and, especially ironically, more “culturally relevant” presentations of the Gospel will be less welcoming to women in leadership and in some cases demeaning; that church will also be less apt to see itself as a true priesthood of all believers dispatched to the world in a myriad of adventurous ways; instead, that church will be more and more the creation of one senior pastor’s (usually, one man’s) expression of the Gospel,  for whom other persons are ultimately disposable.

In short, this sort of evangelical church culture has much to reckon for, Driscoll’s indiscretions notwithstanding.

 

 

Bobblehead Jesus

The Bobblehead Jesus I got as a stocking stuffer this past Christmas, and which now accompanies me every time I drive somewhere, inspired this morning’s poem:

Plastic imitation

cheap meditation

jumping

spinning

dancing

to your every thought

as you weave through traffic

mini miracle maker

whirling dervish

dashboard Jesus

in your car, on your heart

can do a jig for

every broken string of hopes

a little god can make for you

at least a laugh at every turn

as toga-wearing, made-in-China

krishna-hands-extending

flop jock Jesus

bears the burdens of

comings and goings with

the frenzied calm of an

enlightened guru

who loves to twist and shake

expressionless until

your heart

feels strangely

warmed and

you’re home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mental Health Break— “Hurt” and “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”

Johnny Cash has been dubbed "the philosopher-prince of American country music."

Before his death, Johnny Cash had been dubbed “the philosopher-prince of American country music.” (Photo credit: www.factmag.com)

Today’s break for restless souls looking for the More we’ve yet to find comes from Johnny Cash’s album American V. A Hundred Highways.  “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” first recorded by Cash in 2003, the year of his death, was released in 2006 posthumously; and is an old American gospel folk song, now put to Cash’s deep, brooding drawl in a particularly winsome rendition.

I’d like to think Cash would be comfortable at our intersection: he was both a saint and a sinner, having lived much of his life addicted to prescription drugs; he was a womanizer, even cheating on his beloved wife June Carter; yet he also had a great big heart for other sinners, spending much of his time singing in prisons, and at the end of his life, his very last album Hurt seems to be the work of an artist who has wrestled with God and made peace.

The accompanying music video for “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” was made after Cash’s death:

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In finding that, I also stumbled upon the video for Cash’s song “Hurt”—the crown jewel of his last album by that same name.  In the song you’ll see a man at the end of his life reflecting upon his “empire of dirt” and contemplating both the transience of his life and his capacity for eternity, as well as his need for a God on a cross:

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Quotes of the Week

Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are investigating a grisly murder that involves sex, drugs, and...a particularly misled form of organized religion.

Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are investigating a grisly murder that involves sex, drugs, and…a particularly misled form of organized religion. (Photo credit: www.vulture.com)

Fellow saints and sinners, I’m starting a (like most things here) irregular series called “Quotes of the Week.”  These are just various snippets of wit and charm I run across during the week, and that I’ve not had time to write a deeper reflection on but which struck me and which I want to remember for future use.  Who knows, you may find them memorable or eye-opening, too:

After the first 3 episodes of “True Detective” this week (with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson)…

To realize that all your life – all your love, all your hate, all your memory, all your pain, it was all the same thing. It was all the same dream, a dream that you had inside a locked room. A dream about bein’ a person…. And like a lot of dreams, there’s a monster at the end of it.—Detective Rust Cohle investigating a grisly murder

***

Cohle: People out here, it’s like they don’t even know the outside world exists. Might as well be living on the f**g Moon.

Martin Hart (Cohle’s partner): There’s all kinds of ghettos in the world.

Cohle: It’s all one ghetto man, giant gutter in outer space.

***

Cohle: Transference of fear and self-loathing to an authoritarian vessel. It’s catharsis. He absorbs their dread with his narrative. Because of this, he’s effective at proportion to the amount of certainty he can project. Certain linguistic anthropologists think that religion is a language virus that rewrites pathways in the brain. Dulls critical thinking. (Cohle bantering with his partner Hart at a tent revival meeting)

Hart: Well, I don’t use ten dollar words as much as you, but for a guy who sees no point in existence, you sure fret about it an awful lot; and you still sound panicked.

Cohle: At least I’m not racing to a red light. 

***

Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God. —Karl Barth

But are you saved?…When were you saved? – An elderly hospice patient

Absence is the first form of knowing. -Psychotherapist James Hillman via author of The Presence of Absence Doris Grumbach, quoted by Tom Montgomery Fate in the June 25 issue of The Christian Century

 

Faith Equals…

index

Anne Lamott’s latest book is “Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair.” We need it. (Photo credit: Anne Lamott)

This Sunday the preacher said faith is the gap between the kingdom of God we only catch faint glimpses of and that which is coming.

I like that.

In days like these, when just about everywhere I turn the shit seems to have hit the fan, in Ukraine, the Holy Land, and close to home, at our borders and in the form of political stalemates, maybe it’s the faith of Christ that makes it possible for us to look around and recognize that what we see cannot be the kingdom of God for which we long (if only unknowingly).  Maybe, too, the bare fact that we long for this wholeness is also the faith of Christ, eager to work itself out in us.

The gap between these two realities, of a kingdom of God that we’ve caught glimmers of and that we believe is real, and the hard, grim facts on the ground—unrest, gridlock, poverty and want, just to name a few ills that make me want to go put my head in a toilet—is where Christ’s faith can work itself out in us when we let it.

Anne Lamott’s reflections this week are therefore especially touching.  Lest I commit blogosphere plagiarism, you can find them on her Facebook page. But here is a taste…

Many mornings I check out the news as soon as I wake up, because if it turns out that the world is coming to an end that day, I am going to eat the frosting off an entire carrot cake; just for a start. Then I will move onto vats of clam dip, pots of crime brûlée, nachos, M & M’s etc. Then I will max out both my credit cards…Read more here.

The Rise of the “Spiritual But Not Religious”

Here at this intersection between God and life, I’m always interested in news pertaining to those who call themselves “spiritual but not religious”—hence this article from The New York Times featuring the work of three other authors who, like me, are responding to the epithet that now describes one in five Americans (according to a 2012 Pew survey). Lilian Daniel, Linda Mercadante, and Courtney Bender each have their own unique take on the growth of the spiritual but not religious in this country, from one of exasperation (in Daniel’s case), to empathy (via Mercadante) to scholarly fascination (Bender).  The fact that these books belong to an increasing trove of recent literature written for this population (included in which is my own book Grace Sticks) is evidence of the growing influence played by the spiritual but not religious.  Like it or not, and whether or not they find their new interlocutors exasperating, churches in America will have to find ways to engage those for whom the trappings of organized religion have become cumbersome.  As I see it, it’s a welcome challenge.

 

Are You Opposed to People Owning Guns? Via John Piper

Jim Eliot and 4 other missionaries were killed in Ecuador by Auca Indians. The missionaries had guns but chose to fire them in the air rather than at their attackers who had spears. The Aucas have since embraced Christ in great number.

Jim Eliot and 4 other missionaries were killed in Ecuador by Auca Indians. The missionaries had guns but chose to fire them in the air rather than at their attackers who had spears. The Aucas have since embraced Christ in great number.

Those of you incensed, intrigued or yelling “Amens” to my recent post on new gun legislation in my state of Georgia, may be interested to read this wonderful post from John Piper.  (I’m glad to know John and I probably agree on more than we disagree on.)  In the absence of many biblically and theologically grounded reflections on the issue of guns, gun ownership and gun regulations—fellow saint and sinner Dan will be penning some soon—how’s this for starters, a la Piper? “Those who live by the gun will die by the gun.”  Jesus’ own words in Matthew 26 regarding swords could just as well pertain to this age’s favorite weapon of choice.

Incidentally, an interesting side note: I was intrigued to learn that Jim Eliot and the missionaries Piper speaks of in this post were actually affiliated with the church Dan pastors (Huntingdon Valley Presbyterian in the greater Philadelphia area).

Mental Health Break— “Sea Song” and Lisa Hannigan

This week the theme of the sea put to music especially touched me as our family grieves the loss of my granddad.  My granddad was a lifelong sailor and lover of the sea, and we will scatter some of his ashes on the sea where he used to command our family’s annual regatta from Shelter Island, New York.  Granddad John’s passing belongs to the ebb and flow of the sea of life that carries all of us.  Here is Lisa Hannigan singing her catchy tune, including a hauntingly beautiful violin solo, “Sea Song”—a reminder that the people we love are “like the sea” and that living is about constantly “letting go” of those we love:

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Previous Posts

Mental Health Break—The Wittenburg Door
If you're not already familiar with the online humor magazine The Wittenburg Door, now you are: think The Onion marries Reformed Christian theology and they have a wickedly funny child with an aptitude for making you laugh at most things religion-related in this world.  A "thank you" to saint and s

posted 11:41:16am Aug. 16, 2014 | read full post »

What You Are Saying Re: Driscoll
My last post generated some helpful, constructive input from fellow saints and sinners who read it.  Thank you, all. Saint and sinner Bruce writes:  You know I respect you and appreciate your writing, but I think this is a pride issue, not an evangelical issue. The Catholic Church, Lutherans, P

posted 2:49:05pm Aug. 15, 2014 | read full post »

Mark Driscoll's Fall: A Day of Reckoning for Evangelicals?
[CORRECTION NOTE: An earlier version of this article suggests Mark Driscoll has in fact now resigned; this is in

posted 10:46:15am Aug. 13, 2014 | read full post »

Bobblehead Jesus
The Bobblehead Jesus I got as a stocking stuffer this past Christmas, and which now accompanies me every time I drive somewhere, inspired this morning's poem: Plastic imitation cheap meditation jumping spinning dancing to your every thought as you weave through traffic mini miracle maker wh

posted 2:25:16pm Aug. 06, 2014 | read full post »

Mental Health Break— "Hurt" and "God's Gonna Cut You Down"
Today's break for restless souls looking for the More we've yet to find comes from Johnny Cash's

posted 10:52:38am Aug. 05, 2014 | read full post »


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