Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Thoughtful Christians—They’re Around, Via Fare Forward

Peter Blair is editor-in-chief of "Fare Forward". (Photo credit: "Fare Forward")

Peter Blair is editor-in-chief of “Fare Forward”. (Photo credit: “Fare Forward”)

The cover story from the latest (July/August) issue of Christianity Today offers a refreshing antidote to all the gloom and doom that often accompany conversations around the future of the church in this country.  The article features a gallery of short bios of vibrant, young Christians idealistically taking on some of the hardest, most depressing and intractable issues of our day.

The story is worth a read; but, because of its pertinence to our interests here at this intersection between life and God, the work of one person in particular caught my eye: Peter Blair, the 24-year-old editor-in-chief of the two-year-old Christian journal Fare Forward, a “Christian review of ideas.”  Have you heard of the magazine, or Blair, or both? (Is this one of those times when I thought I was in the know and really was the last to know?)

But, the tagline “A Christian Review of Ideas” had me sold.  What a great way to dispense of the notion that Christians by definition can’t be thoughtful (in every sense of the term). I was even more sold after reading Blair’s bio, which includes groveling references—kidding on the “groveling” part—to the mutually idolized writers Marilynne Robinson and Wendell Berry.  (Oh, and the additional fact that Blair likes beer is also notable.)

But, more seriously, I am digging the articles at Fare Forward: they’re deep, thought-provoking, and catholic in their commitment to a “faith seeking understanding.”  Thank you, Peter, for your wise, youthful contributions to a Christianity that engages both the heart and the mind in the pursuit of The Way, The Truth and The Life.  Keep up the great work!

New Job, New Book

"Honey badger don't care..."

“Honey badger don’t care…” (Photo credit: www.kickstarter.com)

You may have noticed that I’ve not shown up at this intersection during the last week or so.  A new job, and, with the new job, the promise of a new book project, have conspired to keep me away.  Much of last week I was out in L.A. on a business trip meeting new colleagues—hence an extended absence from this intersection.

But I can’t say how thrilled I am to be taking a full-time writing job with Elements Behavioral Health, a California-based company with addiction recovery programs nationwide.  What I love about the company is that it exists not just to help persons with addiction find pathways to healing and recovery; it’s also committed to “Creating Extraordinary Lives” (the Elements motto).  (By way of a mini mental health break in this post: I also love the fact that one of my colleagues is the voice behind the now viral YouTube Preview Image; and, by way of a forewarning, the short video, while very funny to watch, contains an occasional F-bomb.)

While Elements’ current recovery programs feature largely secular, holistic approaches to treating addiction in its many and various forms, Elements is now brokering new relationships with a network of Christian recovery programs nationwide.

Enter me.  I’ve been asked to, among other things, contribute to an e-book that will equip churches for ministry to persons with addiction.  In addition to the book, I’ll be writing…writing…and writing…articles, blogs, white papers, Web copy, you name it, on all things related to addiction and mental health issues like post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).

What this may mean for you and this fellowship of saints and sinners is:

  • that you’ll on occasion be asked for feedback on these sorts of issues.  I hope you’ll feel free to share your views and experiences freely, in the same vein that Rob Bell defines “church”—as “the place where you say the things that have to be said…with the most honesty and vulnerability and prophetic culture.”  In other words, I hope you’ll be able to tell the truth here, and that I can, too.
  • that I may not be able to post as frequently, but you’ll have even more opportunities to share your creativity with the rest of the bunch!  I’ll still try to post 2-3 times a week, but realistically, this frequency may not happen.  It’s possible, for example, that I may only post once a week, but focus on one solid, quality piece per week.  In the meantime, you’ll have a chance to feature your own guest posts or feature series.  Just shoot me an email and send me a sample of your work!

 

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:

YouTube Preview Image

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:

YouTube Preview Image

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Previous Posts

Lessons from the Valley of the Shadow of Death
Just over six months ago, a member of our congregation announced he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer: Steve Hayner, the outgoing president of Columbia Theological Seminary, and his wife Sharol, have come to be most associated in my mind with joy; yet Steve's announcement could not have been

posted 6:16:41pm Nov. 12, 2014 | read full post »

The Prodigal God—Inspirations from Tim Keller's Book
I've missed you! The challenge of writing for a full-time job is that it can relegate recreational writing to a distant backseat. But I want to keep coming back to this intersection, because I find that when I'm away from it, my capacity to carve out space for reflection and find spiritual breathing

posted 10:04:03am Nov. 01, 2014 | read full post »

The Neuroscience of Temptation
It's been too long. I hope you're enjoying God and life. That next book I'm working on is now evolving into a book about addiction and mental illness—and how churches can and must learn to love and wel

posted 1:52:23am Oct. 14, 2014 | read full post »

Brokenness—as Creative Tension?
This morning a meditation from Paula Ripple's Growing Strong at Broken Places sparks some thoughts about embracing brokenness as the very site where God seeks to form us, like a master po

posted 10:13:15am Oct. 03, 2014 | read full post »

Mental Health Break—The Worship Service To End All Worship Services
It's been a while since we've had a mental health break. As a little bit of comic relief at the start of another work week, this clip from a worship service somewhere in America comes from saint and sinner Paul. The comments from readers are just about as funny as the weird break dancing routine in

posted 2:12:30am Sep. 30, 2014 | read full post »


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